Dear Democrats,

2018_Election_logoPlease don’t gloat over a “Democrat Victory.” Many votes cast on November 6, 2018, were not for Democrats but for NotRepublicans. The Democratic Party provided lifeboats for disaffected citizens, but those lifeboats are temporary. Democrats have to re-think and re-group. Trump’s embrace of Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House should be the kiss of death for another round of Speaker Pelosi. The Trump base hates her for all sorts of reasons that they don’t know or understand, but they hate her, and he will use her as red meat to incite them. That’s just for starters.

If the quasi-election in November, 2016, of Donald John Trump told us anything besides how low a large segment of white Christian Evangelicals had sunk morally, it was this: The people of the United States want Something Different. As it turned out, Trump was not different at all, just uglier and ruder than your typical Plutocrat.

Many of us saw our Something Different in Bernie Sanders. We have not had the chance to be proven right or wrong. When the disheartening Primaries of 2015 were over, we trucked resentfully from the Bernie Camp back over to Camp Hillary. We held our noses and voted for the first Madam President-(not)-to-be, figuring that an educated hypocrite with good manners was better than an ignorant one without them.

Others, though, held their noses and took their chances with the Grabber, hoping that a miracle would happen, that he really would come to the Jesus whose name he used so loosely and repent of his many sins instead of bragging about them, or that at the very least he would allow his handlers to make him up, give him lessons in protocol and common courtesy, and direct him in his best TV role ever, that of Real Head of State (lol, Kevin Spacey, Martin Sheen, and Geena Davis). Maybe he really would drain the swamp or do something about something. The rest, as they say, is history-in-the-making, and to our great horror, we don’t know how it’s going to turn out yet.

Meanwhile, the Liar-in-Chief has shown us in living color the cesspool that together you, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and other influential places, have created over the past thirty-eight years with your deals and bribes and lobbyists and love of wealth and power over any real concern for humanity.

If some of you had good intentions, and I do believe you did, we can only imagine the threats and warnings you and your families got from billionaire string-pullers who have managed both Punch and Judy as well as Fox and CNN and MSNBC and PBS in the puppet show that has almost completely replaced “government by the people.” Those threats and warnings are probably what turned you from youthful idealists into cynical sold-out lackeys. Meanwhile, power-hungry Republican sell-outs show a high level of tolerance for public humiliation and deceit.

Out here where “the people,” (as in “We, the people”) live, Former Democrats, Independents, Indifferents, Greens, Libertarians, Nader-Holdovers, even Former Republicans like to think we are more rational and, we hope, more decent, but we too want Something Different.

What is that Something Different? I’m not a constitutional literalist, but I think a thorough reading of the United States Constitution and its Amendments is a good place to start. After you’ve read that, look around you at the many things you have neglected, the many things you (Democratic representatives and functionaries in particular) have tried to cover up with cosmetic improvements, pretending that you cared or that your hands were not tied by corporations: oceans, lakes, forests, animals disappearing because of capitalist abuse; our position at dead last in developed world health care; endless expensive unexplained wars; one of the highest rates of gun deaths in the civilized world; and an ever-widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.

Blue Lifeboats are not the seaworthy vessels we need, but they have offered temporary hope. Temporary. If we make it to dry ground, we want a chance to build a new ship, a new party, with captains who can man–or woman–that ship and take us to the places where we need to go.

Don’t deceive yourselves. The votes on November 6 were not for the Democratic Party, and especially not for the Business-As-Usual Democratic Party. They were votes for the chance to build better political parties, a better country, a better, kinder, more compassionate world.

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NEWS READERSHIP 101

Journalism has changed a lot since I took courses in Texas for a minor in the subject at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls and Baylor University in Waco, serving as editor of The Wichitan at the former, and reporting on religious and political activities for The Baylor Lariat at the latter. Broadcast journalism was a way-down-the-list elective, and social media hadn’t even popped into anyone’s mind yet. However, the principles of truth-seeking and truth-verifying, also known as fact-checking have not changed much. Whether you’re a reporter in the field chasing a story, an anchor  on TV reporting it, or a senior citizen in your La-Z-Boy trying to make sense of  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, deciding whether to hit the Share button, the differences between fact and fiction are still the same, and so are the differences between clear, accurate news stories and those that are garbled misrepresentations.

There are surely philosophical nuances in the consideration of CAPITALTTRUTH, but most of us should be able to get past philosophy to establish some common-sense day-to-day agreements that make getting through an average lifetime more do-able. It may be true in a philosophical or even neurological sense that what YOUR brain perceives when you say red is something very different from what MY brain perceives, but we can look at an object and agree that it is red as opposed to notred. No news story is perfect, and in the rush to make things known, especially things that REALLY need to be known, like an approaching hurricane, the rules are sometimes bent, but a sensible news reader should have low tolerance for bent rules.

So, what makes a news report credible? In Journalism 101, we learned about the 5 W’s (WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY?) and 1 H (HOW?). A credible report may or may not be true, but a credible report will be verifiable because it contains the following elements:

  1. WHEN? Does the report contain the complete date and time when the events happened, as well as when the report was written, and when it was published
  2. WHERE? Are locations described completely, accurately, and appropriately for the news medium? A report for a hometown paper or station might need only a street address. Nowadays, when just about everything goes instantly global, city, state (or equivalent like parish or province), country, and concise but detailed location notes are important elements of credibility.
  3. WHO? Are the names, ages, origins, role in the events, and other helpful identifiers of all participants and informants stated as completely, accurately, and objectively as possible? (Hank Oglesby, 56, of Spokane, Washington/ chief of police/ emergency responder/ the officer who answered the call/ the victim/ a bystander/ the victim’s mother/ a neighbor/ the alleged perpetrator/  Sam Smith, 37, who is awaiting trial on $2,000,000 bail for drug trafficking charges in Bolivar, Missouri–not just Sam Smith, a known drug offender) Do the sources quoted or cited appear to be the best the reporter could find? An emergency responder at the scene is more likely to have accurate information than a wild-eyed neighbor who saw it all from an upstairs window (although the wild-eyed neighbor will probably be more entertaining on TV or YouTube). An intervening police officer is a more credible source than a bystander. Reporters have to work with what they have; they should be transparently but tactfully skeptical, making it clear that although this is what the source says, it may or may not be what the reporter believes to be true. A good reader will share the reporter’s healthy and informed skepticism about news sources.
  4. WHAT? WHY? HOW? Does the reporter use direct quotations or accurate citations, naming and identifying the source of the information (see #3)? More often than not, the reporter arrives on the scene after events happen. Accurate quotations and well-identified sources lend credibility to the report, protect the reporter from accusations of publishing false information, and free him or her to report what is known at the time while being honest about where the information came from.
  5. HEADLINE: Does the headline accurately reflect the contents of the report
  6. PHOTOGRAPHS: Are photographs identifiable, and are their subjects, locations, and time frames identified in captions?

Ask yourself, “Who wants me to read this story? Why do they want me to read it?” Clickbaiting and fearmongering (“…spreading frightening and exaggerated rumors of an impending danger or…purposely and needlessly arousing public fear about an issue.”~ Wikipedia) are common reasons for attracting your eyes to a particular story. Here is some more information about clickbait.

In the days of hometown newspapers and international wire services, with three or four local TV channels and radio stations linked to three or four national broadcasting services, it was easier to discern the publisher’s or broadcaster’s motive which, typically, was to serve the community to the best of their ability and understanding, with the best information they could muster, while making good money selling advertising space to local and national merchants. It wasn’t paradise, the reporting was never perfect, the advertisers were not in it to serve up honesty, but there was a lot more of ethics and responsibility, and a lot less of chaotic corrupted self-interest.

It’s up to you and me to think like good reporters. It’s scary to be in the driver’s seat. We would all do well to review our “driver’s ed.”

(This was written in response to deficient and deceptive reporting about recent events (April, 2018) in Cancun, Mexico, where I have lived happily and peacefully for almost a year.)
NEWS DISCERNMENTNOTE: All the examples are totally made-up. If there is a Hank Oglesby, 56, from Spokane, or a 37-year-old drug trafficker in Bolivar named Sam Smith, I apologize. My choices of name, age, and origin were random, and I have no idea what part of my subconscious they came from.  PS: (about the magazine cover at left) I am not even dealing with, “Does something just seem not quite right about the subject of the story?” or, “Do the author and publication have a reputation for reliability and seriousness?”