From The Editor

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From The Editor: On the Wrong Side of the Law

In a week that saw President Trump speak to law enforcement and encourage them to mistreat prisoners in custody (including those accused but not convicted), we did not have to wait very long for a story to appear that reminds us why this is a really bad idea.  Yes, we know that Trump has a totally twisted sense of humor, he really does not get the normal social cues that keep the rest of us from gnawing on our foot right up to the ankle—that and he still has the humor mentality of an adolescent.  It was not funny, under any circumstances and the story that has come out is horrific in my mind.

A lawsuit has been filed by Jordan Norris in Tennessee against three Cheatham County deputies.  It alleges that the treatment he received while jailed on drug and weapon charges was torture.  His body showed the evidence of his mistreatment, burns from repeated application of a stun gun.  The entire event was also caught on tape, from several different cameras.  Norris’ guilt or innocence on the charges aside, what happened to him was nothing short of brutal and a violation of his rights, and likely numerous Tennessee laws.

In the footage he is strapped to a restraint chair, arms and legs bound to it, and a deputy stands behind holding a gag of some kind in his mouth.  The stun gun is repeatedly applied to his chest area in bursts.  At the time of this maltreatment, Norris is currently on suicide watch as he has suffered a mental breakdown while in custody…he is in psychological distress already, in need of medical treatment, and yet is tortured instead.

This is beyond reason, how have we attracted so many dangerous individuals into the field of law enforcement?  Strapped to a chair he is told to not resist, resist how exactly?  They certainly seem to have their way with him—the deputy with the stun gun even threatens to keep going until he exhausts the battery.  While we cannot decide this case in the realm of the media, be it social or news, it appears the wrong people are in jail here.

The story reveals that the event allegedly occurred last November, so it has taken a while to appear.  The timing, however, could not be any more perfect after Trump’s comment this week.  No we do not need for officers to expand their use of force; we need them to keep it where it belongs:  The right amount to keep everyone safe.

If you would like to read the article by Alex Horton, a Washington Post regular, you can do so here “Deputies tortured a restrained teenager by using a stun gun on him, lawyers say.”  I will warn you that the story and the video are graphic and I find it disturbing—that is why it is here.  It is not the sort of thing we want to hear about, we do not want to see the worst in ourselves revealed, but we cannot change things unless we know there is a problem.

So no, Donald Trump, police brutality is not a joke, and you are not funny.  My advice is spend less time talking, less time Tweeting, and more time working.

Time to grow up and apply yourself Donald Trump.

Now I know that is not the first time that has been said—I have said it twice.

BKE

 

From The Editor: Facebook Slammer, Moderating Social Media

While all of us (well, most of us anyway) would certainly like for the crude and hateful speech that has become common place in public and cyberspace to go away, it is not likely to anytime soon.  Of course there are some actions that we can take to begin the reversal of our devolving into the Land of Haters and one is to shine the light on those corrupting our lives with their filthy mouths and ignorant ideals.  Social media has become both a source for the hate and a source for the addressing of it—but there are some problems with it.  A series of stories by the Washington Post just within the past 24 hours point the problems we face when we try to moderate social media.

The results for Facebook have been mixed and inconsistent at best.

In a story by Tracy Jan and Elizabeth Dwoskin on 31 July 2017 we see exactly the opposite going on that we would expect from Facebook moderation.  In their story, titled A white man called her kids the n-word Facebook stopped her from sharing it, we are given two amazing examples of what is happening not to the haters, but their minority victims.  The first occurrence comes from Francie Latour of Boston, whose 8 and 12 year-old sons, as well as herself, were the victims of a filth riddled racist verbal attack in public.  When she tried to share the experience on her social media page it was removed by Facebook censors.

It would seem that this flies in the face of Facebook’s attempt to create a more welcoming environment for all, in that she should be able to communicate something that upset her and her children.  If not that, then what about the 1st Amendment?  She was not answering back with a tirade of her own merely a “can you believe this!?” edited post which we should all be able to place on our page.  But hers is not a lone case of censorship seemingly gone off track and the next one shows that the Facebook police are using punishment for those breaking the rules…what rules we do not know but the rules.

Case number two from the article involves Zahara Billoo and multiple Facebook accounts that she writes on.  She is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, operating in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California; and she posted to Facebook, with the required explanations that it was hate mail, a scan of a handwritten letter sent to a San Jose mosque on the heels of Trump’s victory as president.  The most chilling part of the letter was the line that said, “He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”  The most chilling part of the story is that the post was removed by Facebook and her accounts locked for 24 hours.

She was in the Facebook slammer.

Over the intervening days of communication, automated letters told her a mistake was made and some instances were reinstated, but on other pages she was unable to get the original post back up—it was still blocked by the Facebook police.  When I first set out to draw people’s attention to the dangers of a Trump presidency, I drew parallels between Trump and two World War II dictators:  Mussolini and Hitler.  I was told by many how wrong I was but I consider this a sad vindication of my position, but vindication nonetheless.  Trump has inspired this kind of hatred and action and it can snowball—thoughts become words, words become actions, actions can destroy lives.

Especially if we do not know it is going on.

Facebook has admitted that the system is rolling on some flat tires at best and is working to fix it.  The article tells us that some 3,000 new moderators will be in place by year’s end; bringing the total to around 7,500.  That, in my opinion, is not enough to keep free speech safe.  After all it was a moderator who removed these comments in the first place!  The system needs to be regulated very closely by Facebook to make sure that when the moderators error it is corrected and the reason is understood by those doing the training and especially those doing the moderating of the moderators.

In a different kind of censorship, the Maryland governor Larry Hogan is being sued by the ACLU for deleting and blocking followers of his public Facebook account.  This flies in the face of both the 1st Amendment and Maryland guidelines covering social media interactions by their government officials.  This story is HOURS old, it broke this afternoon.  (Please read the whole piece by Ovetta Wiggins here:  Md. ACLU sues governor for deleting comments and blocking Facebook users).

The problems of social media censorship will continue.

I would predict that the issue will remain very hard to solve completely, especially when there will always be those who try to skirt the moderation and post inappropriate material.  It will also be a problem as long as organizations like Facebook have less than 10,000 moderators for around 2 billion users, which means who knows how many posts.

It would also help to know the laws of Facebook, but there seems to be no driver’s education book for social media, no rules of the road…yet.

Maybe if we acted like our mother was always looking over our shoulder?  Well, it would work for some of us I guess.

BKE

Coming up later this week:

In Opinion:  Part 2 of Betsy’s Report Card

In the news:  The Revolving Door at the Trump Whitehouse

 

From the Editor: Betsy’s Report Card, Part 1, An F in Math

In a week that saw yet more convoluted White House behavior, another contentious staff change (Chief of Staff Priebus is out and General John Kelly will replace him), and outrageous comments from the new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, relatively little has been heard about education.  The attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act (unsuccessful so far) and the sad news that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had been diagnosed with brain cancer were two of many news events that dominated the media.  This is understandable.

Unfortunately, this also distracted attention away from the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who has not been idle, merely less visible.

First let me share some back story on Betsy as she is in many ways an unknown quantity to many of us other than those in Michigan, her home state.  Born there in 1958 as Elisabeth Prince, her father Edgar Prince accumulated vast wealth in the automotive parts industry in the 1960s.  She would later marry Dick DeVos who knew immense wealth from the Amway Company via his father.  This money has been used by the DeVoses for decades now to buy influence and to force issues in the direction they choose.  That choice has some very questionable elements and overtones to it.

To see the continuity of the political involvement of Betsy’s family beyond education, I would note that she has a brother who has made the news too.  Erik Prince is a familiar name to many who remember the mercenary company Blackwater.  It has since changed hands and changed names, but it has been amidst a swirl of controversy where the Trump/Russia ties have been concerned.  Stories began surfacing in January 2017 that Prince was secretly advising Trump and setting up meeting(s) with a Russian who had close ties with Putin.  The story broke fully in April 2017 that indeed such a meeting had taken place, and you can read a Washington Post story about it: Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel.

Erik Prince is currently living abroad as he faces possible arrest and indictment here in the U.S. on weapons and money laundering charges.

Betsy was raised in Holland, Michigan, a primarily Dutch community and brought up in the traditions of the Christian Reformed Church…a conservative Protestant denomination which believes that education is best taken care of by the family, not the government.  It is here that we see the germination of her dogma where public education is concerned…she despises it.  She does not have any interest in fixing it, finding ways to bring it forward into the 21st century to better serve the children of the U.S.—she wants it gone.

With absolutely no involvement , background, training, or degrees in education, she has obtained the highest position in the federal government where education is concerned.  She has not tried to hide the fact that she holds higher public education in low regard (and the educators too), but she truly believes that her plan for the remaking of the U.S. education system is in order to build (her words) “God’s Kingdom”.  She will work towards numerous goals to this end, and has in fact already taken actions just as we might expect from a dedicated conservative right wing Christian who is light on knowledge and heavy on blurring the line that should separate church and state.  These actions were on issues involving, but not limited to:

  • LGBTQ safety and equal rights in school
  • Loan forgiveness
  • Office of Civil Rights (OCR) being drastically reduced/overhauled to declaw it
  • Slow and silent reversal of numerous Civil Rights statutes and rules with OCR now unable to take action
  • Refusal to explain how funding to non-public schools will work in terms of those that might violate the Civil Rights of students
  • Not releasing full disclosure of financing efforts and provisions in terms of Christian charter/voucher schools versus secular private or the diminishing public schools budgets

The evidence is not hard to find, the DeVoses have given millions of dollars over the years to Christian schools and camps, which is their prerogative, but her claim to love all students is also easily proven as false—she has a very narrow view of who is acceptable and who is not in society.  It is obvious to me that she wants to channel funding from the federal government into private Christian schools because she is an extremist when it comes to her religion.  She feels that her money should be allowed to buy her influence, and it has because she now is the influence…a lobbyist with a cabinet position.

Cost of that seat?  A mere $200 million over the years, including $900,000+ divided among many of the senators confirming her to the position of Secretary of Education.  That is mathematics the Betsy DeVos way, worthy of an F.

Coming up:

In the next installment of Betsy’s Report Card I will look at the charter/voucher school issue in Michigan where she has wreaked havoc, at other states who have tried it, and what the conversion might mean for the rest of the U.S.

BKE

 

 

 

 

 

From The Editor: When Everything Looks Like a Nail

 

I often feel that if we could somehow look into Donald Trump’s toolbox it would contain only hammers.  In the two years or so of political life he has begun to appear to my eyes as a man who views most things in life as a challenge, all challenges as threats, and all threats as nails to beaten into submission.  While there is a group of people, men and woman, who might applaud this thinking as being strong and powerful, I actually think that it is often a demonstration of weakness.  My thinking is simple:  brute force is an application of survival action and not the use of logic to solve problems.

While it is true that there are many kinds of hammers to do many kinds of tasks, they remain one type of tool—they strike blows.

What does this mean for the person who needs a lamp wired?  There is no hammer meant for that task.  It requires different tools, wire cutters, wire strippers, a screwdriver…all tools requiring manual dexterity.  While I am a fan of the hammer, in its proper usage, it hardly does everything I need in my shop.  It also requires little more than a clenched fist to wield it.  Any one of the simian families can easily be taught, might even discover themselves, how to use a hammer.  They might even put it to good use—they are already using tools to extract insects for food, perhaps they would use it to open up a termite mound.

Without the more complex mind that allows them to understand electricity, and the process needed to wire the lamp, the other tools might leave them with less of a clue as to their function.  So the use of other tools is not necessarily based on complexity of use, but on the theory behind what they are used on or for.  When you understand electricity, and you see how transmission is accomplished, it is not hard to grasp the need to cut the wire, to expose some, but only some, of the bare copper, and to affix the copper securely to the lamp socket with screws.  So do we see the flaw in Donald Trump as a leader in this analogy?  I believe so.

The theories that humankind uses to interact on many levels, societal levels and those involving diplomacy, are like the theory of electricity.  He does not understand them; he has never had to operate under their constraints.  What he wanted, he took—and if he could not get it easily, he took a hammer and pounded until he got it.  His hammers have been cash, deceit, and force of personality…these we know of.  These he has bragged about.  And yet, here is the irony, he calls himself a great negotiator, a deal maker.  With a hammer?  I think not.

The republicans that have propped him up do so knowing full well that this hammer toting hulk is teetering on the brink of creating his own demise and have no fear THEY WILL PUSH HIM OVER THE EDGE.  When the time comes it will not have to be the democrats who end his career as president, but the party that has used him as a distraction and puppet will cut him loose and move on with their plans.  The republicans are far more capable than he is; they know politics and know what they want.  It will be ten times easier for them to pull the plug on his presidency than for anyone else.

Donald Trump serves a purpose, for now, but when that time is over they will send him and his toolbox packing…sledgehammers and all.

BKE

Please keep watching for more blogs here in the Media Center, temporary Internet problems will be resolved by Spectrum Cable.

From The Editor: Did you bring enough Tweets for the whole class?

This may be the shortest opinion piece I ever write.

It is my firm belief that when a controversial (at best) and impeachable (at worst) president has Tweeted nearly 1,000 times in his first six months he has too much time on his hands.

If he would truly devote as much effort to his job as he does his electronic play toys, maybe he would not have the lowest approval rating of any sitting American president—for the second quarter in a row.

Time to grow up apply yourself Donald Trump.  Probably not the first time that has been said.

BKE

 COMING UP on next week’s pod cast:

In OPINION:  Betsy’s Report Card

An ongoing series following the efforts of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to drastically change the face of U.S. public education–and not for the better.

 

 

From The Editor: A House Divided

There are few things more precious to us that we give to others than our opinions—especially on the subjects that matter to us the most.  Finding a receptive audience may prove to be illusive, but we hope that our words will fall upon welcoming ears and minds.  For the foreseeable future part of job each day will be to craft my opinions and share them with you, and of course I am hoping for welcoming ears and minds…but I accept that there will be those things I say that you will disagree with.  That is great, it is where meaningful dialogue and constructive efforts towards solutions of complex societal problems come from.  As long as we speak openly and honestly and respectfully only good can come from the process—and it is truly a process.

Our country is facing a series of dynamics unlike anything ever seen before.  Because of this I believe that the need for dialogue is greater than ever, but the reality is falling far too short of that.  The centrifugal force at play has polarized many more people than we might ever have thought possible.  Extremes and near extremes are now occupied by many people from all walks of life who had never before believed that they could be capable of this kind of strong emotion over the state of the country.  I have found myself, a centrist and relatively unbiased person, pulled into the gravitational force created by first the 2016 campaign and then the results themselves.

In a single day in November we veered in a direction many thought an impossibility for the danger it represented.

It has been made all the more terrifying because of the devolving of our society prior to it, the polarizing did not stop, it did not right itself—it has gotten worse.  Rudeness is now acceptable.  Crudity often encouraged and laughed at.  Bullying and intimidation flourish in public and explode on the Internet.  Am I just a “PC snowflake” who needs a “safe place”?  No, I am an American who has become fed up with lazy Americans who can only express themselves in crass comments and four-letter expletives that every 9 year-old knows too.  It starts with a president proud of his disgusting exploits, despite representing the party of “family values” and makes its way onto the floors of Congress, the sets of newsrooms, and into our local government meetings.

D E C O R U M

When I was growing up I was taught manners.  We did not need politically corrected speech because we had parentally corrected speech.  We watched, they taught, we learned—and we emulated them.  I would never have dreamed of hearing curse words on TV, certainly not from broadcast journalists, and if they had been used in Congress on the floor it would have BEEN news.  There were expectations of how we all were supposed to behave in public and less was thought of those who did not.  It was considered to be evolution.  We were supposed to evolving as a species so intelligence, intellect, knowledge, and self-control were so supposed to be on the rise…not the decline.

We are, I think, devolving right now, not evolving, and with no reason to do so.

We must rise above the mire.

We must pull ourselves and our society up and out of the sinkhole.

We must begin to deaccelerate the tendency to hate, from all sides.

We must arm ourselves with knowledge, not propaganda, in order to fight the real battles and not the smoke and mirrors show we see every day.

Hate and lies got us into the situation; only the opposite will get us out.

BKE