Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

The Republican Party’s effort to regain the White House kicks into high gear with its first debate. While it’s tempting to say that these events are lessons in futility, there are some valuable takeaways that can be expected from these encounters. You can learn about a candidate’s ability to string together a few talking points into what sounds like a coherent statement. You can get a feel for whether the candidate has a personality, generally displayed by a good sense of humor. And you will probably notice a few who clearly don’t do their homework.

Most everyone following these assemblies will tell you that the Republicans allowed themselves to get bogged down with too many debates in the 2012 campaign. Really, what were they thinking when they agreed to twenty such gatherings? Halfway through that schedule it was clear that the party was opening itself up to way too much self-inflicted damage, as candidates rose and fell in the opinion polls based on how they attacked each other.

In this campaign, the party has shown some wisdom by paring down the list to twelve scheduled debates, the last couple of which are tentative and could be dropped entirely. Still, is there much of an argument to make that a dozen debates are going to be effective in choosing the best candidate?

Essentially, these are not debates in the truest sense of the word. A debate follows a few relatively strict guidelines, keeping to a formal structure, and its moderator is expected to maintain order with an iron fist. These events are better described as multiperson press conferences where the participants seem to do their best to avoid answering the questions as presented, instead repeating as much of their prepared campaign speeches, slogans, and taglines. But certainly we all know this: if you want real answers to real questions, don’t ask a politician… especially one who is actively running for office.

In the last cycle there were ten candidates participating in the Republican debates, though never more than nine at any one event… and only two of those had perfect attendance in all twenty. This time? Seventeen candidates have formally announced, but you won’t get to see them all in action at once. Thanks to the GOP turning over decision making chores to Fox News, the first debate is limited to no more than ten participants, as determined by where they rank in the latest polls. By essentially slamming the door in the other candidates’ faces, Fox News has been granted enormous power to effectively kill some campaigns while giving others a higher profile.

Fox News will argue that its methodology is simply reflective of public opinion and that the news/talk channel isn’t responsible for making the selections. Rather, it would say, the people surveyed by those polls are making it clear who they are most interested in seeing on the stage. But public opinion polls are a flawed source for facts. No two polling firms use the same criteria, ask the same questions, or even seek out the same type of respondents. Each poll is subject to interpretation, and those who read the tea leaves might not understand the message. Remember, up until late on Election Night, Mitt Romney and his team were convinced that he was going to win the presidency… based on opinion polls.

At least this time Republican voters can hope for a more serious slate of candidates. At least there’s no Herman Cain, who based his campaign on his “Nine Nine Nine” mantra which sounded more like a pitch for a pizza place than a political foundation. At least there’s no Michele Bachmann, whose glazed-over eyes looked like someone who was about to announce the departure schedule for the approaching Mothership.

Nope, this time the candidates are a group to be taken seriously.

Except… this time you have people like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 hopeful back for another crack at it… taking time away from his other job as spokesman for various quackery medications on the internet.

Except… you have Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and considered by many to be the worse leader of an American technology company in history. Notably, the company’s stock jumped when her forced resignation was announced, the news bringing in nearly three billion dollars in gains in a single day.

Except… you have Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner. It seems to me that the people who are excited about a Trump candidacy are the same people who think Sarah Palin is worthy of holding a national office. That pretty much tells us all we need to know about Trump.

I will be watching, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s better to be informed than clueless.

Come and see the show!

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on 8/6/15)

Trust never sleeps

Walter Cronkite, who as long-time anchor of the CBS Evening News, was known as “the most trusted man in America”. He and Edward R Murrow were seen as the epitome of honesty and integrity in journalism. Those two and many others set the standards for televised journalism, sifting through the nonsense to give Americans a clear, concise understanding of the events and people around us.
That was then. This is now.
NBC anchorman Brian Williams embellished his experiences during the first Gulf War and has lost practically all journalistic credibility. Williams claimed that he was riding in a helicopter that took on enemy fire when it turns out his aircraft was not in harm’s way. His recent retelling of the false story has resulted in a six-month suspension though it’s unlikely that he will be allowed to return to his job.
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly has twisted the facts of events in his career, both on his television show and in his bestselling books. He has claimed to have reported from a war zone when he was actually over a thousand miles away… and he told various tales of witnessing violence, including suicides and murder, though there are recordings that prove that he did not experience those events in person.
Now, I’m not here to rip on Williams or O’Reilly. They’re big boys who will weather these storms. Both are financially secure and will continue to be well-compensated. O’Reilly, for one, seems to be thriving from the publicity as his TV ratings have inched upward in the wake of this controversy. And while Williams will not be a network news anchor ever again, it is quite possible that he will succeed Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show later this year.
No, there’s no need to shed tears for either.
The thing is… we the viewing audience are expected to believe what we’re told by the people in front of the camera. Somehow, we believe that the person on television has credibility simply because of their stature… that certainly they are trustworthy or else they wouldn’t have been given such a prestigious post from which to report. Often, such as in the case of Williams and O’Reilly, we are misled. Our trust is broken. In some cases, we demand justice in the form of dismissal.
But perhaps we are too eager to be trusting. Just because people are made famous because of their position doesn’t automatically grant them some form of trustworthiness. I want someone to earn my trust. I have no intention of flipping the channel to some talking head on the news and granting that person my undying loyalty simply because he looks like someone who is telling the truth. I expect more, and so should you. Listen to what a person says, but do your own research. Don’t be so willing to be spoon-fed a few headlines when you should hunger for the details… so you can piece together your own informed opinion.
Now, before you think that I am too cynical for my own good, let’s pause. Yes, I do grant unilateral trust in people I barely know… and, to be honest, in people I will never know. And so do you.
You trust that the driver of the car coming in the opposite lane will maintain control. You trust that your doctor and pharmacist are knowledgeable and will do their best for your good health. You trust that the person who made your sandwich washed his hands first. All these mundane, routine occurrences of life… we trust others in part because we just don’t focus on those details.
(If, by mentioning these few things, I’ve made you feel a little bit paranoid… I apologize. Rest assured. Odds are the other driver IS in control, the doctor and pharmacist ARE using absolute care with your health, your sandwich IS free of contamination. Probably.)
By now, I’m starting to sound like I’m on some “good old days” kick, harkening back to a time when we didn’t have to worry about such things, a time when your neighbor was as good as his word. Sorry to burst your nostalgic bubble, but those days never existed. Mayberry USA is a figment of your imagination. People have been lying and cheating and conniving since the dawn of civilization. No one era was more innocent than any other, not is the modern generation more corrupt than those of the past. We’re just more aware of it now… with more options to be informed, even if those options are misleading.
I’ve gone down this rant pathway before, but it’s worth repeating: just because someone rich or famous or pretty says something, don’t allow yourself to believe it unconditionally. Invest some time and effort and look into the facts yourself.

And don’t just take my word for it. After all, I’m just some guy sitting in front of a computer.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on March 5, 2015.)

Net Neutrality is NOT socialism, no matter what Fox News or Pat Robertson say

Today, the FCC — in a 3-2 party lines vote — decided in favor of Net Neutrality. What does this mean?
It means…
…that everyone, from the largest corporation to the smallest household, is guaranteed equal access to the internet.
…that internet providers can’t limit or block access to some customers nor give special consideration to others.
…that internet providers can’t give faster delivery to some websites (and charge high fees for the privilege) while slowing the ability to load from other websites.
…that internet providers CAN STILL charge consumers different fees for different speeds, just like they already do.
…that consumers can expect to be treated to a quality product.

What does it NOT mean?

It does not mean…
…that the government will be controlling what you can and cannot see on the Web.
…that internet service providers will suddenly not be able to offer delivery.
…that companies like Comcast, AT&T, Cox, etc will lose money (unless you count the massive profits they would have made by allowing some content providers to buy up bandwidth at the expense of others).

Of course, Right Wing talk radio & websites, Fox News, and a host of politicians and personalities — I’m looking at YOU, “Rev” Pat — are telling their collective sheeple that the notion of maintaining a fair and equitable internet is SOCIALISM! and EVIL! and JOB KILLING! and everything else including the END! OF! AMERICA! AS! WE! KNOW! IT!


The people who are angry at today’s FCC decision are the same ones that want corporations to have no limits and no regulations… granting outrageous power to the few at the expense of the many.

Net Neutrality… in a nutshell… gives each one of us the freedom to access the internet just the same as we can access telephones, electricity, or water.
YES, we still have to pay for the service… but we’re not prevented from getting our money’s worth.

Washed-up Singer Tries Political Humor

Today, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy had a gab-fest with former country music star Larry Gatlin. I say “former” because it’s been a very long time (27 years, in fact) since he’s had a hit song… so it’s safe to say that Mr. Gatlin isn’t all that entertaining to today’s country music audience.
These days, Gatlin is billed as a “political and social commentator” for Fox News and Fox Business Network. Based on his performance today, Mr. Gatlin should stick to rehashing his old songs.
One more thing… once upon a time, Larry Gatlin looked like this: