Category Archives: Rant

The importance of accepting dissent

WARNING: Political rant incoming. That said, no matter your politics, I’d urge you to give it a read.

Just this afternoon, journalists from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, BuzzFeed and Politico were barred from attending a “gaggle” — kind of an informal briefing — with Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the White House. Anybody, of any political affiliation, should see this as the affront to American values it surely is.

Combined with the ever-increasing rarity of Republican congressmen and senators refusing to hold town hall meetings with constituents, apparently for fear of getting yelled at, and a veritable pall is settling upon American democracy. The very notion of the “loyal opposition” has been perverted into believing dissent is traitorous. And the critical function of a free press in American democracy has been mauled and spindled into “fake media” and “alternative facts.”

I cannot overestimate how horrible and threatening this is to the very fiber of America and her values.

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On leaking intelligence reports and the intel community

WARNING: Another political rant forthcoming. Duck and cover if you prefer not to go down this rabbit hole. 

Apparently, the President is quite angry at all the leaks of intelligence information that ultimately led to the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn’s sin was that, according to many well-sourced news reports (i.e. not fake), he spoke to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about getting American sanctions removed.

In his anger, Trump has lashed out at both the news media for reporting on the leaks, calling it fake news, and at the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) for leaking sensitive information that, presumably, was not fake. Trump has also appointed an adviser to conduct a review of the IC to get to the bottom of the leaks.

I’ve been a reporter for The Associated Press, and I’ve done academic work on the IC (as well as a lot of research on it for my novels), so I thought I’d throw in my $0.02 here. Let’s break it down this way:

  • What did Michael Flynn do and why does it matter?
  • Where did the leaks come from and why does it matter?
  • What will Trump’s adviser do to plug the leaks, and why won’t it work?

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Debunking the myth of the paid protester

Warning: I’m about to commit math! And politics! TOGETHER IN ONE POST!

It’s now the lie du jour  for the Trumpist/Bannonist elements of the Republican Party — and let’s face it, gang, they don’t speak for the mainstream GOP anymore — to state that the protesters who have taken to the streets in the past few weeks are not, in fact, Americans like you and I who are exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and the like.

Nope, they’re paid protesters. Because Trump won the presidency and the globalist/elitist/Wall Street cabal behind Hillary Clinton and the Democrats simply cannot allow the real voice of the people to go unchallenged. See? Even the president has an opinion:

In all fairness — a quality not usually associated with the President or Mr. Bannon — this tweet was about protests near Oakland that got violent when an alt-right provocateur and demagogue went to go talk at Berkeley. Which…dude, you went to Berkeley to talk alt-right politics? OK, then.

But the myth of paid protesters goes far beyond one or two incidents, and the echo chamber is filled with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Apparently, the hardcore Trumpist/Bannonist folks think that the protests we’ve seen all around the country were funded by…someone. (George Soros is always a favorite bogeyman for such shenanigans, for some damn reason.) But whatever — deep pockets and irrational hatred of Trump equals paying to undermine him via protests.

I’m gonna tackle this utter fallacy in two parts. First, the actual costs and logistics of paying protesters, and second, the potential return on that investment. Here we go.

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Replace with what, exactly?

Warning! Political opinions ahead regarding the Affordable Care Act. If you’re not up for it, feel free to surf on by. I’ll be back to talking about SF/F and books and whatnot later. Promise. 

You have auto insurance, right? Of course you do. In fact, it’s required by law in 49 of the 50 states. (New Hampshire is all Live Free or Die on this one.) Why is it required? Because if you’re in an accident, you can cover the costs of the repairs without taking a massive financial hit — and you can cover the other guy if it’s your fault, which is even more important.

You have homeowners insurance as well, if you own a home, yes? There’s usually no legal requirement there, but your friendly neighborhood mortgage lender is gonna insist that you have it, of course. And let’s face it, your home is a major investment. If something happens, you don’t want to be out six figures or more. Plus, if there’s a fire or something, it ensures you’ll be able to rebuild, rather than leaving a smoking ruin on your block that endangers public safety and drives down property values.

Insurance is both a financial and social contract. Obviously, it covers your costs should something bad happen to you. Moreover, your monthly payments help cover other folks’ misfortunes — and that’s especially important if you played a part in that misfortune or that misfortune affects your neighbors or fellow drivers.

Insurance is, in essence, pooled responsibility. The more people buy in, the more there is to cover your misfortune and insulate you from the misfortune of others. It’s enlightened self-interest. Yet when it comes to health insurance, we immediately lose sight of this.  Continue reading

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Journalism in the Trump era

For the first fifteen years of my professional career, I was a journalist for a variety of publications, most notably three different stints with The Associated Press in Albany, Seattle and New York. Journalism is a tough, unforgiving career — low pay, long hours, soul-crushing deadlines and heaping helpings of disrespect from nearly every quarter. I admit, it totally burned me out, which is why I left.

Yet it’s an absolutely critical part of American society. The problem is, at a time when it’s more important than ever, the Achilles heel of American journalism has been exposed.

Get both sides. That’s been the mantra of journalists for more than a century now, when the notion of an impartial Fourth Estate began to take shape. This was, in large part, due to the growth and importance of The Associated Press. Back in the 19th century, newspapers were unabashed in their political views in reporting. But when five New York papers created a cooperative service to report on far-flung areas, there was a need for the AP to be impartial, so that a conservative paper and a liberal paper could use the same dispatch.

This grew into a general belief that news should be impartial, and that editorializing should be the purview of the editorial pages only. I genuinely believe this to be a Good Thing, and it transformed journalism into an active challenger of the status quo, no matter who was in power and who was on the outside.

Over time, though, the get both sides mantra has become bastardized. It’s allowed folks on the very margins of reasonable discourse — anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, all manner of conspiracy theorists — a seat at the table. And with the advent of social media, these fringe voices can find each other, organize and boost their signal, giving journalists a sense that the beliefs in question are more widespread than perhaps they realized.

And so here we are today, when we see journalists writing normalizing articles on the so-called Alt-Right and CNN has a ticker that says “Alt-Right Founder Asks If Jews Are People,” as if this can even be debated. (Meanwhile, you have The Atlantic, saving face for the rest of the Fourth Estate, covering an Alt-Right event where participants are giving the Nazi salute and shouting “Heil Victory! Heil Trump!” and calling it like it is.)

So where does get both sides end and the media begins to take a stand for the nation?

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Not the lesser of two evils

Fair warning here: This post is about politics, not something I normally do. If you’re sick to death of the Dumpster fire that is the 2016 elections, I wholeheartedly encourage you to bail, and hold no ill will. Good? Good. Also, all opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, publisher, family, mail carrier or bartender. 

I studied politics and government in college. I covered politics at the state level early on in my journalism career, and later on I covered the intersection of business, politics and the judiciary with some regularity, and let me tell you, U.S. politics is unique across the globe. Part of that really is American exceptionalism: Our founding fathers did a pretty good job of setting up a system of government.

But part of that is how the political class, across the ideological spectrum, is forced to reconcile the quest for personal political power with the need to show results and to be judged by the voters regularly. In other words, no matter how much you backstab, betray or belittle, you still need to go home and show your voters that you did something for them, and not just for yourself.

Some politicians take this dichotomy in the spirit which, I think, the founding fathers intended. You go to the state house or Washington and you roll up your sleeves and get to work. You compromise with other representatives and try to craft laws and create new initiatives to improve the lives of your constituents. When you’re up for reelection, you go home and you tell folks what you did, and your opponent in the election gets to poke holes in your record. The voters judge, and you go back or you don’t.

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