Government

Anonymous and Unaccountable

The news media, apparently, doesn’t need to be held accountable these days. There is a lot of writing, publishing, reporting, and broadcasting based solely on “anonymous” sources. This is a troubling trend that has taken hold and has become acceptable, whether it is good practice or not. It appears that we, the consumer, have gotten so far away from a reliable media that we rarely question where the information came from and the motives behind the release or reporting? We just assume now that it’s true and that’s that?

It’s been happening for a long time, but two recent stories have dominated the never-ending news cycle these days. The stories pertain to a meeting between President Trump and some Russians, as well as a memo written by former director of the FBI, James Comey, after a meeting with President Trump.  (Yeah, yeah, I can hear all the eye rolls from the people with an ax to grind for one reason or another against Trump. This isn’t to defend him so much as to question the integrity of the information we are being spoon fed…)

What we know about the Russian meeting:

(1) A meeting took place between some high level Russian officials and some high level American officials in the Oval Office. (2) There were a very limited number of people, from both delegations, who attended said meeting. (3) We don’t know what was discussed at the meeting.

We don’t know what was discussed? Wait, what, how can that be? But the people who first reported it, the Washington Post, and the people who have highly cited that original article, The New York Times (and every other news agency), say we know what was said at that meeting. How can you say we don’t know what was said?

The original article published by the Washington Post cites two people, both of whom were not at the meeting. The article’s cited sources were “current and former U.S. officials…” and they said “‘This is code-word information,’ said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies.” These supposed sources were never named and thus can’t readily be held accountable nor can the information be verified to any degree. Simply relating there were two sources doesn’t simply mean the information is true and we shouldn’t believe it as such.

Based on what was reported, we are to assume that these “sources” talked to people who were at the meeting. If that is the case, as they are having us believe, then that would mean someone from the small group of people who DID attend the meeting is talking outside of the meeting. This seems like a rather small group of people to track down and found out who talked. However, everyone who attended the meeting, has said what was leaked to the media wasn’t actually discussed at the meeting.

Additionally, that would lead us to believe the people leaking the information were fully briefed and fully knew for themselves the information President Trump shared was highly classified. Should that happen to be the case, well, then you have people who are not authorized to share classified information sharing classified information (a crime). If the president chooses to share something, the president can choose to do so if he wishes.

What we know about the Comey memo:

(1) Comey was the director of the FBI. (2) He made several controversial moves before the election. (3) Trump is the president and has the ability to fire government officials within the Executive Branch if he deems it necessary. (4) There was a meeting between Comey and Trump after Trump became president.

Again, like the previous meeting, we don’t know what exactly was discussed. We don’t know the tenor of the meeting. We don’t even know the understandings that may or may not have been taken from the meeting. The only thing we supposedly have from that meeting is a memo (or personal notes), supposedly written by Comey, about his interpretation of the meeting. And, again, like the previous issue we have people who have no direct knowledge of the meeting (because they were no there) talking about something they have no firsthand knowledge of.

This time it was reported in a New York Times article. The NYT article reports “…according to two people who read the memo…Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” The article makes several other assertions with only “…the two people said” and “…according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

Did these “associates” write this stuff down? Take a copy? If not, we’re just going off of their recollection. The quote above says the associate read part of it to a times reporter. Why? If the memo existed, why not just hand it over so it could be published in its entirety? Was this person just cherry picking portions? Again, we have NO IDEA if the memo even exists!

The REAL issue(s) at stake

Reporters/journalist/the media reporting with little to no verification or hard facts.

The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” just so happens to be contributing to the death of democracy as well by hiding many of it’s sources in the dark, not allowing for scrutiny of the source or the motives of the source.

These days it seems pretty easy for a reporter to find someone who has an ax to grind, promise said person anonymity, and then publish whatever the person says, sometimes with minimal to no corroboration. As long as it generates site visits (hits or clicks), sells advertising, or generates viewership, the integrity of reporting is lost. We should never accept reporting based solely on anonymous sources, ever. What we have instead is a lack of accountability, both from the source and the reporter.

The video, “Can You Trust the Press?,” is a great video about journalistic integrity and standards, discussing how they have steadily gone downhill from past best practice. This is a good place to start to see the problem Americans are facing these days. We can’t just wholly accept information, from any source, as truth without questioning it and then holding that source accountable for making sure the information is both accurate and complete.

Another issue, which is again showing what was discussed above, is the leaking of classified information simply to justify someone’s point of view, grind an ax, or just because they disagree with policies of the government. Some media outlets are starting to get the picture on this one, but it there hasn’t been much said about it with either of the subjects mentioned previously. The media seems to want to ignore the issue since it is generating increased exposure for their outlets.

Just today, the NYT has published yet another article that involves sensitive information and the questionable citing of sources. This time the article involves both the Russians and Comey. This new article should be questioned because it uses anonymous sources, “…according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official…” and the leaking of internal documents, “The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.”

We need to hold our press/media/journalists/reporters to a higher standard than we have been and we need to do it soon.

 

The Day Independence Didn’t Begin

While many in the United States celebrate Independence Day today, one thing we need to remember is that July 4, 1776, was only one day in the long struggle for freedom. In fact, it was closer to the end of the struggle instead of the beginning, as most people think.

Americans (known as British subjects back then) began the struggle for independence while they were fighting next to British troops in the countryside against the French (we know this conflict as the “French & Indian War”, the Brits know it as the “Seven Years War”: 1754-1763) It was during this conflict that many of our future nation’s leaders were born. For they saw the policies and practices of the British and realized then that they were going to be treated unfairly, even if they won the war. George Washington became our nation’s first leader because of the failures, which in some cases were horrendous, and successes. This conflict was his training ground! After the war was over, it was the actions of the British parliament that led to the American leaders protesting the unfair taxes placed/forced on them to pay for the war. It was through these protests that our pursuit of freedom really began.

July 4, 1776, was the culmination of our frustrations with the British. What most American forget is that we almost “kissed and made up” with the British in 1775. Had the British government accepted the “Olive Branch Petition” from the colonies, we could very likely still be subjects of the crown. Oh how different our lives would be, right?

The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, almost 10 years after it began. So, let’s not take our freedom for granted on this day. The battle wasn’t won during a short fight, it was won over a long period of time. Many sacrificed all – both then and now. There are many who are sacrificing even now so that we might remain free. Don’t let us take it for granted!

I want to end with a smattering of quotes. I end this post this way because I feel we, as a nation, are headed into dark times if we continue to dishonor our heritage and the sacrifices of those who came before us. We are giving up on the ideals and principles that our country was founded on. Maybe we aren’t giving up on them, maybe we are just ignoring them. Or maybe we just don’t care because we have become too selfish and too apathetic, I don’t know for sure. But what I fear is that the road we are on will not perpetuate the greatness we have known in the past. Ben Franklin is famous for saying after the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, in response to a question about the kind of government we would have, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Today, I think he may be right. The challenge is to maintain it and those WE have elected over the years are eroding the foundations of our house. Let me be clear, WE the people are the problem, not our politicians. WE put them in office and, unfortunately, they do what WE want them to (even if is seems dysfunctional).

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
–Ronald Reagan

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
–George Washington

“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
–Woodrow Wilson

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
–James Madison

“I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
–Malcolm X

If we don’t hold onto the freedoms and traditions we have been given, they will slowly be taken away. Like cooking a frog in a pot, it won’t jump out of the pot if the water warms slowly. Our environment in the US these days is a lot like the pot…

What the Legislators Aren’t Doing

This is a great visual representation of what the Washington state legislature IS NOT doing in regards to funding schools in Washington. The state supreme court found the state legislature in “contempt of court” in September of 2014, yet the state legislature continues to make little progress towards the goal they set in their testimony during the trial. This chart shows, quite obviously, that the state isn’t living up to their promises and that ANY money being added to education this year is only “catch up” money, NOT additional funds as they claim in their press releases and speeches to the media.

Don’t you think it’s about time to fund education fully?

State Senator Ignores the Voter

Supposedly “serving” the 10th legislative district.

Thank you, Barbara Bailey, for making my job as an American government teacher harder. I teach other social studies classes but you have been a shining example in my classroom of what NOT to do. You are one reason why my students are confounded by politics and apathetic to the pleas of participation in the political process. They see that you (and many of the others who are supposed to represent us) aren’t representing them or the other state voters, but instead your work in Olympia shows clearly you are only representing the interests of the Republican party in the state.

I did not vote for you, though I tend to lean to the right in most cases. I voted for your opponent over the years. Why? Well, because you have consistently demonstrated that you are only going to toe the party line. I am not sure how you continue to win elections, but I suppose it has something to do with the fact that you are entrenched in your position and most voters have no idea what your stance is so much as they know your face and name. Many voters don’t care enough to know, they just vote on the most basic information. Statistics on voters and campaign ads show this most clearly. But really, that is beside the point right now.

At the moment, you and your Republican cohort in the state senate are bent on attacking teachers and dismantling the teaching profession. I am not sure why and I can only speculate, but my guess is it has something to do with private dollars finding its way into the Republican coffers in order to push for a narrow, special interest generated agenda. The responses I have received from your office (or someone that works for you, specifically Josie Cummings) also prove this out.

SB 5748 : Teacher Evaluations

SB 5748 passed out of the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives. 
This bill brings back 40 million federal funded dollars back into Washington's School system. Washington State became the first state to lose the waiver of $40 million because Washington didn't require state tests to be used in evaluations. 

Your message has been passed along to Senator Bailey. She knows that this is just the first step of many in evaluation reform and would love to hear ideas from great teachers like yourself that create a better evaluation system. Education continues to be a top priority for Senator Bailey and she greatly appreciates your comments and will keep them in mind as bills come before her. 

Best,
Josie Cummings
Aide to Senator Bailey

The excuse of finding funding dollars via teacher evaluations is a really weak look at finding ways to fund education. Our state stood up to a federal government that bullies states into unconstitutional mandates in education. Should we be embarrassed about being the first state to lose the “waiver” from the federal government? No! $40 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to funding schools in our state, a state that has Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, etc. Our state could replace lost revenue (plus more) through just a quarter of a percent raise in taxes on businesses like the ones mentioned. But, our state senators are too weak, or too beholden to special interests.

I-1351 : Class Size

Thank you for writing to Senator Bailey regarding the importance of funding education and I-1351. As you probably know, I-1351 did not include the revenue sources that would pay for this transition in education. However, The Senate is working hard to fully fund K-12 Education in Washington State. 

The Senate released their proposed budget yesterday afternoon. The Senate proposed a 1.3 billion additional dollars for K-12 education, which is the largest K-12 investment in state budget history. 
This would make education 47% of the state budget. $350 million dollars are allocated to lowering class sizes for K-3 class rooms. 

Best, 
Josie Cummings

I-1351 was passed by the voters and has a requirement for lowering class sizes K-12. The language wasn’t written in vague terms and was not left open to interpretation when the voters passed it. However, as you can see, the senator wants us to believe that I-1351 is only for K-3. Obviously, senator, you haven’t read it or you wouldn’t/shouldn’t vote to short change the children of the state. It doesn’t matter that the initiative wasn’t written without funding. Much of the legislation passed by the legislature in our state doesn’t have funding sources tied to it, but you all seem to find a way to pay for it later. In this case, the voters passed it and want it. Denying it is just ignoring the voters and playing word games to redefine how you have to deal with it.

The other misleading point in this response from the senator is that they are giving “additional” money to education. This statement, however, is VERY FALSE. The reality to the statement is the legislature is CATCHING UP on what should be spent on education. There is no additional revenue being added to education. The state supreme court found the legislature in contempt of court and has mandated the legislature adequately fund education. At best, the additional $1.3 billion brings the state closer to funding education fully, something it hasn’t even come close to doing in the past, but is roughly $2-4 billion short of what is needed, depending on who you talk to.

Then, she drags other political leaders into the fray as well since there is no answer to bad political maneuvering.

Thank you for writing to Senator Bailey regarding funding for I-1351. The Senator appreciates your involvement with this very important issue. The passage of I-1351 clearly represents a new challenge, considering the measure makes spending commitments ($4.7 billion across four years) without identifying a revenue source. It is certainly revealing that Governor Inslee’s own budget proposal fails to fund I-1351.

Thanks,
Josie Cummings

In other words, I can’t explain our Republican plan so I will point fingers at the Democratic governor. That’s really rich. Politics at its best!

Ultimately, we need a legislature that is willing to do the difficult task of standing up for children and the people tasked with educating them. The state supreme court has said repeatedly the legislature fails in this task. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be many people in our state government that are willing to do that. Instead, we get excuses and more placating/catering to big business. (Boeing gets an $8.7 BILLION dollar tax break?) Let’s hope the state supreme court doesn’t allow the legislature to continue in this “lack of funding, drag our feet to fix the problem” game. Except that is something they are asking for, yet again!

Wearing the senator down?

When I last sent the senator an email requesting that she support a budget that gives more funding to education, closes tax loopholes for large corporations, provides more money for competitive pay and benefits for educators, and doesn’t cut state services to the poor, I didn’t get much of a response. Instead it was just a short, one line email:

Thanks for the message. I will make sure this gets in front of the Senator as budget negotiations continue.

Best, 
Josie Cummings

As you can imagine, the message doesn’t hold out much hope for her changing her position, which is unfortunate since ignoring the will of the voter seems to be the norm these days. I could hope that I am wearing her down and she is going to change her party-line, voting alignment but that seems like far too much to hope for.

Unfortunately, the broken system also discourages teens who are just now becoming eligible to vote. They see how broke the system is, they see how it ignores the voter, and they see how politicians tend to perpetuate the system to their own benefit and not that of the people. A new generation of apathetic voter is born…thanks again, Barbara Bailey.

Rock the Vote (at least three times!)

Yesterday in class one of my seniors announced that she voted in the school levy election of our community.

I was like, “YES! Way to go.” It made me happy that she exercised her right to vote and that she also had been listening to me all year while I have encouraged the seniors to vote when they had the chance. I have even used class time to allow them to register to vote online because I think it is that important. But then, she explained what happened…

She said that her dad sat her down and told her to open the ballot. He then proceeded to instruct her on how to fill it out, like exactly which answers to fill in.

My students said the comment from her mother was, “As long as you live in this house, you will fill out your ballot just like your dad.”

I was, admittedly, speechless at first. I protested and said she should have filled it out herself. But then, what could she really do? She was stuck in a hard place. I haven’t ever heard of a parent doing that before. I hope there aren’t more out there like that.

Hopefully, she gets a voice (of her own) in the next election.

Anyone out there expect their children, wife, or other family members to vote the way they do? If so, why?

Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Bad Parking Job

The height of Congressional dysfunction at work…they can’t even park their own cars.

Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Bad Parking Job.

And we wonder why Congress has a bad reputation? No, I am sure we don’t but this is a pretty good example of why we have little to no faith in them.

ISIS: Who Is Responsible?

Want to know where ISIS (IS, ISIL) came from? Want to get a better picture, the whole picture, of their history? Want to know more than the 30 seconds to three minute blurb you get on the evening news?

I would advise you to watch the FRONTLINE episode, “The Rise of ISIS.” (see link below) Published back in October of 2014, this program brings the issue into focus, gives you an excellent idea of where we are at the moment, and where it is going in the future if something isn’t done soon. **Warning: There is very graphic violence in the report**

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

The conflict is much larger than the evening news (or government) would have you believe. There is lots of good, relevant history in this reporting. Definitely an eye opening report. Beyond that, there are other very informative reports regarding this topic as well.

Most of all, what needs to be done to resolve it?