This Week in Lake Wobegon

transparency

It’s been a week since a story broken by a local media outlet here in New Rochelle went national. According to a video posted, New Rochelle Police approached and drew their firearms on black teens having a snowball fight. We have since learned that the police were responding to a 911 call about someone brandishing a gun. In a week’s time, that’s about all we know.

This has become an all too familiar story unfortunately. What’s also become all too familiar are the responses to stories like this. There are the knee-jerk liberals who immediately decry police brutality and knee-jerk conservatives who blindly support law enforcement. Facebook as usual devolved into either name calling, veering off to non-relevant topics, or both.

To me, there are too many outstanding questions to come to any conclusion. They include:

  • What did the person who posted the video know about the situation and what was the purpose of posting?
  • Why hasn’t the police released the 911 call or provide its transcript?
  • Why was the mayor calling for a further investigation while the city manager said no further investigation was necessary?

As responsible citizens, we must advocate for full transparency, leadership from elected officials, demand of our fellow citizens that conclusions shouldn’t be made until the facts come out. As a black American, I’m concerned that we don’t jump on every perceived slight because then we can become the boy that cried wolf. There are the intransigent members of society that will never see any issue. They are not in my radar, it’s those that would be supportive when cases that merit our outrage actually occur. No need to go down rabbit holes.

On the other side, despite contrary belief, the police are not under siege. What we are asking for is accountability. It does our society no good if law enforcement operates with impunity. All aspects of our government should be questioned.

Join me in asking for transparency from our elected officials while denouncing those that what to relegate any discussion into name calling.

Jeffrey Hastie
jeffrey@freevoter.com
@jhastie963

Politics as Usual

TalkingPast

The report issued by the Senate Select Committe on Intelligence has not done anything towards  creating a better policy on permissible interrogation methods to be used with people apprehended during the fight against terrorist organizations.  The report was prepared only by the Democratic members of the committee without interviewing any of the people who were involved with the decisions on the methods of interrogation to use.  The report, if prepared by a bipartisan group which looked at all of the relevant facts (such as the report prepared by the 9/11 commission), could have helped in creating a better policy which protects the values of our democracy while allowing us to effectively obtain intelligence information that would be useful in the ongoing fight against these terrortist organizations.  Instead, it was done in a partisan one sided manner not for purposes of creating a policy going forward, but for being able to place blame.  It did not put forth any recommendations and does nothing for those on the front lines who are responsible for gathering information and intelligence but create greater uncertainty going forward.  An opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress has been missed and we are left with people talking past each other yet again.

BG@FreeVoter.com

Too Many People Only Checking News Sources They Agree With

Sources News Pew

We started the Free Voter Blog because we are troubled by too many people getting their news only from sources promoting their political views – liberals only checking liberal websites and conservatives only checking conservative websites. Too many Americans are not speaking to each other about the issues of the day and are not even open to debate. We believe this is bad for our democracy. It’s absurd to think that either the left wing or right wing is correct on every issue. That’s why the goal of the Free Voter Blog is to help stimulate a free and independent electorate. When people tell us they only vote straight Democrat or Republican, we believe this is an admission that they didn’t put much effort into following the issues and evaluating the candidates on the ballot. We can teach a four-year-old to just fill in the circles across only one party’s line on Election Day.

That’s why we found the above chart in the USA Today so interesting. It demonstrates how people are only following the news they politically agree with. The data comes from a thoughtful study conducted by the Pew Research Center, which found that, “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.” Here’s the link to this excellent Pew Research Center study:  www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits

Therefore, the Free Voter Blog, which discusses issues in an open-minded and nonpartisan way, certainly fills an important need in our nation’s political discourse. Please join us for a more independent debate of the issues we face – everyone is invited!

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com

Like. Share. Vote?

ballotbox

Vote on Nov. 4!

A friend sent me a text today, “If it weren’t for Facebook, I’d have no idea we were having an election this year.”

At first, I thought she was kidding or making a statement about her feed being overrun by political posts.

But she went on to explain that she doesn’t watch a lot of television or get the local paper and most of her day is spent transferring kids from school to activities (read the Monster of Youth Sports here on Free Voter). Checking Facebook on her iPhone is an easy way to spend her waiting time. And, apparently, it’s where she’s learning about these off-year elections.

A few things interested me about this:

1. As a female voter living in a highly contested seat for NY State Senate, she said that she didn’t receive  mailings or phone calls. This is odd because many other people have stated just the opposite – too many calls and too much mail.

2. She also said that she likes the mailings and always reads them. Hmm. Go figure. So many people tend to complain about the mailings, not only the sheer volume of them, but also the content.  Maybe the whole world isn’t as cynical as I thought. Maybe people really do still read….

3. ….just not any local papers. This is a huge issue not just for political campaigns, but for everything that impacts our community.  The local paper used to be the hub. The source. The thing that bound the neighborhoods and created a sense of community.  It’s harder and harder to get the word out about issues or events (not just those of a political nature). So many wonderful community initiatives and resources go under-used and under-funded because the local paper is dying.  And no single online website is “the definitive” source the way the local paper used to be.

So, where does this leave us? Let’s go back to her original statement about Facebook. Can social media really be the new source?  It’s sort of terrifying, but it very well may be true. As someone who often posts or shares political information on Facebook, I have to admit that around election time, I become highly annoyed by the number of political posts as well as the tone of them. Don’t get me wrong: if you want to share facts and information, I’m good with that; I’m not good with the petty or mean posts that seem rampant.

Just today, I saw a post: “Vote Democrat. It’s better than the alternative.” What does that even mean? How is that a thoughtful commentary on what is really one of the most awesome and overwhelming rights we carry as Americans?  Should anyone blindly vote strictly for a party and not spend even a minute doing research on the issues? Let’s face it, each party has its own share of less-than-stellar candidates. Having a party affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidate subscribes to each and every doctrine of the party (but I suppose we are all naive enough to believe that if THE PARTY nominated the person, they must be good. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you). In the past elections of my husband, if people voted for his opponents strictly based on party affiliation they chose: a pedophile, a Democrat that was a hard-line right-to-lifer, and a man who, if you did a Google search on his name, would promptly direct you to mugshots.com.  Vote only for the party? I don’t think that’s always the wisest thing to do.  Actually, I can probably train my dogs to just fill in the circles across only one party line – it doesn’t take much intelligence.

That kind of only-one-way-is-right post is irresponsible, narrow-minded and shows that there’s no reasonable perspective left in American politics. It’s part of the concern about the connection between social media and politics. People will click and share a witty but thoughtless, utterly meaningless and most likely vastly untrue status update because it’s easier than actually spending the time to learn what’s going on.  Raise the bar. Have a debate. Talk issues, not parties or personalities.

Remember: you get the kind of government you deserve. The vote is in your hands. Use it wisely.

Jean Maisano
Jean@FreeVoter.com

What do Jellyfish and politicians have in common?

polls_mike03112008_0337_300605_answer_1_xlargeTwitter is such a useful tool. Great source of information and fun facts. As one social media consultant said in a presentation “Facebook is for hugs, Twitter is for news.” A recent tweet made me chuckle but think. Uberfacts tweeted:

The opening for the mouth and the anus on a jellyfish is the same.

To which a follower replied:

Hey Uberfacts, you spelled politician wrong.

It used to be that running for public office was pursued by those of noble cause. Now it’s seen with such disdain that the trust in a politician is lower than a used car salesman. Running for office is no longer about governing as it is about the constant chase for donations. No sooner is a member voted into the House of Representatives than he or she is back on the trail looking for money for the next campaign.Their constant chase for the almighty dollar has caused most, not all, politicians to say whatever it takes to separate a donor from his/her money.

Besides chasing dollars, many chase polls. The prevalence and prominence that polls take these days is mind blowing. The proliferation is so great that now we have polls that aggregate polls. Andrew Cuomo was on WNYC Friday morning and when asked by Brian Lehrer about whether he struck the right balance between public safety and civil liberties with his latest quarantine policy, he started his answer by quoting a recent poll stating that 84% of New Yorkers agreed with him. Don’t know about you, but I look to my leaders to lead, not follow. Let’s take an example from the business world about leadership. Apple is famous for developing products that consumers didn’t know they needed (okay, wanted). They recently have lost their way in that regard as evidenced by the ridicule Samsung first received for their big screen phone, now Apple has copied them due to Samsung’s suggest. If Apple and Samsung were strictly guided by what consumers say they wanted, we’d all still be caring flip phones.

Shows like The West Wing and Madame Secretary are popular not because of the political stance they take, but because of the moral stance they take. We desperately long for leaders that lead from their gut and not from a poll. Click on this link from The West Wing to see an example of moral character.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

More People Time Needed

Facetime

While social media and the internet are tremendous resources for gathering and sharing information, it must not be forgotten that face to face human interaction is very important. We live in a society where people spend more time looking at their phone and computer screen than most anything else. Communication with people is mostly done electronically by texts or e-mails.  Our youth who are growing up in this environment will have less of an understanding of the importance of reading people’s facial expressions or tone of voice. What the long term implications of this might be is not known. So after you read this, please go visit a friend or face time with someone.

B Gianaris

Is It Time for NCAA To Go?

Saturday night, I was watching the Notre Dame v Florida State college football game and I was conflicted. I was raised to despise Notre Dame (for NDvFSUreasons I can no longer remember). However, as most young adults grow up and step out of the shadow created by their parents (in this case my father), we tend to see things in a different light. The game symbolized the state of affairs in college football, college sports, and sports in general.

The entertainment industry has the ability to shape opinions and make a difference in the world. Sports has the same ability but I would argue more focused on the young minds of the world. In last night’s game, we saw two programs that have a markedly different approach to what they see as their responsibility regarding their players and their school.

Florida State University (FSU) has one of the most talented players to play football in the last few years. Quarterback Jameis Winston, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner for best college football player, is in contention for the trophy again this year. While deservedly getting the accolades he receives for his on field performance, his off field performance is less than stellar. He’s been accused of rape, breaking code of conduct rules, and receiving payment for signing memorabilia. So far, his only punishment is missing a half of one game where the opponent wasn’t expected to give FSU a challenge.

Notre Dame’s approach to disciplinary infractions is pretty simple, you break the rules you are off the team, no matter who you are. Their star quarterback, Everett Golson, missed all of last year due to an academic infraction. They have five starters out now for various reasons yet the team is still competitive while building responsible men for the future.

The sad part of the Jameis Winston story is that what may ultimately get him a serious punishment is the signing of memorabilia for money. And that is why the NCAA must go. Presently, the college football audience cannot see one of, if not the, best running back in the game because he got paid for signing memorabilia. Todd Gurley of University of Georgia is sitting out an indefinite suspension while the NCAA investigates the allegations. In contrast, while the State of Florida investigated the alleged rape charges, Winston continued to play. That means that players can do whatever they want on campus, up to and including physical assault, but when they try to get a small portion of the enormous amount of money these players make for their schools, suspension occurs immediately.

The answer to the question is a resounding YES. NCAA is no longer concerned about the sanctity of the game or the well being of the athletes, if it ever was. It’s purely a business set out to protect itself, its member schools, and its bottom line.

Sorry dad. May you rest in peace. But I have to support Notre Dame. Unlike the NCAA, it cares about its players and their future.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

Better to Err on the Side of Caution

imagesEb

The Ebola scare is on the news constantly, creating awareness and in some instances hysteria. While we should not overreact, common sense preventive measures should be instituted as the outcome of Ebola spreading in the U.S. would be very deadly. Hopefully, the new “Ebola Czar” acts quickly and institutes safety measures to adequately prevent people with the disease from entering the country and prevent the spread of it.  It must be attacked at the source (with the help of the world community), as well as at our borders and within our borders.

B Gianaris

Education Reform

school_childrenWashington is great at coming up with names for new educational initiatives, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top. What they are not good at is creating sensible plans for educational reform. As is typical for the federal government, no matter who is in charge, they think money fixes everything. We are the wealthiest nation on earth but compared to our first world competitors, we are middle of the pack in terms of education.

A friend posted a link on her FB page to a three year old article in the Atlantic Monthly describing the educational system in Finland. For those that don’t know, Finland consistently ranks in the top three for students with the highest achievements. How do they do it? It’s certainly not by testing their students year in and year out. Teachers are given autonomy in evaluating their students and their written evaluation serves as the primary grading mechanism. Nationally, their focus is on equity not excellence. The thought being that focusing on quality education across the board means everyone does well. Our reforms seem to be more centered around satisfying unions or corporations and not thinking about the student.

If you read the linked article, you’ll see that some say that Finland’s model cannot work here because our society is not nearly as homogeneous as theirs. I’m on my local school board and in my view, my city is a microcosm of the United States. I’ve heard this same argument from administrators that there are socio-economic issues beyond the school district’s control that impact their ability to delivery quality education. I don’t buy that. Where there’s a will there’s a way. But there in lies the problem.

Remember the great space race of the 60s? As a nation, we came together to support the mission to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, before the Soviet Union. We had a collective will to achieve that goal. That will does not exist for public education. My guess is that our “cultural heritage” of rugged individualism cannot be overcome. How this comes into play is in how public schools are financed.

Funding for schools come from three sources, local, state, and federal governments . As of 2010, the percentage split was 44% local, 44% state, and 12% federal. With the local support coming from property taxes, areas with high valued properties get to spend more on their schools, then areas with low valued property. Would those in the high property tax areas be happy to see their money go out of their district to support another? Somehow the argument has to be made that it is each person’s self interest to make sure everyone has access to quality education. And the only way to achieve equity across the board is to distribute funds where needed.

So now I’ve come a 180 degrees from where I started. Federal government has been unsuccessful in its approach to education yet I support a distribution of funds (which can only be done at the state and federal level). The difference is this, I support it with no strings attached. Allow the local districts to receive their funds from the state and federal government without the demands of testing and data gathering that they presently insist. That also means that the federal or state government should not support teachers’ unions either financially or by law. That’s not to say I want to see them abolished, just that they should stand on their own two feet and exist where they provide value for students, not teachers.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

Sports for Sale

imagesCAUQPP2Q

I just read that the NBA is planning to put ads on the players’ uniforms. Let’s go New York Gilletes! Way to go Brooklyn Samsungs! As if sports teams don’t make enough money, the NBA teams will now be renting out space on uniforms to squeeze out another few million in profits. It’s bad enough the price of taking your kids to a game has gone up so much. Now we have to be bombarded with ads even while watching the players during the game.  You see ads inside of all baseball fields and even driving up to some of the stadiums, such as Citi Field, where ads are plastered all along the side of the stadium, making it look like you are driving up to a huge shopping center instead of a baseball stadium.  Sports has become an out of control business where the fun and purity of the game is being overshadowed by profit making.  When I was growing up, sports was something fun turned to in order to get escape from the day to day activities of life. It was something where teamwork and competition were practiced and enjoyed by those playing and those watching, with some sense of purity.  It has now become more about making money, where many families are being priced out of attending games and where making money has overshadowed all else.  There is nowhere left to hide.

First Do No Harm?

images-2While the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t contain the phrase referenced in the title of this article, it is considered its underlying principle. Just like a blindfolded Lady Justice (who originally was not depicted with blindfolds, but that is a discussion for another post), healthcare is supposed to be administered without concern for the patient’s religious beliefs, economic status, race, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender. In the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the system failed.

How does a patient with 103 degree fever, vomiting, and a reported pain level of 8 on a scale of 10 get sent home with some antibiotics? The Reverend Jesse Jackson is now representing Mr. Duncan’s family and injecting race into the equation. I am not certain that race is a factor, but I’m also not certain that race isn’t a factor. What I do think though is that his level of care was based on his socio-economic standing and his lack of citizenship. Take a look at this CNN article. The article is interesting because it delineates the difference in care Mr. Duncan received versus other Ebola victims treated in the U.S. but what is more concerning to me are the comments posted. The general thread is that he lied (not true, his information was not reported to people who could have made a difference), came here for free healthcare, and since he’s not a citizen we owe him nothing. It’s the last statement that concerns me most. Since when do our morals and values end at our borders? If that were the case, we’d station our military along our borders and demolish the State Department.

A common view you will see on this site is our belief that human rights supersedes politics. If as a nation we want to project our moral authority, we need to practice what we preach by not picking and choosing which international crises we decide to engage in. Whether its Rwanda, Kobani, or Ebola, we as a nation should stand behind our moral obligations and values.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

 

Poor Middle Me

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One of my high school teachers has taken to calling me a “liberal” when he sees me. Evidently, my volunteer efforts with animal rescue, which I proudly share through social media, gave me away. Saving dogs and cats from abuse, neglect and unnecessary euthanization makes me clearly left of center. Suggesting that mental health services receive greater coverage by insurance companies, also a wacky, leftist point of view. I support gay marriage, though I don’t think that my church has to, so I can’t possibly be anything but liberal. And I don’t care for Sarah Palin.

At the same time, another friend loves me despite the fact that I’m a “right-wing radical.” Apparently, because I’m overwhelmed with taxes and want all levels of government to be accountable, I’m a right-winger (mind you, I live in the highest-taxed county in the country). I think law-abiding people should be allowed to own guns. I also strongly stand with our police officers. I believe that families raise children – not schools or government. And I don’t care for Nancy Pelosi.

It’s all crazy stuff, I know!

So, where is this post going? Nowhere, I suppose. It looks like this post is stuck in the middle, much like my views. Not right. Not left. But the worst part of being a “middler” is that both parties pretend to care about you but neither really does. Inevitably, they both put up candidates that echo the far extreme of either doctrine, leaving those of us who want compromise and moderation feeling left right out.

Jean Maisano

Work in the Real World First

I’ve always considered myself socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Or as another friend put it, nationally Democrat and locally Republican. Through this blog, I hope to reach people who identify themselves in this manner. It’s unfortunate that there are very few politicians that fit this mold. In my last post, I outlined my issues with the Republican Party. This post outlines my issues with the Democratic Party.

As a small business owner, I’m familiar with the many layers of regulations necessary to do business. Anyone who has spent any iota of time in the real world would not be proponents of adding complexity to the business of business. More often than not, Democratic candidates are career politicians while their Republican counterparts come from industry. Would love to see a requirement that before seeking office, every candidate must have spent time in the real world (and the military). I understand that there’s more to being a public servant than matters that concern the economy, but only by having spent time trying to turn 10 dollars into 20 can one grasp the challenges of business.

Let’s not perpetuate class warfare. I cringe every time I hear “the wealthy have to pay their fair share.” Really? Please define wealthy. If there is real concern about who is paying their fair share, then make it easy to determine everyone’s share. Eliminate deductions and pay a flat rate. Simple and clean. No more debate about who is not carrying their load. Added benefit: with no deductions, the tax code will no longer be used to pick winners and losers in the economy.

When it comes to the economy and the citizens of the United States, the federal government has one job to do. That is to level the playing field. Don’t stack the deck in favor of one industry (e.g. mortgage deductions favoring the construction business) or group of citizens (e.g. charitable deductions). I’m a free market individual and appreciate its ability to allocate resources effectively. However, for the market to do its job more efficiently, every individual must have an equal chance of participating. That’s our government’s role. As Arthur Okun sums up in the subtitle of his book Equality and Efficiency, it’s a big tradeoff but one that will have a lasting impact.

 

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

American Politics Are A Mess. Is This Why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

(Thanks to New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson for appearing as our first Guest Blogger).

In a thought-provoking feature in this week’s New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai recounts in (surprisingly gripping) detail the collapse of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign and then pivots to make a larger point about the tabloidization of American politics.

Bai’s article, which is rightly getting a lot of attention, suggests that the push to expose personal character flaws in politicians has shoved substance to the margins, both for the media and for candidates. From there, the dominoes fall in ugly progression – capable people choose not to run for public office, mediocrities take their place and are never really challenged to demonstrate depth, campaigns devolve into nasty battles about trivialities, government grinds to a dysfunctional halt, and the public grows increasingly disenchanted with choices that all look bad. Here’s a key excerpt:

“As an industry, we [in the press] aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions . . . Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.”

Much of Bai’s account is hard to dispute; anyone who thinks our political system is in good shape just isn’t paying attention. And part of the appeal of his argument is that it can serve as a sort of grand unified theory for everything that’s gone wrong.

But is the media’s excessive interest in personal scandal really at the root of the superficiality and viciousness of today’s politics? I’m not convinced. Yes, tabloid-style coverage is a problem, but I see much bigger factors at play:

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This Blog’s Purpose – An Informed and Independent Electorate

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

In 1789 Thomas Jefferson stated, “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” As usual, Jefferson was correct and that is why we created this blog. In modern America, the voters know way more about television shows, sports and celebrity gossip than about the candidates running in our elections.

We will be discussing the important issues facing our country in an independent and thoughtful manner on the Free Voter Blog. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are not good fits for this blog. Join this effort by reading our posts and providing us with feedback through comments.

No one can believe that the current harsh partisanship we see in Washington, D.C. is best for our country. Instead, the Free Voter Blog is advocating for an INFORMED and INDEPENDENT electorate. We believe you should not just vote the party line, but rather follow the campaigns, study the issues and vote for the best candidate in all elections. This blog will set an example for reasoned debate between thoughtful people who truly care about our nation’s future. Please join us on this positive adventure in democracy.

Jim Maisano

Jim@FreeVoter.com