The avalanche of “fake facts”

Being a blogger of long standing, I’m quite aware of where I fall in the news ecosystem. Since my site doesn’t exist to be a news aggregation site like some others I’m familiar with, I’m not the place for news – my niche is in the opinion genre. However, I do make occasional forays into first-person reporting when I go to events which create news or promote interests that I believe should be shared for the public’s good – not as many as I once did, say, ten to twelve years ago, but there have been a few over the last couple years.

However, in working for The Patriot Post (and later, writing Rise and Fall) I learned the value of checking and verifying sources. I found out that there are some writers on the Left who still practice the craft of reasonable journalism and some on the Right who are totally partisan rah-rah hacks that deal in rumor and innuendo that doesn’t pass the sniff test. Naturally, we could switch the political sides and find examples there, too – the point is that we shouldn’t go out and live in an information silo regardless of how tempting that might be.

(My advice to people like that: unplug social media for a week or two and bring your life back to balance. There’s this Good Book a lot of people have that is worth reading in the interim.)

As most of my readers know, I came across iVoterGuide several years ago and helped them evaluate Maryland candidates in 2018. We went through a lot of factual information in grading these hopefuls on their political philosophy, so they are a pretty good guide to what they called Five Ways to Spot Fake “Facts.” Alas, it was only an e-mail and not a link so you’ll have to trust me on this long blockquote. All emphasis is in original.

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As someone who seeks to be accurately informed, how can you protect yourself from believing and spreading false information? And how can you consistently spot the truth amidst an abundance of error?

At iVoterGuide, this is something we think about all the time. So I wanted to share with you five practical tools our team uses to spot fake “facts.” You can use these in evaluating the flood of information and misinformation flowing into your life every day:

  1. Recognize the difference between original sources vs. news or commentary. News reports, “fact checks”, editorials, and statements made by an individual are interpretations of an original source. For example, a certain law may be described as either “suppressing voting rights” or “protecting against voter fraud”. How are the words influencing your perspective?
  2. Check original sources, if possible. These are sources referenced by the news article, commentary, or individual. In the example above, reading the original source (the law itself) will tell you what the law actually accomplishes. And if you can’t conveniently get the original, just remember you are working off of someone’s interpretation.
  3. Check and compare multiple sources of information. Contrast an individual’s statement on social media to a news report on the same subject. Compare news sources with differing perspectives. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
  4. Ask probing questions, even from sources you personally trust. For example: 
  • What makes this person/source an authority on the subject/issue?
  • What are their sources? Are they quoting eyewitness accounts, original source documents, or simply another news agency?
  • Does the evidence justify their statements? (This is very important when the author makes assumptions about a person’s motives or character.)
  • Are they accountable to anyone for their accuracy? (For example, a news reporter must comply with the journalistic standards of their news agency, in contrast to an independent blogger. However, it’s worth asking if the news agency is itself a reliable watchdog these days.)
  • Am I being presented with the whole picture/video/story? Has anything been edited out? Is a quote being taken out of context?
  • When was this written? Is the information up to date? Is it still too early to confidently know the details?
  1. Be mindful of your emotions. Even if the story or statement confirms your beliefs, it deserves an accuracy check before sharing. In opinion pieces, fundraising emails, or social media posts, both the Left and the Right can succumb to exaggerating facts in order to spur action. In addition, our fast-paced culture breeds impulsive decisions. Intentionally avoiding a reaction based in anger or fear, however, can greatly protect your integrity.

With a personal commitment to integrity and accountability to truth, you can avoid spreading falsehood and, most rewarding, discover the truth. In our present culture, those who know and spread truth are like welcome beacons of light to other truth seekers—and lighthouses to keep unwary citizens from dangerous rocks of deception.

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As I noted above, my little news niche comes from first-person reporting – generally in my “pictures and text” posts like my recent coverage of Patriots for Delaware or Mt. Hermon Plow Days. If there’s any gatekeeping, it comes from which photos I select or which quotes I use. Obviously I have a narrative I want to pass along in my reporting, although it’s generally dictated by the information I gather – unfortunately, sometimes I miss the best line in the remarks or the photo doesn’t come out.

But there are a lot of times that I’m the only one who bothered to cover the event, so unless you have some other first-person narrative you’re stuck with mine and it becomes the historical record, for whatever that’s worth. Still, I try to pass all the aspects of this five-part test above, and there’s a reason for that.

Many years ago, when I began this long excursion in writing, I told myself that I wasn’t going to write anything that would make me lose sleep over what I said. So I don’t get into gossip, and if that lost me a couple readers along the way, well, they probably weren’t going to stick around long anyhow. I just do the best I can with the talents I have, and I’m just thankful for all those thousands who have stopped by over the years.

Regardless, there’s some advice here to take to heart.

More thoughts on government dependence

While I love working in this venue, I also cherish how I get to stretch my writing wings on various subjects of national importance thanks to my longtime employment as part of The Patriot Post. Thus, last Friday I got the opportunity to take a swing at one of my favorite subjects, that of government dependence.

In this case, however, I was looking at the issue on a personal level. And while that is extremely important, we shouldn’t forget that it can happen on a local and state government level as well. And that brings me to a topic I was alerted to recently.

According to Charlie Copeland at the Caesar Rodney Institute, the state of Delaware has a “shadow budget” estimated at $7.5 billion, and it’s money which is “almost entirely comprised of Federal funds in the form of grants for hundreds of projects in dozens of our state agencies as well as our colleges and universities.” (The quote comes from a related “exclusive interview” the CRI released in e-mail form, with much of the same information.)

The very important piece of context for this is that Delaware has a state budget (at least the one officially on the books) of about $5 billion, which is the smallest state budget in the country. If you added this $7.5 billion “shadow budget,” though, it’s no longer at the bottom and, on a per capita basis, it now becomes larger than adjacent Maryland’s – where (I believe) both state expenditures and federal pass-throughs are listed in their $50+ billion budget. In fact, Delaware could easily fall into the top 10 in highest per-capita spending, although that depends on how each of the other states treat federal contributions to state budgets. It’s likely there are other states whose budget reporting in skewed in similar fashion; it’s a scope I’m not going to get into right now.

My point is that state and local governments have fallen into a trap that no one seems to have the will to extricate themselves from. By taking that federal (or, in the case of local government, state) largesse they avoid making the difficult decision of balancing a budget or raising taxes to do so. And if it’s enough, they can take the credit and keep the voters happy – if not they have a convenient scapegoat to blame. (Case in point: the staffing controversy in Delmar after the death of DPD Corporal Keith Heacook.)

Certainly there are aspects of government only suitable for handling at the federal level, but generally these are performed by federal employees. Where the feds overstep their bounds is those times when they hand out money to the states, expecting them to follow along in lockstep by enacting desired policies. Since no one wants to give up the federal funding, they follow along dutifully like a dog on a leash.

What the federal government needs is a reformer who both understands the Tenth Amendment and knows that many millions of federal employees, lobbyists, and other beggars and hangers-on really need a productive gig. The world needs ditchdiggers, too. Sadly, we are stuck going in the opposite direction for the time being.

Programming note: Speaking of wing spreading, today was my last Friday piece for The Patriot Post and it was on a somewhat related topic. But it’s not the end for me there.

I don’t know if this is a promotion or just a lateral move, but they have asked me to write on Tuesday nights for Wednesday publication and I agreed to do so. I suspect my first Wednesday piece will come next week.

Becoming the loyal opposition

As the days of the Trump administration dwindle down to a precious few and the world is attempting to hoist him up on the petard of (so-called) insurrection, it’s clear that there are over 70 million Americans who are angry with the situation.

But let’s dispense with a few things first: the claims that Trump will return for another term after he declares martial law then drains the Swamp with thousands of arrests – ain’t gonna happen. Even if he uses the military, the size and scope of the necessary operation is such that SOMEONE would have leaked it out by now.

And it’s not just that: Trump doesn’t figure in the line of succession, even if you arrested Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi. It’s the same logic that said Hillary would be president if Trump was impeached and convicted. There’s just no Constitutional precedent for this – even in the midst of a civil war we held a Presidential election in 1864. We’ll never know, but would Abraham Lincoln have ceded power in March of 1865 had he lost?

There were originally going to be three main points to this post, but two of them have been taken care of in a different fashion. I liked Erick Erickson’s take on all the fake news that I alluded to above, so I encourage you to read it via The Patriot Post. My other writing home is also where the second part of this discourse ended up, regarding the fate of the Republican Party going forward. One key point:

Donald Trump was the candidate whose boldness on hot-button issues such as immigration and tax reform brought back those who became disillusioned when the Tea Party devolved to just another group of inside-the-Beltway grifters, and the Republican establishment cooled the fiery spirits of those the Tea Party helped to place in Congress.

“The Road Ahead for the GOP,” The Patriot Post, January 15, 2021

This was one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written for them because it’s a subject I am passionate about.

But in the wake of the purloined Presidential election and the catastrophe at the Capitol, people are probably shrugging their shoulders and resigning themselves to the end of our Republic, keeping their anger and passion inside to eat at them. Now I don’t have the overall surefire way to make you feel better, but perhaps it’s time to revisit what happened the last time we were in this situation.

Granted, the political landscape in 2021 is not really the same chessboard we were looking at in the dark winter of 2009. Back then we didn’t have the pervasiveness of social media to squelch the voices of conservatives nor did we have the upstream economic swimming made necessary by the ongoing CCP virus. (Of course, that will improve soon as Democrat governors finally decide that maybe, just maybe, they need to open up their state economies.) And that’s okay because perhaps this time we need to shift the focus to a smaller stage rather than try and play in a arena we’re not as familiar with. Complaining about federal spending and what would become Obamacare only delayed the inevitable twelve years ago because Tip O’Neill was right: all politics is local.

To that end, there is a trinity of issues which can be positively influenced at the local level in the near term, and in my opinion these are places the passion for Donald Trump can be well applied (or at least I think he would approve.) In at least one respect – the one I’m going to begin with – it’s not even necessarily political.

Support local small businesses.

This can be a lot easier said than done, particularly if you live in a rural area like I do. I have to admit we get a LOT of Amazon and Walmart boxes delivered to us, and the UPS truck is a regular sight around this area. On the flip side, though, we have a lot of small businesses that we can support in our town, particularly the restaurants. (I have my local favorite, and you should too. Patronize them often and leave good tips.)

The thing that is holding back businesses the most are the pandemic-inspired restrictions. I’m sure my local pizzeria would love to be able to open up all their seating despite their solid carry-out business. Initial mandates that favored big-box retailers as “essential” when their smaller counterparts – which often sold the same merchandise – were shut down led to the loss of millions of jobs and the perceived need to send out stimulus checks that are simply the gateway drug to the cherished regressive dream of a universal basic income. (Or, as Dire Straits once sang, Money for Nothing. I suppose it’s good the government hasn’t tried the chicks for free yet, because I could only imagine that disaster.)

I think if you asked the business owner who had to shut down whether they’d prefer the check or the business, 99% would be back in business. Seeing that the ice is beginning to break with some of these Democrats, perhaps it’s time to apply more pressure to Governor Carnage to end this so-called emergency and let businesses try to pick up the pieces.

Action items:

  • Patronize local, small businesses wherever possible.
  • Pressure local legislators and officials to advocate for the opening up of your state’s businesses as applicable. (Obviously people reading this from certain states can skip this part.)
  • If a business decides to go against a state’s forced closing mandate – don’t be a Karen, be a customer.
  • And it’s not just businesses: having open schools and resuming their activities would be a great help to employment as well. It brings me to my next part.

Reforming our schools.

One thing I loved about the Trump administration was the fresh perspective he brought to the Department of Education with Betsy DeVos. Unfortunately, her tenure was cut a bit short because she bought the media narrative about the January 6 protest, but her time at the DoE was the next best thing to it not being there.

Sadly, under Harris/Biden there will likely be some other NEA-approved hack running that show and undoing all the good DeVos did, so we need to do what we can to re-establish local control of our public schools as much as possible and push the envelope where required. If that can’t be done, then it’s time to support the alternatives such as homeschooling or non-public schools.

Of course, the best way to guide public schools is to become a member of their school board, but not everyone has that sort of time commitment nor do they want to go through the anal exam known as an election. (Furthermore, in the case of my local school district, reform would be slow: they elect one member of the five-member body every year, meaning it would take at least three years to install a like-thinking majority.) But it is a good idea to know about your local school board and see who the friendlies to the cause are. (If they have a BLM banner, it’s not too likely they’re conservative.) The ideal here is to revamp curriculum to bring it back to classical education as opposed to indoctrination, encouraging a variety of viewpoints and critical thinking. Public school students don’t have to be mindless robots; after all, I’m a case in point since I went to public school and a public university. I think I turned out okay.

On a state level, there are two priorities and this means you have to make some enemies in the teachers’ union: school choice and (corollary to that) money following the child. It’s your child and the state should be doing its level best to assist you in training up the child in the way he should go.

Action items:

  • Demand schools open up fully. The lack of in-person learning and activities has cost students a year of development.
  • Research your local school board and its candidates, even if you don’t have kids there. They are taking a lot of your tax money so you should be aware how it’s spent.
  • Advocate with your state legislators for school choice and money following the child.

And now for the biggie, the one which should be job one among all right-thinking Americans:

Restoring free and fair elections.

I’m going to begin with a quote. You may be surprised at the source.

Voting by mail is now common enough and problematic enough that election experts say there have been multiple elections in which no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner. The list includes the 2000 presidential election, in which problems with absentee ballots in Florida were a little-noticed footnote to other issues.

In the last presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots. That suggests an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent.

“Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Balloting Rises,” Adam Liptak, New York Times, October 6, 2012.

It’s funny because that story concludes, “You could steal some absentee ballots or stuff a ballot box or bribe an election administrator or fiddle with an electronic voting machine,” (Yale law professor Heather Gerken) said. That explains, she said, “why all the evidence of stolen elections involves absentee ballots and the like.”

It didn’t get any better in 2020, as hastily-passed (or decreed) election law led to the chaotic scenes we saw played out in several big-city vote counting venues. Combine that with the molasses-like pace of mail sent through the USPS – I received a Christmas card sent by a friend in Kansas December 18 on January 4 – and we got an election result that millions are skeptical about.

I know there are some who swear these practices are on the up and up, but this is the question we should be asking these officials: If you support election practices we can’t trust, how can you be a public servant we can trust?

At a minimum, we should be demanding that changes made for the 2020 election should be scrapped entirely. This was no way to run an election, and it will always be fishy how Donald Trump (and a host of other Republicans) led in their election in certain states until the wee hours of Wednesday morning before suddenly being overtaken in a barrage of votes for Democrats. I will give kudos to the election officials here in Delaware who demanded all mail-in ballots be delivered by 8 p.m. on election night because the counting was pretty much done by the late local news.

I don’t care if you call it the TEA Party again – with the acronym now standing for Trump’s Election Avengers – but here are the action items, as the beginning of a list of demands for real election reform:

  1. The voter rolls should be purged of inactive voters (no voting in the last four years) and those who use fake addresses such as P.O. boxes. Big-city election boards should be made to use some of their ill-gotten largess to investigate these places.
  2. Absentee balloting should no longer be shall-issue. There has to be a legitimate excuse, although advanced age should remain a legitimate excuse. Deadline for absentee ballot return is Election Day, no postmark exceptions.
  3. Ballot-harvesting should be outlawed or curtailed to leave only family members allowed to return a limited number of ballots.
  4. Early voting should be eliminated, or at the very least cut back to the weekend just prior to the election.
  5. There should be more election observers, and not just Democrat and Republican. We should add two independent or minor party voters who are also allowed to observe and object.

This isn’t to say that we should ignore the excesses of the Harris/Biden administration and speak out when necessary. But in making these more easily attainable changes at the local level, we make it more difficult to enact change on a national scale.

If we want to make the necessary changes, we have to borrow the “think globally, act locally” mantra from the environmentalist wackos for a bit and ride out the next four years as the real shadow government. It’s only through us that a government for and by the people not perish from the earth.