Is the New “Presidential Alert” a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

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Yesterday ushered in a new day for governmental contact with its citizens. At precisely 2:18PM (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, the federal government issued the first ever Emergency Alert over cellphones. It was a simple statement, much like what you have when they perform this same test monthly on radio and television (“This is a test of the Wireless Emergency Alert System. This is only a test.”). And not everyone received it; according to many that I have spoken to (admittedly a small group), there were couples that one received the message while the other didn’t (even if they were in the same room), there were those that received the message even though they had shut their phones off (don’t ask this layman how that happened) and those that got the message right on time.

Naturally, everyone lost their shit over the text message. A lawsuit (one of many) was filed in New York looking to stop the deployment of the “Wireless Emergency Alert System,” arguing that it violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the U. S. Constitution. Attorneys argued that the system was a “violation of Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from Government-compelled listening, as well as warrantless, non-consensual trespass into and seizure of their cellular devices.”

It is reasonable that these people believe the veracity of their arguments. While people can get on “Do Not Call” lists, opt out of Amber or Silver Alerts (the Silver Alert is for older people who are in jeopardy) and other bothersome contacts, this particular Alert cannot be opted out of because of federal regulations. But the problems that some people have is perhaps not as much about the Alert but about how it was billed.

At the top of yesterday’s Emergency Alert test was, in bold print, Presidential Alert. Now, just who would currently be the president (and I put it in lowercase because he doesn’t fucking deserve upper)? That’s right, it is Orange Foolius, a petulant man-child whose propensity for hate-Tweeting is well-known. When presented with the ability to reach 330 MILLION cellphones in this country, the Narcissist in Chief has a megaphone that he can use to spew his garbage to the entirety of the country.

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Except it isn’t supposed to be used in that manner. President Barack Obama actually instigated the Wireless Emergency Alert System back in 2016 when he signed a law authorizing its creation. In that law, the usage of the system was just like that of television and radio – that it was only authorized in the case of a national emergency. The actual language in the law state that a president (and, since President Obama isn’t in the office anymore, we’re speaking about the jackass there now and future office holders) “shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.” Arguments against the Alerts state that this is “unconstitutionally vague,” and that is reasonable.

If they had simply called it a “Wireless Emergency Alert System” and left it at that, I don’t think people would be as upset as they are. Most people don’t even watch television or have radio anymore – the old ways that the Emergency Alert System was to inform people in case of an emergency. But it seems that everyone has a cellphone, which is awake 24/7 and never sleeps. Thus, shouldn’t there be a way for the federal government to reach people in a time of emergency (let’s leave out the questions of when cell service wouldn’t reach people, such as a hurricane or other weather-related phenomenon)?

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While President Obama started this law, it was accelerated after an incident earlier this year. In January in Hawaii, there was an inaccurate Emergency Alert sent out about an impending nuclear attack coming in. The ballistic missile warning was sent over the tradition Emergency Alert System and the Commercial Mobile Alert System (covering all televisions, radio and cellphones) that stated firmly that “this is not a drill.” People were panicking across the islands for almost 45 minutes (this occurred at roughly 8AM local time) before authorities could get out word that the alert was false. This particular wireless system, in theory, could have gotten the message out quicker (don’t ask me how) and corrected the inaccurate report.

Where the feds fucked this up is in calling it a “Presidential Alert.” With the divisiveness of this asswipe in the WH currently, there’s more than half the country that is going to despise it, not to mention those that believe in the libertarian philosophy of less government intrusion into private lives. Let’s not even get into the legal and/or ethical situations of tapping the 911 lines to be able to hunt you down so you get precise alerts (that’s why Amber Alerts work wherever you go and always for that area). I do think this should be examined, but it could have been avoided with a little research into branding the product.

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Furthermore, there is some credence to the fact that citizens of the States of America have given up an extreme amount of freedom. Since 9/11, the freedoms of the Average Joe have been eroded bit by bit. The Patriot Act opened up that Pandora’s Box under the pretense of the “war on terrorism” (an unwinnable engagement because there isn’t a set opponent or location to actually fight the war) and, for the most part, U. S. citizens have acquiesced to the invasion of their privacy. That invasion continues to grow, mostly without anyone even noticing that the once large arena of personal liberty has shrunk to a small room.

The bottom line is that the situation could have been avoided by a little smarter work and a little better branding of the product by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (the government organization in charge of the usage of the Emergency Alert System). With Mushroom Dick in the office currently (and his approval rating floundering around 35%), such actions as this aren’t going to be viewed in a good light. But instead of arguing about whether Orange Foolius is going to be using the “Presidential Alert” to send out his latest Twitter missives aimed at those he believes have “wronged him,” we ought to look at the overall picture of security for the country and then determine if this step is really necessary to ensure that all citizens of the States of America can be informed in the case of a TRUE national emergency.

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So A Third Party Vote Isn’t “Wasted?” Take A Look…It Is

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With all the turmoil over the 2016 Presidential campaign – and the choice between a duplicitous but highly qualified Hillary Clinton and a raving nutbag of racism, misogyny and xenophobia in the Tangerine Nightmare (that’s right, I don’t even begin to name him – my choice), never in the history of the United States has there been a riper time for a third party candidate to make an impact. Because the two “major parties” have been unable to nominate someone who could, you know, actually LEAD the country, someone like the Libertarian Party or the Green Party could step in and fill the void. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Let’s take the Libertarian Party first. The only other party to actually be on all 50 ballots in the U. S., the Libertarians have reached a crossroads in their existence. Long viewed as the “hippie” party because of their views on legalization of marijuana and policies that put more into personal responsibility than governmental rigor, the Libertarians are actually the only party (other than the two major parties) to actually register a notable percentage of the vote in 2012; in that Presidential election, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson garnered 1,275,951 votes across the U. S. – roughly 1% of the votes in the election (and the best ever showing by the Libertarians).

When it comes to the 2016 Presidential efforts, however, the Libertarians took a page from the GOP playbook instead of…well, being Libertarians. Johnson (who had previously run for President as a Republican in 2012 and, after losing that nomination, suddenly “saw the light” and became a Libertarian), believing that he would be easily nominated again for the party’s Presidential ambitions, instead had to fight off accusations that he wasn’t “libertarian” enough (heard that somewhere before?) and that someone who was a “true Libertarian” needed to be chosen. In the end, however, Johnson and his Vice President pick, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, earned the nomination of the party.

Turning our attention to the Green Party, they have also nominated the same candidate that they chose in the 2012 election. Dr. Jill Stein, a longtime activist with the party, was selected in 2012 and garnered absolutely no attention from anyone whatsoever. How bad was it? In that 2012 election, Stein drew in 469,628 votes, less than the population of Brevard County on the East Coast of Florida.

Fast forward to 2016 and, instead of picking someone who might be a “fresh face” for the party, the Greens picked Stein again. The choice was made despite the factor that she has been viewed by many as anti-science and has tossed her hat in the ring with 9/11 conspiracy advocates (like the Orangutan Mutant). Party officials obviously were looking for someone and, lacking anyone with even the inkling of name recognition that Dr. Stein (who also offered her nomination to former Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders if he would just switch to the Green Party) had, decided to stick with her (these things have pretty much eliminated her from contention, much like Johnson’s Aleppo mistake and, just this last weekend, his contention that “nobody got hurt” during the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the knife attack in Minnesota, dismisses him as a serious contender).

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There’s several problems with looking towards the “third party” option in this or any election, but we will only deal with a few of them here. First, voting for a “third party” option is the waste of a vote (and, as you will see, the statistics demonstrate this); second, that a solid third party has yet to form; and third, that the other parties are not following a path towards success if they are trying to infiltrate the two party system.

First, if you are considering a vote for a third party candidate this year, take a look at the numbers. Of the elected positions in national government – the President and Congress – how many of those seats are held by the Libertarian Party? The total would be zilch. What about governorships in the United States? That, too, would be zero. You have to go to the state legislatures to even find a Libertarian, and that total would be four out of 7383 seats available. In local elected offices (of which there are tens of thousands of elected positions), there are only 145 wielding power.

What about the Green Party? They don’t even register on the national or state scene, with no elected officials in any national or state government. The Green Party does register about the same numbers on the local scene as the Libertarians – an estimated 137 positions – but there’s problems for the party overall. When it comes to actually getting votes, they aren’t even on the ballot in all 50 states FOR PRESIDENT, let alone running in other races.

The second point – that no solid third party has formed in the past 30 years – takes into account those parties that “stood alone” from the two party system, of which none have been successful. The Tea Party was a subset of the Republican Party (in fact, if the Republicans didn’t want to be in the situation they are now, they should have cut the Tea Party loose from the start) and the Dixiecrats were a subset of the Democratic Party after World War II (and they were eventually cut off by the Democratic Party). Those parties that tried to stand alone – Ross Perot’s Reform Party had a nice run in the 1990s before petering out after the turn of the century and there are individuals who choose “Independent” as their party (despite the fact there isn’t a “dedicated” Independent Party) – have never been able to grasp the public’s attention for very long.

The third point – that the smaller parties are taking the wrong approach – is an easy one to correct. Instead of trying to elect one of your members to the Presidency, why not try to make inroads into the local and state realms of government. Remember those numbers presented earlier? The numbers that showed that, of all the state and federal elected positions, that only four seats would be occupied by someone that identified as Libertarian and zero by Greens? The numbers that showed that, of local governments, slightly less than 300 seats were held by someone not affiliated with either major party?

If the Libertarian or Green Party were able to actually make an impact on the local political arena – instead of 300, how about 30,000 elected officials? – then they would be able to spark the changes that they seek on the state and national scene. Even if either Johnson or Stein were elected, do you honestly think that the Congress – dominated by the two major parties – would choose to work with them? It is something that has to grow from the ground up, not from the top down.

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It is thought that pulling the lever for one of the non-mainstream candidates will be a form of “protest,” of “voting on principle,” when it will in fact be a waste of your voice. By pulling the handle for either Johnson or Stein (or any of the other candidates who may emerge on your ballot for President), you are saying that, while you don’t like either of the major party choices, you also don’t want to be involved in the process of choosing from the two most likely choices someone who WILL be the next President of the United States (and yes, it can sometimes seem like you’re getting screwed, but at least you made a choice as to who would be screwing you).

Who do you want making the key decisions, not only for our nation but also for the usage of our military men and women, for the conduct of our foreign affairs, for the security of the nation, for the efficient operation of our government and for raising up everyone instead of a select few? By voting for a third party candidate, you abdicate your ability to make the choice – the compromise that our democracy is built on – and choose the future leader of the country.

With all hope, it won’t have an effect on the outcome of the race. In 2000, the Green Party’s Ralph Nader was able to garner 2.9 million votes, with some saying that it doomed Al Gore’s hopes for the Presidency (and remember that, in Florida, Gore is reported to have lost by 527 votes despite winning the popular vote nationally). In 1992, Perot ran as an Independent (he had yet to create the Reform Party) and earned a whopping 19% of the vote, arguably denying the first George Bush a second term in office (Bush lost to Bill Clinton by roughly 5.8 million votes; Perot earned 19.7 million).

The choice may be an ugly one, but it has to be made. A petulant display of “making a point” by choosing a minor party’s candidate isn’t a protest but an abdication of responsibility. Perhaps someday these parties will have worked to the point where they can challenge the current stalwarts of politics, but that time isn’t now. Thus, we have to choose from the two candidates who represent the major political parties and, after the votes are tallied, WILL provide the 45th President of the United States.

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It Works Both Ways in “Black Lives Matter,” But Not In Every Other Case

Since the shooting of Houston, TX, Deputy Darren Goforth, allegedly by Shannon Miles and for some unknown reason(s), the rhetoric on both sides has ramped up drastically. Harris County, TX, Sheriff Ron Hickman, Goforth’s boss, stated it plainly on CNN when he said, “This rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘All lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and just say ‘Lives matter,’ and take that to the bank?”

While Sheriff Hickman’s comments might be construed as not being acceptable (and, as a member of law enforcement, personal feelings aren’t supposed to be a part of the job), it comes on the heels of a “Black Lives Matter” protest in Minneapolis, MN, this weekend that were just as reprehensible. Although the particular “Black Lives Matter” group was offered a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, the organizers refused that opportunity to connect with people and instead decided to hold their protests on the streets in front of the fairgrounds. This allowed the protesters to say things such as “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” All of this supposedly helpful bullshit comes on the heels of the Virginia shooting of two newspaper reporters by a former coworker, who supposedly was a homosexual male and supported the politics of President Barack Obama.

There is so much that is wrong in the current climate of discussion that it is difficult for anyone to wrap their heads around the subject. One of the main issues, however, is that no one wants to admit that the prescribed norms work both ways and should be applied equally to both sides. With that application, the outcome isn’t the same in every case, however.

The Texas case is tragic in that, on the surface, it does seem to be spawned by the anti-law enforcement sentiment that has festered throughout at least 2015 if not for the past 100 years itself. Lacking any information from the authorities, we are only left with conjecture as to why Miles decided on Friday night to cold-bloodedly gun down Goforth as he filled his squad car with gas. The same thing was seen in December 2014, when two New York City police officers were senselessly executed by another black man (who subsequently committed suicide), supposedly in response to the decision by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict police officers in the deaths of two black men.

In the Texas case, we could start with not escalating the situation any further than it already has been. Sheriff Hickman didn’t need to step in front of the microphones outside his office and toss gasoline on the fire by implying that the “Black Lives Matter” movement had something to do with the execution of his officer. He could have just as easily said, “We currently have no information on any motive or reason for my officer’s shooting.” Instead, he chose that moment to inflame conditions even more than they might have been. In a volatile state such as Texas, where very widely divergent viewpoints often don’t meet with genteel outcomes, it is something he should have thought about.

That doesn’t let the “Black Lives Matter” protestors off the hook, though. To actually chant for the execution of police officers – which has also been alleged in several other protest marches throughout the United States during “Black Lives Matter” events, among other violent acts – is downright wrong if not borderline criminal. If an individual can be charged with “voicing a threat” against another person, then what is the charge that should be put on those whose basic statement is “kill a cop?” (Let’s not get this wrong, I do believe in freedom of speech. That’s why I don’t have a problem with Body Count’s “Cop Killer” (an artistic statement) but do have an issue with this situation).

Some of the spokespeople for the “Black Lives Matter” organization have come out and said not to paint the organization with a broad brush for the actions of one person or one part of the group. Law enforcement and police unions have said virtually the same thing – “Don’t judge us all due to the actions of one bad cop” (we’ll leave alone for the moment the systemic incidences of police abuse of power for now over the years). The answer is that it works both ways and for both groups, but neither wants to admit it.

Where it doesn’t work is in the senseless Virginia murders of reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. While there has been plenty of information that has come out regarding Vester Flanagan – including that he went to the voting booth in 2012 as an Obama supporter to the point of wearing a pin and advocating in line for him (we know this because this is one of the litany of things that WDBJ management reprimanded him for while he worked there) and that he was gay, among other much more important things such as his emotional volatility in the workplace – the case has slowly slipped into the background because Flanagan killed himself and there will be no charges brought (unlike the Texas case). What is ridiculous is some of the statements over social media that try to show that it should go both ways and, in this case, it shouldn’t.

Some on social media have advocated for the “banning” of the rainbow flag that has become the banner of the LGBT community (and was seen on many a Facebook profile following the U. S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage a right), positing that it was the banner of “hatred” much like which happened when Dylan Roof used the Confederate Banner Flag as his “reason” for executing nine people in a Charleston, SC church. They also have demanded contrition from President Obama because one of his supporters – somehow like the illegal immigrant in San Francisco who killed a woman and, according to anti-Obama people, LOVED Obama – gunned down two people.

Unlike the “Black Lives Matter” situation where a) both sides could tone down the rhetoric and b) both sides should chastise their not-as-eloquent members, these accusations laid down in the Virginia case are completely ludicrous. First off, there is no indication that Flanagan’s sexuality was the hell-bent reason behind his decision to kill Parker and Ward. An argument can be raised that Flanagan was looking to do the same thing as Roof – incite a “race war” (Flanagan’s manifesto talked about how Roof’s actions pushed him to commit his crime) – and it should be discussed that Flanagan and Roof are cut from the same cloth. That’s about the point where the similarities end, however.

To suggest that the rainbow banner used by the LGBT community is a “flag of hatred” (never has been shown to be) like the Confederate Battle Flag (plenty of examples where it has been used as such) is about the most illogical thing there is…it’s called an association fallacy, one that basically says because you did one thing one time for one situation, you should always do that when similar situations arise. Thus, those that are frothing at the mouth to ban the rainbow flag merely show their idiocy rather than any practice of rational thought.

Situations such as Virginia and Texas – and even the issues between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect (and who knows how many other aspects of society) – have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In every case, both sides should be held to the same burdens of representation and held to a certain criteria that is used against both schools of thought equally. You cannot hold one to a separate, higher standard without applying the same principles on the opposition. After exercising this mantra, however, the answer aren’t always going to come out the same way every time.

N.W.A.: The More Things Change…

In the mid- to late-1980s, I was working in the radio industry as the music director at an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station in North Carolina. While the music we played was the opposite of what was occurring on the Top 40 or Urban stations (I would have said polar opposite, but we weren’t country music), we were still aware of the rumbles of change that thundered across the musical spectrum. I actually got behind two bands in my time there – one was Faith No More with their song “Epic” and the other was the band that term – thundered – was the best way to explain:  the phenomenon that was the rap group N.W.A.

N.W.A. – the seminal rap group that featured Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Lorenzo ‘”MC Ren” Patterson and Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby – exploded on the scene in 1988 with their debut album Straight Outta Compton. The album contained explicit descriptions from the group about life in the inner city (in this case, the Los Angeles subdivision known as Compton) and, in particular, the trials and tribulations that faced black men (and, as a sidelight, the black community) at that time. With the movie of the same name opening up today, it is easy to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The year was 1988 when N.W.A. came out and it gave voice to millions that had never had even a face to that time. Previous rap music, although occasionally containing a strong message (in fact, “The Message” from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was one of the first rap songs about how difficult life was in the inner city), was more about the party in most cases (“Rapper’s Delight” from the Sugarhill Gang or “Fight For Your Right” from the Beastie Boys) or a cover tune (“Walk This Way” from Run DMC). It also owed more to old school R&B and disco than any other musical format, with base tracks from songs like Chic’s “Good Times” or perhaps Parliament/Funkadelic providing the bottom layer that rappers would lay their tracks over.

With N.W.A., all bets were off. Their guttural bass notes came at the listener like a thunderbolt and guitars and other sound effects were utilized to bring the city to life on the tracks. But what was the major difference was the lyrics. Not content to simply talk about the activities at a party or the sexual conquests that the MC had the previous evening, N.W.A. broadcasted straight from the street and what the residents of the inner city faced throughout their daily lives:  harassment from law enforcement, drug usage and addiction, rampant crime and other less-than enjoyable aspects of living in the inner city.

The advent of N.W.A. brought about the “gangsta” rap style that covered the remainder of the 1980s and stretched into the early 2000s. Although the group that was N.W.A. didn’t make it deep (the band broke up in 1991 and reunited for a short time in 1998), Young and Jackson would go on to long careers in music (Young is now a billionaire after founding Beats by Dre) and/or acting (Jackson is well-sought as a performer in both film and television). Wright would unfortunately pass from AIDS in 1995 and Patterson and Carraby carried on in music, without the same impact as their days with N.W.A.

With the movie coming out today, there is a focus placed once again on N.W.A. and the music that they delivered. As someone who had been around the block even then, I knew that the message that N.W.A. was delivering was dead on, shining a spotlight on a situation that isn’t talked about at formal dinner parties. What is starkly evident from listening back to such artists as N.W.A. today is that there isn’t much different between the situation then and now.

When Eazy-E, Dre and Ice laid down the raps about being harassed by law enforcement for simply being in a certain area and a certain color, those situation still are a part of the headlines today. Crack cocaine usage ravaged the inner city during the times of N.W.A.; today, it is heroin, alcohol and crack that take their toll. Education isn’t any better today than then, it may in fact be worse. Housing continues to be an issue and many believe the only path to “getting out” of the inner city is through athletics or music. And this is only scratching the surface of the situation.

The solutions to these issues aren’t easy and, in many cases, cost money that seemingly isn’t there anymore (according to politicians). When an inner-city kid has the same access to educational materials as someone at the best suburban school, we’ll have made progress. Housing could be improved, but the lack of land still would require the high-rise apartment complexes that are prominent in Chicago and New York. Drug usage and the actions of law enforcement are perhaps the most difficult in that no amount of money would change the situation; the only thing that will change those things are attitudes regarding drug criminalization and training of future police officers.

If you’re heading to the movieplex this weekend to see Straight Outta Compton this weekend, marvel at how these young men brought a cultural situation into the glaring light of the world. Then lament how we haven’t been able to change anything since N.W.A. first rapped about these situations. The more things change, the more they stay the same…