4 Ways YOU Can Avoid Russian Influence in the Next U.S. Election

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As a former newspaper reporter, and with the recent 13 indictments of Russian nationals who infiltrated our political system during the 2016 U.S. elections, I’d like to offer some advice on how YOU can personally avoid Russian influence during the 2018 U.S. mid-terms. In case you haven’t heard, the FBI warned they would most likely attempt interference again.

I am offering this guide based on knowledge I obtained from my college degree (journalism), as well as my past profession in the same field. My goal is to help U.S. voters come together, whether liberal or conservative, and ensure our political process is truly OURS. I do encourage you to share this post if you find it helpful.

1) Beware of Political Memes (the new propaganda)

First of all, whether you lean right or left, DO NOT SHARE POLITICAL MEMES. Memes are the new propaganda, and propaganda plays into our EMOTIONS, not our rationale. Whether you are liberal or conservative, it is easy to fall into this trap if a message plays to your values or belief system. The Russians who infiltrated our political system used social media and inflammatory memes in many cases.

2) Stick to Legitimate News Stories

Unlike a political meme, a LEGITIMATE NEWS STORY will play to the facts and will appeal to your RATIONALE. Even editorials or opinion columns will cite proven facts as backup to the writer’s viewpoint.

3) Know Real News vs. Fake News

How can you tell REAL NEWS from FAKE NEWS?

  • Follow a variety of reputable news sources from both the right and left. For example, you may follow The Nation, but also The National Review. You may follow the New York Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal. I recommend picking five (5) publications. Scan them all regularly. If you see certain, factual trends being reported, they are true.
  • In journalism, this fact-trend tactic is called VALIDATION. The rule of thumb is to never write an article with less than three (3) sources. If you receive a claim from one source, you must validate it with a minimum of a second source to confirm its truth.
  • Look for ATTRIBUTION in your news stories or social media posts. True journalists always cite their sources of information, and the sources should not be other publications. They must be PRIMARY SOURCES. In other words, the information should not have come from a third-party medium or individual.
  • The only time a journalist will protect his or her source is in the case of ANONYMOUS PROTECTION. This is granted when the person leaking information is doing so in the best interest of the public’s right to know, but that individual may face severe consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for doing so. This is protected under the FIRST AMENDMENT, and is vital to our country’s checks and balances.

4) Don’t Trust Inflammatory Language

Beware of INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE. I am not talking about your friend who ranted on Facebook out of anger or frustration, or even the grieving parents of a child who was shot at school. I am talking about emotional, inflammatory statements made by individuals YOU DO NOT KNOW OR RECOGNIZE, and whose statements lack attribution, validation, or any of the other points I mentioned above.

LET’S KEEP OUR AMERICAN POLITICAL PROCESS SAFE FROM OUTSIDE INFLUENCES!

Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by propaganda this upcoming election cycle. Vote how you want to vote, based on facts and correct information. PLEASE SHARE to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., if you want to help spread the word.

Yes, I’m Angry. But I’m Choosing Love Anyway

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Courtesy of El Payo via Flickr

Let me start with this: I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. In fact, the man has the rare ability to crawl under my skin like lice and turn my blood to lava.

Despite these feelings, I have chosen to resist and fight back with the strongest action of all … love.

On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, I posted a single quote to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in response to the eruption in our country:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This is perhaps my favorite quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., and no other words more adequately described how I felt on Jan. 20, 2017. Since then, I’ve watched hate grip this nation from all ends of the political spectrum, and while I’m not going to deny my anger, I’ve grasped for these words with greater fervor now.

A close friend of mine from childhood who is Christian said she has chosen to make love her battle cry. As a Jew who is more secular than religious, I decided to join her. My friend said love is not always an easy choice, and she’s right—which is why choosing to love, rather than giving into hate, is so effective.

President Trump goes against every core value I’ve been raised to believe.

  • My father paid my way through college working as a music teacher and I grew up on the stage, yet President Trump wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • I have a profound respect for nature, yet President Trump wants to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • I believe health care is a right, not a privilege, yet President Trump is pushing Congress to disband the Affordable Care Act.
  • I’m a former journalist—launching my career with the First Amendment in my pen—yet President Trump calls citizens like me the “enemy of the American people.”

His lack of empathy for those who are different than him, or believe differently than him, or oppose him politically, appalls me. Yet rather than label other Americans who have labeled me, I stand here on this page, and I am declaring to you, President Trump: I CHOOSE LOVE.

I will not lose friendships over this election and I will strive to speak from a place of reason, rather than anger. I will funnel my dissent into saving animals, helping my family and giving to those in my life who need it. I will stand up for minorities or refugees and call my representatives in Congress to keep you in line. I will celebrate life alongside my Muslim friends, my Christian friends, my Catholic friends, my Jewish friends, and my Atheist friends. I will aim to understand those who are different than me. I will use my writing to provide a voice for the voiceless.

I will love, President Trump, and I will look for the light inside every American, whether they voted for you or not. In the words of another MLK quote that I admire, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

#LOVEWINS

(If you agree, click one of the SHARE buttons below, and share this message with your friends.)

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

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Photo courtesy of Sage Ross via Flickr

NOTE: After working in healthcare communications for eight years, this is a subject I felt compelled to write about publicly in light of recent political developments. I’d initially written this letter in January, but refrained from publishing it because of my career. The time has come to speak out, however, so I feel the need to publish this disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post, and on this blog as a whole, are my own and do not represent any other person, business, or entity.  

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

Dear Vice-President Mike Pence,

I read your quote from the March for Life event on Jan. 27 this year in an article from The Atlantic, “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America.”

I’m glad to hear you say that, because this opens the door to let Congress know we want health care for all.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, 29 million Americans went without health insurance in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015” report. This means nearly 30 million people could not access or afford treatment for conditions ranging from a sinus infection, to a heart attack.

Before the ACA, however, it was much worse. In 2008—during the days of pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps—nearly 16 percent of the U.S. population went uninsured, compared to only 9.1 percent in 2015 (source: U.S. Census Bureau).

If we’re going to talk about restoring a culture of life, let’s start with this, because many people are forced to choose between paying for their food or paying for their medicine. I’m one of them, having agonized over whether to visit the emergency room and risk bankruptcy, or stay home in a potentially life-threatening situation.

In one case, while I was studying journalism in college, my father—a music teacher—could no longer afford to keep me on his health insurance. Before I could find another plan, I became sick with mononucleosis and needed treatment. Yet, no doctor or clinic would see me because I didn’t have insurance. At the same time, insurance refused to cover me because of my pre-existing condition.

More recently, a family member—who would prefer to remain anonymous—may be forced to leave retirement simply for employer health benefits. She is a retired teacher and a type 2 diabetic who receives her health insurance through the Federal Exchange. However, with Congress’s plans to repeal the ACA, she’ll be forced to work full-time because she can’t afford the state’s $600-per-month premium and she’s too young for Medicare. Once the ACA is gone, she will have a “pre-existing condition” once again.

You see, Vice-President Pence, in my world, life matters too, which is why health care is a right and not a privilege. I hear politicians preaching their morals time and time again, but their actions do not reflect their words. I’m going to make it easy.

The time has come to get serious about a universal or single-payer system that leverages public-private partnerships. This will ensure cost control of sky-rocketing drug prices, allow practitioners to concentrate on treating and healing patients, and still offer businesses opportunities in the private sector. France demonstrates an exemplary standard of this model, so much that the World Health Organization ranked them as number one in the world for health systems.

I’ve worked in journalism, media and communications for more than 10 years, of which eight were spent in healthcare communications. I have seen this issue from all sides and am confident when I say, this proposal could be a real solution.

I am ready to help restore a culture of life in America, Vice-President Pence. The question is, are you?

Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?