Gay Fresno - Opinion

Opinion

There is no alternative’ to the truth

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Monday, 24 April 2017 17:19
  • Written by Sheila Kennedy

Fake news. “Alternative” facts. Welcome to the age of Trump.

There is no generally accepted definition of “fake news,” and no bright line separating it from the increasing proliferation of propaganda, but the essential characteristic is that it is not factual. (Fake news is not, as Trump asserts, any news that disparages him.)

Concern about fake news has risen, and Facebook and Google have recently announced steps to combat it. Journalist’s Resource (journalistsresource.org) has compiled the still-scanty academic research on the phenomenon.

While much has been written about fake news, scholars have published a limited amount of peer-reviewed research on the topic. Journalist’s Resource has compiled studies that examine fake news and the spread of misinformation more broadly to help journalists better understand the problem and its impacts.
Other resources that may be helpful are Poynter Institute’s tips on debunking fake news stories (www.poynter.org) and a well-circulated list of fake, unreliable and questionable news websites compiled by Melissa Zimdars, a communication professor at Merrimack College (http://bit.ly/2fyH6N8).

The First Draft Partner Network, a global collaboration of newsrooms, social media platforms and fact-checking organizations (firstdraftnews.com/partners- network/), was launched in September 2016 to battle fake news.
Starting in January 2017, Stony Brook University, home to the Center for News Literacy, offers a free online course in news literacy (www.centerfomewsliteracy. org). The research papers described at the link are worth reading; they confirm what most of us suspect - namely, that misinformation, propaganda and fake news have a pernicious effect. Especially when you consider that most of us engage in confirmation bias - looking for information that validates our preferred versions of reality - it can be difficult or impossible to disabuse people of “facts” they want to believe.
As I tell my students, if you truly believe that aliens landed at Roswell, I can find you several websites confirming that belief.

(Some even have pictures of the aliens’ bodies!)
As troubling as this aspect of our cur¬rent information environment is, what makes it far more troubling is the election of a President with a very tenuous connection to reality, and a staff willing to double down on his consistent lies and misstatements.

Never before, to my knowledge, have we had an administration for which facts are at best irrelevant and at worst enemies to be contradicted.

The latest evidence of this Administration’s allergy to facts was a surreal “press conference” on Jan. 21, in which White House press secretary Sean Spicer berated the media for reporting “falsehoods” about the size of the inauguration crowds. (Trump had asserted that it “looked like a million and a half people.”) The New York Times reported: “An expert hired by The Times found that Mr. Trump’s crowd on the National Mall was about a third of the size of Mr. Obama’s in 2009...” Speaking later on Saturday in the White House briefing room, Mr. Spicer amplified Mr. Trump’s false claims.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” he said.

There is no evidence to support this claim. Not only was Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd far smaller than Mr. Obama’s in 2009, but he also drew fewer television viewers in the United States (30.6 million) than Mr. Obama did in 2009 (38 million) and Ronald Reagan did in 1981 (42 million), Nielsen reported.

For that matter, most estimates showed that the Women’s March the next day drew three times more people — about 500,000 — than Trump’s swearing-in ceremony, but the White House flat-out refused to accept those numbers.
Nor was Spicer the only Administration figure to make bizarre claims. On Sunday morning, Kellyanne Conway said the Trump team is offering “alternative facts” to media reports about President Trump’s inauguration. (This led to immense amusement on social media, with people posting things like: “I'm thin and rich” and “Best game the Green Bay Packers ever played ” #alternativefacts.)

In the wake of the election, many of us worried - and continue to worry - that our unstable new President would take America into a misconceived war. We didn’t realize that the first war he would declare would be a war on reality and those pesky and inconvenient facts.

Why we must change from spenders to savers

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Sunday, 16 April 2017 13:41
  • Written by John Schneider & David Auten
If you’re queer, there’s a good chance you’re a spender.

Per Prudential’s 2016-2017 LGBT Financial Experience research report, more than 48 percent of the LGBTQ community identify as “spenders,” compared to 32 percent of the general population.
Consider these the following:

• The purchasing power of the queer community is close to $1 trillion

• Same-sex couples on average earn at least $7,200 more than our straight peers

• Only 20 percent of same-sex couples have children

• The cost to raise a child to 18, not including college, is $245,000 Despite our higher incomes, stronger purchasing power, and fewer respon­sibilities, we only have $6,000 more in savings compared to our straight peers and our median household consumer debt is $28,000.

Equality Rights

Many in the queer community are concerned about how the Trump Ad­ministration will act. We don’t yet know the full effects of the new administra­tion. This is why queer spenders need to become queer savers.

A pillar of a strong queer community is financially strong queer individuals. Financial strength gives us both the money and time to continue to fight for equality. We must fund the organizations and causes fighting for equality. We must donate our time and presence to these causes.

We can’t be distracted by student loans or mortgages for the sake of our financial independence and civil rights. The finan­cially stronger we are as individuals, the stronger we are as a community and the better equipped we are to fight for equality.

State-Level Risks

Many state-level laws still have out­dated language and rely on old prece­dence. Many still discriminate against queer people, such as preventing trans people from officially using the gender with which they identify.

Twenty-eight states lack non-discrim­ination employment protections for gays and lesbians. Only 14 of those states include trans protections. While we can legally marry in all 50 states, we can be fired in 28 without recourse for putting pictures of our spouses on our desks.

Because of these risks, we must become savers and adequately fund emergency savings accounts. Traditionally we should save between three to six months’ worth of living expenses in this account. Queer people who live in states with fewer protections should save at least three months’ worth.

Long-Term Care Concerns

Long-term care includes professional help at home with basic needs, retirement villages for more enhanced care, and as­sisted living for physical assistance.

Many facilities don’t offer training on caring for LGBT people. With the aver­age annual cost for a basic nursing home being $80,000, we may lose our autono­my as we lose our health. Consequently, many queer people go back in the closet to avoid discrimination and abuse.

Therefore, we need adequate retirement savings. We need long-term care and life insurance. We need durable power of at­torneys and living wills.

It’s imperative that the queer com­munity not spend all our higher-than- average annual incomes. We must use our disposable incomes to fight for equality and to protect ourselves.

Meanwhile, at www.PenceGetaClue.com

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Thursday, 13 April 2017 16:37
  • Written by Jason Scott
Surely “Pastor Pence” is familiar with the biblical injunction about not judging other people “lest ye be judged.” But perhaps he missed that particular passage. During the Presidential campaign, Pence constantly criticized Hillary Clin¬ton for her use of a private email server, insisting that the issue was so serious it should be seen as disqualifying her from holding office. Now we learn from the Indianapolis Star that Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues. Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics rang¬ing from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges. Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensi¬tive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal ac¬counts like Pence’s are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer. Let’s see - Clinton used a private server that appears to have been more secure than the State Department’s official server (the State Department server has been hacked, while hers never was). Pence used an AOL email account (raising the possibility that he also continues to have dial-up and a modem). Paul Waldman considers Pence’s hy-pocrisy to be “only a part of the story.” He begins his column in the Washington Post with an appropriately snarky observation: “I have some disturbing news to share: Republicans might not be as deeply com-mitted to proper email management as you’ve been led to believe.” Waldman quoted Pence’s remarks criti-cizing Clinton’s private server during the Vice-Presidential debate, and his repeated insistence that cybersecurity concerns prohibited such carelessness, and asked the obvious question: “Did he consider adding that he knew what he was talking about since he used an AOL account to talk about sensitive security matters and had himself been hacked?” The parallels don’t stop there: “Pence’s office said his campaign hired outside counsel as he was departing as governor to review his AOL emails and transfer any involving public business to the state.” Which was exactly what Hillary Clinton did — and what Pence and Trump so ve-hemently criticized her for. When Trump invited the Russian government to hack Clinton’s email to recover what had been deleted, it was those personal emails he was talking about. Waldman references reports that the Trump administration is not only leaving significant amounts of sensitive informa¬tion vulnerable, but that it is not in com¬pliance with the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that White House staff members retain their communications — including their emails. In late January, we learned that top White House officials, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Sean Spicer, were using email addresses from the Republican National Commit¬tee — with a private server! Once the story broke their addresses were deleted, but presumably had it remained secret, they would have continued to use them. The New York Times reported late in January that Trump was still using his old, unsecured Android phone, which - as Waldman observes - is unbelievably reck¬less for the president of the United States. As Wired magazine put it, “All it takes is clicking on one malicious link or open¬ing one untoward attachment — either of which can appear as though it were sent from a trusted source — to compromise the device. From there, the phone could be infected with malware that spies on the network the device is connected to, logs keystrokes, takes over the camera and microphone for surreptitious recording, and more.” I doubt that these obvious security breaches are intentional. It’s far more like¬ly that they are further evidence - as if we needed any - that America’s government is firmly in the control of the Keystone Kops (or perhaps the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight). After all, this is the group of whiz kids who couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights in the White House cabinet room. In the aftermath of the disclosures about his own reckless email use, Pence has angrily insisted that his own behavior was “nothing like” Clinton’s. That’s true. Her server was secure. As a post to Mashable put it, the real crime here is the fact that Pence still uses an AOL account. Does Pence still use dial¬up? Does he rub two sticks together to make a fire? I mean, where does it end?

Taxing question for same-sex spouses

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Thursday, 13 April 2017 16:48
  • Written by John Schneider & David Auten

Since same-sex marriage was legalized, the number of same-sex couples who play Tax Loophole Twister, like our straight peers, has increased.
Were heading into tax season and getting a hold of your accountant may be harder than the 2016 election. Here’s the most important question same-sex spouses should ask before filing taxes: Should we file “married and jointly” or “married and separately”?

For most same-sex spouses, this question is new, the difference is considerable and the decision consequential. Here’s what you should know.
Pros & Cons of Filing Jointly Considering the tax incentives offered to married couples, the government wants people married. (Up until recently, it just wanted the “right”people to be married.)
First, there’s the marriage bonus. The marriage bonus happens when there’s income disparity between spouses. If it applies, the marriage bonus puts the average income of the couple in a lower tax bracket because of the lower income earner.

Being married and filing jointly offers tax credits that may not apply if you’re married and filing separately. These credits include, but aren’t limited to: Credit for Child and Dependent Care, Earned Income Tax Credits and education credits, such as American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Education Credits. Joint filers also have higher income thresholds for deductions, which means they can qualify for incentives while making more money.
Credits and deductions lower the net total in taxes couples pay. Qualifying for them keeps more of your hard-earned money as income.
Married life and taxes aren’t all roses, though. The con with married and filing jointly is the marriage penalty. Married couples without income disparity can be bumped into a higher tax bracket than when they filed as individuals or if they filed separately.

Filing jointly poses a risk if your spouse has tax problems. If your spouse has tax liens or owes the government money, you may become responsible for their burdens. If you file separately, you’re shielded from such risks.
Pros & Cons of Filing Separately

Certain deductions that require a percentage of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) are more easily achieved with the lower AGI from filing separately rather than jointly. For example:
• Miscellaneous expenses that are more than 2 percent of your AGI may be
deducted.
• Emergency expenses over 10 percent of AGI may be deducted.
• One of you may qualify to contribute the max for a Roth IRA, whereas jointly neither of you might qualify.

However, you are off the hook for tax liabilities your spouse may have if you file separately. Doing so might shield certain assets from the government.

Going solo isn’t a bed of roses, either. Filing separately lowers deductions for Traditional Individual Retirement Ac¬count (IRA) contributions. While it’s good to invest in an IRA regardless, this reduces immediate benefits.

Along with the other tax deductions and credits afforded to couples who file jointly, you can’t take the student loan interest or tuition deduction if you file separately.

If this all sound confusing, that might be the point. Therefore, consult your tax professional.

An Open Letter to my Republican friends

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Monday, 10 April 2017 16:34
  • Written by Rick Sutton
Yes, I have Republican friends. They are friends who stood with us for marriage equality, and stood against their party’s arcane position on that issue. Smart friends, good friends, folks I admire for their accomplishments in life. Friends with whom I’ve exchanged civil debates over multiple public policy issues. So here’s the thing: Most of you were able to see through President George W. Bush’s testosterone- driven CheneyWars. You understood perfectly that we endured an eight-year presidency that sleep-walked through his¬tory, and you were circumspect about those Constitutional lapses. You know, the ones where Liberty “Law” School graduates took over the Department of Justice. Oy vey. So here’s the current rub: why are you letting Donald Trump get over on you? He’s punked you, big-time. He’s not what he says he is. He is not a real Republican — he’s a slick opportunist. Just like he’s a convenient Christian. Usually, good friends, you’re able to candidly see through bullshit. You never resorted to racist undertones to denounce Pres. Obama’s policies. You stuck to solid fact and disagreed accordingly, with civil-ity and respect for the institutions that have made our government strong. There is a lot of room for political dis-agreement among friends. Last year’s election provided multiple obstacles to that theory, but I’m glad to have friends who (mostly) ignored the obvious elephant in the room all summer and fall. I have a theory - that was possible mostly because nobody thought Donald Trump would really win. But, of course, he did, and the resulting brouhaha has ripped apart social media, friendships and the traditional media mindset. For as long as American political parties have debated policy, friends of all beliefs have wandered through difficult discus¬sions. It even occurred within each politi¬cal party last year; some of it continues. Pres. Trump’s tenure now produces stark challenges to FDPs (Friends of Different Parties): • How do you justify blatant disregard for the media, even IF you think it’s biased? • How do you reconcile the failure of a president to divulge his personal business re-lationships with Trump’s flat refusal to do so? • Don’t you cringe when a President tweets at 3 a.m. about his predecessor’s mythical wiretapping? • If you don’t cringe, why don’t you? Barely two months into an administration, we are watching a President self-destruct. He’s a brand-new right-winger, so he fumbles basic policy issues. He thinks America is a boardroom, and he can fire anyone at any time. This fundamental disconnect should concern you, friends, but it doesn’t. Will you let me know when you’ve had enough? ‘Cause I want to bookmark that place in history - the exact event that pushed you over the edge. For me, it was “pussy.”