Stories to Read from The New York Times

Sept. 26, 2020, 7:00 p.m. ET

By Manny Fernandez

Texas: Does Biden actually have a shot at winning? The answer is a tossup.

A volunteer with the Harris County Democratic Party directed people to a Houston drive-in event to watch the national convention last month.
A volunteer with the Harris County Democratic Party directed people to a Houston drive-in event to watch the national convention last month.Credit…Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Texas has 38 electoral votes. In 2016, Trump won the state by 9.0 percentage points. In 2020, it’s rated Lean Republican.

HOUSTON — It’s been a long time since a Democrat won Texas in a presidential race. “Disco Duck” ruled the airwaves and “All the President’s Men” was all the cinematic rage the last time it happened. The year was 1976, when Texans selected Jimmy Carter over Gerald R. Ford.

Nearly 44 years later, people in Texas and beyond are wondering if Mr. Biden can pull a Jimmy Carter. The answer so far is yes, no, maybe not and maybe so. You hear some version of the four depending on whom you ask and whether they live mentally or physically in red Texas or blue Texas (both are a place as well as a state of mind).

“Put me down as a yes,” said State Representative César J. Blanco, a Democrat and Navy veteran in El Paso. “It’s looking like a perfect storm for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in Texas.”

“No, I don’t see Biden being successful, and his own campaign does not either — zero serious efforts being waged 40 days out with early voting starting in just 20 days,” said David M. Carney, a Republican strategist who has advised former Gov. Rick Perry and other top Texas conservatives.

Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on anything in battleground states. In Texas, they cannot even agree on calling it a battleground. For many Democrats, the notion that Texas is a battleground state in 2020 is its own kind of victory — an acknowledgment that the decades-long Republican grip on the state has loosened and its solid red hue has started fading to purple.

A series of polls suggests such a seismic shift stirring: A New York Times/Siena College survey of Texas published Thursday found Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump by just three percentage points, within the poll’s margin of error.

“I don’t need to tell you, Texas is the biggest battleground state in our country,” Hillary Clinton told Texas Democrats on Thursday in a video speech at an annual fund-raising dinner.

Some Texas Republicans bristle at the description. A handful of Democrats have cut it close in Texas in recent years: Mrs. Clinton herself lost to Mr. Trump in 2016 by only nine percentage points and Beto O’Rourke was defeated by Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 by just two percentage points. But Republicans point out that the last time any Democrat won statewide office in Texas was 1994. How can a Democrat win Texas for the White House, they ask, when a Democrat cannot even win Texas for state agriculture commissioner or state attorney general?

State Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, sees another factor at play: the new fight over a Supreme Court nomination, which he said would help Mr. Trump energize his supporters and win votes from independents and Republicans who had been dissatisfied with him.

“I think the chance is gone at this point,” Mr. Bettencourt said of whether Mr. Biden could win Texas. “A few months ago, maybe there was a chance. But now, no. Too many hot buttons have been hit all at the same time.”READ MORESept. 26, 2020, 5:00 p.m. ET

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Opinion vs. News

Photographers waiting in the rotunda of the Russell Building in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC. Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

What’s the difference between an opinion piece and a news story? 

An opinion piece gives you information from the point of view of the writer, or presenter. It may include facts, and reporting, but it differs from a news story in that it lays out an individual’s ideas and often their biases.  Opinion is, essentially, someone’s argument for a certain point of view about a specific topic.

When we read newspaper editorial pages, we see two types of opinion. We get the collective opinion of the editors and we also read, on the OpEd page — the page opposite the editorials — what individual columnists have to say in their byline pieces.

A news story reports the facts without the opinion of the reporter, writer, producer or presenter. It can contain attributed or quoted opinions of people interviewed. So a news story can contain opinion and tell a compelling story. But it should not include the opinion of the newsgatherer or the news organization.

A Pew Research Center poll, in 2018, found that younger people were better than older people at figuring out what’s factual and what’s opinion.

Pew said, “About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32 percent) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44 percent correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26 percent among those ages 50 and older.”

Pew Research Poll Opinion vs. Fact.png

You can take the quiz and see how you do.

https://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/news-statements-quiz/

The First Amendment

Protestors in Washington Square Park, Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

The Bill of RightsThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion and speech, the press and the right of people to gather to protest and complain to the government.

In its own words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to freely assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

After the founders of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, some of them realized they had left out critical guarantees to safeguard the type of nation, free of tyranny, they and others wanted.

The newly minted senators and congressmen debated about whether “checks and balances” would protect the rights of the people, or whether they needed to write amendments to the Constitution.

Freedom of the press was one of the priorities for Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson wrote a letter to another lawmaker saying,

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Some wanted to rewrite the Constitution but worried that people would think that they intended to tear up what they wanted to protect. They turned to U.S. Virginia Representative James Madison, a good thinker and a good writer.

James Madison

Madison argued that, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

In 1789 Madison drafted amendments and presented them to the House of Representatives. The House approved 17 amendments. The Senate approved 12 and the states ratified 10 in December, 1791 as the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States and James Madison became the fourth.

Misinformation on Facebook and Social Media

 

Misinformation – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Misinformation
noun

  1. false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.”nuclear matters are often entangled in a web of secrecy and misinformation”synonyms:disinformation, false information, misleading information, deception; lie, fib, false rumor, trumped-up story, fake news, alternative fact, gossip, red herring, false trail;informalkidology; informalbum steer”a lot of misinformation was received in Moscow”
  2. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information. Examples of misinformation include false rumors, insults and pranks, while examples of more deliberate disinformation include malicious content such as hoaxes, spearphishing and propaganda.‎

It’s easy to get caught up in the things you see and read on social media. So much seems irresistible. But since the 2016 election, we have become aware of how easy it is to manipulate posts, tweets and videos that seem real.

The Mueller Report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team documented Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

In February 2018, before the report was issued, the Special Counsel indicted 13 foreign nationals and a Russian “troll farm” connected to the Internet Research Agency or IRA. Facebook disclosed in the fall of 2017 that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to the Internet Research Agency.

How did they use the ads on Facebook and on other social media platforms?

This is from the Mueller Report:

 

“Dozens of IRA employees were responsible for operating accounts and personas on
different U.S. social media platforms. The IRA referred to employees assigned to operate the social media accounts as “specialists.”42 Starting as early as 2014, the IRA U.S. operations included social media specialists focusing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

The IRA later added specialists who operated on Tumblr and Instagram accounts.44
Initially, the IRA created social media accounts that pretended to be the personal accounts of U.S. persons.

By early 2015, the IRA began to create larger social media groups or public
social media pages that claimed (falsely) to be affiliated with U.S. political and grassroots organizations. In certain cases, the IRA created accounts that mimicked real U.S. organizations.

For example, one IRA-controlled Twitter account, @TEN_ GOP, purported to be connected to the Tennessee Republican Party.

More commonly, the IRA created accounts in the names of
fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as antiimmigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and
political activists.


Groups (with names such as “Being Patriotic,” “Stop All Immigrants,” “Secured Borders,” and
“Tea Party News”), purported Black social justice groups (“Black Matters,” “Blacktivist,” and
“Don’t Shoot Us”), LGBTQ groups (“LGBT United”), and religious groups (“United Muslims of
America”).
Throughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. For example, on May 31, 2016, the operational account “Matt Skiber” began to privately message dozens of pro-Trump Facebook groups asking them to help plan a “pro-Trump rally near Trump Tower.”55
To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that
promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.56.


During the U.S. presidential campaign, many IRA-purchased advertisements explicitly
supported or opposed a presidential candidate or promoted U.S. rallies organized by the IRA ( discussed below). As early as March 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements that overtly opposed the Clinton Campaign. For example, on March 18, 2016, the IRA purchased an advertisement depicting candidate Clinton and a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”57
Similarly, on April 6, 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements for its account “Black Matters” calling for a “flashmob” of U.S. persons to “take a photo with #HillaryClintonForPrison2016 or nohillary2016.”

Collectively, the IRA’s social media accounts reached tens of millions of U.S. persons.
Individual IRA social media accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. For example, at the time they were deactivated by Facebook in mid-2017, the IRA’s “United Muslims of America”

Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the “Being Patriotic” Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, and the “Secured Borders” Facebook group had over 130,000 followers.61 According to Facebook, in total the IRA-controlled accounts made over 80,000 posts before their deactivation in August 2017, and these posts reached at least 29 million U.S persons and “may have reached an estimated 126
million people.”62
pg. 26

https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.pdf

 

Feature Story

James Wagner
Altagracia Alvino prepared a stewed goat dish while her grandson, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., slept. CreditCreditTara Walton for The New York Times

Abuela, Chef, Boss: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s Grandmother Feeds the Majors

For about two decades, Altagracia Alvino has lived with and cooked for her baseball-playing offspring — as well as their teammates and opponents.

By James Wagner

August 25, 2019

Leer en español

TORONTO — The brown sugar bubbled in the pan. The marinated goat meat sizzled when added. Spoonfuls of olives and capers were heaped into the mixture. Then Altagracia Alvino, who can make this dish with her eyes closed, froze.

“Did I put spice in here?” she whispered to herself in Spanish.

Alvino, 66, was careful to make as little noise as possible because it was 7:22 a.m., and her husband and her 20-year-old grandson, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., one of baseball’s brightest young stars, were asleep in their rooms of the family’s Toronto apartment. The familiar scent of cooking meat was unavoidable, though. Read More

Easy to Make Mistakes, So Verify

The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.

Two things stand out:

  1. The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
  2. There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.

Let’s tackle the first false report.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.

The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them.  News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.

The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.

Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:

“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.

“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.

Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.

Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.

“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”

Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.

But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.

How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups. Contact them and ask.

The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.

ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America

The Anti-Defamation League has been a reliable source in the past.

The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it.  Take your time. Report only what you know.

 

 

2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.

PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.

It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.

Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.

Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.

If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.

Checking Facts:

PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.

FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center

Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.

Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA)  money went in the 2016 election.

 

Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,

See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.

 

PSC-CUNY Protest For New Contract

PSC-CUNY teachers demonstrate for higher pay.

by, Michael C. Bohn, Sr.

 

December 4, 2017

They came armed with protest signs instead of red pens. Several hundred City University of New York (CUNY) professors came out to demand better pay and working conditions. They give the CUNY administration a failing grade for its unwillingness to support professors who teach more than 500,000 students.

The Professional Staff Congress or PSC/CUNY, the union representing more than 27,000 faculty and staff and the CUNY Research Foundation, rallied in front of the CUNY Graduate Center at Fifth Avenue at 34 Street on December 4, 2017. From there they marched 15 blocks south to Baruch College where the CUNY Board of Trustees was meeting.

Led by their bullhorn toting union president, Barbara Bowen, these seemingly mild mannered academics and support staff chanted, “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? We want it now,” as they marched.

PSC-CUNY protest 3

Members of other unions including Local One, I.A.S.T.E., the stage hand workers union, DC 37, representing city workers, librarians, and the Union of Clerical and Technical Staff at New York University as well as SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors, joined the march to show union solidarity

The PSC/CUNY contract expired on November 30th. That freezes the pay-rate until a new contract can be agreed upon. This is particularly tough for part-time professors known as adjuncts who typically teach two classes each semester, “We teach two-thirds of a full course load and get one-third of the pay,” said Adjunct Professor David Hohl. He has had part-time status at Baruch College for seventeen years and says he earns $26,000 a year.

The union claims that 12,000 part-time adjuncts, earning $27,000 a year or less, teach more than half the courses. In a news release PSC CUNY said, “CUNY is the single most successful university in the country enabling poor and working-class graduates to achieve long-term economic security. Yet leading professors consistently turn down positions at CUNY and many current professors leave because the salaries are so uncompetitive.”

Peter Consenstein, professor of French at BMCC and the Graduate Center said, “We serve as a pipeline into better jobs and the middle class. We work our butts off.”

The pay freeze worries full as well as part-time professors, and others covered by the contract, because of the rising cost of living. The last time their contract expired it took six years to negotiate a new one. “We are not waiting six years for a new contract,” said Scott Sheidlower, staff librarian at York College in Queens.

Paula Whitlock a full-time, tenured professor of Computer and Information Science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) said the protest and demands are important for everyone. “Either we all rise together or we all fall together,” she said.

CUNY’s reliance on part-time adjuncts reflects a practice in the corporate world where companies rely heavily on free-lance employees who don’t get the full package of benefits. The union claims underfunding by New York State and New City keeps salaries low and hampers CUNY’s mission.

“CUNY is often a political pawn in the bigger political game. When that happens students are disregarded as unimportant.” said Professor Peter Consenstein.

Supporters can follow on Twitter with the following hashtags, #7KCUNY, #FAIRPAY4ALL, and #NO6YEARWAIT.