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Reputable news outlets that claim a commitment to reporting truth and informed perspective share the blame for the fake news scourge.

The mainstream media have less money to invest in reporting because of the digital revolution and increased competition. And no matter what reporters tell you, ethics have also taken a hit.

There is enough blame to go around for fake news — from the people who produce it and benefit from it, to news consumers who refuse to put their own prejudices aside and know pieces include suspect information but still share them.

But having worked for numerous reputable media outlets over the past 15 years, journalists like myself share plenty of blame.

We often complain about people who can’t tell the difference between a real news story and a fake article. We accuse them of being dumb or uneducated. But how are they supposed to tell the difference if mainstream media outlets also publish or air gossip, rumor and sensationalism?

There are ways to figure out whether an article or site are fake. Fraud sites often don’t reveal much about themselves. One can also look for ways to corroborate suspicious information. But not everyone has the time or savvy to go through these steps. Plus, sometimes fake news articles are based on truth. The deception is in the spin.

Different outlets often present similar facts but with different flavors. That’s perfectly legitimate. Democracies thrive on the marketplace of ideas. But when journalists let biases get in their way of their reporting, they lose credibility and end up sounding like spin doctors. Lack of trust means people don’t believe anything and are, therefore, open to believing anything.

I’m not advocating for journalists to stop offering perspective. But they should go beyond their comfort zones and conventional wisdom with the purpose of coming as close to the truth as possible. They should also be accountable and open to criticism. My experience has been that many journalists don’t like audiences to question their work.

Advocates of good journalism have long been concerned about reporters and outlets worrying more about speed than accuracy. We should also worry about the many news professionals and companies that are more focused on fame and notoriety than facts.

Woodward and Bernestein’s reporting on the Watergate scandal made them household names. It also helped fill journalism schools with young people wanting the same glamour. Unfortunately, too many journalists seek attention through cheap scoops and manufacturing scandal to advance their careers.

Snark and irreverence, including Twitter rants and arguments, have become commonplace. Many journalists and outlets see it as a way to fit into the new social media landscape. The question is — is it good journalism and for the media’s image?

Think pieces about fake news abound. Perhaps that’s also part of the problem — too many reporters and information consumers focused more on think pieces and commentary than original reporting.

This so called Age of Trump is challenging journalists. The public doesn’t believe us, too many of our leaders lie or seek to mislead, and media companies are still figuring out how to survive. I wonder whether we’ll rise to the challenge.

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It was an October Sunday afternoon in the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid. The streets and sidewalks were bustling with people grabbing a beer, eating at outdoor cafes and watching children play.

There was an outdoor concert at the Mercado de la Cebada. A couple was laying down, kissing on a slope, as musicians had fun with a largely-bohemian crowd. People were happy.

Every time I go to Madrid, I am more in awe of its beauty, comforts and charm. My first time in Spain’s capital was more than ten years ago. And I fell in love with the diversity of neighborhoods and areas, the monumental architecture, and the people.

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Madrileños, like many Spaniards, are often exuberant and drawn to the city’s environs. They like to be out — often as long and late as they can. They read in the city’s parks and engage in heated discussions on the sidewalk. They also often sing — loudly, from deep in the diaphragm.

At the same time, hooliganism is frowned upon. Being out is about community, friendship and joy. Sloppy drunkenness, puking and harassment are frowned upon. That’s the point of eating tapas — to keep you from getting too inebriated.

The Plaza Mayor anchors the old part of the city, sometimes called Hapsburg Madrid after Spain’s ruling family from the 1500’s to 1700. The area is known for its narrow streets, church domes and towers with spires inspired by 16th Century architect Juan de Herrera.

Bourbon Madrid looks more like other Western European capitals. The Gran Vía is wide avenue with Art Deco, Neo-Mudéjar, Vienna Secession and Beaux Arts buildings. On one end is the Plaza de España, with two 1950’s era towers — one modernist, the other Neo-Baroque.

On the other end of the Gran Vía is the Paseo del Prado, another main artery surrounded by gardens, palaces, grand fountains, memorials and museums. The large Parque del Buen Retiro is nearby.

Beyond Madrid’s central neighborhoods, particularly to the north, are contemporary office parks and towers, many quite compelling for architecture enthusiasts. The Puerta de Europe towers lean into each other. Apart from their core, the Colón towers were built from top to bottom.

To the north, four glass towers are among the tallest in Europe. Banking giant BBVA’s headquarters were designed to look like a sail among waves. The Torre Europe and the Torre Picasso are also notable.

Theater, art, palaces

I finally hit the theater during my last time in Madrid. For a few dollars, I got a box seat at the centuries old Teatro Español. Unfortunately, I missed the opening of the opera season at the Royal Theater by a few weeks. The King and Queen were there, along with numerous Spanish leaders, celebrities and nobles.

I did get to see the Royal Family at the military parade for National Day. It was a cold and rainy morning, but the pomp and fighter jet flyovers made up for the shivers.

The Royal Palace, one of Madrid’s top attractions, had changed significantly since my previous visit. King Felipe has put the large Royal Crown on display. There were also new rooms with royal art collections. Many people don’t know that the Palacio Real is the largest in Europe by floor space.

I visited the grand Palacio de Cibeles, which serves as Madrid’s city hall. The monumental building has remodeled open spaces, a rooftop restaurant and an observation tower. It is one of the best options for panoramic views of the city.

I swung by the famous Prado museum to see many of its staples — the Velázquez, Goya and Bosch masterworks. I also went off the beaten path to see the Treasure of the Dolphin, a collection of decorative pieces — some of rock crystal, others with gold and jewels — that used to belong to the French Bourbons but ended up in Spanish hands.

With so many notable Spanish cities, some people skip Madrid or only give it a passing glance. Barcelona, which enjoys a beach, has become flooded with tourists. But people should not overlook Madrid.

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Because of its central location, Madrid can be the perfect hub for people wanting to get to know Spain and its diverse regions. The country’s efficient airports, high speed raid network and smooth highways make venturing out easy.

Every time I go to Madrid I discover new wonders. And every time I leave, I take with me a list of must-dos for next time.

As many Americans continue to either celebrate or protest last week’s election results, it is important to analyze what President-elect Donald Trump will mean for the country.

There is significant uncertainty.

This post is meant to provide some non-partisan, analytical perspective about what could happen come January.

Trump ran on many things that may never come to pass. Some promises — he just won’t be able to keep. When it comes to the negatives, they are well documented.

Possible shot and long-term upsides include:

Weakened special interests: Both parties always complain about special interests. But Republicans and Democrats are both beholden to certain groups and constituencies. Even though Trump is filling his team with GOP-aligned lobbyists, it remains to be seen who he will actually listen to. Some sacred cows may not be sacred to him.

Special interests are not all bad. Lobbyists and groups represent people and causes many Americans care about. At the same time, in this winner-take-all society, they often stand in the way of compromise and progress.

Compromise: Trump has already shown signs of wanting to cut policy deals and he seems to have enough credibility with his supporters to compromise. The president-elect already signaled he was open to keeping parts of Obamacare. On immigration, he may have more latitude for action; few can accuse him of being soft on the issue.

It is often said that, “It took Nixon to go to China” or “Only Nixon could go to China.” It was hard to accuse former Republican President Richard Nixon of being a communist sympathizer. In this tribal world we still live in, when a member of our tribe does something, we tend to give the benefit of the doubt. American anxious about immigration may go along with comprehensive, bipartisan reform — if Trump does.

A reset: Nations often go through periods of prosperity and peace, and instability and stress. After the September 11 attacks and then the financial meltdown, coupled with social and economic change, societies have been more unstable. Sometimes resets can be long and painful, but often better societies emerge.

U.S. political parties are meant to be weak. The Constitution doesn’t address them and the founding fathers spoke negatively of their influence.

European political parties, in contrast, are supposed to be strong. They are the bedrock of the parliamentary systems.

So why is it that alternative parties have found more fertile ground in parts of Europe than the U.S.?

This post is by no means meant to supplant the extensive comparative politics research on political parties or address all the potential factors affecting their rise and fall.

Still, it is interesting to see Spain’s Podemos and Cuidadanos become national forces, reducing the power of the Socialists and conservative Popular Party, while Americans whine about having to choose the lesser of two evils.

It seems the strength of European parties makes them vulnerable. They have relatively few “militants” and often don’t hold primaries.

So when people feel upset at the establishment, they often have little choice but to form an alternative voting bloc. Podemos and Cuidadanos are a product of Spain’s malaise.

In the U.S., this election cycle has shown that many Americans — and interest groups — see either the Democratic or Republican parties as their ticket to power, and would rather change the organizations from within.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran and got close to winning the Democratic nomination even though he is not a Democrat.

In Spain, parties have long been talking about primaries as a way to become more Democratic. That may end up making them more vulnerable to insurgents.

In the U.S., political parties could tighten their rules to reject insurgent candidates like Sanders and Donald Trump. That could make alternatives more appealing.

One paragraph in a Department of Justice pre-Christmas court brief has Puerto Ricans in a tizzy over the island’s status as a U.S. territory.

At issue is whether Puerto Rican prosecutors can try criminal suspects after they’ve already been through the federal courts over the same allegations.

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court already said no. The island’s government now wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

The Obama administration weighed in, saying, “Puerto Rico does not possess sovereignty independent of the United States, and its prosecutions cannot invoke the dual sovereignty doctrine under the Double Jeopardy Clause.”

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Boom.

Puerto Rican commentators and politicians, which have for decades been focused on the singular issue of the island’s political status, have been sounding off ever since.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, already upset at Congress failing to grant Puerto Rico debt relief, fired off a letter to the United Nations, accusing the federal government of “abruptly” reversing its policy on the island’s status.

 

The governor’s move is notable because the U.N. General Assembly has for decades recognized Puerto Rico as a self-governing entity, which means the U.S. doesn’t need to file decolonization-related reports on the island.

The spat — not the first or probably the last where Puerto Rican politicians try to involve the U.N. — is emblematic of the island’s identity crisis.

Some see Puerto Rico as a territory, with the U.S. as sovereign and the island as subordinate. Others see the relationship as a compact of equals.

One side points to Puerto Rico’s constitution being approved by Congress, a body that can always scrap it. The other cites U.S. promises of self-government and self-determination for Puerto Ricans.

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View of San Juan harbor from El Morro fortress.

Unionists have long said statehood is the only solution to the island’s colonial status. The brief, they say, helps make their case. Pro-independence politicians, similarly, say the filing may push more people to their side.

A faction of the governor’s governing Popular Democratic Party, long a champion of the current status, has been calling for a new deal with the U.S. with more autonomy. They are also touting the brief to advance their cause.

As Puerto Ricans try to determine their future political status, the debate shows they have yet to figure out their current one.

The U.S. flag flies on the island and, as citizens, its people fight for the U.S. abroad. But they are technically not American. Puerto Rico, as an unincorporated territory, is very much another country, but not another nation-state.

Puerto Ricans vote in U.S. presidential primaries. That’s why several Democratic and Republican candidates have already made stops on the island. But citizens there cannot vote in the general election for their president and commander-in-chief.

The contradictions continue. So much of the Puerto Rican legal and economic system is tied to the U.S., yet the island and its institutions don’t enjoy the same bankruptcy protections as states.

Whatever the truth about the legal definition of the island’s political being and however the Supreme Court case turns out, Puerto Ricans will continue wondering where they fit within the American political landscape.

 

New poll numbers show that Catalonians would narrowly vote for independence from Spain if a referendum were held on the issue. But instead of trying to convince voters to stick together, the Spanish government and ruling Popular Party are focusing their energies on preventing any referendum from taking place.

The Spanish Supreme Court already blocked the Catalan government’s long-planned Nov. 9th vote. Judges may also, at the request of the central government, block a proposed informal referendum. The Spanish Constitution gives Madrid significant leeway to block unapproved referendums in the different Autonomous Communities.

I am not going to weigh on the merits or legality of a referendum. That’s for the people, their elected officials and judges to decide. Still, it’s fair to say there appears to be a vacuum of true debate on the merits of independence vs. union.

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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and members of his government have dismissed the notion of a pro-union campaign — like the United Kingdom’s “Better Together” effort — because it would legitimize the referendum, which they not only see as illegal but also unnecessarily and destabilizing.

Even though the governing party feels justified in not campaigning, it means leaders have also allowed the pro-independence side to have a near monopoly in the discourse. Republicans and separatists also have the bad economy on their side, because it has made so many people discontent. Plus, Madrid’s perceived stubbornness has not won it many fans in Catalonia.

Pro-independence sentiment is near 50 percent. Support for a referendum is even higher. At the same time, polls have shows than Catalans would rather have a legal, negotiated and binding vote. That means there appears to be some opportunity for unionists to sway public opinion. Plus, at least some separatism sentiment may come from frustration about the bad economy, which is improving.

 

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View of Barcelona.

 

The opposition Socialists have floated the idea of a federal system for Spain to effectively make Autonomous Communities like Catalonia into states, albeit not independent nation-states. Polls show many people support that path too. But the federalist discussion has been on the back burner amid debate on a referendum.

The best change for a full-blown campaign on the issue is if Catalan President Artur Mas calls for early elections. The problem there, from the perspective of many politicians, is that the Republican Left could end up winning with about 23 percent of the vote. The party has gone from the fringe to a political force, thanks largely to pro-independence sentiment.

Just like the ongoing economic crisis, the Catalan question is not easy to resolve. Catalonia wants more say in local affairs and spending. But the central government must also deal with other regions who don’t want Catalans getting what they see as special treatment. The bottom line is that reasonable minds don’t want violent confrontations or another civil war.

Politicians have long been calling for dialogue, but the main players won’t budge on their positions. Maybe it’s time for each side to make their case to the people.

Americans are afraid, angry and distrustful. National politics is in gridlock. And there appear to be few issues on which Americans can find consensus.

The reasons behind these trends are likely many, including the changing economy and the ongoing culture war. But perhaps the September 11, 2001 attack, an event many young people can’t even remember, is helping shape the nation’s bad mood.

President Obama’s election and his policies sparked a backlash, which we now broadly refer to as the Tea Party. The movement was born from sharp disagreements with the President, but there’s no doubt many members have an “us versus them” attitude and skepticism of outsiders.

More recently a wave of undocumented migrant youth crossing the U.S.-Mexico border led to protests and concerns about gang members infiltrating the country. Send them back, many people said. Their welfare is none of our business, they screamed. And even though border security efforts are at historic highs, many citizens feel a threat from abroad.

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Ebola virus. Photo courtesy of: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith.

Now right wing talk radio reverberates with the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State and the Ebola outbreak. Islamic State fighters are mainly focusing on gaining more ground in Syria and Iraq, but many Americans feel the threat is close. And while there have been only a handful of Ebola cases outside Africa, demagogues say the nation is in peril, and President Obama doesn’t care.

So where do the 9/11 attacks come in?

Before then, the nation had seen periods of strong economic growth and the U.S. was still the undisputed foremost military power. The Vietnam War was largely in the past, and the country became more confident about it’s place in the world. It helped kick Iraq out of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War and stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

The 9/11 attacks showed many Americans that their borders were not impenetrable.The government, charged with securing the homeland, failed to prevent the terrorist invasion. The eagle responded with citizens cheering on, but the resulting wars were painful and delivered mixed results.

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Americans who grew up not worrying about global conflicts suddenly felt vulnerable. Americans who grew up thinking their military was unbeatable, and that Vietnam was perhaps an outlier, felt powerless. Terrorism has killed thousands of Americans and it continues strong.

Americans who grew up thinking they were the world’s richest residents are seeing the rise of China with alarm. Americans who looked down on third world poverty are having to reconcile with bankrupt Detroit and once well-paid factory workers having to beg McDonald’s for higher wages.

The U.S. has, of course, faced major challenges before. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Former President Jimmy Carter lamented about the nation’s malaise. And the Great Depression forever changed the way many Americans viewed the economy, and government’s role.

Still, there’s no doubt the 9/11 attacks shattered many people’s confidence in the country’s ability to protect its citizens. And with that seminal event came a number of other challenges that are defining our national attitudes and discourse.