Extinguishing Expectations During the Coronavirus Crisis

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Quarantine goals. They’re like new year’s resolutions, just more annoying and with way more social pressure to come out of this period having “improved” yourself (🙄), or having accomplished something monumental enough to look back on as a “silver lining”. Ew. Lol.


I get it. We’re looking for measures of control and bright spots in the bleakness of this landscape practically screaming with CNN death toll alerts and graphic pictures of body bags and mobile morgues. This is horrible, and I would argue that many media outlets and those in positions of authority (looking especially at you, Trump administration) have spectacularly failed us. That’s for another post.


I just don’t think you need to be harder on yourself.


Can we talk about this social pressure to come out of the coronavirus crisis a “better person”? I’m not here for it at all. Coming out alive and not killing anyone you happen to be living with—or FaceTiming with, or both—is not good enough, apparently. On a serious note, I really think it’s a negative thing to put undue pressure on people to compete with each during this time when we’re all already extra stressed and dealing with a ton of changes and an uncertain end date for all of this to be over (whatever “over” means) now. Social media has become even more competitive now, ironically, since no one is going out to actually do anything. I don’t need more anxiety, and I definitely don’t want to be told I should be making productive use of my time by anyone else.


The cliched mottos of “we’re all in this together” and “stay safe” seem to present half-hearted bywords that are really poor excuses for genuine human connection. I know people mean well. I’ve actually fostered connections with some people over the last few weeks on a level that I hadn’t before. That’s definitely a positive thing. It’s also not forced. Contrived notions of “finding yourself” while also becoming some kind of world class chef or other virtuoso in a matter of weeks aren’t just ridiculous and insulting, but I think they can be psychologically damaging. By all means, connect with other people. Learn new skills—if you want to. Again, just don’t be hard on yourself. Things are scary now. Hopefully, you’re doing what you can to keep yourself and others as safe as you can. You don’t owe anyone to become more interesting or grounded or enlightened.


It’s also ok to be upset that you’re inconvenienced. It’s more than inconvenience, really. As a society, we’ve suddenly been forced to fundamentally alter our daily lives. That’s not a small thing. You’re not a bad person for not taking it in stride, or for finding yourself frustrated, sad, angry, and longing to be able to actually see people in person. You don’t have to “get over” these feelings. Add the ever present fear of getting sick to all of this, along with serious economic impacts on an individual level, and it’s more than understandable if you’re not as ok with this as other people might’ve told you that you should be.


I think there’s also an increased sense of guilt if you’re not out actively saving lives or putting yourself on the “front lines”. Those are incredibly admirable endeavors. It’s ok if that’s not you right now. Just try to be kind and patient with people, including yourself. That’s something we should all practice, all the time, anyway.

Hitler, Halal, and Hubris: The Extreme Ignorance Involved in Analyzing Islamic Terrorism

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I received an email from a family member entitled “A German’s View on Islam”. It’s a hoax email, but I didn’t know that until I did further research. If anyone is interested in the contents of the email that was sent to me, those contents can be found here:

http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/t/Tanay-Merek-German-Islam.htm#.VL_rtIo8KnM

I put a lot of thought into the response I emailed to my family members, however, and thought I should post my thoughts here because the topic and subsequent discussions still seem relevant.

This is a slightly edited version of the email response I sent to my family members:

I, too, was disappointed when I read this email. I wouldn’t say I was “shocked” because I’ve heard a lot of this before. The “no go zones” stirred up a lot of controversy when Bobby Jindal talked about them, and then defended his statements on CNN. At the risk of getting into an all-out war with everyone, I’d like to share my thoughts. Please remain civil. Attacking each other is not going to help anything.

I read this a few minutes after it was sent out, and had an immediate reaction, but I was watching the State of the Union address, so I thought I’d wait to respond. Then I thought it might be best not to respond, but since I see others have already done so, I will.

I was immediately intrigued by a sociological examination of current Muslim terrorism. (To be clear, I’m in no way saying all Muslims are terrorists or that we should “kill” Muslims–or terrorists. Extrajudicial killing, though usually done for practical purposes, adds to the problem.) My first thought was that the timeline must be off. An aristocrat pre-Nazi power? The fact that this person would still be alive and writing articles is not impossible, but surprising. I understood this man as saying he was a well-established businessman by the 1930s. I would think this would make him at least 100 years old today. I didn’t do the research Robin did, so I can’t tell you who Emmanuel Tanya [as it appeared in the email–his real name was Emanuel Tanay] is, or who this story/email originates from.

[I later did do the research.]

I have no reason to doubt the idea that many Germans rallied behind a renewed German nationalism or that much of the population didn’t follow as close attention to politics as it should have. My issue comes with comparison of Nazi Germany to not only today’s situation of global terrorism, but to situations unrelated to either in recent history. It’s very sexy to compare any situation to Nazism. Heads of majority Muslim countries that support terrorist organizations within their own borders (and without) are not Hitler, just as terrorist cells are not comparable to the early Nazi party. I think it does a tremendous disservice to all of the victims of extreme violence, tribal warfare, ethnic cleansing, and genocide to lump them all together. There are unique causes and conditions that occurred in Rwanda, the Balkans, China, Japan, etc. The barest of similarities can be made with the rise of Nazism and the subsequent genocide that occurred in Germany. Yes, ethnic and religious hatreds exist around the world, unfathomable acts of barbarism are practiced in an effort to gain and maintain power, and runaway ideology used as a justification for almost anything did not end in Germany in 1945. If we conflate every conflict, we misunderstand history and have even less chance of effectively mitigating the worst situations. It is pure ignorance to say ISIS or Al Qaeda or Boko Haram or any large terrorist organization of the moment is tantamount to the Nazi party. I’m not trying to diminish their threat or barbarism, but there are so many differences that I don’t think it’s a useful or proper comparison.

That those who scream the loudest or instill the most fear often get the most attention is not something I will dispute. Have terrorists overwhelmed the “silent majority”? I would say this is not true in every case, but yes, they pose significant threats to the very lives of those who live near (or more unfortunately, under) them. Ask anyone who has escaped from ISIS-controlled territory. The idea that those around them, the “moderate Muslims”, or, in this case, “peace-loving Muslims” should call out the poisonous apples in their ranks is an attractive one. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if everyone said “not in my name” to the point that their civil views drowned out the hatred and suicide bombings and maiming and beheading and stoning executed by the extremists? 1. Try doing this in a country where blogging your dissent can get you 1,000 lashes. (This happens in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, that practices its own form of extremism.) The new head of “Charlie Hebdo” was asked how he felt about the cartoons of Mohammed drawn by his magazine staff not being shown in much of Western media. He said that he very much understood the threat posed by those living under authoritarian regimes and in places where free speech is hindered and “insulting the Prophet” can result in death. He did not encourage people to “stand up” in the face of such retribution. He did say, however, that he believed those who live in so-called “democratic” countries with stronger free speech protections were cowards for not showing the cartoons. I mention this because whatever your view on this, the point I’m making is that we tend to assume it’s just as easy for people around the world to openly “stand up for what is right”. It’s not. Perhaps the author is arguing that those who were silent let things get to this point. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair either. 2. It’s a nice idea, but will the terrorists just decide that violent jihad is no longer a good idea because most people wag their fingers at them? It’s a nice sentiment, but I doubt there’s significant merit to it. 3. Why should every member of a group be responsible for the actions of every other member of that group? Are we not all individuals? (“The Daily Show” made this point very well about 2 weeks ago.)

I’m not a proponent of any religion. I think passages from the Qu’ran as well as passages from the New and Old Testaments are despicable. There are extremists who will follow these tomes to the letter, including many Muslims. This is real and it is dangerous. I don’t have a solution that will address all of the root causes of the upswell in Muslim terrorism and extremism.

I do not agree that this email calls for the killing of all Muslims. I know there have been several instances of controversy regarding the Lord’s Prayer being shafted in favor of Muslim prayers at major institutions. I can’t speak to the validity of this claim. While I would like separation of church and state to actually exist, religious freedom should be extended to all. No group should be favored and allowed to practice if another is not.

The email mentions the dangers of labeling food as halal. Does anyone care if it’s labeled kosher? These labels mean nearly the same thing. (Muslims shopped at the Jewish market that was recently attacked in Paris!) I suppose this is an attempt to warn Western nations of the infiltration of their societies by especially motivated and mobilized outsiders. Instead of looking at this development as one toward greater unity and understanding, there are those who see it as a threat to their very existence. I do not condone any system that treats women and minorities as lesser, that puts religion above the safety and wellbeing of others, whether this is a perversion of the religion by some or not. Ooh, an imam supervised the baking of a chocolate bar. That’s really symbolic. Forget real terrorism. Now we should all be cowed.

Progressives: Stop Being Petty and Polemical

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In one of my very first blog posts, I talked about how I thought progressive groups have a branding problem. That feeling has only been strengthened with time.

In email after email that I receive from different progressive political groups, I’m assaulted with the same type of message: a call to action against “the right-wing nut jobs”, “the gun nuts”, “Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and the dangerous Tea Party”. Sometimes the writers get really creative, leading one to believe they spend hours sitting in front of their laptops or tablets, experimenting with extreme alliterations and potential apocalyptic scenarios. The whole “the world as we know it is about to end…if you don’t donate $3 or more by this CRITICAL fundraising deadline” schtick is so old that I barely open these emails anymore.

Progressive talking points generally seem to follow the same pattern. Maybe someone decided to dumb it down a bit, deciding that pithy slogans and fear mongering were easier and sexier than winning an argument based on sound policy. Why inform the people when you can take a shortcut?

Sure, hate and ignorance will cohere the torch-wielding mobs (temporarily), but there are multiple problems with this strategy. Perhaps the most worrying is that engaging in this kind of dialogue–and I use that term as loosely as possible–necessitates an arms race of vitriolic rhetoric. Nearly everyone complains about how divided the country is. Let’s just divide it more, shall we? “But they did it first! We have to fight back!” And so it goes…
Besides selling citizens short, this approach dilutes the argument and dissolves credibility. If the other side is so bad, what makes your side better? When spokespeople bury their legitimate points in screeds against others, it’s very difficult to separate out the noise.

Another thing progressives don’t seem to understand is that the conservatives they so loathe at least pretend to stand for something. Of course, being “the party of no”, voting against bringing even the barest of legislation to the congressional floor, shutting down the government, and bringing lawsuit upon lawsuit against nearly everyone and everything to promote their self-described “culture war” should stand on its own as abhorrent behavior. Obviously, many of these people are “against” much more than what they are “for”.

There is a caveat, however. Decisions like the Hobby Lobby decision handed down by the Supreme Court are cloaked in the nebulous, but always-appealing brand of “freedom”. Personal liberty, historic imagery, and inalienable rights are so ingrained in the psyches of Americans since kindergarten that these tropes are difficult to argue against. Sure, there are nuanced polemics about “whose freedom is really being protected” and true (but often long winded and depressing) anecdotes about how many groups faced and continue to face discrimination throughout American history. Most of us know that “the good old days” weren’t really that great and that all of American history has been a kind of gilded age fight for the furthering of freedom.

For a brief stint, progressives followed President Obama’s line in repeating the ethic of equality. This idea should be compelling, but like scissors cutting paper in Rock, Paper, Scissors, “equality” is often no match for the far stronger sentiments evoked by “freedom”. This paper-thin concept that we should live a more egalitarian life is not something most people care about. Besides being fraught with the historically anathema association to communism, equality is more of a communitarian idea. If someone else getting more means that I lose some, why should I give that up? People are not persuaded by the idea of less for themselves; they are stirred by the possibility of more for themselves.

What should really be put forward is something along the line of fairness. If progressives can argue for fairness for specific groups or, especially, tailor this idea to individuals, I think they would be more successful. Framing an argument is important. Just as people are grabbed by headlines, the thesis and tone of an argument are what will stick in people’s minds more effectively than slews of statistics. This is not to say that arguments–both written and spoken–should skimp on content. I am instead promoting the idea that a measured, but consistent approach be taken when presenting issues of concern.

The idea of paycheck fairness is difficult to argue against. The main argument I heard by those against passing concrete legislation that sought to make it more difficult to discriminate against women in the workplace was that it simply wasn’t happening. That is a negation of the premise, but not an outright rebuttal.

If hot button issues like climate change and immigration are proving difficult to advance on, try changing tactics. There are always going to be ideological differences and “bridging the divide” is much easier said than done. It only serves to exacerbate the wound when you either aren’t really trying or have lost the argument before you’ve even started.

The Hobby Lobby and Citizens United decisions aren’t fair to most people, plain and simple. Even if we accept the premise that the rights of a few (those in charge of companies) are being impeded, what about the millions of workers and millions of voters impacted by such decisions? What laws like this state is that those who have money and power are worth more than the vast majority who have less. If you own a company or you have lots of money and friends in high places, you are legally entitled to a greater say in the workings of what is supposed to be a democratic country. The rights of a few (whose rights I would contend are not really being infringed) bump up against the rights of the much less powerful many. This is a corporatocracy that caters to vested, ideological (and often very misinformed) beliefs that simply is not fair.

Show people why THEIR rights are being restricted. Be FOR something instead of solely against something. Live up to your name, progressives, and be truly progressive. Maybe then we’d have a slightly better shot at mobilizing people. People want to do what’s in their interest. I believe that people would rather get something for themselves than hurt others. As long as politics operate in a zero-sum fashion (which they don’t have to, but they tend to), make people want to win. That is almost always more persuasive than making the other side lose.

Computers, Compassion, and Corporal Punishment: Alan Turing to Today’s Bloggers and the State of Human Rights in the World

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I meant to publish this a while ago, but didn’t. With the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the worldwide attention on Russia’s extreme anti-gay laws, this post seemed especially appropriate now. I’d also like to thank Tim Schleck for his contributions in the field of knowledge of Alan Turing and the time and effort he spent offering his opinions as I wrote the first draft of this post.

I’m going to write about two seemingly disparate topics. There is a direct link however, to how societies treat their most vulnerable and most vocal citizens. This is not true everywhere, at all times, but it’s pervasive enough that it warrants attention.

Recently, the pardon of Alan Turing made international headlines. On December 24, 2013, after 61 years, Queen Elizabeth II issued a royal pardon for Turing’s crime of homosexuality. This act of pardoning is seen as progressive in some circles because it dovetails with a movement of greater acceptance of homosexuality in the UK (including the recent national legalization of same sex marriage). Others, however, see it as a kind of window dressing.

Alan Turing was a brilliant and visionary pioneer who helped formalize the theoretical underpinnings of computer science. Two of his most well known accomplishments are that of the Turing Machine, a precursor to personal computers, and the Turing Test to measure artificial intelligence. (If you’ve ever seen “Bladerunner”, the test given to the replicants is similar.) The personal accomplishments of Turing’s short life are extensive and have played a critical role in the development of technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. By collaborating on the very first computer that was used to crack encrypted messages generated by the German Enigma machine, Turing played an invaluable part in aiding the UK and the allied powers to victory in World War II.

While the Queen’s gesture is certainly better than nothing, I would argue it’s too little, too late. An opinion writer at CNet seems to agree: http://m.cnet.com/news/alan-turing-gets-royal-pardon-on-homosexuality-crime/57616268 Turing was betrayed by the very government he so expertly aided in its most desperate hour. Government agents stalked and monitored his daily activities, resulting in the revocation of his security clearance, smear campaigns against him, and his eventual trial. He was charged with the then criminal act of homosexuality (called “gross indecency”) for admitting to having sex with a man, for which he was offered the “choice” of jail time or chemical castration. After choosing chemical castration, Turing’s suffering intensified. When he was found dead two years later after biting into a cyanide-laced apple, many people attribute his apparent suicide to his societal and governmental condemnation and subsequent punishment.

The pardon itself is sparse and offers no real apology. While former Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology in 2009, he only did so after bowing to the pressure of an intense internet campaign. Turing was a pivotal man in history, and although the standing of a citizen in society should not determine his or her treatment, it’s instructive when looking at other people who deviate from the norm of who offer value to their societies in a way that challenges convention. The most vocal may also be the most vulnerable, especially in strictly conservative countries.

The number of political prisoners in the world is unknown, but if the hundreds of thousands of documented Syrian prisoners and victims of torture and murder by Bashar al Assad’s government are any indication, holding individuals as political prisoners is not a rare phenomenon. Syria, while in the throes of a civil war, is no anomaly. These are all people who have been put in prisons because they challenged the government in some way. It may have been purely due to their very existence as members of a certain religious or social group seen as a threat that landed them in these hells. In countries such as North Korea, entire families are forced into oppressive labor camps where children are born into lives of captivity for no actual crimes. There are others who speak out against the actions of their governments, courageously trying to inspire more egalitarian and democratic laws in their home nations.

One such example is a Saudi Arabian man named Raif Badawi, who, due to his allegedly seditious activity–blogging about greater freedom in Saudi Arabia–has spent a year in prison, enduring physical and psychological torture. He is being charged with a crime akin to heresy: denying Islam. His punishment? 600 lashes and seven years in prison with another 3 months tacked on for disobeying his parents–an actual crime in Saudi Arabia. He has already been found guilty of various “cyber crimes”. If he’s found guilty of “apostasy”–the official name for the denial of Islam–he will be sentenced to death.

Yes, you read that right. If the 600 lashes themselves don’t kill him, he will then be executed. The idea of heresy in 2014, you ask? What is this, medieval Europe? No, it’s the present day Middle East. Of course, it’s not fair to take a monolithic view of an entire region, but any government that condones corporal punishment and capital punishment–especially for the supposed “crime” of expressing oneself–obviously does not have basic human values as its moral compass. Not beating and killing someone for writing a blog (however seemingly insulting) is not even a progressive stance. This is not an issue of cultural relativism or a so-called “Western value”.

What hope do we have for humanity if we turn a blind eye to such atrocities? These actions occur every day. Far from the exception, they are commonplace. The fact that people like this blogger know the risks of speaking out, and choose to do so anyway, stands as a testament to just how brave they truly are. It also presents a stark contrast with the agents who seek to silence them by the most cruel and permanent means available.
That United States officials have very little to say on the state of political prisoners (particularly those in countries with which the U.S. is a close ally or trade partner) is beyond shameful. It is detrimental to the reputation of the United States, and it gives the signal that countries can get a free pass. There are a plethora of ethical and strategic reasons why those in government positions outside of the offending countries should be doing more. Of course, the United States practices its own forms of cruelty. That doesn’t absolve Americans of the responsibility to do something more to help out fellow human beings anywhere in the world.

After the Olympics end three weeks from now, and the media buzz dies down, try to remember the dismal state of human rights in Russia. Remember how anachronistic the criminalization of Alan Turing’s homosexuality seems, how “gross indecency” was a prosecuted crime. Think about how he was only one of over 100,000 men in the UK to be punished for such a “crime”. Think about how that was over 60 years ago, but today, from Uganda (where you can be killed for being gay) to Saudi Arabia (where you can be killed for attempting to engage in free speech), human rights are not protected universally. We need to be aware, and learn from the horrors of the past. That this horrific backwardness still exists anywhere is unacceptable.

Cognitive Dissonance: Conservatives and Government

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I have a pretty simple question. This is not meant to alienate anyone, but I’m curious about the answer. If you consider yourself a conservative, and claim government as the enemy, why would you want to be a part of the system?

I’m not quite sure when conservatism became synonymous with spending no money and dismantling government as we know it, but here we are. If you’d like to reform the system in such a way that it better serves people, to make it more efficient, I understand that. That does not, however, mean destroying the Environmental Protection Agency, privatizing all education, and taking a sledgehammer to unions. It doesn’t mean cutting food stamp programs by billions of dollars to starving children and families because Ayn Rand gave you the idea that you could pull yourself up by your bootstraps and, you know, ideologically, it just doesn’t sit well with you that there are people out there “getting handouts”.

Recently, I was attacked by someone as I know as being the kind of person who “loves government”, and who defends its practices. While this is a blanket statement–I don’t support everything the federal government of the United States does–yes, I tend to support government. Since when should that be an insult?

This is a word of warning to the anarchists and the so-called libertarians and all the others who fancy themselves modern day revolutionaries. We live in a country comprised of approximately 320 million people. Among those 320 million, there are varying states of education, income, opportunities, and health conditions. Even from state to state, living conditions vary widely. We live in a patchwork society of diverse demographics, from age to culture to ethnicity.

But more important than even our differences are our connections to one another. Even if you don’t believe in a kumbaya ideal or attach the words “communism” or “socialism” to anything that remotely resembles cooperation, you have to admit that we must interact with one another in society. We merge on the same roads. We go to schools and workplaces with others. We purchase goods and services on a daily basis. These are the basics.

And we all benefit from services provided by the government from traffic lights to mail delivery to public libraries. It was often cited in the direct aftermath of the recent government shutdown that the biggest winners were the National Parks. Even the most self reliant among us love our national parks. And who can resist nature? Thoreau did write about Walden Pond, after all.

Government–from the lowest levels to the highest–has a role to play. This role is a significant one. Whether we’re talking about “entitlement” programs or passing the very laws that enable us to live in a stable society, we need government.

Grover Norquist’s colorful imagery of shrinking government to the point that we can “drown it in the bathtub” is disgusting. I’d really like to see where all these people would be without government services.

You can’t say “hands off my guns” (and my taxes and my religion), and then decide that government overreach is non-existent when it comes to “pension reform” or controlling reproductive choices or shutting down marriage equality or denying atheists and secularists the same respect as religion (often mainstream Christianity) is afforded.

Is that the real aim: to remake society in one’s own image? To so fundamentally alter the landscape of the United States as to comport a self-styled combination of the Bible and the “good old days”? To decry diversity and change and progress? Perhaps the most effective way is to declare the evils of the monstrous government that swallows all of our money, that ever-growing Leviathan run by the evil corporatists and opportunists who work in a place worse than hell. This place–gasp–is called Washington, D.C., and it’s where dreams go to die. Worse yet, it’s where the government bogeymen are killing all of your dreams too.

…Except that many of the government haters work there too. From local governments to state houses, thousands of people who won elections on the idea that government is the root of all evil are reaping its benefits in the form of salaries, health care, jobs, contracts, success, relative levels of fame, and the furtherance of their agendas using the tool that’s supposed to be their kryptonite.

I’m a vegetarian. I hate the entire system that goes into the production of killing animals so that people can eat them. Do I continue to eat meat, and say how horrible the system is? No. If it’s so abhorrent to you, government haters, how can you be a part of it? Are you trying to change it from the inside, out? That begins with a respect for its very existence and the admission that you want to be a part of that system, at the very least. If principle is so important, at least be honest with the public and yourselves.

U.S. House Republicans: The New Entitlement Class

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Just about a year ago, the familiar refrain leading up to the 2012 US Presidential Election boiled down to the basic tenet of American conservatism vs. progressivism: how much should the government take care of its people? More specifically, how “big” should the national government be, and what should be its role in the everyday lives of the country’s citizens? One of the major themes of the Republican National Convention was “We Built That”, an ethic encompassing the idea of personal empowerment–that individuals and businesses are capable of quite a lot on their own. It rejected the idea that “no man is an island”, insisting that hard work and determination are the only necessary ingredients for sustained success in the United States. A parallel theme of the parasitic “entitlement class” also took shape. Although every Republican would love to forget Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment, it’s instructive. It underscored and perpetuated the belief of millions of people that a large portion of American society is comprised of freeloaders. The “builders” work hard to make this country great, and the “moochers” suck it dry without contributing anything of value.

These themes are straight out of the RNC play book. Many Republican strategists still hold these beliefs. They argue that “smaller government” benefits us all. Who needs regulations? Let Wall Street run rampant. Dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency! Those nice corporations–after all, they’re “people”, just like you and me–would never overpollute the air water.

Well, those same leaders who have so strongly espoused the “builder” mentality have become the destroyers. In a purely self-indulgent, crybaby way, they held the entire country hostage. Make no mistake. This is not hyperbole, and it’s not a partisan view. Because a few select Congresspeople (mostly self-professed Tea Party Republicans) decided they hated President Obama, or the Affordable Care Act, or any accomplishment President Obama stood for, SO much, they decided to convince the rest of their caucus in the House to tie any budget bill to the defunding of the law they so lovingly call “Obamacare”. What the hell is this? They knew the president would not dismantle his “signature achievement”. They knew that the new fiscal year began on the same day that Americans could start registering for exchanges on the new healthcare plan. So why not put two and two together? They voted 45 times to repeal the ACA! The Democratic-led Senate turned it down or didn’t even bring it up for a vote all of these times because if you feed the trolls, they just bother you more. President Obama would not sign a bill “gutting” the ACA. The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the law. President Obama won reelection, campaigning on the passage of the ACA. Public opinion polls consistently state that Americans feel favorably about the new healthcare law. If all of this weren’t enough, anecdotal evidence from people whose lives were saved due to provisions in the new law speak much more convincingly than those who don’t want to pay for it or who decide it’s government overreach.

I’m not going to get into an in depth discussion of the Affordable Care Act here, but the backbone of the legislation–the individual mandate–is a long-promoted REPUBLICAN idea. It is based on the principle of individual responsibility. Republicans hate moochers, remember? Progressives aren’t thrilled with the idea that the system is nowhere near a single payer (national healthcare) system, and there are quite a few issues with it; however, a minority of people can’t just do whatever they want to get rid of a law they don’t like because they “think it’s a bad law”. Too bad.

Those Tea Party Republicans in the House–who are mostly ideological people from small towns who have never held office before, and have no idea how the government works–were buoyed by more visible people such as fellow Senate newcomer and all-around attention whore Ted Cruz.
They pushed the country into a partial government shutdown. (I’m going to include a post on a government shutdown primer since not everyone knows what the shutdown entails.)

This has grave consequences for the country. True “patriots” would never do such a thing, and especially for purposes of bald self-interest. And in many cases, the term “self-interest” is completely apropos since some conservative Congress members are very worried about primaries in their gerrymandered districts posed by even more ultra-conservative candidates put up by ridiculously wealthy donors whose money (“speech”) can be spent nearly unfettered thanks to our lovely Supreme Court, whose justices, as we know, are ALWAYS looking out for the best interests of the people.

The government shutdown, now in it’s 11th day, shouldn’t have happened at all. We’re getting closer and closer to the date at which the national debt ceiling must be raised. As has been repeated constantly, paying off the debt is paying for costs already incurred. The county had to pay for money it already spent. Deciding to default (as some Republicans would like to do) is irresponsible at best, and ridiculous and disastrous at worst. The United States has never defaulted on its debt in its history, and the majority opinion on doing so is that this could very possibly equal a worldwide economic recession or depression, plus countless other terrible ramifications.

Republicans who claim that it’s now time to examine the dangerous path of ballooning deficit and the exploding debt (here’s looking at you, John Boehner), really have audacity. If they were so concerned about the economy, they wouldn’t have set in motion a government shutdown that has cost the country billions if dollars, and put nearly a million directly out of work. They wouldn’t play a game of brinkmanship with the possibility of default if the president and Democrats don’t agree to their ridiculous demands of significantly cutting entitlement programs.

Senate Democrats have already agreed to a compromise with House Republicans to pass a budget with spending at the levels House Republicans wanted (continuing the sequester), and “Speaker” Boehner reneged on his deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Boehner admitted this to George Stephanopoulos. Democrats already compromised with Republicans! “Piecemeal” legislative efforts by the Republicans or blaming Democrats and the president in front of National Parks and monuments for their closures as PR stunts are not “compromises” by the Republicans.

This is their fault. And they wanted it this way.

The once-proud “builders” are happy to set the fire, and to stand there and watch it burn.

Members of Congress continue to receive paychecks even as “nonessential” government workers do not, and the city of Washington, D.C. goes unfunded. Worse yet, members of Congress receive the gold standard in healthcare plans, and to date, no Congress member has turned this down. The people can pay for their perks, but not get paid or receive healthcare at an even slightly diminished cost?

I’m pretty sure that’s called mooching. What entitles the select few to receive benefits when others work hard? What ENTITLES them? Many of them aren’t even working for their constituents!

And conservatives say they hate an entitlement class…

Susan Rice and Obama and Republicans–Oh, My!

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Susan Rice is being tapped as Obama’s new National Security Adviser to replace Tom Donilon. Undoubtedly, there will be uproar from Republicans at this after the much hyped-up (much ado about nothing) Secretary of State debacle of a few months ago. In case you forgot, many Republicans (both senators and media) personalities waged an all-out war against Susan Rice, the then-likely next Secretary of State, tarnishing her name after, as then US Ambassador to the UN, she reported what was later found out to be false information on the September 11, 2012 US embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya. Republicans vowed not to vote for her, bullying her into stepping out of the running. Voila! Now we have Secrekerry aka Secretary of State John Kerry, a person senators such as John McCain respect and feel comfortable with in the position–despite Kerry being a Democrat. The Susan Rice witch hunt can be viewed as a prelude to the Chuck Hagel–a person John McCain did not much respect or feel comfortable with in the position despite his being a Republican and co-chair of McCain’s 2000 Presidential campaign–witch hunt. (Crazy Republicans, tricks are for kids!) Somehow, miraculously, Chuck Hagel passed grueling confirmation hearings to become the current Secretary of Defense.

Anyway, getting back to the original story: the prospect of Susan Rice as National Security Adviser is bound to cause strife after the Susan-Rice-as-Secretary-of-State-debacle. I think this strategy to make her National Security Adviser is brilliant, however, from a political standpoint. If Republicans decide to wage unreasonable opposition yet again, Democrats–and the White House–can remind them of another Rice in the position of National Security Adviser. That Rice, Condoleezza, propagated tons of false and skewed intelligence information that led the United States into an almost 9 year war with Iraq. Oops. Thousands of US lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead. But 4 dead Americans in Benghazi, you say! What about the 13 embassy bombings under Bush’s watch? What about all the innocent people who died due to a drawn out war that we KNOW was a mistake? We’re not supposed to talk about that.

Anyway, the post of National Security Adviser does not require Senate Confirmation. There may be a lot of bellyaching from Republicans, but they’ll have to suck it up. I take issue with Susan Rice for other reasons, but the way Republicans used her for target practice in their crazed spree/politicization of the Benghazi terror attack is more than unbecoming. It is shameful. Good for Obama. Good for Rice. Perhaps bad for the country in the short term as the media whips a non-story into the next (non) controversy with wall-to-wall coverage. It will be fun to see Fox News in a tizzy, though. You almost can’t blame many of these politicians and their talking heads–when your “policy” initiatives in the Congress include such recent actions as voting to repeal “Obamacare” for the 37th time and defunding the now 3 years-defunct ACORN, using taxpayer money to do so–you need flashy distractions. Without the illusion of the Great Oz, all you have is a scared, deceptive man behind a curtain.

Susan Rice will be the next National Security Adviser. The Republicans will whine and stamp their feet. They’d do better to focus on actual policy. Didn’t they learn the lesson of 2012? Had enough Americans responded to their childish tactics, and voted for Mitt Romney as president, they wouldn’t be in this position today.

The Power of the Vote

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Yesterday, the best hope for any real progress in protecting Americans from gun violence was shot down.

The Senate voted on an expansion of the background check system for those seeking to buy guns. It’s important to note that this bill was a watered-down version of previously proposed bills on the expansion of background checks. The bill called for background checks to be performed at gun shows and prior to Internet sales. Because the bill expressly exempted background checks from being required for sales from gun owners to relatives and friends, it fell far short of the “universal background check” threshold. The bill was expressly written in such a way both to alleviate fears of too much government incursion in private sales, and as an attempt to make it more palatable to senators who fear the lobbying and economic power of the NRA. It’s also important to note that the bill contained a very specific provision AGAINST the creation of a national gun registry. Because some paranoid people think that the US government actually wants to keep lists of these people in an effort to confiscate their guns, efforts were made to assuage even those most ardent opposers. To think the government a. has their shit together enough to accomplish such a mass undertaking, and b. has the time and money to do so, reveals a tremendous faith in our system. (These are some of the same people who believe the moon landing was a hoax. Which is it: powerful, Orwellian overreach, or staggering ineptitude? Make up your mind.)

I get it, though. There’s a fear that the government lies. Well, the NRA has demonstrably lied on a huge scale in order to push its pro-guns for everyone, everywhere agenda. The NRA is financed by gun manufacturers. Therefore, the NRA does the bidding of the gun manufacturers and represents their desires above those of actual NRA members. Of course gun manufacturers want as few restrictions as possible on gun sales. Gun sales are how they make their money. It’s not difficult to connect the dots. In fact, it’s a much easier connection than those reached by conspiracy theorists. Gun manufacturers have a vested interest in ginning up fear among the populace by distorting the facts, and telling people that “the government is going to take your guns away”, which translates into “Better get them while their hot–you never know when they’ll be gone for good!” This also leads to the idea that people need as much protection as possible against a “tyrannical” government comprised of SWAT teams and Special Forces soldiers who will kick down their doors in an effort to forcefully, physically “steal” their Cobstitutionally-protected firearms. Scary image, right? That’s why fear mongering is effective. And, in this case, it’s particularly potent because it preys on people who are already especially vulnerable to this type of delusional mindset. Never mind the fact that several Supreme Court cases as well as the Constitution itself is on the side of gun owners. These people who possess deadly weapons are defenseless against the Leviathan, didn’t you know? In their minds, their guns are the only things standing between them and such ridiculous and dangerous notions as state-run concentration camp style FEMA camps used to imprison citizens. What do you bet these people don’t even know that there are countries like Russia and North Korea who, right now, send political prisoners to ACTUAL work/slave camps?

Anyway, efforts were made to try to convince these people that their worst fears would never be realized. The government actually catered to THEM.

While the compromise bill was not as far-reaching as many would have liked, it was hailed as a historic and positive step. Its bipartisan nature was touted. It was drafted by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, two conservative senators who represent areas densely populated by gun owners. It was often mentioned how credibility was gained by the fact that both senators had “A” ratings from the NRA.

In a myriad of polls, at least 90% of the American people supported expanded background checks. Some polls said 91%. More than 80% of Americans supported universal background checks.

Even NRA head and soulless shell of a person Wayne LaPierre called for universal background checks in a widely-circulated video showing him testifying before Congress in 1999 on behalf of the NRA and its powerful lobbyists.

It was thought that in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre and the accumulated horror of all the mass shootings and smaller scale, but ubiquitous, gun violence, that it was finally possible to attempt to make the country just a little safer. As both Biden and Obama have said, if the life of one child, one person, or a hundred, or a thousand, is saved by keeping guns out of the hands of more convicted felons, domestic abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses, don’t we have an obligation to try?

As the families and friends of those who died and suffered grievous injuries in shootings looked on from the Senate gallery (at the very senators they had summoned the strength to share their stories with in an effort to prevent others from going through the same unimaginable pain in the future), the Senate killed the bill. The vote was 54-46, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joining the 46 and voting no once it became clear the bill wouldn’t pass in order to be able to bring it up for another vote in the future. Two of the women directly affected by gun violence shouted “shame on you” to those senators who voted no, from the Senate gallery. Former Representative Gabby Giffords, herself a famous example of gun violence, echoed this statement in an op-ed for “The New York Times” published today. As she explained how she has been robbed of the ability to speak easily since being shot in the head in Tucson in January 2011, she expressed being “furious” at the outcome of the vote. She is not only a former Congresswoman, a very visible victim of gun violence, and still, a gun owner, but she also co-founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a PAC that aims to counter the incredible lobbying power of the NRA, with her former astronaut husband, Mark Kelly.

President Obama was very angry at a press conference he gave less than an hour after the Senate vote. He said that while “90 percent of Democrats voted for the bill, 90 percent of Republicans voted against it”. Obama explicitly called the NRA out on its lies to people.

The NRA erroneously claimed that a universal gun registry was to be created, and that it would be used to punish lawful gun owners. The NRA LIED ON PURPOSE–and, as Obama said, it worked. Unfortunately, enough of a “vocal minority” called their senators, and sufficiently scared them into voting against the bill. Members of Congress are so worried about being primaried in their next elections that they don’t represent the majority of people. As Obama resignedly asked, who are they representing?

Senior Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal called yesterday the “saddest day of [his] public life”. He has been a tireless advocate for gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook massacre rocked his state in December. Yesterday was especially disappointing for millions of Americans, myself included. There are eight more gun control-related bills that are going to the Senate floor in the coming days. They are not expected to pass. As one resolute father of a six-year-old boy who was brutally murdered by gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School said, this is just the beginning. They knew it would be a long road, and they (all those related to victims of gun violence) aren’t going anywhere because they have no choice.

It’s difficult to be optimistic, but there are no other options but to give up. Progress often takes time. I’m hoping at least some of these senators are voted out next election cycle, and replaced by more progressive counterparts. Let them feel the power of votes firsthand.

The Bungled Media Response to the Boston Marathon Bombing

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Yesterday, an act of pure malice occurred. At around 2:50 pm, 2 bombs (and a little later, an unrelated explosion), exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The current casualty count is 3 deaths (including an 8 year old boy) and 144 injuries, many of which are amputations caused by the nearby bombs.

I was on the phone with my friend in California when my mom told me to turn on the TV. When I first saw the early coverage a few minutes after the bombs detonated, I said to my friend and to my mom, “This looks like a coordinated attack”. Police and other officials were very careful in the first few hours about calling the event any kind of attack or concerted effort. When Vice President Biden used the term
“act of terror”–which is what this was–the media went crazy about the significance of this term. All kinds of national security phrases like “post-9/11 world” were repeated ad nauseum by frenzied reporters and anchors who freely admitted they didn’t really know what was going on. When President Obama spoke almost four hours later about what had by then been clearly defined as an attack, the media noted that he did not use the words “terror” or “terrorist”. A quick lesson in semantics: Anyone who makes a deliberate effort to attack a group of people with the intention of inciting fear in the public is a terrorist. A terrorist is one who performs acts of terror, aiming to terrorize the populace. This is very simple. One need not be a member of Al Qaeda or a related group to qualify as a terrorist. In fact, there are plenty of types of terror that don’t fit this mold. Eco-terrorism is one example.

My point in writing this blog post is to criticize the media response in the immediate aftermath of this horrible event.

My main criticisms are that:

1. Reporters should not worry about nuance and policy wonkery, and they should call a spade a spade. Of course people are terrified (the very hallmark of an act of terror), and of course they’re sad. Our collective conscience has been shocked. Many of the racers and bystanders admitted that they were still in shock. The media owes everyone a clear explanation.

2. Do not tell people how to make homemade bombs on national television. An “expert” on CNN began talking about the various compositions of bombs, naming chemicals such as C4, and then detailing other, easier ways to make homemade bombs since stores are now on the lookout for people who buy large amounts of fertilizer at one time. Thank you for that information. I sure hope the wrong people don’t use that. Would it inspire anyone watching? Of course not. What a silly idea.

3. If you are going to show pictures, make an effort to preserve the privacy and the dignity of those who are severely injured. It’s an incredible understatement to say that showing people with blown off limbs and people who are lying, bleeding in the streets and unmoving as they’re carted onto ambulances adds unnecessary insult to injury. Aren’t there editors who are paid to make such executive decisions? There are always going to be those disgusting people who post pictures of the most gruesome injuries on websites devoted to such things. This is obviously disgraceful. Associated Press and CNN, however, don’t have to follow suit. All I’m urging is discretion in coverage. We don’t see flag-draped coffins of soldiers who died in war on TV, but we can see potential corpses of civilians?

4. Stop trying to argue political significance. We know, you’re as confused and upset as everyone. And that’s ok. That’s human, and that’s understandable. You do, however, have an audience of millions of people who come to you to find out what’s happening. You have an obligation to take the responsibility of journalism seriously. I know, you’re so used to pundits “debating” each other for countless empty hours, you may find it difficult to escape that ethos. It’s fine that it’s Patriots’ Day. No one has school in Massachusetts on Patriots’ Day. Therefore, there are more potential (and likely) victims because more people (including a large number of children) will be on the streets of Boston, possibly watching the Marathon. Even if these people are not watching the Marathon, they might just be in downtown Boston. Fine. Please do not speculate on the significance of Patriots’ Day to the attack. Do not enter conspiracy theory territory to fill airtime. It’s unbecoming, not to mention a disservice to your viewers, readers, and listeners. Wall to wall coverage does not a credible journalistic institution make. Speaking of credibility, I want to hear things like “There were no threats deemed credible prior to the race”. This is real news. Thank you. More of that, please.

5. Twitter may be a source of misinformation. As you claimed, a lot of early reports can turn out to be wrong. CNN, you, especially should know this lesson well. (Remember that not so little slip up you made when you reported that the Supreme Court struck down the Affordable Care Act aka the disdainfully mocked “Obamacare” plan? Yeah. Oops. Rick Perry understands your embarrassment.)
Because of the ephemeral and near instantaneous nature of tweets combined with the echo chamber effect of the network, secondhand citizen journalists are bound to get key details wrong. I know for a fact that, even hours later, people were tweeting incorrect facts on Twitter. I saw it myself. Just remember: Twitter is often not an authoritative source.

6. Do not kill the story. I don’t know where the line is, and obviously, the Boston Marathon bombings are a huge story. There are, however, many other stories in the country, and especially, the world. It’s ok to report on those too. If you keep showing the same pictures and build an entire cottage industry out of a story, not only are you being exploitative, but you are numbing people to the significance of the event by bombarding them with it, uninterrupted, for days on end. Unfortunately, this is what occurred with the Sandy Hooking shooting spree story and the Trayvon Martin shooting (and subsequent obsession with shooter George Zimmerman).

Terror is terror. If you’re so careful about your phrasing of something like that, you should be careful of many other things.

One other quick note. Everyone immediately offers their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of any tragic event. I’m sure most people’s intentions are harmless, and they genuinely feel badly about what occurred. People want to express sympathy and compassion in the face of something whose horror they can’t reconcile. The “prayer” part of that statement, especially, irks me. Obviously, one’s prayers are not going to undo the horror. No one can turn back time. What I think is truly insensitive is the people who claim that god saved them–or that god bless and protect the souls of those so callously murdered or maimed. I will be very blunt. It is unbelievably selfish to think you were spared when others weren’t. Maybe these people don’t realize this, but they should. Maybe they have survivor’s guilt. I’m not sure. Whether this slight is unintentional or not, no one needs this fact rubbed in his or her face–that you’re ok, and he or she is not; all but for the grace of god, of course. That brings me to another quite glaring logical fallacy. What kind of merciful, omnipotent,omnibenevolent god would allow for such carnage? If the answer is that people have free will, god is not doing a very good job of intervening to “protect” the innocent.

The terrorist attack that happened in Boston was unexpected and horrific. I feel terrible for everyone involved, and it scares me that authorities didn’t pick up on something so significant before a major event like the Boston Marathon which welcomes people from all over the world. I’m somewhat surprised that they don’t have any suspects at this time. I’m also floored by the incredible grace, calmness, and patience dislayed by the first responders, the officials tasked with holding press conferences, and surgeons such as Dr. Fegan of Massachusetts General Hospital, who took time off his break to talk to the press. He gave general details in a tactful way, without betraying anyone’s privacy.

An event like this is difficult enough. I just wish people–especially members of the media–would make an effort not to make these mistakes when events like this occur.

Happy Birthday!

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Today (well, October 27, so technically, it’s yesterday) it’s been a year since I started my blog. Happy birthday to the little blog that could! I’d like to look at how things changed (or didn’t) in a year, both domestically and internationally.

To begin with, we’re no longer in Republican primary season–the U.S.
election is only 10 days away. (My second blog post, in October 2011, was about Hermain Cain, who was, unbelievably, leading the polls in the Republican primary at the time.)

The situation in Syria has gotten much worse. With estimates of over 30,000 killed, and many more detained, tortured, and missing, the Syrian crisis has deteriorated since its beginning in March of 2011. Bashar al Assad has remained in power longer than anyone predicted, and it doesn’t appear that “his days are numbered”, as everyone has said since the situation in Syria has gotten so horrific that it could no longer be ignored.

The narrative about Europe and the Eurozone crisis has largely remained the same. Temporary stability has been achieved due to (mostly German-based) bailouts of struggling countries like Greece.

There have been no global climate change agreements to which the US has been a party. This is, perhaps, one of the most disappointing and frightening modes of inaction to occur in the last year. We will surely pay the price for ignoring the effects we have on the climate. The common argument is that during an economic crisis, you can’t think long term. Wrong. You HAVE to think long term. Even if we can’t do everything overnight, let’s attempt to make substantial progress. Not doing anything is a cop out, and it will be fatal. We must begin, and I’m hoping that Congress passes actual legislation, and the second term of the Obama administration makes this a priority. In addition, green jobs are real jobs.

The Keystone XL pipeline legislation was not passed, and there is support by the Obama administration for alternative energy, but no legislation on the effects of climate change has passed. President Obama owes environmentalists, progressives, and the future of humanity.

The fiscal cliff (as a result of the budget deal) looms ever larger. This debt ceiling deal was, and continues to be, a terrible Hobbesian choice that never should have come up for a vote. The fact that ignorant and reckless Tea Party economic terrorists held the government and the economy hostage makes me seethe. The fact that the House will likely still retain a Republican majority of the very same (and maybe even more conservative and ignorant members) because people vote against their interests is even more upsetting.

President Obama expressed support for same sex marriage…after Joe Biden preempted his announcement. I love Joe, though. As he said in the Vice Presidential Debate against Paul Ryan, he always says what he means, and means what he says, and people know that about him.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed on September 20, 2011, but was implemented in the months following the passage if the act. And guess what? No one died–directly from gays and lesbians serving in the military, anyway.

President Obama passed a first step toward Dream Act-style legislation.

Elections changed leadership in France, Italy, and other places (including Arab Spring elections), while oppression and allegations of voter fraud prevailed in places like Russia, Mauritius, and Venezuela led to new terms for Putin, Chavez, and the arrest of Mauritius’s previously ousted democratically-elected leader.

On September 11, 2012, the now infamous Benghazi terrorist attack occurred, killing four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya. It was terribly tragic, and while an investigation is rightfully taking place, this event should not be politicized. Those who have politicized it should be ashamed.

In China, Bo Xilai’s corruption (and his wife’s murder of a British journalist), as well as the FoxConn disgrace, suicides, and strikes of workers living in inhumane conditions was revealed to the world. Even economic tigers have problems.

The “War on Women” has continued. I could write an entire blog post on this alone.

The world was stunned when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. There have been several deadly shootings since then.

A No Labels candidate (the magical figure who was supposed to save us from the ever-increasing chasm of partisan divide) has not materialized. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, whose party and candidacy might be the most viable electoral alternative, was not invited to the debates. Neither were any of the other candidates from outside of the two main parties.

The War in Iraq officially ended. As per President Obama’s campaign promise, the War in Afghanistan is set to end–whatever that means, exactly–in 2014.

An unprecedented amount of money (much by outside groups) has been spent on elections this season. Over $2 billion has been spent on the presidential election alone. Think of all the other things that money could’ve been spent on.

Sure, there’s a lot to be disillusioned about, but a lot of things need to change. We don’t exactly have many other options. I’m optimistic about progress. We’ll see where we are a year from today.