So, About All Those Refugees Everywhere…

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Will 2017 be any better for the world’s refugees and migrants? Despite some encouraging signs, the overall tepid international response to their plight doesn’t bode well for them. (Photo Credit: Reuters/Marina Militare)

2016 was largely seen as a shitty year. I alluded to as much in my own end-of-the-year recap, telling 2016 to kindly go f**k itself. Of course, with so many people claiming 2016 to be a patently awful 366 days, it led critics to wonder whether or not it truly was the nadir of human civilization. Lorraine Ali, writing for the Los Angeles Times, mused about what has led folks to proclaim 2016 the worst on record. Certainly, the presidential election and all the rancor building up to it (and now spilling over), as well as all the celebrity deaths that seemed to affect so many observers, were strong influences. Concerning those lost in 2016, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, and Prince are but a few of the names on the list—and the likes of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and George Michael joined them in just the last week of the year. Ultimately, though, Ali closes her commentary by aiming to put things in historical perspective:

We’ve had better years, to be sure. But humanity has survived the Crusades, the Black Death, the Civil War, the Great Depression, world war. It survived 2016, just as it survived the last.

Was it the worst year ever? No, but it was bad enough.

In other words, President Donald Trump is pretty terrible, but not bubonic plague terrible. Fair enough, Ms. Ali. Fair enough. If this historical perspective doesn’t grab you, though, maybe a more expansive worldview is more your speed. To be fair, Lorraine Ali does consider troubling events beyond unfortunate domestic political outcomes and fallen entertainers, although mainly as an aside. Nonetheless, it is here where we pivot to the heart of this post. Ali writes in her opinion piece:

There were those whose names we didn’t know, but they left a lasting impression as footage from the Syrian war and the immigrant crisis made headlines and news cycles. Children pulled lifeless from bombed-out buildings in Aleppo or washed up on the shores of whatever safe haven their families were seeking.

To mourn their deaths is to embrace the humanity we ought to be preserving rather than ripping down. Their passing was a brutal reminder that empathy should not be another causality of 2016. No wonder we wanted to hold on to whatever glimmers of hope we could find.

Humanity. Empathy. Hope. For immigrants and Syrians, no less. It all sounds wonderful. But, um, and don’t take this the wrong way—these do not sound like prevailing sentiments of a sizable cross-section of the U.S. population right now. Nor do they seem like hallmarks of a growing segment of the international community. In Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, who became Prime Minister in December after serving in the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs for two-plus years, indicated intentions to move forward with the first major policy shift of his tenure: enacting a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal migration into the country, which is likely to result in more precise attempts to identify economic migrants who do not have a legitimate claim to asylum within Italy and subsequent mass deportations to deal with these types. Reportedly, prior to deportation, the undocumented migrants will be held in detention centers, more of which are being opened pursuant to this policy shift. This expansion of detention centers, in particular, is a notable shift from the stance of Gentiloni’s predecessor Matteo Renzi, who opposed such facilities in the hopes that undocumented migrants could successfully be integrated within Italy.

There are any number of directions in which we can go with this news. Certainly, the “let’s build a wall” crowd supporting Donald Trump throughout the 2016 election campaign season is probably cheering on Paolo Gentiloni’s new path forward for Italy with vicarious zeal, seeing strong parallels between Italy’s situation and that of the United States, and not-so-secretly wishing authorities here would enact something similar. Realistically, Italy has a more legitimate claim to a need for border security. According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Italy surpassed Greece as the site for the highest number of arrivals by sea for migrants and refugees among European Union states, seeing more than 180,000 reach its shores in 2016 alone. That’s a lot of humanity to accommodate—no matter how big the place of arrival.

Additionally, while Germany especially is coming to grips with a terror attack within its bounds, that of an assault at a Christmas market in Berlin by a man driving a tractor-trailer which left 12 dead and 48 injured, Italy can count one of its native-born among the casualties in the person of Fabrizia Di Lorenzo, a 31-year-old ex-pat with multiple Master’s degrees and a love for her adopted home. One person living outside the country’s borders, and yet undoubtedly Italians everywhere, not to mention those non-Italians with even a shred of empathy, feel sadness at the revelation of her passing. As do the relatives and compatriots of the Czech, German, Israeli, Polish and Ukrainian nationals also lost to the senseless violence of the massacre in Berlin.

In effecting a policy of this nature and of its potential scope, Italy naturally makes a theoretical distinction between those who legally seek asylum within the country and those who migrate there to seek a more advantageous situation. Accordingly, we should also be explicit and precise in how we delineate two classes of people who would cross into Italy to seek refuge. On the one hand, we have refugees, defined by the UNHCR thusly:

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Those who have fled their homes in Syria, for example, would well qualify, especially in light of the travesties experienced in eastern Aleppo as Syrian government forces regained control of most of the city. There are definite exigent circumstances at work here and in similar cases of war, genocidal violence, and other life-or-death situations. Migrants, on the other hand, are individuals who relocate to improve their situation and that of their family. The critical distinction, therefore, and one that carries over to applicable international law, is the idea migrants choose to move to secure a more advantageous position for themselves, whereas refugees are forced to move or else risk persecution, bodily harm, or even death, and because of this, effectively have choice taken away from them.

Of course, this does not imply that so-called “economic migrants” are leaving a life of luxury behind them, nor are they re-locating to an area and status denoted by wealth and privilege. Just because someone doesn’t witness civilians getting shot in the streets doesn’t mean his or her life isn’t hard, or that or he or she doesn’t have aspirations of a better life. Still, with hundreds of thousands of people potentially showing up at a country’s man-made borders or natural geographic dividers, it would stand to reason that a line would have to be drawn somewhere. Moreover, with many of these migrants posing as asylum-seekers and gumming up the works of the immigration and vetting process, it is that much slower and more laborious for would-be refugees in direst need. And this does not even begin to consider those individuals who would play the part of the refugee only to infiltrate a nation and move to harm the citizens already residing there as an agent of ISIS or a similar-minded group—however remote the possibility.

So, is Italy’s intended policy shift a much-needed method of bolstering order and security within the nation, or an unnecessarily draconian and logistically unfeasible turn of domestic policy? Well, not merely to defer to the will of the individual so as to avoid taking a definitive stance, but I think the merits of either argument are in the eyes of the beholder. That is, if you’re a proud nationalist who doesn’t feel a strong need for growing multiculturalism or generally feels as if his or her country is on the downslide, you might be enthusiastic to Paolo Gentiloni’s new direction for Italy. However, if you yourself immigrated to the country you’re in or even got to where you are as a refugee/asylum-seeker, you might be more sympathetic to the plight of those risking life and limb to secure access to a destination country, regardless of their legal status. Outside of, say, ramming a truck into a crowd of unsuspecting Christmas shoppers, there does not seem to be any wrong way of how to think and feel in our personal lives about the refugee and migration crisis. At the very least, unless you turn a blind eye, ear or other sense organ to this worsening problem, you stand to have some sort of unconscious reaction to the events that unfold daily in Europe and in the surrounding areas.

Ay, though, there’s the rub. How easy it is to turn a blind eye to the suffering that persists in war-torn parts of the globe, the strife that manifests so strongly in regions such as Africa and the Middle East, as well as in parts of Asia and eastern Europe. The Simpsons has had so many great individual moments in its 20+ years on television, but one which comes to mind relevant to the above pursuits is when Homer and Marge are sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper, and the cover story concerns refugees fleeing from an oppressive situation. Marge, the consummate worrier, sighs and says to Homer, “Sheesh. Look at these refugees.” Homer, ever the warm-blooded working-class American male indifferent to their plight or, quite frankly, the plight of anyone beyond his immediate person, however, angrily asks rhetorically, “How about a smile?” Marge, taken aback, insists, “They’ve undergone terrible hardships.” To which Homer scoffs, “Well, moping won’t make it better.”

And that’s the unfortunate paradox of the refugee/migrant epidemic, if you will. These displaced peoples possess some of the most genuine need of anyone on Earth, and therefore, should inspire compassion and pity. However, many well-meaning Americans, relatively well-off, see the enormity of the issue, and judge any contribution they may make as inconsequential. Or they simple lose sight of the problems faced by asylum-seekers worldwide with their own situations to manage. Bills need to get paid. The kids need to get fed. We all need to get throughout the day without killing ourselves or strangling one of our co-workers. There’s only so much time in the day, and when the drudgery of our waking life is behind us, how many of us are willing to confront a topic that is, well, so depressing?

Well, a lot of us aren’t. It’s as with those commercials for the ASCPA or the Humane Society which aired so frequently during the holidays, featuring funereally slow versions of your favorite Christmas tunes and shots of the saddest puppies and kittens shivering in the cold you have ever witnessed. You can’t turn away. You want to reach into the television, unlock to the door to the cage, put your arms around that helpless animal, and bring it right into your living room. And then? The commercial ends. Back to Breaking Bad, or whatever show is playing in a marathon. There’s not enough room in your mind for both thoughts of helpless canines and Walter White building a meth-cooking empire in New Mexico, and unfortunately, one of them has to go. Often, it tends to be the former.

So, what’s the point? Economic refugees and migrants are essentially just a bunch of cats and dogs without a home? No, not exactly, although refugees in particular, like the aforementioned freezing animals of the commercials, are deserving of compassion in their own right. As easy as it is for you and I to turn away from the morning paper with its troublesome headlines, or the nightly news replete with images of the struggles faced by asylum-seekers worldwide, it’s surprisingly straightforward for the target countries of these various peoples who have strayed from home to turn them away or pass them off on a neighboring country. Italy, by planning mass deportations, would have its newfound migrants and refugees become someone else’s problem. Other European nations have taken similar stances toward surging numbers of asylum-seekers, keeping them at bay with physical barriers or otherwise inviting criticism from international human rights watchdogs who have decried both the negation of appeals from these would-be refugees, as well as the all-too-common deplorable conditions at camps designed to hold their numbers.

Even Germany, which has chastised other EU nations for their handling of refugees in the past, is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, torn between the kind of more permissive policy Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrat supporters have by and large embraced heretofore, and a hard cap embraced by opposing forces in the rival Christian Social Union, itself facing pressure from growing numbers among the nation’s far-right, with the intensity of this internal conflict magnified by present concerns with the nation’s security and terrorist threats after the Berlin attack. In consideration of this, Merkel and her allies have in the past few days floated the notion of a more flexible limit to impose upon acceptance of refugees, as somewhat of a compromise between competing interests in Germany. One would hope this policy shift, should it come to pass, would fare better as a compromise than, say, David Cameron’s concession to the UK Independence Party while still serving as British Prime Minister, which, if you’ll recall, led to a referendum vote on whether or not to leave the EU and a subsequently poor decision by a slender but sufficient majority of UK voters to do just that. Either way, though, that the measure is even being considered is reflective of the larger attitude toward refugees in Europe and elsewhere on Planet Earth, one which appears to be increasingly geared toward isolating them from the rest of the international community. Whether we speak of Germany or Greece or the United States of America, no country is free from ideological differences which put the most vulnerable groups among us in the middle of any discord.

A December 2016 feature by Anealla Safdar and Patrick Strickland for Al Jazeera English proclaimed 2016 as the year the world stopped caring about refugees. A bold statement, but perhaps not wholly undeserved either. The expansive report considers the viewpoints of representatives from a number of interested parties, including experts who work with refugees, representatives from human rights organizations, those concerned with the safe passage of asylum-seekers across waterways and other borders, and even the refugees themselves. And overall, the outlook for 2017 is not all that rosy given what these sources encountered in 2016. From the refugees’ perspective, the general attitude they perceived was one of ambivalence to their situation—countries and their leaders made an outward show of the humanitarian response for which they were apparently responsible, but still essentially wanted the recipients to stay out and/or go back home, even though the literal definition of them being refugees stems from them fleeing destruction and violence. Per Preethi Nallu, editor of Refugees Deeply, an online publication devoted to news about the refugee crisis and the complex issues facing migration, fortifying barriers and militarizing migration hot spots is no long-term solution when smuggling networks would seek to circumvent these controls, further endangering vulnerable peoples.

The hits just keep on coming after that. MSF Sea, Doctors Without Borders’ Mediterranean wing, bluntly assesses 2016 as the year politics and ego won over moral and legal responsibilities to protect migrants and refugees. Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Rights program, criticizes the types of deals made by the EU and specifically Pakistan to throw Afghani refugees back into the throngs of the displaced, the latter of which went largely unnoticed by the global media in spite of some 400,000 refugees and 250,000 undocumented migrants being ejected from the country. Alarmphone, an activist network and resource for refugees facing distress at sea, highlighted the danger facing those who cross waterways in makeshift craft seeking asylum while affirming their commitment to an inclusive environment for refugees independent of national borders. Milena Zajovic, spokesperson for Are You Syrious?, an informational resource for refugees, expresses her disappointment from those Balkan nations who have undergone the same sorts of violence and situations which have led to refugeeism in the past, only to turn around and refuse refugees in the present. Ramy Abdu, chairman of Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, points to the ongoing but often overlooked, at least in the context of refugeeism, plight of Palestinians, and highlights the depth of the gulf between a growing consciousness of the refugee crisis for some and a knee-jerk tendency to blame refugees for terroristic violence. Simon Cox, a migration lawyer, like Abdu, sees room for optimism in the determination of refugees and solidarity from non-refugees who defend and support them, but underscores this with a call for serious discussion about issues such as corruption within the foremost origin countries among officials, the revolving door of refugees who are sent to their homeland only to return to where they initially sought asylum, and the tendency of wealthy nations to demand that poorer countries accommodate refugees—all the while obstructing refugees and refusing to accommodate them just the same.

As Safdar and Strickland depict the worldwide refugee situation, then, in terms of 2016 being the “worst year ever,” as far as the sheer numbers of those drowned in the Mediterranean are concerned, this claim is accurate, with more than 5,000 losing their lives to failed crossing attempts. More broadly speaking, though, the response of prominent nations—including that of the United States, which elected a candidate in Donald Trump who has espoused an unkind attitude toward immigrants and refugees—has been characterized by a focus on vague notions of border and economic security at the expense of empathy. Italy, despite its unique challenges owing to its geographic location, seems to be exhibiting signs of the same, if Paolo Gentiloni’s new decree is any indication, and Germany runs the risk of following suit.

So, how do we, as ordinary people, help prevent 2017 from being an even worse than worst year ever for the disenfranchised asylum-seekers of the world? Though national governments and international coalitions should yet be entreated to do their part to care for refugees, as usual, waiting on them to act in substantive, meaningful ways alone seems to be hoping for too much. Awareness and visibility of the refugee/migrant crisis is part of the solution, as is material support for refugees and the organizations that support and defend them. Though I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements for AT&T featuring Lily, the cute and bubbly sales associate, you may not know the actress who plays her, the Uzbek-born Milana Vayntrub, and her family fled persecution themselves in the Soviet Union before coming to the United States. Not until seeing the waves of refugees and migrants trying to make their way to relative safety in Greece, though, did the extent of the crisis begin to make an impression on her. Her subsequent creation, alongside entrepreneur Eron Zehavi, of Can’t Do Nothing, a charitable organization designed to help everyday individuals assist and make a positive impact on refugees worldwide, is just one of the avenues to facilitate social media outreach, volunteering and donations to benefit those affected by the global refugee crisis.

In talking of those affected by the global refugee crisis, of course, I speak of those directly and personally impacted by the conditions which inform it. But we are all affected by this crisis, as well as the factors which mediate it—climate change, conflict, economic deprivation, statelessness—whether we realize it or choose to ignore it. The question is: which camp are you in?

For more information on Can’t Do Nothing, please visit cantdonothing.org.

Democrats Could Take Back the Senate, and This Man Could Be Your Senate Budget Committee Chair

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Hi, everyone! Remember me? (Photo retrieved from laprogressive.com.)

We’re roughly two weeks away from the general election, and I, for one, can’t wait for it all to be over. I know—this could bring us closer to Donald Trump winning, and this would be my least preferable scenario. Still, the whole process has been an ugly one, no matter what side you support (or even if you support a side; I’m voting for Jill Stein, even if she has issues with understanding how quantitative easing works). I am, as a function of wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Jersey state Democratic Party primary, a registered Democrat, and have donated to Sanders’ campaign prior to its suspension, as well as his new fledgling progressive-minded organization Our Revolution.

Between my newfound party affiliation and Bernie lending his support to Hillary Clinton, I can only think it was between these two sources that Hillary, the Dems and her campaign got access to my E-mail address. The result? The other day, following the final presidential debate, I counted, out of my 50 most recent messages, how many were from HRC or HillaryClinton.com. There were 21 of them—42%. That’s approximately two of every five E-mails. Factor in pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama, and we’re over the 50% mark. If these messages were sent in any other context, and perhaps if there were not the perceived threat of the worst presidential candidate in modern history hanging over our heads, I would consider this harassment.

Speaking of the last presidential debate, if you follow me on Facebook (hint, hint, follow me on Facebook), you’ll know I didn’t watch it. It’s not even because I’m refusing to vote for either candidate—it’s because these affairs have been brutal to watch since the start of the whole presidential campaign, to be honest, and I’m sure many of you share this belief. Reading the transcript, here’s the briefest summary I can give (note: I am not know for my brevity) for the topics they discussed:

Supreme Court justice nomination

Wait, didn’t Barack Obama already nominate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court? Oh, that’s right, Mitch McConnell and other douchebag Republicans have refused to hear him. So, Chris Wallace of Fox News fame posed the first round of questions for the night on this subject, and how the Constitution should be interpreted by the Court. Hillary Clinton, as is her style, more or less pandered to any group who would listen sympathetic to liberal/progressive causes, throwing in the decisions in Citizens United and Roe v. Wade in for effect. Donald Trump, meanwhile, after whining about Ruth Bader Ginsburg a.k.a. the Notorious RBG going in on him, affirmed his commitment to being a pro-life candidate and to upholding the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

In his follow-up, Wallace first asked Clinton to respond to this reference to guns and gun control, in doing so, invoking the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District Columbia v. Heller which stated that Second Amendment protections apply to handgun ownership, including for the purpose of self-defense. HRC opined that she supports the Second Amendment, but that she favors restrictions on gun ownership. For our children. Cue the emotional-sounding music. As for Trump, Chris Wallace addressed his stance on abortion and reproductive rights, pressing the GOP nominee for specifics on how he would advocate the Supreme Court handles such matters and whether or not he would call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Taking a page out of his standard playbook concerning answering questions on concrete policy points, Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, deferred on this matter, saying if overturned, the matter would go to the states, and refusing to comment on whether or not he would like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. That’s right, Donald. Squirm like a fetus in the womb anytime someone tries to nail you down on substance.

Abortion

Ever opportunistic, Hillary Clinton seized on Trump’s past and present comments on women’s right to an abortion like an evangelical attacking a Planned Parenthood supporter. Without being asked, she criticized her opponent for suggesting he would de-fund PP and would punish women for terminating their presidencies. Chris Wallace then queried the Democratic Party nominee more pointedly on whether or not the fetus has constitutional rights and why she supports late-term partial birth abortions. And Hillary was all, like, BECAUSE IT’S 2016 AND IT’S A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE WHAT SHE DOES WITH HER OWN F**KING BODY. Except she was, um, more politically correct in her answer. That emphasis is mine. And I mean every word. Including the f**k part.

Donald Trump, by the by, when also prompted about this subject, in particular, late-term partial birth abortions, replied that he was absolutely not OK with tearing the baby out of the womb “in the ninth month, on the final day.” But this implies that ending pregnancies in the final trimester is a common practice, when statistics indicate this practice is more rare. To Clinton’s credit, she denounced Trump’s talk as “scare rhetoric” and “unfortunate.” Which it is. If there’s one thing Donald Trump likes, beside suing people, it’s scaring the hell out of them.

Immigration

And invariably, the candidates had to talk about immigration. Bleh. I bleh because we already know where there is going for Donald Trump. Amnesty is a disaster. We need strong borders. People are getting killed all over the country by illegal immigrants. Drugs are pouring in. The Border Patrol endorsed me. Talk about scaring the hell out of people. Although I might also bleh with respect to Hillary Clinton. Not because she favors amnesty. Or that she pointed out the idea “rounding up” undocumented immigrants and deporting them is unfeasible. Or that she vows to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days. It’s that she leads with a story about “Carla,” a woman from Las Vegas who’s worried her parents will be deported because they immigrated illegally. Do people actually get swayed by these personal stories brought up in the context of debates? What about my friend Emilio who immigrated illegally from Costa Rica, works three jobs, and once saved a school bus full of children from careening off a cliff? I just made him up, but how would you know for sure unless I told you?

The two candidates then squabbled about whether or not Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico was a success (it pretty much was a disaster), whether or not Hillary has supported border security or a wall (she supported a fence), and whether or not, under Clinton’s plan, you would have open borders or a continuation of Obama’s legacy of deportation (hard to say, but why weren’t the candidates asked more about this?). Also, Trump used the word “bigly.” I think. Or was it “big-league.” This is probably the biggest debate within the debate, and either way, the man who uttered it sounds like an idiot. Even if bigly is, apparently, a word.

Russia

This is where the debate started to veer off into the realm of the childish. The rancor between the two candidates was set off in this instance by Chris Wallace’s question about a quote from Hillary Clinton from a speech given to a Brazilian bank for which she was paid $225,000 and in which she uttered the line, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Clinton asserted she was talking about energy in that case, an excerpt from a speech which was made known through a Wikileaks release, and then quickly pivoted to the idea Russian hacks have made this information possible. Taking this line of discourse and running with it, she connected the dots, as many have, to Vladimir Putin deliberately trying to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election, and went on the offensive against Donald Trump, lambasting him for not condemning the attacks and actually encouraging hacks against her and the Democratic National Committee.

Because the name “Putin” out of HRC’s mouth is apparently a trigger word for him, this started Trump frothing at the mouth about how she, the “17 intelligence agencies” she cited, or anyone else in America could know for sure whether it was Russia, China, or Elliot Alderson behind the hacks. Then Hillary said she wasn’t quoting herself. Then Donald said she had no idea, and that she only hated Vladimir Putin because she had outsmarted her “every step of the way” in Syria. Then Chris Wallace tried to intervene and point out that, you know, it probably was the Russians who did it. Then Donald Trump said he and Putin were totes not friends, and that Russia is building warheads and we aren’t, and that is soooooo not cool. Then Hillary Clinton said it’s funny you talk about nuclear weapons, Donald, because you can’t be trusted with them. Then Trump was, like, nuh-uh, I have a bajillion generals who support me—Mr. Wallace, she’s lying! Then Clinton was, like, you said it. Then Trump was, like, did not! Then Clinton, was, like, did too! Then Wallace threatened to turn the car around and go back home if the candidates did not behave themselves, and that they wouldn’t get to go to McDonald’s if they kept fighting.

The economy

Conversation about how to “fix” the American economy between Democratic and Republican candidates tends to be a study in contrasts, and in the case of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s competing plans, so holds the model. Clinton’s agenda, as she frames it, hits on the now-firmly-established progressive Democratic Party platform goals: more jobs in infrastructure and clean energy, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, debt-free college, raising the corporate tax rate, etc. Put more simply by her, though, her plan is better because it’s not Donald Trump’s plan. Trump, meanwhile, shot back by saying Clinton’s scheme would significantly raise taxes for the average American. And then he complained about NATO and NAFTA, claimed he would renegotiate trade deals, and vowed to cut taxes on businesses. Because America is “dying.” So, um, yeah.

Hillary rebutted by saying that Trump’s tax plan would only add to the national debt, and that trickle-down economics marked by cutting tax rates for the wealthy haven’t worked, both of which I believe is true. Of course, when she did, she invoked her husband presiding over an economy which saw the production of a surplus—even though any president’s direct positive influence over economic affairs tends to be minimal—and played the Barack Obama card, touting his success in the face of a terrible recession despite having nothing to do with it personally, and using his track record as an unconvincing answer to Chris Wallace’s question about how she would improve upon Obama’s efforts. Thankfully for HRC and her supporters, Donald Trump’s answer to the same question was even worse. Wallace directly confronted the Republican candidate about the lack of realism in his plan, and Trump countered by once again blaming NAFTA and talking about how his opponent called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals. Which is true, but that doesn’t illuminate anything new or fundamentally sound about your economic goals.

The candidates said some more things about the economy, but it was mostly self-congratulatory bullshit. I, Hillary Clinton, came out strongly against the TPP—when it was convenient for me to do so. I, Donald Trump, built a tremendous company single-handedly—with my family’s name and a million dollars of Daddy’s money. At the end of the day, it’s vaguely insulting for either of these candidates to try to insinuate they care genuinely about the middle class in this country, because they are so far removed from it they seem to lack the ability to see things from the requisite perspective. Let’s move on to the next segment before I start to lose it here.

Fitness for President

If you ask me, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is particularly fit for the office, but let’s give this its own recap anyhow. Trump claimed all those women who accused him of sexual advances were liars. Clinton said, “What? Not hot enough for you, Donald?” Trump said he never made disparaging comments about his accusers, and that no one has more respect for women than he does.

The audience laughed. As they should have.

Donald Trump then pivoted to Hillary’s scandals. Hillary Clinton, predictably, pivoted off Trump’s pivot, going after him for making fun of Serge Kovaleski and starting a war of words with Khizr and Ghizala Khan. Chris Wallace then steered the discussion back to alleged Clintonian misdeeds, specifically charges of “pay to play” within the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. Hillary said everything she did as Secretary of State was for the benefit of the American people. Trump and even Wallace called bullshit on that. Of course, Donald Trump tried to claim 100% of the donations to the Trump Foundation went to charitable purposes. Bullshit all over.

Hillary fired back by saying there’s no way we could know this for sure, because someone won’t release his tax returns. Trump fired back at this firing back by saying that if Clinton didn’t like him taking advantage of tax loopholes, she should have rewritten the laws. Chris Wallace then closed this round of questioning by asking Donald Trump about his claims that the election is “rigged” if he doesn’t win, and that he will accept the results of the voting regardless of the outcome.

And Trump wouldn’t. He said he’d keep us in suspense. The audience didn’t laugh. Because it’s not funny. Not at all.

Foreign “hotspots”

Ahem, no, we’re not talking about places outside the United States where Hillary Clinton can use Wi-Fi on unencrypted devices. Chris Wallace started the segment by asking Hillary about having a plan after the removal of ISIS from Iraq and other areas in which a “vacuum” may be created by tearing shit up. A pertinent question, if you ask me, for a woman who seemingly never met a regime change she didn’t like. Hillary threw out some vague details about Iraq and Syria that communicated to the audience she knows things about the Middle East and foreign policy. Mosul this. Raqqa that. More intelligence at home. No-fly zones. Sounds good, Hill. You did your homework.

Donald Trump—ugh. Do you really think he had anything constructive to say on this topic? Whatever the case, Hillary Clinton harped on his initial support for the Iraq War. Trump was all, like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Clinton then literally told the audience to Google “Donald Trump Iraq.” Ugh, again. Donald Trump brought in Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton’s judgment from the primary season. Hillary Clinton was all, like, well, look who’s supporting me now. Trump was all, like, shut up. Clinton was all, like, make me.

Chris Wallace then threatened to put both of these children in “time out,” and quickly moved the conversation along to Aleppo. Wallace basically called Donald Trump a liar, liar, pants on fire about past remarks he’s made about the Syrian city. That it has not fallen. That the Russians have, in fact, been bombing resistance fighters and not ISIS. Trump talked about…Iran? Hillary was then asked about the potential perils of a no-fly zone. Which she answered by commenting on the vetting of refugees and that picture of the 4-year-old with blood pouring down his face. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE DIRECTLY ANSWER A F**KING QUESTION? YOU’RE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF SHIT IF YOU WIN!

National debt

Finally (read: mercifully), Moderator Wallace brought the debate to the final topic of the night: the national debt which looms over the head of the United States like a cheaply-made Chinese version of a guillotine. Donald Trump was queried about why he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about matters of this nature, because his plan economic plan sucks eggs. Trump had some sort of answer about a “tremendous machine” and negotiating trade deals again. So, yeah, it sucks eggs. Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t add a penny to the national debt, and how she would rebuild the middle class. For families. For America. And a gentle breeze blew through her hair, while over the arena, one lone bald eagle was heard cawing. It sounded like…freedom. Or maybe that was the sound of Susan Sarandon trying not to throw up in her own mouth.

Chris Wallace closed by asking both candidates about entitlements as drivers of the national debt. Donald Trump talked about cutting taxes. Wallace replied that this wouldn’t help with entitlements, dumbass. Well, he didn’t say “dumbass,” but he probably was thinking it. Trump replied to this reply with some junk about ObamaCare. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Sorry, that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. Hillary Clinton answered by saying that we would put more money in the Social Security Trust fund—somehow. She also took a potshot at her rival by saying her Social Security payroll contribution would likely go up, and that his would too unless he found a way to get out of it, which prompted Trump to call her a “nasty woman.” Which, not for nothing, gives HRC’s feminist supporters ammunition, because they hear “nasty woman” and think over a century of patriarchal oppression. It’s probably not how Donald Trump meant it, let me note. After all, no one has more respect for women than he does. Seriously, though, he was in all likelihood just reacting like the petulant child he is deep down.

The candidates, even though they were not asked to prepare closing statements, were nonetheless entreated by Chris Wallace to indulge him with something off the cuff. Hillary reached out to Americans of all political affiliations, and vowed to stand with families against powerful interests and corporations. Yeah, sure, Hillary. Donald Trump said we are going to rebuild our military, take care of our veterans, respect the police, fix inner cities, lift up African-Americans and Latinos, and overall, Make America Great Again. Yeah, sure, Donald. On that inspiring note, the final presidential debate was concluded. May God have mercy on all our souls.


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The two major-party presidential candidates: Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton (right), in a delightful suffragette white ensemble. Trump is animatedly speaking about something here. You can tell because he’s gesticulating with his hands. His tiny, infantile hands. (Photo Credit: Mark Ralston/AP).

The final presidential debate, seemingly, was focused a lot more substantively on the issues than previous forums. Unfortunately, that still didn’t necessarily mean the audience in attendance or at home got too much out of it. On one hand, you have a bloviating (good SAT word!) blockhead with few defined policy goals and little respect for other human beings. On the other hand, you have an arrogant panderer repeatedly trying to goad her opponent into personal attacks and seemingly content to take a victory lap three weeks before the general election. Indeed, from a media perspective, the three biggest takeaways from the event seemed to be: 1) “bigly,” 2) the “nasty woman” comment, and 3) that Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the election unless he won. On the third count, the liberal media was especially shocked and appalled, but at this stage, are we really that surprised? If the election is “rigged,” then you didn’t really lose, right? Except for the fact the mainstream media propped you up as your campaign gained traction for the sake of ratings, meaning you had an unfair advantage over a number of your Republican opponents during the primaries. But sure, the whole thing is rigged. Democracy is dead. Stick a fork in it.

Like I said, I’m, like, so over the presidential election, and chances are you are too. But that might not be such a bad thing. Roughly a fortnight away from the general election, I would like you to consider that come November 8, you stand to be voting on more than just the presidency, and these candidates and initiatives may have their own lasting consequences, perhaps more so than the executive office itself. First of all, let’s speak to the various referenda that will dot ballots across the United States. Numerous states this election are considering such issues as the death penalty, marijuana legalization, and the state minimum wage. These are important issues, and in the case of capital punishment, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death. And there are other referendum votes which, if you’re a liberal like myself, could be devastating if enough people don’t turn out to vote or otherwise don’t care enough to sift through the verbiage. Both Alabama and Virginia are weighing whether or not we should make unions weaker. Louisiana has a measure on the statewide ballot to decide if college boards for public colleges and universities should be able to establish tuition and fee rates without legislative approval. Going back to the idea of the minimum wage, South Dakota has a proposal for a youth “sub-minimum” wage for anyone employed under the age of 17. Not only am I against such a measure on principle, but logically speaking, how do you have something below the minimum? It’s like giving someone an F-minus. You’ve already f**king failed the person—now you’re just being a jackass on top of it.

And yes, there are implications for the U.S. Congress as well, particularly in terms of the Senate, where 34 of the 100 seats are being contested, 24 of them held by Republicans. If Democrats win enough seats—at the current breakdown of 54 Republican, 44 Democrat, and 2 independent, a net gain of six would guarantee it—they would take control. The implications of this? As Paul Ryan warned his supporters, this means the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, who is an independent and caucuses with Dems, would take the reins. In case you suffered amnesia or are too lazy to scroll to the beginning of this post, guess who that is. Yup, a guy named Bernard Sanders. As the Vox article linked above indicates, progressives have used Ryan’s warning as a rallying cry, and in the span of two days raised almost $2 million. That’s no small potatoes. While even I, as a Sanders supporter, would actually be nervous at such a situation because of Bernie’s lack of willingness to compromise at times, noting the GOP unabashedly promotes its agenda to the point it regularly plays chicken with government shutdowns, I am encouraged about having a strong voice for the American people in a position of prominence. Plus, if it pisses off Paul Ryan, I’m generally all for it.

So, yes, the presidential election is vitally important. Democrats who enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton, in particular, need to show up at the polls. Even if you hate both Clinton and Trump, though, don’t stay home. There’s more than just their names on the ballot. After all, you could always vote for a third-party candidate or write in the candidate of your choice. (Deez Nuts, anyone?) More than that, though, I’m talking about down-ticket candidates and critical ballot initiatives. Those lawmakers resisting positive change for the sake of their constituents and for the American people at large are counting on voters to be apathetic or uninformed, and to not protect their (the voters’) interests and rights. When you press the button in the voting booth on November 8, I encourage you to think of those “regressive” sorts. And when you do, use your middle finger—for me. It’s your vote. F**k ’em.