2017: Fake News, #MeToo, and Everything Else in Between

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Hot-headed, contentious, out in less than two weeks. Perhaps no one better epitomizes the Trump administration and the craziness of 2017 than Anthony Scaramucci. Mooch, we hardly knew ye! (Photo Credit: AP)

2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.

So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.

Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…

US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally

The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. HistoryKinda, Sorta

Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.

Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.

Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice

One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.

Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.

The Trump Administration vs. the World

As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!

In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.

Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story

Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.

As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.

The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?

For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.

If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.

The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches

In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.

The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.

Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality

Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.

Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.

Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations

Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.

In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.

Quick Hits

  • Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
  • Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
  • Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
  • In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
  • In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
  • A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
  • James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
  • In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
  • Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
  • White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
  • Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
  • Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
  • Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
  • Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
  • Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
  • By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
  • Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?

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This is Puerto Rico, months after Hurricane Maria brought devastation to the island. The Trump administration’s recovery effort isn’t doing nearly enough and sure isn’t doing it quickly enough for the sake of the American citizens who live there, and this is shameful. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.

Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?

In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.

Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.

The Ballad of Ledell Lee, Or, Why We Should Abolish the Death Penalty

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Ledell Lee was executed by the state of Arkansas despite DNA evidence which may have exonerated him. How many inmates might new DNA testing help in proving their innocence? (Photo Credit: Benjamin Krain/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via Associated Press)

In today’s political climate, detractors who lean one way or another politically are seemingly always looking for a chance to call out the other side on its hypocrisy. With this in mind, and with all due apology, let me express my frustration as a liberal with those on the right who regard the lives of the unborn as sacrosanct and yet possess no qualms about—for the sake of a few examples—dropping bombs indiscriminately on Muslim-majority countries and killing civilians, refusing refugees from war-torn countries, and expressing support for the continuance of the death penalty as a form of punishment. It is these kind of stances alongside opposition to legal abortions that makes the pro-life movement all but a misnomer. These advocates are not pro-life as much as they are anti-choice or pro-telling-women-what-they-can-and-can’t-do-with-their-own-bodies. Even if you think I’m oversimplifying matters or cherry-picking the examples I want to prove my point, you have to admit—the juxtaposition is a bit weird.

While the questionable use of military force and the plight of refugees and economic migrants across the globe are serious problems in their own right, the death penalty is my specific issue here, with the execution of Ledell Lee in Arkansas part of just the latest turn in America’s history with capital punishment. I’ll get to Lee’s case in a moment, but first let’s talk about the death penalty in the abstract, both here and abroad. According to figures from Amnesty International, well-known for its mission of ending human rights abuses, in 2016, 1,032 executions were carried out worldwide across 23 countries. This may not sound like a lot, but two quick things to consider: 1) as many would have it, one execution is too many, and 2) this number is based only on what is reported and observed. In particular, China is cited not only for its use of the death penalty—it is #1 on the list—but of the notion that the true number of executions carried out by the Chinese government is a state secret; the 1,032 tally provided by Amnesty International does not even begin to include what is presumed to be thousands of executions which occurred there. Also high on the list and accounting for a vast majority of the reported executions were countries you might expect to be among the usual suspects, so to speak: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

The United States of America, interestingly enough, finished outside the top five. Good news, right? Well, if we’re judging by the one-is-too-many standard, then no, that we are still executing people in 2016 and into 2017 is not great news. Consider also that only 23 countries across the globe carried out executions last year—next to 141 countries that are considered abolitionist by law or practice. That puts the U.S. on a short list on the world stage, and regardless of the raw numbers, to join the likes of Iran and North Korea—two countries mentioned by name as sponsors of public executions—it’s not a minority of which you necessarily want to be a part. To be sure, that executions in America in 2016 were the lowest in a quarter of a century is encouraging. Still, it’s 2017, Donald Trump is our President, Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General, conservative judge Neil Gorsuch is now a Supreme Court justice, and anything seems possible. You know, in a bad way.

Another good sign-bad sign type of deal manifests with respect to the number of states that carried out executions alongside the level of support within the American public for the death penalty at large. Per a November 2016 report authored by David Masci for Pew Research, only five states executed inmates last year: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas. Hmm, notice a geographical pattern? Not to be a Debbie Downer about the scarcity of executions outside the South, but this does not consider those inmates who received death sentences or remain on death row. Also, despite only five states carrying out executions in 2016, 31 states still have the death penalty on the books (voters in California, Nebraska, and Oklahoma all rejected ballot provisions that would have banned capital punishment outright or would have restricted it further last year), as does the federal government. This appears to be largely in line with attitudes in the U.S. towards support for the death penalty. Though support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in some four decades, still more Americans (49%) are in favor of the practice than are opposed to it (42%), a reality explained by the disparity in views between Democrats (34%) and Republicans (72%). Another key demographic divide? Race. A majority of whites (57%) favors the death penalty, while only 29% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics favor it. Additionally, a 55% majority of men supports the death penalty, while only 45% of American women are in favor of its use.

In short, trends in use of capital punishment worldwide and support for the death penalty are a mixed bag. OK, so what do we do with this knowledge? Well, I feel that more important than the exact who-supports-what is the why behind those in favor of the death penalty and its use across governments. That is, why do 23 or more countries still insist on death as a viable punishment for certain crimes? It’s no secret that capital punishment has been around for centuries and has been used all over the world. The crimes for which the death penalty has been applied are about as numerous as the ways devised by different cultures for torturing and ending the lives of fellow human beings. Beheading, bludgeoning, boiling, burning, burying alive, crucifying, crushing, disemboweling, dismembering, drowning, falling, flaying, hanging, impaling, shooting, strangling—the list is an exhaustive and gruesome one when you get down to it. As far as contemporary use is concerned, while antiquated forms of execution such as, say, the brazen bull and the guillotine have fallen out of practice, beheading, hanging, lethal injection, and shooting are still viable ways for governments to put one out to pasture, proverbially speaking. In the United States, electrocution and gas inhalation are also among the ways inmates may choose to die, or be executed when lethal injection is unavailable.

But yes, the reasons for exacting the death penalty. Clearly, there are advocates for use of capital punishment, and the primary justifications for its implementation seem to be these:

1. In applicable cases (for certain crimes), the capital punishment is just.

According to judge, jury, and executioner—these views are not mine, as I think you’ve probably gathered. What makes this viewpoint problematic from at least an international perspective is the lack of consensus of certain classes of crimes. Crimes against humanity and murder (given an aggravating factor) have yielded the greatest sense of agreement across borders, but others may seem excessive given the nature of the crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, offenses including adultery, blasphemy, crimes against the state, drug trafficking, espionage, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, terrorism, and treason may also be punishable by death. A number of these crimes reference a moral/religious component, and as such, strike outside observers as contingent on a perhaps unfairly rigid set of beliefs, not to mention clearly eschewing the principle of separation of church and state, and otherwise simply proving too severe given the nature of the offense.

Additionally, some crimes punishable by death, despite being restricted to only one country, evoke questions of the burden of proof. In Saudi Arabia, sorcery and witchcraft may result in one’s being beheaded, despite not formally being defined as punishable offenses. As students of American history, particularly the sordid chapter of the Salem Witch Trials, may have considered, how are these charges to be assessed, at any rate? Can one study them as abstract concepts or does he or she have to knowingly use sorcery or witchcraft to violate these principles? Does circumstantial evidence suffice, or is eyewitness testimony required? These are rhetorical questions, to be sure, but keep the subject of the burden of proof in your mind for now.

2. It’s useful as a tool for police and prosecutors, esp. in plea bargaining.

The threat of the death penalty may indeed be eminently useful for law enforcement and prosecutors in relevant cases, but there are due concerns about how ethical this tactic is, or how effective it even is in reducing the amount of cases that go to trial, which would save money. Threatening defendants in murder cases with execution has been likened to holding a gun to their head, and may potentially coerce people to take a deal even when insisting on their innocence. Moreover, according to a 2006 study by Ilyana Kuziemko out of Princeton University on the effect of reinstatement of the death penalty in New York on plea bargains, while district attorneys were given greater leverage over murder defendants and these defendants were more likely to accept their original charges given the specter of capital punishment, in general, it was not more likely for defendants to accept lesser charges as a function of the law change. In other words, while defendants were more likely to revisit the terms of their arraignment, they were no more likely to accept plea deals with the death penalty on the table. Thus, for more than one reason, the death penalty as a prosecutorial tool appears to be fairly questionable.

3. It deters crime.

Let’s go back to Pew Research’s findings on attitudes toward the death penalty, as referenced above. Citing its own research circa 2015, while only about half of Americans support the death penalty, even fewer (about 40%) believe that it is a deterrent to serious crimes. Wait—if the death penalty doesn’t even accomplish this much, why bother supporting it in the first place? While you mull that over, consider that credible evidence for the notion capital punishment deters violent crime doesn’t exist. Go ahead. Google it. For every study or op-ed that claims to have evidence that the death penalty prevents certain types of crime from being committed, there is a corresponding article or report to show that this is not the case. At the very least, the idea that executions deter crime is suspect. Besides, as one might reason, if one is intent on killing another person, then concern for life—even for one’s own—is probably not of paramount concern.

4. It assures that convicted criminals do not offend again.

The concern here—to use a fancy term—is recidivism, or parolees becoming repeat offenders. Not only is it unlikely for the majority of murderers to commit the same offense, though, but with the death penalty already a mixed bag when it comes to being a tool for district attorneys to facilitate plea bargains as well as deterring crime, the only way to predictably avoid the possibility of recidivism via capital punishment is to, well, kill all inmates convicted of killing, and that can’t and won’t happen. A much more viable alternative is sentencing those convicted to life without parole.


If the case for the death penalty, based on the above four principles, seems tenuous as best, when considering the numerous reasons inherent in the case against this institution, justifying what is tantamount to state-sponsored murder becomes that much more difficult. The ACLU, like Amnesty International, is staunchly opposed to the use of capital punishment in the United States, and has outlined why the death penalty should be abolished better and more completely than I could ever hope to. The points as to why the death penalty is not effective as a means of better serving the public interest, according to the ACLU, include the following:

  • The death penalty is disproportionately levied against people of color and the poor, an effect exacerbated by the inability of disadvantaged defendants to afford sufficiently skilled legal representation, as well as implicit bias of the justice system toward defendants based on where they live/where the crime is committed.
  • According to views expressed by law enforcement professionals and research done on frequency of homicides across states, the death penalty does not deter individuals from committing violent crimes, and states that have the death penalty on the books actually tend to have higher murder rates. Factors which are better predictors of crime reduction include more police officers, programs to combat drug abuse, and better economic conditions leading to more jobs. In other words, it helps when we treat people like human beings as opposed to the sum of their bad behavior. Just a smidge.
  • Related to the last point, the death penalty is a waste of taxpayers’ money if it doesn’t prevent murders or help reduce their rate of occurrence. As if the cost of human life weren’t enough.
  • Innocent people may be killed to satisfy a death sentence, and because this isn’t Game of Thrones, that’s, ahem, a one-way street. Per the ACLU, in close to 45 years, over 140 people who were condemned to death have been exonerated as a result of new evidence, notably DNA evidence. Moreover, for every 10 people executed, one person is exonerated. In matters of life and death, you’d like a better rate of success than that, and again, these are the happy endings we’re talking about here. Particularly when prosecutors aggressively pursue a conviction and the death penalty, errors and omissions may be made, and the finality of death makes for a burdensome realization for all parties involved if the defendant’s innocence is proven at a later date.

As a liberal, I’m unquestionably biased as to what I think are the most compelling reasons for or against the death penalty, but even if considerations of right and wrong do not sway you, the notion that capital punishment is costly and ineffective should give one pause. If the morality behind the abstract concept does, in fact, move you, then the aforementioned story of Ledell Lee, with the primer on the death penalty fresh in your mind, should indeed provoke a reaction within you. Who was Ledell Lee, in the context of the ongoing debate on the death penalty? Lee was convicted in 1995 of the murder of Debra Reese after the latter was found dead in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas, strangled and beaten with a baseball bat. Ledell was spotted by several witnesses around the area of the crime scene, but beyond this, not too much in the way of verifiable forensic evidence seems to tie him to the crime itself.

Per a report by Erika Ferrando and Michael Buckner for THV 11, a local CBS affiliate based in Little Rock, AR, Lee maintained his innocence up until his execution, and there are elements of both the case against him for Reese’s murder and other cases which are potential red flags that raise the mere possibility the defendant did not get a fair shake from the Arkansas criminal justice system. In one of his trials (Lee was also charged and convicted for the rape of two Jacksonville women following his being charged for Debra Reese’s murder, and was tried for the murder and rape of a woman named Christine Lewis), Ledell Lee had to be assigned a second lawyer after his first legal representative appeared to be noticeably intoxicated throughout the proceedings. As the execution date neared, and the ACLU became involved, they found that new post-conviction DNA testing may prove that Lee was not responsible for the murder of Debra Reese, and also brought up the potentially relevant fact that Lee suffered from an intellectual disability stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition evidently never raised or considered by his lawyers heretofore. If nothing else, the testing would be able to prove that Ledell Lee was unquestionably the murderer. After all, if the state’s case was as solid as it claimed, there should be no worry that the DNA evidence should prove anything to the contrary.

But Pulaski County Circuit Court judge Herbert Wright denied the request, insisting that even if the DNA testing on blood and hair samples could be found to not tie Lee to the murder, the state still had enough of a case to convict him. Wait—what? The Innocence Project, an organization specifically devoted to exonerating the wrongly convicted through DNA testing, at this point became involved, and appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court to stay Lee’s execution and allow the new DNA testing to occur. The appeals brought the question of the stay all the way up to the Supreme Court. And along ideological lines, the high court voted 5-4 to allow the execution of Ledell Lee to move forward, with—you guessed it—newly-minted Justice Neil Gorsuch casting the deciding vote. Quite a first vote to establish your legacy as part of the Supreme Court—paving the way for a man’s death despite a questionable lack of evidence.

What makes this all especially egregious on the part of Arkansas and governor Asa Hutchinson is that Ledell Lee’s execution is just one of eight originally planned as part of accelerated execution schedule designed by the state to make use of its supply of the drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month. That’s right—can’t let this stuff go to waste, so we might as well cram as many executions as we can in. Strap ’em in, boys—we may have to schedule them two at a time! If this seems like a hollow reason as any to rush inmates through death row, it’s only because it is, and the state of Arkansas is apparently unfazed by the act of essentially herding in human beings like cattle to be slaughtered. Reportedly, the state may even have purchased vecuronium bromide, the second of three drugs to be used in its administration of lethal injections, under false pretenses from McKesson Medical-Surgical. It all adds up to what can be characterized, at best, as a case of bad optics for the state of Arkansas, and more probably, deliberate refusal to grant a stay for fear it may have to admit potential wrongdoing on multiple levels. Either way, Hutchinson and Co. should be ashamed of themselves—plain and simple.


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“Do you know who I am, son? I’m Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, and if you don’t watch your sass, you just might be next to be executed!” (Photo Credit: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

I’d like to close with returning to Pew Research’s surveys into the attitudes of Americans on the death penalty and questions of its morality, fairness, and effectiveness. On the last two dimensions, the percentage difference between those who favor the use of the death penalty and those who do not hover somewhere between twenty and thirty percent, encompassing meditations on whether there is risk of innocent people being put to death, that it doesn’t deter crime, and that minorities are disproportionately sentenced to die. Those disparities are about what you’d expect. The greatest divide, meanwhile, was recorded on whether or not the death penalty is morally justified. 90% of those who support it agreed, while only 26% of those who oppose it agreed. That’s a veritable Grand Canyon between the two sides, and it makes me wonder just how long it will take for reform in jurisdictions where use of capital punishment and support for the death penalty is most entrenched. Talk about your cultural divides. Plus, while support for the use of the death penalty steadily declines, a rash of executions in Arkansas and tough talk from the likes of #45 and Jeff “Hawaii Is a Dumb Little Island in the Pacific” Sessions makes me worried that positive momentum built up toward making our criminal justice system, well, more just will not merely be stunted, but possibly even reversed.

Whatever your political ideologies or moral/religious convictions, there is ample justification for why the death penalty should be abolished in every state in the country, and efforts should be continued to change policy on an international front. I get it—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, why not a life for a life?—but this is 2017. Not only are executions inefficient and ineffective, but—and not merely to be insensitive about matters such as these—but they don’t bring murder victims back, and if one or more life sentences for the convicted individual(s) does not provide sufficient relief or solace for the families of the victims, I don’t know that putting someone else to death will do it that much better or will give them a far superior sense of justice. Maybe I’d feel a lot different if I were in these relatives’ shoes—and I solemnly hope I never have to bear their sense of loss—but at present, I find this to be an example of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Simply put, I’m against the death penalty no matter the circumstances, and I feel the sooner we move to an execution-free America, the better we’ll be as a nation for it.

Shouting Across the Divide: Issues for the Democrats with Building Bridges to Voters

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The Democratic Party, if it is to regain political standing and to be an authentic party of the people, must go further left. If exit polls from the 2016 election are any indication, though, they’ll need the help of those on the right as well. What’s the issue with that? Some of those more conservative voters may not be willing to listen, too consumed by adherence to ideological positions and visions of “taking back” their country. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

As I feel it must be reiterated, mostly because the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be able to allow it to fully sink in, the Democrats have had their electoral asses handed to them of late. Despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by close to 3 million votes, they lost the 2016 presidential election at large to Donald Trump. In the Senate, they enjoyed a net gain this November of only two seats, and thus still trail Republicans 52 to 46 (two U.S. Senators identify as independents: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine). In the House of Representatives, they gained six whole seats, which sounds good until you realize there are 435 congressional districts and the GOP also has a lead here, 247 to 188. It gets worse. In terms of governorships, Democrats preside over only 16 states, with Bill Walker of Alaska being considered an independent. Roughly speaking, the Republican Party has a two-to-one advantage in this regard. And Lord knows what the situation is like at the county and local levels, but chances are the larger overall trend doesn’t bode well for the Democratic Party as the scope of provinciality narrows.

In light of this all-around political beatdown, how do the Democrats begin to try to regain a foothold at the various levels of government? Do they try to argue that their party is one of inclusiveness and moral rectitude, and hope that distinguishing themselves from the GOP in these regards will allow them to carry the day, especially as President Trump and his administration implodes (no guarantee, but they already show signs of cracking)? Tempting as it sounds, this doesn’t seem to be enough, and certainly wasn’t sufficient for them to garner the W in the general election. A critical part of the solution, as many see it, is for the Democratic Party to become bolder and to allow itself to be touched by an authentic progressive spirit. The popularity of the likes of the aforementioned Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth “She Persisted” Warren from Massachusetts, in particular, among young liberals and independents would seem to indicate the party needs to attract talent that not only reflects the identity of the electorate in terms of ethnic, gender and religious diversity, but a willingness to combat the entrenchment of moneyed interests in state and national politics and to level the playing field for voters and candidates across demographic groups. Other progressive stances which are seen as vital to this effort and thus necessary for the Dems to embrace include a stronger commitment to combatting climate change, a unified front on protecting and respecting the values of minority groups, including those of Native American Indian tribes, and a more pronounced shift toward principles of democratic socialism, namely that of a Medicare-for-all/single-payer health care system.

In short, a partial answer to the question of, “Where do the Democrats go from here?” seems to be, “Left.” That is, further left then Hillary Clinton and other establishment politics might have otherwise been willing to go, especially prior to the presidential election. This begs a follow-up question to the answer, assuming it is, in fact, a correct partial answer: “Is moving purely left of center enough?” If exit polls from November are any indication, perhaps not. Where Hillary Clinton fared well, according to CNN polls, perhaps is no surprise. A 54% majority of female votes were “with her,” as were people under the age of 45 by similar percentages. Clinton also fared significantly better than Donald Trump with non-whites, people with annual incomes under $50,000, unmarried respondents, and those who reported their identity as Jewish, Muslim, or belonging to some other religion. By contrast, Hillary did not fare as well among voters 45 and over, among whites, among less educated voters, among married people, especially men, among veterans, and among Christians—Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, other branches of Christianity, you name it. While Clinton’s gender may be a bit of a confounding factor here, especially with respect to the sex of the poll respondents, on other dimensions, the other disadvantages she faced likely speak to challenges Democrats face as a whole and will continue to have to address in coming elections.

Concerning the concept of going further left, for the Democratic Party, seeing as progressivism is related to liberalism, and in the present-day context, is somewhat of a more extreme version of it, or perhaps liberalism carried to its logical next point, as exemplified by the jump from ObamaCare to a single-payer health care and insurance system, adopting positions that appeal to independents would seem like a relatively easy task. Through collaboration with Bernie Sanders’s surrogates and supporters, Hillary Clinton and her team crafted a party platform in advance of the election that both sides could champion as the most progressive in the modern history of the party, although lacking in several respects, notably failing to support a $15 minimum wage, not coming out strongly in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals, proving silent on the issue of deportation, rejecting the Medicare-for-all paradigm, not going far enough on legalization of marijuana, and doing little to address the bloated U.S. military budget. Then again, this shift away from center may be easier said than done, especially in light of the influence of money and lobbying from industries and business leaders in establishment politics. For instance, someone like Cory Booker, Democratic Party darling from my home state and someone I generally support, is principled enough, but when it comes to, say, a bill or amendment which would allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada at a cheaper rate, his vote against the measure makes sense when you consider he has accepted the most money from the pharmaceutical industry of any Senate Democrat in the past six years. It is oft said that money talks, and in the sphere of politics, this is time and again achingly apparent.

Reaching across the aisle, meanwhile, presents its own challenges. Going back to the 2016 presidential race, even if Hillary Clinton were to try to extend a proverbial olive branch to those on the right, if she didn’t in the same breath negate her sincerity with her infamous “basket of deplorables” comment, she likely would have had many die-hard Republicans firing up chainsaws at the sight of that olive branch. Even after the election, the non-politicians among us, too, are wont to struggle with “bridging the cultural divide,” as much as detractors on both sides of the aisle accuse their counterparts opposite them of divisiveness. Susan Shaw, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University, recently penned a very considerate piece expressing her frustrations in trying to understand and communicate with white Christian Trump supporters, as we know, a pivotal source of strength for Donald Trump in the election. Shaw, a self-identifying progressive, expresses her alienation from the religious right as someone who grew up within this environment:

My white, conservative Christian upbringing had told me that was the American Dream—to work hard and succeed. I did, and I feel you’re holding it against me now that I no longer share your views. I think you must imagine the liberal elite as East Coast, Ivy League-educated, trust fund babies completely out of touch with how most people live. Sure, some faculty members grew up with money. Some went to Ivy League schools. But a lot of us professors were you—working class kids who did whatever it took to get a college education. Along the way, a lot of us developed progressive ideas, not out of our privilege, but out of our own experiences of discrimination, struggle and oppression.

Shaw’s description of the source of her progressivism within the context of “discrimination, struggle and oppression” admittedly makes more sense coming from her than someone like me, a white male in a suburban middle-class household. In this regard, I suppose the extent of hardships we face is always relative—someone, somewhere has it worse. Regardless of who has the more “legitimate” claim to progressive ideals, if there is such a thing, Prof. Shaw appears to indicate that such a political orientation is buoyed by experience with the kinds of disparities, injustices and problems progressivism seeks to address. In other words, while their social critics—professional and amateur alike—demean liberals as delusional, soft and unable to cope with the “real world,” Susan Shaw speaks to the notion that individuals on the left and far left are rather resilient, strong, capable people, and what’s more, they may be better in tune with reality than those who preach the very virtue of cold realism.

In defending so-called “out of touch” liberal elites like herself, Shaw also takes her target audience—at least in name—to task for their apparent tone-deafness. As she remarks in cutting fashion, “We really do know a lot about what we’re talking about, and we have something to offer in a real conversation across our differences (including the East Coast Ivy Leaguers who aren’t as out of touch as you may think). But I don’t think you want to hear us or me.” Thinking along these lines, much of the rest of Shaw’s open letter to white Christian Trump supporters reads like a list of grievances. The reasons why she feels this distance from them, despite her upbringing, include the following:

1. You call people “sore losers” and tell them to “get over” Trump winning, but this is because you don’t have as much to lose as other Americans.

As Susan Shaw explains, for all the talk of who’s “winning” and “losing,” the policies enacted by the new administration aren’t a game to many Americans. President Trump has made his intention clear to support “religious freedom,” and in doing so, has put protections for the LGBT community in the crosshairs. With the White House pushing for the Muslim ban despite its unconstitutionality, and ICE agents rounding up undocumented immigrants regardless of whether or not they violate criminal laws, gloating over an electoral victory belies the sense of fear people are feeling in response to Trump’s agenda. It’s at best insensitive, and at worst, unnecessarily hateful and cruel.

2. You’re blaming the wrong people for your own grievances.

Shaw identifies an attitude of discontentment among Trump supporters that they don’t get what they deserve or that someone who doesn’t deserve what they have has taken what is theirs. The cited cause often is illegal immigration. You know the refrains. “They’re taking our jobs.” “They’re stealing our benefits.” No, they’re not. The real problem is an economic system that pits workers against one another and, as Shaw terms it, “limits their work and financial security.” For all the bluster about “illegals” committing violent crimes, it is white-collar crime and conditions which lend themselves to widening income and wealth inequality which truly depress the upward mobility of the “other 99%.”

3. You keep promoting “fake news.”

And no, not the CNN kind. Susan Shaw is talking about, as much of an oxymoron it may sound, real “fake news.” Here’s Ms. Shaw again in her own words:

You say you want progressives to listen to you. Then prioritize truth. This election was filled with “fake news,” shared widely on Facebook, and this administration already has begun to create a language of “alternative facts” to misinform and mislead. If you want to talk, offer evidence, real evidence based on verifiable data and reliable sources, not wishful imaginings or fabricated Breitbart stories. An internet meme is not an informed and legitimate point of argument that facilitates dialogue. We’ve reached a point where you’d rather believe an overt lie if it supports a belief you already hold than pursue the truth if it might challenge your currently held belief.

Shaw goes on in the same thought to point out the apparent hypocrisy in upholding the Bible as a book of truths and, at the same time, believing in or, at the very least, sanctioning a lie such as the White’s House version of the comparative sizes of Donald Trump’s Inauguration crowd and those of Barack Obama for both of his presidential victories, when simple visual evidence tells the true story. The principal conflict herein, then, would seem to exist between personal beliefs and gut feelings, and logic and verifiable evidence, an ideological struggle that has manifested in the interplay of faith and science for centuries. And maybe Susan Shaw and people like myself are again betraying a liberal, elitist bias, but seriously—people need to learn how to choose and cite their f**king sources. It’s one thing if you didn’t get in the habit of doing so if you never went to college, but be that as it may, it’s still important to ascertain the reliability of vital information.

4. You celebrate a man whose commitment to Christian values is, ahem, highly questionable.

Donald Trump is clearly no saint and no Jesus. Not even close. Even the most devoted Trump supporters are liable to agree on this point, which makes it that much more mystifying how Christian Trump supporters try to reconcile his actions and beliefs with that of the teachings of the Bible. Dude has either condoned within his base and staff, or participated himself in, acts/speech of anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, and sexism. Old “Two Corinthians” Trump even made fun of a disabled reporter. That’s f**ked up.

Aside from this, Shaw also takes issue with the idea that the religious right insists on “religious freedom,” except if you happen to be anything other than a heterosexual Christian, which would make our nation only more religiously constrained as a result. Not to mention it was never our Founding Fathers to make this a purely Christian nation. America is meant to be a melting pot and a land which respects tolerance for all faiths. As Henry Drummond quips in Inherit the Wind, “The Bible is a book. It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.” Amen, brother.

5. You claim to be “pro-life,” but you’re really just “anti-choice.”

The most plausible reason I can see that Christians, especially evangelicals, would be willing to support Trump over Hillary Clinton despite the former failing to confirm with Christian values on the whole, is that they support the man for his position on one or more particular issues with a religious tint. Perhaps it is his rejection of Muslims. Perhaps it is because he chose Mike Pence for his running mate. Or maybe, just maybe, it is his pro-life stance, a more recent “evolution” of his political and social ideologies. Susan Shaw, undoubtedly concerned with matters of abortion and birth control as a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, takes specific umbrage to this holier-than-thou mentality from conservative religious types. She puts forth her arguments pretty tidily as such:

To cling to overturning Roe v. Wade as the only way to end abortions is a fantasy based on ideology rather than medical science and social science, and it flies in the face of the evidence for what is successful. So the real question is are you more interested in actual effectiveness in lowering abortion rates or ideological purity? We can lower abortion rates together but not by denying women choices over their own bodies. We can be effective together by listening to the data and working together to ensure all women have access to contraception, education, and social and economic resources. Are you willing to have that conversation?

Denying women access to abortions and reproductive health services, as Shaw argues, is not going to stop them from having abortions, or trying to take matters into their own hands. Not only does this obviously still put the baby at risk, though, but it endangers the pregnant woman as well. Conservative Christians seem to want their cake and eat it too, i.e., they want to prevent abortions but they also want to prevent women from having access to birth control and contraceptives. Right—we get it—there’s abstinence. But this is unrealistic for many, not to mention it assumes real romantic feelings can’t exist for teenagers and young adults who lack the income to pay for contraception out of pocket. Either way, it’s governance based on religious conservatism and a strict morality thrust upon Americans within a sphere that should be reserved for secular applications. Besides, for those “pro-lifers” who would seek the unalienable rights of the fetus upheld only to turn around and demand the state-sponsored killing of someone convicted of a heinous crime, it kind of throws a wrench in the whole idea of the sanctity of human existence, ya know?


In closing, Susan Shaw communicates two critical points. The first is that on the subject of simply “agreeing to disagree,” much like Trump supporters reproaching his critics for being sore losers, it is not as if the areas affected by the President’s policy decisions are some sort of game or part of some abstract theoretical exercise. Real lives are affected by what President Trump says and does, and thus agreeing to disagree is unacceptable for those with a conscience or stake in what is decided. The second isn’t so much a point as much as a series of questions to the religious right, once more expressed in a spirit of desperation:

We need to talk, and I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. I need to know, is it more important to you to win than to do good? Or can we build coalitions? Listen to science? Rely on real evidence? Be effective? Put the needs and rights of all others above ideologies? Can we live the love of God we claim? You want me to hear and understand you. I get that. I also want you to hear and understand the rest of the world that is not you or your kind. Because they too are God’s people and therefore are in the circle of those whom we must love. You taught me that when I was a child. If we can agree on that now, we have a place to start.

The Bible teaches, “Love thy neighbor.” The Declaration of Independence asserts, “All men are created equal.” And yet, the mood and tone struck by the Trump administration tell us to fear our neighbor, and to reject those who are not like us as inferior. If these words which are supposed to mean so much to conservatives and/or Christians are not observed, how are we supposed to have a honest conversation between individuals on both sides of the political aisle? How are we on the “godless” left supposed to understand those holy rollers who don’t quite practice what they preach? Shaw rightly believes that if those on both sides can’t agree that all the world’s people are God’s people and must be loved as such, we as a nation can’t even begin to bridge the divide. In doing so, she provides no answers, and only searches for them—because realistically she can’t provide them. Those of us searching for answers in our own right are met with the same difficulties.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that the Democratic Party shouldn’t try to expand both left and right of center if it is to grow stronger and to make a dent in its minority political status across the American landscape. Nonetheless, little progress will be made on this front unless authentic receptivity is felt on both sides to listen to what the other is saying. It has also been said that “everyone is forgiven by God, but not everyone is saved.” From a political standpoint, the fear exists that this may be true of some members of the general electorate as well.

Replacing Justice Scalia with, Well, Justice Scalia

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Judge Neil Gorsuch isn’t Justice Antonin Scalia—but he’s not that far off either. (Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On the eve of the start of Black History Month, President Donald Trump didn’t disappoint his conservative fans or white supremacist supporters when he announced his nomination of silver-haired white dude Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court left when Justice Antonin Scalia left this Earth and departed for that big courthouse in the sky. Gorsuch, despite being the youngest SCOTUS nominee in a quarter of a century, has the pedigree of a Supreme Court Justice. He’s studied at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford—not a shabby hand, eh?—and in terms of his professional career, he’s been a clerk for a United States Court of Appeals judge and two Supreme Court Justices (Byron White and Anthony Kennedy), worked in a D.C. law firm, was principal deputy to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum at the DOJ, spent time as a Thomson Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, and has served in his current role as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit out of his duty station in Denver, Colorado.

In other words, Judge Gorsuch is, unlike a number of Trump’s picks for his Cabinet, eminently qualified for the position for which he has been tapped, and for that, I respect the man. Do I think he should be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, however? In a word, no. It’s nothing personal. I mean, heck, I didn’t know who the guy was until Pres. Trump’s prime-time announcement. Regardless, as I’m sure a number of key Democrats do, I have concerns about his priorities as a jurist and whether or not he would let his political and personal/spiritual ideologies interfere with his interpretation of the Constitution as a member of SCOTUS. Accordingly, I feel the Dems should take their time and do their due diligence before rubber-stamping Neil Gorsuch into service on the highest court in the country. After all, and if nothing else, it’s only fair.

On that last note, let’s take a few steps back and consider the current political climate in which we’re operating. In a vacuum, given his extensive experience, Gorsuch might not be considered a terrible pick, or at the very least, Democrats might have been more willing to work with the Trump administration and Republicans on moving along the confirmation process at a brisker pace. With Pres. Trump in the midst of signing a slew of grotesque executive orders to start his tenure in the Oval Office, however, and in light of the GOP’s obstruction of the Democrats’ own pick to fill Scalia’s vacant seat in the Supreme Court in the remaining months of President Barack Obama’s run as Commander-in-Chief, a measure of resistance on the Dems’ part might not only be advisable, but warranted.

Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, and Obama officially nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy on March 16, 2016. The move on President Obama’s part to pick Garland, in addition to selecting someone highly experienced in his own right, was intended to force the hand of Republicans in the Senate. Would GOP lawmakers confirm Merrick Garland and resign to having a Supreme Court Justice many of them admired, but wasn’t as conservative as the more vocal factions within their ranks would have liked, or would they be a dick about things and refuse to hear Garland on principle that he was Obama’s choice and therefore had to be neutralized? Um, I think you know where this is going. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans chose to be a dick about things. No hearings. No votes. Nothing. Essentially, they refused to do their jobs, claiming they lacked sufficient time to process Garland’s nomination and that the incoming President should decide who fills the vacant SCOTUS seat—even though they realistically had plenty of time to respond to Merrick Garland’s bid, and there was no standard or tradition which prevented a President of the United States from nominating someone to fill a sudden vacancy in his or her final year in office. Yup, Senate Republicans were being huge dicks.

Now, of course, the shoe is on the other proverbial foot, with of course the difference being that the Republicans had a majority in the Senate then and do now, which explains why they’ve been so keen to try to ram-rod President Trump’s Cabinet picks through the confirmation process. Not only do Republican leaders seek this treatment with Neil Gorsuch, however, but to an extent, they seem to expect it. The aforementioned Mitch McConnell had this to say about what he hopes to see from his Democratic Party counterparts:

In the coming days, I hope and expect that all Senate colleagues will give him fair consideration just as we did for the nominees of newly-elected presidents Clinton and Obama. This is a judge who is known for deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, even when it leads to results that conflict with his own political beliefs. He understands that his role as a judge is to interpret the law, not his own viewpoint.

Well, Sen. McConnell, you certainly talk a good game. Indeed, McConnell is not the only person to speak highly to Gorsuch’s credentials or his education, and Trump’s nominee has been known to diverge from his conservative principles when it suits him. Still, this blanket praise for Judge Gorsuch seems to be what we should anticipate from our federal jurists at somewhat of a minimum. Deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, interpreting the law and not one’s own viewpoint—these, one might argue, are important ethical standards for any judge. That is, Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be assumed to be or propped up to be superior to other judges just by virtue of remaining free from bias. By this token, we should ask nothing less of the man, especially if he is to take up residency on the Supreme Court.

As for the timing of the SCOTUS nomination, Mitch McConnell conveniently leaves out what happened not at the onset of Barack Obama’s tenure, but in its twilight: that of the refusal to even dignify Merrick Garland’s nomination with a response. Thus, if Republicans are indignantly claiming that Democrats delaying votes to request additional disclosures from and information about key Cabinet picks or seeking to drag their feet on confirming Mr. Gorsuch is fundamentally and substantially different from their move to block Garland’s nomination so as to eliminate their chance of replacing the late Antonin Scalia with someone other than another version of him, let me not mince words by offering that this is complete and unmitigated bullshit. 

Moreover, claiming that “the people” should be effectively allowed to pick the next Supreme Court Justice nominee by choosing the President is also balderdash, hogwash, and poppycock. Not only should politics not get in the way of going through the motions on reviewing a candidate for a SCOTUS vacancy (i.e. if you want to be dicks and refuse him after giving him a hearing, OK, but at least give him that), but numerous constituents did use their voice during the months of the GOP refusal to acknowledge President Obama’s nomination, and it was in protest, with the common refrain from those in dissent being “Do your job!” Especially for members of a political party that has made it a habit of treating those buoyed by the social safety net as lazy, shiftless sorts, refusal by Republican Party leaders to entertain Obama’s selection in the name of politics could be seen as blatantly hypocritical. At any rate, rather than heed the desires of all their constituents, Mitch McConnell and Co. catered to their base. Not terribly surprising, but ideally, not how lawmakers professing to act in everyone’s best interests should be acting.

Before we get ahead of ourselves in conceiving of Democratic Party resistance to Donald Trump’s nomination for the Supreme Court as political ransom, if not brinkmanship, it should be stressed that key Democrats do see legitimate reasons, if not to vote against Neil Gorsuch outright, to, if nothing else, demand the chance to engage him directly on his views and trends within his judicial record. Richard Primus, in a well-thought-out piece about Gorsuch for Politico, identifies him by the designation “Scalia 2.0,” a nod which probably won’t gain him much traction with Scalia 1.0’s detractors. This passage, in particular, perhaps best encapsulates the thrust of Primus’s article, and in doing so, puts President Trump’s nomination in a historical context:

The most sensible way to think of Gorsuch may therefore be to imagine what Scalia might have been if he had come along thirty years later. Scalia came of age at a time when legal conservatives were doing battle with a relatively liberal Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, they framed their views in terms of judicial restraint and deference to majoritarian lawmaking. Gorsuch’s generation of conservatives, which has lived its whole adult life with a more conservative Court, seems more inclined to see majoritarian regulation as the problem and the judiciary as a good solution.

If Richard Primus makes this very general distinction, though, why the allusion to Judge Gorsuch as a new version of Justice Scalia? Despite the two men operating or coming of age, so to speak, in different eras, they share the same staunchly conservative views on a number of key issues, including abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, and firearms, which obviously appeals to the right. Meanwhile, noting the divergence within the quoted passage above, Neil Gorsuch tends to differ from Antonin Scalia on the dimension of the role of the courts in relation to business regulation, favoring instead greater judicial discretion and, therefore, diminished capacity for regulatory agencies to interpret existing statutes, and on the specific issue of the First Amendment, Gorsuch appears inclined to view “religious freedom” more expansively, which would stand to give businesses and closely-held corporations more leeway in how they operate and how they pay their taxes (or don’t). Again, a seeming victory for the religious right, notably evangelicals, who came out strongly for Trump in the 2016 election. In all, the concern is that Judge Gorsuch, as a Justice on the Supreme Court, would favor corporate interests over the concerns of average Americans, and would emphasize “religious freedom” over individual liberties and freedom from discriminatory business practices.

In all, representatives from both parties would appear to have important decisions to make in the coming days and weeks regarding Neil Gorsuch’s nomination. For Democrats, the chief concern is whether or not they should compel Republicans to seek 60 votes to confirm President Trump’s nominee. Under a procedural vote known as cloture, the minority party in the Senate has the ability to require the approval of 60 senators to end the debate over a candidate for a position as vital as Supreme Court Justice and advance to an up-or-down vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, has indicated his party’s intention to seek this strategic avenue rather than to acquiesce Gorsuch’s confirmation, though some Democrats conceivably could be concerned about employing this tactic only to have it used against them in the future, and would accordingly opt to fight harder another day on another issue.

Republicans, meanwhile, could override the 60-vote requirement of the cloture-filibuster-strategic-thing-a-ma-jig—you know, assuming the Dems actually go ahead with a unified front in favor of such a maneuver—by making use of the so-called “nuclear option.” This would involve an actual change of the rules for filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, enabling the GOP to push Neil Gorsuch through the confirmation process like poop through a goose. Donald Trump, because he is a big, stupid baby and wants to get his way all the time, has advised his Republican confederates to use the nuclear option at first sign of a potential deadlock on Gorsuch’s nomination. (Side note: even when not involving actual nuclear weapons, Trump seems way too eager to use the nuclear option. Dude may have a nuke problem, in fact. Just saying.) Understandably, despite their recent history of dickishness, Republican leaders may be reluctant to “go nuclear,” along similar lines as to why Democrats might be hesitant to insist on 60 votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch. As this report by Jake Miller for CBS News details, such a rule change would come fairly close on the heels of a shift in 2014 to require only a 51-vote majority to confirm non-Supreme Court judiciary and executive branch nominees, and could be seen as greasing the ever-slippery slope away from what many would argue is a necessary system of checks and balances for the federal government. Besides, they, too, by changing the rules of the engagement, run the risk of having this tactic turned around on them.

I, of course, as a registered Democrat and as someone who would like to see the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate, if not the House and White House eventually as well, have a dog in this fight over Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I hope Senate Democrats filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and do whatever is in their power to prolong the confirmation process in light of ideological differences they have with Judge Gorsuch. You know, push back a little. Show us party supporters you have a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Granted, challenging Republicans on the Gorsuch nomination and taking back control of the executive and legislative branches is only as good as the commitment to truly progressive policies and principles, something which isn’t exactly guaranteed from a party that just went all in on Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee. In the short term, however, Neil Gorsuch can and should be resisted as an extension of Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s pro-business, anti-personal-freedom agenda. Case closed.

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.