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.

Will America Ever Make Real Progress on Gun Violence?

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A scene at a makeshift memorial after the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas earlier this month. Sadly, this is just another chapter in the continuing story of all-to-frequent gun violence in America. (Photo Credit: Courtney Sacco, Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

I can only imagine what the family and friends of those lost in the Sutherland Springs, TX church shooting are feeling, and while my emotions and opinions pale by comparison, after hearing of this recent event marked by unimaginable cruelty and loss of life, my immediate reaction was not of anger or fear or frustration or hopelessness or sadness, but of a vague resigned exhaustion over it all. Another week, another mass shooting. The same questions and suspicions. Who was the shooter? Were there warning signs about his intent to kill? Was he affiliated with ISIS or some other terrorist organization? What was his political orientation? Did he suffer from some personal trauma or mental illness? I’m sure you can think of more examples of the type of analysis that accompanies these sorts of tragedies, but that’s not my point. The point—one that I’m sure is not lost on scores of Americans on both sides of the aisle—is we’ve been here before. Aurora, Charleston, Columbine, Fort Hood, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook Elementary, Tucson, the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, VA—the list of sites of high-profile mass shootings goes on and on, and exceeds what I can or would want to remember. Moreover, when considering these flashpoint instances of extreme violence, the freshness and overlap is such that it exacerbates the extent of our hurting and our sorrow. Before we are even done grieving and saying our prayers for the victims and loved ones of one event, another one occurs and our focus shifts. With act after act of gun violence, a bad dream becomes a recurring nightmare accompanied by the fear we’ll never wake up.

In addition, highlighting the incidence of mass shootings in the United States, in part, obscures the totality of gun-related violence in the country today. As of November 11, the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit formed in 2013 to provide free public access to information about gun-related violence in the U.S., recorded 53,197 gun-related incidents in 2017 alone, 13,375 resulting in death and another 27,338 resulting in injury. This includes 310 mass shootings, 633 instances of children 0 to 11 killed or injured, and 2,825 instances of children 12 to 17 killed or injured; these events, it should be noted, may be concurrent, but the numbers are still upsetting. Even more disturbing is the notion these tallies do not even reflect the majority of gun-related deaths in America: suicides. Over 60% of fatalities involving guns in the United States are self-inflicted. To top it all off, it’s not as if the gun violence situation is getting better. According to the Center for Disease Control, firearm-related deaths in the U.S. rose in 2016, the second straight year of an overall increase in mortality rates after close to 15 years of being largely unchanged. Even if the spikes may be due in large part to violence in places like Chicago, where many of us essentially have come to expect firearm-related deaths and injuries, the specter of guns casts a long and dark shadow on America’s profile. According to a study published in February 2016 in The American Journal of Medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than in other developed countries, and 25 times more likely on average to be killed by guns than in the 22 other high-income nations referenced in the study. Even when suicide rates are comparable between the U.S. and a given high-income nation, Americans who take their lives are eight times more likely to do so with the help of a gun. These kinds of numbers would appear to be beyond the power of positive spin to put a shine to them.

It’s about this point in the gun law reform discussion that, in the face of verifiable quantitative data about just how profound the problem of gun violence is in America, the argument usually shifts to consideration of Second Amendment rights and discussions of mental health. Concerning the former, this provision of the Bill of Rights is interpreted as the “right to bear arms” for all people, and as many might contend, perhaps gun ownership shouldn’t be a right so much as a privilege. Certainly, the “right” to bear arms pales in comparison to the rights to, say, food and water, and furthermore, blindly pointing to the existence of the Second Amendment ignores the context in which it was created. That is, this right of gun ownership was intended for militias—not every Tom, Dick, and Harry—and I’m reasonably sure the Founding Fathers were not imagining semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, or the like when including this provision in the Bill of Rights. As for the latter, the concern for mental health in this context is a red herring. Gun advocates who point to mass shooters as “unstable” sorts are doing so primarily because it is a convenient out. To put this another way, if these people were so concerned about improving mental health and access to affordable, high-quality treatment in the United States, they wouldn’t wait until there’s a tragedy to talk about this matter—nor would they resort to stock answers like this when prompted to respond to acts of unspeakable violence.

Otherwise, critics of gun control cling to the notion that having one or more guns in this situation—you know, not possessed by the shooter but by someone who intercedes to stop him or her—would save lives, and/or separately allude to the perpetrator not being a “responsible” gun owner. This time, I’ll begin with the latter. Identifying someone as a responsible gun owner is a nebulous distinction. By this, I mean to say that there doesn’t appear to be a broad consensus as to what constitutes responsible gun ownership. Is it keeping a firearm in a locked box or safe? Is the weapon stored separately from the ammunition, or does one keep it loaded out of necessity to act fast in the event of an intruder? I may be merely telegraphing my own ignorance about gun ownership as a non-owner here, but standards of care or safe storage look to vary by locale or with the assumption of risk of the user. I personally don’t want a firearm in my house for my own protection, and I definitely would not want a gun in the house if I had one or more children under my roof. On the part of the former, there’s a term for this belief: “the good guy with a gun” assumption. Even with respect to the Sutherland Springs massacre, Donald Trump and his FOX News-watching brethren will point to instances like Stephen Willeford, neighbor and bystander, shooting the assailant in the leg and torso and chasing him in a car after the fact. Not only did this all still equate to a loss of life, however, but the evidence suggests these types of interventions are outliers more so than the norm. We all are not John McClane in Die Hard. Trying to play hero could get you or other innocent people killed.


While much ado is made about who uses firearms in cases of extreme violence, why they do so, where and when the shootings take place, and how they go about procuring these deadly weapons, in looking at the big picture and trying to answer the big question of “What can we do to reduce gun violence rates in America?” the obvious crux of the matter is that there are simply too many guns. Statistically speaking, there is about one gun for every person in the United States, far surpassing the next-closest nation. As apparent as the problem of access to guns is, any action that is retroactive in nature to address the pervasiveness of the gun violence crisis is liable to produce a conflict of epic proportions, one that would see clashes between the liberal left and conservatives and libertarians who hold individual and states’ rights sacrosanct. Myth-making or not, the NRA and other Second Amendment supporters seem to have succeeded in spreading the narrative that the “godless” left is “coming for your guns.” Cue Charlton Heston’s famous line about prying his gun from his “cold, dead hands,” and so on and so forth. That there wasn’t a more significant backlash in the wake of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by an armed “militia” led by Ammon Bundy speaks to our national fixation with guns, not to mention it highlights a profound difference in the way whites with firearms and people of color with firearms are approached. With story after story about blacks being shot by police during routine traffic stops or low-level arrests, it appears only too likely the occupation in Oregon would have transpired much differently—and with way more bloodshed—if these armed militants were black or brown.

If taking people’s guns is therefore not a viable answer, and if people aren’t willing to cede possession of their weapons, looking forward, how do we enact policy that allows us to make real progress on the subject of gun control and gun violence? Going back to the idea of gun ownership being a right versus a privilege, let me deal in the context of an analogy, as I so often like to do on this blog and—annoying my friends and family in the process—in my personal life. Automobiles, like guns, involve pieces of metal moving at relatively high rates of speed. Based on their size, weight, momentum, and other factors, cars et al. have the power to injure and kill. This applies to not only drivers, but pedestrians as well, a thought reinforced by an alarming number of recent acts of violence on innocent bystanders at political rallies and as part of terroristic attacks. Owing to how dangerous operation of a motor vehicle can be, ownership and use is more of a privilege than an absolute right. Beyond the potential limitation of cost, there are numerous proverbial hoops through which to jump if one is to legally be able to share the road. You must be of a certain age specified by the state in which you reside, you must pass both a written and road test, you must register and insure your vehicle, and you must regularly maintain it, not merely for issues of performance and long-term viability, but to pass inspection and satisfy federal standards designed to ensure safety and to limit the emission of substances regarded as damaging to the Earth’s environment. These provisions of law, mind you, did not happen overnight, but are a function of the efforts of automobile safety advocates and other interested parties. Buying, driving, and owning a car is, in short, a big deal.

In terms of overall utility, a gun is far less useful than an automobile. With respect to a car, this may be a necessity for the individual, especially if his or her job/profession involves driving and relying on public transportation is impractical. Guns, meanwhile, are designed to intimidate, injure, or kill. Sure, there’s the notion that a firearm can be carried and owned as a measure of self-defense, but even then, the optimal outcome is that shots aren’t fired. In this sense, guns primarily confer the benefit of a sense of protection for the holder—even when this may be illusory. (By the way, don’t even get me started about the use of guns in hunting. If we’re talking about it as pure sport, I have no regard for this “tradition.” Play a deer-hunter simulator, why don’t you?) So why are guns so much more readily available in the United States when they have a far less redeeming social value than something like a motor vehicle. By now, it should be evident that the gun lobby in the United States has more clout and more influence than most single-issue advocacy groups. Whether or not you approve of their stances on various topics under the gun control/gun law reform umbrella, the National Rifle Association, represented in its lobbying efforts by the Institute for Legislative Action, is effective in impacting policy and mobilizing its members and supporters. Like President Trump, the NRA appeals to anti-government types and stokes feelings of anger and fear that “their” way of life is at risk of being taken away by runaway liberalism. It also makes use of gun clubs, gun magazines, gun shops, and other methods of communication to amplify its voice. The NRA is as entrenched a group in American politics as they come, and this has made, to a large extent, resistance to change so resolute.

So, does this mean that the gun lobby is unassailable and that positive steps forward become too long and heavy to take? No, I don’t believe this is the case, and I think analogies like the car vs. gun binary can be instructive. In saying this, I am mindful of the reflexive defense employed by gun advocates that cars kill thousands of people a year and we don’t blame the cars for the violence they help create, so why vilify guns? For one, as we’ve talked about heretofore, a car’s worth to society easily exceeds that of a gun’s. Guns are not critical to the American economy like cars are, nor are they essential for most people’s survival. In this respect, the comparison to automobiles as brutal killing machines is an apples-to-oranges parallel. Moreover, assuming we are putting dissimilarities aside in line with the wishes of Second Amendment fanatics, let’s put our money where our mouth is and treat gun ownership like car ownership. Let’s require that prospective gun users pass both a written and physical proficiency exam before they can become licensed to carry and operate a firearm. Let’s mandate that these weapons, like cars, get registered by their owners, and furthermore, that these owners obtain proof of insurance in the event of an incident. In the interest of safety, and if we can do this for cars and other vehicles, why can’t we do it for guns? In the case of a car accident, your seat belt and/or the airbag might save your life. In the case of a shooting, unless you happen to be wearing a bulletproof vest, the odds of not dying are decidedly not in your favor.

The straightest path to progress on this issue is a legislative one, and whether we are talking reform at the federal or state level, it initially appears we are chasing our tails by offering a solution at odds with the wishes of the gun lobby. The pursuit of advancement on gun law reform, however, was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and commensurate with the notion of the long haul for gun control, changing the political process and elevating new leaders to become lawmakers will take time. Both of these efforts are worth the time and energy, though, as much as our sense of exasperation over the same tragedies repeating themselves ad nauseum—not to mention the sheer stupidity and embarrassment of the Trump administration—may be. Despite the bluster of the NRA and other Second Amendment apologists, most Americans want sensible measures enacted to limit the ability of individuals who would do harm to others to legally procure deadly weapons, even if, in specific cases, existing gun laws may not have been sufficient to prevent a tragedy such as Sutherland Springs. We’re all sick and tired of hearing about these kinds of shootings. Let’s not allow our fatigue to bring us to a state of complacency when authentic change is possible.