2017 Has to Be Better, Right? Reflections on the Dumpster Fire That Was 2016

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Go f**k yourself, 2016. (Image Credit: HBO)

When someone blows up a physical embodiment of the year “2016” and encourages people to tell that year to go f**k itself, you know it’s been an abnormally bad one. John Oliver took the opportunity to give 2016 this proper send-off (a report on this event was equally properly filed under the category “F**K 2016” by Aimée Lutkin and Jezebel), and that HBO agreed to afford Oliver the chance to explode something of that magnitude likewise speaks to the horror that was this past 366 days. That’s right—in case you had forgotten, 2016 was a leap year, so all-too-appropriately, we were given one extra day to protract the misery. The Julian and Gregorian calendars can eat a collective dick on that front.

I only started this blog in the middle of June of this year, so I missed the chance to comment on some things that happened earlier in 2016. With over 50 posts under my belt on United States of Joe, however, there’s still enough topics to revisit to make reflecting on the year that was worthwhile. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And since, despite my overall belief in fair and democratic principles, this blog is not a democracy but a Joe-ocracy, that’s the agenda for this session. You’re welcome. So, kick back. Get plenty of champagne ready—noting how awful the past year has been, it may take quite a bit of alcohol to get into the spirit. And get ready to count down to 2017. It’s time to give our own send-off to 2016, middle fingers in the air and all.

REFLECTIONS ON THE DUMPSTER FIRE THAT WAS 2016

Poké-mania runs wild (as written about in “Stop Harshing My Poké-Mellow”)

Well, before we take the plunge into the abjectly negative, let’s go back to the app-based sensation that was Pokémon Go. Since its initial breakthrough success which had critics saying the smartphone game had ushered in a new era of augmented reality and had fundamentally changed the way we look at mobile gaming, downloads and use of the title have understandably cooled. In light of the downward trend, members of the media are now looking at Pokémon Go altogether as a disappointment, especially in light of some updates which failed to impress. You need to walk 3 KM just for one stinking Charmander candy? I’m never going to get that Charizard! NEVER, I SAY!

Now that I’m done being dramatic, not only do I find these charges against the game and its maker Niantic overblown (although, seriously, those Buddy System ratios are pretty shitty), but expectations, buttressed by the app’s initial success, were probably always too high. Though Niantic did its part to make the game palatable to people of all ages and ability levels by making gameplay largely based around throwing Poké Balls and by simplifying battles, the players who are most likely to find the experience rewarding are fans of the original game, who are used to grinding for experience, completing the game as completely as possible, and overall, staying in it for the long haul. It’s not Angry Birds. It’s not Candy Crush Saga. It’s not Fruit freaking Ninja. You have to walk and work for your rewards. You know, when you can’t pay money for some of them. Either way, you still have to walk!

Bernie, you had a hell of a run (as written about in “If You ‘Felt the Bern,’ Then Hold Hillary’s Feet to the Fire”

When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in July and formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, it admittedly felt like a punch to the gut. For all the mental preparation made, when the moment actually arrived, it still hurt. What made Sanders’ decision and the associated feelings yet worse, though, was the reception his standing behind Clinton received and the accusations that got hurled around in the wake of the announcement. Con-man. Sell-out. Traitor. Looking at Bernie’s endorsement in a purely ideological vacuum, it is easy to assess this move as a betrayal of his principles and what he stands for. In this instance, however, context is everything, and with Donald Trump having sewn up the Republican Party nomination, Sanders saw greater merit in trying to unite Democrats and other prospective voters in an effort to defeat Trump. Ultimately, the orange one shocked the world and scored an electoral victory, but Bernie Sanders did his best to avoid this eventuality. That not enough Americans either came out to vote or otherwise didn’t buy what Hillary was selling is largely on her, not Bernie.

Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the remaining candidates looked to capitalize. Even with the bulk of Sanders supporters presumed to be going over to Hillary Clinton’s camp, Donald Trump himself made an instantaneous pitch to those “feeling the Bern,” trying to tap into their fervent and justifiable anger at the political establishment. Third-party candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, too, though, made a play for these suddenly available votes, rationalizing that there was no better time than now than to tell the two major parties to shove it. In endorsing Clinton, Bernie repeatedly tried to communicate the danger and inadequacies of Trump as a presidential candidate first and foremost, even though he may have largely been preaching to the choir, as younger voters by and large detested “the Donald.” He also, meanwhile, cautioned against a “protest vote” for someone like Johnson, Stein, or even Harambe (and yes, he would’ve loved to follow this election), realizing, as did all these newfound suitors for Bernie backers’ affections, that the votes of his faithful could swing the election by helping to decide key swing states. To reiterate, it didn’t work all that well, but the effort on Sanders’ part was there.

Ultimately, as Bernie Sanders himself will insist, his run for President, while important, was always more concerned with starting a revolution and getting more Americans, especially younger voters and working-class individuals, involved with the political process, even at the local level. Whether the energy behind his campaign and the urge for progressive grass-roots activism is sustainable in the United States is yet to be seen, but either way, there is yet room for optimism that people will want to keep active and informed as a means of exerting greater control over their own destiny. Thus, you may call Bernie any name you want, but I choose to label him an inspiration, and I feel history will bear out this sentiment as well.

Shit, it’s either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, isn’t it? (as written about in “Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not”)

As we Bernie Sanders supporters worked our way through the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, eventually, we had to come to accept that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was going to be our next President. In fact, even the non-Berners were forced to do the same, in all likelihood ensuring many who were on the fence—that is, on whether or not they would vote at all—would choose the latter option and just stay home. In my piece referenced in the title of this section, I mused about the notion that maybe we, as a collective electorate, did not deserve better than these choices that a significant portion of said electorate neither trusted nor cared for much. Ever since 2000, when Ralph Nader was accused of costing Al Gore the election (even though Gore lost that shit on his own, with an admitted probable helping from electoral shenanigans down in Florida), Americans have been highly critical of parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, with the usual refrain being some combination of “they could play spoiler to a legitimate candidate” or “you’re throwing away your vote” if you opt for one of them.

However, to invoke the words of Mr. Nader himself, not only is this attitude politically bigoted, as it negates the will of the individual to make an informed choice in accordance with his or her conscience, but it nullifies our bargaining power with the two major parties. After all, if we blindly vote either Democratic or Republican, beyond losing the election, what motivation does either party have to institute reform that better reflects the needs and wants of the voting public? Especially for members of the working class, both Democrats and Republicans have seemed to take them for granted, which at least partially explains why the Dems lost this election and why Trump and Sanders achieved the levels of popularity they did this election cycle.

In the end, though, despite the increased visibility of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in the lead-up to the election, most Americans who voted (and there was a good portion of the country who could’ve voted which didn’t) cast their ballots for either Hillary or Donald. As historically unfavorable as these two candidates were, and for all their flaws—Trump as an idiot and professional con-man stoking the flames of fear and hatred, Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist with a penchant for pandering and expensive Giorgio Armani jackets—better than nine-tenths of voters decided they had to pick one of the two, if for no other reason than to block the other candidate they liked even less. Which is pretty shitty, if you ask me. Personally, even with the knowledge that she wouldn’t win, I voted for Jill Stein, as I felt neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton had earned my vote. That relative few other Americans opted out of the two-party paradigm, however, signals to me that we, as a nation, are not ready to demand political change as strongly as we should. It’s either red and blue in these United States, and if you don’t like either color, the present message, unfortunately, is to get the f**k out.

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Oh, Bernie—you may not have been a perfect candidate, but you were damn sure better than who we ended up with. (Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters)

Holy f**k, Trump actually won (as written about in “American Horror Story: Presidential Election Edition”)

Holy f**k, indeed. In retrospect, I’m not sure why the pollsters were so surprised that Donald Trump scored the “upset” victory, or why we were so easily convinced that Hillary Clinton was such a strong favorite to win the presidency, when their models were consistently wrong or failed to predict the magnitudes of certain results throughout the primary season. At any rate, as must be reiterated for anyone who sees Trump’s win as a mandate, the man who considers himself a master of “The Art of the Deal” won the presidency on the strength of electoral votes, not because he had a resounding victory in the popular vote (in fact, he lost by more than 2 million votes, and it apparently tears him up inside)—and certainly not because he ran a stellar campaign.

So, how did Trump win? Looking at the exit poll data, certain trends do tend to stick out. Regionally, Donald Trump fared much better in the Midwest and the South, and of course, he carried key swing states, notably those in the Rust Belt (e.g. Ohio, Wisconsin). In terms of demographic data, Trump had an easy advantage among male voters and voters 45 and above, not to mention he held an appeal among less educated individuals and the wealthiest earners (a seeming paradox, though as evidenced by how they spend their money, rich people aren’t necessarily all that smart—look at Trump himself!), as well as evangelicals and married people, but perhaps most notable of all, whites voted at almost a 60% clip for Donald Trump, while close to three of four non-whites went for Hillary Clinton. CNN commentator Van Jones referred to this aspect of the results as a “white-lash”, as in “white backlash” after eight years of a black president the Republicans have characterized as a cause of America’s problems and someone with a secret Muslim agenda, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, really. When the former head of the Ku Klux Klan is cheering you on and citing you as an inspiration, you know white supremacist beliefs, racism and xenophobia helped you to victory.

On a somewhat related note, the thematic reasons why Trump voters chose the way did are also significant. Speaking of racism and xenophobia, supporters of Donald Trump rated immigration trends and terrorism the most important issues facing the United States. Screw the economy and foreign relations—let’s worry some more about brown people. As for the quality that best drew voters to Trump, it wasn’t whether the candidate cares about them, exhibits good judgment, or has the right experience—those voters tended to go for Clinton—but whether he or she could bring about “change.” Whatever the heck that means.

In a nutshell, that’s why Donald Trump is set to be our next President. As for who we can blame for this, besides the obvious in Trump himself and his supporters, there are three core enablers for the man’s political success. Certainly, the Republican Party let him waltz right in and secure the nomination after a barrage of similarly weak candidates failed to stand in his way, and after the GOP at large sowed the seeds of fear and hate he exploited. The media, too, acted irresponsibly and selfishly, chasing ratings while failing to challenge Trump on his lack of defined policy, his factual inaccuracies, his reckless language, or even his refusal to publish his tax returns. In addition, the Democratic Party, in its own right bears some responsibility. Among its most damning sins are its failure to stand up for the working class, its inability to protect jobs and wages, its support for disastrous trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, its complicity with corporations and wealthy donors, and its allowing antitrust laws to lapse or otherwise become weaker, thereby consolidating power into fewer and fewer hands. The failure to stop Donald Trump is a collective one, and though it probably won’t happen, these enablers should do some serious soul-searching for fear of endangering their long-term prospects.

Trump sucks, but his VP ain’t so hot either (as written about in “Mike Pence None the Richer”)

Should anything happen to Donald Trump, whether in terms of his health (not that I’m wishing for the man to pull a William Henry Harrison or anything) or impeachment, the next man in line may not be all that much of an improvement. Mike Pence, who has been governing the proud state of Indiana, has arguably made a number of shitty choices during his tenure. He vetoed a refund of a tax overcharge on the basis it would have cost too much to administer. Before he got too much (warranted) negative feedback, he proposed JustIN, a state-run news service some likened to Pravda in the Soviet era. He rejected Medicaid expansion in his state under the Affordable Care Act on principle, to the detriment of his constituents. He insisted on a ban against a needle exchange program that was effective in limiting the spread of HIV related to a particular drug injection, and later reversed his position, but refused to use state funding to provide for such exchanges. Perhaps most notably, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allowed for discrimination against the LGBT community and cost Indiana some $60 million in revenue before its reversal. An opponent of gay marriage and women controlling their own reproductive rights, Mike Pence is one of a seemingly increasingly long line of conservative Republican leaders who puts evangelical beliefs ahead of his state’s and the nation’s best interests. He’s not Trump, but he’s no rose either.

Alt-right…more like alt-wrong (as written about in “The Alt-Right Isn’t Alright”)

In terms of what damage he may do in terms of signing legislation into law and what damage he likely already is doing in his appointees for key positions (Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy—are you f**king serious?), that Donald Trump has been thrust into a position of immense power is bad enough, but his association with the far-right and his inspiration to the likes of David Duke makes for some shitty ripple effects just the same, let me tell you. I said earlier that Trump’s electoral victory should not be seen as a mandate given how he lost the popular vote and in light of how divided we are as a nation. And yet, the Breitbart crowd and members of the so-called “alt-right” have taken it as such, viewing themselves as fighters in a culture war they are winning, standing against political correctness and other liberal “absurdities.” They also apparently like boycotting companies who don’t stand for their white supremacist agenda. You know, even though they probably don’t use their products anyway. But boycott it is! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP!

When Hillary Clinton formally acknowledged the alt-right in a speech during the campaign, though I feel it needed to be said, it further legitimized this loosely-constructed movement that coincides with the likes of Gamergate’s sexist perpetuators. That Stephen Bannon has been given a prominent advisory role in Trump’s administration, though, should concern us more conscientious Americans. Donald Trump is not normal, and those who sanction his misdeeds and try to normalize his objectionable behavior are standing in the way of progress. Furthermore, the gang mentality with which many of them operate, encouraging online attacks on and/or death threats against individuals whose values clash with theirs, is troubling, as is the unwillingness of social media services to more aggressively pursue those accounts which violate their terms of service for fear of losing traffic. In short, the alt-right has arrived, as much as many of us might not like to dignify them with a response, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have respect for others—not just respect for white males who refuse to admit to their privilege—to speak out against their behavior and words as dangerous and wrong.

Brexit: the awful Trump presidency appetizer (as written about in “Brexit: Britain’s Wall at the Mexican Border”)

Before Donald Trump swooped in to save the day and stop the threat of taco trucks on every corner in the United States, the United Kingdom gave us a teaser trailer for the U.S. presidential election with a referendum vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union. As with the election in the States, the experts predicted voters would do the sensible thing; if this were an analogy in the vein of the old SATs: UNITED STATES: ELECT HILLARY CLINTON :: UNITED KINGDOM: VOTE REMAIN. And, as with the election in the States, voters did the exact opposite.

The parallels are uncanny. The decision to leave the EU was, as it was in the United States, mediated by a greater incidence of older voters opting to do the wrong thing. Like with Trump’s anti-immigrant appeals and vague notions of “making America great again,” Leave voters were swayed by visions of “securing the nation’s borders” and “taking back control” of the country’s economy, not to mention equally empty promises of the UK Independence Party. Additionally, voters seemed to be making choices that were a direct rejection of existing politics. Barack Obama, David Cameron—either way you slice it, the public clamored for change, no matter who would bring it or what it would entail. The fallout from both votes is still being assessed, but the discontentment of the working-class voter and upward trends in outspokenness among white nationalists worldwide suggest the U.S. and UK votes are not isolated incidents, and in turn, that the risk of other Brexit-like events occurring in the future in other countries is all-too-real. The winds of change are blowing, and one can only hope our houses don’t get knocked over when the gusts have subsided.

“Blue lives matter,” or, “Let’s find a way to blame black people for getting shot by the police and negate their ability to peaceably assemble” (as written about in “How Not to React to Stories about Police Shootings, from One White Person to Another”

Contrary to the apparent beliefs of some, black people don’t enjoy getting mowed down by police at routine traffic stops. While police shootings may not have been any more numerous in 2016 than in years past, through the advent of cellphones and other camera-based technologies, violence involving police certainly has become more visible. Whatever the precise rates of deaths related to encounters between civilians and police, it would seem as though we have a lot of progress to make regarding recognition of the disparity of treatment people of color receive at the hands of police and that which is received by whites, regardless of whether the person accosted by one or more officers has a gun or not.

A perfect illustration of the failure of much of white America to confront its privilege in this regard comes in arguments about the very name and nature of black activism in the United States which exists in large part due to documented police brutality. In response to hearing the moniker Black Lives Matter, or merely even the phrase “black lives matter,” some people are too quick to “correct” the original speaker with the phrase “all lives matter,” or counter with their own version (i.e. “blue lives matter”) that serves to negate the critical recognition of blackness inherent in the initial figure of speech. To me, however, this falls prey to a fairly obvious logical trap: if all lives matter, then black lives, as a subset of all lives, should matter too, and there should be no problem accepting that terminology. “Black lives matter” does not mean black lives should matter more than other lives, but simply that they should matter as much as white lives, blue lives, or any other color lives of which one can think. Clearly, though, they don’t, or else there wouldn’t be a need for organizations such as Black Lives Matter.

The need to scrutinize adherence by individual officers to specified protocol when engaging possible suspects, as well as the systems which serve to shield “rogue” cops from criticism and/or prosecution, is undermined by two key strategies of those who react to protests with knee-jerk defenses of our uniformed police. The first is to question the integrity of the victim—yes, victim—who, because he or she is labeled a “thug” or has a history with the law, evidently deserves to be effectively lynched by the police who intercede him or her. The second is to de-legitimize efforts of black activists wholesale, conflating them unfairly with those who loot and otherwise take advantage of violence and associated protests for their own gain, likening them to terrorists, or wrongly insisting they are advocating for the slaughter of police. In both cases, this is counterproductive, regressive thinking.

As some have argued, those cops who are too nervous not to shoot someone at a routine encounter shouldn’t be placed in such a highly leveraged situation, and either way, good police—which comprise the majority of forces around the nation, let’s be clear—should be appreciative of efforts to root out bad actors from their ranks. As for the protests against police brutality, this doesn’t equate to disrespect for the police, nor does kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem constitute an affront to our military, as Colin Kaepernick’s example reminds us. Black Lives Matter et al. don’t want to see law and order dissolved. They just want to see police officers and officials who wear the badge held accountable when they do wrong, and at a very basic level, not to be utterly afraid they might die when getting pulled over by a squad car. It’s 2016. We need to do better as a country in addressing racial inequality, especially within the purview of criminal justice.

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Oh, no! Black people are expressing themselves! Let’s get angry about it and throw a temper tantrum! (Photo Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

ISIS, America, and how hate begets hate (as written about in “ISIS, America, and Hate: Two Sides of the Same Coin”)

There have been too many mass shootings in the United States of late, but the Orlando nightclub shooting, in particular, was particularly devastating for many of us. Not only was it a tremendous loss of life, but that the LGBT community was apparently the specific target of the violence made this brutality that much worse for a population that regularly faces hatred and persecution. Speaking for myself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could harbor such hate for themselves and others that they would wish to walk into a building and start firing indiscriminately. Perhaps this idea gets the tiniest bit easier to understand when we understand this hate works both ways. As jihadists would seek to inspire terror in the West through bombings and mass shootings, white nationalism encountered in Austria, France, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations, has created an environment that has often proved hostile to Muslims, and has made the prospect of accepting more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria decidedly poor. I mean, Donald Trump ran on a platform of which one of the key tenets was a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. for all Muslims. It’s incredible, and incredibly shameful, at that.

Never mind the idea that all this bluster about “bombing the shit out of ISIS” may actually be good for the Islamic State’s ability to recruit and strengthening its resolve. The jingoists among us would have everyone believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the laws of the United States, that it is a “cancer” to be snuffed out, and that American Muslims who don’t do enough to help discover would-be terrorists in their midst (which, evidently, is quite easy) are guilty in their own right, and regardless, likely merit surveillance of their homes/places of worship and tests administered to gauge their love for and commitment to the U-S-of-A. This conflation of Islam, a religion which preaches peace at its core, and the bastardized religion ISIS and other jihadists/”radical Islamists” practice, is a patently false equivalency.

For the sake of an analogy—one for which I can’t take credit, let me stress—ISIS is to everyday Muslims what the Ku Klux Klan is to white people who aren’t unabashed racists. In both cases, the majority disavows the hate and violence these groups perpetuate. This is by no means saying we shouldn’t be vigilant against individuals who would wish to do us harm. As bad as the Orlando massacre was, though, and as unforgivable as the actions of an organization like ISIS/ISIL have proven, our responses and the negative feelings that accompany some of these reactions reveal an ugly side to our patriotism as well. In the demonization and the pursuit of “the other,” we run the clear risk of losing ourselves.

Miscellaneous events

  • I didn’t originally write about it, but the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series. To wit, I have neither observed nor heard any stories about swarms of locusts descending on fields or rivers of blood forming, but I’m not ruling them out just yet. The apocalypse takes time to develop, you know?
  • Wells Fargo was forced to fire thousands of mid-level managers for directing employees to create fake accounts and sign up customers for services without their knowledge, essentially making them scapegoats for the company’s aggressive sales model. The company eventually apologized—sort of—and John Stumpf was eventually removed from the role of CEO, but the big bank largely closed the book on this sordid chapter of its history without really admitting wrongdoing, and Stumpf had a nice golden parachute on which to drift to security. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has apparently learned absolutely nothing from this fiasco, as new CEO Tim Sloan has expressed the belief that the company and the banking industry as a whole could actually do with less regulation. Evidently, it’s all fun and games when you get to play with other people’s money.
  • FBI director James Comey, despite finding that Hillary Clinton and her aides were extremely careless in their handling of E-mail while Clinton was Secretary of State, that Clinton should’ve known certain E-mails were classified and didn’t belong on an unsecured server in the first place, that the State Department was generally lacking in security protocol for classified E-mails, and that Hillary used multiple unsecured devices in locations where American adversaries could have exploited this vulnerability, held a press conference to announce he was not recommending charges be filed against the Democratic Party nominee. Then, a week before the general election, he announced that the Bureau was looking anew into Clinton’s E-mails, which she and her campaign cite as a factor in why she lost. So, nice going, Director Comey! You’ve undermined confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and perhaps swayed the election! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard!
  • Chris Christie not only failed to capture the Republican Party nomination, but he was overlooked by Donald Trump for vice president despite being, more or less, his manservant. Oh, and Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, two key figures in “Bridge-gate,” were found guilty on all counts in a trial related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, and a separate criminal trial is set to take place for Christie himself. Congratulations, Chris. You played yourself.
  • Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt, a result fueled by a combination of fiscal and economic factors, including the repeal of tax breaks for businesses, the creation and sale of triple tax-exempt municipal bonds, the inability of the commonwealth to declare for bankruptcy, exempting wealthy investors and businesses from paying capital gains taxes, “vulture” hedge funds buying up bonds and demanding a full payday, and institutions like UBS selling risky bonds they themselves underwrote to unsuspecting customers. Today, Puerto Rico’s financial future is yet in peril with individuals who are alleged to have helped the island along the path to crisis serving on its appointed oversight board, and with Donald Trump being a crazy mofo. Also, the U.S. Virgin Islands may be on the way to its own debt crisis. Um, huzzah?
  • In some good news, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be all but dead, being disliked on both sides of the political aisle. Also, the Dakota Access Pipeline is on indefinite hold, as the Army Corps of Engineers found more research needed to be done regarding the environmental effects of its intended route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Of course, supporters of these canceled or postponed initiatives may yet redouble their efforts, so we concerned progressives can’t really relax. At least we can enjoy a short breather before the ball drops, eh?

In the title of this piece (remember back that far?), I reference the notion that 2017 has to be better than 2016. I’m not sure it amounts to much, though, beyond wishful thinking. If the best qualification for improvement which comes to mind is that we won’t be electing Donald Trump, it’s cold comfort in light of the fact he’ll already be President. Going back to his appointees, if they are any evidence, the country is set upon a bumpy path for the next four years, or until the man gets impeached—whichever comes first. His Defense and National Security Cabinet leaders view Islam as a threat to America. His Education Secretary is an opponent of public schools, despite never having attended one. His Energy Secretary infamously once forgot the name of the department he has been tapped to helm. His Health and Human Services director wants to privatize everything and largely gut social programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. His HUD Secretary knows nothing about housing administration.

Wait, I’m not done yet! His head of the Justice Department failed to be confirmed as a federal judge once upon a time because he was an out-and-out racist. His Labor Secretary opposes raising the minimum wage. His Secretary of State has likely financial ties to Vladimir Putin. His Transportation Secretary is married to Mitch McConnell—and that’s evidence enough of poor judgment. His Treasury Secretary oversaw 50,000 or so foreclosures from his position within OneWest Bank, an entity which was accused of unethical practices and discrimination against minorities. His EPA head is a climate change denier. His Small Business Administration director is former CEO of a fake wrestling empire. And his United Nations representative has no foreign policy experience. Irresponsible does not begin to describe these selections, and fingers are crossed that one or more of them fail to get confirmed by the Senate.

So, yeah, I’m not incredibly optimistic about the United States’ prospects right now. The silver lining, as I see it, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization that our system is broken and that it doesn’t work for everyone, and with luck, that number will grow as the sheen wears off the shiny promises Trump has made and can’t hope to keep. I wouldn’t have wished for a Donald Trump presidency in a thousand years, but if this hastens the movement of the nation in a more progressive direction, so be it. For those of us who refuse to accept Trump and the America he has envisioned as normal, and who insist that we’ve come too far as a country to simply put the train in reverse, the resistance starts now. 2017, we look to you in strengthening our resolve. And 2016, once more, you can go f**k yourself.

President Obama, Stand Up for Standing Rock

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President Obama, you spared two turkeys for Thanksgiving. After a holiday in which many Americans looked past the brutal history which belies the narrative told by white America, don’t look past the people of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. (Image retrieved from stupiddope.com.)

As part of his presidential duties, Barack Obama pardoned, in time for Thanksgiving, the final turkeys of his tenure from the highest political office in the nation. As a lame duck president, if Obama wants more than the sparing of two birds to add to his legacy in his final days as POTUS, he should stand with the people of Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and their supporters—before it’s too late.

Let’s walk things back a bit, though. What exactly is President Obama’s legacy, and what do we make of all this business in Standing Rock? On the first count, well, it’s complicated. Ask five different people what they think about Barack Obama’s eight years in office, and you’ll likely get five different responses. According to the most recent Gallup polling, at any rate, on approval of the job President Obama is doing, from the period spanning November 14 to November 20, 2016, 56% give the man a thumbs-up. This figure is under the high watermark of 69%, the average set across the three-day period from January 22 to January 24, 2009, when Obama was just settling into his new role as leader of the free world, but significantly better than the 38% nadir he registered numerous times after that 69% zenith, most recently in September of 2014. To put this in historical perspective, Barack Obama’s 32nd-quarter rating is about four percentage points higher than that of U.S. presidents across history. It is roughly equivalent with the approval rating enjoyed by President Ronald Reagan at the same point in his presidency (57%), a few points behind that of Bill Clinton (63%), and, ahem, leaps and bounds ahead of George W. Bush (29%). So, per the vox populi, Pres. Barack Obama is in line with what we’d expect from a person of his stature, and even slightly better.

While public opinion can inform history’s larger judgment of a president’s impact on the country, perhaps it would prove more instructive to view Obama’s two terms through the lens of major events within them. Accordingly, let’s review his seven-plus years and change and see what stands out:

Stimulus package/Economic policy

Even the most hard-hearted Republican critics of Barack Obama as President of the United States would probably tend to acknowledge the guy was handed a pretty rough deal in light of economic happenings at the time. The country was reeling from the global financial crisis known here in the U.S. as the Great Recession, and in a move designed to prevent the American economy from complete collapse, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which authorized $787 billion in spending to combat the negative effects of the recession. The Obama administration contended that the various measures enacted under ARRA were necessary to avoid an even worse fate for the nation. Of course, this argument seemed all but lost on GOP lawmakers; in an example of the kind of partisan conflict Barack Obama’s initiatives would experience throughout his time in office, ARRA would only make it to his desk to be signed on the strength of Democrats’ votes, with just three Republican senators voting yea as the bill worked its way through Congress. Emergency spending bills, threats of government shutdowns—Jesus, the GOP really likes to play chicken with the U.S. economy, don’t they?

The Obama administration lobbied for a second such “stimulus package” later in the year, but this would fail to pass. By this point, Republican assassination of the legacy of the ARRA was well under way, with the idea of a “stimulus” bill proving wildly unpopular with the public. Still, it is not as if President Obama’s policies didn’t make an impact even beyond the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Speaking of large cash infusions to institutions, Obama presided over a second auto bailout to the tune of $9.3 billion more. Pres. Obama also signed into law a federal minimum wage increase up to $7.25, which is great for the workers it affects but falls well short of the $12 minimum wage Barack Obama himself had sought and which Hillary Clinton had stressed as a part of her economic plan during her campaign.

As for post-recession trends during Obama’s two terms, median income has yet to rebound from its 2007 pre-recession rate, prompting fears those incomes will never return. GDP growth has been positive, but not overwhelming. Short-term interest rates only recently increased after staying near zero for most of the Obama presidency. Finally, unemployment has seen a decline from its 10% peak in 2009, and lately has been hovering around a rate of 5%, but this figure is somewhat misleading owing to things like comparisons between part-time and full-time workers as well as inability to account for those who have given up looking for work. Broadly speaking, one might judge Barack Obama’s presidency, in economic terms, as one which averted disaster, but otherwise has been uneven to minimal in the benefits it has promoted in these key areas.

Other economic policy stances

The political hot potato that it always seems to be, the national debt has also been a topic of considerable discussion during Obama’s tenure as POTUS. While other countries faced austerity measures related to the global financial crisis, U.S. government debt has grown under Barack Obama’s watch, paving the way for conflicts along politically ideological lines concerning whether or not spending should be slashed in key areas. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or the Simpson-Bowles Commission, was commissioned in 2010 to address ways in which the United States might significantly lower its debt. Numerous individual measures were suggested as part of this report, though the analysis that resulted from the Commission was broadly encapsulated by calls for spending cuts (e.g. cutting into our bloated military spending) and tax increases. Of course, suggesting we spend less on the military and take more from wealthy Americans generally doesn’t sit well with the GOP, so perhaps unsurprisingly, these proposals never received a vote of approval in Congress. Oh, well. The academic exercise was fun, wasn’t it?

Even before Barack Obama took office in 2009, Republican lawmakers were primed to give him hell on matters of the nation’s debt ceiling. When the GOP, buoyed by surging popularity of Tea Party Republican politics, cleaned up in the 2010 mid-term elections, and their voice got that much louder in the House of Representatives, debates over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and/or effect significant cuts in areas like entitlement programs and military spending grew that much more contentious. Obama, to his credit, tried to negotiate with John Boehner and the other House Republicans on these matters. Predictably, that didn’t work in terms of a “grand bargain.” Instead, we got the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling, kicking the proverbial can down the road as per the usual, as well as established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which also didn’t work, and provided for budget sequestration, which would automatically take effect in case Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach an agreement through the Committee. Which, of course, it did.

Later on in Obama’s presidency, in October 2013, there was a fun little government shutdown, again resulting from an impasse on concerns of a budgetary nature—this time, over whether or not to defund ObamaCare. The end result of that political kerfuffle was a resolution to end the shutdown, fund an omnibus spending bill, and raise the debt ceiling—again. The above conflicts, viewed out of context, can be viewed as a hallmark of a presidency helmed by a divisive leader. In reality, though, it takes two to tango, and since achieving a majority in the House and the Senate, Republicans have been every bit the stubborn obstructionists we might expect from lawmakers deferring to party politics. In other words, for all the griping about Batack Obama’s failure to reach across the political aisle, GOP lawmakers were awfully quick to slap at his hand on the occasions he did eke it out.

Foreign policy

There’s so much material here it’s difficult to know where to begin. We might have to look at some of the highlights within the highlights, so to speak. Here are just some of the areas that helped define Barack Obama’s time as the so-called leader of the free world:

1) Afghanistan and Iraq

Much as President Obama inherited an economic shit-storm with the advent of the Great Recession, the man inherited a veritable quagmire in the Middle East after George W. Bush plunged us headlong into armed conflict in not one, but two, countries. Noting the challenges presented by America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama should be afforded some understanding with respect to the tough decisions he was forced to reckon with as Dubya’s successor. Of course, this is not to absolutely meant to exonerate him either. On one hand, Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the Iraq War during his initial campaign, was instrumental in the substantial drawing-down of troops stationed in Iraq, at least prior to the rise of ISIS.

On the other hand, as advised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Obama authorized the expansion of American servicemen and servicewomen to a high mark of 100,000 in Afghanistan before signing an agreement to leave major combat operations to Afghan forces. If there’s one major criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the ongoing situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, from my perspective, it is that it has been too eager to spin a narrative of success and close the book on our efforts in these countries when the ever-present threat of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and, within the former, the Taliban, exists and causes unrest. By the same token, this is not to meant to overstate their danger, but only to consider that the way in which we fight wars is changing, and to put a timetable on completion when deep ideological divisions lie behind conflicts on international and national levels almost invites that schedule’s destruction.

2) China/East Asia

China has been a toughie for Barack Obama as President, no lie. While more recently, the emerging power has seen a slowing of its economy, its overall improvement in stature on the world’s stage has meant that President Xi Jinping and Co. have been eager to whip their dongs out and swing them around. In particular, the U.S. and China have shared a rather tentative relationship of late, with periodic spats over issues like arms sales to Taiwan, climate change, cyber-security, handling of North Korea, human rights, and territorial disputes. If nothing else, though, the apparent declining support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement meant, if nothing else, to assert American economic presence in Asia alongside the People’s Republic—seems to have saved Obama from a potential stain on his legacy.

Speaking of North Korea, by the way, um, it’s still there, and still working on nuclear weaponry. Sweet dreams.

3) Cuba

So, that whole thing about Cuba being on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list is done with. Also, recently, diplomatic relationships have been restored between Cuba and the United States, and economic restrictions have been loosened. Shit, Obama even went to see a baseball game down there! Cuban-American relations, in short, seem to be on the upswing. Then again, if Fidel Castro’s parting words before his recent passing are any indication, the U.S. would be wise to proceed with caution, and perhaps vice-versa. Castro wrote caustically that Cuba does not need any gifts from “the Empire,” and furthermore, that Barack Obama has not tried to understand Cuban politics. While it may seem as if everything is hunky-dory now, seeds of resentment toward America may yet exist in Cuba and elsewhere in lands touched by communism.

4) Drone strikes

Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with Barack Obama’s foreign policy stances over his tenure was that his administration saw an expansion of the drone warfare program set upon by George W. Bush. The predominant criticism with this bit of policy shift is that for all the terrorist figureheads “neutralized” by strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, numerous civilian casualties have resulted, including those of American citizens. A drone strike was even used to intentionally take out Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen and Muslim cleric with ties to al-Qaeda, controversial in its own right for essentially being an extrajudicial killing OK’d by the Commander-in-Chief.

It seems more than vaguely hypocritical for the United States to police the world and portray itself as a white knight of sorts when it goes around bombing other countries, killing innocent people, and apologizing with a note saying “Oops!” We may not be terrorists per se, but indiscriminately flexing our military muscles with little regard for collateral damage is a sin in its own right. And Obama is guilty in his own right, to be sure.

5) Gitmo

The obstruction of Republicans notwithstanding, that President Obama has been unable to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay as intended—a goal he has reaffirmed year after year, at that—has got to feel like a disappointment for both he and human rights advocates. Sure, strides have been made in reducing the number of captives at the naval base there, as well as ending the practices of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and referring to those being held in detention as “enemy combatants,” but that detainees can still be held indefinitely without being charged is gross overreach on the part of the United States government. From where I’m sitting, Gitmo’s legacy is a stain on our national character, and potentially giving Donald Trump and his appointees broad access is deeply troubling.

6) Iran

Republicans tend to get all worked up about where we are in our relationship with Iran, with two main triggers in this regard. The first is America’s resolution with Iran concerning the latter’s agreement to limits on its nuclear program and access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in return for reducing sanctions. To be fair, it doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of one’s heart to have to negotiate with a country that has more or less made “Death to America” a national slogan. Nonetheless, outside the realm of Congress and with no disrespect to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it would seem as if there is high approval for such an accord, and I, for one, feel better about having some sort of understanding in place and approaching the situation with a greater sense of diplomacy than George W. Bush and his hawkish administration did.

The other issue that gets GOP politicians and conservative theorists alike all hot and bothered is a supposed $1.7 billion “ransom payment” (includes interest) to the Iranian government in return for the release of three American prisoners. The timing was suspicious, as I’m sure many on both the left and right can agree, but not merely to minimize this controversy, but I also don’t know what evidence there is that these monies were wired for the express purpose of hostage release. It’s bad optics, yes, but there is the possibility it is just that.

7) Libya

By now, most of America’s fixation on Libya seems to involve the events surrounding the attack on Benghazi. I remain critical of the Department of State’s handling of this situation, as I believe requests for more security and resources at the diplomatic mission were ignored by Hillary Clinton’s department, and suggesting she isn’t culpable because she wasn’t made aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya rings hollow when it can be argued that she should have been more aware, especially when she and others within the Obama administration were instrumental in pushing for Gaddafi’s deposition. While perhaps not the most egregious chapter in the book of Barack Obama’s presidency, America’s involvement in Libya during his two terms also doesn’t do much to allay concerns about our nation’s “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude when it comes to addressing international and national disputes.

8) Osama bin Laden

Oh, yeah. We killed that f**ker. Moving along.

9) Russia

Relations between the United States of America and the Russian Federation seemed to be moving in a positive direction, at least during Obama’s first term. Our president and their president signed a major nuclear arms control agreement. Russia joined the World Trade Organization, and the two countries were doing business again. The U.S. and Russia—Russia and the U.S.—we were like BFFs! And then Vladimir Putin took the reins again in Russia, and that got shot to shit. With actions such as the annexation of Crimea, repeated incursions into the Ukraine, and propping up the deadly regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Putin’s militarism has put his country on a course directly at odds with the “reset” Barack Obama had envisioned for U.S.-Russia relations. Most recently, probable interference of the Russians in American electoral affairs—needless to say, so not cool. Obama has caught a lot of flak for not meeting Putin’s shows of force with the same contentious spirit, but I applaud his administration’s levelheadedness, as too much fuel on the fire could lead to an escalation of any conflict, armed or otherwise. Sometimes, restraint is the best policy. Looking at you, President-Elect Trump.

10) Syria

Speaking of Syria, it’s a mess. Assad, insurgent forces, ISIS, Russia, and the U.S. launching airstrikes—and the proud people of a country with a rich history caught in between. It’s a devastating situation, and no doubt you’ve seen some of the photos of the carnage. In November of last year, Barack Obama announced a plan to resettle some 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. If you ask me, the number should probably closer to 100,000—conservative Republican rhetoric be damned. Though the civil unrest is a conflict of a military nature, the suffering within Syria is a fundamentally human issue. Pres. Obama did not cause this war. He and Hillary Clinton did not give rise to ISIS. As such, he alone cannot solve the complex problems within the Syrian state. Alongside cooperation with neighboring countries, what we sorely need is compassion for the people affected by the fighting in Syria.

Social policy/domestic initiatives

Again, there’s a lot of ways we could go with topics under this heading, but seeing as we’ve already been through a lot of material, I’ll try to be briefer on this end. The domestic initiative most synonymous with Barack Obama’s presidency is, of course, the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare. There are a lot of ObamaCare haters out there, and in light of this antipathy, even staunch Democrats have found themselves hard-pressed to defend the ACA. For my part, though the initial execution may have been flawed (recall all those early problems with Healthcare.gov), this initiative does put us closer to where we need to be in terms of universal healthcare—which is a right, mind you, or should be. The notion of any sort of mandate, be it required of employers or individuals, it would seem, really sticks in the craw of its detractors, but despite the hooting and hollering about government overreach from the right and railing about the burden on small businesses, having large numbers of uninsured Americans creates its own costs, and potentially larger ones at that down the road. ObamaCare is not perfect, but to label it an outright failure is more than a little misleading.

On other dimensions of domestic policy, Pres. Obama’s initiatives, if not particularly far-reaching, can be once more understood within the context of an obstructionist Congress. Barack Obama signed into law a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but only on the strength of support from Democratic lawmakers. Though the Obama administration saw a record number of deportations, Obama himself has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, and signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy into law—even though he has been fought tooth-and-nail on both issues. Attempts to pass sensible gun law reform have been, in a word, cock-blocked by Republicans’ subservience to the NRA. And anyone thinking Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency would magically fix what ails the nation in terms of racial prejudice has full permission to go screw. As recent political events have brought to the forefront, there is a lot of deep-seated racism present in the United States, the likes of which Jesus Himself couldn’t hope to overcome. To those who would brand Barack Obama as a divider and not a uniter, I must express my doubts about how seriously you were willing to be united in the first place—that is, on terms other than your own.


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Mr. President, you shed tears for the victims of gun violence. Will you do the same for the people of Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the planet? (Photo Credit: AFP)

Full disclosure: I used and thank Wikipedia’s page on Barack Obama’s presidency for serving as a template for my personal opinions on his administration’s policies in light of the challenges he has faced. If you do check that link, you’ll notice I omitted two sections. One is science, technology, and the environment, a lot of which I found to be dry and uninteresting, quite frankly, and since this post is long enough already, I opted to scrap it, though environmental concerns are related to the discussion soon to follow. The other section, meanwhile, is ethics, and it is at this point which I’ll strive to make the connection to Standing Rock. Overall, I feel Barack Obama, who easily outpaces George W. Bush in leadership skills and sound foreign policy navigation (not exactly the most difficult achievement), if I may say so myself, has done a fairly good job at steering the nation along a path of incremental progress, a job made that much more difficult by the obstinacy of the GOP.

This notion of the virtue of incremental progress, however, in itself a limiting factor, and thus, in general terms, is at the same time a major criticism of the Obama occupancy of the White House—that his policies haven’t gone far enough, even noting Republican resistance. Don’t get me wrong—I like Barack Obama. As a person, I think he’s got a great personality, not to mention a beautiful family and a wife and First Lady in Michelle who may be as capable a leader as he, if not more so. Nevertheless, there are points where I disagree with the President, a notion some Democratic Party loyalists treat as tantamount to disrespect or even heresy. On an economic front, as alluded to earlier, I disapprove of Obama’s stubborn adherence to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a true Bernie Sanders devotee, I also find fault with his administration’s seeming unwillingness to go beyond the provisions of Dodd-Frank, as many would agree is necessary to keep Wall Street in check, including but not limited to reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, not to mention his extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Within the sphere of social policy, too, for all the reforms made in the intersection of the criminal justice system and drug laws, the war on drugs still rages on, and the DEA is still wont to equate marijuana with a drug like heroin, while substances like alcohol, opioids and tobacco are easily accessible.

Additionally, invoking again matters of ethics, for a president who vowed that lobbyists wouldn’t find a place in his White House and that his administration would be the most transparent in history, Barack Obama has waffled if not deliberately violated these precepts. If we add the revelation of the existence in 2013 by Edward Snowden of the PRISM mass electronic surveillance program as a function of the NSA, the willingness of the Obama administration to cross ethical lines, if not legal and constitutional lines, is all the more unsettling. If we bring contemplations of social and moral responsibility into the mix, meanwhile, while, again, Obama has fared significantly better than his predecessor, as regards the environment, it’s yet a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Pres. Obama has identified climate change as the biggest threat the nation and world faces, and has set forth legislation on numerous occasions designed to cap carbon emissions and overall reduce the United States’ emissions footprint. On the other hand, Obama has only nixed domestic offshore drilling and other projects like the Keystone XL extension because they weren’t economically viable, not for strict adherence to environmental principles. Do as I say, not as I’d do if the money were better.

Enter the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Some background information, first. Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane firm, seeks to construct a pipeline that would run from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to a point in southern Illinois, going underneath the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and part of Lake Oahe near Standing Rock in the process. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed pipeline would have little to no impact on the surrounding area. This assessment, however, has been judged by outside observers as being rather limited in scope, failing to analyze the situation in terms of a potential area-wide environmental impact, and since being asked to conduct a full-scale review by various related agencies, even the Corps has acknowledged it needs more time to make an adequate assessment on the impact the Dakota Access Pipeline could have.

That’s the good news, the delay. The bad news comes with how little attention the progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests of its completion have received until recently, and just how severe the backlash has been against protestors from security guards contracted by those involved with the pipeline project as well as law enforcement siding with the corporate entity. There have been reports of guard dogs and pepper spray used on protestors, as well as concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in freezing conditions, not to mention the use of the criminal justice system to intimidate and silence journalists. Even if some protestors were being unruly, though, as North Dakota state police have alleged, this use of force appears disproportionate and harsh. What’s more, this treatment would seem to run at odds with how other superficially similar situations have unfolded. Making an allusion to the extended occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed militants, the coiner of the term Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza had this to say:

So let me get this correct. If you’re white, you can occupy federal property … and get found not guilty. No teargas, no tanks, no rubber bullets … If you’re indigenous and fighting to protect our earth, and the water we depend on to survive, you get tear gassed, media blackouts, tanks and all that.

The disparity seems pretty telling. In America, the sanctity of Indian lands and water sources evidently pales in comparison to the whims of the fossil fuel industry and white privilege. If you’re pumping vast sums of oil or you’re Caucasian and packing heat in vague protest of government overreach, you stand to fare better than a Dakota Access Pipeline protestor or, say, a black person stopped by the cops for a minor traffic violation.

Thankfully, in light of the apparent brutality shown toward these protestors, along with the sheer number of people who have stood with Standing Rock, not to mention several entertainers and other celebrities who have drawn attention to the plight of the reservation’s Sioux citizens and others who have suffered for the cause (for Christ’s sake, they arrested Shailene Woodley, of all people! Shailene Woodley!), average Joes like you and me are taking notice. One voice above all, though, would carry considerably more weight, and since I spent some 3,000 words talking about him just now, I think you know to whom I’m alluding. Barack Obama has been notably silent on matters of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline, as were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton once it became, for all intents and purposes, a heads-up contest for the presidency.

It’s not like his involvement hasn’t been sought, either. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and voice for the Great Sioux Nation, has pleaded with Pres. Obama to keep his word with recognition of treaties with native peoples and to act when they are violated. Bernie Sanders has spoken at a protest in front of the White House and personally appealed to the President to act against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other senators have urged him and his administration to do a more thorough environmental assessment of the project’s impact, as well as consider consulting more directly and openly with tribal representatives. Obama himself has even acknowledged Standing Rock Reservation and the associated protests by name on more than occasion.

Acknowledgment of the problem helps, and I encourage those of you who support resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline to use the hashtag #NoDAPL in your social media posts and dialogs. But we need action—not just from people like you and I—but from our leaders, those with the most direct path and power to affect change. And Barack Obama is at the top of the list. As noted, Obama and Co. has killed offshore drilling projects and the Keystone XL extension—though not necessarily for the purported altruistic reasons. Going back to his legacy, though, if ever there were a time to stand for something on principle, it would be now, and standing with the people of Standing Rock and the future of the planet over the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fossil fuel industry. President Obama, if I may address you directly, sir—you are a lame duck president. Your political party just had its ass handed to it in the election, despite the results of the popular vote for the president, in part because people are fed up with politics as usual and the incremental progress paradigm of yesteryear. And while party loyalists and more moderate liberals may support you no matter what, those of us disenfranchised with the status quo are asking for more, and to boot, those on the extreme right are intent on destroying the best points of your legacy.

Which is why, Mr. President, now is the time to act. Stand with Standing Rock, because Donald Trump almost certainly won’t. Re-write the narrative. Leave one final meritorious page in the storybook of your presidency. I, concerned citizens around the world, and the planet itself will thank and remember you for it.

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.

Why I’m Voting for Jill Stein, Or, If Not Now—When?

Not only is Dr. Jill Stein a strong and qualified candidate for President, but she speaks with authenticity about a plan for the issues facing the country. Can you say that about your candidate of choice? (Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA)
Not only is Dr. Jill Stein a strong and qualified candidate for President, but she speaks with authenticity about a plan for the issues facing the country. Can you say that about your candidate of choice? (Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA)

Though it likely means very little in the grand scheme of things—including to her campaign—I am endorsing Jill Stein for President of the United States. If you know me personally, this may not surprise you, though you’re probably thinking you didn’t imagine me to be so impractical, nor did you consider me to be that interested in politics. Up until recently, though, I wasn’t really that interested in U.S. politics. (On the “impractical” front, meanwhile, I’ve always kind of been that way. Oh, well.) Like so many Americans, I was disgusted with the doings of lawmakers and other politicians. I still am, mind you, and this current slog of a presidential race has perhaps only increased that sickened feeling, but nevertheless, I think it’s important to know where this country is headed, and who’s leading it. Especially if it’s headed to “the shitter,” as some might term it, and it’s being led by a bunch of idiots and children professing to call themselves “adults.”

I may be in my 30’s, and thus have a limited frame of reference for matters of domestic and foreign policy, but seeing a bunch of jokers twice my age do what I would judge to be a poor job of steering our country in the right direction, I figure I might as well do what I can to equip myself and others with knowledge, or at least a different viewpoint in relation to today’s events. People have even made offhand references to me running for President someday, or if I were to run, that they would vote for me. At present, this is merely very flattering to me, but who knows—the ol’ US of A might need someone like me in the future.

But I digress. I imagine a number of you reading and others if they knew are/would be upset at my announcement of my intention to vote for Jill Stein. Accordingly, I have prepared responses as part of an imaginary Q&A. It’s like participating in a debate, only with myself, and thus, if anyone interrupts me, I literally only have myself to blame. So, here goes nothing:


Good evening, Mr. Mangano. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions.

Well, thank you for having me, and a special thanks to everyone reading.

Sure thing. They’ve already probably started skimming, so let’s not waste too much time, shall we? About your decision to support and vote for Dr. Jill Stein in the upcoming presidential election—

Yes.

Um, don’t mean to be a dick and all, but you know she can’t win, right?

Well, yeah, I understand that.

So, you’re OK with wasting your vote?

I mean, if you consider it a waste of my vote, then yes. Though I might submit that if Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump by, say, a million votes in the general election, then barring a situation in which Trump wins the presidency based on electoral math despite having lost the popular vote, 999,999 people casting their vote for the GOP might be considered to be wasting their votes as well.

Listen, don’t get cute. If you want to go ahead and make a “protest vote,” why not just go whole hog and vote for Donald Trump?

Um, are you serious?

Indulge me.

What exactly am I “protesting” by voting for Donald J. Trump? Equal treatment of women and people with brown skin? Decency? Having a functioning brain in one’s head? There are so many reasons why voting for Trump is a bad idea, including but not limited to his childishness, his hard-on for Vladimir Putin, his lack of concrete policy ideas, his litigiousness, his racism, his sexism, his vendetta against the mainstream media, his xenophobia, and that he’s a cheat, a fraud, a liar, poor businessman, and potential rapist. And the notion of voting for him because the DNC “screwed” Bernie or that Hillary is part of the “establishment” and he’s an “outsider” is just plain dumb. He’s not “one of us.” He’s a spoiled rich brat who has enjoyed tax breaks and other privileges that were only available to him because of the name his daddy created. I would rather trust a pack of wolves with watching my steak dinner than give Donald Trump the keys to the country.

What I’m hearing is a lot of reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, well, that seems to be many people’s stance, but I don’t feel the same way.

Oh, great. You’re one of those folks who’s going to help independents “Nader” this election.

Ugh. I assume you’re referring to the assertion Ralph Nader “lost” Al Gore the 2000 election, that he played “spoiler” to his hopes. This is a narrative the media has spun about the results of that presidential election which I find wholly disingenuous. First of all, let me point out the fact Gore did not even win his home state of Tennessee in that election. So right then and there, this says something about the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) behind his candidacy. This notwithstanding, there were an awful lot of shenanigans surrounding hanging chads and recounts in the state of Florida, besides the idea thousands of Democrats in the Sunshine State voted for George W. Bush. With all this in mind, suggesting Gary Johnson and Jill Stein could collectively “Nader” this election is a whole lot of misdirection. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t become the first female President of the United States following the results of the vote in November, it won’t be because Bernie Sanders or Johnson or Stein ruined it for her, it’ll be because she lost and she didn’t make a compelling enough case to voters, especially Democrats.

I’m invoking Ralph Nader himself here, but to even refer to someone as a “spoiler” in this context is to be politically bigoted. After all, what are the scores of people who are voting for Hillary Clinton because she’s not Donald Trump and vice-versa doing but playing spoiler to someone else’s vote? In a sense, we’re all playing spoiler by voting, and even those who can vote and don’t plan to come out—who deserve to be admonished, by the way—are making a choice by “not making a choice.” If we’re blaming anyone after Election Day, let it be those who, without irony, cast their ballots for the Republican Party nominee. They’d be the ones “Brexit-ing” this election.

Fine. No excuses for Hillary Clinton if she doesn’t win. Even though she’s trying to single-handedly break through the glass ceiling and deal with centuries of patriarchal oppression.

Right, yes, if she’s playing the “woman card,” then “deal her in.” She’s used that line quite a few times. Though I would like to note Jill Stein is, herself, a woman—

And she’s immensely qualified for the office of President, perhaps more so than any other candidate in American history.

Yes. We know. First Lady and U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. Lots of qualifications—

She’s fighting for us!

OK, but—

We’re stronger together!

Yes, but—

Love trumps hate!

Would you quit it with all the campaign slogans?

Sorry. It’s just she inspires so many people. I mean, all these Hollywood endorsements can’t be wrong, can they? Why aren’t you “with her?” Why aren’t you on the side of a progressive who gets things done?

Whoa. Let me stop you right there. Don’t get me wrong—I want Hillary Clinton to win this election. As with the number of voters out there who are behind HRC to foil Donald Trump, I pray Gropey McOrange-Face never holds any public office, let alone President of these United States. Moreover, I don’t wish to rain on the parade the Clinton campaign and women of all ages are envisioning should Hillary win. There’s something to be said for giving young girls, in particular, hope that one day they can rise to the same heights, afforded opportunities the women who came before them never dreamed of. Pardon the expression, but it’s a yuuuuuuge deal.

Going back to Trump, meanwhile, there is a real danger in the prospect of seeing him potentially filling the upcoming vacancy in the Oval Office, and I’m not even talking about the damage he could do with the stroke of a pen or at the behest of a Republican-led Congress, as well as the injury he could inflict on America’s credibility among the nations of the world, which already has taken a hit as a result of him merely becoming a major-party nominee. I’m talking about the sense of empowerment a Donald Trump presidency stands to give stupid racist assholes like himself—that they are justified in their hate and wanting to somehow “take their country back.” No, f**k-wads. You’re taking our country backwards. Our country. Not yours. As Jon Stewart so correctly put it, you don’t own the United States, and you don’t own patriotism. Trump can’t fix America. Trump can’t give you back the nation you think you remember. And Trump can’t “make America great again.” It could be better, sure, but it already is great—and far better than the third-world country he makes it out to be to gin up your anger and fear in trying to get your vote.

But Hillary Clinton, a progressive? No way, José. Before we even get to her exact position on the political spectrum, let’s first consider her track record of, ahem, getting things done. As First Lady? The Clinton health care initiative spearheaded by Hillary and designed to bring the U.S. closer to a universal health care system went down in flames, and HRC was criticized and even litigated against for her part in the apparent secrecy of developments within her Health Care Task Force. As U.S. Senator? Her legacy of bills that she sponsored passing the Senate in two terms? Three became law: one to establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site, one to rename a post office, and one to rename a highway. And let’s not forget her vote for the Iraq War. How about her role as Secretary of State? I’ll grant you her work to secure the Iran nuclear deal, and possibly even her influence in the decision to take out Osama bin Laden, but let’s ask the people of Honduras and Libya about meddling in their countries’ affairs. Or mention the deal that sent 20% of America’s uranium stores to Russia. Or perhaps casually talk about her reckless use of E-mail and mobile devices, which may or may not have coincided with hiding sensitive information about the Clinton Foundation or drone strikes. Is this the kind of experience we’re touting?

No, Hillary Clinton is far too jaded from her years in politics to embrace the truly progressive spirit America needs. Universal health care? Pie-in-the-sky fodder! Let’s just keep pushing the Affordable Care Act no one seems to like! $15 minimum wage? Not conciliatory enough! Blame the big banks for their role in the 2007 financial crisis? But the banking industry knows what’s best for it! Free trade? Why not? Climate change? We need to fight it, but what the heck, let’s have some fracking while we’re at it! More military to fight ISIS? Done! Tim Kaine? He’s vanilla as they come, but that’s what we’re after! You see, Clinton hews too close to center on so many issues, and even when she professes to support a more progressive agenda, you can’t be confident she’ll actually live up to her promises. For instance, Hillary claims she’s against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but do you really feel comfortable in the notion she’d break ranks with Barack Obama and move against the agreement should it fail to pass in the lame-duck session? I sure as hell don’t.

As Obama’s ascension to the presidency was a symbol of progress for African-Americans, so too would Hillary Clinton as POTUS signify a breakthrough for women. But is this enough? Both Obama and Clinton seem to favor incremental change rather than bold ideas, and neither has called for the requisite amount of reform of the financial sector in the wake of the credit crisis of a decade ago, which could see a reprise with Wells Fargo and other “too big to fail” institutions playing fast and loose with ethics and our money. Hillary may be a better candidate than Donald Trump, but this doesn’t necessarily make her a good one. She’s a moderate in progressive’s clothing, a warmonger, and not for nothing, pretty damn arrogant. Not as much as Trump, again, but still. She and the rest of the Democratic Party appear content to ride out the “we’re not Trump” strategy up until the election, convinced he’ll self-destruct or that we’ll vote for them anyway. By choosing the “lesser of two evils,” that’s exactly what we’re doing—and giving them every reason to think they can pander to us and put us into boxes. See? There’s danger in electing Hillary Clinton too.

Wow, you really don’t like Hillary, do you?

Not too much. I think there was a time when Hillary Clinton was perhaps more idealistic, and I do feel she genuinely cares about certain issues, namely children’s and women’s rights. Somewhere along the way, though, I believe she decided that politics is a dirty game which should be played to win, and that the acquisition of funds by whatever means necessary is justifiable. In this respect, I suppose HRC is, in part, a byproduct of the money machines known as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and the conflation of politics and business. But this does not completely exonerate her.

OK. Let’s recap real quick. Donald Trump is a scumbag, so you’re not voting for him.

Yup. I mean, you heard about the Trump Tapes, right?

Shit, those were awful. I feel dirty just thinking about them. And Hillary Clinton is a phony in expensive designer clothing, so you’re not voting for her either.

Uh-huh. And it sounds like she’ll be pretty cozy with Wall Street if elected based on the latest leak from Wikileaks.

Yes, yes, Bernie supporter. We know. Wall Street is bad. Money is the root of all evil.

I’M NOT SAYING THAT! THAT’S NOT EVEN THE REAL QUOTE! IT’S “THE LOVE OF MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL!” MONEY IS A USEFUL MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE!

Hey, hey! Stop yelling at me! I’m just a figment of your imagination!

Sorry. I just get upset when people take things out of context.

Yeah, I noticed. All right. Where were we? Ah, yes—your third-party vote. Or fourth-party vote. What is the technical term for your choice?

How about the Green Party vote?

Fine. Whatever. Don’t you think you’re suffering from a serious case of white privilege in refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Donald Trump? After all, dude wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and ban Muslims from entering the U.S. You’re in a better position to suffer through a Trump presidency than minority groups are.

I don’t deny I am white and privileged. Let me stress—I don’t want Donald Trump to win. Again, though, I feel like it’s unfair to say to people, “Hey, you need to get out there and vote. Don’t f**k this up for the rest of us.” Already, the Hillary apologists and other people fearing a Trump presidency are creating a scapegoat, when it should be incumbent upon the candidate to convince the people to vote for him or her, and not just vote against the alternative. Besides, what message does this send to new voters exercising their rights as citizens? Vote your conscience, but not this time. We know you don’t like either choice, but fall in line. Don’t think about the issues so much—there’s too much at stake to vote independent.

The rationale against Donald Trump is that he more or less is, you know, Hitler, but if both major-party candidates are as unlikable and untrustworthy as Donald and Hillary, and we’ve been voting for the lesser of two evils within the two-party system for this long, gosh darn it, maybe we’re doing it wrong. Maybe the Democrats and Republicans need a signal they’re not meeting the needs of the electorate, and of the planet at that. If we don’t tell them by voting outside the box, if you will, how are we going to ensure that they absorb this notion and produce better candidates for 2020? If not now, when?

Hmm, not even your boys Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich can sway your mind, can they?

I respect these guys immensely, especially Sanders for backing a candidate he campaigned against during the primary season. I also understand where they’re coming from, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Donald Trump. Adolf Hitler. If all people can say in the former’s defense is that he hasn’t called for ethnic cleansing or that he doesn’t have a mustache like the latter, that pretty much tells you all you need to know. Still, while I don’t wish for a Trump presidency, the damage his antics and rhetoric might do to down-ticket Republicans hoping for congressional bids might be quite a boon for the country. Regardless, I think we need to move beyond a mere red-or-blue paradigm, and I feel I need to be true to myself. So come November, I’m voting my conscience—and watching the election results with bated breath.

Wow. You’ve certainly given us a lot to bite off and chew.

Yeah, it’s what I do.

Maybe you should get out more.

Probably.

Before you go, you talk about voting for a candidate as opposed to voting against another? So, what’s so great about this Jen Stein anyway?

It’s Jill Stein.

Sure, sure. Jill Stein.

She’s a doctor.

What, like, a real one?

No, she just plays one on TV. OF COURSE SHE’S A REAL DOCTOR!

Hey! What did I say about yelling?

OK, I’m sorry!

Ben Carson is a doctor. Why didn’t you support him?

Very funny. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, not only is eminently qualified like Hillary, but also has a forthright plan to address the major issues facing the United States and the world today. As with Bernie Sanders, Stein believes in a people-powered solution to high poverty and unemployment rates, not to mention a sustainable economy for a sustainable world, and one that functions within a society built on respect for the rights and dignity of all people.

Among the key components of her agenda as the Green Party’s representative are cutting military spending, eliminating student debt, enacting a $15 minimum wage, ending police brutality and mass incarceration, ensuring the right to live and work comfortably for all people, establishing a single-payer public health care system, expanding women’s rights, moving away from corporate influence on politics, and, of course, transitioning America to renewable energy sources as a function of a commitment to protecting the Earth. Of the remaining presidential candidates, she appears to the most focused and genuine among them. And unlike certain people in this race, she knows where the heck Aleppo is.

I knew that was coming sooner or later.

Couldn’t help myself. Sorry.

Phew. That was a long one.

That’s what she said.

God, what are you: twelve?

I know you are, but what am I?

Sigh, I think we’re nearing the end of the road here. Any last words to you want to impart to the audience?

Sure. Thanks again to all for reading, and for more information on Jill Stein and her campaign, visit www.jill2016.com.

Great. Joseph Mangano, ladies and gentlemen! You realize they’re clapping for me, not you, right?

Oh, shut up.

You Down with TPP? Yeah, You Shouldn’t Be

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Many would insist that the TPP would be better used as TP, and based on its language which primarily benefits rich corporations and wealth investors, it’s hard to argue against these sentiments. (Photo Credit: Alex Milan Tracy)

Want to see the negative side of party politics? Take a gander at the divisions that exist within the Democratic Party with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and you’ll see how solidarity for the sake of solidarity means that choices can be made for constituents in a way that serves only the political apparatus and goes against what lawmakers themselves believe.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a successor to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP), which was originally signed in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. In terms of membership for the TPP, in addition to the four aforementioned nations already serving as parties to the TPSEP, as of February 4, 2016, eight additional countries are named as signatories: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam. In terms of the stated justifications for the U.S.’s participation as a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the International Trade Administration, a subset of the Department of Commerce, illuminates the reasons. Per the ITA page on the TPP:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will reduce the cost of exporting, increase competitiveness of U.S. firms, and promote fairness. It also reflects our values on issues including labor, the environment, and human rights. TPP delivers for middle-class families, supports jobs, and furthers our national security.

The agreement will eliminate tariffs, lower service barriers, and increase transparency while also increasing competitiveness by instituting stronger intellectual property rights protection and establishing enforceable labor and environmental obligations.

The TPP will promote fairness by ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of U.S. goods and services; establishing rules for fair competition with State-owned enterprises; and providing the same rights and protections for U.S. investors that foreign investors currently enjoy in the United States while protecting the inherent right of governments to regulate.

Through this agreement, the United States is seeking to support the creation and retention of high-quality jobs at home by increasing American exports to a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies.

If all that doesn’t have you sold, according to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, “The TPP is a modern and tough trade agreement, reflecting our values on labor, the environment, and human rights,” and to quote Under Secretary Stefan Selig, “TPP will give U.S. business improved access to eleven Pacific Rim markets collectively representing 40% of global GDP.” Wow. The TPP sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Just for kicks, why don’t we consider what people outside the Obama administration have to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, shall we? Robert Reich, a well-regarded economist and someone who has served in the administrations of multiple presidents, was initially bullish on free trade, but has since changed his tune in light of what he sees as a seismic shift in the nature of trade agreements. As Reich underscores in a blog post about the “new truth about free trade,” while the “old-style” agreements of the 60s and 70s increased demand for American goods and, therefore, stimulated domestic job growth, the “new-style” agreements enhance profits for corporations and wealthy investors while keeping wages low, such that the motivation on the part of big companies is based on direct foreign investment, not trade. In terms of corporations’ benefits, deals like the TPP are all about access to new markets and customers as well as greater protection of their intellectual property. Reich explains:

Recent “trade” deals have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders, because they get better direct access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property – patents, trademarks, and copyrights – and for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the Trans Pacific Partnership – the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits – including our own. But recent trade deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

By making it easier for American corporations to make things abroad, the deals have reduced the bargaining power of American workers to get better wages here.

Clearly, Robert Reich is not enamored with the Trans-Pacific Partnership—and he is not alone. Bernie Sanders has been a vocal opponent of the TPP, as he has been with respect to other free trade deals in the past such as CAFTA, NAFTA and PNTR with China. (Sanders has been notably silent, meanwhile, on Fanta, but that is because it is a line of beverages. With, for whatever reason, up-tempo Latin music and dancing girls.) You can read his prepared statement on the agreement here, but here’s an excerpt from the document:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. It will also negatively impact some of the poorest people in the world.

The TPP is a treaty that has been written behind closed doors by the corporate world.  Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.

Further, all Americans, regardless of political ideology, should be opposed to the “fast track” process which would deny Congress the right to amend the treaty and represent their constituents’ interests.

The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR).  These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality.  The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.

Hmm, between what the Obama administration says about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders and others have to offer, there is a lot to bite off and chew, and much of it contradictory. Might we get a viewpoint (and thus, even more to ingest) from an independent source, one that is both nonpartisan and nonprofit? Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute believes unequivocally that putting the provisions of the TPP into force would be bad for workers in the United States and in other member countries. From his press release:

The TPP, which is an agreement to manage trade and investment on behalf of large corporations, will put downward pressure on wages of workers in the United States, and will likely lead to growing trade deficits and job displacement. Both outsourcing and the growing use of parts from non-TPP countries will lead to rising imports, increasing trade deficits and job losses in the United States. Meanwhile, core issues like currency manipulation and abusive labor practices in Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Brunei are addressed only in weak side agreements, or agreements that cannot be enforced for at least five years, if at all.

By extending U.S. copyright and patent protections to consumers in the rest of the TPP, which will dramatically increase the prices of prescription drugs, the treaty will shift billions in profits to big pharmaceutical companies while denying access to life-saving medicines to countless poor consumers. The agreement will encourage the growth of outsourcing to low-wage export platforms in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, and create a back door for dumped and subsidized imports from China and other non-TPP members to enter the United States duty-free or at preferential TPP tariff rates.

The United States could have negotiated an effective TPP that addressed currency manipulation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and harmonized financial regulations upwards. Instead, the TPP supports a race to the bottom in international regulations that will primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers and consumers in the United States and other TPP countries.

Not really a ringing endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is it? Scott’s arguments seem to fly directly in the face of the assertions put forth by Secretary of Commerce Pritzker et al. as reasons why the TPP should be put into force. According to him, we won’t be gaining jobs, but losing them, with wages remaining depressed. Those protections for intellectual property rights touted by the Department of Commerce? Among other things, they would likely cause the cost of medicines to skyrocket, and regardless, put more power in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. And what about some of these other issues? Currency manipulation? Environmental standards? Financial regulations? Overall, Robert E. Scott seems to point to an accord that favors corporations and leaves their powers in trade amongst the signatories dangerously unchecked. While heavy-handed regulation of industry (“red tape””) can have deleterious effects on businesses, lax restrictions are an issue in their own right. To think about this in another way, as a general rule, many tend to be wary of any legislation which gives more power to corporations that are already so influential in the political sphere—myself included.


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If the Trans-Pacific Partnership were so great, the details would have been made more readily available sooner. That says something. (Photo Credit: SumOfUs/Flickr

If you’re wondering why you didn’t hear about something as monumental as the TPP prior to the 12 member nations signing it in February of this year, this is not entirely a coincidence, and on top of all the purported negative economic effects of putting it into force, the legislative aspect of America’s involvement with the treaty is a bone of certain contention, and is worth its own academic study. Michael Wessel, a liaison to two statutory advisory committees, international co-chair for the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential campaign, and a former commissioner on the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, penned an op-ed on Politico detailing the secretive nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s negotiations. As Wessel explains:

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.

If cleared advisors weren’t even afforded a full text, logically speaking, what chance did the rest of us have? It’s not like the concerns within the text, leading up to President Obama signing on behalf of the United States, were unimportant ones, either. Michael Wessel goes on to say:

Questions pervade virtually every chapter of the proposed agreement, including labor and the environment, investor-state, intellectual property and others. The answers to these questions affect the sourcing and investment decisions of our companies and resulting jobs for our people.

In particular, the issue is with the idea of “fast track” legislation. What is Fast Track, you might ask? Well, let’s go to the Clinton-era version of the White House website to find out, which looks like it was made on Angelfire, Geocities, or something of that ilk. (Love those animated American flag GIFs!) On a page devoted specifically to Fast Track, we find this information:

The Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority to set tariffs and enact other legislation governing internation trade. The President has the Constitutional authority to negotiate international agreements. If the President negotiates a trade agreement that requires changes in U.S. tariffs or in other domestic laws, that trade agreement’s implementing legislationmust be submitted to Congress — or the President must have Congress’ advance approval of such changes.

Fast track is an expedited procedure for Congressional consideration of trade agreements. It requires Congress to vote on an agreement without reopening any of its provisions, while retaining the ultimate power of voting it up or down. The three essential features of any fast track authority are:

(1) extensive consultations and coordination with Congress throughout the process;
(2) a vote on implementing legislation within a fixed period of time; and
(3) an up or down vote, with no amendments.

Ultimately, fast track gives the President credibility to negotiate tough trade deals, while ensuring Congress a central role before, during and after negotiations. The authority puts America in a strong position to negotiate major trade agreements and maintains a partnership between the President and Congress that has worked for more than 20 years.

Sounds great, right? Except for the notion its critics liken it to “rubber stamping” legislation, and specifically, the Obama’s administration employ of it with respect to the TPP has come under fire from numerous Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Michael Wessel notes the difference in tone set between Bill Clinton’s approach to free trade pacts and that of his Democratic Party presidential successor in that same Politico piece:

Bill Clinton didn’t operate like this. During the debate on NAFTA, as a cleared advisor for the Democratic leadership, I had a copy of the entire text in a safe next to my desk and regularly was briefed on the specifics of the negotiations, including counterproposals made by Mexico and Canada. During the TPP negotiations, the  United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never shared proposals being advanced by other TPP partners. Today’s consultations are, in many ways, much more restrictive than those under past administrations.

All advisors, and any liaisons, are required to have security clearances, which entail extensive paperwork and background investigations, before they are able to review text and participate in briefings. But, despite clearances, and a statutory duty to provide advice, advisors do not have access to all the materials that a reasonable person would need to do the job. The negotiators provide us with “proposals” but those are merely initial proposals to trading partners. We are not allowed to see counter-proposals from our trading partners. Often, advisors are provided with updates indicating that the final text will balance all appropriate stakeholder interests but we frequently receive few additional details beyond that flimsy assurance.

To stress, while we may know more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership today subsequent to Obama’s signing, leading up to that event, despite the insistence of his administration that the TPP is meant to encourage transparency, negotiations were recognizably opaque. As its detractors are quick to point out, this has a lot to do with the influence of various industries in its development—industries not exactly known for their regard for the American people. In particular, corporations already well versed in outsourcing, pharmaceutical giants and Wall Street firms had a hand in its authorship, and it shows in the language. The TPP allows big companies to challenge laws of member countries that it deems would unfairly and detrimentally affects its profits, in doing so suing these nations in international tribunals rather than domestic courts and giving little thought to environmental safeguards, food safety standards and human rights records of those countries who serve as a party to the agreement. By protecting and potentially strengthening patents for monopolistic drug companies, the TPP lets them keep prices artificially high, maximize profits and thereby prevent the people who really need their products from being able to afford them. In addition, the TPP bars foreign governments from instituting controls on the flow of capital in and out of their respective nations, which lends itself to market instability and the risk of financial crisis. In short, the Trans-Pacific Partnership works mainly for the wealthy corporations and investors which made their political presence felt—without much regard for workers domestic or abroad, and for that matter, the general public.


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President Obama, front and center here, is a proponent of the TPP despite dissent within the Democratic Party. Because of party politics, however, Democratic loyalists won’t challenge him on the agreement’s flaws. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

OK, so the TPP is a hot mess, right? Bernie Sanders has ten reasons why he thinks it’s a train wreck in the making. Elizabeth Warren, who has been bandied about as a potential vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton, also has voiced her concerns about this treaty. Shit, even Hillary herself has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I don’t know to what extent she actually believes it’s a bad idea—Hillary conveniently reassessed her position on the TPP after Sanders started gaining ground on her in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, and after she herself declared the TPP the “gold standard”  in free trade deals—but she most recently has said she opposes it. So, as far as the official Democratic Party platform goes in advance of the election, this should be a slam dunk, shouldn’t it?

Not so fast, Skippy. We’re forgetting about the part party politics has to play, and as far as slam dunks are concerned, no one in the Democratic Party is going to throw down on Barack Obama—figuratively or literally. Dude can ball. President Obama, unlike Clinton, Sanders and Warren, believes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I mean, he should if he’s signing it. Obama penned an editorial for the Washington Post earlier this year regarding his support for the TPP, and had this to say in closing:

I understand the skepticism people have about trade agreements, particularly in communities where the effects of automation and globalization have hit workers and families the hardest. But building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy would only isolate us from the incredible opportunities it provides. Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around.

That’s what the TPP gives us the power to do. That’s why my administration is working closely with leaders in Congress to secure bipartisan approval for our trade agreement, mindful that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP. The world has changed. The rules are changing with it. The United States, not countries like China, should write them. Let’s seize this opportunity, pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and make sure America isn’t holding the bag, but holding the pen.

President Obama gives a lot of information within his essay, but this last bit speaks volumes to me. Regardless of any other pointed economic justifications in favor of the TPP, America’s involvement as a key party to the accord, when it comes to brass tacks, is about authority, about marking our economic territory in the face of an emerging China. It would not be unfair to suggest, therefore, that Obama’s actions in advancing the TPP are taking a strong position for the sake of furthering a narrative about the U.S. economy, and not necessarily for the strong position in which it puts American workers.

Thinking once more in terms of the drafting of the Democratic Party platform, therein lies the rub. Many Democratic leaders may privately find fault with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but for the sake of party unity—that ideal apparently prized above all others among establishment Democrats—they wouldn’t dare to challenge the most powerful Dem in all the land, even one who’s a lame duck on his way out. Either that or it’s loyalty—to a fault. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Nicholas quotes one platform member and Clinton supporter as saying, “I thought it was important not to embarrass President Obama. Later in the article, Nicholas describes a testy exchange between a Sanders supporter and an Obama-phile, with the latter reportedly accusing the former of “giving a middle finger to the president.” Bernie Sanders and his delegates have consistently voiced their opposition to the TPP, but because they refuse to play the party politics game, and in Sanders’ specific case, because he has only been a Democrat for a short time, they, evidently, are the assholes. Even though they may have a more legitimate claim than their critics to the kind of progressive agenda that the Democratic Party truly needs.

For Democrats to be more worried about Barack Obama’s feelings and legacy with respect to their support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when real lives in the United States and in the other member countries hang in the balance is unconscionable, or as Robert Reich puts it, “incredibly stupid,” if for no other reason than it gives Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the TPP, NAFTA and like trade deals, more ammunition leading up to the general election. That so many mainstream Republicans support the agreement, a treaty which favors Big Pharma, multinational corporations and Wall Street because they helped write it, should’ve been a tip-off that this bit of foreign economic policy is ill-advised for a party which is trying to sell itself as the working person’s party. As unpopular as NAFTA has proven in labor circles, concerning the TPP, which has been referred to as “NAFTA on steroids,” any support on the part of the Democratic Party communicates the wrong message as to whose corner the party is in—namely that of moneyed interests over the public interest.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been signed by President Obama, but has yet to go into full force, as Congress has yet to vote yea or nay on its adoption, so there’s still time for the public to voice its rejection of what the TPP in its current form represents; for your part, I encourage you to sign any number of petitions that have been started in protest against the agreement. If the Democratic Party’s elite were smart, they would come out more strongly against its passage by the House and Senate. As evidenced by their inability or unwillingness to move beyond party politics on this issue, however, establishment Democrats are proving they are neither very courageous nor smart. Come November and in the years to follow, they could very well find themselves adding “rueful” to this list of descriptors.