Category: current events

When the Team Becomes More Important than the Player

I’ve been generally disgusted with politics lately. So many people involved in getting so little of real worth accomplished. It’s depressing, and that’s before you trot out Trump and take a long look at just what he’s doing to this country. (Case in point: we’re now focused on bolstering our nuclear defenses, and Congress is examining just what sort of nuclear powers the President should have. This is 2017, by the way. The Cold War has been over for coming up on thirty years. And yet suddenly we’re worrying about this, and I think you can plop pretty much all the blame right at Trump’s bloated feet.*)

But one of the things that has disappointed me the most has been the trend of people more and more focusing on what “team” each politician plays for, and less and less on the character and quality of the actual players/politicians themselves. In the presidential election, many seemed to vote simply because of what the party each candidate belonged to stood for, holding their nose or overlooking anything that candidate might have done or said personally. And I certainly believe Trump and Clinton can have this accusation lobbed at them.

This has become much clearer now with this Roy Moore nastiness. For those of you not following along, Roy Moore is a Republican candidate for Senator in Alabama. The Washington Post published an article detailing an investigation they ran, encompassing thirty interviews with people who knew Moore and connected him with sexually assaulting girls as young as 14 back in the late 1970s, when Moore was in his young 30s. Other women have since come forward, confirming the allegations.

I get that it’s basically a he said/she said situation at the moment. (Though I’ll note that when you have multiple people willing to make the same allegations, that actually turns into a he said/THEY said, and that’s quite a different equation in my book.) Is it possible Moore is innocent and wrongly accused? Sure it is. And some people are taking that line, saying he should step down from the race “if the allegations are true.”

The thing that baffles me—that has my jaw on the floor—is how some others are actually defending his actions, even if those actions are true.

“Take Mary and Joseph. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told theWashington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

And this one:

Joel Pollak, an editor-at-large at Breitbart, criticized the Post’s report in an interview on MSNBC, saying “the 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story” because Alabama’s age of consent is 16. “As far as we know, there’s only one relationship that’s been alleged that is problematic,” Pollak said of the encounter with 14-year-old Corfman.

You have politicians and talk show hosts and public figures defending the man’s actions, even if they are true. And the reason many of them give for it? It’s important Moore gets elected to that Senate seat, because otherwise the Republicans have an even more tenuous hold on the Senate. Better to put a child molester into power than to risk the Republican agenda. Let that sink in for a moment. These aren’t people who are defending his character or saying he’d never do such a thing. They’re saying even if he did it, it doesn’t matter as much as politics.

I don’t know why it should surprise me. People voted for Trump to keep the Democrats out of the Presidency, and Trump was on the record saying and doing awful things. It wasn’t he said/she said. It was just “he said.” And you had him on tape actually saying it.

This is not right, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to show up and start accusing Democrats of terrible behavior in order to excuse Republicans for terrible behavior is equally at fault. I literally do not care what party a child molester belongs to. I’m sure there are terrible Democrats out there. But this isn’t football. Two penalties, one against each team, do not offset each other. Play does not continue as normal. I would much prefer an inherently good person be in office, even if I disagree with that person’s politics, than an evil person who might happen to vote the way I’d prefer from time to time. I don’t think that statement should be groundbreaking, but sometimes it feels to me that it’s heading in that direction.

The best way to make it stop (that I can see) is to break up the parties, which might (in turn) break up the talk radio and biased news reporting. When it becomes less of us vs. them, perhaps Americans can start actually caring that good people represent them once more.

Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Disclaimer: I do not actually know if Trump has bloated feet or not. Perhaps they’re very dainty. Tiny, even. I have no real desire to find out.

Rewatching Gangs of New York after Trump

I was a fan of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I first watched it fifteen years ago. I thought the acting was fantastic, and it was great to see the way the historical details of New York City in the mid-1800s came to life. The place looked so foreign from the New York I knew in 2002, and it was crazy to think it had been like that less than 150 years before.

Over the weekend, I decided to give it another watch to see how it held up. The acting was still spot on, the historical details were still engrossing, but what surprised me most this time through was how . . . similar New York looked to me now. How we seemed to have come full circle in just 15 years.

I don’t mean that New York has devolved into a place where violence rules the streets and gangs and politicians work hand in hand to control the way the city is run. Certainly no one’s getting bludgeoned to death in full daylight, and I haven’t read of anyone dying from being stabbed with a meat cleaver recently. But the city in the film is, broadly seen, very similar to the situation we have today in America.

For example, one of the big conflicts of the movie is the Natives (led by Bill the Butcher) vs. the Irish (led by Amsterdam Vallon). Bill is upset that so many Irish are flooding the country, and he’s dead set on keeping America for Americans. People who had been born there. Essentially he wants to Make America Great Again, which shows how tenuous the argument is. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. I believe many people look back to “the way things were” as a return to simpler times. How things were in your childhood. But from my experience, the only reason things seemed simpler to me when I was a child is because I didn’t fully understand the forces at work in the world. So it’s easy to think back on the 80s and reminisce about how great they were for me, because I wasn’t up to date on the Cold War or the AIDS epidemic, for example. Yes, they were concepts in my head, but they weren’t nearly as important to me as Transformers or the latest Nintendo game to be released.

Bill the Butcher wants things the way they were. He blames his current problems on an exterior force: the Irish. Now that enough time has passed, we can look back at his views and see just how close-minded they are, and yet those same views still hold sway today in the rhetoric of Trump. All that’s changed is the minorities that are blamed for the country’s woes.

Another huge issue in the movie is the disparity between the haves and the have nots. At the time, the North instituted a draft as it continued the Civil War. The catch? If you were drafted, you could pay $300 to get out of your obligation. So it became a draft of the poor, who couldn’t dream of affording that payment.

The movie essentially shows how all of this turmoil and anger boiled up and changed the city in one fell swoop. For the first 4/5ths of the film, we see a depiction of how life in New York worked, and we have expectations for what will be the climax of the movie. But then the city is hit with massive riots, and suddenly everything changes. That rang true to me. We can easily think that “the way things are” will never change, but often it changes in the matter of a day or less. Think about Pearl Harbor, or 9/11. The stock market crash in the 20s. Everything gets turned on its ear, and a new normal is established.

I have no idea what the future holds for America. But I was reminded in my rewatch of the movie how much things can change in a day, or 15 years. And as we see this wave of Nationalism sweeping across much of Europe and the US, I just hope we can get through it without the same conflicts we’ve experienced in the past.

Ignoring the Will of the People

Sometimes I just don’t get it. I’ve always been a big proponent of democracy. Even when Donald Trump won the presidency last year, I resigned myself to going along with the result, because that’s how it works. You make the rules, and you live with the outcome, even if you don’t agree with it. (Although in light of all the Russian meddling in the election, there’s a big part of me that wishes we could press the “Undo” button and run that vote again.)

But in Maine at least, it seems following the will of the people is becoming less and less important. A couple of cases in  point. Last year, Maine voted to legalize marijuana in the state. It was a nail biter of a vote, with the vote to legalize winning, 50.2% to 49.8%. Maine also voted to start ranked choice voting in the state, by a margin of 52% to 48%, and to solidify state funding of public schools via an income tax surcharge (by a bare 6,000 votes).

And yet here we are, almost a year later, and the legislature and governor have a really spotty record of actually making those votes a reality. They were close votes, and it seems like politicians have decided that in cases where the vote was really close, they don’t necessarily have to go with the will of the people. They can claim the people didn’t really know what they were voting on, or that they didn’t understand the implications.

Politicians wear the big boy pants, in other words, and they can just pat the people on the head and tell them to go back to their cartoons while the grownups make the real decisions.

I get that people disagree with the outcome of elections. Close elections in particular. And I get that there are some speed bumps in the way of making these votes a reality. But to me, when politicians refuse to try to enact the will of the voters in good faith, the system breaks down. Even if I disagree with the vote outcome. I voted against the casino yesterday. If it had won, however, I would have wanted it to be built. That’s how it works.

Governor LePage has vetoed Medicaid expansion five times in Maine. In the vote yesterday, Mainers supported the expansion, 59% to 41%. And yet now LePage is saying he’s not going to let it happen. Not unless it’s done the way he wants it done.

This isn’t how it works. I’m sure plenty of Republicans will show up to jettison a flurry of words that justifies it, but that’s all it will be. Words. To me, this would be like America just making Clinton the president, even though Trump won the electoral college. Just as I would have been against that (no matter how much I might wish anyone other than Trump were president), I’m against this.

The people voted. Do what they told you to do. If it’s hard, then figure out what you need to do to make it happen, and do that. End of story.

Remember to VOTE!

It’s going to be the *fifth* time I’ve headed to the polls this year, believe it or not. But even though there are no candidates to vote for this year on election day, there are still four referendum questions that will have an impact on the future of our state. It’s important to make your voice heard, and it’s so easy to vote. There’s really no excuse to stay home.

What are we voting on this year?

  1. Question 1: An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County: Do you want to allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to the specific programs described in the initiative?
  2. Question 2: An Act To Enhance Access to Affordable Health Care: Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?
  3. Question 3: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities and Upgrade Municipal Culverts: Do you favor a $105,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?
  4. Question 4: Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Reduce Volatility in State Pension Funding Requirements Caused by the Financial Markets: Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to reduce volatility in state pension funding requirements caused by the financial markets by increasing the length of time over which experience losses are amortized from 10 years to 20 years, in line with pension industry standards?

Perhaps the more important question is “How should I vote this year?” And I’m here to let you know how I think you should vote, or at least how I will vote today.

When it comes to the issue of gambling and casinos, I’m morally opposed to them. I’ve heard all the arguments in their favor. They’ll fund education! Provide jobs! But to me, gambling is a thing that destroys many lives. It’s fundamentally dangerous and addictive, and if we need to resort to that to fund our schools, then we’re failing as a society. Maine already had two casinos. I don’t believe it needs any more. (I’d love it if the two we have weren’t here.) So I’m voting a big fat NO on this one.

For the healthcare question, I think it’s reprehensible that our governor has consistently resisted expanding Medicaid in our state. Healthcare is extremely expensive, and we’re talking about helping families that make less than $23,000 per year, which I’d like to think we could agree is a family that’s in real need of help. I’m voting YES on this one.

For the road issue, interest rates are low, and investing in our infrastructure in Maine is a sound decision. Plus, we’re getting matching funding for our dollars, which makes this even more attractive. I like roads. I like roads that aren’t terrible. I’m voting YES on this one too.

And finally, the last question is a no brainer in my book. the amendment has already passed. This is to help our retirement system be more resilient in times of crisis. We should vote to approve this as well. YES.

So for those of you playing along at home, I think you should go to the polls and vote NO YES YES YES.

That said, I realize we all have different opinions, and I respect people who disagree with me. Regardless of how you feel about these issues, go vote today. Make your voice heard. If you don’t vote, I don’t think you get to complain about how the country or the state is being lead. It’s that simple.

Please vote!

Online Outrage: When Thoughts and Prayers Just Aren’t Enough

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the unfolding #MeToo campaign on Facebook unfold with a cornucopia of emotions. Sadness that so many of my friends have been affected by sexual harassment and abuse. Anger at the people who would do such things. Frustration that there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to fix it. I click “sad” on each post, trying to show I feel for them, but what is that really more than a Facebook-ized way of saying “thoughts and prayers”?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to know people feel bad for you and are praying for you, but I’m far from the first person to note that “thoughts and prayers” don’t actually amount to a whole lot in terms of actually solving problems. Even if you’re a believer in God, I would think most people agree God typically works through other people. Praying a problem away without any actual action on the part of a person is the exception, not the rule.

So I feel kind of helpless and upset. The same way I feel about many of the news I encounter over the course of my day. Every day. Day in. Day out. I blog about things. I defend my ideas to people who attack them online. I engage in discussion. But it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Into this line of thinking comes an article I read in Wired that basically discusses how social networks (inadvertently or not) do their best to stoke more outrage in the world, because outrage equals engagement on their networks. Facebook and Twitter naturally promote the content that people are already interacting with, and nothing draws interaction quite so much as things like the #MeToo campaign. We can feel like we’re part of a greater whole, even as we’re just sitting there on our phones or computers.

I’m not a social media detractor. I’m a big user of it, and I like how it connects me in so many ways to people I wouldn’t otherwise see. But at the same time, I can’t deny that the “outrage fatigue” described in that Wired article is a very real thing. It feels like there’s always something I’m supposed to be upset about each day. Whether it’s a mass shooting, the response to a mass shooting, another idiotic thing our government or leaders have done, a terrorist act, the guilt over not responding “the right way” to a terrorist act, debate over privilege and race. The list goes on and on.

Let’s face it: there’s a lot wrong in the world today. It’s an unjust place for many people, and social networks highlight that fact to me over and over. But it’s one thing to point out a problem again and again. It’s an entirely different one to go about fixing those problems, and that’s where social media typically fails, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, just as it connects victims, it enables those who would victimize. It reinforces behavior by normalizing it. Someone seeing that he or she isn’t alone can be a good thing, or a very bad thing. Look at the Nazis who showed up to march for Confederate statues. Look at the GamerGate fiasco. In a way, social media only heightens both sides, probably because the algorithms running them are designed to get people to share. To connect.

But tied to that is the response we make to these events and ideas. We feel sad. Outraged. We say supportive things or nasty things. And then we close the social media app and go on with our lives. “Something must be done!” we think to ourselves, and too often it’s easy to think “by somebody else” at the end of that. Someone else needs to change. Someone else should make better laws. We clicked “like,” and that was “something,” and so we’ve done the thing we could do.

It’s like how everyone you see on the road is a worse driver than you are. It’s easier to cast the blame on others and think you’re blameless than it is to recognize that we’re all bad drivers at some point in time.

I can’t really think of anything social media has done to get me to behave differently. I have a hard time imagining it’s helping others. Instead, it helps us to feel more guilty. To be aware, but impotent. So what do we do to change that?

As I’ve thought about it, I believe the solution is to look for ways you can change yourself to be able to do your best to fight back. For example, I’ve decided to speak up in defense of people who can’t defend themselves. Speak out on behalf of women and minorities to do my best to try to persuade others through my blog posts to change their minds. When I see someone picked on in real life, or a racial slur used, I speak up. I say how that’s not right. I translate my feelings into actual, tangible things.

If we were to all do that, I believe we’d see change occur. Identify a problem, look for ways you can change your life to minimize that problem, and then go out and do it. Unless we do that, I believe the trend Wired describes will continue:

As a result, our “outrage” bar continues to move firmly up and to the right as our feeds become saturated by egregious stories. We become numb to tragedies because we’re unable to process the emotions they engender at the speed with which they arise. As Crockett writes, “Just as a habitual snacker eats without feeling hungry, a habitual online shamer might express outrage without actually feeling outraged.” We may also discover that, just as venting anger begets anger, expressing outrage leads us to feel the emotion more deeply and consistently. Neither of these changes is good for humans.

I would hope we’re not all sharing these stories and experiences just so we can feel worse about the world. We’re sharing them because we hope that by doing so, we will somehow change the world. And that doesn’t start with someone else. It starts with me. With you. With the things we can actually change.

Here’s hoping.

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