United Airlines continues its roll, and the return of Maria Sharapova and Haim

Happy government shutdown eve everybody! It’s literally a federal holiday.

Government joke! *pushes up eyeglasses and gives a high five to absolutely no one*

While Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers perilously navigate their way towards passing a budget that hinges on a controversial health plan, I thought we’d use this crisp Thursday night to catch up on other assorted items happening throughout.

No matter how bad you’re 2017 is going, and no matter how miserably you have failed to maintain your New Year’s resolution, you can take solace in knowing that it’s only April and yet, it’s still impossible for you to have a worse year that United Airlines.

You can get dumped by your longtime girlfriend this year, and your year still wouldn’t be as bad.

You can get fired from your job, and your year still wouldn’t be as bad.

You can murder two people at the same time with a sledgehammer and your year still wouldn’t —

OK, maybe that’s too far.

What did United Airlines do this time? Well, they’re facing outrage after a three-foot rabbit, who was supposedly in perfect health, died on one of it’s flights.

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The continental giant rabbit, named Simon, is an ancient breed that is supposedly very friendly and intelligent.

At least this time a security official didn’t physically beat the rabbit and drag its bloody body off the plane. So … progress, I guess?

While we mourn Simon, I’d like to wrap up this week by addressing two separate comebacks this week by some of my favorite women.

The first triumphant return was Russian goddess and tennis star Maria Sharapova, who, like me, joined the 30-year-old club recently, and who is playing in her first tournament since her suspension for using a drug that was banned only right before she tested positive for it.

If you remember, her initial two-year suspension was reduced to 15 months following an appeal. She’s back now, and Maria won her first two matches in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany this week. Some of her fellow competitors have had some harsh words for her, but I don’t care. I have been a staunch Sharapova fan for about 10 years, and she can do no wrong.

Besides being suspended 15 months for doping.

Lastly, one of my favorite bands, Haim, is back in the news today as they released their first new song in four years. The rock-n’-roll sister trio spent the last four years touring their old stuff and partying with Taylor Swift, and now they’re bound to become as popular as ever with this new release.

Which, I admit, merely scratches the surface of what these women are capable of. Consider it a teaser. I saw them live three times last summer, and they played some new stuff that sounded awesome.

So the best is yet to come.

In conclusion, Haim is the best, and you heard it here first.

Have a good weekend everybody.

Why Trump’s first 100 days in office have been an abject failure

The fact that Donald Trump’s approval rating has been hovering somewhere around the mid to high 30 percent range since he took office should not surprise anyone.

Of the American electorate, it’s safe to say about one-third are die-hard Trump supporters. The ones who flooded his rallies. The ones who you saw quoted on television saying that we need to ban Muslims and build a wall at the expense of the Mexicans.

That last 20 percent or so of voters who supported him enough to get him over the hump and into the White House were clearly moderate Republicans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton.

And if you flash back to Nov. 8, it’s hard to blame them. The propaganda machine about Hillary Clinton’s potential conflicts of interest and corruption was in full swing, boosted – as we know now – by state-backed Russian hackers.

Just days before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency was reopening their investigation against Hillary Clinton, in what will infamously become known as “The Comey Letter.” What he did not say was that his agency was also investigating Donald Trump.

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So of the steadfast conservatives who would never vote for a Democratic candidate, it stands to reason why those dark clouds hovering over Hillary Clinton would sway them to vote for Donald Trump, even with all the controversies of his own.

Is that a legitimate excuse to vote for a narcissistic, mentally unstable xenophobe for the most powerful position in the world? No. But that’s why it happened and that’s how we got here.

Saturday marks Trump’s 100th day in office, a milestone that Trump has publicly criticized but also privately obsessed over.

Any one that has spent any time studying how government works – especially one like ours, with its extensive checks and balances – understands that a president can only be effective through diplomacy and compromise by working with both sides.

If you pedal a set of campaign promises that were never too popular to begin with, and then proceed to double down on them while ignoring one half of Congress, then any half-wit who took one undergraduate course in political science understands that’s the opposite way to run a country.

Donald Trump ran a business as a one man show. It was his way or the highway. That doesn’t work for government. And voters have no one to blame but themselves for not foreseeing this.

At this juncture, it’s apparent that Trump is more concerned with pleasing his base than governing.

Which leads us back to that dismal approval rating. Trump will shrug it off as “fake news,” but the educated Republican voter who relied on Trump to live up to his campaign promises is likely to be disappointed at this point.

And unless Trump suddenly learns the fine art of diplomacy, that’s not likely to change.

Yes, there’s still a lot of time left in his presidency *shudders*. But if his first 100 days are any indication for how he will approach healthcare, tax reform, foreign policy, national security and other important issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Americans, then those swing voters are probably going to be experiencing some serious regret. And soon.

But while it’s been a bad 100 days for our president, it’s been a good 100 days for a lot of other people: the grassroots activist. The protester. The men and women who suddenly found their political voice amid this tumultuous regime.

Trump will one day be gone.

But those voices will linger.

No, I am not above discussing the Unicorn Frappuccino

If you can say nothing else about the Starbucks, it’s that the corporation sure knows how to market itself.

Whether it’s an attempt to single-handedly solve racism, or to avoid political incorrectness during the holiday season, it seems as if once a year the company makes huge waves with one of its marketing decisions.

This time? The now famous Unicorn Frappuccino.

For those people who can sometimes be late to the social media meme brigade — and especially those who don’t frequent Starbucks – than the fleeting craze of the Unicorn Frappuccino likely came and went without creating the slightest disturbance in your life.

The drink was only available for five days, beginning last Wednesday. So If you wanted to run out and grab one after reading this, you’re tough out of luck.

The vibrantly colorful drink was unique for its sweet and sour taste, as well as its look — like cotton candy on steroids.

Unicorn frap

But what Starbucks keenly understood was that this drink would not just dazzle its consumers within the short time period it took them to drink it, but that they would inevitably document their colorful purchase on Instagram.

Because people love to take a breather during their hectic day, order a coffee with their name written on it, and aesthetically frame it within a photograph on their Instagram page. The Starbucks coffee photo, usually coupled with an open book, kindle or laptop, has become the trademark image of tranquility among young professionals.

Now take that vintage photo and transform that drink from a plain white cup into a tie-dyed creamy slop? Well, that’s the type of stuff that Instagram filters were made for. Starbucks knew: if you Unicorn, photos will come.

The masses saw unicorns. Starbucks saw dollar signs and endless publicity on an app that appeals directly to their target demographic.

And that they did. In a single week, the drink generated more than 180,000 hits on Instagram.

We were all used as marketing tools. And we willingly obliged.

But the popularity of the 410-calorie grande-sized drink may cause other coffeehouses to rethink their strategies. Combine a colorful drink with a mythical creature and you might very well strike gold.

The Loch Ness Latte? The Mermaid Macchiato? The Elfspresso?

For the record, I did not try the drink, as I didn’t even set foot in a Starbucks over that five-day span. But part of me sort of regrets it. I’m genuinely curious what it would have tasted like. Although by doing so, I would have immediately felt guilty.

Because while it was certainly a fun week for coffee drinkers, it was the equivalent of fraternity pledge week for baristas, who found themselves making hundreds of the complicated and messy drink per day, resulting in them leaving their coffeehouses each night looking like a Care Bear threw up on them.

I’m actually going to go ahead and trademark the Elfspresso® right now because that is totally something Starbucks would do.

What I missed while I was in West Virginia

Well, I spent the last week road tripping to West Virginia on business, and I came back to find that the United States is the closest it’s been to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis more than five decades ago.

For the record, it was my first time in West Virginia, and while I try hard not to stereotype, everybody there looked exactly like I expected them to. Lots of flannel shirts and trucker hats. The only disappointment was that people weren’t walking down the streets wearing coal miner uniforms.

But I can safely say that I didn’t meet a single unkind person in my brief time in the state. The more I travel south, the more I can confirm that southern hospitality is indeed a real thing.

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They don’t call West Virginia the Mountain State for nothing

Now I can cross West Virginia off my travel bucket list … said no one ever.

And while being surrounded my mountains affords you a certain feeling of detachment that lets you distance yourself from the rest of the world, I did still try to keep up with the news. Turns out a lot happened while I was away.

As we all know, North Korea is a rogue nation that is recklessly building up its nuclear arsenal. Their government is a true dictatorship to the core, with a history of starving and imprisoning its people for even the tamest of offenses. Simple accommodations like electricity and television in homes are scarce, bordering on nonexistent.

And led by such an unstable figure such as 33-year-old Kim Jong-un, the situation obviously requires a great deal of subtlety and diplomacy to avoid setting off a domino effect that ends with nuclear catastrophe.

So naturally, Donald Trump is the perfect man for the job! Subtlety and diplomacy just happen to be his strong points.

North Korean officials have publicly stated that any threats to their nation would be met with a nuclear strike. They may be bluffing. But that’s not something I want to find out, and it’s hard to feel comfortable when we have nearly as unpredictable of a leader making our decisions.

Kim Jong-un

Sound bites like “the era of strategic patience is over” may sound good on TV, but could realistically have devastating effects. Pretending you’re sending a naval armada may look tough, but in reality, it’s the nuclear equivalent of lighting a match in a tinderbox.

I always figured that one day this blog would end because I became too busy or too lazy, and not because of nuclear extinction. So we’ll see.

What else happened last week? Well, Arkansas, still embattled in legal wrangling over their 10-day execution fest, was able to go through with one execution of African-American prisoner and convicted murderer Ledell Lee, after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to let it happen. A double execution is also planned for Monday night.

Which means that Neil Gorsuch’s first decision as a Supreme Court Justice was to kill a black man.

Sounds about right.

But by far the biggest news that happened over the last several days is the French French electionspresidential election. The nation picked its top two candidates on Sunday, choosing centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing sensationalist and known Muslim hater Marine La Pen, who will now compete in a runoff next month in what is set to be a major turning point in the history of Europe.

Political experts foresaw this as a watershed election not only for France, but the entire continent and the future of the European Union. And now, the French people have a choice to do what the United Kingdom and United States failed to do – reject populism and xenophobia and join together behind a more unifying force.

This upcoming vote deserves a lot more attention, and I’ll devote a post to it in the near future in lieu of making this one too much of a currents event overload.

Bearing that in mind, I fortunately was unable to even touch on Bill O’Reilly!

Pun absolutely and horribly intended.

Go home, Arkansas, you’re drunk

It took eight years, but I am finally going to talk about a state that no one would know existed if it wasn’t for Bill Clinton and the Little Rock 9 – Arkansas.

But sometimes obscurity is a good thing. Because when anything, be it a person or a place, gains national attention, half of the time it’s for something negative.

And in the case for Arkansas, the 25th state admitted into the Union, it’s not on the good side.

The state has made national headlines in recent weeks after its Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, ordered the execution of eight prisoners over the span of 11 days in late April, before the state’s supply of lethal drugs reached its expiration date.

Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005. Since capital punishment resumed in the United States in 1977, no other state has conducted as many executions in the same month.

But Arkansas decided to go big or go home. There was originally scheduled to be eight executions, but one was just recently granted clemency. All seven felons were convicted of murder.

Arkansas executions

With just days to go, the executions are being appealed in federal court on the argument of cruel and unusual punishment. Which is perfectly logical. When you rush what is supposed to be a carefully performed and meticulous process such as an execution, a lot can go wrong.

This isn’t rushing to assemble seven couches you bought at IKEA before a Super Bowl party. If just one little thing goes wrong, then these people – despite their dubious past – will suffer terribly. And that’s not what we do in America.

At least that’s not what we try to do. Oklahoma says hi.

There’s another oddity in this situation – state law requires executions to be witnessed by six to 12 witnesses who are non-family members of the inmate or victim to ensure that it’s being carried out legally.

That means Arkansas needs at least 42 witnesses, something they’re having trouble finding. They’re so desperate that a state official attended a local rotary club meeting to solicit volunteers. Hey, I’m sure somebody was free one of those nights and decided they had nothing better to do than watch somebody die. If they arrive early they can catch a double feature!

It’ll be very interesting to see over the next few days if these executions go on as planned.Arkansas executions2

What I find most befuddling is that Arkansas is so eager to fast-track these executions that they’re willing to take unprecedented steps to get them done. While most states are scaling back on executions, Arkansas is rushing people to the express lane.

You can basically line up all their mug shots together and it’ll look like an inmate Brady Bunch.

The good news is that they have just enough inmates to qualify for the seven-executions-or-less self-checkout line.

Which reminds me, I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

*Makes mental note not to forget to buy ZICO coconut water*

What was I talking about again? Oh, right, seven people being put to death at the same rate that Fast and the Furious movies reproduce.

But Arkansas still has three days to realize it’s trying to do something pretty crazy.

And with that, I completed a blog about Arkansas. That leaves only Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as the only states I’ve yet to discuss.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

General rule of thumb: don’t compare the Holocaust to anything

It’s been about a week since I discussed politics, and since then, the entire world has basically changed course.

And that’s not really much of an exaggeration.

Early last week, the world was exposed to shocking visceral images of incapacitated children, poisoned by sarin gas in what appears to have been a chemical weapons attack by the authoritarian Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. The use of chemical weapons is not only outlawed by the United Nations, but also in an agreement between Syria, Russia, and the U.S. in 2013 after the country used chemical weapons against its people the first time.

In response to the horrific attack, President Trump – who categorically denounced any type of intervention in Syria four years ago – launched a surprise missile attack on a Syrian air base.

Russia, who has helped prop up the Assad regime during the country’s six-year civil war to protect its own interests in the region, condemned the attack.

The United States, in turn, accused Russia of covering up the Syrian government’s role in the attack. And this was all on the eve of Thursday’s meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin, which, until the two finally sat down, no one was sure was actually going to happen.

And just like that, the Trump-Putin bromance has finally come to an end.

Sean Spicer

While many have praised Trump for his decisive action, others have been critical of his spontaneous action that in all likelihood was taken without an overall strategic plan. Others say it’s a smokescreen to distract us from discussing U.S.-Russia collusion.

But this, without a doubt, begins a new chapter in our country’s role in the Middle East, as well as our relations with Russia. We knew Trump’s footprint would be left on the geopolitical landscape. This is it. And now we see where we go from here.

Unbelievably, these seismic events were still outshadowed this week by the incomprehensible remarks by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who, without any provocation, essentially downplayed Adolf Hitler’s cruelty and rewrote history to pretend like he never gassed and murdered more than six million Jews.

The statements were made during a White House press briefing, which drew audible gasps from reporters in attendance, and led to Spicer issuing an apologetic statement afterwards. But the outcry over his remarks was so great that he appeared on camera on CNN to issue a further apology later in the day. He then spent all of Wednesday on an apology tour.

Oh, Sean. I mean, the man has the hardest job in the world, being forced to justify the nonsensical actions, statements and tweets of Donald Trump to the press. But watching him try to back away from his own words was like watching a trainwreck in action.

Adding insult to injury, he referred to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers,” as if they were some type of museum, and misstated the name of the Syrian president.

And on top of that, he said it during Passover.

It’s pretty much common sense. Whether you’re talking to a friend, a colleague, your pet dog, or especially the entire national press corps, do not draw comparisons to the Holocaust. And don’t show sympathy for Adolf Hitler.

It’s pretty much the basic rule of humanity.

Melissa McCarthy … you’re up.

Oops, United Airlines did it again

Since the election, we’ve learned that if anyone besides Donald Trump or a member of his administration becomes the focus of national outrage, it means they screwed up really badly.

I’m talking an epic screw-up.

It was just two weeks ago when United Airlines accomplished this dubious honor by denying two young girls entry to a flight because they were wearing leggings.

Not long after, United Airlines was off the hook when Pepsi stole the spotlight with their shockingly tone deaf commercial that trivialized the racial and political unrest that fuels public protests.

But United Airlines apparently missed the notoriety spotlight, and would not be denied.

And they’re back, baby! All it took was the roughing up of a Chinese doctor and dragging his semi-conscious, bloody body off an airplane.

You all have heard about this in some capacity, as it’s made headline news over the last two days.

The video looks terrible. What we see is a law enforcement official savagely pulling the limp human body of a man who paid to be on the flight, and had already been boarded and had been seated – all because the airline overbooked the flight and needed to clear seats for flight attendants who were scheduled to work on a different flight.

If you think this should result a shitstorm of backlash and fury towards United Airlines, then you’d be exactly right.

But there is a lot to digest here.

UA passenger

For one, the incident has brought to the spotlight the practice of airline overbooking. This is unfortunately a fairly common practice, as we forget that airlines don’t just exist for our own traveling purposes, but to actually make money. In anticipation of flight no-shows, airlines will frequently overbook flights to maximize the odds of every seat being filled.

But when overbookings occur, it should seem like common sense for the airline officials to remove passengers before they board, right? If I’m sitting at an airline gate for two hours, and then proceed to board the plane and stow away my luggage, then you’re damned right that I’m going to be pissed off too if I’m suddenly asked to get off.

After the man initially refused to leave, witnesses say that he somehow ran back onto the plane after he was forcibly removed the first time. Then the chaos that we all saw on video ensued. And it’s not a pretty sight.

The resulting public fury was inevitable.

The American public greatly empathized with this situation because we’ve all had our own airport misadventures. We’ve all experienced a time when we wanted to wish nothing but fire and brimstone on a specific airline.

However, when your flight is delayed, we are mostly powerless. Sure, you can curse out an airline on Twitter, and while that feels very invigorating in the moment, it ultimately accomplishes nothing.

But this was our moment. Now, we all get to take out our combined rage on an airline, over an incident that was created by their own mistakes, overlaid by an overbooking practice that we all despise.

Not even another Pepsi screw-up is going to get United Airlines out of this one.

And it’s not just America that’s pissed. This has apparently ignited an international incident, reaching front page news in China, and fueling the belief of many in that country that the western hemisphere behaves in a discriminatory manner towards Chinese people.

But after the public fury failed to dissipate, United Airlines finally took full responsibility for the episode, with CEO Oscar Munoz publicly apologizing and ordering a complete investigation of the procedural mistakes that led to this incident. The officer seen dragging the passenger was also suspended.

The damage, however, is done. There are calls to boycott the airlines. An online petition titled #ChineseLivesMatter calls for a federal investigation into the matter, the Internet memes are out in full force.

So, United Airlines, you’re not getting off the hook this time. I don’t care what the Trump administration says or does, this time you —

Wait, what’s that? White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer evoked an ill-advised and insensitive comparison to Adolf Hitler when discussing Syria?

United Airlines, you can pretty much get away with anything for the next four years.