Trumpocalypse 2017: At least we’re not Turkey

When things feel like they are going bad in the U.S., what I like to do to make me feel better is look around the world to find a country that is having worse problems than we are.

Trust me, there are plenty.

Last time I did this, I talked about the power struggle in The Gambia, where the nation’s outgoing president refused to step down after he was democratically voted out of office. It was an episode that required military intervention from neighboring countries, and fortunately ended peacefully.

Today I’d like to discuss a country that’s northern half is part of Europe, and bottom half is part of Asia, and yet, neither continent probably wants any of it: Turkey.

Outside observers have long concluded that Turkey has been experiencing a democratic backslide under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and president after that.

The average person likely doesn’t know who Erdogan is. But you may have heard his name in a bizarre story that went viral in 2014 that underscores his perceived authoritarian rule. That involved a Turkish man who was arrested in 2014 after he compared Erdogan to Gollum on social media. Last year, the man was slapped with a one-year prison sentence.

Imagine that happening in America. If we locked up everyone who badmouthed Trump on social media, the only people left standing would be Sean Hannity and the entire state of Kentucky. And I would be in Guantanamo.

But those are the type of things that happen in Turkey. The country has been largely criticized in recent years for its tendency to turn a blind eye to ISIS fighters traveling through the country to get to other European nations.

TURKISH-ERDOGAN-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT

That being said, it certainly doesn’t diminish the fact that Turkey has also been victimized by deadly attacks from terrorists.

Erdogan’s regime has become even more oppressive since a surprise coup attempt last July, when members of the military organized overnight to – unsuccessfully – overthrow his regime.

Since then, his regime has suspended or fired more than 12,000 government employees, and arrested some 50,000 soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges, academics and lawmakers suspected of being dissidents.

Turkey also jailed more journalists than any other country in 2016, a number estimated to have reached greater than 150.

And it’s only getting worse. Earlier this year, the Turkish Parliament voted to allow a referendum that would give the president of the country – who happens to be Erdogan – greater power and authority. Historically in the country, the prime minister is the government chief and president is mostly a ceremonial role.

The vote in parliament was so contentious that one opposition lawmaker was sent to the hospital after having her prosthetic arm ripped off in a fistfight on the Parliament floor.

The referendum on the new Constitution is in April, and it’s actually led to international diplomatic disputes as Turkey has been seeking to campaign in countries where Turkish citizens live abroad.

But after Germany and the Netherlands refused to let Turkish officials in their country to do so, the Turkish government called the two countries “Nazis” and “fascists.”

So, as you can see, things are going awfully swell in Turkey.

Now this isn’t to say that we should observe the chaos happening abroad and consequently shrug off the problems happening here as trivial matters, but it does help to offer a little perspective.

Today, House Republicans postponed the vote on the new health care bill once they realized they didn’t have enough votes to approve it. But don’t celebrate … they will be back, and whatever they bring with them will not be good for lower-class Americans.

And with each passing day, the links between Trump associates and Russian officials continues to grow.

So things aren’t quite peachy here either.

But hey, at least we live in a country where I get to call our president Gollum, Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader, King Joffrey, Scar from the Lion King, the Wicked Witch, Cruella de Vil, Dr. Evil, Walter White, the Boogie Man and Donald Trump combined.

That’s right, I’m making a bold prediction that in 20 years from now, we’ll unanimously consider Donald Trump synonymous to a cartoon fictional villain.

Until then, we’ll keep trying him out as the top executive of the most powerful nation in the world.

Should go well.

The curious case of Tomi Lahren

For many millennials, this election season was a political awakening, and offered the prime opportunity to discover their voices.

I think it’s even fair to say that most people did know what they truly believed in — or their friends, for that matter — until this election kicked into high gear.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to have beliefs and principles, as long as you don’t let it totally consume you in a fanatical way.

Most people learned exactly what their friends do think, as their Facebook pages become inundated with post after post about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or any number of issues that came up in the exhausting 18-month campaign season.

I bet everyone reading this even blocked a “friend” or two whose opinion they simply couldn’t take anymore.

One millennial who found her voice in a big way is Tomi Lahren, who, in 2016, became something of a cult hero, particularly among young, conservative thinkers.

The fledgling political commentator, who hosts her own online show on the conservative website The Blaze, founded by Glenn Beck, became famous for her quick-talking, unapologetic rants about liberals.

What goes without saying is that she is a very pretty girl. It’s wrong and untrue to say that she became popular because of her looks, but it is no doubt part of her appeal. But what caused people to stick around and keep listening was the things that she said.

For liberals, who mostly avoid conservative websites like the plague, Tomi Lahren didn’t enter their consciousness until she was interviewed by Trevor Noah on the Daily Show last winter. I highlighted it when it happened because, although I almost fully disagreed with Lahren on everything she said, it was a positive example of how two people with very differing worldviews can sit down and have a conversation, and not yell and scream at one another.

Lahren has reaped the benefits of the added publicity from that appearance, appearing on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” and more recently, on The View.

But it was her latter appearance that got her in trouble among conservatives.

Tomi Lahren

While pedaling her typical right-wing viewpoints, she blurted that she is pro-choice, going as far as saying the federal government can “stay out of my body.”

Even the hosts on the show were surprised, given that being pro-life is one of the hallmarks of the conservative doctrine.

Shortly after the appearance, and after significant conservative backlash, Lahren was suspended for one week by Glenn Beck, who accused her of being “intellectually dishonest” to her supporters, given that she’s expressed anti-abortion sentiment in the past. There’s speculation that her show may be canceled permanently.

Lahren subsequently defended herself on Twitter, calling herself an “independent thinker.”

Liberals, meanwhile, hailed the decision, having been long fed up with Lahren’s schtick.

But as much as I personally abhorred the drivel that frequently comes out of Lahren’s mouth, I find it very hypocritical for her detractors to celebrate this turn of events, especially considering she was punished for expressing a belief that the overwhelming majority on the left agree with.

To me, the story is this: Lahren, who is 24 and has more than 4 million followers on Facebook, became too popular too soon, and as a result, found herself in way over her head. Quite simply, she has not lived long enough to form fully composed, well-rounded ideologies. She’s getting there, as we all are, but she was given a platform before she could reach that point.

And as someone who is expected to give her opinion loudly and brashly, it was only a matter of time before she went ahead and contradicted herself.

So I have sympathy for Lahren. I really do.

When I was 24, I was still deciding whether I preferred Bud Light or Miller Lite, let alone liberal or conservative. And she’s doing it to an audience of millions.

At the end of the day, we’re all hypocritical. We all contradict ourselves. I’m sure you can find dozens of instances on this blog where I’ve said one thing and later said the opposite.

I applaud Lahren for taking a stance that she knew would be unpopular with her base, but I also hope that she learns a valuable lesson from this.

Her supporters and her critics, meanwhile, can learn something, too. We live in a country now where if you don’t subscribe to every single issue a certain way, then you are not considered a true conservative or liberal.

This is the fundamental problem underlying the divide that we find ourselves in right now as a nation.

Not only do pundits dictate how we should think, but we’re discouraged from thinking differently.

I say we organize an event where we gather Republicans and Democrats for a giant think tank session while blasting “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran the whole time.

It’s just a really good song.

Mr. Gorsuch goes to Washington

It was below freezing temperatures one January evening in 2009 in Illinois when a man named Alphonse Maddin, driving a truck attached to a trailer for TransAm Trucking, found himself stranded shortly before midnight.

It turned out his truck was fine, but the trailer’s brake stopped working, and thus couldn’t be towed along. Upon returning to his truck, the heat also wasn’t functioning.

Maddin notified TransAm, which told him to wait for help. He did. Hours passed, and Maddin fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt numbness in his torso and feet. He called TransAM again, which told him to keep waiting, or to drag the trailer on its frozen brakes.

Not long after, Maddin, fearing for his life, unhitched the trailer and took off. Assistance eventually arrived and the trailer was recovered.

Maddin was fired for disobeying orders.

He later sued the company, under a statute by the Department of Labor that says employees do not have to operate their vehicle if they have reasonable apprehension about a serious injury.

TransAm contended that Maddin was not protected by this statute because he did, in fact, operate his vehicle.

An independent arbiter ruled in Maddin’s favor that the dismissal was illegal. Appeals ensued, and an appellate court of three judges backed the arbiter’s decision, ruling 2-1 in favor of Maddin.

The one man who ruled in favor of TransAm?

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Neil Gorsuch hearing

Now I’m not telling you this story to make you mad, or to confirm anyone’s worst fear about this judge who has been previously hailed for his conservative rulings.

In fact, I was out sick from work today, and watched a significant chunk of Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate. From what I saw, I don’t think anybody could have watched the proceedings and thought that he is anything but an extremely intelligent man.

He clearly takes his job as an interpreter of the law very seriously, and was very disciplined in his responses to not indicate that he would have any premeditated ideological leanings.

So if he was conning us, then he sure fooled me.

Some of the highlights included his statement that “No man is above the law,” when asked about potential presidential overreach; and when asked how he would have responded if Trump asked him to reverse Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion nationally), he said “I would have walked out the door.”

But the reason I shared that story in the beginning is because it is clear that Gorsuch interprets rules and the law literally, regardless of morality. And that is a good or bad thing, depending on how you choose to perceive it.

In his minority opinion, Gorsuch agreed that since Maddin did indeed operate his vehicle, he lost protection under the Department of Labor statute, because that is exactly how it is worded.

Gorsuch will almost certainly be confirmed. And people can take heart in knowing that he is a competent judge who understands that the law exists to hold everybody in this country accountable, no matter how powerful or influential they are.

But his tenure as a justice of our nation’s highest court will always be questioned, because of the circumstances in which he eventually obtained the seat, and because of the character of the man who selected him.

Never forget Merrick Garland. (Odds say we all forget by June).

And if you’re thinking that there’s no way I watched an entire day of of Supreme Court hearings and was not once tempted to run out to Taco Bell to get a Taco Supreme… then you’d be 100 percent right.

The head-scratching ‘controversy’ over Beauty and the Beast’s openly gay character

James Comey speaks.

Speak again bright angel. For thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a wingèd messenger of heaven, unto the white, upturnèd, wondering eyes.

Last time James Comey opened his mouth to the public, his words resulted in a Donald Trump presidency.

This time, Comey’s appearance before Congress places a major cloud of suspicion over our current president.

But it’s important to understand exactly where we go from here. This investigation may take months — if not years — to complete. Until then, we won’t categorically know if Trump or his allies are guilty of any type of collusion. And I say that knowing full well that Republican officials had no problem declaring Hillary Clinton “guilty” before having any semblance of evidence of quid pro quo between the State Department and donors to her foundation.

James Comey

What these remarkable statements by Comey do accomplish in the short term, however, is putting a fracture into Donald Trump’s integrity.

Trump has lied, and lied, and lied some more, and until now it’s done nothing to weaken his power or influence. For months, he denied that he has anything to do with Russia.

Well, this isn’t coming from journalists anymore. It’s not from pundits or Democratic lawmakers. This is the director of the FBI. One can hope that today’s events give people a greater appreciation of the type of man our president is.

Stay tuned.

Now let’s discuss something that is the complete opposite of a scandal. Beauty and the Beast.

The film, starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens and Beast, broke the opening weekend box office record for the month of March this past weekend, grossing $170 million domestically.

But some people are choosing to talk about the fact that the movie includes Disney’s first explicitly gay character. 

A drive-in movie theater in Alabama is refusing to show the movie, and even some countries are considering boycotting it.

Now, before we go ahead and hold all Republicans, conservatives and Catholics responsible for this nonsense, let’s remember that not every one feels the same way as the people who own this Alabama drive-in. Indeed, the Christian Post seriously questioned the backlash.

But it’s even more nauseating to hear about the opposition to the character when you consider its genesis.

Josh gad BatB

The original Beauty and the Beast, the animated classic that everyone loves, was co-composed by a gay man, Howard Ashman, as he was dying with AIDS. Ashman’s friends have publicly stated that the Beast and his “sickness” was intended by Ashman as a direct metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that began decimating America in the ’80s.

Ashman died in 1991, the same year Beauty and the Beast was released.

So if you liked the original movie — which you’re lying if you don’t — then you should know that it wouldn’t exist without a gay man. Neither would the Little Mermaid, for that matter, which Ashman also composed. Oh, and he also had posthumous song credits on this smaller, low-budget animated film called Aladdin.

More of a Lion King fan? Elton John says hi.

The more recent Beauty and the Beast is directed by Tom Condon, who is gay. And people speculate that his decision to make a character gay was in direct homage to Ashman.

Given that history, criticizing Beauty and the Beast for having a gay character is no different than criticizing more than two decades of artistic innovation that led to so many of the joys present in today’s culture as well as in all mediums of entertainment. It’s equal to criticizing the person responsible for enriching millions of childhoods.

And for what it’s worth, Ewan McGregor, who plays the candlestick Lumiere in the film, also thinks the controversy is stupid. 

It’s easy to hate something.

What’s harder is to take the time to understand why.

One can choose to be close-minded and let things that conflict with your archaic worldview cause you to be angry. Or, you can be open-minded and accepting and happy.

To the former, there’s plenty of room at the table to join us.

Be our guest.

Great Barrier Reef, we hardly knew ye

Before we begin, I must rise and give a standing ovation to all my Dutch friends.

You did it. You rejected populism! The Dutch did something that the British and Americans could not do.

In case you haven’t been following the Weinblog™, this burst of joy is in reference to Geert Widlers, the extremely radical, far-right “Dutch Trump” whose party fell significantly short of winning the most seats in the Netherlands parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

The country’s Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, whose party did win the most votes, said in his victory speech that the craziness in the U.S. under Donald Trump made people rethink choosing a populist leader.

It’s great we get to be the guinea pig so other countries don’t screw up like we did.

But anyway, let’s shift gears to something a little more demoralizing that’s happening on the other side of the globe: the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s a pretty sad thought that one day, if I ever have grand-kids, I’ll have to explain to them that it was during my generation when we learned that the Great Barrier Reef was dying … and we did nothing to stop it.

That’s the reality. A recent paper published by scientists informs us that one of our planet’s foremost natural phenomena is in mortal danger – 30 years quicker than we expected. While the reef requires warm underwater temperatures to survive, global warming has caused temperatures to rise too much, proving deadly.

Great Barrier Reef

But the researchers explain that not all is hope is lost, and that there is time to restore the necessary conditions to salvage the precious underwater ecosystem.

But we have to act now.

Spoiler alert: we won’t.

Barack Obama was the symbolic leader of the monumental Paris Agreement, at which nearly 200 countries agreed to take tangible action to combat climate change. Now Obama’s gone, and Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

As much as we will want to blame Trump, though, Australia is as guilty as anyone else, as their conservative government continues to support fossil fuel development, including the construction of a proposed coal mine – a pretty big shocker considering the barrier reef is responsible for bringing the country some 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars in tourism revenue.

One would think that would motivate them to act. Guess not.

The Barrier Reef is as astonishing as anything our natural world has to offer. So astonishing that it’s often considered one of the modern wonders of the world.

Think of the massive development of a city over time into a complex, vivacious metropolis. Now imagine that underwater, constructed entirely by living organisms. It’s almost impossible to fathom.

And we are letting it die.

But hey, at least we’ll always have coal, right?

Although, if the first two months of Trump’s presidency are any indication, perhaps the courts will find a way to step in and override his complete disregard for climate change, just like they did for a second time with his proposed travel ban.

Hawaii Travel Ban

As we all have the distinct displeasure of remembering, Trump was a man unleashed during his campaign. Initially, he had only tepid support, and he was just running his mouth saying whatever he felt like to appeal to his base. Many of those things were downright bigoted.

And now he is suffering the consequences.

Yes, the revised travel ban down cut out the most controversial parts of the first one. But the damage has already been done. No matter how stately the administration attempts to word this thing, we know what they want to do. And in America, we don’t discriminate based on religion.

It’s refreshing to finally see somebody hold Trump accountable for his recklessness.

And credit must be given where it is due: you did it, Hawaii! Yeah! High five!

From now on, you will be remembered for being a popular honeymoon destination, the movie Lilo and Stitch, and … putting a stop to Trump’s second travel ban.

Put that shit right on the license plate.

Burkas and the return of Boaty McBoatface

Not only is it the day of the long-awaited Netherlands parliamentary elections, it’s also the Ides of March … which is not really a holiday, but rather a historical classification for March 15 in the Roman calendar.

Yeah, I’m a nerd.

Today I’d like to present two stories that, while covering the same topic, are extremely divergent from one another and, by virtue of that, perfectly represents the current global sentiment towards the group of people that the stories center on: Muslims.

You’re well versed on the anti-Muslim rhetoric that’s come from Donald Trump, as well as from Geert Wilders, the even more right-wing agitator who may come out on top of today’s Netherlands elections.

The strong support that’s emerged for Muslims from the political left in response to this hate speech isn’t necessarily borne out of sympathy for their religious beliefs — in fact, the Islamic doctrine and their repression towards women and homosexuals almost directly opposes liberal ideologies. But rather, Muslims have officially become a symbol for diversity and acceptance in an increasingly globalized world.

In the last two years, embracing Muslims has become akin to embracing diversity and rejecting bigotry.

And this month, Nike followed suit by introducing a Pro Hijab designed specifically for female Muslim athletes.

Nike Hijab

The increased presence of female Muslim athletes at the highest stage of international competition was highly evident at this year’s Olympics. Egypt alone sent 37 women to the Games, the most in the country’s 104-year participation in the Olympics.

And that also includes fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won a bronze medal last year after becoming the first hijab-wearing American to compete at the Olympics for the United States.

So it’s nice to see a major corporation like Nike open their arms and accommodate a faction of people who have not been treated too fairly lately.

Unfortunately, that segues well into the next story, which took place on Tuesday, when the European Union’s highest court ruled that companies are within their right to ban the hijab from the workplace.

On the surface this sounds extremely bigoted and discriminatory, and people are surely sharing headlines of this story by the thousands on Facebook voicing their disgust as we speak, but it’s not as bad when you read the full ruling.

The court justified its decision as a blanket ruling for all political and religious symbols, meaning that employers have legal basis to ban the hijab, as long as they’re also banning other religious attire like a Sikh turban or a Jewish kippah.

Nonetheless, it sounds like a ruling that would have been made in 1970, not 2017. And it’s not the most ominous sign on the eve of these damn Netherlands elections.

But let’s end with something a little happier.

Boaty McBoatface

Remember Boaty McBoatface? The name that voters chose for an exploration vessel that ultimately got rejected?

Well, it’s back, and it’s about to make its maiden voyage. Only, it’s not a boat but a yellow submarine *insert Beatles joke*.

Boaty McBoatface will begin its mission in Antarctica this week to collect data to help scientists understand how global warming affects oceans.

So not only does Boaty McBoatface exist, but it’s helping us to save the world.

So amid all the doom and gloom in this world, remember there’s a yellow beacon of hope out there for us to rely on. Literally. It’s in the form of a yellow torpedo, zipping through the depths of the Arctic Ocean.

And its name is Boaty McBoatface.

Don’t forget it.

The ‘Fate of the Furious’: how did we end up here?

As I’ve grown up and started to appreciate the insignificance of trivial matters, I’ve tried to reflect that changing worldview in my everyday life.

The evidence lies right here in this blog. For better or worse, I no longer talk about my grievances with social media, or my pet peeves concerning female behavior.

It’s not that these things have gone away. It’s more that I’ve gained more perspective in life and tried to focus my attention towards things that really matter.

And that’s an evolving process. For the better part of 2016, I was so zealously tuned into the minutia of the election and the coverage surrounding it that it actually began to make me angry on a regular basis, and affected the way I communicated with others.

Months later, I’ve realized that there is certainly a healthy balance one can maintain, even when trying to stay informed. It benefits you not only from preventing an information overload, but also by protecting your sanity.

That all being said, sometimes I have no choice but to revert my attention back to a certain topic of very little real-life consequence that I’ve been dwelling on for quite some time now. (See here and here).

The Fast and the Furious film franchise.

Fate of the Furious

This year will see the release of the eighth movie in the series. The eighth. Meaning that after this summer, there will officially be as as many Fast and the Furious films as there are Harry Potter. And that is highly disappointing.

In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with any of the movies. It’s hardly the first time Hollywood has exploited fast cars, pretty women and muscular movie stars who have simply given up their dream on ever winning an Oscar.

But who asked for eight of them? Show me that person.

And I enjoyed the first Fast and the Furious film. It was seriously flawed, but it was a highly entertaining popcorn flick. And from what I gathered, it stuck to trying to realistically simulate the underground street racing scene.

Since then, realism officially jumped ship. I tapped out at Fast Five, when the ending chase scene involved a car driving 100+ miles per hour down a freeway while towing an entire bank vault. 

There’s suspension of disbelief … and then there’s that. The talking lion in the Chronicles of Narnia was more believable.

And I know that there’s a level of sentimentality that now surrounds the films since the tragic and untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013. Which is why I gave Fast and the Furious 7 a pass.

This time? Not so much.

This new installment is called “The Fate of the Furious.” Which would lead you to think it’s the last one, since the title basically tells us that we we will learn how all the characters’ lives end up. Hence their “fate,” and thus eliminating the need for any more movies, right? Right?

Wrong. We are due for at least two more, and there is talks of possible spin-offs.

Furthermore, Paul Walker’s character may be included in future movies.

What in God’s name is happening?! When will this madness end???

If you’re all wondering, a nor’easter swept through New York today, and it’s 7:30 p.m. and I’m hours deep in cabin fever. But I still stand by this post.

And yet, deep down, I know that the Fast and the Furious franchise will outlive all of us.

Maybe the next one will be called “The Fake and the Furious.”

Sad!