When your country no longer upholds its values

There once was a time – not too long ago – when the United States of America was the standard bearer for democracy. When we set the example for the rest of the world to follow.

Look around the globe. Pick any country. In nation after nation, you’ll find authoritarianism, corruption, inequality, crime, nepotism, oppression, racism. It’s rampant. Some countries contain all the above.

And we’re not immune from those evils. America has never and will never be perfect. We’re still an evolving process.

But very few countries have achieved what we have. The checks and balances we have in place to oversee our president are abundant, and they’re there for a reason — to protect the American people from a despotic leader.

Donald Trump is rewriting the book on 240 years of history.

Breaking-Up-U.S.-Flag.jpg

And while he’s raised many red flags, and alarmed not only the American public but members of Congress, not much has stood in his way. At least not yet.

People excuse Donald Trump’s behavior because they say he has yet to do anything illegal (yet). But what we fail to realize is that the goalposts of what we consider illegal actions from a president are becoming narrower and narrower.

What’s illegal and what’s not should not be the benchmark for our nation’s highest office.

It’s really the unwritten rules of governing, which Donald Trump has repeatedly torn to shreds, that we should be concerned about.

It’s not illegal to undermine a federal judge, but no one ever does it. Except Donald Trump.

It’s not illegal to discredit the entire press corps, but no one ever does it. Except Donald Trump.

It’s not illegal to share top secret, classified information with hostile foreign nations, but no one ever does it. Except Donald Trump.

It’s not illegal to fire the FBI director midway through his term while he’s investigating you, but no one ever does it. Except Donald Trump.

These are the boundaries that Donald Trump is destroying. And all those other countries who are guilty of all of those heinous actions I listed above, well, we can no longer tell them that they need to be more like us. Not if this keeps up.

Now, they can look at what’s going on here and say, “Hey, if they’re doing this, then we can do whatever we want.”

We used to look at backsliding democratic nations like Venezuela, Turkey and Russia and hold our head high. We’d say that this could never happen to us.

Now we’re the ones who other countries are laughing at.

And it will take a while to fix what Donald Trump has done. A significant portion of our credibility has been shattered. But it’s not irreparable.

At the end of the day, we must remember that we brought this onto ourselves. We voted.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes in our country’s history. But we’ve always learned from them.

Let’s just hope this is another learning experience.

1980s and 1990s sci-fi movies are lot less fictional than we thought

Ever since 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” science-fiction films and books have carried a similar theme: computers gaining enough artificial intelligence to outsmart human beings.

For the majority of people who don’t live in the computing world, the idea of machines overtaking humans has always been an entertaining premise that’s only somewhat haunting. Because while it seems plausible, we don’t know enough about technology to ever believe it possible.

In other words, we have a hard time processing a threat that our brain doesn’t fully understand.

It’s a reason why few people legitimately fear the scientific dangers presented by global warming. In general, we know that climate change is happening, and it’s bad, but we don’t know why, and therefore we do little to stop it besides complaining about it on social media.

Take the 1983 film “WarGames” starring a young Matthew Broderick. In the film, he operates an oversized computer to discover a backdoor into the U.S. government’s defense systems. Simply by pressing a few buttons — which he thinks are harmless — he accidentally sets our computer systems onto an unstoppable path towards nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

That was 34 years ago.

The reason why this has been such a reoccurring topic in science fiction is because it was only a matter of time.

wannacry

Look how far we’ve come technologically since then. Now in the 21st century, the new arena for warfare is online.

And more people should be afraid. Or at least care.

Russian interference in our elections was not simply a hack, or an inconvenience, or “fake news” — it was an attack. We were attacked by a hostile foreign nation.

And last week, more than 150 countries were victimized by a “ransomware” attack that is believed to have been orchestrated by North Korea.

And this time, they ain’t just trying to stop a movie.

To avoid getting too technical, ransomware is basically a hack that scrambles your files with encryption, and then demands you pay a ransom to unlock the encryption — aided by the anonymity of Bitcoin.

The attack, performed with software by the name WannaCry, may have cost lives. Among the victims was the servers for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which relies on IT systems to perform urgent, life-saving operations.

WannaCry targeted Microsoft, taking advantage of a vulnerability that had recently been leaked by a hacker group in April after it obtained hacking tools compiled by the National Security Agency. Before that, Microsoft had released a software upgrade fixing the issue, which most people did not utilize. And now they’re screwed.

This is the era we live in. Everything is automated. And around the clock, hackers are trying to infiltrate these computers. Yes, groups are working equally as hard to safeguard computers simultaneously, but it’s an endless cycle. The fabrics of our world now lie within computer codes and operating systems.

And those who still naively believe that computers aren’t capable of bringing about our downfall, well, I suggest you pop an old Matthew Broderick flick into your VCR.

Then after you’ve watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, watch WarGames.

Come visit the Montana Glacier National Park. All we’re missing is the glaciers.

I think I’m going to start a new segment: “Obscure State Thursday.” Last month, I discussed Arkansas’s fervent desire to execute people as fast as they possibly could. They ended up killing four of the eight death row inmates they originally had planned.

After that, I officially put other states on notice. I’m looking at all of you. Just give me any reason and I will single you out. Even U.S. overseas territories are not exempt (Puerto Rico represent!).

This time, it’s Montana.

Although, it’s not for anything that they did wrong.

But it’s absolutely worth noting a harrowing development that’s occurred in the state’s Glacier National Park – its glaciers are disappearing.

Imagine walking into a zoo and seeing only empty fields covered in rhino poop. Or strolling into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and just seeing a homeless dude in the middle of the floor holding a cardboard sign asking for money.

As much as this administration chooses to ignore it, global warming is happening everywhere. But its impact is being more quickly evidenced in western Montana, where, according to state officials, temperatures have increased at double the global average.

Glacier Park2

Just over 100 years ago, the park had about 150 glaciers, which are defined as ice masses larger than 25 acres. Today, only 26 of them meet that benchmark.

But hey, when a Republican congressman brings a snowball onto the Senate floor, then it’s categorical proof that global warming isn’t really happening.

The park estimates that they will have no more active glaciers by 2030.

So if it’s a dream of yours to one day see a glacier in person, I’d recommend making arrangements sooner than later. Also polar bears.

You’d think that fighting climate change might be a priority for Ryan Zinke, the Trump-appointed Secretary of the Interior, who previously served as a U.S. representative from Montana. But, as we’ve learned, make one move that differs from this regime’s agenda and you’re out. Talk about using the bully pulpit against your own cabinet!

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the environment recently. On Thursday, the Senate shockingly — and pleasantly — rejected a resolution that would have scaled back an Obama-era regulation to control the release of methane from oil and gas wells.

Two Republicans, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, were expected to defect from their party to oppose the bill, but one more brave GOP dissident was required to obtain a “No” majority. Reportedly, Trump even sent Mike Pence to the Senate floor in expectation that he’d be needed to break a tie.

But in stepped John McCain.

The grizzled Navy veteran, former Vietnam prisoner of war and once presidential candidate emphatically pointed his thumb to the ground, voiced his dissent, and stormed off the floor.

A national hero.

Of course, Trump will probably hold up a binder in a few days demanding that the regulations be repealed anyway.

But hey, until then, environmentalists will take any win they can get.

Someone needs to get Trump to participate in another animated movie family screening, this time of the film Moana, a kids’ movie that basically was about the effects of climate change on our island nations.

Maybe then, we’ll know, how far Trump will go.

Moana joke!

Have a good weekend everybody.

I just met you, and this is crazy. Here’s my number, so Comey maybe

Well, it did not take long for another head of a major federal organization to be relieved under the nascent presidency of Donald J. Trump. And this time, it will have major ramifications.

Tuesday was otherwise a relatively boring day until breaking news dropped in the early evening, capturing every news channel’s full attention.

The resignation of U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson.

I take pride in knowing I’m maybe one of four people in the world who knows that happened yesterday.

Obviously, the dismissal I’m actually referring to was the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Arguably the most well-known FBI chief since J. Edgar Hoover, Comey will forever be remembered as the man who may or may not have influenced the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.

His decision to disclose to Congress that the bureau was re-opening the Hilary Clinton email investigation – an extraordinary deviation from the bureau’s normal investigation protocol of maintaining confidentiality – without acknowledging that they were also investigating Donald Trump will forever go down in infamy.

Within one year, I predict that the words “Comey Letter” will have its own Wikipedia page.

James Comey fired

No one will shed any tears over the firing. In fact, some may look at is as long overdue. Doubts to his credibility from both parties was casting a dark cloud over the FBI.

But I don’t think there’s any question that the timing was extremely odd. It would have been commonplace if Trump removed Comey at the beginning of his presidency. It’s his turn at the helm, and it would have been understandable if he wished to start anew.

But why wait three months? Especially after he previously announced that Comey would keep his job?

If anything, it continues a pattern of unpredictability and spontaneity that makes his administration seem disorganized and incompetent. He also told Preet Bharara he would keep him on as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Weeks later, he fired him.

And now here’s the same story with Comey.

What’s the common trend? Both men were investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. That doesn’t look good for Trump. Saturday Night Massacre, anyone?

Trump cited Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email investigation as his rationale, but it will take weeks to parse through the specific details of the events that led up to the firing. Already, it’s being reported that Comey had requested additional resources to further his investigation into Trump’s Russian ties.

At the end of the day, though, this is just another bad day for our democracy. You have one side calling this move “authoritarian” and “Nixonian,” and the other lauding it as a “decisive.”

It’s hard these days to be liked in Washington. James Comey learned that the hard way.

And now, Donald Trump must find a replacement to lead the agency that may or may not still be investigating him, while obtaining Senate approval.

That will end well.

It wasn’t hard to predict that we were in line for four years of chaos. Let’s just hope 2020 brings us a cast of inspiring figures who wish to make a run for the presidency, because we’re going to need something to be hopeful about.

And this time, James Comey, when October 2020 rolls around … keep your god damn pen to yourself.

 

Walking in Memphis (part II)

Then I’m walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn has probably been my dive bar jukebox song of choice for the past decade, and yet I’ve never realized until my most recent trip to the River City just how personalized the song is to some of the city’s main attractions.

Most notably: Beale Street.

I’ve raved about this heavenly avenue when I blogged about my first Memphis trip in 2011, and it really is the stuff that dreams are made of. I’ve never been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but until I do, I can safely say that Beale Street is the greatest street I’ve ever set foot on.

While major cities will often condense their bars and restaurants into one area, Beale Street is so committed that they actually block off the street to prevent vehicle access. This layout essentially allows for you to leave each bar with drink in hand and stroll into another. Heck, the majority of bars have outdoor to-go stations where you can order a beer without ever stepping inside. All the while, cops regularly guard the street’s perimeter to ensure relative order.

In short, if you visit Memphis and don’t go bar hopping on Beale, then you’ve made the biggest mistake of your lifetime.

But outside of this street, there’s still much more to do. Want to learn about the history of our nation’s struggle for equality? Check out the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Want to eat barbecue? Head, well … anywhere. But I’d recommend Central BBQ just outside the museum.

Want to see the water? Take a boat ride down the Mississippi River, and perhaps even float into Arkansas. Or walk to Mud Island, a pleasant strip of land that holds a walk trail, park, restaurants and an amphitheater.

If the season allows it, check out a Memphis grizzlies game at the FedEx Forum.

And if you want to see a real-life grizzly (or a giraffe), go to the Memphis Zoo.

And of course, if you want to absorb yourself in the city’s musical history, then your choices are endless, starting with Graceland, the home of Elvis; the Gibson Guitar Factory; Sun Studio; and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

But the coup de grace of my trip to Memphis – in 2011 and in 2017 – was the Beale Street Music Festival, an annual three-day concert that had no shortage of well-known artists.

While I enjoyed listening to the likes of Jimmy Eat World, MGMT, Silversun pickups, Tori Kelly, X Ambassadors, Death Cab for Cutie, Sturgill Simpson and Memphis’s own Kings of Leon, the main event for me was hearing two vintage 90s rock ‘n’ roll bands back to back: Bush and Sound Garden.

Both were absolutely electric. But it was a special thrill to see Bush, which produced some of my favorite rock songs of my youth, and sounded just as great and brought just as much energy as ever.

And what made my last visit to Memphis extremely memorable was the fact that it coincided with the death of Osama Bin Laden.

This time, no terrorist ring leader was killed, but we did receive the news that Marine Le Pen handily lost the French presidential election.

I was the only one in Memphis who cared.

The fate of the free world hangs with France

Congressional Republicans took a major step today towards repealing and replacing Obamacare, with an amended American Healthcare Act bill narrowing passing the House of Representatives.

Next the bill will be sent to the Senate, where there is much uncertainty as to how it will be received. Meaning the bill is still far from becoming a law, but stands just one step away.

Public reaction to this development will be strong. As I expressed yesterday, people’s lives hang in the balance. While the legislation doesn’t abandon those with pre-existing medical conditions – one of the last additions, in fact, was to tack on $8 billion in state aid for that very reason – but it does appear to be dismantling some of the safeguards that protected them.

This is extremely important and deserved to be the focus of national conversation. And with Congress now heading home for an 11-day recess to face their constituents, that is bound to happen. And something tells me it is not always going to be civil.

We’re in an era now where constituents have become so passionate that they are finally holding their representatives accountable. Gone are the days where elected officials can coast their way through Washington and rarely hear a peep except from the occasional agitator. People are now holding their representatives accountable, and the result is a massive display of civic participation in action.

So let’s see what happens over the next week and a half.

Until then, we have another major event to keep our eyes on: the French presidential election on Sunday.

franc

By all accounts, centrist Emmanuel Macron should roll to victory, as all parties are expected to unite against his far-right adversary, Marine Le Pen.

*Cue Brexit will never happen*

*Cue Trump has no chance*

Consider me paranoid to believe any predictions until the actual results are in.

But of all the populists who are roiling through Europe, Marine Le Pen is among the most dangerous. And that’s not because her xenophobic and discriminatory views are any worse than some other firebrands that have popped up in countries like the Netherlands and Austria, but because Le Pen is savvy enough to soften her views and actually put them into action.

A Le Pen-led France would completely change the direction of France, and thus the European Union, the entire European continent, and the world. It would embolden those on the far-right and reinforce a sense of nativism worldwide.

The French have a choice to do something that Britons and Americans failed to do.

Macron and Le Pen met for their first and only presidential debate on Wednesday night, and the result was an American-like shouting match that a civilized European nation is accustomed to. It exemplified the divisiveness that is taking place in that country.

But it all ends Sunday. Let’s see what happens. If the election turns out like we hoped, we can all celebrate by eating French fries.

On second thought, we can all eat French fries no matter what.

#FrenchFriesAlways

Have a good weekend everybody. I’m taking a trip down south and will return Tuesday.

Until then, May the fourth be with you.

Jimmy Kimmel is the most human late show host on TV

Anybody who watches Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show knows that the man cries a lot.

He teared up when discussing the death of Cecil the Lion two years ago; he couldn’t hold it back when he mourned the passing of legendary comic Don Rickles late last month; and most recently, and certainly understandably, he openly wept when revealing on his show that his son was born with a heart defect that required life-saving emergency surgery.

Seeing somebody express raw emotion and vulnerability always gives you greater insight into who they are as a human being.

What makes us so unique to any other species is our ability to emote and to experience real sorrow. It’s what makes life tragic and glorious at the same time.

So to see Jimmy Kimmel have a moment of pure emotion like that only adds to his appeal. Especially since his story is so undeniably sympathetic. Any child being born with a heart defect is saddening.

Jimmy Kimmel family.png

But what’s made Kimmel’s monologue so particularly memorable was his inclusion of politics. While he didn’t directly malign any one or group in particular, he bemoaned the fact that those with preexisting medical conditions who were afforded protection against healthcare discrimination under Obamacare may lose those protections under a new Republican plan.

And he pointed to his newborn son as a living and breathing example of this. “If your baby is going to die … it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, we all agree on,’ he said to raucous applause.

Kimmel has received mostly support from his TV colleagues and the general public. But of course, there are those few — like this former Republican Senator — who just can’t bring it upon themselves to look past politics and see the human element.

Obamacare may be repealed as soon as Thursday. And Kimmel is right about something: we need to stop kicking this issue around like it’s a political football. These are people’s lives at stake. It’s not a game. It’s not about politics.

But what makes the topic of healthcare so dicey is one simple fact: we are selfish.

And there’s nothing wrong with being selfish. To make it in this world, you need to look out for yourself and your best interests.

The reason people don’t like Obamacare is because premiums and their deductibles are high. They’re healthy and yet they’re paying an exorbitant amount for insurance because they’re being forced to by Obamacare’s mandate.

But the subtext to that statement is you don’t want to contribute your share to cut the costs for sick people.

I understand that money is hard to come by. Very few of us make enough to support the life that we wish to live.

But that is the reality of why healthcare is such a polarizing issue in our country at this moment.

At some point, you have to ask yourself: Are you willing to make a few sacrifices to prop up your fellow Americans, and fellow humans.?

Jimmy Kimmel’s little boy was saved.

Will the next one be?