Inauguration 2017: at least we’re not The Gambia

If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela, the Ebola Virus and elephants, 95% of Americans probably would know almost nothing about Africa.

For example, I’d fathom to guess that the average American does not realize that nearly half of Africans are Muslim.

Or that the movie Casablanca takes place in Africa.

Or that the Southern tip of Spain is less than eight nautical miles away from mainland Africa.

The difference between the United States and Africa is stark, from the people, to the culture, to the living conditions. When you look at the World Health organization’s 2015 rankings of countries by life expectancy, all but six of the bottom 50 countries are in Africa.

That’s stunning.

And in an America that’s growing ever more concerned with itself, and not countries from afar, it’s no surprise how poorly educated we are on our African brethren.

Though, we do have a prominent South African in Trevor Noah hosting the prime time “Daily Show” to give us a little insight into African happenings. But even those are few and far between.

Unfortunately, when we do hear about news in Africa, it’s usually not good. Like the migrant crisis. Or an attempted uprising in the Ivory Coast.

Or, in today’s news, the ousted president in The Gambia refusing to cede power.

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For 90 percent of the people reading this, congratulations, you’ve just learned a new country! The Gambia sits in northwest Africa, completely surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Its president for the last 22 years, Yahya Jummah, has been accused of humans rights violations including the jailing and murder of political opponents, and once said he found a cure for AIDS consisting of herbal paste and a banana. He’s also claimed he’d lead The Gambia for billions of years.

Well, last month, he lost an election. And even though he initially said he’d accept the election results, he’s apparently changed his mind.

And now, neighboring African nations are moving to intervene, potentially setting the stage for a violent conflict, and causing tens of thousands of Gambians to flee the country.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump compared America to a “third world country.” No Mr. Trump, this is what a third world country looks like. And ironically, this is probably similar to what he might have done had he lost this election.

We change presidents on Friday.It’s going to be a tough day for a lot of people.

But amid all of the contention and controversy this past year, we are still witnessing our country’s most storied tradition: a peaceful transition of power.

We take a lot of things for granted living in America. And though a lot of people are extremely unhappy with the results of the election on Nov. 8, the fundamental layers of our democracy remain as strong as ever.

A lot of the credit belongs to Barack Obama, who is handling the transition with class, even if he’s had quite a busy last few days cementing his legacy with pardons, commutations, troop deployments to Eastern Europe and Guantanamo Bay prisoner transfers.

We have a lot of things to worry about in our lives. And watching Donald Trump being sworn in on Friday won’t make life much easier.

But knowing that the stability of our political process is not one of those things is a nice thought. Because in many places in Africa, like The Gambia, they don’t get to experience that.

So my liberal friends, toughen up. You’re unhappy, we get it. I’m there with you, too.

But still try to realize on Friday that we live in the best country in the world, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

And if you can’t do that, well, it’ll be a Friday, so just go to a bar after work and get wasted.

Cheers.

 

Thank you, Barack Obama.

I started this blog as a bored, unmotivated college graduate in December 2009, as a means to relieve my daily musings about life, culture and entertainment from people’s Facebook feeds.

My life had little purpose and I was making practically no money, but I was blissfully unfettered from the obligations of having a full-time job, and I was almost completely disinterested in politics. A search in the archives of this blog’s early days will reveal virtually zero posts with a political agenda.

Indeed, in the blog’s first full year in 2010, I’d wager that “Snooki” appeared more times than “Obama.”

At the time, Barack Obama’s presidency was in its fledgling state. I probably never would have guessed that I’d still be blogging regularly more than seven years later, as his two-term presidency comes to an end.

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It wasn’t until the last few years when I really started to appreciate the significance of Obama and all that he has accomplished, and attempted to accomplish.

Without a doubt, it’s one of my biggest regrets that I wasn’t more politically conscious during Obama’s rise in 2008. The way he galvanized and captivated an entire nation is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and may never see again.

The nation was in trouble. We were mired in two bloody wars we had no business being involved in. The economy was on the verge of collapse. Belief in government was not high.

And then came Obama, a first-term junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, trying to achieve something that was once unthinkable – an African-American leading a country whose sustainability and subsequent emergence as a world power more than 200 years ago was reliant on slavery; a country that required a massive civil rights movement a mere five decades ago to squash the widespread remnants of inequality.

People looked at him to restore their faith in democracy.

“Yes We Can,” was his rallying cry. And he was elected.

Eight years later, It’s almost impossible to discuss Obama without it leading to a political argument. Liberal and Conservative ideologies have diverged so extravagantly that our natural instincts are to attack the other rather than to find common ground.

The political environment is so polarized that the accomplishments that Obama supporters praise are the very same things his critics name to lambaste him.

Obamacare. The Iran nuclear deal. Opening relations with Cuba. His stimulus and auto bailout to save the economy. His numerous environmental protections.

That doesn’t count the death of Osama Bin Laden and his support for marriage equality.

But there’s some things about Obama that can’t be denied, no matter how much others try to: his unrivaled orating skills and his unique ability to inspire; his inclination to always take the high road, even when others tried their hardest to bring him down; and the exemplary behavior he has displayed on an international stage as the top representative of our nation.

For eight years, Obama has acted how a president should. For eight years, he tried to help people the best way he can, with almost no support from Congress. And not some people — all people.

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And that’s one of the reasons it’s been so hard for some people to say goodbye.

Obama was more than a president. He was a symbol of how far we have come. Of how far we could still go. And he has done it with nothing but class for eight years.

Hate him or love him, Obama will be a name that will never be forgotten as long as America exists. Roads and schools will be named after him. Statues will be erected in his honor. One day, he may find himself on currency.

Only time will tell whether his legislative accomplishments truly set the country on a brighter path, and how much the next administration set in motion to derail it.

On a personal note, I will sincerely miss Obama. I am proud that he is my president, and that he has been the face of our country for eight years. I’m in awe of his endless optimism and determination, even in the face of adversity every single day.

And after watching him say goodbye on Tuesday night in Chicago, I couldn’t help but become emotional.

“Yes we can,” he concluded at his speech’s end, repeating his rallying cry from more than eight years ago — this time, with one final addendum.

“Yes we did.”

The war on Obamacare has begun, and the loser is America

Whoever imagined that “repeal and replace” would become part of everyday vernacular in 2017?

I will admit, though, it does roll of the tongue nicely, not unlike YOLO. I think I have a hunch what the title of Drake’s next single will be.

Anyway, it’s the beginning of a new congressional session  — everyone’s favorite time of the year, after Arbor Day — meaning the war over Obamacare has begun.

Now, this is something that began almost immediately after President Obama signed the statute, legally the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law back in 2010, but now with a new Republican regime about to take over the White House in two weeks, its future is very much in doubt.

Political enthusiasts have long been well versed on this battle and what it actually means for America.

But even the people who are indifferent towards, or make it a point to avoid politics, will soon be unable to avoid this topic.

So I think to fully be able to comprehend what is happening on Capitol Hill right now, and the potential impact it will have on everyday Americans, it is paramount to first come to one central understanding: what exactly is Obamacare?

On the surface, it’s simple. Expanding healthcare to everyone. The USA is shockingly behind in offering free and/or affordable healthcare to its citizens. In fact, almost all developed nations offer it. Bot not us.

On top of that, healthcare takes up a massive portion of our federal budget.

So bearing those two basic points in mind, it has long been understood on both sides of the political aisle that the United States has desperately needed healthcare reform. The major point of contention, however, was how.

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No president has made major changes to our country’s healthcare since the inception of Medicaid (for poor people) and Medicare (for old people) by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

Any realist understands that an initial plan to reform a major national program that serves millions is going to be far from perfect. But to create a system that works, you have to get the ball rolling with something, so we can learn what works, what doesn’t, and make it better for future generations.

And that’s what got us Obamacare.

In short, the federal program widened the ability for citizens to obtain healthcare coverage in three ways: expanding Medicaid eligibility to more people; creating an online market place so citizens can compare prices to find what coverage works best for them; and increasing the amount of young adults who can stay on their parents’ plan.

The law also prevents insurance companies from rejecting or discriminating applicants based on preexisting conditions or gender.

Most people don’t get healthcare until they need it. And when that happens, the price is typically exorbitant.

So to balance out the number of sick people who apply for health coverage, Obamacare mandated that all citizens be covered – or pay a fine. That directive forced healthy people to be covered, adding a new faction of previously unenrolled people to insurance companies that would not drain all their funds.

That’s Obamacare 101.

Most people know the short term results – 23 million people who were previously uninsured now have coverage thanks to Obamacare. The rate of the uninsured dropped from 16 percent to 8.

But because less people signed up than the Obama administration hoped, more insurance companies have pulled out, and insurance costs have risen – which was not unexpected. Federal subsidies were always expected to rise as well, to offset the spike.

And that’s been the rallying cry from critics of the law: the increased costs.

Others never wanted any government intrusion in healthcare, perceiving it as federal overreach.

The fact is that most people do not realize the benefits they have seen due to Obamacare. Yes it’s true that the healthier you are, the less likely you are to seek medical care and therefore reap any of the advantages. But for sick people, it’s made all the difference.

What people also fail to realize is that Obamacare’s long-term vision was to revolutionize the way that Americans receive care. Unfortunately, we will likely never know if it worked.

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The first wave of hospitals to participate in the program are now incentivized to not just provide care – but to provide care that actually works. Obamacare authorized hospitals to develop their own metrics to grade the quality of care that their doctors administer. Receiving federal funding was contingent on meeting those metrics.

Therefore, rather than the fee-for-service system that exists now – where doctors are paid a lump sum for every operation or subscription administered, regardless of the results – a new type payment policy was instilled where doctors are rewarded based on results.

These hospitals ware also incentivized to reduce spending while issuing the same quality of care, accomplished through consolidation and collaboration to better utilize resources; enhanced technology; and focusing on preventative care, or targeting people who are more likely to end up in an emergency room and making sure they improve their long-term health.

Better care. Less costs. That is the long-term vision of Obamacare.

How can anyone argue with this system?

But it’s not about health anymore. It’s about political victory. It’s about being the ones who get to announce that they repealed Obamacare, appealing to their conservative base.

It’s truly sad that Americans’ health has become not just a partisan issue, but the biggest partisan issue in our country. Republicans have become so determined to repeal Obamacare that they seemingly have not fully prepared for what they would do afterwards.

Whether it’s repeal and delay or repeal and replace – the fact is that more than 20 million Americans may lose the health coverage that is helping to keep them alive.

But now Republican lawmakers are backtracking, insisting that they will find a way to ensure those who received healthcare under Obamacare would not lose it. They also want to continue protecting people with preexisting conditions while ensuring young people have the ability to stay on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26.

Well, guess what could also accomplish that? Keeping Obamacare, while making some tweaks to fix the parts of it that haven’t fully panned out.

Unfortunately, actually repealing the law has become too politically symbolic that they left themselves no choice.

As we speak, Congress is sacrificing Americans’ health in order to make a political statement.

It’s sad that people aren’t going to fully appreciate this until after it happens.

And all we’ll be left with is sick people unable to afford healthcare and a stupid Drake “Repeal and Replace” mix tape.

Drake, by the way, is from Canada, a country that essentially provides free, publicly-funded healthcare.

Once again, Drake wins.

He always wins.

So … we may beat ISIS soon.

Hey, remember that ISIS group? The terrorist organization that burst on the scene in the Middle East so suddenly and so horrifically in 2014 that the mere mention of their name has become the stuff of nightmares?

The same group that, as their influence has spread westward by inspiring and even orchestrating ruthless terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, has led observers to declare President Obama as a feckless leader when it comes to national security?

And the very same group that has led some paranoid people to believe that all Muslims are inherently bad?

Well, they may very well be on the verge of collapse.

This has been a story that has gone widely unnoticed, mainly because it’s happening 7,000 miles away and in the same week as the final debate in arguably the most contentious presidential election in the history of our country, but on Monday, a mix of American-backed Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers began an offensive in Mosul, in northern Iraq, to retake the city from ISIS.

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Just a bit of rewind for a moment. When ISIS took the city of Mosul in 2014, it stunned everybody and quickly proved to the world that they are a legitimate terrorist threat to be reckoned with.

After that, they gained smaller cities throughout Iraq and Syria and even Libya.

ISIS stands for the Islamic State. The difference between them and Al-Qaeda is that they actually have territory —  a state. That is their calling card.

The reason they are able to attract so many followers worldwide is because they are able to tell people that they have territory in which they can create the Islamic caliphate that is their ultimate goal. Within that territory will be the apocalyptic war that they have continually presaged.

Well, flash forward to present day. ISIS has since lost many of its territories, like Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq, Dabiq in Syria (where that apocalyptic war was supposed to take place) and in Sirte in Libya.

Mosul is the largest they still hold. If they lose it — which they are expected to, since their forces are badly outnumbered in this current battle — the militants will have no choice but to flee to their de-facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, their last remaining stronghold.

I’m not saying ISIS is dead. Even if they lose all of their territory, the poisonous ideologies they have spread are still out there. Plus they can still operate underground. And lord knows what may emerge as the next terrorist threat even if ISIS goes away.

But it just goes to show that the people who thought America was doing nothing to combat ISIS could not have been more wrong  — and it was done without putting a single American soldier on the front lines.

This battle in Mosul may take weeks, or even months, to complete.

But if it goes the way it’s predicted, than President Obama will be entitled to one hell of a mic drop on Jan. 20 when he leaves the White House.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty sweet to imagine that we may very well see the downfall of Donald Trump and ISIS in the same calendar year.

After what has been a horrifying year for America, it may end on a pretty darn good note, after all.

I take it back. Don’t vote for Gary Johnson.

The first presidential debate may be three days old, but discussion surrounding it has not stopped.

What’s most interesting is that the chatter most prevalent in the media and among the two campaigns has nothing to do with any policy positions that came up on Monday night — but rather, a former beauty pageant contestant.

It was the final minutes of the debate, and viewers had already somehow survived 90 minutes of incessant bickering, mostly from the left side of their screen.

But that’s when Hillary Clinton laid a perfectly executed trap. And Donald Trump took the bait.

She mentioned a former Miss Universe winner, Alicia Machado, who Trump once insulted alicia-machadofor gaining weight. It was ingenious because it was a blemish against Trump that, somehow, we have never heard of before.

Of all the terrible, horrible things we’ve heard about Donald Trump over the past year and a half, his treatment of this woman was not one of them.

Instead of letting it go, Trump did what he does best — went on the defensive, and rather than calming the waters, he only proceeded to make the situation worse. And now, with the entire nation refocused on this election, we’re getting a full dose of Trump’s sexist, misogynistic tendencies. (Trump, for his part, appears to be retaliating by trying to turn the narrative to Bill Clinton’s past infidelities.)

Hillary is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s definitely intelligent. But she’s also cunning. And honestly, I don’t think that’s the worst trait to have in a president.

For many, the debate probably validated their belief that they don’t want either candidate to be our president. And those people over the last couple of days may have taken a second look at the predominant third party candidate, Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico turned Independent, who’s polling at around 7 percent.

They should stop. Immediately.

And I know I endorsed the inclusion of Gary Johnson in this race, but, we shouldn’t give him credence simply because he exists as a third option. If he was a good third option, then fine. But recent history disagrees with that notion.

It’s been a rapid descent for Mr. Johnson in recent weeks, beginning with his failure to know anything about Aleppo, the city in northern Syria that’s facing the worst bombing the country has seen in its entire years-long Civil War.

And that coincides with his quirky-bordering-on-crazy behavior during interviews, like in this one last week with Bloomberg politics.

But the final nail in the coffin may have come on Wednesday, when, during a Town Hall-style interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, he was unable to come up with an answer when asked to name one single world leader that he respects. It was, in his own words, “an Aleppo moment.”

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Maybe the problem is that we should stop expecting our presidential candidates to be perfect. I mean, if you think about it, how many world leaders around the world are there right now who are universally liked?

When you’re in the public eye, people are going to look for reasons not to like you. Most of the time, they find them.

Trust me, I wish we had a leader who kept his cool every day on the job. Who was respected in the international community. Who was well-spoken. And who kept his campaign promises and who could represent our country with the proper amount of dignity.

If only that existed.

Oh wait. It does.

His name is Barack Obama.

There’s more you can do to help Louisiana than complain about who visits

We are now in the second week of Louisiana’s historic flooding. More than a dozen people have died. Almost one-third of the state’s parishes are underwater. And some 60,000 homes are damaged.

And yet, the story of the day on Tuesday was not about the destruction, the displaced or the recovery efforts — but about the timeliness of President Obama’s visit to tour the wreckage.

Gotta love American politics, right?

Obama, of course, was on his last vacation before gearing up for the final months of his presidency. Many critics — including an editorial from a Louisiana newspaper — expressed their dismay that he didn’t cut his getaway short to pay a visit.

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The critics were barking even though Louisiana’s governor said the federal government has given them everything they need, and despite the overall consensus that FEMA has been doing a good job.

Indeed, Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said last week that it would be more pragmatic for Obama and any other major politician to visit weeks after the flooding, so as not to distract from the recovery efforts. The next day after that warning, of course, Trump visited.

Although, it’s unfair to completely dismiss the criticism of Obama when the same thing transpired 11 years ago, when George W. Bush was president, and he was “slow” to visit the state following Hurricane Katrina.

The only difference is that FEMA’s response to that disaster was calamitous. Obama Louisiana

Nonetheless, the politicizing of natural disasters is just stupid. People’s lives are ruined — some lost — and the best we can do is condemn someone for visiting five days late? Is a president supposed to go in and scoop up all the water himself? (Or herself — just sayin’)

I challenge all the complainers to answer me this — why don’t you go to Louisiana? Why don’t you go and make a difference?

Don’t have the resources or the ability to go? Fine, a local news website has created a resource for how you can help each affected region. The Louisiana government has also created an online database for volunteer opportunities.

This is an opportunity to put our money where our mouths are.

And I know I am being hypocritical. Me criticizing the criticism is, in a sense, distracting from the real issues at hand. But somebody has to pour some sense into this lunacy.

Heck, why is only Obama blamed for a belated visit?

Why don’t we get mad at Kanye for not going? Where’s Taylor Swift at?

And shouldn’t Justin Beiber at least tweet about it? He has more than 86 million followers! He honestly has the ability to raise more awareness than anybody else in the world. He wouldn’t even need to elaborate. Just a simple tweet reading “Louisiana” would become an instant trending topic.

You can pretty much just start writing “Loui” on your phone and it will autofinish to Louisiana. You don’t even need to spell it right.

You all blame Obama. I blame Beiber.

Come at me.

Oh, and donate to the links above.

That a Muslim family may cost Donald Trump the election is sweet, poetic justice

It’s quite ironic that, in what has already been a roller coaster presidential election, arguably its craziest week happened while I wasn’t even in the country.

I got home from work last Wednesday just in time to see Barack Obama deliver one of the greatest political speeches I have seen in my lifetime, and then I packed my bags and went off to Montreal for five days. More on that tomorrow.

Interestingly, Obama did say something that stuck with me during his exceptional speech. He said: “People outside of the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election.”

And I think that is something many Americans have failed to appreciate. That citizens of other countries do not take Donald Trump seriously. They are befuddled as to why Americans are supporting him.

I can’t say I talk to many foreigners. But when I do, I can’t help but ask what they think of Donald Trump. From my small sample size, I have yet to meet a non-American that hopes he wins.

And when this topic came up among a group of Canadians a few days ago, I was was told by one of them that Americans need to vote for Hillary Clinton simply to avoid a Trump presidency. I told him I couldn’t agree more.

Khizr Khan

Having traveled north of the border last Thursday morning, I missed Day 4 of the Democratic National Convention, which was pretty much the impetus to what became the craziest week possibly in modern political history.

I admittedly still haven’t watched Hillary’s full speech yet, though from what I’ve heard, it appears she avoided the soaring rhetoric and cliches one typically sees during such speeches, and instead focused on showcasing her deep understanding and appreciation for policy — obviously in an effort to highlight the stark contrast between her and her opponent.

But what stole the show was a Muslim family of a slain Iraqi war hero. I’ve watched the video clip of the key moment of Khizr Khan’s speech about a half dozen times now, and it has yet to fail to give me goosebumps.

“Donald Drump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future,” said Khan, a Harvard educated lawyer. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Obviously it was a brilliant move by the DNC to let this family speak. But this was a trap that Donald Trump created for himself. By using such harsh and denigrating rhetoric towards Muslims, he left the door wide open for one extraordinary family to make him look like a fool.

And that family is the Khans.

Unbelievably, Trump, rather than honoring the memory of Humayun Khan, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, entered into a feud with the family. This caused prominent Republican leaders to denounce Trump’s actions — but not enough to rescind their endorsement.

Real brave.

And since then, Trump has proceeded to kick a baby out of one of his rallies; brag about being gifted a Purple Heart despite never sniffing combat or even military service; and failed to endorse his party’s top official and second most recent presidential nominee before him — Paul Ryan and John McCain — in their upcoming elections.

This craziness has led to Republicans actually considering the next steps if Donald Trump was forced to exit the presidential race, as well as a public denunciation from President Obama, declaring Trump “unfit” to be president. Oh, and Hillary is soaring in the polls.

All this in less than a week. I have to admit — it’s impressive.

Who knows what will happen over the next 97 days until the election. But if this really is the beginning of the end of Donald Trump, then we can point to the Khans — a proud, honorable Muslim family — for starting it all.

It really is a beautiful plot twist that would humor even the most creative of fiction writers.

Thank you, Khan family, for doing what needed to be done.