A world without Trump

While Americans differ wildly in political ideology, I think one thing that most Americans can agree on is that we would be a less divisive country right now if someone other than Donald Trump was in charge.

It’s impossible to process news without hearing his name spoken every 10 seconds, and it detracts from our ability to register what is important and what isn’t.

And that’s one of the ultimate tragedies of this administration. It’s disenchanted our concept of a true democracy.

Yes, people are motivated, and the midterms elections will tell us the official temperature of the electorate. But that’s 11 months away. And most people are just fed up with the arguing.

If you want a telling sign that the institutions of American democracy are collapsing before our eyes, then read the analysis from scholars and journalists who have spent years of their lives studying governments of third world countries that have collapsed.

The signs are the same. People take for granted that our country is so far advanced that we would never be in danger of a democratic backslide. But what you must realize is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly and in plain sight.

Delegitimizing the media. Undermining elected representatives and judges. Scapegoating minorities. Venerating the idea of national security and a strong military.

These are the basic ingredients of an administration that is aiming to destabilize the institutional norms of a sturdy democracy. And everyone should be alarmed.

But that will play out as it may. One of the reasons I stopped blogging this summer is because I became tired of being yet another voice screaming into an endless abyss about Donald Trump. At some point, the voices drown each other out. And it just makes you feel powerless.

So here’s what we’re going to do. From now on, I want to chime in on important things happening in the world. But from this day forward, I will never mention Donald Trump’s name again. Not until Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, 2020, when he is hopefully voted out of office.

The Weinblog is back – though almost certainly not on a daily basis – and it will be totally devoid of Trump. If I discuss a news item that has ties to him, then I will find a way to circumvent his influence on the subject, and certainly refrain from using his name directly.

And it will be a breath of fresh air.

From now on, you get current events. Trump-free.

A world without Donald Trump.

That’s the Weinblog’s motto from now on.

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The truth about sanctuary cities

There is not much disagreement among Americans that there should be a standardized process for non-citizens to enter America, and those who fail to meet those requirements should be subject to punishment and/or deportation.

The means to get there is the sticky point.

Of course, there was once a point in our nation’s history when the lone requirement was simply to make it to Ellis Island. A doctor would take a look at you to make sure you’re relatively healthy , and voila, you were allowed to live here, although the path towards citizenship still remained murky, at best.

Indeed, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly descend from somebody who had that very experience. Of course, times have changed, and the criteria to become American is understandably — and appropriately — more stringent.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If you ask some conservative thinkers, their solution would be to round them all up and toss them out tomorrow. That’s just not realistic for an abundance of reasons.

For one, it would put our economy in a tailspin. Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes each year. In some cases, they contribute more than those in the top 1% tax bracket who get numerous tax exemptions.

Secondly, it’s simply impossible to identify who is illegal and who is not without discriminating and infringing on people’s rights. Strict and forceful deportation policies create an environment of fear among all immigrants, legal or not.

And this is what brings us to sanctuary cities.

The term derives from a religious movement in the 1980s, when churches felt a moral obligation to shelter Central American refugees from countries fleeing war and persecution. By taking them in, they were subverting the law, but offering sanctuary to innocent victims escaping the horrors of their home nation.

The term has since become more heavily politicized, and was taken to a whole new level during the 2016 election as the central platform focus of Donald Trump.

In 2017, the term “sanctuary city” conjures up images in people’s minds of a lawless city where illegal immigrants can do whatever they want without being criminalized.

But the truth is, according to many published accounts, that local police departments support sanctuary cities.

What qualifies a location a sanctuary city is their refusal to cooperate with the federal immigration agency, ICE, which essentially has a mandate to use any means to identify illegal immigrants and give them the boot. Cities that cooperate with ICE are requested to keep inmates in jail even when they’ve been cleared for release so it can be determined if they should be deported or not.

Not only does this open cities up to potential lawsuits when a detainee is, in fact, legal — which has precedent — but it exacerbates that sentiment of fear between immigrants and police. It eliminates any incentive for immigrants to cooperate with police, thus taking away what could have been a valuable source towards tracking down actual illegal immigrants who are continuously breaking the law.

So while sanctuary cities do exist as a symbol of America’s growing diversity, their primary function is to create a safer environment within cities between residents and police.

Now this isn’t meant to be a total defense of illegal immigrants. They should migrate to America legally. Though it should be noted that while there are plenty of real life incidents of undocumented persons committing violent crimes — sometimes even murder — against innocent Americans, statistically, it doesn’t make it any more likely that an illegal immigrant will commit murder more often than someone who was born here.

Immigration is a very complicated issue. Sanctuary cities are just a part of it.

Next time you hear someone complain about a sanctuary city, maybe you can inform them that they don’t exist as a safe haven for murderous gangs from Latin America, but rather, as a place where local police departments can act in partnership with residents to enforce the law and track down those who truly abuse their privilege of living in America.

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.

seth-meyers-trump-100-days

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.

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.

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.

If you’re tired of hating Trump all the time, direct some towards this dude from the Netherlands

On March 15, the Netherlands will hold their parliamentary elections, where they essentially elect their local representatives in government, called Members of Parliament, our version of Congress.

Unlike the United States, countries with parliamentary systems almost always have several parties to choose from, which gives residents the opportunity to have a more diverse government that better represents the will of the people.

If one political party has enough of their MPs elected to form a majority (for example, 76 representatives in a parliament of 150 seats), then they essentially control the government and their party leader likely becomes prime minister. If there’s no majority, parties form coalitions until they have one, and the leader of the party that got the most votes still usually becomes prime minister.

Normally this is all trivial stuff and few people outside the Netherlands cares what happens in their elections.

In fact, unless you’re talking about planning a trip to Amsterdam with the bros, few Americans have any interest at all in discussing the Netherlands.

But on March 15, the stakes in the Netherlands have never been higher.

AMsterdam

And that’s because the election has basically become a referendum on far-right populist ideologies that are being increasingly espoused by radically conservative politicians across the world, most notably in the U.S. by Donald Trump.

With populist movements threatening to gain influence in countries like France and Germany, the Netherlands elections are being viewed as a global bellwether of the European political temperature – especially since Netherlands is historically one of the most socially liberal countries in the world.

Their version of Donald Trump? A man by the name of Geert Wilders (last name pronounced Vilders), a bleached-blonde, slimy looking, Islam-hating, refugee-loathing agitator who has stirred the pot within his country and has had a far-reaching influence worldwide.

He’s proposed closing all mosques, banning the Qu’ran, and has called the hijab a “useless piece of cloth.” He’s also being partly funded by American conservative groups.

And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, his populist “Party of Freedom” was predicted to take the most seats in parliament in the upcoming elections. Closer to the election, the outcome looks a little murkier, but Wilders’s goal of instilling far-right ideologies into the country has already been accomplished.

Because his party is so unpopular among his fellow politicians, it’s highly unlikely that Wilders would be able to form a coalition even if his party wins the most seats, meaning he will not likely become the country’s next government chief.

Geert Wilders

But this could set the stage for far-right politics to take hold across western Europe. If Wilders reins victorious, will Marine Le Pen follow in France? Will Frauke Petry shake up Germany?

We received a sort-of heartening precursor for what’s to come when Austrians rejected a far-right candidate during their most recent elections.

But Geert Wilders isn’t comparable to Trump just because of his views, but because of his celebrity and his mannerisms. For one, he tweets a lot. And he’s often followed in public by a gaggle of reporters.

Wilders has been the subject of death threats, and as a result has lived a very isolated life where he reportedly only sees his wife a couple times a week, sleeps in a different place every night, and is under 24-hour police surveillance.

And unlike Trump, he has actually been legally charged for inciting discrimination.

On March 15 we will have a clearer answer as to whether people like Trump are the new normal.

And if that happens, threatening to leave your country may no longer be a viable option to escape populism.

Those seven planets we discovered a couple of weeks ago…

Are they inhabitable yet?

Why Russia matters

Even those who’ve only had a casual interest in politics since the election have probably still heard about Trump’s ominous ties with Russia.

It’s Trump this and Putin that. White House this and Kremlin that. As we speak, the FBI is investigating the relationship between the two leaders, and stories highlighting the two nation’s shadowy dealings are breaking by the day, including a Washington Post exclusive on Wednesday reporting two pre-election conversations between now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak — a direction contradiction of what he told Congress during his confirmation hearing.

Sessions has, as of tonight, announced he will recuse himself from any future Justice Department investigations into Russia.

But the overarching question from casual observers and even serious political junkies is likely to be: Why? What does it matter if Trump talks with Russia? How does it affect me and why should I care?

The answer to that is complex. But the bottom line is that it does matter. A lot.

All explanations must begin with the Cold War. Russia never wanted the Cold War to end. If they had it their way, they’d have pedaled their interests and influence all over the world, forming one giant Soviet Union. The United States was their direct adversary in preventing that from happening.

In the decades following World War II, there was no greater threat to America than the expansion of Soviet influence. It’s why we fought wars in North Korea and Vietnam. It’s why we performed a secret coup in Iran. It’s why we expedited our space and nuclear arms programs. Nearly all foreign policy from 1950 to 1990 revolved directly around the Cold War.

cold-war

Since it’s been about 27 years since the collapse of the USSR, most millennials probably don’t appreciate this history. But in reality, it has shaped the way these two countries exist and operate.

And even though the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, in no way, shape or form, represents American interests. The country shares a deep mistrust of the U.S., and takes great pleasure in discrediting western values. Vladimir Putin grew up during the Cold War and is a former agent of the KGB, the Soviet secret police.

To believe that he still doesn’t possess Soviet values – the ones that were instilled in him throughout his entire childhood and adult life — would simply be naïve. He does not like the U.S., and he hated the Obama regime for being particularly tough on Russian overreach, particularly in the Ukraine and Syria.

So there’s your context. There’s very little to gain by warming up to Russia.

The question, then, is why has Trump appeared to be so buddy-buddy with Putin? Why has he failed to say anything negative towards the Russian leader?

Therein lies the question, and the motivation for news outlets to continue digging.

trump-putin

The ties between the Trump team and Russia are vast. His first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was dismissed because of his ties to Ukraine’s former president, who was basically a Russian shill who was later ousted after protests by the Ukrainian people.

Security advisor Michael Flynn was fired following his clandestine conversations with Russian officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had numerous business dealings with Russia, and it’s well documented that his former employer, ExxonMobil, would benefit significantly if Obama-imposed sanctions against Russia were lifted.

Trump himself has admittedly tried to do business with Russia. And we still haven’t seen his tax returns. Thus, we do not know the extent of his involvement with the country. The fact that he is refusing to release them only adds to the speculation.

And this is all in the backdrop of what we already do know – that Russia purposefully interfered and aimed to influence our presidential election.

As in most cases, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Perhaps the alleged ties between Trump and Russia are harmless. But the more he denies them, and the more his administration officials deny them, the more he compromises himself.

Lying under oath is what could bite him in the end. Presidents have been kicked out of office for less.

Furthermore, coziness between the U.S. and Russia also serves to destabilize our relationships with eastern European countries who are not friendly with Russia. The more complicit our president is with Putin — even simply from conjecture and hearsay — the less trustworthy we become in their eyes.

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And finally, the elephant in the room is the leaks. There are tens of millions of employees in the United States government, all of whom are privy to more information about the U.S. and Russia than we are.

There are continuous reports of widespread disarray within government departments under this inexperienced regime. Trump has already shown an indifference towards heeding the advice of our leading intelligence officials.

If these employees feel concerned enough that our government is not functioning properly that they have no choice but to leak information to the press, then that is deeply troubling. They are in a unique position to evaluate the state of this current regime, and if their assessments lead them to believe that leaking is the best option to protect American interests, then that to me is as much of a warning sign as anything.

In the end, this growing scandal has the potential to compromise the motives of our leaders, weaken American sentiment worldwide, and as a result, threaten our standing as a global power and our sovereignty as an independent nation.

So yes, one administration official speaking with the Russians is not altogether that troubling.

Trump’s inability to repudiate Putin is alarming, but not overly scandalous.

The appointment of a secretary of state who, with his previous job, went against U.S. interests to forge a relationship with Russia may be controversial, but not necessarily disqualifying.

All of these things together, given the past and recent history between the United States and Russia … it’s not a red flag.

It’s a freaking five-alarm fire.