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.

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?