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.

Hawaii, this is your moment

Since being granted statehood in 1959, Hawaii has been viewed by most Americans simply as a tourist destination.

Which, to say, is nothing be ashamed of. By all accounts, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world, featuring some of the most vibrant people and fascinating cultural experiences. Every person I know who has traveled there say it’s a place that everyone needs to visit at least once.

So we love having Hawaii as part of the U.S. But besides its appeal to travelers, it still lacks a very specific identity in terms of the broader history of the United States.

Yes, of course the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred there in 1941 when it was still an overseas territory of the U.S., killing 2,403 Americans, and propelling the country into World War II.

One day later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called the attack “a day that will live in infamy.”

And so it has.

We have, nor will we ever, forget the events of Pearl Harbor.

But Hawaii needs some more positive memories to add to its history books. Because when the highlights of your state in the last 58 years is the birth of Manti Te’o and being the setting for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you know you need a bit more recognition.

Alright, fine. To be fair, it’s also the final resting place for iconic American Charles Lindbergh. But you get the point.

Hawaii needs something that the rest of the country can point to and say, “Yeah … Hawaii did that.

And that time may have finally come.

Hawaii ban

Following Trump’s issuance of his revised travel ban on Monday, the state of Hawaii has already filed a lawsuit demanding an immediate freeze on the order, even before it is set to be implemented on March 16.

As you will recall, the administration’s horribly rushed and vaguely defined first travel ban was almost immediately struck down by the federal courts. But this time, they attempted to clear any language that might give it legal pause.

That includes the exemption of permanent residents, green card and visa holders, and people who have already been approved to enter the United States, and openings for exemptions for people who want to enter the U.S. for purposes of work and study, and those seeking to visit or live with family. Iraq was also removed from the list of temporarily banned Muslim-majority countries.

Hawaii is basing its argument on the fact that judges will recognize the true intent of the ban, as stated by Trump several times on the campaign trail, and that the barring of foreigners will have a harmful impact on the state’s economy, which is boosted by visitors from abroad.

Basically, Hawaii is saying that this new ban will have the same impact as the first one — which was vocally admitted by a top Trump adviser — and if that one was nixed, then this one should be too.

It’s worth noting that two leaked Homeland Security reports basically concluded that banning residents due to their lack of citizenship will have almost no impact on protecting the country from terrorism.

It’s also worth noting that the law firm representing Hawaii is headed by Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration.

So we’ll see how this plays out. It appears that there’s much less leeway for judges to be willing to strike it down right away. That being said, Hawaii is appealing in the same appellate circuit – the Ninth Circuit – that shut down Trump’s first travel ban.

But if this goes Hawaii’s way, then this will be the state’s biggest achievement since the invention of the Mai Tai.

This is Hawaii’s moment, in all of its glory.

As their state motto goes: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono.

You can google that to see if I’m lying or not.

The judiciary strikes back

Checks and balances is the most fundamental principle of our government. And it’s pretty common sense, right? Each branch of government, the Executive, Judicial and Legislative, has its own independent authority to undertake its own unique actions, but on its own can’t perform all functions of government.

This is junior high school civics. A separation of powers prevents any branch — or any person — from becoming too powerful. It’s one of the least controversial facets of our government.

It was James Madison, our fourth president and the author of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, who explained the importance of this model of governance in the Federalist Papers in the late 18th century.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

If you alone have all the powers that were bestowed upon our branches of government, then you are a tyrant.

This was written 220 years ago.

But it could not be more relevant today. Right now.

Demonstrators spell out "# No Muslim Ban" during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston

As you all have heard, this evening the 9th District Appeals Court upheld the restraining order on Trump’s travel ban. The decision was a unanimous one by the three-judge panel, one of which was appointed by George H.W. Bush.

Remember, this was only a decision on whether to keep the restraining order in place while the courts continue to determine the lawfulness of the order. It doesn’t mean it’s dead, but it’s a very promising and symbolic victory, and an equally humbling defeat for the Trump administration.

The administration is asserting that they — and they alone — know what’s best for this country. That any decision they make regarding national security should be unreviewable.

The courts said: nuh-uh.

By the time the Trump administration is over, we will have learned something important about our governing institution. We will have either learned that one impulsive, radical man could singlehandedly destabilize it, or that the separation of powers that were put in place by the Constitution have been vindicated.

Tonight’s decision was a victory for the latter.

On a side note, we should all be grateful to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson for his successful challenging of this ban in the courts. He will forever be remembered in history as the first person who successfully stood up to this turbulent administration.

Twitter, naturally, has been active since the decision. Trump chimed in, telling the court that he’ll … “SEE YOU IN COURT.”

That’s like Matt Ryan tweeting after his Super Bowl loss “I’LL SEE YOU AT THE SUPER BOWL.”

As always, when something silly happens, the Internet responds with some fantastic memes. Check them out.

Oh, and one other person chimed in.

Remember that woman who won the popular vote but still lost the presidency?

I’ll let that burn resonate for a bit.

Democracy comes to life, in the form of an Internet live stream

In the early days of America, the White House was meant to be a place of accessibility. Fresh off British rule, our founding fathers wanted the people of our nation to be involved in government to the highest degree – a right they were not afforded under the reign of a monarch.

Indeed, during the days of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, people were literally allowed to stroll up to the White House and walk in. The president would even come and greet them.

What greater way is to participate in government than that?

After all, the entire premise of a republic relies on the participation of its electorate. We are expected to vote, to be vocal, and to immerse ourselves in the democratic process as much as possible. Our government, remember, is “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and our elected leaders are supposed to answer to us and nobody else.

white-house

Flash forward 200 years later. Nobody cares about government. No one writes to their congressional representatives. More than half of the country doesn’t vote. And because of it, our representatives don’t give a shit what we have to say.

Essentially, our own inertia weakens our influence.

Years of relative peace and the ubiquity of the Internet has resulted in a greater disengagement than ever in this country between the government and its people.

The mere idea of sitting down and penning a note for your U.S. Senator is archaic.

Attending a Town Hall meeting to discuss important issues? Lol-worthy.

Turning on CSPAN to watch a Senate hearing? Ludicrous.

Until now.

If there is one unquestionable truth we can all agree on with the Trump administration, it’s that this contemporary conventional wisdom of government participation has been turned on its head.

People are absolutely flooding their congressional representatives with calls, letters and emails. People are donating to charitable causes that will fight on their behalf. People are taking to the streets to protest actions and policies they believe to be antithetical to American values.

Still not convinced?

The audio for Tuesday’s federal appeals court hearing for Trump’s proposed travel ban was streamed on the Internet, and more than 136,000 people tuned in. Tens of thousands more listened on TV.

That’s astounding.

live-stream-travel-ban

Sure, 135,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the 324 million people living in this country, but, it’s still an interest level in government that would have been unheard of even a year ago.

And that is a very good thing. It’s sad that it took an event of this magnitude to get us there, but, the fact that people are vigilant and paying attention, while actively participating in day-to-day governmental affairs is extremely important, and fulfills the fundamental basis of our democratic process.

The hearing, meanwhile, continues, with early indications that the three-panel appeals court won’t overturn the initial ruling by a Seattle judge against the travel ban. Either way, it’s expected to wind up in Supreme Court, so we will not know the end result for quite some time.

And throughout the process, Trump continues to disparage our independent judiciary.

People keep worrying if there will be a sense of fatigue from those who are critical of this current administration.

But when 135,000 people listen to an audio stream of a court hearing in the middle of a Wednesday … I think we’re OK.

On that note, I’m walking up to the White House front doors right now.

We’ll see how this goes.

A show of religious tolerance in Texas

In 2015, the Texas state capitol in Austin hosted its biennial Muslim Capitol Day, an earnest day of civic participation where students of Islamic faith voice their thoughts and concerns with state leaders.

The event began in 2003, and has been a successful and educational experience for both the students and the legislators. But in 2015, the event met trouble.

About two dozen protesters showed up at the Capitol to show their opposition towards Islam. One of them vehemently stormed the stage and stole the microphone from a student to declare that Islam would never become the dominant faith in the United States.

It was a sad display in what was designed to be a positive day of student engagement in government.

So, given the disturbance from two years ago, and the anti-Islamic rhetoric and actions endorsed by our newly elected president, it’s only natural that the Muslim leaders who organize the event were deeply worried about how the 2017 Muslim Capital Day would proceed.

The event happened on Tuesday, and some protesters did indeed show up, but they were completely drowned out by the more than 1,000 people who showed to form a human shield around the Muslim students to protect them and show their support.

texas-muslim-support

As the event came to a close, one of the organizers actually told the crowd she was thankful for Donald Trump for motivating people to be there on that day, which she said surely would not have happened otherwise.

These are the unintended consequences of Donald Trump’s divisive actions. He is bringing people together against the ideologies that he is promoting, and in many ways, strengthening the innate human bond between one another – while at the same time, creating religious tolerance.

Still not convinced? Last Friday, around the same time Donald Trump was signing his controversial, possibly unlawful ban on refugees and immigrants from certain countries, a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned to the ground.

Members of the Islamic Center of Victoria showed up at the scene to see their sanctuary ablaze. Many joined together to pray. The following morning, they conducted their morning prayer outside, next to the ashen remains of their fallen mosque.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

Yes, this is a terrible story, and you’re probably wondering why I brought it up. Well, it’s because a GoFundMe page has raised more than $1 million to rebuild the mosque.

And that’s only part of it: four churches and a synagogue have offered their buildings to the Islamic Center’s members to use for prayer.

And bear in mind, this is all in Texas, a state that most people around the country see as not the most ethnically diverse or religious tolerant. But their citizens sure showed us wrong.

Muslims feel understandably isolated in a post-Donald Trump world, and it’s not hard to understand why. In Canada, a shooting at a mosque on Sunday in Quebec City by a man known to have voiced radical right-wing politics on social media killed six people.

It’s a tragedy that has shaken the country, which is typically not accustomed to such mass acts of violence like its neighbor to the south.

But, like the good people of Texas, Canadians came out in full support.

These enormous gestures of compassion in the wake hardship and tragedy show the best of us. They are seen by the entire world.

Mr. Trump, you may try to infringe on people’s basic rights, but you can never take away our humanity.

Have a good weekend.

When people get mad about the protests … protest harder.

For decades to come, the prevailing image of Donald Trump’s first week in office will be defined by the thousands of people who came together throughout the country to voice their opposition.

The protesters.

Indeed, his inaugural weekend was deeply overshadowed by the Women’s March, mobilized by social media, which brought millions of people to the streets to advocate for various causes. These demonstrations occurred not only in all 50 states, but in all seven continents. It was a miraculous show of solidarity by people of extremely divergent ethnicities, cultures and religious ideologies.

It was an impactful display of humanity and compassion during a time of worldwide uncertainty. A display that empowered the disenfranchised and showed our nation’s most vulnerable people that they are not alone.

And while these imposing visuals, omnipresent across news stations and computer screens, are giving the indication that they represent the clear majority of Americans, it’s important to keep in mind how many people are not protesting.

Remember that 63 million people voted for Trump. And given that, for the most part, Trump’s executive orders have aligned with his campaign promises (as polarizing as they were), they probably are not too disappointed.

So while the political left has decried Trump’s nascent presidency as tyrannical and inhumane, the right have been voicing their approval of Trump’s stance on national security while taking aim at a new target: the protesters.

womens-march

Those very same people who have been beacons of hope to one half of the population have been castigated by the other half.

You’ve all seen it. It’s unavoidable.

They’re being called crybabies. Vagrants. ‘Libtards.’ Whatever that last one means.

But you know they’re so mad? Why the protestors are getting under their skin?

Because it’s working. They see the goodwill and the kinship and the amazing sense of unanimity, and they’re pissed off that such a successful demonstration is happening for reasons they disapprove of.

To protest is to evoke your fundamental and Constitutional rights as an American citizen. In cities far and wide throughout the U.S., there have been powerful displays of unity on extravagant scales. For many generations of people, demonstrations of this size are a brand-new sight.

Today’s youth are used to seeing advocacy on social media and nothing more. But to see people mobilize on the streets – and peacefully, with very few instances of violence – hearkens back our country’s most recent successful movements, for civil rights and for feminism.

It’s democracy in action.

And right now, people sure are galvanized.

The effectiveness of protests are certainly up for debate. But there’s also some things that can’t be denied. Courage is contagious. Seeing others on the street standing up for their beliefs will motivate others to do the same, even if they’ve never done it before.

The visuals of protestors standing together in solidarity will resonate across the world, and tell foreign citizens that not everybody supports this president and his xenophobic agenda.

It’s essential for officials of other countries, who have been insulted by this administration and are currently planning their next moves, to see that not all Americans agree with Trump’s actions.

The mass advocacy emboldens politicians and judges. It warms the hearts of the most vulnerable and defenseless people in our society.

Critics could groan. They could complain and ridicule. But they can’t stop the fire that has been lit for millions of people. It’s something they can’t take away, no matter how hard they try.

Alone, we are voiceless.

But together, we are deafening.

Trump’s refugee ban: please let’s not let history repeat itself

On May 13, 1939, a German ship called the MS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers – nearly all of them Jewish refugees who were escaping persecution from the Nazi Party.

Most of the passengers were planning to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States, hoping for a better future. But when the ship arrived in Havana two weeks later, all but 28 passengers were turned away.

It then set sail for the United States.

In the wake of the Great Depression, which instilled a sense of xenophobia and nativism within many in the United States, most Americans were opposed to immigration. That sentiment, in addition to gains of the isolationist Republicans in the Congressional elections one year earlier, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to make a drastic decision.

He turned the MS St. Louis away without allowing a single passenger to disembark.

It wasn’t an isolated decision. Three months earlier, the U.S. government failed to pass a bill that would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany.

The MS St. Louis returned to Europe, where the passengers were eventually settled into four different countries. According to historical records, 254 of them – more than 25% of the original manifest – died in the Holocaust.

ms-st-louis

Until recently, this tragic tale served as a warning of what happens when we give in to prejudice. It reminded us of the importance of helping those in desperate need.

And because of it, the U.S. has served as a worldwide example of welcoming those who are escaping oppression and war. It’s the Statue of Liberty that is often the first thing immigrants and refugees see upon their arrival on our shores – the ultimate symbol that we are the home of the brave, and the land of the free.

Until now.

Donald Trump’s temporary ban on all refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and permanent ban on Syrian refugees is the biggest test to American values, and the U.S. Constitution, since World War II.

Right now is when we learn exactly what type of country we are.

Oppressive and totalitarian regimes use the unwillingness of other nations to admit refugees to justify their actions. It’s up to other countries to step up and show where their values really lie, and to stand up to tyranny.

It’s a test that we ave now failed. And of all days, Trump signed the order on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Home of the brave?

Right now, we are the home of the cowards.

The outrage to Trump’s executive order – widely hailed as a discriminatory and unconstitutional ban on Muslims – has been immediate and widespread. Protests are popping up in cities and airports throughout the country.

And the ACLU has sprung into action, already earning a victory when a federal judge in Brooklyn forbade the deportation of foreigners who were being detained at the JFK airport in the hours following last Friday’s order.

The fight is only beginning.

refugee-protests

In America, we’re constitutionally forbidden to discriminate upon religion or ethnicity. Though Trump’s order never mentions Islam or Muslims, it’s clear who it is targeting, and Rudy Giuliani all but admitted on national TV that it is a Muslim ban.

Despite my strong opinions on this blog, I mostly refrain from discussing politics on Facebook. I simply view it as an inappropriate forum to discuss such polarizing topics, at risk of alienating people I know.

But the one instance during the 2016 election season that forced me to stand up for my beliefs was when Donald Trump first announced his desire to implement a Muslim ban. I personally know people who are Muslim, and they are just as peace-loving as anybody I know.

Even as that happened, Democrats viewed Trump’s words as empty rhetoric to appeal to his base, never believing it would be put into action.

The order is already having far-reaching consequences. Countries are planning retaliatory actions on the U.S. The order also punishes foreign citizens who have aided the U.S., including Iraqis who worked as interpreters for American troops.

After this action, why the hell would they want to help us anymore?

It bears repeating: this is a test to our democracy. What happens over the following days, months and years will determine how this period in our country is remembered in history books.

It’s already been stained, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be rewritten.

Remember the MS St. Louis.