Mr. Gorsuch goes to Washington

It was below freezing temperatures one January evening in 2009 in Illinois when a man named Alphonse Maddin, driving a truck attached to a trailer for TransAm Trucking, found himself stranded shortly before midnight.

It turned out his truck was fine, but the trailer’s brake stopped working, and thus couldn’t be towed along. Upon returning to his truck, the heat also wasn’t functioning.

Maddin notified TransAm, which told him to wait for help. He did. Hours passed, and Maddin fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt numbness in his torso and feet. He called TransAM again, which told him to keep waiting, or to drag the trailer on its frozen brakes.

Not long after, Maddin, fearing for his life, unhitched the trailer and took off. Assistance eventually arrived and the trailer was recovered.

Maddin was fired for disobeying orders.

He later sued the company, under a statute by the Department of Labor that says employees do not have to operate their vehicle if they have reasonable apprehension about a serious injury.

TransAm contended that Maddin was not protected by this statute because he did, in fact, operate his vehicle.

An independent arbiter ruled in Maddin’s favor that the dismissal was illegal. Appeals ensued, and an appellate court of three judges backed the arbiter’s decision, ruling 2-1 in favor of Maddin.

The one man who ruled in favor of TransAm?

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Neil Gorsuch hearing

Now I’m not telling you this story to make you mad, or to confirm anyone’s worst fear about this judge who has been previously hailed for his conservative rulings.

In fact, I was out sick from work today, and watched a significant chunk of Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate. From what I saw, I don’t think anybody could have watched the proceedings and thought that he is anything but an extremely intelligent man.

He clearly takes his job as an interpreter of the law very seriously, and was very disciplined in his responses to not indicate that he would have any premeditated ideological leanings.

So if he was conning us, then he sure fooled me.

Some of the highlights included his statement that “No man is above the law,” when asked about potential presidential overreach; and when asked how he would have responded if Trump asked him to reverse Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion nationally), he said “I would have walked out the door.”

But the reason I shared that story in the beginning is because it is clear that Gorsuch interprets rules and the law literally, regardless of morality. And that is a good or bad thing, depending on how you choose to perceive it.

In his minority opinion, Gorsuch agreed that since Maddin did indeed operate his vehicle, he lost protection under the Department of Labor statute, because that is exactly how it is worded.

Gorsuch will almost certainly be confirmed. And people can take heart in knowing that he is a competent judge who understands that the law exists to hold everybody in this country accountable, no matter how powerful or influential they are.

But his tenure as a justice of our nation’s highest court will always be questioned, because of the circumstances in which he eventually obtained the seat, and because of the character of the man who selected him.

Never forget Merrick Garland. (Odds say we all forget by June).

And if you’re thinking that there’s no way I watched an entire day of of Supreme Court hearings and was not once tempted to run out to Taco Bell to get a Taco Supreme… then you’d be 100 percent right.

The head-scratching ‘controversy’ over Beauty and the Beast’s openly gay character

James Comey speaks.

Speak again bright angel. For thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a wingèd messenger of heaven, unto the white, upturnèd, wondering eyes.

Last time James Comey opened his mouth to the public, his words resulted in a Donald Trump presidency.

This time, Comey’s appearance before Congress places a major cloud of suspicion over our current president.

But it’s important to understand exactly where we go from here. This investigation may take months — if not years — to complete. Until then, we won’t categorically know if Trump or his allies are guilty of any type of collusion. And I say that knowing full well that Republican officials had no problem declaring Hillary Clinton “guilty” before having any semblance of evidence of quid pro quo between the State Department and donors to her foundation.

James Comey

What these remarkable statements by Comey do accomplish in the short term, however, is putting a fracture into Donald Trump’s integrity.

Trump has lied, and lied, and lied some more, and until now it’s done nothing to weaken his power or influence. For months, he denied that he has anything to do with Russia.

Well, this isn’t coming from journalists anymore. It’s not from pundits or Democratic lawmakers. This is the director of the FBI. One can hope that today’s events give people a greater appreciation of the type of man our president is.

Stay tuned.

Now let’s discuss something that is the complete opposite of a scandal. Beauty and the Beast.

The film, starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens and Beast, broke the opening weekend box office record for the month of March this past weekend, grossing $170 million domestically.

But some people are choosing to talk about the fact that the movie includes Disney’s first explicitly gay character. 

A drive-in movie theater in Alabama is refusing to show the movie, and even some countries are considering boycotting it.

Now, before we go ahead and hold all Republicans, conservatives and Catholics responsible for this nonsense, let’s remember that not every one feels the same way as the people who own this Alabama drive-in. Indeed, the Christian Post seriously questioned the backlash.

But it’s even more nauseating to hear about the opposition to the character when you consider its genesis.

Josh gad BatB

The original Beauty and the Beast, the animated classic that everyone loves, was co-composed by a gay man, Howard Ashman, as he was dying with AIDS. Ashman’s friends have publicly stated that the Beast and his “sickness” was intended by Ashman as a direct metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that began decimating America in the ’80s.

Ashman died in 1991, the same year Beauty and the Beast was released.

So if you liked the original movie — which you’re lying if you don’t — then you should know that it wouldn’t exist without a gay man. Neither would the Little Mermaid, for that matter, which Ashman also composed. Oh, and he also had posthumous song credits on this smaller, low-budget animated film called Aladdin.

More of a Lion King fan? Elton John says hi.

The more recent Beauty and the Beast is directed by Tom Condon, who is gay. And people speculate that his decision to make a character gay was in direct homage to Ashman.

Given that history, criticizing Beauty and the Beast for having a gay character is no different than criticizing more than two decades of artistic innovation that led to so many of the joys present in today’s culture as well as in all mediums of entertainment. It’s equal to criticizing the person responsible for enriching millions of childhoods.

And for what it’s worth, Ewan McGregor, who plays the candlestick Lumiere in the film, also thinks the controversy is stupid. 

It’s easy to hate something.

What’s harder is to take the time to understand why.

One can choose to be close-minded and let things that conflict with your archaic worldview cause you to be angry. Or, you can be open-minded and accepting and happy.

To the former, there’s plenty of room at the table to join us.

Be our guest.

The good, the bad and the ugly Republican healthcare bill

As most of you know, Republican lawmakers finally took the first step in fulfilling their near decade-long promise to repeal and replace Obamacare last week by introducing their own alternative legislation, the American Health Care Act, which would reshape healthcare access throughout the country.

Most notably, the bill would eliminate the Obamacare mandate that all Americans have healthcare, or pay a penalty.

The mandate – while unpopular – has been repeatedly deemed necessary by economists and health care experts, noting that for healthcare to actually be affordable, a bounty of young, healthy people needed to be buying insurance to offset the costs of all the sick people, whom, historically, pay the highest prices for their extensive health coverage needs, and thus are the most expensive to insure.

The national mood towards Obamacare has changed drastically since its implementation several years ago, holding true to the adage — you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone.

An awakening has suddenly blossomed among the public of the imminent consequences of repealing Obamacare: the loss of health coverage for tens of millions of Americans who gained eligibility under the law, thanks to Medicaid expansion and the qualification that young adults can stay on their parents’ plan up to age 27, in addition to the aforementioned mandate.

Paul Ryan AHCA

As a result, thousands of constituents have stormed their representatives’ offices to demand they vote against an Obamacare repeal, among many other things. Survivors of various health issues have publicly stated that they wouldn’t be alive today without Obamacare.

And yet, Republicans, pressed on, culminating with this new bill introduced last week. But despite the party’s tough rhetoric, the bill contains some remarkable concessions, maintaining many provisions of Obamacare – a clear testament to the fact that America is now too deep in healthcare reform to turn back now.

Following its introduction, Donald Trump lauded the bill as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to replace Obamacare, while throwing continuous jabs at the “imploding” state of his predecessor’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Barely minutes later, conservative Republican lawmakers held a press conference to denounce the bill, calling it Obamacare 2.0, and saying it doesn’t accomplish their desire of a full, categorical repeal.

And moderate Republicans from swing states are concerned that their constituents will turn against them if they endorse the bill.

Democrats, naturally, are united against the bill. As are nearly every professional medical agency.

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs

Upon further analysis of the bill, it became apparent that the AHCA is basically a major tax cut for wealthy Americans disguised as a healthcare bill.

And just when support was sinking lower and lower, the Congressional Budget Office – which the White House was preemptively attacking – announced on Monday that the AHCA would result in the loss of health care coverage for approximately 24 million people.

In other words, it’s dead on arrival.

There’s a reason why presidents dating back to the early 1900s have tried, and failed, to implement health care reform – because it’s freaking hard. Obama got it done. It was not without criticism, but as a result, millions more people have health insurance than before he was in office.

Republicans talked themselves into this mess by promising to repeal Obamacare, and making it seem like it would be a piece of cake. They raised expectations by passing dozens of bills to repeal Obamacare over the last several years that were immediately vetoed by Obama.

And now, in control of the House, Senate and presidency, they have the opportunity to do it, and they’re realizing just how hard it is.

It’s ironic, but Obamacare may end up being the downfall of the Republican Party under Donald Trump.

But pay attention to what happens. It’s easy to observe from the sidelines, and even cheer that you are no longer penalized for failing to purchase health insurance if this bill somehow passes.

But one day, if you get sick, it could be your life that’s on the line … and what’s happening now was the signature moment that impacted that care that you will one day receive.

If you won’t care for the sick people, then maybe you’ll at least care about future sick you.

Don’t make future sick you want to punch young healthy you in the face.

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?

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.

What to expect when you’re expecting a CIA hack

Today on ‘As the World Turns,’ Congressional Republicans proposed an alternative to Obamacare that may benefit the wallets of young, healthy people, but will likely be extremely problematic for those who are severely ill; European and Asian countries are considering upgrading their nuclear arsenal out of the fear that they can no longer rely on an unstable United States; and Wikileaks released thousands of pages of documents that may reveal highly secretive — and highly troubling — hacking techniques by the CIA.

Oh, and an explosive story in the New Yorker explains how Donald Trump’s company may have done shady business with corrupt Azerbaijani officials that illegally laundered money to Iran.

In other words, just another day in the U.S.

But hey, Ed Sheeran’s new album is actually pretty dope. Give it a listen. I’m calling “Castle on the Hill” as 2017’s next big hit.

One thing that gets lost when you exclusively follow American news is the impact that Trump’s presidency is having not on our country, but on the world.

While we are micro-analyzing every Tweet, and are balancing reactions from Republicans and Democrats, other countries are taking their own actions to protect themselves against an increasingly uncertain United States.

CIA

The European Union is considering its own nuclear program. China is threatening to increase its arsenal if the United States follows through with a missile defense program in South Korea. This is an actual world development that demands attention.

We saw in the ’60s the anxiety that can resonate worldwide when powerful countries engage in an arms race. And when the man with his fingertips on the nuclear codes in this country is someone who describes nuclear weapons as such:

“You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things.”

Then call me crazy for being a little fearful.

As for the Wikileaks thing, a lot of reporting needs to take place before we understand the full scope of what was released. But the immediate indications are not very good.

For one, it means that someone leaked classified CIA information to Wikileaks, either because they really hate Trump and wanted to cause a problem, or because we have another Edward Snowden on our hands, and someone felt morally obligated to share what they felt was obtrusive and secretive spying on American citizens.

Secondly, if true, it means the CIA can spy on us using cell phones and smart TVs.

Which basically means that George Orwell’s ‘1984’ got it right yet again. In that book, the autocratic regime uses TVs, or what they call telescreens, to conduct surveillance on their citizens.

So to sum up: healthcare may no longer be affordable if you’re sick, nuclear war is imminent, the government is watching you through your smartphone as you read this, and Trump has probably committed criminal — let alone impeachable — offenses that would likely be easily uncovered if Congress were to conduct just one independent investigation into his past business dealings.

But other than that, everything is cool.

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.

tillerson

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.