Monday, December 05, 2016

Will Pizzagate Destroy Reality?


In 2009, the Cartoon Network show "South Park," skewered the "political commentary" style of Fox News luminaries like Glenn Beck, who sometimes made outrageous accusations with no basis in fact, couched in their defense, "I'm just asking questions." The character Cartman accuses student council president Wendy Testaburger of, among other things, committing genocide against Smurfs. Several students, believing that the questions wouldn't have been asked if there wasn't truth to the allegations, form a mob and demand Wendy face justice.

It seems like a ridiculous scenario, the kind of thing that can only happen in the cartoon world. But in the real world, a bunch of people have started the same behavior--"just asking questions"-- and it's already causing real world violence.

Is Hillary Clinton covering up a worldwide pedophile ring? Is the Clinton Foundation cover for an international pedophile syndicate? "I'm just asking questions." To a lot of people, these questions sound ridiculous. But to a growing number of self-professed sleuths gathering on internet message boards, these are questions worth investigating... and the more questions they ask, the deeper down the rabbit hole they go.

If you want a taste--and believe me, you don't--check this nutbar fever dream out.

It boils down to this. First, some white supremacist on Twitter made up a story about Anthony Weiner's emails revealing a Clinton pedophile ring. Then, among the thousands of embarrassing emails uncovered by Wikileaks in the days leading up to Donald Trump's election, there were a few in Clinton adviser John Podesta's gmail account that referred to pizza. For example:
John -- Hosting pizza party at Belmont for HFA on April 10. Maya Harris is joining, but need you. Can you come? Thanks much, Tony
Now, this looks totally innocent, to some people. The people who don't ask questions. But some of the other pizza emails seemed strange to people who have never left their basements or had a social life. A bunch of staffers joking about how to split up the last slice from an office party. An email from a realtor asking if John had left a handkerchief with a "map that seems pizza-related" on the kitchen island at a rental property. Just look up the word "pizza" in Wikileaks and you'll find 149 results. Is it possible that these emails were all just about pizza?

Yes, but no. Because, get ready for this... the site 4chan proposed that some of the words in these emails are actually code words. The source for these code words is.... well, unknown, but this 4chan user figured it out. By plugging in the code words for innocuous words like "pizza," it turns out that Podesta, the realtor, a dozen staffers, a pizza parlor owner and everyone else in the emails were actually talking about the cutie underage minors they were going to kidnap, torture and rape.

If this seems like a stretch to you, these good-hearted internet citizens would tell you that you're not asking enough questions.

Snopes did a pretty thorough teardown  of why the "evidence" uncovered is most certainly bullshit, but all the debunking has done nothing to dissuade people from threatening the owner of a pizza parlor in D.C. and neighboring businesses.

Lest you think this is just fun and games, yesterday, a man with a gun walked into that same pizza parlor and fired a shot.

But of course, if your one who "asks questions," then you're already suspicious of the timing. What a coincidence that just when people are starting to believe pizzagate, a guy walks in with a gun?

Well, what if the gunman was just a "crisis actor?" HE HAS AN IMDB PAGE!!!!!

You can see a pattern in anything. If you look hard enough, everything is a conspiracy. Just because some things look alike or some people know each other or some places exist side by side doesn't mean they have a nefarious connection.

I believe in facts. Not speculation based on what art someone owns or whose party someone's brother once attended. Find a victim, find a crime scene, find forensic evidence, find one iota of proof that isn't an attack on someone's character or something you found that originated on 4chan. Nothing here would stand up in a court of law... that should tell you something.

These are real people that are being accused of gruesome, terrible things. They're not abstract cartoon characters. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton, the pizza guy, etc. You may not like their politics. You may not like them personally. But an accusation of pedophilia is pretty heavy. An accusation of running child trafficking is even heavier. That's pretty big weight to be throwing at someone based off of conjecture. Even an accusation is something that sticks with someone. You put it out there, you give it a semblance of validity, you might convince someone, not just that you're "asking questions," but that it's true. And that has consequences. False accusations can have real life negative effects. Especially something like this that gets people rightly fired up. You want to encourage some righteous wannabe hero to engage in some vigilante justice? Intelligent people don't make charges without real solid evidence. Find it, tell the world! But engaging in witch hunts based on circumstantial (to be generous) evidence, guilt by association tactics, and pure speculation doesn't help anyone. It hurts people.

That's my view. But it isn't the view shared by those whipping up pizzagate hysteria, the "just asking questions" crowd. Unfortunately, it seems to be spreading like a sickness. Now this same crowd is saying that the fake news sites that proliferated this election cycle weren't fake at all.

How many people who voted for Donald Trump did it because they believe Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring? You can laugh that off, but you can't laugh off the fact that there were millions of people who thought that there was something about her emails that made her more untrustworthy than a man involved in a fraud lawsuit he would later settle for $25 million dollars.

We're taught to question what people tell us. That's a good thing. But when the truth itself becomes a question, when there's no such thing as "fact," only the level of "digging" you've done online, reality itself becomes distorted. It's one thing to question the bias of the media.... its another thing to claim all media is in on one big conspiracy to protect a pedophile ring. Again, the media is not a bogeyman, it's made of individuals, many of whom actually have children they'd be interested in protecting.

Consider this... if the Clintons were running a pedophile ring, wouldn't some media outlet want that story? The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer for outing the Catholic Church for protecting abusive priests. Wouldn't there be some intrepid reporter going undercover, finding that dungeon below the pizza parlor?

I'm just asking questions.

Friday, November 11, 2016

We The People Still Have The Power


Not a great start for President-elect Trump, attacking freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in less than 140 characters.

Fascist tweets aside, I'm willing to keep an open mind about a Trump Presidency (call this the "acceptance" stage of grief). Right now, all we have is the fear-- we have yet to see how he and the disturbing people he's surrounded himself with will put their chilling rhetoric into action. It's hard to imagine--given everything Trump has said (or Tweeted) and done--how he will suddenly become an enlightened leader. Even half of his supporters aren't expecting great things here (the non-deplorables). But it is possible that with an organized opposition, any damage he can do to this country will be limited.

In the past few days, millions of Americans have mobilized in cities around the U.S. as a show of force. There are 59.9 million people who voted against Trump--a slim majority of American voters-- and what these protests show is that we're not going to be silent and we're not going to be steamrolled.

This is not a repudiation of those who voted for Trump. Sure, some in the crowd may demand the election be overturned, but that's not realistic, nor is it the point of these mass demonstrations. These protests are meant to serve as a warning. In our lifetimes, we've seen rapid social progress for the rights of minorities, women and LGBT citizens, advances in world peace, environmental health, and economic prosperity-- if Trump rolls back any of the rights or protections we've fought so hard for, these protests make it clear that he and the whole country will hear about it.

Even Wall Street sent a strong signal to Trump in the late hours of Election Day. Dow futures plummeted, before the market returned in the morning to make gains. It's hard not to see that blip as a threat from Wall Street-- screw up this economy, and these are the charts America will be looking at come next election.

We cannot forget that we have a government that answers to its people at all times. Not just on election days. Civil disobedience and protest have a long history in this country-- from the Boston Tea Party to Rosa Parks to Woodstock. Americans stood up for what they believed in against the powers that stood against them, and by show of solidarity and by virtue of their righteousness, won. This is the story of America. It's not anti-democratic to protest... it's in our blood.

Now is not the time to curl up in a ball and cry (though, that's an understandable emotion). Now is the time to get involved. For too many years, too many of us have been Facebook activists. We've forgotten what it means to hit the streets, to shout, to stand and be seen. To get involved.

This is a call to action.

Trump may be our next President, but he will not be our Dictator. When he threatens our liberties, we cannot, and will not, take it lying down.

Pay attention to what Trump does next. If he appoints a white nationalist anti-Semite as his chief of staff. If he allows Mike Pence and his ilk to pass discrimination laws against gay Americans or restrictions on women's health. Watch and see if he takes health care away from millions, while replacing it with nothing. Take notice if he endangers our security by pulling out of alliances and international treaties, or if he rattles the nuclear saber and risks war. All of us need to hold him accountable for his actions-- and not just those who didn't vote for him, but those who did. If he hurts us, don't stay silent.

Let us always remember the words of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Not the "grab them by the pussy" part. The part that reveals what kind of man Trump is and how he may govern:
"And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
It's up to we, the people, over the next 4 years, to make sure he can't.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Hillary Was Who They Said She Was



Like 50,000,000+ other Americans, I am shocked and dismayed, and greatly fear the future. That's never happened after an election in my lifetime. When Bush defeated Kerry in 2004, I thought plenty of people were nuts. But I didn't fear for my country that way I do now. Maybe Trump will prove us all wrong. Maybe he won't run the country the way he ran his businesses, bankrupting them while enriching himself, maybe all the racist and sexist talk and behavior was only hot air aimed at making a billionaire more relatable to the common man, maybe...

But we all know who Trump is. We've been saying it all along. The surprise is finding out who Hillary really was.

Last night, Hillary supporters gathered in the Javits center were crying and stunned by the bad, unthinkable news that kept rolling in. They'd come expecting victory, instead, they faced their worst nightmare. Whether you believe the dire apocalyptic scenarios put forward by many political writers or not, there's no denying that at a certain point in the evening, for Hillary supporters, it felt like the end of the world.

And at that moment, she sent John Podesta to speak to the crowd, and tell them to go home.

Which would have been fine... I guess... If she and her campaign really were going to wait until every last vote was counted. Kerry, in 2004, waited until the next day too. Of course, we know what happened in 2000 as well.

But a heartbeat later, before the Javits center could even fully clear out, Hillary conceded to Trump in a private phone call. She didn't speak to her supporters. She didn't speak to a worried, fractured nation or a frightened world. She went to bed.

Bernie supporters tried to warn us from the beginning. They claimed she'd lost touch with the people, that she didn't feel our pain. The Bernie Bros that I dismissed as deluded about their candidate's electoral chances were right. This election came down to who was more passionate about the country, who cared about fixing its problems. Hillary, to be charitable, played it safe, choosing a message that to stay the course, with slight corrections, was the more prudent way forward. I still believe she was right... But that doesn't matter. The message was all wrong--it failed to connect with the people she needed to win. As it turned out, her temperament, calm, above-the-fray, unmoved... was the problem.

It had nothing to do with the emails.

And at our darkest hour, Hillary proved her critics right. She took thousands from the likes of Goldman Sachs to give inspirational speeches, but the speech she needed to give, one she'd been paid millions for by the American people, she refused.

John Podesta... John friggin Podesta... told us to go to bed instead.

Hillary abandoned us, abandoned the party, abandoned the country at a time when we needed her to say everything would be okay, that progressive ideals aren't dead, that the fight will go on, renewed and reinvigorated. She needed to tell us this is day one of building New Democratic engines in our communities, so that a million young, engaged, and idealistic Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warrens, and Hillary Clintons emerge to save this country from its worst impulses.

Maybe we should have paid her more.

Losing last night was a tragedy--the extent of it is yet to be seen. It could have been redeemed somewhat by a triumphant call to return to the principles that made our country the shining city on a hill, the beacon of light and freedom to the world.

Hillary was silent. I hope and pray we don't follow her example.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Why I'm Against Trump's Social Policies


I believe government should follow the same principle as doctors do: "Do No Harm." Law is a blunt instrument: while a certain bill may be proposed with the good of the people in mind or passed into law with the best intentions, often there are unforeseen or ignored consequences that do more harm than good.

As such, I believe the government should be very careful to not pass laws that disproportionately affect small slivers of the American populace or violate the standard that "all men are created equal." I believe it is the government's job to protect the vulnerable from the will of the strong, to protect the minority from the ignorance of the majority. To make sure that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human rights are always respected, for all.

Protect the vulnerable? At first blush, anti-abortion, pro-life laws may appear to do that. If I were a woman and found myself pregnant, I would not get an abortion. I think this has to do largely with my view that life is a miracle, and my experience growing up with my sister, Shari, who has severe autism. When I think about how genetic testing could mean that parents would choose to prevent people like my sister from ever being born, it causes me deep distress. I know the sacrifices my parents made and the incredible strength it took to raise my sister, and I know not every parent has those same resources or abilities. I'm not sure even I would be able to meet that challenge. But it troubles me how close some abortion decisions can come to sounding like arguments for eugenics.

However, I am not willing to cut off my thinking there. First, I am a man, not a woman. I will never be in that position to make such a decision about my body. So I need to consider what it means to force someone to carry a child for nine months, at risk to their own health and welfare. If abortion was as simple and clear cut as murder, you certainly wouldn't see such a split in public opinion (the devil isn't fooling 50% of Americans). You wouldn't have concessions from Republicans allowing for exemptions in case of rape and incest-- after all, if the baby is innocent, then why should the crime be a reason for the baby's termination? If abortion is murder, would every miscarriage become a murder investigation? If late-stage health problems were to put a pregnant woman at risk, would doctors hesitate to save the mother's life over that of her child's? I can't pretend this isn't a thorny issue. Expecting a law to address it adequately and humanely is hopelessly naive.

Trump's VP Mike Pence agrees that abortions based on genetic tests smacks of eugenics, which is why he passed a law banning such a practice. But he will never have to live with the consequences of that law-- and he's done exactly nothing in his state to address what happens when that down syndrome baby is born. Will he force the parents to care for the child? With what money and what resources? What has he put in place to make sure that child won't suffer? Isn't it an incredible cruelty to inflict on expecting parents--to make a mother carry to term a child who she may not want, who may not even survive? Pence even banned the one good that could come from an abortion-- requiring fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, rather than using those cells to help save the lives of others.

Trump portrayed women getting an abortion at a late stage in her pregnancy as monsters, "ripping the baby from the womb." But the facts show that uniformly, women getting late term abortions wanted to have their baby-- the baby, sadly, wasn't viable. Having those "abortions" was literally the worst and most painful moment of their lives. Why is Trump bringing additional hardship to grieving mothers? Is it really to save vulnerable lives? Or score political points?

Abortion is a tragedy no matter what choice gets made. What makes Donald Trump and Mike Pence more qualified to answer such a personal crisis than women, their doctors and their families?

Creating new life is the greatest miracle-- perhaps the only miracle-- mankind is capable of. If you have to force people to perform that miracle, you've got bigger problems that no single law can solve. Instead of punishing women and their doctors, our efforts should focus on creating a more supportive environment for women, children, and families. Trump's businesses don't even offer paid maternity leave. Pence voted against paid maternity and paternity leave time and time again. I believe that if you want to protect life, you can't just force birth--you've got to actually support policies that give young families and single mothers the time, money and resources necessary to raise a healthy child.

I also believe people should be able to live, love and worship without government interfering with their lifestyle. The party of Trump believes one of the nation’s biggest problems is transgender people using the bathroom, and that the Supreme Court needs more people like Scalia, who wrote a scathing dissent against the court’s approval of gay marriage. Mike Pence's idea of "religious freedom" is the freedom for businesses to discriminate against a group of people for having different beliefs.

Hey, I believe in free speech. If you want to spout bigoted views, have fun. But a line is crossed when you allow those people to cause real harm to others. If you don't believe in gay marriage--don't marry someone of the same sex. Hand out religious tracts. Blog about it. But don't ban gay volunteers from serving this country in the military. Don't vote against a law that expands existing hate-crime protections to outlaw attacks based on sexual orientation or gender. Speech is one thing, stopping someone from a career, exposing someone to physical abuse... those are something else.

I believe that separation of church and state is something our forefathers baked into the constitution, having fled from religious persecution themselves. We know the dangers of theocracy-- we can see it in other countries around the globe. The Johnson Amendment doesn't prevent a preacher or a rabbi from supporting Trump or even advocating for a candidate from the pulpit--it prevents them from using their subsidies and tax breaks from Uncle Sam for political purposes. If tax-exempt churches and synagogues were allowed to collect and use money to fund political ads and campaign events, they could potentially become nothing more than giant Super-Super-PACs, washing campaign donations in holy water to skirt campaign finance laws. Trump wants to allow this. Probably because his idea of a non-profit charity, the Trump Foundation, only exists to support Trump campaigns.

Trump has gained a lot of followers from the "anti-PC" crowd, upset that they catch heat for saying inappropriate and derogatory things that they used to be able to get away with. They use the phrases "social justice warriors" and “feminist” as slurs. I don’t think that’s right. Just because someone advocates for equalizing a system they view as unequal doesn’t mean they're inventing any narrative that “white people are evil.” There are otherwise reasonable people who claim there’s no racism in America, that women are already being treated like men, or that the impoverished are poor because they’re lazy. All PC-culture aims to do is get us to question those assertions and examine why it is that we discount the feelings of others.

If someone tells me I've done something or said something racist/sexist, my first instinct is to apologize and figure out how I can avoid causing such offense in the future. How does a racist/sexist person respond? By insisting that it's the other person's problem, not theirs. I don't think our government should act like a racist/sexist person. If a minority group expresses concern about their treatment at the hands of the majority, it is our government's job to examine that and protect those people from further harm. Not blame that minority for causing its own problems.

We live in a more open, accepting, and free society than human beings have ever lived in. When Trump says "Let's Make America Great Again," he references a past that was not so open, not so accepting, and not so free. As someone who believes in social justice, in equality, in acceptance, I look at Trump's partnership with Pence and the statements both candidates have made and I can't envision them doing anything but sticking with the Republican party line-- one that approves conversion therapy for homosexual youths, believes creationism belongs in the classroom, and that thinks women's rights extend only so far.

I can't support going backwards. To do so would be to cause harm to those who are finally getting a fair shot in a country that long denied it.

If we can't protect those citizens, then what kind of government do we have?

Why I'm Against Trump's Foreign Policy


“Radical Islam” is not a magic phrase, an “abracadabra” that will suddenly make ISIS pack up and leave. “Well, she said ‘Radical Islam’ was the enemy, so I guess we’re done here,” said no terrorist ever.

Still, many Republicans get upset that President Obama and Hillary Clinton don't use those words to describe ISIS.  Some believe the reason the President and other administration officials do this is because either they're secretly supporting terror, or simply don't understand the threat. In fact, there are very good reasons to be "PC" in this case, and limit our description of terrorists to exclude a specific and simplistic religious label.

The first reason should be obvious--calling these terrorists "Islamic" feeds into ISIS propaganda. The Islamic State’s message is simple: "the West has declared war on Islam, so we’re waging war on them." ISIS surely appeals to violent, mentally-disturbed people, but its sales pitch isn't "wanna rape and murder? come on down!" ISIS depends on creating a narrative where America is the evil empire, out to destroy the Islamic way of life. Our counter-messaging depends on making it clear our war is not against Islam, but those who use it as justification for murder, rape, and other atrocities. Do we really want to say, “Yeah ISIS, you’re right! We do hate Muslims!" I’m sure that will play very well and not at all add fuel to ISIS recruiting efforts.

ISIS has used the words of Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, in its propaganda videos, to “prove” that the West seeks to destroy Islam. It’s hard to imagine any action America can take to invite more acts of terror than to elect a guy who openly pledged to keep Muslims out of America.

The second reason, of course, is that there is no "understanding" to be gained by treating these terrorists as "Islamic terrorists." In what ways would our strategy change if we focused on the religious aspect as the driver of terror? Well... you start to go down a dark road. Why is it that many Republicans think that Islam is one monolithic hive mind where everyone believes the same interpretations and beliefs? Or that it's any more prone to extremism than any other religion or nationality: historically, vastly more slaughters of innocents were committed by Christians.

If every Muslim is a suspect, it stands to "reason" that to be safe, you'd have to treat every Muslim differently. Plank one of Trump's plan is to ban all Muslim immigrants. But does it stop there? Are the 3.3 million Muslims living in America our enemies? What about the millions of Muslims who have never committed an act of terror, nor supported one? Or our Muslim allies? What “final solution” can you come up with when you believe all the followers of a different religion are monsters, or that the acts of a few represent the threat of the many? The road this leads you down is a road humanity has traveled down before, to disastrous results. 

How does Trump’s ban plan work? Do you give everyone a religious test they need to pass? Judge them on appearance? How about that little Syrian boy? He’s Muslim… is he a terrorist?

Even if you believe profiling suspects wouldn't mire us in false-positives, add wasted man-hours interrogating Cat Stevens, feed a culture of paranoid xenophobia and inspire more extremism... you'd still be stuck with reason number three: the intelligence value of being friends with your "enemy." 

Just because the middle east hasn’t turned into happy unicorn land in the 15 years since 9/11 (while we actively fought wars there for most of it, and left power vacuums in Iraq and Afghanistan thanks to the short-sighted policies of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush) doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to work with Islamic nations. How else can we gather intelligence? Send a white guy with a Texas accent into Syria to say, “Hey there partner, I’m totally a Muslim who is into ISIS and not a spy! So when's that next terrorist attack?” Maybe we keep our troops stationed in flying blimps, instead of our bases based in Muslim countries? 

Bush tried capturing suspected terrorists and torturing them. Even then, to know who those terrorists were required coordination with intelligence services in Muslim countries. They don’t want these guys threatening the stability of their nations either. How does completely giving up diplomacy help anyone? We saw what happens. War. Stupid, pointless war. Do you want more troops on the ground? Are you going to fight?

Hillary and the current administration would rather those Islamic nations, Islamic rebels, and Kurdish militias do the fighting for us, with our support. A plan that so far, is working. Declaring Islam as our enemy doesn't aid those alliances. 

Trump's counter-argument has not been to offer up a real plan to fight ISIS (it's a secret, he says) but to accuse Hillary of having conflicts of interest that would prevent her from making decisions in the interest of the American people. Should we list the countries Trump and his close allies have done business with? Or perhaps just point out the differences between the charitable Clinton Foundation and the not-so-charitable Trump Foundation

Are we to believe that Trump, with zero diplomatic experience, multiple business conflicts of interest, a dependence on fake Russian news sites for intel and a declared willingness to abandon our NATO allies at the drop of a hat, would be better? Based on what?

I shouldn’t have to say it, but a senator, a Secretary of State, or even a President, is not Superman (or Wonder Woman). He or she can’t stop every worldwide catastrophe, every death personally. Trump seems to think he can fix everything himself—he’s actually said that. He accuses Hillary of doing nothing because certain things in the world still occur. 

Hillary, her entire career, has fought for human rights here and abroad. Her accomplishments have been a mixed bag, but they're not nothing

Just because we don’t live in a magical puppy utopia doesn’t mean Trump, who has dedicated his whole life only to Trump, will do any better. Considering he never addressed any of these issues until a few months ago—and Republicans certainly didn’t during 8 years of George W. Bush, I don’t see how we can have any faith he will.

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