Surprise! Cops Are People Too!

I went to a talk today about firearm injury prevention. The five lecturers were from different backgrounds and spoke about different topics having to do with preventing homicides and suicides — and injuries — from firearms. One researcher talked about how the media narrates the stories out there about shootings. She said that mass shootings get all the attention, but gun violence is an everyday thing that goes underreported. Another researcher — one whom I know from Hopkins — talked about the different laws in different states and their effects on firearm homicides. She said that laws designed to slow down the process of acquiring a weapon (like universal background checks) have the effect of lowering the rate of homicides and suicides from firearms.

The “trouble,” if you want to call it that, came when a researcher talked about deaths of police officers from having their guns taken away and used against them. He said that this happened in about 10% of officer deaths, and it happened more often than not because the perpetrator was trying to flee. This researcher is an occupational health researcher, and his main purpose is to reduce/prevent injuries in the workplace. Since cops are working as law enforcement officers when these incidents happen, his hope was to understand what happened a little bit better and maybe offer some solutions. (Some of which would be engineering solutions, like “smart” guns or harnesses that made it harder for someone to take the weapon.)

During the Q&A, someone asked him how he intended to do research — or how his research would be received — in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, he answered this very diplomatically, but I wish that he would have admonished the question as being a not-so-valid question. I certainly would have. Let me tell you why…

Yes, there is a problem with law enforcement using deadly force against individuals in general, and individuals who are Black or Latino in particular. Certainly, Black men are disproportionately represented when it comes to “legal interventions” that end in deaths. (In fact, there was a heated discussion during the governing council meeting on a position statement regarding “police violence,” but that’s for a whole other discussion later.) However, police-involved homicides are a completely different matter to police officers dying while in the function of their duties.

In fact, attempting to tie the two phenomena together muddles the waters when it comes to the discussion we are trying to have. It’s not a zero-sum game, and — as the researcher mentioned — someone taking a powerful weapon away from a police officer is a public health problem because that weapon is now in the hands of someone who endangers us all. Fixing that problem will surely save lives well beyond those of the police officers who have their guns taken away in a struggle.

This is the problem with how polarized we are in this country. I got the sense that the person who posed the question was almost saying that we shouldn’t worry about cops getting killed when cops are killing… Thing is, it’s not all cops. In arguing about officer-involved deadly shootings, people who are otherwise reasonable fall into the trap of lumping all officers together into the “bad apples.” Surely, we need the honorable and professional cops to stand up and speak against their colleagues who do bad things. But that is a different discussion than whether or not we should look out for their health as well.

After all, when we decided to practice public health, we didn’t really agree on leaving out one segment of the public, or on tending to the needs of one segment of the public over another… Did we?

It’s damn near impossible to have discussions today without framing them in a political viewpoint, and I’m very much guilty of that. I can’t talk about children being separated from their parents without tasting bile in my mouth because I see Baby Ren in every child who is forcefully taken away from their parents. And I can’t take an anti-vaccine candidate for office seriously on any other subject because I am so adamant about promoting the use of vaccines.

I wish we could. I wish we could reach a place where we talked sensibly about issues and be respectful.

Featured photo by Elvert Barnes on Foter.com / CC BY

Here We Go Again With a Contentious and Divided Country

I’m sensing that the general mood of my friends on the Left is much like when the sentient cheese product* was elected back in 2016. They’re in a bit of a panic. The confirmation of Brett “Hold My Beer While I Grope Her”** Kavanaugh has made them really scared of the very real possibility of things regressing when it comes to social justice and policies. I don’t blame them.

It wasn’t that long ago that children who were in the United States illegally could not receive a free education, basically being sentenced to a life of indentured servitude and second-or-third-class status compared to their peers. That all changed in Plyler v. Doe in 1982. There was a Texas law (where else?) that prevented funding from going to schools for the education children who were in the country illegally. That pesky Equal Protection Clause states that everyone, regardless of citizenship status (because the Clause mentions “persons” and not just “citizens”) is to receive the same protections of the law at any level of government. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down that law and another one requiring $1,000 per child from parents of illegal children. Now, that may seem like a close vote, and it is. But reading the dissent is kind of encouraging:

“Were it our business to set the Nation’s social policy, I would agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children — including illegal aliens — of an elementary education. I fully agree that it would be folly — and wrong — to tolerate creation of a segment of society made up of illiterate persons, many having a limited or no command of our language.”

So they kind of agreed that all children need an elementary education for our society to be enlightened. Where they dissented was in the role of the Judiciary in making sure that such a thing happens. Like other conservatives, they wanted Congress to be the one deciding these things and not activist judges. However, the rights of the minorities can’t possibly be left up to the goodwill of the majority. There has to be some sort of an authority that says to the majority that their intent and/or actions trespass on the rights of the minority. In this country, the Supreme Court is such an authority.

Unfortunately, the only way that said authority can work to protect rights is when we all as a society trust and respect the decisions of the Court. The courts need to have legitimacy. When that goes… Well, I don’t want to be around when that happens. So it is absolutely essential that we as a society respect the courts and their decisions. The recent fight over confirmation didn’t help this… It didn’t help this at all.

Take for example what happened in 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” segregation in schools was unconstitutional. (Also based on the Equal Protection Clause.) As soon as the Little Rock Nine went to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the governor sent the national guard to keep them out under the auspices of “keeping the peace.” President Eisenhower then had to federalize the Arkansas National Guard in order to enforce the court ruling. Needless to say, things were a little tense.

You had a governor who was not willing to follow the rule of law, and he was willing to use armed forces to not do so. And you had a President who had to make sure the rule of law was followed, and he was also willing to use the armed forces to do so. Can you imagine if the men in those military units decided not to go along with the President of the United States? Or if the President himself decided that he didn’t like the court’s ruling and didn’t federalize the national guard?

It was a very dangerous game of chicken when those students wanted to go to school, after an order from the Supreme Court of the United States, but with the state government against it, and the federalized troops protecting them.

giphy
As opposed to this game by a chicken.

Seriously, though, you know where I’m going with this. Remember when Kim Davis refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples? She went to jail for a few days, but, basically, the state government molded to her needs instead of punishing her for not following court orders. In that sense, the legitimacy of the courts was diminished. Of course, my most conservative friend (I know you’re still reading) will say that this is a good thing, that the federal government is too intrusive, and that states should have the ability to fight back against that intrusion.

That is all fine and well if this wasn’t a federal form of government, if we didn’t have the Equal Protection Clause, if we didn’t have a separation of Church and State, and if we didn’t have the Full Faith and Credit clause. If we lived in the era where the rule of law was not a thing, and where people couldn’t challenge laws at all, then maybe I could understand this desire to push back against the federal government. But no, we don’t live in that era, and fighting so hard to go back to “the way things used to be” is tearing all of us apart.

Imagine if we did allow undocumented immigrant children to be excluded from an education. How would our society look like? We’re have millions of people walking around not knowing how to read, how to do math, or how to work. “Good,” you’ll say. “Make them go back home.” Well, they’re not. They can’t pick up and go back as children, and they’ll not know “home” as such once they’re adults. You’ll basically end up having to take care of them even more if you don’t educate them as children.

And what if we didn’t respect the court decision on desegregating schools? What if Eisenhower wanted to appease “his base” or some dumb thing like that? Can you possibly imagine?

So my being upset about Kavanaugh doesn’t come from the very credible allegations against him. It doesn’t come from me believing Dr. Ford. It comes from the fact that the Republicans decided to push his nomination even after it was cleared that he was flawed, that he’d barely squeak by, and that he had such a partisan response to the accusations against him. “What goes around comes around” is not sound judicial thought, in my opinion.

As “divided” as the country was during the Obama Administration, Justices Keegan and Sotomayor were confirmed by the Senate by a 63-37 and 68-31 vote, respectively. During the George W. Bush Administration, Chief Justice Roberts was confirmed by a 78-22 vote. Associate Justice Samuel Alito was confirmed by a 72-25 vote. And when there was a ton of opposition to Harriet Miers, she withdrew without much fanfare. During the Clinton Administration, Associate Justice Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3. Justice Bryer was confirmed 87-9. Bush Sr. Administration? Justice Souter 90-9. Justice Thomas was the last nominee before Kavanaugh to be confirmed by a very divided senate at 52-48. You’d have to go back  over 100 years to have a similarly divided confirmation… And yet here we are with another one just 27 years later.

Again, you know where I’m going with this.

Since the Reagan Administration, neither party has held more than 60 seats in the Senate, yet they managed to generally agree on Supreme Court nominations. Now we have this contentious confirmation hearing that will spill into whatever the Supreme Court is deciding next. People who don’t like the decisions one way or another will point to these recent hearings as a way to delegitimize the decisions. And then what?

And what if the sentient cheese product decides that he himself doesn’t like a court decision?

Of course, this world doesn’t work on what ifs, but we must be prepared for what ifs. And that, dear reader, is something I wish I didn’t have to deal with. I wish everyone was treated fairly, and that we all respected each other. But no, we need to have friction. We need to be in “us versus them” mode all the time. We’d probably die of boredom if we so much as decided to pull together to beat a common foe like climate change, infectious diseases, or the rise of the Russian oligarchy… Not that we don’t live in an oligarchy of our own. But that’s for another post at a later time.

* “But, Ren, you calling him a ‘sentient cheese product’ is an example of your partisan bias!” Nope. It’s an example of my right to call the most powerful man in the world a “sentient cheese product.” Otherwise, you’re reading too much into what I write. Or, as the First Lady said, “Focus on what I do, not what I wear.”

** Read “*” above.

What Love of Country Is All About

I’ve probably told you this story before… When I was a child growing up in Mexico, we had to stand at attention and salute the flag before classes every morning. It didn’t matter if the weather was bad, too hot or too cold, we had to stand there and salute as a military-like group of kids paraded the flag around a center court at my elementary school. Then we all sang the national anthem, and then we closed the ceremony with by reciting the pledge of allegiance.

No one could opt out of this at the public schools.

The nationalism didn’t stop there. History books told of the greatness of Mexico, despite the realities that became more and more apparent around us as we grew up. We were told that we were a great people, born of the perfect combination of Spanish and Native heritage. We defeated great powers like Spain, France, and held off the Americans as best as we could. There was even a squadron of fighter pilots who served in World War II and helped turn the tide of the war in the South Pacific.

Image result for escuadron 201
Yeah, okay. They did.

We were also told that all the social ailments around us were the result of American Imperialism, or European influences, or globalist agendas. The poverty in the periphery of the city — where houses were made of cardboard — was because our oil was stolen by foreign powers, or because people in Mexico City were living it up off our parents’ hard work.

Everyone else was to blame, and we had none of the responsibility for what happened.

The story didn’t change much when I moved to the United States. Here, I was told that America was the greatest country in the world. Everyone wanted to come live here because America was so exceptional. Communist Russia was still a thing, and then we got to see it die. “See,” they said. “Communism was a cancer, and we killed it. Our system is perfect.”

Then the 2000 elections came around, and that system was tested to the fullest. The guy who won the popular vote didn’t win the election because the system is perfect. The other guy took us into war. I went into Public Health, and I dared not complain about the things that were happening in the country (and the world, because of our country) to people I worked with in that little town in Pennsylvania. To them, the election worked just the way it had to. Those “Liberals” weren’t taking the White House.

It was then that I had an interesting conversation with a coworker. He plainly said to me that anyone opposing the presidency of George W. Bush should leave the country or be tried as a traitor. “He’s our president,” he said. “We obey our president in America.” Yeah… No.

When I was in high school, Jim Forbes (yes, that Jim Forbes) was the teacher for the government class. He said something that was very interesting to me. He said that he didn’t see the US Flag as the true symbol of America. He said that it was the US Constitution that really mattered to him. The way he saw it, the minute we lose respect for that set of rules of how the country is governed, we’re all screwed.

So why am I writing all this?

I’m writing all this because it’s the Fourth of July and there is a lot of discussion on what it means to be American. People who oppose the misguided policies of the current — and very Orange — Administration are being labeled as un-American. It’s almost as if there is a large segment of the population who either did not read their history books for all they’re worth, or purposefully want to ignore the pertinent parts of those history books to what is going on today.

There is nothing more American than to express displeasure in what the government and elected officials do. It’s probably the one thing that keeps them honest, or as honest as politicians come. I’m not talking about expressing displeasure with violence or intimidation. I’m talking about simple protesting, writing to one’s representatives, or tweeting at them in this day and age.

That right there shows the level of love for the country that a person has. If you just ignore the bad things, the abuse of power and the inequalities and inequities brought on by political decisions, you’re not showing any love to the country. It’s like not disciplining a child. Allowing a child to misbehave and get in trouble shows them no love. If anything, it’s a form of abuse, to be honest. Talking to the child, disciplining them, and setting them on a path to success is really showing love.

The same goes for one’s friends. If you see a friend who is going down a dark path towards something dangerous, you stop them, talk to them, and help them straighten up. You don’t just let them fail and get hurt. And, of course, the same goes for your country. You don’t try to burn the whole thing down and trigger chaos. You advice and guide your elected representatives toward policies that will benefit the most number people while hurting the least number of people.

Of course, different people have different opinions on discipline and advice. Heck, some people purposefully allow their children or their friends to fail and get hurt. “That’ll learn them,” they say. And, indeed, they’ll learn… They’ll learn not to rely on you when they’re in trouble. Similarly, I’m learning who can be trusted to help build a more prosperous and productive country, and who cannot.

I just wish more people did too.

Understanding What You Can’t Understand

If you read my blog posts around the 2016 election, you probably thought that I was going to absolutely lose it over the result. However, if you talked to me in person, you knew that I wasn’t sold on the idea that either of the candidates was going to win, even when all the polling and the sentiment around me pointed to Hillary as the odds-on favorite. I even wondered how Donald could possibly win given all the racist, misogynist, and xenophobic things he was saying on the campaign trail. (And what can I say about his vice-presidential candidate and his homophobia and need to pray on whether or not to help stop an HIV epidemic in Indiana?)

Yet, enough people in enough places in the United States went for it and voted Republican. Some voted that way because they couldn’t stand the idea of Hillary as President. Others couldn’t stand the idea of a woman as President. Others are one-issue voters and they saw in Hillary the outright legalization of a lot of things they see as abhorrent, like access to abortion or birth control. And, of course, there were the group of people who listened to the nationalistic rhetoric and liked it.

I want to talk a little bit about those people.

I had the chance this weekend to travel to Nebraska to attend my sister’s high school graduation. An hour before the ceremony started, the high school hosted a hyper-religious service for those families who wanted to attend. The first thing I noticed was that all of the families praying over their young graduates were white. The heavy Latino presence was not yet felt, and the few families who are Somali immigrants/refugees were waiting in the atrium. (I don’t know if they were not allowed to go or didn’t want to. My guess is that they didn’t want to, because it would have been a big deal if a public high school would keep someone out of a service for religious reasons.)

When the service was over, a very heavy Latino presence was felt as hundreds of families filled the auditorium. It must have been maybe 80% Latino, 15% white, and 5% Somali and others. In fact, the student and staff who spoke incorporated a lot of Spanish in their speeches. As I looked around at the white families sitting there, I could see some of their discomfort.

One person who stood out was a man in a suit. He and his family were seated maybe 20 feet from me, and I could see his reactions to what was happening on the stage. Every time someone spoke in Spanish — even if that someone was white — he would shake his head, sigh, and look at his program. Every time. He looked exasperated at the end, and he and the family left quickly.

It was then that I kind of understood Trump voters who swallowed the idea of an invasion by foreigners and a re-defining of what it means to be American. Back in the early 1990s, the town I was in was probably 99% white. (I’m on a plane now, so I can’t check the Census Bureau, but I will.) Suddenly, a meat-packing plant opened in town, bringing a lot of jobs. But there were not enough people in town to do those jobs. Most of the able-bodied people worked on their farms or in the cattle-raising industry. So the company brought a large number of Central American immigrants and their families to town.

There was a huge demographic shift, and a split into classes. The upper class were mostly white, well-to-do people whose families had been there for decades. The lower class were the Latino workers who barely made a living wage, and that wage was lower as they sent their money to their families in Latin America. To fix that flow of money out, they paid for their families to join them in Nebraska, and the town grew.

With a growing town came the social issues that follow large crowds of people, like crime and disease. The large Latino contingent with the Americanized diet meant a ton more people with Type II diabetes. It would be a while before the little hospital got upgraded to serve the surging population.

And then there was another shift in the early 2000s. Somali refugees were relocated there as they arrived in the States. They also worked at the meat packing plant, but they also soon opened their own stores and restaurants just like the Latinos did. Most recently, they got together and started work on a mosque.

So, in one generation’s time, the town went from mostly white to maybe half-and-half, with three major languages being spoken, lots of stores selling foreign comforts and food, and two big religions that — let’s face it — don’t get along well at the population level right now. (Not only that, but the Latino’s are heavily Catholic with a more recent shift to evangelism while the whites are mostly Lutheran, Episcopalians, and evangelical.) Socially, demographically, everything changed in a very short amount of time.

Can you blame the people whose roots were there for generations for all of a sudden feeling “invaded”? It may not be the most rational way of feeling, but it’s very understandable. It is especially understandable if you put yourself in their shoes and look around. Multiculturalism is something that has been mostly reserved to the large cities on the coasts or at the borders, not the little towns in the middle of Great Plains.

And then comes along a blowhard with his demagoguery about how we’re invaded, our culture threatened, and our way of life (the One True Way™) is being destroyed. No wonder so many candidates on the Right are using slogans like “Rescue America.”

Rescue America from the Brown people, I guess?

It’s not just racism, though. It’s also classism. Many of the white people who moved in to work at the meat packing plant were also shunned as outsiders and as lower-class. They had nowhere to go except within, and they are the most marginalized people in the town. Being white and poor in that tiny town is a lot like being Black and poor in a big city. It places you at risk of bad health outcomes and victimization.

Luckily, from what I saw at the graduation, there is now a second generation of young men and women who understand each other. My sister was chatting and interacting with kids from all walks of life and all shades of skin color. While the parents sat segregated from each other and sighing at the languages being spoken, the kids were seated next to each other, hugging and applauding for their friends.

So we might not have achieved all the harmony we were waiting for with the Obama Administration. If anything, that Administration forgot about the marginalized populations of whites who are poor and feel threatened. Instead of reaching out to them, a lot of people on the Left gloated about their Black President. They missed a critical opportunity, in my opinion.

But we are entering a time when the current generation (i.e. Baby Ren) will serve as a Bridge between all the peoples. Our kids are going to go to school together, and they’re going to have to work together to tackle some serious problems all over the world. The Greatest Generation did this, and they bought us two or three generations of prosperity and relative peace. Though I shudder to think of what the next thing will be that forces our children to join arms and save the world, I kind of look forward to it.

I look forward to it because of what I saw at the graduation. Like one of the teachers said, “Your parents crossed borders at great peril so you can cross this threshold of your own.” They will have more borders to cross, but they’ll do it together this time. I’m sure of it.

The “Militarization” of the Johns Hopkins University Campus

There’s a bill in the Maryland State Assembly that will allow Johns Hopkins University to have its own police force. From The Baltimore Sun:

“The legislation already has the backing of several Baltimore lawmakers, who said it will increase safety in the city without costing taxpayer dollars.

Hopkins officials said Monday in a message to university community members that they have been mulling the idea for months, and believe it would bring the university in line with similar institutions across the country.

“The safety of our campus communities is a matter of utmost concern for Johns Hopkins, and the idea of a university police department has been suggested to us with increased urgency over the past year, given the challenges of urban crime here in Baltimore and the threat of active shooters in educational and health care settings,” Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels and Paul B. Rothman, dean of the school’s medical faculty, wrote. “Johns Hopkins’ current security program is unusual among its peers; almost every other urban research university, across the country and in Baltimore, has a university police department as part of its security operation.”

The university maintains its Homewood campus in North Baltimore, as well as its medical campus alongside the Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore. The proposed police force would provide security at both locations, officials said.

Baltimore has endured more than 300 homicides in each of the past three years, while other violent crime has increased as well. Before 2015, the city hadn’t had 300 or more homicides in a single year since 1999.”

As you might expect, this idea isn’t going over well with some student groups. From another article in The Baltimore Sun:

“But at the forum held on the school’s East Baltimore campus, students and teachers questioned whether crime has really gone up in the area, or simply if people thought that it had. They asked how a new police force would affect area residents, many of whom already view the institution with suspicion.

Some asked why Hopkins would want to enter into a partnership with the Baltimore Police Department, given the recent Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal and problems like those outlined in the Department of Justice report.

Naadiya Hutchinson, 20, an undergraduate student, said she wanted to know what training officers would receive to avoid racial profiling.

“I really want to make sure that Hopkins is doing the best practices possible,” she said.”

At a gun violence panel discussion on Friday, a couple of students mentioned this plan for a university police force, calling it a “militarization” of the institution, and stating their concern that such a police force may translate to more friction with the community. There was recently also a march to protest the idea. From the Johns Hopkins News-Letter:

“Many have expressed concerns that a campus police force would further damage relations between the University and the Baltimore community and would threaten the safety of students, particularly students of color. Others, however, argue that a Hopkins police force would better protect students and reduce crime on and around campus.

The protest was organized by Students Against Private Police, a coalition of 11 student groups including Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Students for Environmental Action (SEA) and the Black Student Union (BSU).

Protesters shouted chants like “No justice / no peace / no private police,” “Black lives matter,” “Ronny D loves BPD” and “Bad for Baltimore / Bad for Hop / Pay taxes, not cops!”

Junior Chisom Okereke, the vice president of the BSU, added that she is worried about how the proposed police force would treat black students at Hopkins.

“Being a black student on this campus means that it is assumed by law enforcement that you do not attend this institution or are simply up to no good,” she said. “Partnering with the Baltimore Police Department, arguably the most corrupt police department in the country, shows a complete disregard for students of color on this campus that would otherwise be brutalized if they lived just a few blocks down the street.””

Opponents to this plan do make valid arguments, in my opinion. The relationships between the police and the community in Baltimore is strained, to say the least. In a city that is over 60% Black, only about 6% of JHU undergraduate students are Black. (I couldn’t find the exact number of Black graduate students, though a report on graduate student diversity states that 20% of graduate students are from underrepresented minorities.) It is a fair assumption that a poorly trained police force might see, say, a Black teen in a hoodie on campus late at night, and they might make the wrong assumptions or begin a series of events that could be tragic.

highlighted “poorly trained” because that’s where the problems begin. A professional police officer who knows the community they serve is very unlikely to be involved in a dangerous situation with a member of that community unless the community member is doing something truly suspicious and/or criminal. Professional police officers are a delight to talk to. I’ll happily hand over my license and registration to them and then chat about Ebola. (Long story.)

At the same gun violence forum, Dr. Daniel Webster answered a question from a student about the proposal for a university police force. His opinion was that students and faculty had a chance to give input and direct how the university police force would be created, staffed, trained and held accountable. Unlike the Baltimore City Police Department, whose structure and culture are already set (albeit changing and being reformed), the new police force would be created with the students in mind and, thus, their fears could be addressed as it related to how such a police force would interact with the community.

He said that if an event were to happen at the building we were in, we — students and faculty — would not know when the Baltimore police would react, how, and if they would understand who was a student and who was not. On the other hand, a university police force built from scratch would be held accountable to the students and the faculty and staff. We would have a say in shaping it, and we would know what to expect should the unexpected occur.

The thing about the two arguments is that the argument against kind of assumes the worst case scenario while the argument for assumes the best case scenario. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The truth will likely be that a university police force would have in it bad apples that won’t give a damn about some of the rules/regulations, and they’re sure to make mistakes. (Humans, amirite?) And the lack of a police force does put in doubt what would happen should an active shooter situation happen, or a big crime within the school, or something like that.

I wanted to tell the students in the discussion that they’re not likely to be the victims of crime in Baltimore City. They were not Black, poor men between the ages of 18 and 35, dealing in drugs or committing crime because of the institutional racism so deep in the DNA of the city. They’re not living in the neighborhoods that are struggling with crime and lack of services. The kind of victimization they’ll face has more to do with petty theft of their property when they’re not looking, or sexual assault from someone they know… And even those are highly unlikely. But victims of homicide like the record number of victims from the last couple of years? Not really.

But I do side with Dr. Webster about being at the very beginning of this project will allow the students to have a ton of impact on how that police force develops. The students will get to form how that police force relates to the community. They can actually help build a police force that keeps the campus and the neighborhoods around it safe, and it has great ties to the community. Heck, they can push so that the police force members originate from that community. And, again, while the risk of violent crime is low on campus and on the students of the university, having a well-trained police force instead of (or along with) unarmed security seems like a good move to me.

America First by Neglecting the World?

As you may or may not have heard, Brenda Fitzgerald, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), resigned from her post last week. Some point to her investment in tobacco and pharmaceutical companies as the reason why she left. Others don’t care why she left, as long as Anne Schuchat is Acting Director and not someone from the current Administration, and Administration that has promised to cut funding to CDC projects overseas because “America First” and other such nationalist nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, this opinion piece by Betsy McCaughey really scared the crap out of me. It scared the crap out of me because there are a lot of people (millions, probably) who think like her. Or, rather, who don’t think things through, like she seems to have done. Not only is she displaying the thinking of a nationalist and isolationist, she doesn’t seem to think that diseases overseas can come over and kill us.

She starts off with this:

“Under President Barrack Obama, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent money and staff to distant parts of the globe while neglecting life-threatening health crises under our noses. Dr. Thomas Frieden, who headed the CDC then, is joining a chorus of globalists bashing President Donald Trump’s decision to end funding for the CDC’s overseas projects in dozens of countries. Frieden charges the cuts will “endanger lives in our country.” Sounds scary, but the facts prove otherwise. Trump will spend the money here instead, where it’s urgently needed. As Trump searches for a new CDC director, it’s time to put America first — something the agency has neglected.”

Not to be too picky, but President Obama spells his first name “Barack,” with one R. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t throw in “Hussein” for good measure.

Speaking of dog whistles, she does manage to throw in the word “globalist,” which scares a lot of people into thinking that a “globalist” is one of those people who want to take over the world, or who want to give up American sovereignty. In the real world, a globalist is someone who takes into account everything that is going on in the world before making a decision (usually an economic one). This isn’t a bad thing. We’re not living in a world where we’re separated from trouble by two big oceans. You can get on a plane in Madagascar right now and arrive in the US in a matter of hours, bringing Plague with you. So, when the Director of CDC, someone with ample intelligence from overseas sources on what is going on and what is a threat to us tells us that we should worry about “over there,” I’d listen.

It’s like saying that we need to bring all of our troops back from Korea and the Middle East — both potential flashpoints for the next world war — because we need some cops here in Baltimore. You just don’t make decisions like that.

To support her assertion, Ms. McCaughey continues:

“On its core mission — protecting American health — the CDC is an abject failure. It dithered while opioid overdose deaths topped 42,000 and obesity deaths soared to 186,000, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Obesity and opioid overdosing are largely to blame for the sudden drop in American life expectancy.

Year after year, the CDC also pays lip service to curbing hospital infections, but the common infection C. diff now kills 29,000 Americans each year. No progress there.”

No, there has been some progress in the opioid epidemic. There are naloxone and Good Samaritan laws in almost every state now, reducing the number of deaths from opioids. Philadelphia is about to open a safe injection site, which evidence in Canada and Europe has shown to also reduce deaths, increase people looking for rehab services, and also prevent outbreaks of disease (like the one that then-Governor Pence allowed to happen on his watch in Indiana).

There has also been progress in hospital-acquired infections, but, admittedly, that progress is slow. It’s slow because our healthcare system sucks. There are thousands of healthcare organizations that all operate any which way they see fit, and any attempt at regulating them… Well, you know how Republicans feel about regulation.

Ms. McCaughey keeps on keeping on:

“Add flu deaths to the toll from the CDC’s subpar performance. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed during the current outbreak, and 53 children have died. The vaccine is less effective than in some past years, but the bigger problem is how few Americans get vaccinated — only 46 percent. Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine points to a “poor level of vaccine advocacy” from the federal government. “This could haunt us for the current season,” he adds. Nearly all the children who died never got the vaccine. A new study shows getting it can prevent 65 percent of child flu deaths.”

A couple of things here. First, CDC doesn’t make the influenza vaccine. Epidemiologists from CDC and other organizations around the world (globalist much, Ren?) work together to recommend the best strains to put into the vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies make the vaccines, because capitalism. Unfortunately, they have outdated technology when it comes to the influenza vaccine, so they need a lot of lead time before vaccines against influenza get manufactured. By the time it does, the circulating influenza virus may have already changed.

Second of all, vaccine advocacy is a function of the local and state governments and their health departments. While CDC posts a lot of information about the vaccine and its benefits, it’s really up to the locals to get the word out. After all, they’re the ones giving out the vaccine, not the federal government. (I’m willing to bet Ms. McCaughey would claim that there’s something authoritarian about the federal government carrying out a vaccine program.)

But here’s where Ms. McCaughey really starts to sound unhinged:

“While the CDC neglected its mission here, Obama committed billions to build labs and train health personnel in Africa during the Ebola scare. Billions for a disease that killed only one person in the U.S., and even that person got infected elsewhere.

Obama also allocated $582 million for the CDC’s Global Health Security Agenda serving 49 countries. That fund is running out, and Trump refuses to renew it. Alleluia.”

Ms. McCaughey must have not heard that over 11,000 people died in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and that the reason why there was only one death in the US was precisely because men and women from CDC and other organizations risked their goddamned lives to go over there and fight Ebola before it traveled to the rest of the world. Who the hell does this person think they are to whitewash the epidemic like that? An uninformed reader would probably think that the epidemic was no big deal if all they had was McCaughey’s words… And to write “Alleluia” (God be praised) that we will not be able to go help stop diseases outside of the US before they come here?

To hell with her. (I’m a little angry, in case you can’t tell.)

I won’t give you the rest of McCaughey’s drivel because it’s just nationalist propaganda. In her mind, it seems, President Barrack “With Two Rs Because At Least She Didn’t Write Hussein” Obama didn’t do anything to help Americans’ health. She must have missed that part where Obama wanted universal healthcare, with plenty of benchmarks and regulations on hospitals to incentivize them to reduce hospital-acquired infections and require us to go see our healthcare providers (for free!) and get our vaccines and other preventative care.

Oh, no, none of that happened in her world. In her world, like in Trump’s, there is death and destruction everywhere, but Trump will make it right? If we do pull back from global initiatives, it will only be a matter of time before something lands here because we missed it over there.

Ms. McCaughey, this is not a zero-sum game. For us to have better healthcare — which the Affordable Care Act tried to bring us but Trump is determined to destroy — we don’t need to take aid away from anyone. My God, no one comes close in how much we spend on the military. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, we can get some of that cash moved to both fight diseases here at home and abroad?

And if you’re really going to cry because “vaccination rates are abysmal,” then you need to look at Trump’s words about vaccines. He became the anti-vaccine groups’ darling after claiming that vaccines cause autism, and saying that the flu vaccine injects “bad stuff” into you. So, while you go protest the anti-vaccine stance of President Trump, the rest of us in the real world, working for public health, will try to make things work with the breadcrumbs the Trump Administration throws at us while laughing in our face.

You’re Angry at the Wrong People

It’s very common for xenophobic people to say something like, “Illegals are taking are jobs.” They don’t care if it’s true or not because truth is not the primary aim of the xenophobe or the racist. Their primary aim is to get people angry at undocumented immigrants and then let the hate do the heavy lifting. Lately, the same people that say things like these are also saying that the economy is so much better now than during the Obama Administration, with low unemployment and higher consumer confidence.

So, which is it? Either “illegals” are taking jobs, or there are more jobs than ever. Again, honesty and critical thinking are not the goals of those who would vilify and entire group of people for political gain. It’s a tried and true political maneuver by those without vision to find scapegoats and to play on the fears of the people.

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When you dig into the facts of undocumented immigrants and jobs, you find that the overwhelming majority of jobs done by undocumented immigrants are jobs that sit idle without them. According to the Brookings Institute:

“According to a comprehensive National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analysis, immigration does not significantly impact the overall employment levels of most native–born workers. The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native–born workers is also low. Immigrant labor does have some negative effects on the employment and wages of native–born high school dropouts, however, and also on prior immigrants, because all three groups compete for low–skilled jobs and the newest immigrants are often willing to work for less than their competition. To a large extent, however, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back–breaking jobs that native–born workers are not willing to do. Sectors with large numbers of undocumented workers include agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality services, and seafood processing. The fish–cutting industry, for example, is unable to recruit a sufficient number of legal workers and therefore is overwhelmingly dependent on an undocumented workforce. Skinning, deboning, and cutting fish is a smelly, slimy, grimy, chilly, monotonous, and exacting job. Many workers rapidly develop carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be a dangerous job, with machinery for cutting off fish heads and deboning knives everywhere frequently leading to amputated fingers. The risk of infections from cuts and the bloody water used to wash fish is also substantial. Over the past ten years, multiple exposés have revealed that both in the United States and abroad, workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries, often undocumented in other countries also, are subjected to forced labor conditions, and sometimes treated like slaves.”

So I guess Trump wants to bring back slavery? Kind of? Yes?

What is really happening here is that you — my most conservative of friends — are angry at the wrong people. You’re angry at Juan and Ramón for traveling hundreds of miles under the most horrifying of conditions and getting a job as a slave instead of being angry at the fat, happy and rich dudes at the top of the financial food chain who play fast and loose with other people’s money. It was neither Juan nor Ramón, nor Juanita, who sold sub-prime loans to people with very bad credit to the point of crashing the economy in 2008. None of them had any say in Walmart recently firing hundreds and closing down stores all over the place.

Speaking of which, did you notice that the president congratulated himself for Walmart giving out bonuses under the guise that the recent tax plan allowed them to do so, but said nothing about Walmart continuing to sell a ton of stuff from not-America? Weird, huh?

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Yeah, okay. Not selling American is Walmart’s least of its problems.

Nah, man… You’re angry at the wrong people. Congress had a chance to fix immigration back during the Bush Administration, but they didn’t because they couldn’t come to terms on their differences and do something good for the country. Even after the Republican President had asked Congress to fix immigration, and the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the Housethey still couldn’t get it done. So here we are, ten years later, dealing with immigration again. But, yeah, get angry at Pedro and María and little Carlito.

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No, don’t get angry with Carlito.

And I’m also looking at you, my most liberal of friends. You’re all angry at Trump and his supporters, and you can’t fathom how people voted for him to get him elected. But you ignore the decades that people in the Rust Belt and Appalachia were ignored and even laughed at for wanting something to be done about their declining situation. “Those hillbillies,” you seemed to say. “Look at them not using their white privilege.”

“But, Ren, didn’t you also not fathom how people could possibly vote for a racist misogynist with a history of bad financial decisions?” you ask.

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And, like a big boy, I’ll admit that I was angry at the wrong people. Instead of being angry at the previous administration and the many different state administrations that misappropriated the funds during the recovery so that not everyone benefited, I was angry at people who, understandably, voted for a racist misogynist with a history of bad financial decisions. If you really think about it, the economic downturn and the recovery was the perfect opportunity for the Democrats to finish off the insurgency within the Republican Party and show that the Tea Party offshoot cult, er, branch of the Republican Party were really all nuts. Obama and friends and friends could have tried to pass legislation to benefit the poor and disadvantaged Americans who would eventually vote for Trump. Even if the Tea Partiers blocked such efforts, Hillary and friends and friends could have pointed to such efforts in 2016 and asked for more help in helping others.

But no. The economic recovery ended up leaving a ton of people behind, and they were not going to buy what any Democratic candidate was selling given how Obama didn’t work so well for them. Then you had Hillary Clinton, who wouldn’t let Trump hoist himself by his own petard, make one elitist misstep after another. However, in doing so, we got what can very well turn out to be the most ineffective and embarrassing president in history.

I mean, you know it’s bad when Trump makes you miss Bush 43, a president who took us into Iraq under false pretenses.

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Okay.

What the adults in the country need to do is to sit down and think hard about who — or what — is really at fault for “what is wrong with America.” Is it Hector and Esteban who traveled hundreds of miles at great peril to be treated as slaves? Is it gay and lesbian Americans who ask that they be treated as equals and not as lepers because of whom they happen to be attracted to? Is it Black Americans who ask that their people not be summarily executed by police during not-so-random traffic stops?

Or is it super-wealthy business executives who pay through the nose so that favorable legislation gets passed for them? Is it the college coach who gets paid millions while so many young men and women cannot afford higher education? Is it the drug dealer who sells opiates and other life-ending drugs to the most vulnerable? Or is it the “association” that fights hard for the rights of guns to be unsafe while mass shootings kill children and suicides pile up?

It’s okay to be angry, but it’s better to be angry at the right people.

Immigration, Again

Slavery is “America’s Original Sin,” without a doubt. I think the way that the United States governments since Independence have treated immigrants is a close second. Time after time, the country seemed to settle on what being “American” was, and then the country rejected anyone not fitting the description until it was necessary to re-define the definition.

The first post-independence wave of immigrants came in the early 1800s, and those immigrants were from eastern Europe and Ireland. The Irish immigrants left a very bad famine in search for survival in America. According to the History Channel:

“Another major wave of immigration occurred from around 1815 to 1865. The majority of these newcomers hailed from Northern and Western Europe. Approximately one-third came from Ireland, which experienced a massive famine in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, almost half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland alone. Typically impoverished, these Irish immigrants settled near their point of arrival in cities along the East Coast. Between 1820 and 1930, some 4.5 million Irish migrated to the United States.”

Later, in the same century, “…the United States received some 5 million German immigrants. Many of them journeyed to the present-day Midwest to buy farms or congregated in such cities as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati. In the national census of 2000, more Americans claimed German ancestry than any other group.”

In the west, Asian immigrants also arrived in large numbers, helping in the expansion of the country from sea to shining sea. But the “Americans” were having none of it:

“The influx of newcomers resulted in anti-immigrant sentiment among certain factions of America’s native-born, predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant population. The new arrivals were often seen as unwanted competition for jobs, while many Catholics–especially the Irish–experienced discrimination for their religious beliefs. In the 1850s, the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party (also called the Know-Nothings) tried to severely curb immigration, and even ran a candidate, former U.S. president Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), in the presidential election of 1856.”

If those anti-immigration arguments sound familiar, it’s because they are being echoed today by modern anti-immigration groups and individuals. It’s always “they’re taking our jobs” along with underlying racist dog whistles of Mexicans being rapists, Muslims not wanting to assimilate to our culture, and Africans being backwards people. Of course, the reality is much different. The vast majority of immigrants from predominantly non-white or non-Christian (Protestant) countries are not criminals. They are very productive, and — after the Clinton Administration signed into law a welfare reform bill back in the 1990s — do not overburden social welfare systems because they are not allowed by law to be helped by those systems… At least not the systems funded by federal dollars.

So here we are today, arguing over immigration and “immigration reform” again, like we did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Legislators on the Right keep arguing for strict enforcement of existing laws on immigration, a near-militarization of the US border with (and only with) Mexico, and a denial of any kind of benefit to illegal immigrants and their families. The most radical right-wingers want the courts to reinterpret the US Constitution as it relates to who is a citizen and even who deserves equal protection under the law.

On the Left, legislators keep arguing for some form of amnesty or “regularization” of everyone who is here illegally. They want to fix the problems abroad that cause people to pick up en masse and make the dangerous trip to the United States. And they want children and young adults who were brought here illegally by their parents to be allowed to stay and begin a path toward citizenship. The more radical left-wingers want open borders and policies that welcome everyone and anyone into the country.

Like all things, the best solutions fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. There is no doubt that a secure border is necessary. We are living in a time when there is a real threat of a terrorist or a terrorist cell to make its way across the border and do some damage to innocent people. Is a wall the best solution? Probably not, from a fiscal and physical point of view. Walls can be breached. People can jump over them one way or another. Walls are expensive, and the money and other resources to build them would best be used to solve other issues that lead to illegal immigration. Still, the Border Patrol and other agencies along our borders (plural) need to be well funded and supported.

Most undocumented immigrants are here because they overstayed their visas, so there needs to be a way to verify that someone who enters for a pre-determined amount of time leaves when that time is up. Now, if they are here because they are escaping violence or persecution back home, the immigration courts need to listen to their please. Unfortunately, immigration courts are backlogged in a severe way right now, and many people end up getting deported before they can argue their case before a judge. So those resources not spent on a wall need to be spent on getting immigration courts working again.

Another big challenge is the drug trade. Because America is so addicted, a lot of drug cartels in Latin America and Asia are willing to inflict a lot of damage to people over there so we can get high over here. That makes people want to leave and go to places that are at peace and where they can prosper. For Europe, those immigrants are now leaving North Africa and parts of the Middle East. For the United States, those immigrants are now leaving Central America and parts of Mexico and South America. Dry up the cash for the cartels, and they are not able (or willing) to shoot it out with police, extort the population, or employ drug mules to bring drugs over the border.

That cash can be dried up by having a smart drug policy in the United States. People addicted to drugs are given help and opportunities to get sober. Economic and social policies are put in place to keep people from needing drugs to escape reality. Recreational use of drugs is decriminalized and taxed. People are not thrown away in jail for many years for having small quantities of drugs for personal use. Do these things and others, and do them well, and the drug cartels go broke. Farmers can then go back to growing food for people instead of marijuana, coca and poppies for billionaire drug lords.

But perhaps the most complicated issue when it comes to illegal immigration — the one thing we probably will not be able to overcome — is the divisiveness between the Left and the Right. Most on each side of the political spectrum believe that the other side is completely wrong, completely insane, completely un-American, or something like that. They’re not willing to compromise or even talk to each other. And it doesn’t seem like they will anytime soon.

So I’m willing to bet good money that next year we’ll be talking about immigration again.

Let Them Get Hoisted by Their Own Petard

There was a moment in the 2016 election when many, many people — myself included — were convinced that there was no way that Hillary Clinton could lose the election. It happened sometime after the first debate. Clinton even did a little dance about it:

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There was no way that the Orange Man-Child could mount a comeback and win, right? This was especially true (in our minds) after he admitted to groping women.

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Artist’s rendering of Trump grabbing… you know.

So what happened?

What happened was that Hillary Clinton and Friends (and Friends) decided to pile-on when it came to the missteps of the Great Orange One. They put out email after email and television spots, and everything else they could, to emphasize that the man-child was also a sexual predator and overall creepy guy. Then they took it one step further and decided to accuse everyone who thought of voting for him of being, well, “deplorable.”

To be honest, I’ve ended several personal and professional relationships with people who voted for El Anaranjado, but I’ve done so after the election and after they were unable to explain to me why they supported his xenophobic and homophobic proclamations. “Yeah, but her emails, though,” was more than just a joke in a meme. They actually said to me with a straight face that they could not vote for someone who mishandled emails like that. But they could somehow vote for a racist, sentient urinary tract infection? So I saved them the trouble of being conflicted and just cut them off.

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But I digress…

That whole strategy backfired because people like to take sides. We like to grab on to a team and be loyal to it. For a big section of Republicans, being called “deplorable” (and other names) only cemented their support. Like petulant children, they grabbed on to their candidate and decided to vote for him come hell (almost literally, if we keep playing games with North Korea) or high water (almost literally, given global climate change). Combine that with a low turnout of Democrats in critical areas of the Rust Belt, and we have what we have.

Now look at what happened in Alabama last month. There, Roy “16 and Under” Moore was the likely winner in state that has gone for the right-wing candidate for a long time. It doesn’t get redder than Alabama when it comes to politics. Only the urban and suburban bastions of Birmingham and Mobile were projected to go Blue, and that would not be enough. To win, Doug Jones would need a lot of votes to come out of the not-so-rural areas, and a lot more to come out of the rural ones… And for Republican voters to stay home.

So did Jones attack Moore for Moore’s sexual predation of young, teenage girls at malls? Nope. He stayed quiet and just rode the wave of disgust to its natural conclusion. The voters of Alabama were not going to put a predator in the Senate, and the Black voters of Alabama were going to vote against a very weird and racist dude with a small gun. And the Republicans who did vote for El Gato Moore? Many of them stayed home. They were not called names. They were not incensed by “The Liberals.” Jones just kind of stood back and let “U16” Moore’s own actions and words be his undoing.

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Fast-forward to this week, when an “explosive” new book about the Trump Presidency is being published. An excerpt of the book on the New York Magazine website has this interesting passage:

“On Friday, January 27 — only his eighth day in office — Trump signed an executive order issuing a sweeping exclusion of many Muslims from the United States. In his mania to seize the day, with almost no one in the federal government having seen it or even been aware of it, Bannon had succeeded in pushing through an executive order that overhauled U.S. immigration policy while bypassing the very agencies and personnel responsible for enforcing it.

The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! But Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between Trump’s America and that of liberals. Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?

“Errr … that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.”

My emphasis in bold.

This has been the strategy of Chief Troll Bannon and his troll army. They exist to push buttons and have people overreact to their provocations. Then, when people do react, these trolls quickly act like victims and point and say, “See? They’re nuts!” And this has been a favorite tactic of the anti-vaccine trolls as well.

One such troll we’ll call “The Kid” traveled to talks given by a prestigious vaccine scientist and pediatrician, asking some very idiotic questions and provoking organizers of those talks to act against the little troll. The Kid would then go on his blog and tell his followers of how he was victimized, and how he was not victimized because he was launching handgrenades of lies and misinformation… He told his followers that he was being victimized for being autistic, and — naturally — he was autistic because of vaccines.

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While I do love me some back-and-forth with anti-vaxxers and the like, I’m learning more and more not to play into their game. If I go at them and call them what they are (idiots), they’ll just play the victim and say that I’m victimizing them. When anyone does this to them on social media, they are quick to say that someone is making fun of their “damaged” children. In fact, that was the whole subject of an email to the Dean of Students at the school where I go. They accused me of using this blog to make fun of autistic children when I was clearly making fun of idiot antivaxxers.

So I hope that all this is a lesson to people who are planning to run for office in 2018. Yeah, it will be a referendum of sorts on the Trump Administration, but try to stick to the issues at hand. Hillary Lost because she didn’t really have a plan for the forgotten people of the Rust Belt and Appalachia, and the South. She didn’t have a plan for African Americans who are hit with the double whammy of institutional racism (which hardly went away during the Obama Administration) and poverty, though they both go hand-in-hand.

The candidates in 2018 need to go above and beyond “Trump Sucks!” to win. (Remember “Bush Sucks!” in 2004? Didn’t work, did it?) They need to explain to us that they have a better plan to deal with threats like North Korea, and that they will continue to promote policies that have led to the current gains in employment and consumer confidence. (Hint: It wasn’t Trump that helped with that. We’re riding a high of an economic recovery after the Great Recession.) Because, frankly, we know that the Great Orange Emperor is a big baby with fancy toys. We know he sees women as objects, and that he will turn against anyone who dares speak ill of him.

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We know all that. What we, the voters, really want to know is what the next Representative, Senator, and President will do to right the ship for everyone, not just people on one end or the other of the spectrum.

Enough divisiveness, is what I’m trying to say.

Confession: I would not have voted for Obama in 2008

In the fall of 2008, while I was out on the eastern shore of Maryland for work, I got the chance to catch one of the presidential debates between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. I wasn’t a citizen yet, so I would not be able to vote that November, but I definitely had my favorite to win: John McCain. You see, I had not swallowed the claims from the Left that a McCain presidency would mean another 4 years of George W. Bush policies. Anyone who really studies how Senator McCain operates on a political spectrum knows that he’s not that far to the Right.

Also, when McCain ran for the nomination back in the 2000 election cycle, he was the victim of a lot of dirty tricks from the republican establishment. When the attacks on September 11, 2001, happened, my boss at the time was glad that John McCain was not the President. “Missiles would have been flying,” he said. “Instead, Bush will take us into war with cooler heads.”

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out so well.

Anyway, back in 2008, I also didn’t like the use of the phrase “redistribution of wealth.” It sounded very radical — and radically to the Left — to me. I was young, making relatively good money working at the lab and at the health department, and the idea of more taxes didn’t really appeal to me. I was still under the impression that I didn’t receive that much help from the government. Boy, was I ever wrong.

When I was a kid, mom and my siblings and I received food stamps. I was on food stamps through college, so I didn’t go hungry. I also received a Pell Grant and very low interest loans to go to college. And I got free healthcare from the university as well. All that money didn’t materialize out of thin air. In 2008, I had almost forgotten that wealth was redistributed so that I could make my own wealth.

The more I worked in public health, the more I realized that hyper-conservative ideas do more harm than good. (As do hyper-liberal ideas, by the way.) As the Republican Party was taken over by the Tea Party Conservatives, they declared a war on Brown people like me, especially immigrants like me. By the time I became a citizen and registered to vote, the Republican Party had left me altogether. My ideals began aligning more with the Democratic Party, though not entirely.

This change also happened from continuous exposure to my wife and her way of thinking. She is a very bright woman, and she had very good arguments to counter the more radical “right wing” arguments I had. Through great conversations throughout our relationship, she convinced me that there is nothing conservative about many of the weird policies that conservatives push.

For example, on abortion, conservatives want to ban abortion and punish women who undergo those abortions. But they don’t want to do anything else to prevent unplanned pregnancies. If they really wanted to prevent abortion, they would allow comprehensive, science-based sex education in schools. They would allow free and open access to contraceptives (not just the pill). And they would accept that sex between consenting partners — which is something 99.9999% of humanity will partake in at one point in their lives — is nothing to be feared or kept secret.

On taxes, I’m all for stopping wasteful spending. I don’t know anyone, on the Left or the Right, who is a reasonable person who doesn’t want that. We can’t waste our resources just because we can. We might not always be able to spend like we do. There have been and will continue to be economic recessions. So it is much better to be prepared and have the resources available for those “rainy days.” At the same time, a progressive tax plan allows the nation to get the money it needs from us while leaving us with enough money to survive.

For example, if I made $28,000 a year and was taxed at 10%, then I have $25,200 to live on. Now, take someone who makes $100,000 a year. If they are taxed at 10%, they will have to “get by” on $90,000. Even though we both get taxed at the same rate, they are left with over 3.5 times the money I have. This is where the weirdos come in and tell me that the person making $100k a year worked hard for it, and I’m sure they did. But there are millions of people making $28k a year who work even harder, so that’s not a good argument. I could make the same argument that the person making $100k gets tax incentives and rebates paid for by my 10% contribution more than anything I get paid for by theirs, like the tax reimbursement for homeowners or the tax-sheltered retirement fund.

Of course, you can’t tax people and corporations so much that they go to other countries to protect their cash. And you can’t scare people away from moving up to the next tax bracket, either. If making $30k a year in my hypothetical example meant moving up to a 12% tax, meaning I’d have $26,400 ($1,200 a year or $100 a month extra), I might not think that it’s really worth it to move up… Or I might try to do something — like getting paid “under the table” — to protect those extra $166 a month.

Tax plans need to be smart, progressive, and mindful of the needs of the people you’re taxing… Is what I’m trying to say. Just saying that “The Government” is going to “redistribute your wealth” is not a good strategy, so that’s where I kind of got scared of the Democratic plan, especially as I was seeing the beginning of the Great Recession happening. (A couple of friends at the lab where I worked were nearing retirement and saw their retirement accounts take huge hits, and that kind of scared me.)

Then there is the issue of immigration. Believe it or not, there was a time when Republicans were very reasonable on immigration:

Shortly after the election of George W. Bush, however, Republicans changed their tone radically and very openly to be against any and all immigration. Immigrants were the biggest problem when it came to crime and poverty, according to them. People who looked like me should be required to show proof of being in the United States legally before receiving the most basic of services, or when being pulled over for a simple traffic infraction. In Frederick County, Maryland, close to where I lived, the local police and sheriff were all-in when it came to “hunting down” illegal immigrants, so much so that they trampled on people’s rights. (Even if it resulted in a ton of money wasted on legal bills to the county.)

That was probably the last straw for me. Although I had registered as a Republican upon becoming a citizen and registering to vote, I was not going to be voting for a Republican candidate for a while, especially where I lived in Pennsylvania. In my congressional district, Representative Scott Perry has managed to be the perfect caricature of a science denialist and someone who takes advantage of every little crisis to make it about himself. According to him, we shouldn’t regulate pollution because God is a polluter. He also seems very scared of holding public town hall meetings. He mostly does “town halls” online, from his Washington office, and only with people who have the time to get online. Or he’ll have phone town halls, where you’re required to fully identify yourself and have your question screened. No uncomfortable questions go through.

Oh, and his sycophant followers get angry at me for not addressing Mr. Perry as “General” Perry since he is a general in the reserves. Sorry, dudes, I’m not in the military, and he is not acting as a general in the military when I ask for a redress of my grievances from him as my elected representative. The snowflakes who get offended at me calling him “Mr. Perry” are just going to have to deal with it.

So, here we are, one year into the empire, and the Republicans continue to distance themselves from me. Child health insurance programs have been de-funded. Americans in Puerto Rico were left on their own to die and suffer from diseases after Hurricane Maria. The new tax plan that’s being shoved through will raise my taxes instead of decreasing them. And don’t even get me started on how, under the guise of “less government,” they want to pass laws that intrude more and more in my life and the lives of my loved ones.

I’m sure glad the Emperor didn’t run back in 2008. We needed those eight years of Socialist Communist Kenyan Alien Illuminati Obama so that those of us who lived through them can have memories of how a President of The United States should behave.

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