I Know What You Did On Twitter

I know what you did on twitter

Anyone remember that late 90s movie I Know What You Did Last Summer? It’s a “slasher film”, which had their heyday in the 1980s with franchises like Halloween and  Friday the 13th, but this was during a time when slashers tried to make a comeback with the “it” celebs of the late 1990s. Like literally, the guy who made Dawson’s Creek decided to make horror movies all of sudden. Anyway, it was largely forgettable. Had a plot that centered around a group of teenagers partying one night and they accidentally kill a man. Instead of owning up to the mistake or calling the authorities, they decide to cover it up and forget it ever happened, but of course, as the movie unfolds, their lack of judgement comes back to bite them when they least expect it.

Well, flash-forward to today and let’s adapt such a tale in the age of social media we live in now.  Last week, Atlanta Braves pitcher, Sean Newcomb was in the mist of one of the greatest games of his career. With just two outs to go in the ninth inning, after retiring every batter that has stepped up to the plate that game, he was on the verge of doing what every major league pitcher dreams of doing in their career and throwing a No-Hitter, clearly one of the best moments of his young career.  Unfortunately, with one out to go, the No-Hitter was broken up and he came up short of his attempt, but was able to record the resounding win for his team.  And unfortunately for him, his night was not over.  Later that night, Twitter user @NatsSquid(“Nats” being the nickname of Atlanta Braves rival Washington Nationals) uncovered older tweets sent out by Newcomb when he was in high school.  These tweets contained very inflammatory and derogatory language that is offensive to African-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Within hours, and almost as a response to, the revelation of Newcomb’s high school Twitter activity, it was uncovered that Washington National’s shortstop, Trea Turner was also found to have sent out homophobic and racially insensitive tweets during his high school years as well.  These were the latest incidents, which include another Major League ball player, Josh Hader, who tweeted a litany of racist, misogynistic and homophobic tweets, again while he was in high school, that was uncovered during his first MLB All-Star appearance.  Also, not to mention, earlier this year, Villanova guard, Donte Di Vincenzo who also got into trouble after a sensational game and NCAA Basketball Final Four appearance with his high school twitter activity causing him to delete his account. And rounding out the list is Wyoming quaterback, Josh Allen, who also tweeted racially insensitive language that was revealed days before he was to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.

If you haven’t noticed a bit of a trend in each of the cases: A athlete having a memorable moment of their career, which is being overshadowed by something they posted on Twitter when they were in high school, virtually coming back to haunt them and stealing the thunder and acclaim in what would otherwise be a defining moment of their lives. Now, as it would happen, there has been push-back from fans and commentators from the sports-world who, while they may be sympathetic to those who might be offended, are also bothered by what has to be targeted and purposeful attempts to knock someone down after a deserved victory.  It’d be one thing if this stuff was uncovered before the season started or earlier or later in their career, or hell, perhaps even the night after the occasion of their personal achievement, but these revelations are often coming the day of their moment. So it almost seems it’s being done to purposely attack someone and not being done as a matter of social awareness in the betterment of our society.

Usually, for those of us who like living in a civil society, knowing who the racist are or the homophobes that still believe the most silliest and archaic shit about gay folks, pointing them out is like putting a thumb-tack on a map of where not to go. You see it, it’s there and you can deal with it accordingly.  But defenders of these athletes insist that these athletes should not be judged as harshly because of something they said in high school, as a teenager, a time where everyone knows their decision-making minds are invariably at its worst.  And to be honest, I have to agree.  Teenagers are notorious for their bad decisions they tend to make.  But here’s the problem: these teenagers, that get the excuse of not knowing any better, they didn’t put themselves on earth.  They were all raised by parents who do or should know better.  And because of that, they are the ones ultimately responsible.  Of course, it is not their twitter accounts and they are not the ones sending out the tweets, but they are the ones responsible for teaching their children the social awareness of other cultures and being accountable for the things they say.  They’ve been around long enough and lived in this society enough to know better and teach their kids how the world will view them based on the things they say.  But they don’t do that.  Ultimately, I’m not certain they feel that responsibility.

Let me close this out with an incident that’s been in the news lately. A few years ago, 19-year old Pravin Varughese was murdered by 19-year old Gaege Bethune. Bethune, who will be sentenced later this month defended himself in his trial by initially blaming Varughese for his own murder and made a claim of self-defense. Fortunately his claim, was dismissed by the revelation of, you guessed it, his twitter account, where used racially derogatory language while bragging about him attacking Varughese. Of course no one would believe him now. And while I’d like to say he has no one but himself to blame, his parents have tried to blame everyone else including the police, prosecutor and media for not giving their son a fair trial. They claimed that the media made their son out to be the kind of human being that they did not raise. Well, they did raise him. And they did not raise him to respect those that are not of his race.

The Bethunes, like the Newcombs, the Turners, the Haders, Di Vincenzos and Allens all are probably(possibly really, I don’t know them) not at all prejudice and assumed that their lack of prejudice would simply transfer to their children and be reflected in their social media habits. They probably taught their children good from bad, right from wrong and lessons of equality and justice. Possibly. Now, far be it from me to assume what they weren’t taught by their parents, I’m not white, nor do I have children. But I do know, that my upbringing, just like practically every other non-white kid growing up in America, included repeated and forceful lessons of what it means to grow up in a society where you are the minority. Unfortunately gay folks almost always have to learn the hard way about the society we live in. And given their incendiary social media proclivities, it exposes a level of comfort that I just can’t imagine any rational parent affording to their children. However, many parents do not fully realize the position they’re in, where they can get away with the benefit of not teaching their kid about the dynamics of social awareness. Some would call it a privilege.

So, if you’re raising a white kid in America anywhere from about 1787 to about now, let me be clear: it is not enough to assume your children have the wherewithal to not be racially or culturally insensitive.  You have to realize, like my parents did, that we live in a nation that actively teaches us that black and brown people are rather bad or lesser than and those who identify as LGBTQ lack humanity. And with that, you have to continuously teach your children of what to do, what to say and what not to say. Just like my parents did. Please teach your kids what racism is and to not do it. Stop letting White Privilege raise your kids. Because it can come back and bit them when they least expected it.  Now, I don’t want to come off preachy. Again, I don’t have any kids myself and couldn’t possibly know what you do or do not teach your kids.

But just think of this as your friendly neighborhood reminder.

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Sports Racing

sports race

If you’re a sports fan, last week was quite the week to be a fan.  We’re hitting the beginning of Summer so most sports are rather beginning to rev’ up the excitement or are culminating with fantastic finishes.  And that’s exactly what happened last week, where no less than five major championships were rather claimed or reclaimed across the entire sports world.

The latest one to be won was on Saturday.  Terrance Crawford, boxing’s undisputed Lightweight and Junior Welterweight Champion was facing Welterweight Champion, Jeff Horn, who gained his title by beating megastar Manny Pacquiao.  Crawford was the odds-on favorite to win.  He’s easily one of the more talented boxers in the post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era.  He’s just as fast, crafty, packs a punch and isn’t at all easy to hit.  Eight of his last 10 fights have ended early and this would prove to be no exception.  For someone who went 12 rounds with a hard-hitting fighter known for exciting knockouts in Manny Pacquiao, Jeff Horn was clearly out of his league.  The fight was just a clear display to see how above and beyond Crawford is in the sport.  I should know.

A bit of background, I’m a boxing fan from way back.  Like many guys my age and environment, I grew up with boxing Pay-Per-Views being as big of a deal as the Super Bowl in my household and extended network of family and friends.  Whenever Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard or a “Sweetpea” Whitaker had a fight, it was an event.  Through the 1990s, those events centered on the heavyweight division and the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe trilogy.  By this time, my passion was lit.  I wanted to continue to see the never-ending soap opera of returning champions and insurgent contenders.  However, my family didn’t.

By the late 90s, Mike Tyson was a shell of himself and the title was undisputedly held by British-born Lennox Claudius Lewis.  He was a tough guy for American audiences to follow.  Though he was black, he was wasn’t American.  He stood straight up.  Coming off an era where Tyson mauled most of his opponents in minutes, Lewis was more methodical.  You had to appreciate his craft.  But if that wasn’t bad enough, the reign that followed the British, but black Lennox Lewis, was the Ukranian (actual) doctors Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir Klitschko.  Names you probably would spell wrong if you weren’t a fan.  American audiences that drove boxing for decades were disinterested in the Klitschkos.  And for a while, I could not understand why.  No, they were not Mike Tyson with a slew of early round knockouts, but don’t get it twisted, they were called “Dr. Steelhammer” and “Dr. Ironfist” for a reason.  Ninety percent of their fights ended early.  They were every bit of the knockout artist as Tyson was.  And that’s what people are drawn to in combat sports, beating the holy-hell out of your opponent, but boxing, lead by the popular heavyweight division waned in popularity in the 2000s.  In it’s place sprung up another combat sport, Mixed Martial Arts and Dana White’s promotion UFC.

Which leads me back to Saturday night and my drive to go watch the Crawford-Horn match.  I hoped to go to my local sports bar and see if they would have a stream of the fight and when I walked in, the bar was sparsely populated.  It wasn’t as full as I’ve seen on most Sundays during football season, not even as much as a Monday or Thursday.  But everyone was glued to the screens above watching the UFC Pay-Per-View with Holly Holm and Meghan Anderson.  I did not stay long.  They weren’t showing the boxing match I wanted to see and I’m not a MMA fan.  Honestly, I think the action is often much more slower and aesthetically unpleasing than boxing.  Again, we watch these sports to see someone get knocked the heck out.  There’s not only no guarantee of that in MMA but some don’t even see it as a focus.

So I left.  However, not before I heard a bit of a ruckus from the crowd gathered when Holm took a couple of solid shots to the face.  And it just made me wonder, “if these guys are excited by someone taking two solid shots in the face in an octagon, why wouldn’t they be excited for one of the best champions absolutely destroying his competition in the ring?”

I wondered… but in reality, I knew.  I can look at those in the bar and the competitors on the screen.  Of course it isn’t at all universal, but the popularity of a sport has been endemically linked to the make up of those competing within it.  It took me back to a few days prior, the first championship won that week, the Stanley Cup in the NHL.  Washington Capitals, perennial playoff losers were playing the Vegas Golden Knights a team that was literally in uncharted territory since they took the ice last October as an expansion team.  When the Capitals won the series clinching game 5, I noticed my social media accounts light up with a litany of updates about the win.  And many of them were from friends who I never knew to post anything about hockey or sports at all.  Again, it wasn’t universal, but the majority of those updates were from friends that were white.  Meanwhile, the night following the NHL finale and the night before the Crawford title match, the NBA ended their season with the Golden State Warriors beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning their 3rd title in four years.  And the majority of my social media updates on the NBA Finals were from friends that were black.

Now, of course I understand that my social media timelines are fully anecdotal, but they are representative of the audiences that typically watch these sports.  Nielsen Media Research tracks demographic data of those watching television programs across the nation.  Sports like NASCAR and hockey, which are predominately participated by white males, invariably have audiences that are consistently greater than 90% white, whereas basketball and football, which are two sports with the highest involvement of black athletes, are watched by more African-Americans.  Granted, there have been studies from both Florida Atlantic and Penn State that have linked our sports consumption to other factors like wealth, class and accessibility moreso than race, but even each of those have a racial component.  It’s easier for a black kid to buy a cheap basketball and go a the park with a hoop than to spend hundreds of dollars at a golf course.  Or getting a group of latino kids from the barrio to hit a $.79 ball with a stick is more easier to do than to get those same kids on a frozen lake in Central or South America.  However much a sport is accessible to us, socialization still plays a significant role as well. Which is probably want grounded my passion for boxing to begin with.*

That said, if you look at the two sports I started this piece with, boxing and MMA, they’ve seen similar trends in viewership reflected by those participating in it.  A recent study of both sports found nearly double the amount of viewers for boxing are black or latino than compared to MMA.  And while black fighters have found easier fortunes in other athletic pursuits that are more accessible, many of the top tier boxers are black.  Many others are Latino and Eastern European.  There are very few white Western European or American boxers with much success in recent years.  Such a demographic is far more common in MMA, with fighters like Conor McGregor, Chris Wideman, T.J. Dillashaw, Holly Holm and Stephen Thompson have found success.  As a boxing fan, I’d be hard-press to come up with a similar list of fighters in the sport.*

And also, to not be left out of the discussion, Rafael Nadal won his 11th French Open championship in tennis and when asked if women tennis players like Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki(names likely bigger than his) should be paid equal to their male counterparts, he noted that their earnings should be linked to viewership.  He compared it to modeling where female models routinely make more than their male counterparts because they have a larger following and recently, Women’s tennis has been similar.

Now this week, countries across the world will begin play in the 2018 World Cup of soccer.  In a few years, those same countries will be joined by more in the 2020 Summer Olympics.  We don’t think this way, but it is not at all uncommon for citizens of their own nation to cheer for their home nation in such worldwide events.  Just look at how American boxing fans that flooded pay-per-view buys watching Americans like Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather spend less money on England’s Lennox Lewis or Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko.  Moreover, even within our national sphere of sports, it is not uncommon for fans to cheer for teams local to where they’re from.  Virginians on my timeline watched and cheered for the Capitals just as Californians on my timeline cheered for the Warriors.  But when those same connections to familiar demographics become racially defined, it’s then more frowned upon.  Perhaps it is seen that if I know nothing of the sport but cheer for the black Terrance Crawford to beat the white Jeff Horn, I am in a way endorsing a form of overt racism.  But if we do slow down and think about how we connect to sports, we connect with who and what is familiar.  And consciously or not, that does include race.  And it’s not because we think the opposing or unwatched race is lesser than, but a common connection to who we are and where we’re from is a comfort zone.  So if we were to look at it just as with the teams and clubs where we’re located, from a certain point of view our race is also a home team.  And you always root for the home team, fan or not.

Update #1: I just saw an interview with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, where he mentioned with winning the Olympic bid for 2028 that the city could see a similar effect that it did in 1984 when a surplus in revenue funded the kind of inner city facilities that brought tennis to Compton allowing for successes like Venus and Serena Williams.  And with the recent announcement of the World Cup coming to North America in 2026, it’s very possible we could see another such spike in talent and exposure.

Update #2: After a bit of reconsideration, I’ve remember that I do know of an recently reactive Western fighter, former Heavyweight Champion from England, Tyson Fury.  After winning the title he celebrated a little too hard and had to quit boxing for a while due to health related reasons… Looking at you Alex Ovechkin.

Trolls Under the Bridge

Carla Congress

If you’ve ever have the opportunity to visit your Congressman, or Congresswoman, you definitely should take it.  Not just at your local congressional office, but in their offices in Washington, D.C.  We often forget the kind of privilege we have as Americans, to have this kind of direct access to the people who represent us and make our laws.  The physical manifestation of being able to literally walk the Halls of Congress can be awe-inspiring and daunting but at the same time has the ability to fill you with power, pride and purpose that each of us have as citizens in our democracy.

However, for those that do physically walk those halls, in a certain hall, one is noticeably different than the rest of them.  Every member of Congress, and their staff work in one of several office buildings that are directly adjacent to the U.S. Capitol building.  When members of Congress leave their office to go to the Capitol to conduct the business of the government, there’s a subterranean tunnel system that members use to go from their offices to the Capitol.  They’re not your typical tunnels.  They’re well lit, well traveled.  They’re fairly long and even shuttling is available.  However, when members, their staff, tourist and constituents walk down one such tunnel to the Capitol, they’ll notice hundreds of pieces of art hung on display.  As pedestrians walk down the hall, you can easily forget you are beneath Capitol Hill and think you’re in a museum.  The pieces on display are as beautiful as they are slightly out of place.  You’re in such a majestic and elegant place, but set apart from the granite columns and marble statues are these abstract, colorful, artistic expressions that surely must have been masterpieces made by the best artist in history.

Well, not really.  Because you see, every congressional office sponsors a competition, which has each member’s office contacting students from high schools in their districts for submissions.  These submissions are judged and a winner is chosen, one per congressional district and the winning piece is put on display in the underground tunnel on Capitol Hill.  The offices do not ask whether or not these students like the member.  Don’t ask whether they are Republican or Democratic students.  They don’t know if they’re rich or poor, contributors or if they can do anything for the member.  The Congressional Art Competition is what the office does for it’s district.  It’s one of the many services and functions provided by a congressional office.  They work for the people.  As members of Congress, that’s what they do.

Well, down here in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one such Congressman, Scott Rigell, Republican who served from 2011 to 2017, held a symposium for women.  The symposium, which was sponsored by a multitude of businesses and government organizations, had attendees from across the region including the particular woman in the picture above, Carla Hesseltine.  The Chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee.

Last month, a Twitter account was uncovered from a @GOPJoeInVB that sent out a tweet, one of three tweets from an account barely a month old.  The tweet featured several pictures of Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee’s elected chair attending several events with prominent Republicans and suggesting that the Democrats elected a Republican to be their chair.  The tweet was then picked up by a post written on progressive site, Daily Kos.  The post, was from a user who admittedly created the account on Daily Kos specifically to write the post about the tweet, further damning the VBDC chair and her connection to Republican politicians.  Particularly noting the picture above where the user “BeachProgressive” slams her for attending a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Scott Rigell.

Well, as noted above, the event depicted in the picture was an event sponsored by the Congressional Office for the office and for the benefit of the district and not for the benefit of the Congressman.  But, silly me, what do facts matter to some people?

Now, it’s very possible that “BeachProgressive” is fully ignorant of how congressional offices, or any elected official office actually works and just ignorantly goes about doing the dirty work of Republican troublemakers by wrongfully stating that the event was a fundraiser.  But thankfully, this information was revealed to be false and purposely misleading.

Unfortunately, this revelation did NOT stop individuals within Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee from taking the ball and running with their own agenda.  Which is a little comical, considering the accusation that Carla Hesseltine has her own.

Armed with this information and the intent to rightfully ask of the situation at the committee’s monthly meeting, it was clear things were to come to a head.  And so the meeting started off not unlike most local committee meetings; dreadfully boring and painfully process-oriented via Roberts Rules of Order.  However, it didn’t take long for the questions to arise and the accusations to fly.  They were sprinkled throughout, but sourced from one individual.  She seemed upfront, honest and sincere with her intentions.  She said she wanted to move the party forward, united, one would say Indivisible. And yet during the course of the meeting, she began to unpromptedly disseminate flyers with the above picture attached.  Now, I allowed for the possibility that two random and bogus internet nobodies being fully unaware of the lies they were spreading.  But not her.  Particularly when I specifically and directly told her, under no uncertain terms, that the picture was purposely a lie.  Why?  Because she asked me.  So she knew the truth.  But she still came to the meeting with the picture in hand and passed it out to members KNOWING it was NOT TRUE.  She did it in the middle of the meeting, without invitation.  Now, not everyone who attends those meetings have time for internet squabbles.  They come to see how they can get more Democrats elected and progress a Democratic agenda.  Even if they knew about the allegations against Carla Hesseltine, it’s very possible they did not care.  But to purposely pass out unsolicited false information, that you know is false, then there’s no doubt you’re doing it to purposely mislead others and lie to them about your motives.  Your goal is not to elicit a honest dialogue with someone.  It’s to impugn their character.  That’s it.  Especially when it was further revealed she did it after denying Carla the opportunity to address it the way she requested.  It’s one thing to ask questions, which we definitely should do, but it’s something else entirely to duplicitously spread untrue information when you know it’s bullshit.  Even if I wanted to believe a unverified Republican twitter bot, even if I wanted to heed the word of a biased blog post, even if I really wanted to question whether Carla Hesseltine’s agenda matches my own, how could anyone possibly believe anything that is a product of a series of provable lies, fabrications and exaggerations?

Because this is what it is.

We live in the day and age where internet activity is extremely pervasive.  However, there are those that use the internet to purposely sow discord and incite others to abandon their goals and intentions for another’s amusement or ends.  This has been compared to the fable of the three billy goats crossing a bridge and being waylaid by a troll beneath the bridge.  The goal of the goats is to get across the bridge for greener pastures.  The troll, doesn’t care about the bridge.  Doesn’t care about the grass.  It just cares about stopping progress.  This is dictionary-definition of internet trolling.  So when someone creates a twitter account named “GOPJoe” to send out a tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  When someone creates a user account to only write about that tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  And when you purposely spread lies without regard to order or the truth you have been given YOU ARE THE TROLL UNDER THE BRIDGE.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Thank you.
Regards,

 

“O”… Really?

President Oprah

In just a few short weeks, it will officially be one full year since the 45th President of the United States has taken office and last Sunday night, the 2020 Presidential Election was effectively kicked off during the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.  Oprah Winfrey, who is not just the richest self-made female billionaire in America, but also the first and richest black multi-billionaire in the world, while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the Golden Globes, gave a speech that immediately caught fire across social media.  Given her profile, what she talked about and the thirst this nation has had to quickly turn the page away the colossal mistake we’ve made in 2016, the uproar for her to run for President has been nothing short of monumental.

Everyone has pitched in their opinion of whether Oprah Winfrey should or should not run for president.  And it’s been a fun idea to think about.  Particularly since our current president has made his entire career out of being at the forefront of American television for years.  If there’s anyone that could match him in terms of wealth and name identification, it’s Oprah Winfrey.  But that is where any and all comparisons between the two cease.  Where he has been crass and appalling, she has been warm and comforting.  Where he has been abhorrent and deplorable, she has been delightful and encouraging.  Where has the president’s been an offensive blight in American media, Oprah Winfrey has made her career and the careers of others being one of most positive influences on the planet.  She has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given away nearly half a billion dollars for educational pursuits and other humanitarian efforts and has gone from rural Mississippi to being the de-facto “Queen of Media” and has been adored by millions.

And this is the problem.

Back in 2007, for the first time in her career, Oprah Winfrey had publicly threw her considerable support and influence in a political campaign behind Barack Obama.  But it was also during this time that she too was asked about running for president someday and she realized then, what I’m certain she’s fully considering now that the current president is experiencing at this very moment, that in order for her to run and for her to win, it would come at the expense of so much that has given her the kind of impact she has today.

Oprah is not a politician.  Even while endorsing Barack Obama, Oprah had to never actively get into politics.  That just doesn’t mean endorsing any particular candidate.  That means giving candidates money, lots of it.  That means taking a lead and defining yourself and your entire media profile on extremely partisan issues.  Issues that have and will define how and what people think about you.  She has spent her life uplifting thousands and building bridges literally and figuratively.  However, as a candidate she WILL have to burn bridges she never thought she had to burn.  And if she were to win and become president, she’ll realize quick how impossible it will to build actual roads and bridges when she has a congress that will oppose anything she wants to do because she also wants to make sure businesses treat women fairly by paying them what they pay men.  As a private citizen, she doesn’t need to worry about these things.  She could pay women who worked for her what she thought was just and fair.  She did not have define to millions of fans and viewers how she feels about abortion and welfare, health care, gun control and such issues that will turn people away from her no matter how she’s made them feel talking to us from couch to couch through a television screen.  It is not fun having to be subjected to what people will invariably put you through.  It is not easy having to put yourself out there and to try to convince people you can help make their lives better and acutely explain to them how.  It’s petty, grueling, ugly and demoralizing, particularly when you know you have every intent to do the best but are handcuffed by a myriad of factors that you have absolutely no control over at all that would have never stopped you before.

Now, I’m not going to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t support Oprah Winfrey to be our next president.  She’s obviously talented, has the ability to reach millions with ease.  But there’s way much more to this than people want to realize.  And we see the consequence of those not realizing this right now.  While most elections, thematically come down to “change” vs “experience”, we’ve typically voted for politicians that actually are politicians.  And there’s a reason for that.  It lets us know that they are able to work with a system that by its very nature often complex and chaotic.  It’s that electoral resume that assures us that we can trust these individuals to make these critical decisions and do it deliberately and righteously.  Oprah doesn’t have that, but yet, she makes it really easy to trust her still.  Ultimately, those who are asking her to run for president have to open their eyes.  You don’t how where she stands on international hotspots like Syria, North Korea or Russia or if she will respond any differently than the currently president has.  You don’t know how she feels about immigration reform, tax reform or entitlement reform.  You might think she’s right where you want her to be but then again, she may not be.  But beyond how you may feel about her, she also has to consider everything that she will have to sacrifice and surrender to do something that she has absolutely no control over whether it will go well or not.  And while we might think it’s a great idea for Oprah Winfrey to run for president, we also have to accept that it’s entirely possible that she may not think she should the our next President of the United States.

But, if she does run… Well, it’s fun to dream.

Diary of a Friendly Neighborhood Public Servant

folded flag

17 years ago, I had my first exposure to how political decisions can have an effect on the lives of Americans.  My brother served in the U.S. Navy on board the U.S.S. Cole.  While in port, off the coast of Yemen, a smaller vessel sped towards the hull of the ship and detonated an explosive in an attack that claimed my brother’s life as well as the lives of 16 others.  Naturally, I was devastated, as was my family.  We’ve never lost anyone this close this suddenly or violently.  At that time in American history, such a terrorist attack was unheard of and the attention of the nation was focused on our family, as was most of our political leaders.  My family received calls of condolences from senators, congressmen, former, current and future candidates for President, and most notably the President of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton.

Wanting to meet with our families and those injured during the attack, President Clinton had all of us gathered at one location prior to our memorial service.  It was an interesting feeling, knowing we were going to be meeting and speaking with the President of the United States of America.  On one hand, we were angry and wanted desperately to have an outlet for that anger and he was a convenient target coming to us.    We were certain to give him an earful for the decisions he made that lead to my brother’s death.  However, he was still the President of the United States of America, the Leader of the Free World, effectively the most powerful and most important person on Earth.  And that was Bill Clinton.  It’s one thing to be an influential, charismatically-gifted man, but to be that AND President of the United States of America was awe-inspiring to say the least.  Yet, STILL responsible for the depth of sorrow my mother, father and brothers and I were feeling then.  These were two divergent emotions going on in my head as he made his way through the building where we were.  There were many of us gathered in attendance, nearly 40 injured and family members of 17 sailors along with other naval personnel, so I had time to gather myself and focus on what I had to tell him, what I wanted him to hear.  But the longer we waited, the more we begin to realize there was a LOT of time passing by as the President made his way through.  We begin to wonder what was taking him so long to get through a room, to shake hands and nod and do what politicians do.  When he finally made his way to our family we found out why.  President Clinton’s eyes were red, welled up with tears.  He had been crying the entire time.  He forced himself to apologize to each and every one of us, to hear each and every one of us and to own what his own actions caused.  Needless to say, it was the last thing we expected.  Afterall, it was MY brother that had died.  Yes, my emotions were frayed and all over the place.  I was excited to meet the President but wanted to tell him about the impact that his decision to have my brother’s ship dock at an unsafe port had on my life, but it was clear he felt it as well.  Not just the impact it had on my life, but what it did to all of our lives.  And to see us all at once, one after one, of the lives he was responsible for shattering, it was understandably overwhelming.  At a time where I expected the leader of our nation to comfort me in my time of mourning, as it turned out I almost felt it incumbent upon me to actually comfort him instead.

That was where human empathy meets political implications.

It wasn’t long after (and to a large part because of) my brother’s death, I began a career in politics.  Not as a prototypical politician.  But working in the field of politics and government, most people have very little conception of the “bells and whistles” that goes on within any elected body.  That’s where I found my niche.  Since it was the decision-making of our elected leadership that lead to tragedies like the one I experienced, I felt a responsibility to not just to make sure we have the right leaders to make the right decisions, but to also hold them accountable to those decisions.  I filled the role as a legislative staffer and political campaign organizer.  In each of these roles, I assisted those in office and those seeking to be elected in a variety of capacities.  And if in case you cannot conceive, let me scope it out.  Any elected official has the duty to represent thousands, if not millions of people.  It is near-impossible for any one person, no matter how talented to know the individual desires and hopes of each person they represent.  This is where the machinery behind the scenes come in.  Information about the constituencies are funneled in, ordered and addressed as prioritized.

I explain this because as a staffer of such an elected official, there is an expectation to have the elected official fully informed and briefed about every detail of what they are being asked to do.  They are briefed on laws they’re voting on.  They’re briefed on events that affect their constituents.  They are also briefed on what they do on a day-to-day basis and who they meet with.  They know who they’re meeting.  Why they are meeting this person.  What this person wants.  What they may need to obtain from this person.  They are given background information about the person or persons they meet.  This is all in an effort to give the idea that they are as fully informed and of the utility we expect them to be to hold such positions of power.

Of course this is not always the case.

Earlier this month, 12 soldiers from the United States 3rd Special Forces Group were ambushed by a group of insurgents linked to the Islamic State(ISIS). Four of those soldiers were killed in the attack, which initially went unnoticed by the American public for several days. However, once brought to the nation’s attention, the President of the United States was encouraged to give a call and offer condolences to the families of those who were killed in the attack. Very similarly to what President Clinton did with my family. But upon placing a call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, it was leaked by a family friend and member of Congress that the President’s call to Mrs. Johnson was extremely unpleasant, off-putting and disturbing. The President of course combated these assertions. I don’t know exactly how he can tell how someone else feels about something he said, but according to him, he and Mrs. Johnson had a pleasant conversation and that the Congresswoman was flat-out wrong and that she lied to the press. The President’s Chief of Staff backed up his claim.

There’s a truth within this matter. And although that truth really should have been kept between the President and Mrs. Johnson, it hasn’t. Mrs. Johnson firmly believes that not only the President wrongly pronounced her husband’s name, but was dismissive of what she was going through. That was confirmed by the congresswoman who was there. Of course the President’s version of events differs. But there is no doubt about a couple of things. The President of the United States, like President Clinton before him, is a public servant. He serves the public that elected him. The President’s Chief of Staff claims that he, like I, fully briefed the elected official that he serves, about who he was speaking with, telling him the correct pronunciation of Sgt. Johnson’s name, perhaps some additional details about his life and career in service. Whether the President was correctly briefed, as his Chief of Staff claims remains to be seen. He should have been, but given a consistent pattern of disregard of information and counsel of greater judgement, it’s likely immaterial whether he was properly briefed or not. The president has proven to not be the most attentive to detail. However, what should take over from there is human emotion and reaction to the pain another is experiencing. Human empathy would tell most of us to not exacerbate the pain another is feeling. And if you unintentionally do, you take responsibility for that mistake as to not cause more pain. Getting into a VERY public disagreement with a widow of a man that was just killed that you were responsible for absolutely qualifies as exacerbating the pain of another, intentionally or otherwise. And if you are insisting of exacerbating that pain or negligent of what they are going through and more concerned about your own public perception, then it’s fully probable that you lack the ability to empathize with another. And as an elected leader, if you lack the ability to connect with the human emotions of another in any way, particular one as essential and intrinsic as empathy then how could you possibly be expected to be the public servant they need?

 

 

Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Run

john adams

This is John Adams.  Not Founding Father and second President of the United States, John Adams, but Richmond, Virginia lawyer and 2017 Republican candidate for Attorney General, John Adams.  John Adams is not a politician, as his ads will repeatedly tell you.  He’s never held political office.  Never sought a political office.  He is running as a outsider.  And he’s not alone.  Two years ago, Donald Trump began his campaign for president with a similar theme.  A non-politician that will “drain the swamp” and run government “like a business”, pointing to all the actual politicians and blaming them for the ills of the state of government.  This is a common theme with Republicans running for office, to tote their inexperience in and with politics and governing as a good thing.  And it doesn’t just stop with candidates.  It extends to those in office, appointed or otherwise.  The President has filled his cabinet with those who not just lack experience with government but insist that it makes them more capable for their job.  Earlier this month, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was confronted with a news story of some “criticism” of the president that he was to have reportedly said.  Of course when one administration official verbally insults another, that’s definitely newsworthy.  Particularly when it’s a president who has made “insult” synonymous with “presidential”.  Yet, when asked about it, Tillerson dodged, saying he “doesn’t understand Washington” and “not from here” as if his being an outsider inoculates himself from the inside politics that they all are subjected to.  Betsy DeVos, Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Ben Carson, along with Tillerson, have no significant experience in government and that isn’t just okay, but it was a positive quality of benefit to being selected as cabinet offiicials.

But in what Bizzaroworld Back Assward Universe is this ever a good thing?

When has not having experience or familiarity with what you’re dealing with not a bright red flag?  This weekend millions of Americans will watch football and there have been some pretty significant injuries on field.  Try to imagine a back up quarterback coming in the game and say “I’m not a football player, so I’m not tainted by all the back-breaking, body-aching running and hitting the football players do.”  Or one day, you or a loved one is hurt, you go to the E.R. and doctor tells you “I’m not really a doctor, but I know better than all of those nurses and orderlies and I’ll just get rid of them.”  Does this sound reasonable?  How about this; We’re still pretty early in the school year, so it isn’t hard to imagine going to school for your kid’s parent-teacher conference and you walk in the classroom and you hear the teacher say “I’m not a teacher but my experience putting up the dry wall at the new Arby’s qualifies me to get your child to pay attention, while managing an entire classroom.”

That is not how the real world works.  In no sector or institution of life or society where your well-being is dependent on another would you ever be, not only okay with their ignorance of the institution you need them to be knowledgeable about, but you prefer their inexperience over someone that actually KNOWS their profession and what they’re doing.  But for some reason Republicans think this is a badge of honor.

Granted, the entire idea of a Democracy is a government of the people.  It is not an aristocracy or a monarchy, where there’s a specific class or sect of persons that are groomed to lead or expected to govern.  We select our representatives and leaders of those among us.  That’s why this strategy is so appealing to their party.  They are supposed to be everyday people that share the same hopes and fears as the rest of us, which gives them the knowledge to be better stewards of our lives.  Of course that’s the idea in theory.  In practice, almost EVERYONE have had some elected or political experience with government in some fashion.  All but one of our Presidents have had at least some direct or indirect relationship with government.  That one is our current one. (Yes, four others have not held political office, but those four also just won wars in which they served and answered directly to the governing bodies.)  Moreover, for anyone attempting to achieve higher office whether it be governor or senator or even congressman, more often than not, they’ve held office before on a lower state or city level.

However, what’s more important than holding elected office is the institutional knowledge that comes with that office.  The knowledge of what works, who to work with, how it works, why does it work.  A lot of that comes with time, but it also comes with those around you.  If a teacher needs help in a classroom, they can ask another teacher.  If a doctor needs help with a patient, the doctor has a nurse.  A quarterback as a whole team that helps win the game.  If you do not have the experience, you bank on those that do.  Aaron Rogers didn’t win the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers did.  When I had my surgery, the O.R. doctor wasn’t alone.  I know because there was an anesthesiologist that put me under.  I was not educated by just my 2nd grade teacher.  I am a product of an entire school system of over 50 teachers and a half dozen schools.

And it is here is where the Republican “But I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night” Philosophy falls apart.  Attorney General Candidate John Adams isn’t the neophyte he claims to be.  He’s been involved in Republican politics, donating to Republican candidates for years.  He’s hired a campaign staff that has run not just a capable and credible statewide campaign, but are political veterans of multiple Virginia campaigns.  His ads attacking Attorney General Mark Herring are your standard “liberal” attacks, blaming him for not doing his job or using his job for political gain.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it definitely did not stay in the Holiday Inn Express.

Likewise, the president is no different either.  Quite frankly he’s taken it to a pathetic new level.  Despite the belief that he’s the everyman that is beyond petty politics, he’s the worst kind.  In a institution where money interest often dominate the narrative, he has been the literal “Middle Man” between both Democrats and Republicans and the interest of those that are not of the people.  That is beyond his insistence on inserting his unrelenting ignorance on foreign matters, social and domestic matters and his predecessor’s every decision.  Which doesn’t even begin to describe his association with the movement he lead with every authority on questioning the right, ability and education of President Barack Obama.  Yet, I’m supposed to believe he’s not a politician.

And this is a the cycle repeats itself.  And the people are duped into believing this bullshit.  In a vain attempt to pretend they’re something new and different, they’re actually just another cog in the political machine.  But if you choose to believe them, do.  Just realize you would never want a player that’s never played the game before.  Or a doctor that’s never practiced.  Or a teacher who has never taught.  So why would you want one to govern who’s never governed?  Who takes pride in his unfamiliarity with governing?  You do because you know it’s bullshit just as well as they do.  And with that, you can call yourself blind or you can call yourself dumb.  Not really a middle ground.

You know who they are.

So when you hear them say “I’m not a politician,” ignore them.  They are.  What they’re really telling you is that they’re shit at being one.

 

Re-Fighting History

trump monument

You know there is a very specific reason why you will never see any monuments to Adolf Hitler in Germany.

No monuments to Hitler.  No monuments to Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Erwin Rommel or any leader or prominent member of the Third Reich.  That said, earlier this week a drunken American tourist was beaten and is currently being investigated for raising his arm in a Nazi salute in Dresden, Germany.  The week before, two Chinese tourist were arrested for doing similar, while taking photographs of each other in Berlin.  Their crime: “Using Symbols of Illegal Organization.”    To honor or memorialize that part of Germany history is not only illegal, but will undoubtedly get you fucked up by your typical German.  And despite this absence of reverence, every child learns in vivid and personal detail of the Third Reich.  They learn of it’s horrors, the racism, the anti-semitism and intolerance so that it is never repeated.

Over here in the United States of America, we have our own sorted history that our children learn about in school.  Even though our Declaration of Independence was written with the words “All men are created equal,” we found that truth not to as “self-evident” as it was written.  From our Declaration to the formation of our government and beyond, not only were Black Americans unequal in the eyes of the law, they weren’t even American.  They were property.  Slaves.  And despite the efforts or inefforts of our Founding Fathers to redress the issue, slavery was an immoral American institution for America’s first 90 years.  And for those first four and a half score, debate raged on the legality and morality of slavery.  That debate was quietest in the Southern States of America.  So when America elected a Northern politician, as President of the United States, with the promise to end slavery, the southern states decided succession was their only option.  In forming the Confederate States of America, the south took up arms against the United States, they fought to defend slavery, a practice that was endemic to the core of what the Confederacy was about.  In no uncertain terms, the Confederacy brutalized and subjugated a race of human beings, promoting white supremacy and fought and killed Americans by the thousands, which is exactly what the Hitler and Nazi Germany did 80 years later.  And last week, tragically enough they both have found a partner and defender in the President of the United States of America.

On August 12th, a driver attending a Alt-Right protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, took his car and viciously ran through a crowd of people, killing one and severely injuring nearly two dozen more.  Meanwhile the President of the United States issued a statement lamenting violence on both side.  He would later back up that statement insisting that those protesting the removal of the statue were “very fine people” and that removing a statue honoring a Confederate general would lead to a desire to remove commemorations to the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they too were slave owners.  This was his cause to defend the actions of those who went to Charolottesville with the specific intent to spread hate, intolerance and fear.

In Germany, there is no doubt about the evils of the Nazi regime.  However, inexplicably, despite how much we know of the brutality of slavery, we continue to honor and memorialize those who fought to defend it.  Actually, it’s even worse.  Because, as horrible as Nazi Germany was, it was the actual government of Germany.  The Confederacy betrayed and took up arms against the United States.  They wanted to leave.  They fought to killed Americans for the right to leave.  Not to mention, there’s also that part about them fighting to defend their right to enslave human beings too.  Yet we continue honor the likes of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, their names emblazoned on our schools and roadways.  Their visages etched into stone and metal of monuments.

Now, here in 2017, these memorials are protected by those who the President of the United States described as “very fine people.”  These “very fine people” wave Confederate flags.  They brandish Nazi paraphernalia and recited hateful demagoguery.  Anyone who saw that wretched display of humanity and did not IMMEDIATELY resist or shun it are NOT “very fine people” at all.   But this is what the President saw, and his stated desire to protect not only the legacy of the Confederacy, but the a desire to protect the legacy of America’s Founding Slave Owners such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  And while fierce and vibrant debate will continue of the duality of those individuals(and should), there’s no doubt they fought FOR the United States of America, not against.  George Washington fought to make America, while Robert E. Lee abandoned and fought to kill Americans.  That, by definition, is treason.  There is NO. WAY. that should be honored.  The fact that they did such to preserve the enslavement and inhumane brutalization of an race doubles their shame.  There is no doubt that what the President did, by any credible metric, was reprehensible, embarrassing and atrociously pathetic for anyone, let alone the leader of a nation with the history we have.  Try to imagine if a German Chancellor would dare say some Nazi’s were “very fine people.”  Do you really think the entire would would react kindly?  Do you think the world would not be appalled if Angela Merkel stated a defense of a statue memorializing Adolf Hitler?  That’s exactly what happened in America.

What Germans do honor and remember is the victims of the Third Reich.  Memorials have been built or are on display across Germany to be a vivid reminder of what the Third Reich did.  In January of every year, Germany has a federal holiday, Holocaust Memorial Day to further commemorate the victims of Nazism.  Less than two weeks before, over here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we continue to commemorate Lee-Jackson Day, a day where state offices are closed in remembrance of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Confederates that betrayed their country.  Virginia does not have a Booker T. Washington Day or a Nat Turner Day.  Germans have forcefully purged any and all references to the Third Reich.  However, they will never forget what they did because they CHOOSE to remember their victims.  Yet, what has been rejected in Germany is acceptable in America.  And it isn’t enough to simply memorialize the Confederacy, according to the events unfolding in this day and age, Americans are STILL fighting for the Confederacy.