TPP for my bunghole, and other stories

A common refrain among supporters of our new President is that we should judge him on what he does, not what he says. That’s a fair point, even though I would argue (vehemently, and with more than a few words that would make Mike Pence blush) that what he says is almost guaranteed to cause more harm than he’ll ever be able to balance out with his actions. If I’m to maintain any semblance of journalistic integrity, however, I have to at least try to look at these things fairly. At the very least it’ll help me stay informed so I can write even more crappy jokes.

At the time of this writing, President The Donald has issued five executive orders. Unless I missed one or two. It’s possible. Let me know.

1. He cancelled a Federal Housing Administration mortgage premium cut.

The FHA backs mortgages for home buyers with credit score problems and those who can only make a small down payment. It’s a popular program among low-income buyers and first-time homeowners. That cut, by the way, was of a whole quarter of a percentage point.

The verdict: I thought it was time to help regular old Americans. What an odd thing to mess with on your first day, especially given the optics. Thumbs down.

2. He signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to minimize the financial burden of the Affordable Care Act on organizations and individuals.

This mostly applies to the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires individuals to have health insurance. It likely means we’ll see the penalties imposed on those who don’t have insurance waived.

The verdict: As a dirty fucking socialist, I was rather disappointed with the ACA. Sure, it helped millions of people get healthcare that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, but health insurance companies are parasites on the ass of society and they need to be launched into the sun. Single-payer or bust, yo. However…getting those people healthcare was a positive step, and tearing down the provision that makes all of that possible—that loathsome individual mandate—doesn’t bode well, especially when all we know so far about the supposed replacement for the ACA is just “it’ll be great, you’ll see!” Thumbs down.

3. He withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

An attempt to open up free trade across Asia and sort of box in China, the TPP’s long been an issue on both sides of the aisle.

The verdict: Thumbs way the fuck up. Seriously. I can’t get them high enough. I’d have to launch them from my hands like rockets headed for the moon. It’s entirely possible the TPP would’ve helped American businesses, but its provisions regarding stronger copyright law, off-shoring a really weird list of professions, and granting businesses the right to sue governments for future lost profits due to legislation were rancid bullshit. President Obama was a big supporter of this one and Hillary Clinton waffled back and forth on it. Remember, kids: the Democrats aren’t actually a liberal party. They’re moderates. They just look liberal compared to the other side. Well done, Mr. Trump.

See! I can be fair!

4. He reinstated the Mexico City policy restricting the disbursement of funds to international non-governmental organizations that perform abortions or push abortion as a form of birth control.

Every President since Bill Clinton has messed with this one exactly as you would expect. It’s worth noting that federal funds are never spent on abortions; the NGOs affected by this move this move use their own funds for abortion-related services. This simply cuts off funding to pro-choice organizations overseas and limits access to reproductive health options and birth control in the process.

The verdict: This one’s a vapid play to the base. Pence probably had to change his pants afterward. If you’re trying to limit the number of abortions, defunding other forms of birth control is an ass-backwards way to do it. If you’d rather see that money spent internally instead, well, there’s got to be a better delimiter than “they’re pushing abortion!” with which to determine who, if anyone, you’re playing ball with. And what happens when a poor country becomes overpopulated? People move into other countries, in many cases *gasp* illegally! Thumbs down.

5. He froze federal workforce hiring.

Note that this does not involve the military.

The verdict: Push. This one sucks for people who were applying for federal jobs, but I can’t blame the new guy for wanting to freeze things while he takes the time to familiarize himself with what’s going on. Short term, however, this could actually raise government costs if various agencies need to contract planned work out to consultants and contractors.

Overall

If you’re just tallying things up, that’s one big positive, three negatives, and one that can’t be quantified either way. It’s not worth reading too much into these first orders. They’re about what you’d expect from a Republican President. Stay tuned.

Inaugurate this

On Friday, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. If you had told me even six months ago I’d be typing that sentence, I would’ve handed you a twenty and suggested you think about ditching the crack.

It was a dark, dreary, spectacularly ominous day in DC. The mall looked pretty empty. Former Presidents Clinton, Bush the second, and Carter were all in attendance. Slick Willy may have gotten caught staring at Melania or Ivanka. W got bested by a rain poncho. Outgoing president Barack Obama appeared pensive, like his mind was whirring a mile a minute as he processed it all from every possible angle. In between benevolent plastic smiles, Hillary looked ready to shank someone. Vice President Mike Pence sported his usual “I just sharted my pants and I’m trying to figure out how long I can get away with not changing them” expression. Politics as usual.

What was absolutely not normal, however, was President The Donald’s speech. If you woke up from a coma and that was the first thing you saw, you’d think America had become a hellish dystopian wasteland ruled by gangs, crime, drugs, and evil bastards demanding you tithe your first born lest you face the lash. That’s not any America I know. We’ve got our problems for sure, and certain areas could use some help catching up, but we are absolutely trending in the right direction. We have been for a while now.

I also find it interesting that if you take his speech and replace every negative reference to “the establishment” or “the government,” with “the 1%” or “the business elite,” large portions of it become super spot-on. If we assume that a key goal of his platform is to twist populism into protecting billionaires like himself and his pals from a rising tide of frustrated Americans (and I absolutely do), then this is a masterful job of manipulation and deflection.

Also, I learned that his middle initial, J, stands for John. Not Jonathan or Johnathan or the like. Just John. It’s irrelevant, but I still find it odd.

I’ll give him this, though: standing up there and telling all the representatives, senators, governors, and former presidents surrounding him that they’re horrible at their jobs took some serious balls. Kudos to the former presidents for sitting through it with dignity, or at least what passes for it when you get caught ogling another man’s wife or you lose a hard-fought battle to a sheet of plastic. I can’t picture the current president doing the same were the roles reversed (other than the leering, of course).

It gets weirder. Remember that relatively empty mall I mentioned? Various outlets have reported attendance to be lower than both of Obama’s inaugurations. The White House, however, sent deer-in-the-headlights Press Secretary Sean Spicer out to the press conference podium to refute those reports in a manner that can only be described as “they’ve got my family suspended above a pool of hungry sharks.” Seriously. Watch this. It’s nuts.

Shit like that is what makes people think the president’s a dictator-in-training. It’s evidence of a deranged, narcissistic personality that can’t handle any sort of criticism or perceived loss. His pathological need to be the best at everything is absolutely going to fuck the rest of us somehow—and this, above and beyond anything else, is why I’ve spent so much time rambling against him. The Trump brand itself, which is based on always winning, may be his single biggest conflict of interest.

Had the White House left the attendance thing alone, talk of it would’ve fizzled out in a day or two. Immaturely poking it in the eye with a stick just made it immortal (author’s note: please don’t stab your eye in an attempt to make yourself live forever). All it would’ve taken to wipe it away was a quick, genuine “Welp, I’ll give more people a reason to come to my next one!” Problem solved! Now you’ve taken a perceived weakness and turned it into an admirable goal, efficiently and positively.

But nope. Dude just can’t handle his shit, especially when Obama’s involved. Guaranteed he had his aides digging through every nook and cranny of the White House just in case Barack forgot to grab his secret Kenyan birth certificate out of its hiding place. Pssssssssssst: it’s in a waterproof bag in the toilet. No, further down the drain. Further. Keep going. Get a snorkel. And it’s magically sealed so only a POTUS can touch it. Get in there, Donnie!

Can’t wait to see how he pegs attendance at the women’s marches as “like 20,000 or so.” I went. I’ll have thoughts on that tomorrow once I’ve processed it all.

Thanks, Obama

Judging a president’s term in office is a monumental task. Trying to break it all down into a single grade, sentence, or soundbite really does no justice to the enormity of the job, but we writers have to try anyway. Think about the sheer size of the United States, and the diversity of its people, and how quickly lives can change, and the way it all interacts with the rest of the world—and then think about being in a position where you’ve got a ton of power over all of that. Makes your head spin, right? Give me a second to pick myself up off the floor.

But seriously. How do you do it? You can’t boil it all down to a number like sabermetricians do with baseball players. There’s no Value Over Replacement President (although—nerd alert—I would read and share the shit out of an article that tried to establish that metric). How do you judge whether inaction in Syria outweighs the benefits of expanded health insurance? How do you balance the scales between the expansion of government surveillance and the stimulus package that helped bring us out of the recession? You kind of can’t, in part because you’re comparing apples to oranges and in part because we still don’t know how such decisions are going to effect us longterm. Some parts of our lives are better than they were eight years ago. Some parts are worse. Trying to tally it all up is silly.

But the nation is still standing. The United States of America is still the world’s preeminent superpower and our enemies and rivals hate us cuz they ain’t us. You and me and everybody else still has a shot to make something more of ourselves. Maybe that sounds like I’m setting the bar pretty low, but there are a zillion ways this thing we built could all unravel. It didn’t, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to any time soon. George W, the only other president I can remember really well, left us in a big steaming cloud of uncertainty. Obama’s leaving us with hope for a bright future (yes, even despite all the bullshit the Trumpalumps are trying to pull). In that regard, I’d say he did a fine job.

There’s one more thing that’s even harder to quantify that I think will lead us to look back on Obama’s presidency as a great success: that is one inspirational dude. If you look at this guy and don’t get a little warm and fuzzy because he’s a great human being, your heart’s either made of stone or you seriously need to lay off the conservative Kool-Aid and see a doctor immediately. He’s a rare combination of patience, thoughtfulness, and dignity that we should all strive to emulate, regardless of our political beliefs. He’s just a good dude. Fuck, he even makes me want to be less of an asshole. His rise to the presidency proved that nice guys don’t always finish last, that racism and prejudice can be overcome, and the legions of young people he’s inspired will likely grow up to do great things. Some are concerned for Obama’s legacy as the Republicans gear up to tear down his work, but they can’t ever touch his real legacy—that positive spirit he instilled in so many—and their obsession with wiping him away might actually add even more fuel to that fire.

Some Americans look back at the last eight years and wonder where all the hope and change is. It’s coming; it’s just a slower burn than we thought it would be. Thanks, Obama. For reals. If you’re ever in town I’ll buy you a beer and a couple games of Keno.

How I’m protesting the Donald

March if you want to. I’ve got a better plan.

In light of yesterday’s leaked intelligence report alleging the president-elect is a Russian stooge who once rented a hotel room previously used by the Obamas and hired a gaggle of local “talent” to perform a golden shower show on the bed as a means of defiling it, I’m going to rent a hotel room the Donald previously stayed in, Febreeze the piss out of the bed, get under the covers, and…

  • Buy a Tesla and some solar panels.
  • Order tacos and leave the room’s door wide open so room service can stroll right in.
  • Eat fried chicken with my bare hands.
  • Browse OkCupid for a strong, professional woman and send her a nice polite message.
  • Properly sell a Stone Cold Stunner delivered by housekeeping.
  • Start a union.
  • Watch It’s Complicated.
  • Kick Planned Parenthood a few bucks.
  • Fire up Command and Conquer: Red Alert on my laptop and kick some Russian tail.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOO! HOW DO YA LIKE THAT, DONNIE!?!? U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

(Oh God, I’m going to get itches in my nether regions, aren’t I?)

On Watersportsgate

Hoooooooooooooo boy. Ever read so many hilarious Twitter jokes that you wake up feeling somewhat hungover the next morning even though you didn’t touch a drop of booze? Yeah, that’s me right now.

Yesterday, CNN reported on a cache of documents claiming that the Big DT is in bed with the Russians. Buzzfeed released those documents not long after. Turns out that whole “in bed” part is both literal and figurative; the most fun section of the report claims the president-elect went to Russia to stay in a room previously used by the Obamas and hired a bunch of local talent to perform a water sports show on the very bed the first couple slept in. The more important part alleges the Russians have been developing the guy as an asset of sorts with which to disrupt the west and that they’ve got plenty of blackmail-worthy information on him. The report was supposedly developed by an ex-MI6 agent in good standing with the intelligence community and his sources have been deemed trustworthy. This thing’s been circulating for a while now; Mother Jones reported on it briefly a few months ago, John McCain himself brought it to the FBI (turns out the FBI already had its own copy), and both the president-elect and President Obama have been briefed on it.

It should be noted that none of the information in this report has proven legit. And, quite frankly, Buzzfeed crossed an important journalistic line by releasing these documents without first verifying them. When shit like this is proven false it makes it even easier for people to dismiss the media. Transparency is a fine goal, but it’s also a goal we need to address responsibly. Many people are more than willing to act on incomplete information. That’s not a good thing.

How amazing it, though, that so many of us can read these claims and say “yeah, sounds like our new president!” I mean, Jesus. This stuff hit the public on the very same day that President Obama delivered a dignified, sincere home run of a farewell address. The contrast between the man moving out and the greasy gutter slug moving in is off the damn charts.

Try to imagine President Obama doing any of this stuff. Or W. Or Slick Willy (ok, yeah, some of it). Or Poppy Bush. Or Ronald Reagan. Or Carter or Ford or Nixon and so on and so forth. You can’t, can you? Despite their flaws, they were all dignified, sincere Americans. But with the Donald, it’s almost expected. It’s amazing. I’ve written before about how I understand the reasons people voted for him but I can’t translate those reasons into “welp, gotta vote for that guy!” This morning, my problem’s even bigger. With any other president I could’ve easily dismissed these allegations offhand. With this dude? Nope. I can totally see it. You can tell me that’s just my cuckolded libtard bias talking, but keep in mind that the left aren’t the only people who think this dude’s a monster.

And if I can put my tinfoil hat on for a paragraph, maybe that’s all part of the Big Orange Plan. Not this report, exactly, but the idea that making the public accept he’s a horrible person might make us shrug off future scandals as just business as usual. It’s like a Teflon coating made of pure, liquified garbage, or like that improved alcohol tolerance you develop when you go out every night of the week. It would be kind of brilliant in its own disgusting way.

I’m not calling for the president-elect to lose his new job. Doing so before we’ve got confirmed proof of his alleged Russian connections would be irresponsible and wrong. What I am asking, and what the whole point of this post is, is that we all pay very close attention to this story. It’s one of two very important things. Either it’s a smoking gun proving the president-elect isn’t fit for the office to which he’s been elected, or it’s a warning that we need to be very, very careful when assessing information related to his activities. And if it’s the latter, the free press may want to look out.

Have fun explaining the term “golden shower” to your parents and grandparents!

Bursting the bubble

I’m still trying to make sense of that weird ass presidential election. I understand the reasons why people voted the way they did, but I still don’t understand how being concerned about the economy, worrying about national security, being fed up with government bullshit, not liking Hillary Clinton, or feeling like the nation is leaving you behind translates into “I have to vote for the unstable orange scumbag with zero political experience who’s spent his entire life fucking over the little guy.” I can see the dots, but I can’t connect them. I want to, so I think about it a lot.

(And no, that doesn’t mean I think all of his voters are stupid and/or racist, because that is flat out not true.)

One of the things I keep coming back to is the idea that coastal elites like yours truly don’t understand the way Middle America voted because we live in a bubble. It’s bothering me. Let me tell you something right now, Middle America: you’re right. We coastal elites do live in a bubble. So do you. Every single one of us lives in his or her own bubble. We’ve got a sphere of influence and a sphere of influencers, and where those overlap—boom, bubble. The sizes of our bubbles are limited by tangible factors like distance, time, and available soap (that’s only kind of a joke—no one wants to be in your bubble if you fucking smell). We can only process so much information in a given day. Our bubbles are, essentially, our experiences, and they’re necessarily limited because none of us can do everything or be everywhere at all times. Our bubbles absolutely influence our votes, because our bubbles are us.

“But Scott Colby!” you say. “Enough half-assed philosophy! My bubble is full of real Americans!” Oh. Oh, wait. Shit. Welp, ya got me. I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I even thinking? Now I’m not sure. How could I have been so shortsighted? College really didn’t teach me anything, now did it? Poopies.

Insert an eye roll emoji here. Assuming there is one. There aren’t a ton of emojis in my bubble.

Any time someone claims to be a “real” whatever it’s due to a deep insecurity about their place in the pecking order of that whatever. Real Americans. Real men. Real women. Hell, I only think of myself as a real Red Sox fan because SERIOUSLY CUT THE SHIT WITH THIS WALLY GARBAGE AND GARY STREIWSDSKAIY TALKING ABOUT HIS SHOES AND SHOW SOME BASEBALL YOU’RE LEAVING ME BEHIND NESN GOD DAMN IT!!! The whole real Americans thing is absolutely due to feelings of being ignored and marginalized. “Real” is a defense mechanism, not a meaningful category.

As I wrote before in a post outlining my cockamamie scheme to rethink the states, urban life and rural life are very different from each other and both need to be represented in our government. Flat out. We’re all in this together, and the combination of our two experiences should result in a better everything for everybody.

Which means we—and by “we,” I mean both sides of the aisle—need to stop relying on bullshit like “they live in a bubble!” The biggest tragedy of this election (if you remove my personal biases) is the way big important issues were constantly reduced to useless bullshit soundbites repeated ad nauseam in the media and in daily conversation. Russia didn’t “hack the election;” they infiltrated the computer systems of one of the political parties involved and exposed damaging information about that party to the world at large via a series of shady go-betweens with the end goal of influencing American voters. Look at how much more useful and informative and interesting that is! Look at how it gets us to a place where we can start examining and thinking about both what happened and what the repercussions are going forward! Look at how it sets us up to better judge the impact of those events. Jeez, that’s nice. Fucking sweet.

So cut the shit with the bubble talk. We’ve all got one, and using “you live in a bubble!” to explain the culture divide in either direction does no justice to just how different our experiences are. We’ll never get anywhere if we keep relying on that sort of bullshit to prove points and end arguments.