Our American President

This past Tuesday, Barack Obama handily won re-election to hold his title as President of the United States. I must admit that going into the election on Tuesday I was confident but still nervous. Nate Silver’s pragmatic election forecasting had kept me calm and reasonable during the entire campaign but when CNN started showing red states populating the electoral college map, I must admit my stomach did summersaults.

We now know that Nate was right all along for as the night drew onward, the polls of the last few months bore out his math and Obama won state after battleground state. In fact the only one he lost was my own of North Carolina. While NC did go red this time around, the decision here was extremely close which honestly surprised me. In the end NC’s electoral votes didn’t matter as Barack won Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and yes, even Florida. I must admit I did enjoy tuning in FOX News throughout the night just to see the next four years slipping away from Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Karl Rove. As Rachel Maddow pointed out this week, and as many pundits have rightfully written, Tuesday’s election results hit Team Romney, and many on the right as a complete and utter shock. For months they had deluded themselves into thinking the exit polls were wrong and that victory was the only possible result. Heck, Romney didn’t even have a concession speech ready to go. Who does that anyway? What kind of man running for the President doesn’t prepare for every eventuality? Evidently Mitt Romney, that’s who.

I face the next four years with hope and a huge sense of relief. We will not have new conservative supreme court justices. Roe v. Wade will not be overturned. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay (thank GOD), and world leaders will continue to respect our President. Obama hasn’t been a perfect President by any stretch of the imagination. There have been many issues he’s been unwilling or unable to tackle such as immigration reform and climate change. He’s also done things I’m not proud of such as the continued detaining of prisoners without due process. But in the end his pluses far outweigh his minuses. Despite the faux outrage from the right-wing elements in our country this past week, the United States is indeed on the road to recovery. We’ve not turned into a socialist state overnight and we won’t be one tomorrow. And no, Barack Obama didn’t kill the country this past Tuesday, Nov. 6th., he actually saved it. Saved it from regressing 50 years in policy and mindset. Saved it from extremist, conservative ideology that threatened to destroy a woman’s right to choose and American’s access to affordable health insurance. And in a small way, he saved this country from the rampant racism and hate that has reared its ugly head during his first term. A vote for Obama re-affirmed that he was no fluke, he was here to stay despite the efforts of the dwindling, white majority who has tried to paint him as “different from us” and “un-American”.

I’m very proud of my President and my country for making the right choice this past Tuesday. I wish I knew what the next four years will bring, but I feel confident that Barack will meet the challenges head-on and do what’s in our collective best interests. I sincerely hope he listens to the will of those who elected him and grows a spine when dealing with Republican obstructionism, thankfully there are signs of this already. Above all, I’m grateful that we’re moving forward as a country instead of backwards, making laws instead of repealing them. I wish our President good luck and God speed because unfortunately as history has demonstrated, he’s going to need it.

Stop, Obama Time!

Of all the political videos this election season, this skillful take off of MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This has to be my favorite. It’s awesome on so many levels it’s difficult to describe but I love seeing Michelle grooving and Barack crooning. It also highlights the media’s obsession with playing the “gotcha!” game with our politicians, especially the President. The fading commentary at the end is particularly cringe worthy. “There’s no taking Obama out of context!” and my personal favorite – “Obama should have known better. You don’t put the subject apart from the predicate!” Yes, he should have known better. Enjoy.

Bring It

Prior to the 2008 election, I was understandably nervous about the possible outcome. The potential of President John McCain and Vice President Sarah Palin shook me to my core and I followed the political scene very closely. I blogged about politics quite a bit, every chance I got actually and set out to do my part to try and help get Barack Obama elected. The thought of another four years of republican policies and control combined with Palin being just one step away from the Oval Office often kept me up at night. I was anxious, nervous and worried.

Looking back now, I probably shouldn’t have been so stressed. In hindsight, the country longed for a new direction, a vision to lead us away from the war in Iraq, away from torture as an official U.S. policy, and away from the leadership disasters of Katrina and a tailspinning economy. Obama stepped in at the right moment, won the nomination and then the Presidency and made history in the process. I remember wondering the night before the first presidential debate if Barack really had what it took to lead the nation. He was young and full of hope an enthusiasm, but would it be enough? Would the elder, more experienced statesman win the debate and the presidency? No, he would not.

Now, four years later my thoughts return to that election and how I felt leading up to it. Hate for this President has run deep, deeper than even I have thought possible. Almost since the day he took office, republicans have been blocking, obstructing and denigrating him and his position in the hopes of getting the upper hand this November 4th. Questions about his birth certificate still circulate in right-wing circles. Cries of socialism and a “government takeover” of healthcare have rallied the conservative base. Billionaires, backed by the Supreme Court’s mis-guided Citizen’s United decision have poured gobs of money into Karl Rove’s coffers and flooded the airwaves with negative ads all designed to convince the country that Obama hasn’t done enough to turn the economy and the country around fast enough. These last few months I’ve started to wonder, could Romney actually win this thing? I mean, Mr. Bland, Mr. RomneyCare, Mr. Also-ran Mitt Romney?

No, I don’t think so. In fact, the closer we get to election day, the more I think Barack will prove his worth with voters and handily win re-election. He now has a laundry list of accomplishments that he will be able to wield like Batman wields his utility belt. Want to talk about terrorism? He’s ended the war in Afghanistan, killed dozens of Al Qaida operatives and oh, Osama Bin Laden has shuffled off that mortal coil. Obama’s fought for the rights of gays and lesbians repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and signed laws designed to help give women equal pay for equal work. Obama’s administration saved the auto industry. Mitt didn’t even want to touch the problem with a ten-foot pole, preferring instead to let the industry go belly up, and thousands upon thousands of Michigan jobs with it.

And then there’s health care. The right sees it as their war cry. “We’ll repeal Obamacare! Socialism! Socialism!” but more and more Americans’ agree that the fundamental principals that the Affordable Care Act provides (insurance for pre-existing conditions, more of your dollars paying for care instead of overhead, etc) are good ones. Just this week Romney, in a bid for independent voters said that there are parts of Obamacare he wants to keep. This flies directly in the face of his fellow hard-line conservatives who have said they want the entire act repealed. Nothing less will do. That’s the problem with extremism, it doesn’t win elections. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, politics is rarely a black and white endeavor. It takes compromise and a willingness to walk in the other guy’s shoes in order to get things done. This simple principal has been Washington’s way since its inception, but it’s also seemingly been abandoned by the right in their bid to regain control of the White House. Indeed, no other congress has stymied the lawmaking process as much as this one has. In order to get anything done, the President has had to take some unusual measures which, predictably, has only increased right-wing cries that he’s “power hungry” and refuses to work with republicans.

I have no delusions that Barack Obama has fulfilled all his promises as President. Obama’s White House isn’t nearly as transparent as he had promised it would be. We still hold prisoners without hope of ever getting a fair trial before their peers. He was naive to pretend he could make bipartisanship a household word. Perhaps most distressingly he’s been unable to communicate effectively to the American people just why he’s done some of the things he’s done. Then I look at the other side of the coin, all that he’s accomplished despite the massive pile of dung he was handed by his predecessor, and I look forward with hope. The country is indeed in a better place today than it was when he took office. I absolutely cannot WAIT for the political debates which being October 2nd. I believe Barack will wipe the proverbial floor with Mitt and seal the deal in the process. I also think deep down inside, conservatives won’t mind because like McCain, most of them don’t like Romney anyway. I’m starting to get excited about this election, and while there is still a huge level of uncertainty, (much can happen in two months) I look across the aisle to my conservative counterparts and think – “Bring it.”

UPDATE: As if almost on cue, conservatives have started to publicly decry Romney’s anemic campaign. Like I said in the post, things are still early but it’s obvious that Romney is an also-ran for the GOP. He was really the only viable choice to contend with Obama, but he’s failed to bring the “right-wing goods” as it were and therefore the knives are showing. I have a feeling things are about to get very ugly for the republican party as they face some unpleasant truths.

Entrenched

Over the past few years, there’s been a significant increase in the polarization of people’s opinions in this country. More and more, folks are unwilling to put themselves in other people’s shoes, to see their side of the story or even just listen to what they have to say. Increasingly, we as a society are either unwilling or unable to compromise on important topics that affect the vast majority of us. I’m not sure where or when this started, but I do think much of it has to do with the Internet.

Since it came into wide-spread adoption, the Internet has been a way for people of widely varied viewpoints to express themselves on any number of topics. We can read, post, blog and tweet all from the comfort of our own homes and what we say is seen by hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. More importantly, when we say something online we do so from the relative safety of digital anonymity. Although some people hide behind pseudonyms online, these days it’s more common to see people representing themselves honestly and openly. Just because they do however, doesn’t mean that we “know” them or are friends with them or even have met them in real life and I think that is an important distinction.

When we sit down and have a conversation with our family, friends or even acquaintances, we often censor ourselves for the good of our relationships. We may think someone’s opinion isn’t valid or is something we consider to be foolish, but we probably won’t tell them that to their face. Instead we often try and steer those we disagree with towards mutual understanding, we give and take, we compromise. I love my family very much but I disagree heartedly with many of their political viewpoints. When I get into a discussion about these topics with them, I don’t call my Uncle an idiot or a bozo, I calmly listen to his opinion, and if I’m feeling feisty I’ll attempt to convey some opposing viewpoints. If he listens great, if he entrenches himself and refuses to hear what I’m saying I often change the subject and move on. I love him too much to risk hurting him or his feelings and so I censor myself to some degree. I firmly believe it’s for the best.

But when I frequent political blogs and forums and told I’m an “ignorant liberal” or when I tweet about Apple’s court victory over Samsung and am called a “typical Apple fanboi”, the people that do so have no pretenses about censoring themselves. Indeed, I too am more likely to let loose when I’m exchanging ideas and thoughts with someone I’ve only met online than I would if I were sitting with them face-to-face in a restaurant or coffee shop. Yesterday, Macworld editor Dan Frakes tweeted this about Apple’s original iPhone:

As soon as I saw that tweet, I knew Dan was in for an earful. I had tweeted several times on Friday about the $1.01B judgement against Samsung by Apple and was not prepared for the amount of staunch anti-Apple sentiment that flowed into my Twitter timeline as a result. It seems that in platforms, as in politics, people have firmly chosen sides. You’re either with us or your against us and for some reason there can be no middle ground. I make my living using Apple products and have enjoyed them for well over 20 years so I have a strong affinity for technology that comes out of Cupertino. I also like to think that I’m fairly objective and have criticized Apple when I strongly disagree with a position they take. Sadly, some don’t see it this way. Apple is either the perfect corporate citizen who can do no wrong or a demon that is out to destroy open standards and lock all smartphone users into walled gardens manned by underage Chinese workers from Foxconn.

The reality, of course, is somewhere in-between. Apple’s victory over Samsung can be right and just in accordance with U.S. patent law but that doesn’t mean they “invented rounded rectangles”. It also shouldn’t mean that you and I can’t have a friendly discussion on the topic without it devolving into the digital equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show. Admittedly, when we are so entrenched in our positions it is difficult to give up any ground, especially when one feels passionately about something. However, if we are to survive and flourish as a society and have meaningful conversations, we all need to try and make a concerted effort to climb out of our fox holes and meet somewhere in the middle.

‘Obamacare’ Vindicated

Back in 2007, two full years after my doctor pronounced me cured of my malignant lymphoma, I sat across a conference room table and listened to my insurance representative tell me I was ineligible to receive life insurance. I questioned him at length and asked why I was being denied even though the doctor had certified me cancer free. His response was simply “Because that’s the way the insurance industry works.” In that moment I felt a rush of anger, frustration, sadness and helplessness all at once.

Needless to say today’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act brought with it feelings of joy and satisfaction. The court affirmed the government indeed has the ability to require individuals to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. This means that children can remain on their parent’s health insurance longer, people no longer have to fear losing their insurance when they switch employers and that people (including children) with pre-existing medical conditions cannot be denied coverage. All in all, some 30+ million American’s will now be able to receive health insurance who could not before.

Predictably, conservatives are not happy about the decision and immediately began trying to spin Robert’s reasoning in their favor. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can manage to contort the facts of a given situation to fit their special world view. The topic of personal responsibility is a perfect example and one that illustrates the hypocrisy of many right-leaning folks, some of which are in my own family. Like them, I believe that people should basically be responsible for their own successes or failures, but unlike them I also realize people sometimes need help from their government. I often hear from conservative family and friends how they dislike liberal “entitlements”, ie people shouldn’t be able to game the system and receive free services at the expense of hard working folks. So, given the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires people to stand up and take responsibly for themselves by paying their fare share of health care costs, you would think they would support it. This, paradoxically, isn’t the case.

Many would rather have freeloaders continue to game the system, raising everyone else’s premiums than levy a penalty or “tax” as Justice Roberts wrote, and be forced to take responsibility. This is especially damning when you consider the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act was originally created and promoted by conservatives. It seems as though such people are perfectly content to alter their principles simply to express their opposition to President Obama. It makes me very sad when my fellow Americans are willing to sacrifice the good of the many out of spite.

The good news is that as I write this, millions of people are better off today than they were yesterday. Many will be receiving rebate checks from their insurers who spent too much on administration, advertising or lobbying and not enough on making people better. Friends and followers on twitter who have family members that were finally able to obtain insurance due to Obamacare can breathe a sigh of relief, and I can think back at that frustrating meeting so long ago with my insurance agent and smile. The Affordable Care act isn’t perfect by any means, and Republicans will do their best to try and repeal the law (good luck with that), but today was a very good day in the history of our country. A very good day indeed.

UPDATE: A wonderful post over on Reddit that explains every detail of the ACA in easy to understand terms and explains just how the bill will or will not affect you. I really suggest everyone read it. (via @bigzaphod)

Target Aims for Tolerance

As a small business owner, I know the dangers of one’s company taking public, political stances on firey topics. So when Minnesota based retail mega-chain Target came out in full support of gay marriage via new fund raiser this past week, I knew it was a courageous decision. Like my home state of North Carolina, this November MN voters will decide whether to put a gay marriage ban into the books. Not content to sit ideally by and let discrimination be written into their home-state’s constitution, Target has decided to take a stand and sell T-shirts to raise money for a group working to defeat the gay marriage ban in Minnesota.

Predictably, anti-gay marriage supporters are none-too-happy. Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage said of Target’s decision – “Target is attacking traditional marriage, which is an incredibly misguided thing for them to have done. It’s an insult to the overwhelming majority of their customers.”

I never quite understand how traditional marriage supporters believe that by extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians, their own beliefs are “under attack”. How does it affect heterosexual’s rights to marry simply by allowing homosexuals to do the same? It makes no sense to me and demonstrates the “our way or the highway” mentality of the anti-gay marriage mentality.

Standing up against hate is always tough especially when traditional marriage proponents are sure to call for a sweeping boycott, potentially costing Target millions in revenue. Just ask North Carolina’s own Replacements Ltd., one of the country’s largest suppliers of replacement silver, china and glassware what happened when they took a stand against NC’s Amendment 1. Hostile letters poured in, customers cancelled their business and the owner’s personal safety was in doubt. Unlike Bank of America, Duke Energy or any of the other NC Fortune 500 companies that stayed conspicuously silent during the run-up to A1, Replacements Ltd. took a stand and in so doing, earned the respect of those of us who support gay marriage like myself.

I’ve always enjoyed shopping at Target brand stores and now I have a new reason to frequent their chain over their competitors, which I fully intend to do. It takes guts and wherewithal to do what Target has done and they seem to have both in abundant supply. Such companies deserve both our praise and our business.

NC’s Silver Lining

I have to say that when I went to bed last night I was feeling pretty darned depressed about what transpired here in North Carolina with Amendment 1. I just don’t understand how people can treat their fellow Americans with contempt just because of whom they love. I firmly believe the state has no business interfering in our lives in this way, and the passing of A1 with such an overwhelming majority (even if they were confused about its implications) was quite heartbreaking.

But then today the President finally finishes “evolving” his position and comes out in favor of gay marriage. Suddenly things just don’t seem as bad. I know his stated position doesn’t change anything for the thousands of lgbt couples in NC and around the country, but what Barack did today is symbolic and it does indeed matter.

I was very proud of the President when he was elected. He’s strayed on some important issues, bent his promises on others, but in his heart, I believe him to be an honest and good man. Today he re-affirmed my faith in him, for that, and for lifting the specter of Amendment 1′s passing, I thank him.

Thinking Critically Pt 2

Back in March I wrote about a helpful series of TechNYou videos that outlined how to think critically when making arguments. I recently came across another resource in that same vein that outlines all the various types of logical fallacies in one handy and convenient place. YourLogicalFallacyis.com is great because it lets you refer to the various types of fallacies quickly and easily. You can even download a poster of the site’s content as a PDF, print it and hang it on your wall as an ode to logic.

These resources have been invaluable to me as I try to wade my way through discriminatory arguments filled with logical fallacies concerning North Carolina’s upcoming vote on Amendment 1. Next Tuesday, May 8th, NC voters will decide if the state has the ability to seriously curtail the civil rights of same-sex couples in what is unfortunately promising to be a close decision. If approved, the constitutional provision would read:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”

The proposed Amendment is unnecessary since NC law already doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage as such, but right-wing Christian conservatives felt it wasn’t enough and proposed stronger wording in the form of Amendment 1. If passed, these couples would be barred from the same legal rights that heterosexual couples currently enjoy like health care benefits, end of life decisions and more. The President opposes the measure, and so do I.

Local writer and blogger, Ed Cone has been a strong opponent of Amendment 1 since it first came on the scene and his blog has been a great place for NC natives to discuss and debate the issues at hand. It’s also been the political equivalent of a petri dish for logical fallacies like straw man arguments, slippery slopes and unfortunately ad hominem attacks. As I transition from a young man to a more seasoned one, I find resources like YourLogicalFallacyis.com invaluable to help me keep my cool and make calm, rational arguments. Check it out and always remember to fight the good fight.

Thinking Critically

The older I get the more difficult it becomes to separate emotion from logic when making an argument. I find my increasing experiences and biases towards aspects of religion and politics and even science have made it more and more difficult to look at the world objectively. This is particularly acute when I get upset about political arguments made by those who lean right, be they on Twitter, on radio or TV. I’d like to think of myself as an open-minded person who takes in as many of the available facts before making a judgement on a particular subject, but that’s not always the case.

So when I came across this excellent series of videos by TechNYou dealing with critical thinking, I absorbed the presented information like a sponge. If you need a refresher on how to make an argument logically or how to recognize confirmation bias in your day to day life, I highly recommend them. Each part is very short so you can watch the entire series in no time. Enjoy and remember to ‘Think Critically’.

Part 2 – Broken Logic
Part 3 – The Man Who Was Made of Straw
Part 4 – Getting Personal
Part 5 – The Gambler’s Fallacy
Part 6 – A Precautionary Tale

Exceeding Expectations

Local lawyer and conservative blogger, Sam Spagnola is running for county commissioner. Sam and I have had dust ups over on Ed Cone’s blog and it’s no secret that I disagree with the vast majority of positions he’s taken on national politics. So when I spotted (what I assumed must be) his truck at the Quaker Village shopping plaza, I had to snap a few pictures.

Even though I’ve never met Sam in person, I have to say that the messages conveyed on his vehicle fit the man to a tee. Typically politicians seeking office take the moderate route so Sam’s slogan of “Elect a REAL conservative!” could be considered a bold, fresh marketing move. Unfortunately for voters like myself, seeing his mocking of our president on his bumper sticker and license plate turned me off. Then again, I guess local constituents and business owners like myself are not his target audience. Best of luck, Sam!

UPDATE: Turns out I assumed wrong (bad me!) and the truck isn’t Sam’s after all but one of his bigger supporters. The good news for Sam seems to be that his identity as a true conservative politician appears to be hitting the mark with his voters. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, major props to someone who takes action and runs for office instead of just standing on the sidelines grumbling to the crowd. Local government could use more of this, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.