Saturday, 17 November 2018

Midterm Special

Well, you know by now that Democrats retook the house, for the first time in 8 YEARS! How many of us were even old enough to remember when Democrats were in power that way?

While Republicans strengthened their lead in the Senate, it was by very little now that Kristen Sinema, a Democrat, has won her race in Texas.


California isn't as blue as you think. In Orange County in Southern California, Republicans form a significant portion of the House Representatives California sends to Washington. 

Until this week, that is.

Democrats flipped four seats in Southern California, which we found out just this week. They also won a supermajority in both the State House and Senate, as well as the Governor's mansion. The California Democratic Party gleefully tweeted that Republicans have now been denigrated to third-party levels of irrelevance in California. 

Utah and Kansas

Yes, you read that right. Democrats won in states beyond their wildest dreams. The "heartland," long written off as unreachably red, went for Democrats this year. Or at least more than normal.

Congressional Democrats in Utah. In Texas, Democrats fell short of defeating Texas Senator Ted Cruz, which was an emotional disappointment for that night. However, they came closer than ever and because of something pundits are calling "the Beto effect", Democrats took House seats in Texas. 

However, the biggest surprise of the night was the defeat of Kansas governor Kris Kobach. A Democrat now heads Kansas's state government. Utterly unimaginable. The reason this happened can be seen in how one-party Republican rule of Kansas went too far, even for conservatives. They slashed taxes and kowtowed to big business, bankrupting the state. The government had to shorten the school week in Kansas as the school districts ran out of money. A revolt against this ended up with a Democrat in Kansas's highest state office.

A Year of Firsts

2018 has been called the "Year of the woman." Women ran for office and replaced men all across the country. 

The "Rainbow Wave" came out in full force this year as well. The first openly gay governor was elected in Colorado, the first bisexual woman was elected to the Senate, and Kim Davis, the conservative icon who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was soundly defeated.

And I'm not making this up: A rainbow shone over Capitol Hill.

For the first time ever, not one but two Muslim women were elected.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Deconstructing the Conservative Youth Movement

There has been a growing trend of young conservatives who position themselves as the leader of a young right-wing movement. The young usually lean left, and these new right-wingers hope to dispute this. As petty as it seems, a large part of this is being "cool."

The problem with marketing conservatism to young people is that they believe in traditional values-remaining a virgin until marriage and not cursing or deviating from social norms. That's kryptonite for young people. More importantly, being cool entails a sense of rebellion. By definition, conservatives are not rebels. They support the status quo and the people in power, including the military, the police, and business leaders. 

Finally, to start a movement you need a pressing issue, a great injustice. The right, especially now, has overwhelming control of the US government. So the right needed anything to latch on to, to make an issue out of. What's the one place conservatives aren't especially prominent? College campuses. That's where conservatives decided to focus.

Enter Ben Shapiro. Starting as a conservative columnist as young as high school, he had a talent for talking at a dizzying speed and being fast on his feet during debates. While he shares the social value of conservatives, like opposing gay marriage, he was smart to mostly shut up about them because they alienate young people. 

He understood one crucial aspect of coolness-- not caring or becoming emotional about anything. Ben Shapiro would invite leftists to argue with him. College leftists are very passionate but often aren't articulate. Ben Shapiro exploits this to create a dynamic where he seems like the untouchable epitome of coolness and logic, while the left comes off as emotional SJWs. His hyperbolically titled videos are shared online, contributing to the view counts on his show. His usage of the Internet, where entertaining soundbites gets the most views, is masterful. He preaches the message that the left is obsessed with victimhood and dominates the media, but he has a new message that abstains from identity politics and such self-pity. He has a sense of humor and gave his followers a feeling of collective identity. 

He has inspired a number of wannabes from Charlie Kirk, who has taken the extra step of founding College conservative group called Turning Point USA, to Steven Crowder, who hosts viral Change My Mind segments on college campuses, to the now irrelevant Milo Yiannapolous, who veered to far right for even mainstream conservatives. 

Next I will discuss the contradictions within their movement.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

New Law Should Prokove Bipartisan Outrage, Not Support

As international criticism of Israel mounts, the U.S. has continued to be their steadfast ally. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has accused the U.N. of antisemitism for disproportional targeting Israel and shifted blame to Hamas, the group that runs the West Bank and does engage in terrorism. Following the U.S. criticism of a U.N. resolution condemning Israel, the United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council. As a member of the all-powerful security council, the U.S. vetoed resolutions calling for the embargo and sanctions of Israel or its internationally disputed settlements.

Image result for Nikki haley un
Nikki Haley speaks at the U.N.

The United States has as of late decided to crack down on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), a group that calls for nonviolent boycotts as a way of pressuring Israel to stop engaging in human rights abuses. The FBI investigated and questioned members of BDS recently. This provoked outrage among left-wing and free-speech groups who accuse the FBI of chilling political speech and relying on right-wing outlets for information. 

The most bold iteration of the anti-BDS trend is a bill introduced in the Senate, The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and an equivalent bill in the house that would punish Americans who participate in and support boycotts of Israel. The bill goes further and says Americans who participate in boycotts of any U.S. allies could also face punishment. The language tries to mask its purpose, saying that this bill only applies to international government organizations propagating for a boycott, but many say it could still be used to punish individual Americans. The text in the bill tries to stay general, but it is clear that the organization they are targeting is B.D.S. and the U.S. ally they are protecting is Israel. Meeting public backlash, they have tried to amend the bill, but it's akin to putting lipstick on a pig: it's still a pig.

ACLU's Letter to Congress

The punishments range from a $20000 dollar fine to, at maximum, a $1 million fine and up to 20 years in prison. Before my Democrat-supporting friends jump in, the bill in the Senate is sponsored by Democratic senator Bill Cardin and supported by Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats. An equivalent bill in the House of Representatives is sponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats. 

It would also discriminate against businesses who do not work with Israel, as a matter of boycott or not, by denying their credit applications in the Export/Import bank, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the world.

Below is a list of members who support the bill. There are currently 55 Senators- enough to pass the Senate and 218 representatives- enough to pass the HOR. As it stands, the bill is very likely to pass. If your representative is a Democrat, he/she may be especially open to your thoughts. Especially if your congressmen is on it, or even if they aren't, I urge you to call, email, and write to them to tell them this bill is an affront to free speech.

Senate Members Who Support the Bill
House Members Who Support the Bill

Sunday, 18 March 2018

National Walkout

National Walkout

On March 14, at 10:00 everywhere, students across the country participated in a school walkout. Some faced suspension from angry school administrators, others had small numbers as they were in a conservative district, and still others risked themselves because of unsafe neighborhoods around their schools. They walked out for 17 minutes to honor the 17 students killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland Florida. The march was one month after the shooting. They demanded gun reform and mental health reform, carried protest signs and chanted, and made sure gun reform stayed in the political conversation.

At our school amphitheater, we had speeches and held a moment of silence for the ones lost.

The school I go to is no exception. Including many of our teachers and me, nearly 2000 students turned out for the walkout. Our parents planned a rally alongside us.

Image may contain: 9 people, including Priya Ray, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
They gathered on the same day and time as us.

Conservative media did their best to fight back. They posted examples of conservative students who were anti-gun control and spread misleading reports of students who were punished for not walking out. First, the vast majority of young people support gun control. Second, the student who was punished for not walking out refused to go to the study hall where everyone else was because he was afraid that people wouldn't like him. He effectively ditched school and refused to listen to administrators, so his suspension was more than justified. Other conservatives said that kids are uninformed and that their opinions are worthless. In the spirit of this blog, I say exactly the opposite.

The rallies were a brilliant political move. It made sure guns stay in the national conversation. Gun control advocates note the media acts like a goldfish in a bowl, constantly changing the topic every week. This makes it nearly impossible to keep an issue in the public consciousness. When students planned these rallies, doing them simultaneously and loudly, they made sure gun control remained a topic of public discussion, putting pressure on right-wing congressmen who hoped the issue would go away before the midterms. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Why this shooting was different

After the tragic school shooting in Parkland, gun control advocates wearily prepared for the identical cycle of public discussion that happens after every mass shooting. Politicians would offer their much-mocked "thoughts and prayers" for the first few days. Then the vicious and unproductive online arguments, which involve the exact same arguments every time, would begin between gun control advocates and right-wingers. Democrats would filibuster and speak passionately on the Senate floor, but a vote on anything meaningful would fail to happen. 

Image result for cycle of gun control discussion

Something was different this time. This time the survivors spoke out. Normally the survivors of mass shootings try to be apolitical for various reasons. Some think it's disrespectful. Others are grieving and not in the position to take political fire. Still others are jaded and have lost all hope that Congress would do anything. The kids of Parkland, however, were different. They watched their friends die after hearing about other shootings on the news and realized that this had happened before and the government could have done something. Their friends didn't have to die. So, despite their grief and trauma, the kids of Parkland stood up and hurled themselves into the firestorm that is politics. They are uniquely positioned to be extremely effective activists.

They do not share the cynicism of the adults and know that if they act then action can happen. They are extremely motivated for obvious reasons. In the political arena, their experience gave them credibility and as trauma victims shielded them from some vicious political attacks. We see evidence of their effect. It's been ten days since the shooting and by now the conversation is winding down. Not this time. Recently President Trump hosted a public conversation with the survivors and CNN hosted a town hall where the kids publicly confronted politicians. The Oregon State legislature passed a bill banning domestic abusers from buying guns. Most significantly, businesses have begun to announce they would no longer give NRA members benefits as part of the #BoycottNRA movement. 

The crossed-out are businesses who renounced their sponsorship programs.

Part of the NRA's power is its five million members, the NRA's foot soldiers against gun control across the country. The NRA collects membership fees, which it uses to lobby and influence politicians in Washington. One of the reasons members join the NRA is that NRA members get benefits. For example, the Bank of Omaha offers NRA members a special credit card that gives them cash back on gas and sporting goods. Various other companies offer benefits. Recently, companies have began to dissociated themselves with the NRA and stop offering benefits citing public outcry. 

However, the public response has also been remarkable for its viciousness. Mainstream Republicans like Donald Trump Jr have accused the kids of speaking scripted lines. Some have started calling the kids "crisis actors." Conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza mocked the kids.

Speaking of the online front, there is now a renewed pushback against right-wing gun rights arguments. Memes, which normally lean to the right after mass shootings, now mock "thoughts and prayers" and the proposal to arm teachers.

Where the adults have failed us, the next generation will not.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Net Neutrality Isn't Over


Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC who ended net neutrality, poses in a video
to mock net neutrality

   You may remember your favorite websites, from YouTube to Reddit, being filled with petitions to save net neutrality. Despite this and other protests, on December 14, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to remove the regulations that prevented Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating between web traffic. Now most of the hubbub has died down. The older generation would attribute this to the Internet's short attention span. However, this is not the last battle! Comcast and Verizon would love for people to give up and go home, but people need to know we still have multiple ways to try and save net neutrality.

There was an overwhelming flood of net neutrality posts on Reddit.

  To put it simply, ISPs like Comcast used to slow down or block websites as they wished before the FCC under the Obama administration passed rules classifying the Internet as a Title II utility under the Federal Communications Act. Before that, Comcast, for example, could speed up the Internet for its own apps but slow down or block its competitors' apps (as they did once). AT&T could block political websites, the way they blocked a union's website when that union went on strike against AT&T. In other words, the ISPs could act like a mob cartel: demanding bribes and threatening businesses that didn't bow to them.

    But what does this mean for you? If you or your family work at Silicon Valley, an end to net neutrality could stifle startups. Much like crony capitalism, starting businesses would be hard without the initial capital to pay a bribe, in this case to the ISPs. 

    Even if you don't work in the tech industry you have much to lose. Political free expression online could suffer. Even if you're conservative, keep in mind that Comcast was a major Clinton donor and has little to lose if they wanted to block right-wing views. This is precisely why many conservatives support net neutrality. 

   21 states are suing the FCC in the US Court of Appeals, where they filed a petition so they can have a spot for a hearing. They say that the FCC didn't do enough to get public input on the decision. Many of the comments left on its website turned out to be faked. One part of the new anti net neutrality rules bans states from setting up their own rules. The public was never asked about this, so they can argue the rules are thus invalid. The states can also say the FCC doesn't have the authority to ban states from passing their own net neutrality laws. 

   Many states are also passing laws that would ensure net neutrality within their own state. Washington did just this recently. Some are even allowing cities to set up their own ISPs that would be completely independent of Comcast or AT&T and would practice net neutrality. Others have governors who signed executive orders to save net neutrality, including Hawaii and Montana. Unfortunately, the FCC is federal so its laws apply nationally, so it has the power to trump lower states' authority. This too would be decided by the aforementioned lawsuit.

   Congress also has the power to act. By the Congressional Review Act, they have the power to overturn the FCC's decision. Net Neutrality would come back, and there will be no need for the states to pass their own laws. There is a bill to do just this. It has the support of all the Democrats in the Senate and one Republican, (R) Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. This comes out to fifty votes for to fifty votes against. In this event VP Pence would break the tie, and he will likely vote no on the bill to stop the FCC and bring back net neutrality. The House of Representatives also has a bill to do this, but net neutrality advocates face a daunting path as Republicans dominate that House. Even if the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a net neutrality bill, President Trump would likely veto it. All in all it's unlikely, so we have to rely on state governments to see what happens.