We Bombed Syria. What Now Trump?

“I was not a fan of President Obama’s ‘red line’ followed by a general approach of confusion and inaction toward a ravaged Syria. But neither am I in favor of unilateral violence ordered by a President cloaked in corruption, scandal and general, inhuman oddity.

The first two and a half of months of the Trump administration have been a break necking blur of stupidity and heartlessness. However, the third leg of this gang’s unholy stool is incompetence and while they’ve tried to illegally ban certain immigrants and wrench grateful Americans from their Obamacare, we can be grateful they’re too disorganized to succeed. But Syria has been bombed, officially. It has never taken genius or coordination to fire weapons and indiscriminately kill.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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What Lame Duck? President Obama Approaches The End With Renewed Popularity

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“Post-DNC 2016, which saw POTUS deliver an unbelievably inspiring testament to our country’s greatness while repudiating the authoritarian logic of fear, Obama is enjoying his highest approval rating since before his second inauguration. In contrast to recent electoral contests, which saw Al Gore and John McCain shoving Bill Clinton and W to the back like so many Babys in a corner, Barack Obama is a huge asset to Hillary’s campaign. As CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta argues, ‘Those who approve of Obama’s work as President are almost universally in Clinton’s [camp] in the upcoming Presidential race.’

As my partner Bob said after the third night of the DNC, ‘I’m with her. But also four more years!'”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Missing in Action: The Week’s Overlooked News Stories

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Are new ride sharing entrepreneurs from Massachusetts guilty of sexism? Is the POTUS about to sign an executive order WITHOUT being pilloried from the right? And we wish we could interview Inky the Octopus, but he’s gone to sea. Here’s what you may have missed this week….

Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft have faced all sorts of controversy since launching earlier this decade. Whether its taxi unions fighting them, price surge outrage, reports of violence from driver to passenger or even from passenger to driver, there is no shortage of headlines dedicated to this business model. In spite of all that, ride share companies are incredibly popular with consumers, and entrepreneurs are looking for ways to capitalize further. Cue women-only car services and a new debate. A Massachusetts couple plans to launch Chariot for Women this summer as a response to the safety issues some have experienced with existing ride share services. While the company’s intentions are admirable, questions of legality and potential discrimination have arisen and can’t be ignored in a nation continuing to strive for inclusion and equality. Click the hyperlink to learn more.

It’s no secret that President Obama exercises his right to use executive orders to get things done. What other choice does he have? Our do-nothing Congress has rendered these orders a necessity of governance. The POTUS has signed executive orders more times than many are probably aware of during his two terms in office. Most have been free from controversy, while others create a firestorm of trumped-up GOP wrath. But Obama is getting ready to sign a new executive order that (gasp!) might just possess inter-party appeal. Think you pay too much for your cable TV service? At upwards of $225 a month, I sure as hell do. If you’re tired of the usury and think something ought to be done, you’ll want to read the hyperlinked article.

The BeckySarwate.com team has found great value and comfort in locating feel-good stories amongst the rubble of global chaos. We particularly love stories about animals because they make their own rules. This week it was reported that an octopus (“Inky”) broke out of the National Aquarium of New Zealand. The hyperlinked article likens the episode to The Shawshank Redemption, but our team can’t help but think of Finding Nemo. The Pixar film was set in Australia (very close to New Zealand for the geographically challenged – like me) and featured the protagonist breaking free from the isolation of a dental office aquarium to reunite with his father. As someone who struggles heavily with the idea of animals in captivation, and likes a bit of determined chutzpah, Inky the octopus is an inspiration.

Love, Hate and Islamophobia

I’m exceedingly proud to introduce my first guest blogger since the launch of the website earlier this year – my eminently talented and thoughtful younger sister, Jennifer. I will not be posting this week because nothing I have to say is nearly as urgent, and this deserves our collective attention. Please read and share.

Max and Jenny

In 2001, I met a man at work who intrigued me. We began dating shortly after the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2003, I married this man, and in 2007 we had our first child together – a beautiful little girl to join my older daughter from a previous marriage.

In 2016, we will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary with our children at Disney World – our favorite place on earth. Max loves me more than seems justified, but he’s exactly the father my kids deserve, the kind of man I wish I’d been able to look up to as a child. Everyone he works, prays, plays or engages with loves and respects him. He’s one of those rare people who doesn’t seem to have any enemies. But there’s just one little thing. Max is a Muslim.

The sad fact is, despite the qualities listed above, and the other terrific nuances that make Max a better man than most, some people that don’t know him at all hate him because of his religious beliefs. Oh, and they hate my 8 year-old daughter too. Facebook taught me that yesterday. In fact, Facebook has been educating me about the inherent disgust for my family for years now. However after last Friday’s senseless tragedy in Paris, the rejection of my loved ones reached a fever pitch.

It was a former aunt by marriage who posted a “fact” sheet (which I have not yet vetted) that delivered the blow that led to this post. The data in the meme purported to reflect Japanese restrictions on Muslims in their country. Said aunt (who has, it must be owned, recognized her prejudicial error, removed the post and apologized) added the editorial comment, “And so should the US,” in reference to Japan’s alleged closed door policy to Islamic people.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced different forms of hate or racism by proxy over the course of my relationship with Max. Quite the contrary. I’ve had my luggage contents dumped on the floor for all to see in an airport in Omaha. You know, because I was traveling with a bearded brown man. A hateful employee at O’Hare, the world’s largest as well as one of the most diverse travel hubs, attempted to prevent my husband and I from flying on the same plane to our honeymoon destination.

More recently, I was waved through a security checkpoint at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City even though my bracelets were tripping the metal detectors. However my cousin by marriage, wearing a hijab, was harassed about a blue dolphin statue that I purchased for my daughter at the Museum of Natural History. My cousin had been kind enough to tote the item for me on her stroller, and her kindness turned into an ugly memory.

I’ve asked these questions a million times. Does every Christian (or even an atheist gun owner) pay the price every time a rogue member of the flock shoots up an abortion clinic? Did every white American male have to apologize for or denounce the Unabomber? How about Timothy McVeigh? Did we close the borders to white Protestants after the evils perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan? The obvious answer to all of these queries is “No.” Why obvious? Because it’s absurd to expect every American or Christian to denounce the distorted beliefs of a crazy person in order to stave off personal suspicion. As a culture, we do not afford the Muslim community that same courtesy.

You know those people that spout racist speech but then take cover under dubious claims when caught? They’ll say “Oh, I have black friends” after making pointedly ignorant statements about African-American culture. This phenomenon exists in discussions about the Islamic faith too. When I’m frustrated and emboldened enough to call someone out for their hate speech, and this has happened a few times, some are very quick to tell me they have Muslim friends who are “good people.” All better then, right?

1) No. I don’t believe you have Muslim friends. Because if you did, they would tell you that your gross, painful generalizations are unfounded.

2) I don’t think a Muslim – or any religious/ethnic minority – would befriend you knowing your opinions.

3) The second you protest that you have a ____ friend and are not a prejudiced against ______s as a result, you have lost the argument.

Max is a man of seemingly limitless tolerance and patience. But I’m not. Those security disasters I mentioned? My husband waits for them to end with humility. He does what he’s told and asks me to remain quiet so we can get through it and not draw extra attention to ourselves. He accepts that additional layers of mistrust and scrutiny are his lot in life – that he has to deal with being unnecessarily harassed for the good of the country. I sit there incensed and mortified. He just endures. I’ve learned to internalize my anger because if Max is willing to undergo racial profiling so we can board our plane to Disney World, who am I to presume greater entitlement to respect? Who am I to disrupt the peace he so desperately wants? But instead of getting used to the repetition of these indignities, they fester inside.

This is the world my daughters will inherit, the youngest of whom is being proudly raised in the Islamic faith. That’s what hurts and scares me the most. My husband is a big boy who can take care of himself. He was an adult with excellent coping skills before, during and after the horrible events of 9/11 that changed our country. But my baby girl is sweet and innocent, thinks the best of everyone. I dread the day she realizes that some will reject her based on one part of who she is. How will she react the first time she’s on the receiving end of a racist remark or hate speech about the only religion she knows? How will I react? My nearest and dearest should start saving bail money.

I spent part of yesterday morning watching President Obama’s speech at the G20 Summit in Turkey. I mentally applauded a particular quote as it was uttered, but in light of this recent, personal emotional roller coaster it bears repeating:

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. We don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them.”

For inquiries, please contact jennifer.ashrafi@yahoo.com 

Citizen Cane – and Doughnut (November 27, 2012)

Many kind, regular readers are well aware of my affinity for riding my bicycle, affectionately nicknamed L’il Red, as I traverse across the great city of Chicago. These same readers also recognize a predilection toward illness, mishaps and other accidents. When these two characters traits, quite literally collide, the results yield equal parts humor and mayhem.

It was a chill and rainy Election Night, lo these three weeks ago, and yours truly was in a damned fine hurry to get back to her (then) boyfriend’s house to watch the voting returns. Through the twin effects of overestimating my own importance and a general pattern of running to every appointment as though my hair were on fire, I was convinced that President Obama could not possibly secure a second term without my physical support. Try and tell me a watched pot never boils, will you?

I approached the six-corner intersection of Belmont, Lincoln and Ashland in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood and as the once green light began to turn yellow, slick and dark road underneath, I made the poor decision (I can actually recall my final thought before the sickening thud: “This might not be a good idea.”) to gun it, as much as one can gun a single speed road bike.

The aftermath was fairly predictable. L’il Red and I crashed into the side of a westbound SUV in the far right lane of the street we almost made it across. I slammed my right leg into the driver side door before being thrown from the bike and bouncing off the street directly on my tailbone. The ensuing white hot, all-consuming pain was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I could not talk or speak for what seemed like an hour, but may have actually amounted to less than a minute. The confused driver asked me repeatedly if I was ok, but in the end I couldn’t manage more than the silent “thumbs up” signal an injured football players relays to stadium fans before they are carried off the field.

Kind, regular readers of this blog and those acquainted with me personally are also attuned to my strong aversion to medical treatment. Eventually I adjusted L’il Red’s twisted handlebars, hopped back on the bike and made the remainder of a four-mile trip back to JC’s apartment that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I cried the entire way. But lest you think that hellacious ride, the ensuing two days of work missed and the near-constant discomfort I felt led to a timely visit with my primary physician, not so. I waited a full two weeks before seeking x-ray services at a local urgent care clinic I was in the process of passing while, wait for it….riding my bike.

I never said I was smart. Turns out that I not only dislocated said tailbone inward, but I had also broken my sacrum, which is defined by Wikipedia as “a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity, where it is inserted like a wedge between the two hip bones.” I didn’t even know it was possible to break that shit. I think you have to really want it. So I am looking at a minimum two to six month recovery, with the dangling of a possible surgery in front of me by a concerned doctor who (rightfully) suspects I may not hew closely enough to the treatment plan, which basically consists of rest and a lot of pain medication. I have no problem with the latter. It’s the former I don’t do very well and quite seriously, strenuous exercise has been my raison d’etre, an substitute antidepressant for the last decade. In order to learn something constructive from this highly destructive experience, I repeatedly query myself in a dry, sarcastic tone: “Was it worth it? What is the worst thing that could have happened if you’d waited through the red light?”

Certainly not the humiliation of trading standard bicycle and backpack accessories for a cane and an inflatable doughnut pillow upon which to rest my broken butt. Definitely not the indignity of senior citizens more than twice my age offering to help me board the commuter train, nor the shame experienced when young people graciously offer their CTA seat to the poor, unfortunate cripple. Ah! I do not warrant these kindnesses as the result of my own stupidity. But how to share this with the well-meaning without offending their altruistic sensibilities. The worst punishment of all is having to endure undeserved benevolence.

There is a lot more to say about all of this: the humorous outtakes of last weekend’s two-day Tramadol fog, the collapse of my relationship in the aftermath of the accident and the ongoing suspense regarding the prospect of non-surgical healing. Feel free to take the journey with me. I promise to proceed with caution. I have no other choice.

The Show is Over (July 26, 2011)

I have been a politico, a policy wonk, a fervent follower of Washington gamesmanship for as long as I can remember. I believe my love for the inner workings of our nation’s Capitol began with a first grade classroom straw poll in which I participated in 1984. My parents, young moderate Republicans, were huge fans of Reagan, whereas I already began to sense my liberal stirrings and wanted to like Walter Mondale more, but just couldn’t. In truth, I would have been happiest to vote for Geraldine Ferraro, but that wasn’t an option and in the end bit my lip and cast my childhood lot with the Gipper. Though my vote counted for nothing, I have yet to forgive my lack of foresight.

I have always been a fan of the Sunday morning talk shows, the arm chair quarterbacking about bills, social initiatives and policy speeches. As long as America’s basic common sense and global leadership was intact, I took it mostly in good fun. Of course there are real world implications for any nation’s decisions, but I felt safe in my admiration of the endless game of chess that keeps networks like CNN and Fox News in business.

I have been blogging for about two years and until recent months, a good percentage of my posts have been politically motivated. In my freelance journalism life, I kept up a column for a magazine based in Denver for the better part of a year.

But suddenly, beginning in December 2010 when Obama capitulated to the extreme right wing on the extension of the fiscally irresponsible Bush tax cuts, or if I’m being honest, slightly before that, the wind was sucked right out of my political sails. As the middle class and lower classes sank under the crushing weight of high unemployment, a credit crunch and the disappearance of home equity that are the hallmarks of this Great Recession; as lawmakers from both sides fell out of touch with the real world needs of real people as they became entrenched in partisan squabbles that had little or nothing to do what it takes to get the nation back on track; to quote President Obama, when “compromise became a four-letter word” as the rest of the world looks on in horror while we careen toward the inevitable toppling of our dynasty, there’s nothing to appreciate. It is, in a bipartisan word, revolting.

As it is, a lack of engagement with current affairs has been a casualty of the increasing digitization of our culture. The truly engaged and informed are a diminishing minority, and anyone else who flips on the TV to witness the latest round of partisan posturing from the President or the Speaker of the House is bound to reach for their Kindle or Nintendo DS in short order. Politics is serious business, but let’s face it, also entertainment. And of the many sins of which our lawmakers are in the business of committing, a failure to captivate may be one of the lesser, but it’s clearly a factor inCongress’ 77 percent negative approval rating.

To state the totally obvious: we have major problems in this country, problems that even a vote to raise the debt ceiling, or a last minute Hail Mary that manages to cut spending AND raise revenue, may not solve. The United States is the laughing stock of the First World (and even Third World nations like India are having a chuckle at our paralysis). But no one living here outside of the upper two percent of wealth holders, has a thing to smile about.

 

Newt Gingrinch Gains a Little of My Respect…Before Promptly Losing It (May 18, 2011)

I have taken a detour the last couple months from my regular obsession with the political arena to talk all things divorce and cancer. But as I am enjoying a relative “good” period, filled with some degree of life satisfaction and emotional equilibrium, I am inspired to join the endless sport of Capitol Hill navel gazing once again.

I am a huge fan of NBC’s Meet the Press, the Sunday morning political chat stalwart now hosted by David Gregory. While Gregory with his whiny, waffley interview style is no match for the “just the facts” tenacity of the otherwise cherubic Tim Russert (may he rest in peace), MTP is a habit I just can’t break. In years past, I would enjoy the show while indulging in the traditional Sunday hangover remedy of carbs and Gatorade, but now I am in my 30s and am usually well rested and alert. There are things to like about aging.

Anyway, this past weekend I queued up my Tivo to watch the show commercial-free and nearly deleted it altogether when I saw that the featured guest was former Speaker of the House, and current Republican Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrinch. I will NEVER forgive Newtie for the 90s – from the ridiculous government shutdown of 1995, to his laughably hypocritical pursuit of President Bill Clinton on the “family values” front. This from a man on his third marriage, the second which began under the auspicious influences of infidelity.

For a number of years, Newtie sort of fell off the political radar, only emerging as the occasional commentator on really important issues like President Obama’s African, colonial worldview (I was under the impression that Hawaii ceased to be a colony in the late 1950s). Rhetorically, he was swatted away like the pop cultural gnat he became (though he prefers the term “gadfly,” thank you very much).

But Newt got my attention on Sunday’s Meet the Press when he addressed rising GOP star Paul Ryan’s irresponsible, top two percent-friendly budget proposal. Specifically commenting on the plan’s goal of dismantling Medicare as we know it, converting it to a voucher program, his Newtness said: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.”

Well ok! Newt never stood a chance of getting my vote, but such refreshing honesty, such lack of pandering! Maybe we have a new Maverick on the right.

But of course my praise and excitement was premature. Once the Tea Party establishment (who seem to accrue power in inverse proportion to their distance from the mainstream) got wind of Newtie’s comments, Gingrich began backpedaling faster than a honey badger.

Paul Ryan had this to say to Reuters: “I think he now understands the magnitude of his comments — how wrong they were. And I think he’s going to have more to say about that. And he’s working on that. He basically called and apologized. And I accepted his apology.” Newt – you just got served by a man with a freakishly big head.

Last time I checked, Ryan is a lowly House member from the minorityparty, but we currently live in an upside down political universe, where less is apparently more. As the brilliant Paul Krugman put it: “Normally, a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate would acknowledge that it isn’t in a position to impose its agenda on the nation. But the modern G.O.P. doesn’t believe in following normal rules.”

And an article in the “Caucus” section of today’s New York Times asks, “Can Newt Gingrich Control Newt Gingrich?”

I may be wholly biased and partisan but I happen to believe that running afoul of an increasingly wingnut right establishment, which has essentially declared war on the middle class, is the FIRST positive thing Newt has done in awhile. Alas, no more. He has been cowed and has summarily returned to placating the ultra-conservative. I would have hoped he’d take a lesson from 2008 also-ran John McCain (another formerly bold player who relinquished any and all respect I ever held for him). Winning over your party’s base almost necessarily means alienating the mainstream in this century. In short, the already debatably electable Gingrich just become untouchable.