Who would like to begin 2022 with some speculation on humanity’s next large-scale war? Me neither but we got it anyway.
Russia is flexing it’s muscles again with a warning to a couple of its neighbors against joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.).
“It is quite obvious that the ascension of Finland and Sweden to NATO would have serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from Russia,” said a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, not revealing exactly what action Russia would take in response.
The N.A.T.O. is primarily a military alliance between the United States and several western European nations and it was created as a bulwark against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Finland and Sweden officially hold a stance of neutrality on the world stage but Sweden has increased it own defense spending since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine back in 2014. I’m sure eastern Europe remembers an aggressive Russia all too well.
A moment of silence.
Microsoft sun-setting online services for multiple XBOX 360 Halo games marking the end of an era.
The “golden age of Halo” might be when Bungie Studios still held the reins of the iconic video game franchise. Perhaps Microsoft was waiting for the release of the XBOX One X/S consoles to finally move on from its classic Halo games.
All Halo games that have housed online services on XBOX 360 will be shutting down come January 13, 2022.
Fans of the franchise will still able to get their fix of classic Halo through the anthology entitled The Master Chief Collection.
Cannabis industry hindered by incongruity.
New Mexico’s fledgling cannabis industry is being impeded by the federal prohibition of the plant that continues to plague the nation with needless authoritarianism. The Village of Questa governing council is currently attempting to attract cannabis entrepreneurs to its tiny northern New Mexico area but stipulations attached to federal funding is hindering the prospects of one such entrepreneur, Michael Nezi of Roots & Herbs Farms.
The prohibition against cannabis by the U.S. government is an embarrassment to the nation, nothing more than a power-grab by police forces run amok that disproportionately affects historically impoverished citizens and residents. I’m surprised more conservative-leaning Americans are not jumping at this easy opportunity to denounce “big government” in favor of entrepreneurship.
New Mexico is set to become the latest state to legalize cannabis for adult, recreational use next year in April and entrepreneurs are already gearing up for business. However, barriers continue to inhibit full economic exploitation of this incredibly versatile plant. One such entrepreneur in Questa, New Mexico, is being forced to relocate his proposed cannabis factory to neighboring Taos because his initial location is dependent on federal funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (E.D.A.) and cannot support a cannabis business. One would think that conservative-leaning politicos would jump on this as a classic example of excessive government regulations interfering with one’s entrepreneurial freedom. It would be a talking point with which I’m in agreement.
The legalization of cannabis in New Mexico pushed the duty of regulating legal cannabis onto individual municipalities in the state which I believe is congruent with the original concept for American democratic-republicanism. Regional “laboratories for democracy” may be the best way to ensure a sense of representation for different populations just as long as the over-arching national government presents a clear set of basic civil rights for lower governing bodies to follow. Federal cannabis prohibition defies this ideal by enforcing an authoritarian edict on regional governments.
The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen cannabis regulations slowly relax over the decades and Americans are now privy to a growing cannabis market across the nation. According to statistics from <www.flowhub.com>, the overall cannabis industry is worth approximately $61 billion, 68% of Americans are now in support of cannabis legalization, and 12% of Americans are “active cannabis users.” This super-majority support for cannabis legalization would be beneficial in a nation with a functioning democratic system. Alas, Americans are trapped within a psuedo-democracy corrupted by oligarchy.
How can a person protect himself from the evil within himself? I believe evil is forestalled with focused and diligent self-reflection and improvement – questioning what you think you know, delaying judgment of others, assuming with whomever you speak that they know something that you do not know, and recognizing humanity wherever you find it and in whomever you find it. Regardless of how much evil you witness around you, you can still make the world a better place by setting the example within yourself. Raise your own standards and show others how to love. How does one show love (even to a complete stranger)?
Looking back on the United States presidential election of 2016, I can theorize about how a political novice like Donald Trump won the election and how his rhetoric resonated with lower-class Americans. Trump used simplistic language in his speeches, providing little details regarding public policy and appealed to an instinctive anger against an economic system that rewards the most ruthless among us while punishing the most empathetic. Empty promises to create more American jobs, disregarding the interconnected nature of the globalized 21st century economy, appeals to low-income and (formally) uneducated voters who care first and foremost about what can be done for them in the short-term. President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 is a reflection of several institutional failures in America, first and foremost the failure of our educational institutions in their mission to teach critical thinking skills as well as historical contexts for our most pressing political issues.
The blame for our institutional failures lay at both ends of our proverbial political spectrum: the so-called Left-wing and Right-wing. Judging by the corporate media pundits who dominate our television stations and air waves, the Left-wing seems to consist of pathological desires to force more equitable outcomes out of our economic system while disregarding the irony of authoritative measures for supposedly populace outcomes, and the Right-wing seemingly consists of a dogmatic rejection of any populist, Keynesian policy which has proven its effectiveness in every other industrialized nation preferring a rigid alliance with private interests at the expense of public interests.
American news networks have also failed Americans as they have created a political environment in which partisan laborers for one or another of our political duopoly simply shout and demean each other while not actually listening to each other, seemingly incapable of any nuanced critique of each other’s ideas. A lack of nuance in news media can be just as dangerous as government propaganda because it breeds ideological converts rather than thinkers and analysts.
American educational institutions focus on stylistic and superficial job preparation rather than long-term, skills-based career building and philosophical study. Collegiate scholars today seem more concerned with earning the “right” degree for the sake of making a living rather than expanding their understanding of history and the world and earning the confidence to challenge existing power structures. Students of political science in particular seem more concerned with starting a career with the political party of their choice rather than building new paradigms for social organization.
The election of 2016 presented Americans with two negative options: a candidate representing a status quo already failing most Americans and a candidate representing a pseudo-populist reform with late-capitalism pulling the strings – the same old shit or a new brand of shit sprayed with a bottle of CK One cologne.
Whereas half of American voters do not even participate in our elections every four to eight years, I think this corruption-induced apathy presents an opportunity for alternative political candidates and parties. We have already seen an outspoken socialist win and retain a municipal seat in Seattle, Washington, one of the U.S.A.’s major cities. Populists, reformers, liberals, and socialists need to capitalize on this opportunity to subvert the corrupt duopoly of our two largest political parties and build coalitions across the nation, capturing local seats and building local bases of power that actually resonate with Americans. I think President Joe Biden has proved himself to be just as ineffectual as President Trump at manifesting the will of the people. I suggest new leadership is needed in America, leadership that is neither red nor blue.
Abortion rights are once again at the Supreme Court of the United States. Oral arguments were presented on Wednesday (12/1) over the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center. If the SCOTUS rules in favor of the state of Mississippi, upholding its Gestational Age Act, a new precedent will be set for individual states to set new restrictions on the female healthcare procedure with 15 weeks as the new cut off date to obtain said procedure (the current cut off date is 24 weeks). Whereas several more conservative states have interests in enacting similar laws within there their own jurisdictions, a ruling from the SCOTUS in favor of Mississippi would effectively kick the issue back to the states. The silver lining for the more liberal states would be that they could enact their own protections for abortion services within their jurisdictions but there would still be a burden on lower class women in conservative areas; obviously if you’re in a lower economic class you cannot travel as easily as if you were more financially stable.
I think that if the SCOTUS rules in favor of Mississippi in Mississippi v. Jackson Women’s Health Center it will further damage what credibility the court holds. The right to an abortion was cemented in 1973 with Roe v. Wade and affirmed in 1992 with Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The Chief Justice of the SCOTUS at the time of Roe v. Wade was Warren Burger, a life-long political scientist and lawyer who helped secure his home state for then-Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower back during the Republican presidential convention of 1952. Warren Burger was nominated to the SCOTUS by President Richard Nixon in 1969 whom apparently agreed with Burger’s more strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Burger would later vote with the majority in Roe v. Wade as well as lead a unanimous court against President Nixon in United States v. Nixon.
The Chief Justice at the time of Planned Parenthood v. Casey was William Rehnquist, an American lawyer who also believed in a more strict interpretation of the Constitution emphasizing the 10th Amendment, reserving powers not explicitly given to the federal government to the respective states. Rehnquist opposed both decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Abortion rights have survived two conservative chief justices and has been established law in the United States for 48 years now, enough time to envelope two generations of Americans. The SCOTUS was designed to create a relatively stable system of law throughout these states while resisting shaky whims of populations, it was not meant to be a political body as are the U.S. Congress and the office of the Presidency. If the current conservative majority on the SCOTUS rule in favor of Mississippi, I fear that the court will become more political and divisive with justices reversing whatever rulings their personal politics dictate at the time.
The rhetoric against abortion is a religious pseudo-argument, a remnant of archaic thinking that limits critical thinking skills and ties humanity to superstitious traditions masquerading as wisdom. Religious pseudo-arguments have no place in what is supposed to be a secular government. The argument in favor of abortion as a legitimate medical procedure is an empirical, libertarian argument advocating for individual liberty placing one’s autonomy over their physical body above nebulous ideas of the “sanctity of life.” Arbiters of the law need to root their argumentation and discourse in practical aspects of the physical world rather than in vague and hypothetical religious concepts.
There is also the subject of equality between males and females to consider: like most mammals female humans bare more of a burden in child rearing simply because they are the ones to physically give birth to the child. This phenomenon of evolution gears mammals towards family groups for survival in nature. However, modern human societies are relatively insulated from the harsh realities of nature and our technology and understanding of science have almost guaranteed the survival of our young (at least in developed, wealthy countries). The tight-knit, closed family groups which humans relied upon for survival in our early history are arguably less necessary. Whether or not this speculation of our social evolution is a net positive or a net negative for our morals is a subjective debate which I will not advance upon further but it is undeniable that our modern medical tools and practices around reproduction have elevated human females in our social positions by giving them more control over the ability to reproduce.
The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1973
How can a person protect himself from the evil within himself?
I believe evil is forestalled with focused and diligent self-reflection and improvement – questioning what you think you know, delaying judgment of others, assuming with whomever you speak that they know something which you do not, and recognizing humanity wherever you find it and in whomever you find it. Regardless of how much evil you witness around you, you can still make the world a better place by setting the example within yourself. Raise your own standards and show others how to love.
How does one show love (even to a complete stranger)?
Patience, gratitude, honesty, and mercy.
It takes courage to pursue justice and it takes temperance to acquire wisdom.
Remember the past, look towards the future, and exercise kindness.
Frances Haugen, the former data engineer for Facebook who disclosed internal documents from the social media giant to the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal, says that current algorithmic standards on social media harms young people.
I don’t think I’m alone in my expression of the colloquialism, “duh!”
It’s been known for some time excessive time spent on digital social media platforms actually increases depression in teenagers as well as further pushes unrealistic body images onto young girls. Did we really need a “whistleblower” to get us all hyped up about these facts? What Miss Haugen is doing is not so much whistleblowing as it is just calling out the elephant in the room. If Miss Haugen was actually revealing something dangerous to the status quo, would she really be called before Congress for discussion? Or would she be marked for prosecution and driven into hiding in a foreign embassy, awaiting the protection of any institution willing to shelter enemies of an empire?
Perhaps the reason why our officials in the United States Congress are so eager to prop up Frances Haugen as a hero is because the ruling oligarchy want to seize social media’s power over political discourse as Glenn Greenwald so eloquently put in his commentary on the matter. One question that each American citizen should be asking is, when did these technology giants become the gate-keepers to political speech? Here’s another novel concept particularly for these younger generations: perhaps we are all spending a little too much time in digital environments and not enough time in the real world spending real time with other people in the physical space (do not throw the pandemic at me – our issues around too much screen time began prior to this pandemic). How about we actually make efforts to understand each other by talking things out rather than hitting the “block” button every time we’re exposed to a different opinion?
Nine members of the Democratic Party expressed sentiments in the form of a written letter to the Speaker of the House against lower drug pricing in the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill currently making its way through the United States Congress.
The justification for maintaining current drug pricing is supposedly to maintain our innovation in industry which surpasses that of the European market. A concerned citizen could look at who is providing big donations to those nine representatives.
“The statements of US government officials and industry representatives imply that the US market is paying for the development of most new drugs. There is ample evidence that domestic profits in several countries that have price or profit control cover research and development expenditures. For example, in Canada, domestic sales on average are about 10 times the research and development costs. In the United Kingdom, the pharmaceutical industry invests more of its revenues from domestic sales in research and development than do companies in the United States. Statements by US government officials and industry representatives also imply that the United States is becoming a dominant source of innovation because of its lack of drug price regulation. From a purely theoretical standpoint, these statements are troubling because they imply a country-specific source of innovation. The industry is private, however, not government owned, and operates in a worldwide market. It is also doubtful that pure price considerations would affect where a drug was developed, and more strategic considerations such as the availability of drug-specific research resources and infrastructure in a particular country may be a more important consideration.”
Today, members of the Capitol Police give testimony (Live Coverage: House Panel Holds First Hearing on Jan. 6 Probe, The Hill Staff, 7/27/2021) in the House of Representatives regarding their experience during the insurrection that occurred on January sixth of this year. Their recollections from that day are vivid and horrifying, they even describe the insurrectionists as domestic terrorists (which I think is an honest description). I think any reasonable person would describe the events of January 6, 2021, as nothing short of a rebellion against the United States government. However, there are still people who would describe the rebels as American patriots while describing the police officers as traitors.
How did Americans become this polarized?
The two majority political parties have seen growing polarization over the past two decades with over a third of voters from each of the parties showing stark (Staff Report, Pew Research, 2021) differences in political opinions. The linked article above shows differences in opinions on voting rights, an arguably staple issue. Only 38% of Republican Party voters favor automatic voter registration of American adults compared to 82% of Democratic Party voters; the same percentage of Republican Party voters are in favor of early voting compared to 84% of Democratic Party voters. Support for differing positions is growing more and more stark within each party.
I think this polarization is tied to two different phenomena in 21st century America. First, the balkanized news media ecosystem in which we find ourselves swimming amid the many electronics screens that dominate our households. We have so many choices of news and commentary channels that we are increasingly retreating into our own ideological bubbles and shutting out any opposing view points. It’s imperative that individuals make efforts to search for sources of information outside of their own ideology (assuming self-awareness of one’s own ideology which can also be difficult to achieve).
The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021) is another contributing factor to political polarization. Repealed in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine (Victor Pickard, The Washington Post, 2021) mandated radio and television broadcasters to present opposing views of allegedly controversial issues to the American public operating under the justification that, because there were so few news broadcasters, a mandate was required to maintain a diversity of opinions (correctly assuming that news media has an significant impact on the political opinions of American voters). The conservative argument to this in the era of digital media is that there are so many outlets for news & commentary today that a government mandate on media organizations is no longer necessary. However, this assumption fails to explain how a handful of companies control (Ashley Lutz, Business Insider, 2012) the legacy media (established news sources like CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, etc.). The fact that more Americans are capable of accessing a plethora of news stations today is beside the point of contention regarding who owns most of those news stations. The digital era presents Americans with more opportunities in news but most of the money still resides with legacy media (not to mention the political parties that influence respective news stations with their war chests). In other words, the laissez faire argument falls flat as usual – Americans cannot rely on private organizations to police themselves or forgo opportunities for profit in pursuit of a public interest. There is also the issue surrounding the advent of digital social media. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook have become primary players in so-called alternative news media but they are technically not broadcaster themselves, not subject to traditional regulations over periodic content.
The second phenomenon that has fueled polarization is the growing influence of money in political processes. American elections have been growing more expensive through our history. Since the start of this century, every national congressional and presidential election has topped (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) billions of dollars. A specific Supreme Court case (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Oyez, accessed July 27, 2021) has only exacerbated the issue with election spending growing exponentially since 2010. Concern over large financial interests in elections is nothing new. The first attempt to regulate financial expenditures on elections was the Tillman Act of 1907 (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021). The act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt prohibited corporations from spending money from their own treasuries on specific election campaigns. Obviously, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken the nation in a different direction since then. Today, independent organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a specific political candidate which ensures that people with more money are able to crowd the media air waves with advertisements, effectively shutting out less fortunate voices. I think advocacy for limits on campaign spending by independent organizations could be argued for using the Equal Protection Clause as justification but I’m not a lawyer.
The corrupting influence (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) of capitalism on democratic-republicanism is obvious at this point in our history. Donations of $2,500 or more from individual people (large donations) make up the bulk of expenditures to political candidates, donations $200 or less (small donations) make up barely over 10% of all political expenditures. Health insurance companies, for instance, donate (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) millions of dollars every cycle to political campaigns. This fact could be one factor in why the United States is the only industrialized country on the planet that does not guarantee a universal healthcare policy to its citizens despite a majority (Bradley Jones, Pew Research, 2020) of Americans supporting universal healthcare.
Oligarchic Intrusion, Apathy, Polarization
The high costs of elections coupled with the overwhelming influence of money in politics has led to a majority of Americans abdicating the civic responsibility of voting (Drew Desilver, Pew Research, 2020) under the justification that votes do not matter as much as in past generations, leaving the democratic to the more ideologically charged activists who are less likely to make strategic compromises with their political opponents. The 2016 elections saw 56% of the voting population turning up on Election Day – that percentage was a slight increase from 2012 but lower than the record year of 2008 when 58% of voters cast a ballot. It’s easy to cast blame onto these apathetic citizens, shrugging them off as lazy and irresponsible, but I think the more significant question is why these citizens feel so disconnected from their own government – from their democratic process. Half the nation feels so disconnected from democracy – from the republic – they don’t know where to turn to make their voice heard and, when large groups of people feel disenchanted, disaffected, and desperate, violence is more common.
I remember when the year 2020 was the quintessential year for futuristic landscapes in science-fiction. Now, that year is less than a month away. For myself, it will be the year I turn thirty.
When I was a kid, I thought thirty years of age was “old as fuck” (I still jokingly describe that age as such). In all seriousness, thirty can be as young as twenty for modern humans considering how long we can live today and the fact that medical science will only improve our lifespans in the future (disregarding a potential apocalypse that sets our civilization back by centuries). Statistically speaking (assuming that you take care of yourself), thirty-year-olds today are less than halfway through our total lifespan. We have MORE time today to get started doing what we love to do.
Life is what you make it so, what are you waiting for?