I spy with my little eye…outrage!

Sarah Silverman is in hot water over a video she did to comically highlight the alarmingly high wage gap between men and women in this country. Some transgender activists found it insensitive and took it literally.

 

 

The video is almost four minutes long, but it can be summed up in the following few sentences:

“Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost $500,000. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax! That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands…I’m becoming a dude.”

To nearly everyone (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) who watched, the message was pretty self-explanatory: Hey, I’m a woman and I earn less than a man because of it…so I’ll just be a man instead! It was hilarious and to-the-point: Working women deserve the same pay as their male counterparts.

Trans issues have nothing to do with the video. They just don’t. She’s not literally saying that women who undergo gender reassignment surgery will then go on to get equal pay. But transgender activist Janet Mock – whom I love and find incredibly inspiring – took to her Twitter account to claim Silverman was making that exact point. “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace,” she tweeted. “Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

So much for irony and humor.

Silverman also took to Twitter to clarify what her intentions were in making the video (something she should not have had to do):

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit- people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

The whole “backlash” highlights a little problem on the left (and I’m saying this as a progressive Millennial who cares deeply about LGBT rights): It’s become trendy and even expected to feign outrage for the purpose of being seen as socially aware. Let me be clear: Social justice is vitally important and fighting for the rights of all people is a liberal value that should be nurtured and encouraged. Injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…these ugly things exist and we must continually fight against and expose them where ever they are.

But there are too many progressives and liberals who take it to the next level. I can’t speak for everyone, but when one takes something that is not offensive to begin with (ie: the Silverman video), sprinkles it with accusations of bigotry or ignorance, and then condemns it publicly, it comes across as self-serving and self-righteous. It’s almost a way to say, “Look at how enlightened and socially conscious I am!” It serves no constructive purpose and only works to split hairs and as self-promotion.

Am I saying that Janet Mock is self-righteous? Not at all – she’s an incredible human being who has helped change the national conversation on what it means to be transgender. I love her work and I hope to meet her some day. But within activist and social justice circles, there’s a tendency to find problems and bigotry where none exists. Whether it’s accusing LGBT ally and liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman of being insensitive to trans issues in a comedic PSA or calling someone who critiques a religious doctrine “racist,” the theme is the same: Ego stroking disguised as awareness.

We need to move beyond this. There is too much injustice, bigotry and hate in the world that needs to be addressed and defeated.

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

 

The brown terrorists are coming for you, Barbara

Oh my god! ISIS is in North America! Did you hear that several ISIS militants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border? Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said so and I saw it on Fox News! And Rep. Tom Cotton says ISIS is teaming up with drug cartels! Why hasn’t President Obama done anything?!

By the way, these claims are complete bullshit. Just ask both the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican embassy. The sources these men are citing – far-right blogs and “unnamed” contacts – aren’t worthy of an introductory high-school English course, let alone a member of Congress. But that hasn’t stopped Rep. Hunter from promoting his unsubstantiated claims. In fact, he’s only doubled down on them.

A little context on the U.S.-Mexico border: We’ve militarized the border and are spending a record amount of money to keep it secure from dangerous hordes of women and children looking for better lives. We’ve also made it pretty much impossible for unskilled workers to legally immigrate here. The president has waited on Congress to act on immigration reform for well over a year now. Congress’ response: President Obama is acting like a dictator who doesn’t care about U.S. security. When immigration reform is debated, Congress and conservative super-PACs – pretty much the same thing – always talk about how “we need to secure the border first.” Once it is repeatedly pointed out that the border is more secure than it’s been in years, the discussion shifts to something about how “we should not be rewarding lawbreakers,” and that “they’ll take our jobs.” And the conversation decays into xenophobia.

Insulting tirades against Mexican and Central American immigrants are a staple of the modern Republican Party. When GOP congressmen and senators aren’t busy calling immigrants “wetbacks” and their children “anchor babies,” they’re claiming the border is so insecure that terrorists are invading America. “We have to throw even more billions of dollars at border security! Terrorists are being apprehended!” It’s become the modus operandi to fighting any and all immigration reform AND sticking it to the president.

I wonder why these self-assured men haven’t mentioned the U.S.-Canada border as a potential security risk. The border between our two countries is pretty massive and security isn’t nearly as concentrated as it is in the south. It’s always the lurking danger from Mexico that we’re warned about. “They’re coming for your jobs and way of life…and some are even terrorists!” Why haven’t we heard of any border invasions by dangerous Manitobans and British Colombians with thick Fargo accents? Why isn’t the FBI investigating Justin Bieber and Alanis Morissette?

Oh, yeah, Canada is rich and white.

ISIS hasn’t come to the United States and all credible intelligence sources say they haven’t and most likely won’t any time soon. Rep. Hunter’s claims are, as the DHS put it, “categorically false.” This kind of grandstanding is nothing but irresponsible and reckless. Duncan Hunter and his extremist colleagues should be ashamed of themselves. But in 2014, this idiotic behavior doesn’t get you censured or voted out of office. It only frays more nerves of a gullible public, poisons national dialogue, and excites the right-wing blogosphere. The Islamic State and so-called “illegals” are not coming for you. Stupid governance is.

still from the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead”

No, Sam Harris is not Islamophobic

Cue the liberal freak-out over the title of this post.

Frequently antagonistic comedian Bill Maher made news last week when he and Ben Affleck got into a Fox News style shouting match over Islam. Maher was joined by fellow atheist and famous neuroscientist Sam Harris. Both of them made the argument that while most Muslims are peaceful and moderate, the main problem with Islamic jihad is Islam itself.

Ben Affleck’s first response to the completely valid point was predictable: That’s racist!

“[It’s] the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book,” Maher said. “There’s a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali needs bodyguards 24/7.”

Harris’ response was more eloquent and – I’d argue – relevant…

“[Muslim cultures] often keep women and homosexuals immiserated…we have to empower the true reformers in the Muslim world to change it,” he told Affleck. “And lying about doctrine and this behavior is not going to do that.”

He’s absolutely right.

Islamophobia exists. I’m not debating that. Far-right leaders and talking heads proposing the abolition of First Amendment freedoms for Muslims is probably the best example. It is ludicrous to think that most Muslims are fanatical jihadists, too. The Muslim faith has a-billion-and-a-half adherents worldwide. Incredible and brilliant people are among its followers. Islam – like the world’s other large religions – is also full of different theological interpretations of the Qur’an. Liberal and moderate Muslims exist, despite most press coverage.

But the Qur’an, like the Christian Bible, is also an incredibly violent book with troubling morality. Calling for the death of blasphemers or stoning women and homosexuals can be found in both. Genocide, sexism, homophobia, racism….these are all central themes of the Old Testament and the Qur’an. Pointing this out is not Islamophobic or anti-Christian – it’s a fact. It also has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that most Muslims have darker skin than Europeans and Americans.

Even though I’m not religious, I have immense respect for religious leaders who recognize Bronze Age religious texts for what they are – too-frequently barbaric. Just like Harris, I believe that these brave men and women should continue to be empowered to fight fanaticism and savagery within their cultures. Progressive Muslim Akmal Ahmed Safwat of the Democratic Muslims of Denmark says it best for religious reformers: “The Qur’an’s divine instructions were interpreted and explained by fallible and mortal men who were the product of their time and culture.”

If secular liberals and progressives are to continue to fight the spread of fundamentalist Christianity (as we should definitely continue to do), we have to be intellectually honest and continue to denounce radical and fundamentalist Islam as well. That’s not racist, bigoted, or neoconservative. It’s vital to maintaining a pluralistic society.

Sam Harris

 

Congress Plays with Political Fire…Again

It’s hard out there for a wimp. The 113th U.S. Congress doesn’t waste time proving how inept and ineffective it is and no enemy, foreign or domestic, has changed that.

As President Obama has used executive authority to strike at the heart of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, both House Democrats and Republicans have raised serious and valid concerns over executive power to essentially declare war without declarations from Congress. The founders of the constitution spin in their graves over things like these – they were pretty specific over war declarations. But whether you agree or disagree with the current course of action toward ISIS (personally, I’ve found myself leaning toward the “wipe the bastards out” side), the real issue is – as usual – Congress’ sadly hilarious incompetence.

For a while now, the looming question of U.S. involvement has hung over Mideastern dialogue. Iraq asked us for help in fighting back the spread of ISIS within its own borders. Muslim clerics all over the world – even Saudi freaking Arabia – have harshly denounced ISIS. The world recoiled in collective horror when the Islamic State slaughtered Kurish Yazidis and Iraqi Christians and beheaded journalists on camera.

President Obama joined other leaders in condemning ISIS for what it is: barbaric and bloodthirsty. He was clear about U.S. involvement, too – he wouldn’t act unilaterally until U.S. interests were directly threatened, a cautious approach that is rather refreshing after the Bush Administration. At that moment, House and Senate Democrats got a significant portion of their colleagues to come out in support of congressional debate on the course of action they would authorize the President to take.

And then they convened for recess…for two months.

With the threat of a third Iraq war and more military involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, Congress chose now to go on vacation. I wonder why the public rates them lower than kitchen mold in approval?

With Congress literally out of the picture, President Obama has authorized missile strikes against ISIS. House Republicans’ response: We never got a bill on military action from the White House. Seriously. I’m no expert, but I think it’s the purview of Congress to write bills. Apparently Republicans never watched that one Schoolhouse Rock! video about “the bill on Capitol Hill.”

Congress has become really good at tying the president’s hands. From holding up appointments to passing the least amount of bills in U.S. history, Republican leadership has made it its sole mission to give President Obama headache after headache. They create government crises and then blame the president for government crises. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen pointed out, “congressional Republicans have been almost hysterical about presidential overreach, condemning the White House for alleged abuses that leave Congress out of the policymaking process.” He continues, “In nearly every instance, their evidence has fallen somewhere between baseless and ridiculous.”

It all comes down to politics. Congresspersons and Senators are terrified of being the ones who vote for or against wars (hello, Iraq War 2.0). If you vote for war, it can make you look tough and it pleases neoconservatives and interventionists…but it can also tag your name to a possible boondoggle. If you vote against war, it can make you look like a bleeding heart and please pacifists and isolationists…but it can also make you look weak.

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) captured the GOP zeitgeist by openly admitting to the New York Times, “We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took [Obama] so long.” In case any of you have forgotten, there’s a midterm election coming up in November.

Don’t Cry for Me, California. The Truth is I Never Left You

This has been the shortest four months in my life. If it weren’t for the gross DC humidity, I’d think that I arrived yesterday in the dead of a brutal winter. And now, in just matter of weeks, I’ll be going back to California to pursue a career in public service…and I cannot wait.

Don’t get me wrong – my time in the political heart of the country has been great. I’ve seen the monuments, museums, galleries and founding documents of the United States in person. It’s something every American needs to do in their lifetime. The feeling I had after seeing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in person, through a specialized, secure case with its own atmosphere, is difficult to describe. It’s similar to the feeling I had when I saw the Apollo 11 Command Module and the full-scale replica of the Voyager probe, mankind’s first ambassador to interstellar space, at the Air and Space Museum. It was definitely there when I saw the remains of many of humanity’s distant ancestors and genetic cousins at the National Museum of Natural History. The feeling was there when I sat on the grounds of both the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial to read e-books. And it was there when I took walks throughout the city, passing the house where Lincoln died, strolling through the MLK Jr. and FDR memorials, casually walking past the White House, and walking the streets some of the greatest men and women in human history have walked. It was spiritual, but not in a superstitious way. I felt connected to my history as an American and a human being on this precious planet. My story is my own, for sure. But it’s also a part of the larger narrative of what it means to be human.

via my Instagram (micah_escobedo)

via my Instagram (micah_escobedo)

I could go on, but for your reading pleasure and convenience, I’ll continue… 😉

My editorial internship with The American Prospect has been an amazing experience. My writing and research skills have improved and now I can say that I know how to fact-check (not as easy as people think) and, to a certain degree, copy-edit. The feeling one gets from seeing stories they helped fact-check appear in print and receive national attention is one of prideful satisfaction. Knowing that I had a hand in getting very important, incredible stories out to The Prospect’s readers (and even a number of policy makers) has been extremely gratifying and fulfilling. However, like all internships should be able to do, this job has helped me better realize what I want to do for a career. Spoiler: It’s not journalism. And it’s in the Golden State.

The Spring 2014 interns with few of the editors (via Gabriel Arana's Instagram - gabrielarana)

The Spring 2014 interns with few of the editors (via Gabriel Arana’s Instagram – gabrielarana)

Years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long) I was a congressional intern. I loved the experience, even though the responsibilities were limited compared to the rest of the staff. I was working for a lawmaker, a representative of my home district – what a great job! But that was during my first year of college. By the time I graduated, with a BA in Communication from Fresno State, I knew I wanted to have some kind of job in the communication field. I wasn’t sure of the exact job I wanted, so I applied to be an intern with a great magazine that you should all subscribe to…and got one of the spots!  Half way through the internship, I started applying to other internships, fellowships and jobs in Washington. As time went on and that irritating sense of urgency intensified, I began to reconsider my plans. Did I want to be a journalist, constantly writing for relatively low wages? Was I going to write for a think-tank or a watch-dog organization? Was I going to end up living on the East Coast, away from my beloved home state?

I remembered how I felt as a congressional intern and once again started to gravitate back toward public service (this time with a clearer sense of what my political philosophy is). Plus, I really, really missed my home state. I can’t help that I’m drawn to California. It’s my home – it always has been and, as far as I can tell, always will be. Most of my friends and family are there, not to mention countless amazing memories. The climate, though negatively effected by climate change, is great. Cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento have special places in my Californian heart. Since 2011, the state’s been on a political and economic uptick (thank you, Governor Brown and current legislature) and we’ve led the nation in renewable energy generation.  I cannot wait to lend my talents and abilities to the state that has provided me with so much.

Thanks to valuable help from some great people here in DC, I’m on track to getting into California politics. I don’t want to run for office (at least not at this point in my life). I want to be a part of the team that keeps an elected official operating like clockwork, whether it’s a state legislator or congressperson. Even the thought of me returning to California to work for a politician makes me incredibly happy. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and two communication-oriented internships under my belt. I’m ready and eager to go. You can take the boy out of the Golden State but you can’t take the Golden State (of mind) out of the boy.

California flag

No, Kate Mulgrew does *not* endorse geocentrism

There’s been quite a stir on the Interwebs over the last 24 hours over actress-extraordinaire Kate Mulgrew’s alleged participation in a ridiculous documentary called The Principle. The premise: Galileo was wrong and the Earth really is the center of the solar system and universe. Take that, science and reason!

Wait, what?!! Kate Mulgrew?!

The second I read this, I knew something was wrong with this picture. To start with, Mulgrew never actually said anything about geocentrism in the trailer. Hell, she’s only in the trailer – there’s no indication she would even be in the film. Her signature, velvety voice simply piques the viewer’s interest with “Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.” (a statement which is a little true, given there’s practically a new breakthrough in the scientific understanding of the cosmos every other day). She is also a hero to the scientific community and Trekkies (myself proudly included) for her excellent portrayal of Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. Plus, leading experts on everything-to-do-with-cosmology Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku also appeared in the trailer. They also never said anything about endorsing geocentrism. And if their lives’ works are any indication, they would rather die than endorse geocentrism.

Yesterday I told a friend that Mulgrew had most likely been hired to narrate the trailer without knowing what the film was about. An actress getting paid to simply say, “Everything we think we know about the universe is wrong,” does not prove anything. Kaku and Krauss, I argued, were somehow tricked into appearing in the movie, which is much easier to do nowadays thanks to the proliferation of the Internet.

I’m happy to say I “called it.” Krauss wrote an awesome post on Slate slamming the movie today, saying he literally has no idea how he ended up in the documentary. I expect Kaku’s comment soon. Kate Mulgrew posted the following message to her Facebook page this afternoon (4/8/2014):

“I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything [producer] Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused. Kate Mulgrew”

I can rest assured that Captain Janeway has not – and never will- failed us. Now I think I’ll go watch a marathon of Voyager and drink some coffee – black.

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

I can’t get enough of this amazing Madonna video mix…

As many of you already know, I love Madonna. She’s my favorite artist. Her impressive, pioneering, record-breaking, kick-ass career has not only inspired countless male and female artists, activists, and designers, it’s also continuously evolved and changed with the times. Since her entrance onto the pop culture scene – as a pop-disco queen with fishnet gloves and crucifix necklaces and earrings – she’s made one thing very clear: It’s her career and she is dictating the terms. “Don’t go for second best, baby…”

A friend of mine recently posted a video mix onto his Facebook of Madonna’s many hits and videos. I clicked the “play” icon and the rest is history – I absolutely adore it. I didn’t think it was possible to capture the in-charge, always-creative spirit of the Queen of Pop’s career. I was wrong and I’m glad I was.

Mixed and compiled by YouTube user “Jack Roeby Mixes,” the video is over 20 minutes long, a fact one easily forgets. Aside from music video clips, there are also sound bites and clips from the many television interviews she’s given and some of the films she’s starred in over the years. Watch and be amazed. If you aren’t at least impressed…..well, then that’s your problem 😉

 

 

photo credit: Mert and Marcus 2010

It’s the Turnout, Stupid!

Conventional Beltway wisdom says Democrats will get walloped in November. Reading the pages of The Hill and Politico, one would think the elephant in the Capitol has already trampled its donkey counterpart. Even MSNBC’s screeching Chris Matthews has called the Senate for the GOP.

But Why?

Based on previous midterm elections during a president’s second term (where his party usually loses seats in both houses of Congress), the prediction is that Republicans will gain a larger majority of the House and possibly take the Senate, even if by a bare majority. There are rare exceptions to this rule: 1998, when the GOP lost ground in Congress after flirting with (and later getting) the impeachment of President Clinton; and 2006, when Democrats took the House after American dissatisfaction with the Iraq War reached new highs. Other than that, the president’s party takes a “shellacking,” as President Obama (in)famously said in 2010.

But the future is unwritten. It sounds cliché, but when it comes to historical precedent, we should simply acknowledge that that was then and this is now.

The world has drastically changed. That’s an understatement. For one, the unstoppable proliferation of the Internet across the planet has led to previously unfathomable connections. Breaking news, scandals, leaders’ faux pas, grassroots campaigns, Instagram pictures of cats in tuxedos – these have all reshaped how we see ourselves and our world. The fact that the two surprise elections of ’98 and ’06 happened within the last 16 years should only strengthen that point. The stats and recent history back the Democrats up.

More of us are connected to a global information network and for better or worse, we’re more aware of what’s going on in the world than we have ever been before. DC bigwigs and VIPs seem to ignore this important little fact. Young adults are at the forefront of this massive change. The elections of 2008 and 2012 brought out record numbers of us, mainly because nearly all of us have a social media account of some sort. When Mitt Romney made offensive comments about the 47 percent or when Rick Perry made a Moral Majority-esque video decrying the inclusion of gays in the military, young people noticed and turned out in droves to vote for President Obama…by 67 percent. As Gallup recently found, a large majority of us identify with the Democratic Party, even more so than previous generations did when they were our age. The challenge this November is making sure we turn out in high numbers, something we usually don’t do.

The youth vote isn’t the only necessary ingredient for a Democratic win. It’s no secret that the country is becoming more diverse. Seventeen percent of the nation is Hispanic (myself included) and nearly 65 percent of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Democrats. In my home state of California, often seen as an “omen” of things to come for the rest of America, Hispanics make up nearly 40 percent of the Golden State’s 40 million residents. In both houses of the California legislature, Democrats have a supermajority and they have the governorship.

The Party of FDR also has the upper hand when it comes to registered voters in general. Forty-seven percent of registered voters identify as or with the Democratic Party (compared to 42 percent who are registered/lean Republican). In 2012, more votes were cast for congressional Democrats than Republicans. But thanks to gerrymandered districts, the GOP still held control of the House…but they did lose a chunk of their majority.

Since midterm voter turnout is typically older, whiter, wealthier and more conservative, the diversity of the country and Democratic Party don’t amount to much. In 2010, when Tea Party Republicans swept the House and several state legislatures and governorships, the number of registered voters who did not vote was substantially higher than the number who did. That year, four out of five voters were white. Seniors made up 21 percent of the electorate in the “Tea Party Tidal Wave” of 2010 and supported the GOP by nearly 60 percent.

The crop of newbies that went to Congress in 2010 pulled the GOP further to the right. From one manufactured crisis to the next, Tea Party extremism and incompetence have resulted in sluggish economic growth, a downgrade of the national credit rating, a government shutdown that siphoned billions of dollars out of the economy, unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on reproductive rights, and millions of low-income Americans left without health care insurance at the insistence of Republican governors. But hey, at least Ted Cruz got his fifteen minutes of fame, right?!

The ineptitude of the modern Republican Party has left quite the sour taste in the public’s mouth. Most Americans disapprove of the Republican Party. Though the GOP has largely recovered from the image-battering it got over the shutdown last year, it is still a very unpopular party, particularly in the eyes of young and minority voters. Congressional approval continues to hover at historic lows (it was higher when Democrats were in control of both chambers) and Tea Party quacks in the House and Senate continue to make excellent segments on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

To be fair, President Obama’s favorability has suffered, too, thanks in large part to the disastrous rollout of the federal exchange website. But now that the website has (mostly) been fixed and nearly 10 million people have health insurance under the ACA (7 million enrolled in private plans), the president’s approval rating has stabilized and approval of the ACA itself is creeping upward. As more people discover the security of not playing Russian roulette with their health care by actually getting coverage, I’m pretty confident that both the ACA’s and the president’s popularity will continue to rise.

But, for a thought experiment, let’s say the President’s popularity declined to the low 30s and the ACA’s approval dipped as well, with even more people misunderstanding/not even knowing its basic provisions. Even in that scenario, it would still be possible for Democrats to retake the House. If enough voters turned out, it could be done.

That’s the usual problem – turnout. It is crucial that the young and diverse turn out in mass this November. Historical precedence may be against Democrats, but the possibility and diversity of the future is definitely “for” it. It seems like a Herculean task, but if Democrats can keep the focus on the benefits of the ACA, what it’s resulted in (hint: no commie takeovers or putting grandma to sleep), and continue to point out how extreme and out of touch the Tea Party-run GOP is, they should be able to drive a substantial amount of us out to cast our ballots on Tuesday, November 4th.

Twenty Thirteen

Let this sink in: We’re nearly 14 years into the 21st century. 2004 will soon be TEN years in the past. Hell, 2024 is *only* ten years away. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Twenty-thirteen flew by. It seems like yesterday House Republicans were throwing a bitch-fit about the Affordable Care Act and shutting down the government. It’s hard to believe that Congress’ most unproductive year – complete with sequestration and record-breaking obstructionism – is about to end. And how could anyone forget Miley’s twerking and her gang of merry, drugged-out teddy bears (no, really, how can we forget? I’m willing to pay)?

This year was a roller coaster and all of us were forced to ride it. However, it wasn’t all stupid political games and tawdry pop culture moments. This year also saw the continued, exponential rise of clean energy and transportation across the globe, a sign that governments and their citizens are beginning to take the threat of climate change seriously. Pope Francis, leader of the almost-always-conservative Roman Catholic Church, spoke out against runaway capitalism and inequality in the world, inspiring billions of Catholics and n0n-Catholics alike (myself included) and enraging perpetually-enraged wingnuts like Rush Limbaugh.

Gay rights surged…and by “surged” I mean “there’s no stopping it now.” The number of countries where same-sex couples are treated as equal citizens increased to 15. I expect that number to increase to at least 18 by this time next year; Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States have what can be thought of as checker-board equality – legal in some jurisdictions but not in others. After seeing how fast equality and acceptance of sexual diversity have increased in the Western world, it is inevitable that they will become non-issues. In the U.S., the number of states with marriage equality doubled, from nine in January to 18 as of December 31st.

The discriminatory and culturally irrelevant Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) essentially died in June after the Supreme Court struck down its key provision – that the federal government could not and would not recognize same-sex marriages as legally equal to heterosexual marriages. Proposition 8, originally struck down in 2010 and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, was finally pulled off life support and allowed to die. Equality and justice for all are alive and well in its place.

My personal life also saw some incredible changes. Not only did I graduate with a B.A. in Communication from California State University, Fresno, but I also got an internship in Washington, D.C. with The American Prospect. In one week, I will move across the country and begin the next chapter of my life, initially as an editorial intern for an excellent publication. I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming, that I am really about to take a big step toward my dream life.

I met some pretty incredible people (you know who you are) and strengthened relationships with others (you also know who you are). One of my main motivations in life is to create and cultivate intimacy. It drives me, both to sanity and insanity. Aside from my wellbeing and career aspirations, I live for the incredible people in my life and the one-of-a-kind connections we have. As funny as it may sound coming from a 24-year-old, the older I get, the more I realize how vitally important these relationships are and how petty and stupid all the “drama” is. When I’m old and grey (and still looking fabulous), I want to look back and have little regret. I want to be able cry tears of happiness and joy after thinking about the good life I led.

In all seriousness, I expect to live to see and experience January 1, 2100. As a sci-fi-loving geek and someone living in an age of incredible medical/genetic breakthroughs, living to be 111 and even beyond really isn’t that far-fetched. However, even such a long human life doesn’t register on the timeline of the universe (more of a mindf*** – there may be multiple universes).

As a member of an advanced primate species, living on a planet that orbits the habitable zone of an average star in an average galaxy, my existence is pretty insignificant. However, I have the privilege of being self-aware and social. I’m just “star stuff,” as Carl Sagan famously said. The elements that make up my body were made in the hearts of ancient stars. This star stuff is able to reflect and ponder his own existence and place in the universe. That is absolutely incredible. I fully recognize that the meaning I draw from my minor existence comes, in large part, from the deep-rooted, interpersonal connections I have been fortunate enough to forge.

I’ve got one chance – ONE chance – to shine bright and enjoy my time in the sun. Life is full of meaning and I love interacting with it on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter what I achieve or how successful I become – I can’t make it without other people. So, bring on 2014. I’m ready to keep loving and caring, living (to the best of my ability) and experiencing every part of this life that I can.

“Live! That’s the message. Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

– Rosalind Russell as “Mame Dennis” in the 1958 film Auntie Mame

Micah's Two Cents

Time to Move On

The Garden State has become the latest state to legalize marriage equality, bringing the total number of U.S. states where equality is the law of the land up to 14, plus Washington D.C. While it is not surprising that the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples – given the recent court and legislative victories for equality – it is quite surprising that Governor Chris Christie has decided to drop his appeal of the court’s decision.

Had he gone through with his appeal, same-sex couples would still have been allowed to wed up until early next year, at which point they would possibly have their rights revoked. But, as one of Gov. Christie’s aids told the New York Times, the appeal was a “fool’s errand,” especially since the court’s decision was unanimous and included a justice he considered an ally. Even though he disagreed with the ruling, the governor realized that the tide of history and public opinion was against him. Continuing his irrelevant fight was pointless.

Kudos to the Christie Administration!

Nationally, conservatives could learn an important lesson from Christie’s decision to drop his appeal. Once a legal issue has been resolved either through a court decision or legislative action (or both), that’s the end of the story. It’s done. When one factors public opinion into the equation, it becomes even clearer; you may not like the outcome but it’s here to stay. Time to move on.

We recently went through an unnecessary, sixteen-day government shutdown and near-default on the nation’s credit because House Republicans refused to accept the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) was law. The signature achievement of the president’s first term passed both houses of Congress in 2010 and was upheld by the Supreme Court last year, not to mention the fact that the president won a second term with both the popular vote and a large majority of the electoral college. Despite the technical glitches on the federal website (as a result of high traffic), “Obamacare” is not only working but it’s becoming popular.

Apparently, all of that didn’t matter. The GOP, hijacked by the fringe Tea Party, ignored the constitution and democracy itself by bringing the country to its knees because they didn’t like that the ACA was law. They repeatedly refused to meet with Democrats to iron out a budget deal (until the polls started to sour against them) and voted over 40 times to overturn the ACA. Speaker Boehner’s caucus waged a one-house war on the nation and paid the price with a shattered public image and probably the 2014 midterm election.

Christie’s acceptance of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision should remind the far-right that it is pointless to drag out an issue that has already been resolved. Instead of acting like spoiled children – throwing national tantrums, putting hundreds of thousands of federal workers on furlough, dragging down the economy and international markets, trashing the nation’s international credibility – the GOP should take the advice it gave itself after the 2012 election and re-think its strategy. My advice – relegate the extremists back to the fringe and far away from party control. Grow up.

marriage equality - the law of the land in New Jersey