Claire McCaskill's Incredible Slam of Republican Proposals to Divert Public Money to Private Schools

As a political junkie, it's not every day I hear a new argument that I haven't heard before. Leave it to none other than Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to bring a new angle to the debate regarding public money being used for private schools. 

I've long admired Claire for her political smarts. She's a blue senator who somehow manages to win in a red state. I've voted for her many times even when I've gone red with other candidates. 

It should surprise no one that has watched her over the years that if anyone can take an issue that is a favorite among Republicans and re-frame it as a slap in the face to the rural voters that elected them, it's Claire McCaskill. 

Speaking incredulously about the nomination of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Republican desires to divert public school dollars to private schools (in the name of school choice), McCaskill couldn't help but point out, "In rural areas of this country, there are not private schools for parents and kids to choose. They would have to drive miles."

She went on to say, "If the essence of this woman's career is to take money out of public schools in rural communities and put them in private schools that will never exist in many of these small communities, they are kicking in the shins the very voters that put them in power."

You can watch the exchange below.

Well played, Senator. Well played. 

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So Many Stories On The Obamacare Debate Are Sensationalist; Here's A Boring Real One To Help Focus The Debate

With Donald Trump in the White House and the looming threat of Republicans repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare), I thought I would share some personal perspective on the insurance debate. This isn't a sensationalist piece. My story is completely boring, but I think that perhaps that's what makes it precisely worth sharing. 

The purpose of this is not to sway someone to the Democratic viewpoint, or the Republican viewpoint, but simply to refocus the conversation away from a partisan win for one side to a practical conversation to what's best for people. 

I totally understand where people who want very little regulation or government-funded health care are coming from. They look at it from a personal responsibility angle. Personal responsibility is a story line that conservatives love to promote and it's a story line that they often like to view themselves through. (I am where I am today because I made the right decisions.) There's truth to that viewpoint. I believe that many people are where they are because of the decisions that they've made. I believe you end up where you end up in life more because of the decisions that you make than because of not. What I don't believe is that narrative is the end-all, be-all.

I had never been one to worry too much about insurance. As a healthy male in my thirties, I carried a personal health insurance policy (one wasn't offered through the small business in which I worked), but one with an extremely high deductible ($5,000). That policy, the one with absolutely zero co-pay aside from an annual check-up (not a sick visit), cost me around $150 per month. 

I started re-thinking my deductible when a very close friend of mine, playing soccer with a group of Brazilians he admittedly had no business of playing with, blew out his knee. Dumb move. That required a trip to the ER, multiple doctors visits, a surgery with an overnight stay, and rehab. Nice little medical tab simply from an afternoon of soccer. I started thinking about questionable decisions I make every day. Running. Running on trails. Biking on trails. Running and biking on trails I had no business being on. I realized that I, too, was a mortal. I realized I was one stupid move from being out five thousand bucks.

But what if it wasn't just $5,000? What if I was sick and needed treatment that lasted a couple of years? What if I simply timed an injury incorrectly and had the treatments span the end of one year and start in the next? $5,000 turns into $10,000 pretty quickly.

So I switched to a different plan on my wife's insurance. I started paying $80 more dollars a month for something that would actually cover me in the event of an unfortunate illness or idiotic mistake. 

I did it because I could afford it. Because even though I notice $80 per month, the money is there to make that decision.

What if the money wasn't there for any of it? What if I was one of those who didn't make enough to afford any insurance but too much to get government coverage? The potential costs seem to know no ends.

This story doesn't stop with my friend or my own realized mortality. It's amazing how life happens to everyone, even when it's never happened before. 

Within a year's time, my youngest son got to be the fine recipient of two corrective eye surgeries, and my wife needed a surgery. Thanks to insurance, we were out a couple grand. Without it we would probably have been out forty to fifty. These weren't crazy surgeries. These were of the routine variety of things that come up in life. 

This is where the next thing you know, for a lot of people, they're in debt. A lot of debt. Debt not for some extreme example created by Democrats for the sake of a presidential campaign where the calamities are endless. We're talking about lots of debt for things that just happen in life.

Again, this isn't a piece to try to say, "We need to keep Obamacare." I'll let Democrats make the case for that and debate those of you from the other side with your list of, "Yeah, but..." arguments. 

My point here, again, is to frame this conversation in real terms for real people. 

  • What if my friend didn't have health insurance?
  • What if my wife didn't have good health insurance for our family?
  • What about people who simply can't afford good health insurance?
  • What about people who need long-term treatments for illnesses?
  • What about people who need expensive medications?
  • What about people who can't get or afford insurance because of preexisting medical conditions?

I personally know people who have medical bills in the millions of dollars. They will never repay this money. 

I started this piece with a little talk about personal responsibility. Again, I get the argument. People want to think that they are where they are simply because they pulled up their bootstraps and made the hard decisions. They don't want to think luck has anything to do with it. 

But it does, at least a little bit, doesn't it? Things beyond our control come up, especially when it comes to illnesses and medical care. We have a situation in our country where we are one of the richest nations on Earth, yet many people either can't afford quality care, or they can't afford to get ahead in life simply because they were dealt a bad medical hand.

When we talk about the healthcare debate, instead of worrying who gets a partisan win, I hope that our politicians remember what we're trying to fix.

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On Milo, Maybe You Should Just Ignore Him

Back when I was maybe 25-ish and was the program director at a conservative talk radio station, I was contacted by an interfaith group of community religious activists who wanted to meet with me about one of the nationally-syndicated programs we carried on our station. Their request was that we take it off of the air. Anti-Islam; bad for America.

I took the meeting. They were nice people, but persistent in their belief that he practiced hate speech. I towed the expected line about our station allowing controversial speech on the airwaves, belief in free speech, and letting the market decide. Blah, blah, blah.

The truth is, I was kind of pissed that they decided to push the issue when they did. I wasn't a fan of the show, and was about to start pressing my case that the guy was too nuts for our station. Their efforts to force it off the air were a detriment to that.

You see, this was one of those shows that had not really a huge following, but a rabidly loyal following. Now, if the station decided on its own to take it off the air, it's end of story, right? Maybe people would call and complain or threaten to never listen again or whatever, but there is no story there beyond that if you just let the station do it. 

Activist pressure is another story. If these activists decide to protest it, now what? If the station takes it off the air, after public protest, then the conservative radio station caved to public pressure from a liberal group. Listeners revolt. Now the show is elevated. The show this group found disgusting, but not many people really listened to, is now a show that everyone is talking about. He either goes back on my station more popular than ever, or he lands on a competitor more popular than ever.

Believe it or not, I was a bit more cocky then than I am now. The meeting had the veiled threat of an advertiser boycott, and I just told them flat out why that wouldn't work for reasons noted above. They left respectfully, but not happy, but I'll be damned if they didn't listen to me and didn't make a public stink about the show. 

Life goes on. Other things came up. I left the radio station and that show has outlasted me in the eleven years since I walked away. The guy is still a nut, and you would know the name if I gave it to you, but chances are most likely that no matter what your political persuasion, you don't listen to him.

I can understand if someone reads this and says, "You should have done the right thing and pulled that show if you thought it was too much." I don't disagree with you. But politics and nuances are a tricky thing, even at the lowest-of-the-low political levels of local talk radio programming.

I tell you this whole story to relate it to another controversial figure in American politics today: Milo Yiannopoulos. In his day job, he's a senior editor with the right-wing Breitbart News. He's also popular on the college speaking circuit. 

Chances are you've heard of him not because of his job at Breitbart, nor even the speeches that he gives, but simply because of the controversy that surrounds him. The campus protests you watched on the news in Berkeley were organized to pressure the university into cancelling his appearance because many believe he engages against hate speech. 

If a cancelled speech is the ultimate goal, then I suppose the protesters achieved what they set out to do. Indeed, the violence from those protests caused his event to be cancelled.

But how many people know about Milo Yiannopoulos today who didn't know about him a week ago? How many people asked themselves, "I wonder what he has to say?" How many more people will spew his talking points when engaging in debate with liberals? How many people will be pushed over to "his side" because "the other side" engaged in violent protests?

I have no data to back it up, but I'll bet those numbers will be higher than the few hundred who would have attended his speech. 

There's a lot of vile speech out there. I won't defend the content of it, but I really do believe the 1st Amendment is the most vital American right we have. 

The best way to counter a bad idea is not by suppressing it, but by promoting a better idea of your own. Elevating the creator of the bad idea to prominence only gets it out there more.

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Sorry Guys, I Just Can't Do The Super Bowl This Year

For the first time in my adult life, I'm not watching the Super Bowl. I can't remember the last time I didn't watch it. Maybe one year when I was a kid? If I ever did miss a game, maybe I was a high-schooler out delivering pizzas or something, but as far as my memory can serve me, I've never missed a one. 

Not this year. I have no desire to watch it and so I won't.

I used to be an avid NFL fan, but I've stayed away in recent years. I don't believe I watched a single game last year until the last one. How could I miss Peyton Manning giving it one last shot? But as Peyton got one final Super Bowl win and I wrapped up the game feeling satisfied, I had a feeling that Peyton's expected retirement would be mine, too.

I could act like this is some sort of a protest piece. I could tell you that I've been disgusted by the domestic abuse scandal (I have been), or outraged by allegations of covering up known concussion issues (I have been), but at the end of the day, I've just lost interest in the whole spectacle. 

"You could always watch it for the ads," one might say, which I don't disagree with. Ah, but I work in the ad industry. The last thing I want to do is watch another ad.

Sunday is my day off.

The entertainment value alone could be a draw, I suppose, but how? Cheap, safe, corporate entertainment? "Now, let's honor America with a salute to our troops." Everyone cheers and acts like we're a united America.


Not the part about honoring the military, of course. But when you say something nobody disagrees with, are you really saying anything at all? Where's the art in that? We've just witnessed the hijacking of America by a rogue president who seems hell bent on blowing up the world, and we're going to play it safe? 

There I go making things political again.

Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I'm pissed about the election. Maybe I'm pissed about the NFL in general. Maybe I need a vacation. Maybe I just want to break away from the monotony of it being Super Bowl Sunday and feeling obligated to watch the Super Bowl. 

I have no idea. Somebody else somewhere can give it a better diagnosis than I can. Frankly, figuring it out is somebody else's job. I have absolutely nothing to bring to the table on what the NFL can or should or might do to bring me back into the fold.

I simply write this with the feeling that I'm not the only one walking away this year.

There's a whole new world in existence for me this Sunday. When it comes to the Super Bowl, I've decided to just walk away.

I'm an independent, kinda-libertarian, progressive guy that writes about politics, business & life (but a whole lot about politics). If you enjoyed this piece, I hope you’ll follow my page below.

On Walls and Immigration Bans, Intent Matters

As someone who has written against Trump's order to ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from a select group of countries, I've been asked directly what makes his ban different from Obama's ban when he stopped processing Iraqi refugees in 2011.

(I should clarify that I didn't so much as write against the ban, but rather pointed out that the Bible commands us to love our neighbor, which seemed to rankle some Christians in favor of it).

While USA Today outlines the differences between the two policies, including the fact that Obama's was directed at one specific country over a specific threat, I still think the broader question stands:

Why is it okay for Obama, in the face of a perceived threat, to decide he needs to slow down an immigration program, but not okay for Trump to do the same thing? The same question might apply to illegal immigration, where Obama had some illegal immigrants deported.

These are fair questions, and I'm going to give you the best answer I can. All I ask is if you're a Trump supporter, you give strong consideration to what I'm about to say.

Here's my answer: intent matters, and the things you do and say and the tone you set matter when it comes to discerning intent. 

Donald Trump the candidate gave every indication on the campaign trail that he's an individual who would use fear and bigotry to rile up the base. 

Of Mexican immigrants, he said that Mexico isn't sending it's best, but, "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

On Muslims, Trump the candidate said, "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

When the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed fighting for America gave a speech against Trump at the Democratic convention, Trump wondered allowed if the soldier's mother didn't speak because, "She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me."

Many of Trump's defenders have noted that Trump's Muslim ban isn't a Muslim ban, but is simply a ban on immigration from countries deemed dangerous. Other immigrants from other Muslim countries are allowed in.

Again, intent matters. Even Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani admits that a Muslim ban is exactly what Trump was originally going after. According to an interview Giuliani gave with Fox News, "When he first announced it, he said 'Muslim ban.'" Giuliani went on to say Trump asked him how to do it legally.

So, there you have it. That's the difference. For many of us, we don't demand a completely open border with Mexico, nor do we demand that everyone who applies to come into this country be granted access. We just want our immigration policy to be conducted without fear-mongering and with a sense of humanity. This isn't some sort of left-wing notion, as evidenced by the below video from 1980 during a Republican debate between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Ask yourself: are Trump's recent actions the actions of someone who soberly, looking at the evidence, decided these were the things needed to keep our country safe? Or, are these the actions of someone who decided a long time ago that he was going to go after Mexicans and Muslims when he got into office?

We have the past statements of Trump the candidate to give us an indication of what Trump the president is thinking. For many people, the answer is painfully clear.

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Stepping Out of the Age of Fear

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin Roosevelt

I wrote those words from memory, because it's a quote that any entry-level hack of a writer can quote from memory, thinking that they were some sort of wartime rallying cry. 

Turns out I was wrong. They were actually spoken during Roosevelt's first inaugural address in 1933. It would be six years and some change before the Nazis invaded Poland. We all know what happened next. War broke out across the world, and millions of soldiers and civilians were killed, including 6 million Jews exterminated for nothing more than their ethnicity. It ended with a maniac's suicide in Berlin and the first and only (as of this writing) nukes dropped on an enemy in Japan.

So, clearly not everyone was listening to Mr. Roosevelt.

I often hesitate when I see the comparisons of our current political climate to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, but I would be a liar if I told you I don't think about it often. The Nazis didn't come to power from so much of a hostile takeover, but from people ceding power to them out of fear. 

Fear of immigrants. Fear of political opponents. Fear of a challenging economy. Fear of those who challenge their worldview. It all seems like the United States of America, circa 2017.

If this seems like an anti-Trump piece, I suppose it is. Anyone who's read what I've written recently (likeherehere, and perhaps my shortest and most favorite here) would be right in making that assumption. 

But it's more than that. It's an anti-state-of-our-society piece. Trump is not so much the cause, but a symptom of, the fear and hate gripping one side of the political spectrum. The other side is not immune.

Fear of the rich. Fear of the police. Fear of a challenging economy. Fear of those who challenge their worldview.

You could say our world is made up of two opposing ideologies reacting out of fear. 

But that hypothesis might be too forgiving. I wonder just how much of the fear is real, and how much of it is simply an excuse to let our worst impulses as humans run wild. The urge to be tribal. The urge to hate. The urge to win and conquer. If it was simple fear, wouldn't we be seeking answers to calm it?

I see it with conservatives who cite murders by illegals as reason for a wall, despite numbers showingimmigrants have lower crime rates and no evidence suggesting undocumented ones have higher. I see it in other wild proclamations that just aren't true. I couldn't help but notice a Facebook post from Lester Holt at NBC News yesterday. Donald Trump stating that murders in Philadelphia are out of control, yet the facts showing they've gone down. Why say it if it isn't true? Does he know it isn't true? Does he care? 

I see it with liberals, too, who use words such as "white privilege" and "micro aggression" as reasons to create safe spaces and dismiss any point of view that doesn't agree with their own. When Michael Brown was gunned down by a cop a two-hour drive and a lifetime away from my house, millions made up their mind that it was a cold-blooded murder by a racist cop before a shred of evidence emerged to back the claim. Nothing the prosecutor would say as he decided against charging Darren Wilson was going to change the minds of those who already made up their mind.

Maybe in the anti-truth era, it's truth that we ultimately fear. That has to change, because confronting and acknowledging uncomfortable truths is the only way out of this awful climate.

I had a guy on the right side of the fence ask me the other night what we needed to do to bring both sides together. I told him it started with intellectual honesty. Trump people calling out Trump when he does wrong and the left calling out their own when they do the same. It really is the only way forward. Tribalism can only end when two sides are listening to each other rather than talking at each other, but you can't listen to another if they lack credibility. 

The great thing about credibility is that to have it, you don't have to be right all of the time. A desire to seek the truth, speak the truth, and admit when you're wrong go a long way.

The truth is we live in an utterly complex society, and our tribal nature offers comfort and protection in a world that we don't entirely understand. What makes us human, though, is our ability to seek truth and show empathy, compassion and understanding despite our nature. 

Maybe Roosevelt was right after all, that what we really do have to fear is fear itself. We can overcome it if we choose to.  We just have to work at it.

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The Women's March Missed An Opportunity With Pro-Life Women; Will Pro-Life Christians Miss an Opportunity With Refugees?

By most accounts, both of the major marches in Washington, D.C. were major successes. One was a march by women protesting Donald Trump's presidency, the other an annual pro-life march calling for an end to abortion.

Both managed to get their message out loud and clear. Both were covered extensively by the media. The March for Life even had a speech from Vice President Mike Pence, the first time someone as high-ranking as the VP has ever addressed such a crowd.

It's been argued, however, by some pro-life women that the women's march missed an opportunity by not being inclusive of them. Salena Zito, writing for CNN, lamented that, "Feminists who were pro-life but supportive of social justice issues like gender equality and immigration rights were uninvited." Indeed, the Washington Post reported that the group New Wave Feminists, an antiabortion group who was originally listed as a sponsor of the women's march, was dropped by march organizers after a strong backlash. March organizers apologized to New Wave Feminists, saying, "We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions."

What could have been an opportunity to show credibility was instead used by opponents to shape the protests as having a partisan agenda. It's a shame, because the march I witnessed in Columbia, MO was represented by a host of issues. But when the big idea (a march for women) doesn't match up with what march organizers really want it to be about (reproductive rights), credibility gets lost. 

The credibility of pro-life Christians will now be put to the test. Mere hours after President Trump severely restricted immigration from several majority-Muslim countries, Fox News reported some individuals from those countries, including refugees and those who put their lives on the line for the United States, were being detained. The New York Times reports further issues across the country and abroad.

Now will be the time for movement Christians to show whether they themselves are more than just partisans. As some of their opponents on the left like to ask, "Are you pro-life, or are you really just pro-birth?" As Christians use their Christian faith to profess their reasoning for why abortion should be ended, their credibility will rest, in part, on how they tackle some of the teachings of their faith that might be considered left of center.

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12.31

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'" - Matthew 25.41-45

The Women's March did, in fact, miss an opportunity to grow their movement beyond partisan limits. Will Christians supportive of the Right to Life do the same?

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Trump Really Does Want a Wall & Muslim Ban; For Christians On The Fence, Here's What The Bible Says

Well, here it is: word tonight that President Donald Trump really does want to build a wall, and that he really does want to effectively ban Muslim refugees from the Middle East. According to the New York Times, he'll sign an executive order diverting federal funds to the wall on the southern border with Mexico, and take steps to curtail legal refugees from the Middle East. 

So much could be written about it, and believe me when I tell you that I get the complexities of our nation's immigration policy.

But if you're a Christian in this country (as so many of President Trump's supporters are), I hope you'll take into consideration this passage from the Gospel of Mark:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 


 (New American Standard Version, Mark 12.28-31)

So simple and so clear. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. These are the commandments that matter most.

What message do you think these policies will send our neighbors?

I really do get the complexities of defending our nation, but is that all these policies are about? When you hear them cheered, is that all the cheering will be about?

For you, if you're a Christian, will these policies send the message you want to send? 

Whether you're on the fence or you've already made up your mind where you stand, I hope you'll consider what we're commanded to do and help us move forward in that direction.

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Is This Not The Best Image Of News Reputation On The Internet?

My friend Robyn shared this little tidbit via Facebook, and I'm not so sure that this isn't the best outline of news reputation (who to trust, who to not to trust, who to share and who not to) that I've ever seen. 

The image from WildYucatanMan on Imgur is below.

If you want to fight fake news, the first step is identifying who's the most trustworthy.

But I think there's a couple of extra steps involved, especially if we want to be a more informed and less partisan society. 

First, we have to start consuming multiple sources of news. Check out some of those publications that lean differently than the way you lean. Maybe you'll disagree with them and simply learn something about the other side. Or, perhaps, you'll learn something new that challenges your pre-existing worldview. 

Second, and this is important, you have to make an effort to actually check out multiple news sites every day, and NOT just clicking-through on them when you see a story come up on Facebook. When you rely on Facebook, you're relying on Facebook's algorithm to determine what you see and read. Facebook, for all it has done for society, is in the business of increasing your engagement with Facebook, not providing you with news.

So get yourself a feed reader, or just simply make it a point to check some of these out every day. Then, be someone who shares and speaks the truth. The way we have a more unified, less partisan society is by listening to each other, and the only way for someone to listen to YOU is for you to have some credibility. 

Things are tense in our society, but it's going to get better. It's going to happen one person at a time, and it's going to start with you.

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Day Two of the Trump Era: Pictures of the Columbia, MO Women's March

Bonus reading: One of the best images you'll find on the Internet showing where news outlets land in terms of credibility and partisanship. It's on my blog and you should read it here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017. Day Two of the Trump Administration. Here's how hundreds (if not thousands) of men and women in Columbia, MO responded. I firmly believe there is no value more sacred or important to our nation than the right to dissent. View the slideshow below.

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The Trump Inauguration: I Think I'll Pass

On election night, I wrote something to the affect of needing some time for the results of Trump's win to sink in. Acceptance, they say, can take time.

Yet, acceptance of reality, and acceptance by being comfortable with things, are two different things. For me, my acceptance of the reality of the upcoming Trump presidency comes in waves of horror. 

It's hits at inconvenient times and over the most peculiar of things. Like when they swear him in, it will be done by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It's nuts. It's like hearing about a dysfunctional celebrity getting married in a sham ceremony, then realizing it won't be officiated by some rogue priest, but the Pope himself.  

It dawned on me the other night, after watching video of Donald's press-conference circus in which he berated a CNN reporter and fended off allegations that the Russians had compromised him, that we'll force military members in a prestigious military band to play Hail To The Chief every time he walks into a room. I had accepted the salute; it's common decency. The Hail To The Chief realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

"You'll just have to get over it," people like me are told, by people who aren't entirely wrong. The results, as influenced by a Russian leak of information as they may be, are indeed the result of enough of My Fellow Americans deciding on this direction. 

And the result shouldn't be entirely unexpected. After all, it wasn't the Russians who rigged the Democratic primary in Hillary's favor. They weren't the ones who decided to be shady with an email server. They weren't the ones to create the impression of pay to play. Take Trump out of this, and you have a political party that got exactly what it deserved.

Unfortunately, it feels like we're now left with a country that will be ran for at least 4 years by a coalition of white nationalists, anti-vaccers, multi-level marketers and prosperity gospel promoters. If that seems like great reality television, that's exactly what you'll get.

I know I'm supposed to root for Donald Trump's success. It's the right thing to do. It was Barack Obama who noted after the election that Trump's success is our success, and he's right.

But the presidency shouldn't be a reality show, and it shouldn't be full of dramatic narcissism. We can wish someone the best without being enablers. 

That's exactly what I intend to do, to not enable. To not get sucked into the drama. It's not healthy for me, and it sure as hell isn't healthy for the country. 

I think I'm going to pass on watching the inauguration. 

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Trump's Dismal Ratings Show Hillary Was The Problem: That's Good News Democrats

Two interesting polls caught my eye over the past couple of days.

The first, and the one everyone is talking about: Trump's approval ratings just days before the inauguration. According to an ABC poll, here's how respondents said they approve or disapprove of Trump's transition.

Approve: 40%
Disapprove: 54%

What's more, only 44% said they thought Trump was even qualified to serve as president! On both the approval and the qualified question, his affirmative numbers are LOWER than his popular vote percentage, all before he even takes office!

The obvious question: Why are they so low? 

Some may argue that this is due to him courting controversy post election. Common sense, right? Twitter rants against John Lewis and Alec Baldwin show a lack of focus on the importance of the job at hand. Not only that, but as the New York Times reports, his cabinet nominees have stumbled. 

All makes sense, EXCEPT the post-election Trump is not some sort of crazy-different version of the Donald Trump we had in the campaign. Those of us who didn't vote for him are getting EXACTLY what we expected from him. Surely, approval ratings lower than his vote percentage aren't from people all of the sudden being surprised by his behavior. So, what could it be? 

It all starts to make sense when you look at it through the lens of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. 

It seems completely plausible that there are a sizable number of people who voted for Donald Trump who did so despite not liking him. They had misgivings about him, and still have them today. If that's the case, that would mean that they simply had more misgivings either about his opponent, or perhaps the Obama legacy in general. 

So, which is it? Obama, or Hillary? A-ha! Here's another poll! According to a CNN/ORC poll, he leaves office with his approval rating at 60%!

Nostalgia? Perhaps. But that's a 20 percent difference between Obama's approval rating and Trump's. If you take these polls at face value, isn't a poor Hillary candidacy the most logical explanation?

It was Bernie Sanders, himself, who pointed out a year ago that polling showed him to be the much stronger candidate against Trump. Say what you want about Donald, but let's not forget that Hillary Clinton had a lot (I mean a LOT) of baggage herself. Maybe Russia did hack the DNC, but they didn't cause the email scandal, or cause the appearance of pay-to-play. More than anything they exposed that the Hillary-supporting DNC helped rig the election against Bernie Sanders, quite possibly the stronger opponent.

All this is good news, Democrats. Yes, the incoming Trump Administration and all of its cronies will in all likelihood be terrible for the country. But perhaps the caricature (that I, too, am guilty of creating in my mind) of Trump's win being from the groundswell of alt-right idiots isn't exactly true.

Maybe Hillary was just a terrible candidate, and Trump really did win as the "lesser of two evils" candidate. He wasn't the one I cast my vote for in that regard, but can I really say I would be approving of Hillary's transition and her appointees if she had one?

The hope for Democrats is that the vast majority of people already see this thing for the joke that it is. Give people a better candidate in 2020, and you really do have a chance to win this thing back in 4 years.

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Megyn Kelly Leaves Fox News: Why It's Great For Her & Why Fox News Will Survive It

Megyn Kelly made big headlines with her announcement that she'll be leaving Fox News. The New York Times reports that she'll have a daytime talk show, as well as a Sunday show that attempts to challenge CBS's 60 Minutes. 

The NYT article points out that the move won't be without it's challenges. She'll have a larger but more fickle audience, a challenging daytime time period, and be trying to take on a dominant ratings monster on Sundays. 

Still, it's a good move for her. For starters, after publicly clashing with Donald Trump during the election and detailing sexual harassment by former CEO Roger Ailes, the Fox News culture doesn't seem like the right fit for her anymore. This past year it could be argued that she rose above the culture. Therefore staying for more money could be seen as selling out. 

Secondly, the NBC move will give a rising star a chance to branch out. She'll have an opportunity to be seen by more people and expand her capabilities beyond the daily political grind. 

Third, although details of her contract have yet to be released, she'll presumably make more money. 

This move will certainly come as a blow to Fox News. Megyn Kelly has been a ratings winner, and her departure leaves the network with a prime-time lineup consisting solely of white men (Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson). 

But this is a loss that Fox News can survive. What Fox News has done better than any other cable news network has been to build a brand. Fox News operates itself as a conservative alternative to the mainstream news, and the personalities it chooses to present on its channel are hired to fit that brand. They are to cable news what ESPN is to sports: while both have personalities that are successful in their own right, no one person is bigger than the network. 

In the end, Fox News is the biggest loser in this deal, but it's a survivable blow. For Megyn Kelly, the stakes are high, but the payoff could be tremendous.

Best of luck to each as they move on in 2017.

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The Intelligence Briefing and the Humbling of Trump

I have a theory about modern presidents. It goes a little something like this...

The new president, fresh off of the campaign trail with all sorts of grandeur in his (and one day her) head about how his agenda will be implemented with authority, gets "the talk."

The talk comes from someone deep within the inside the government's military and / or intelligence community, and this person lets the new president know how things are really going to be. The new president finds out all sorts of wild and crazy things that you and I can only dream of, and then proceeds to spend the next 4 to 8 years aging disgracefully as they get hammered by their opposition every day on things they can't possibly do anything about. 

They've entered the machine. They realize suddenly just how cold and unforgiving the world truly is, and just how powerless they are to stop it. All of the sudden, they aren't so big anymore. They've been humbled. 

While admittedly not based upon any fact or evidence whatsoever, this theory makes for a great story inside of my head, and I don't believe that it's entirely beyond the realm of reality. 

It's with this theory in mind that I believe Donald Trump maybe, just maybe, got his first dose of the humbling that comes with being president. 

President Elect Donald J. Trump

President Elect Donald J. Trump

Donald, and all of his bravado, didn't want to admit that he won an election that the Russians tried to influence through hacking the Democrat's servers. He wanted to say it could have come from anybody - China or a 400 pound fat man in his bedroom - and have the world just move on. He wanted to remind you that the intelligence community got it wrong on Iraq.

He wanted to dismiss the intelligence community findings and convince you to look the other way, too. 

As Glenn Thrush at the New York Times pointed out the other day, however, the bravado used to dispatch people like Jeb Bush won't work with the entrenched government intelligence machine. How I would love to be a fly on the wall in the room when Trump finally sat down to get his intelligence briefing on the hack; the brash and dismissive Trump that entered the meeting wasn't the same one that came out. 

It was clear in Trump's post-meeting statement that he had been subdued, praising the intelligence community and acknowledging that countries like Russia do, in fact, try to infiltrate our systems.

“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation. 
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.

“Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”

Then, by Sunday, the President-Elect's Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, said on Fox News that he believes Mr. Trump accepts that Russia was indeed behind the hacks. 

It's a dramatic turn of events for a man who isn't one to admit that he's wrong. 

Welcome to the machine, Mr. Trump.

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Listen to Mark Hamill Read Donald Trump's New Year's Tweet as the Joker

I wish I could take credit for stumbling upon this masterful gem, but I found it on Slate, so it's clearly making its way around the Internet. 

If you've not heard Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame) reading Donald Trump's New Year's tweet as the Joker, well, your missing out.

Trump's tweet for reference below, followed by Mark Hamill's Joker reading it. 

Mark Hamill, we never knew you.

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The Difference Between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump In Five Words


"Ronald Reagan tore down walls." 

Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987. Rather than asking that the wall be "extended" or "reinforced," he asked that it be torn "down."

Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987. Rather than asking that the wall be "extended" or "reinforced," he asked that it be torn "down."

That was 1987. This is 2017. These are different times.

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2017 Resolutions: Be More Intentional With Your Life

I'm not going to waste valuable time and digital real estate lamenting 2016. 

On the national front, there can't be too many people who were happy with the way the year turned out. Terrorism reared its ugly head again. We lost beloved artists. We had a contentious election that crushed half of the country and (I would suspect) left even those who supported the winner feeling like they perhaps lost more than they gained (like their souls, ha ha, but I'm biased). 

I won't lament the year, though, because I personally know of great things that happened. Great things personally. Great things with my family. There are blessings out there and things to be grateful for if you look for them. 

The feeling I have at the end of this year isn't one of sorrow or grief, but that we're stuck in a rut and at the mercy of the stormy world around us. The political strife we have been experiencing for the past several years reared its ugly head more so in 2016 than in any year previously, and yet while it seems none of us wanted to experience it, somehow a lot of us wound up contributing to it. I think that there is a sense that all is not right with the economy, and that market forces and world affairs and technology may cause more uncertainty. Terrorism and changing alliances make the world seem less secure than it has in the past several years. News and information comes at us at a more constant pace than it ever has, yet we know much of it cannot be trusted. 

So, what do we do? How do we fix it? I think part of the answer is to become more intentional in our own lives. I can't control Trump, or China, or the economy, but I can control me.

The questions I ask myself heading into the new year are what can I do emotionally, spiritually, physically, personally, professionally, and socially to benefit myself, my family, and my community?

The answers to those questions will mean nothing without changes to what I consume and what I do. A stop-doing list will be just as important as a list of action items.

For me, personally, that list includes all the regulars (work out, stop eating crap), but also new ones (be a better scheduler, be more firm with priorities, cut back on social media, devote time for learning).

The overall theme, however, isn't so much about any one of those tasks, but about more intentionality in daily affairs. 

If this seems like a piece that is encouraging you to have among your New Year's goals, well, goals, I suppose it is. Part of our problem today seems to be that, while stuck in a rut, we're not entirely uncomfortable. That's made us feel restless and perhaps without purpose, and neither of those are healthy.

It's time to break out of that cycle and do big things in the year to come.

Blessings and here's to you having a great 2017. 

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The End of Heroes and The New World Order

When John Glenn died on December 8, 2016, we lost what was, by most accounts, a true American hero. Those are few and far between today.

Heroes aren't just defined by what they do; it's also about who they are and the credibility they symbolize. John Glenn symbolized courage, a can-do spirit, and America's place in the world as the good guy in the Cold War. 

The heroes of our time are quickly disappearing. The media of our time makes it impossible for none but the purest of the pure to survive the scrutiny that comes with the position. This isn't a complaint piece; it is what it is. 

The more we learn about our politicians and business leaders, the more we realize their fallibility. Few are beyond rebuke. Even the big names of the past aren't immune when certain back stories are brought to light.

Then there are those that used to be considered heroes just by the virtue of their position. The American soldier used to automatically fit the bill, but then we learned about the occasional war crime. Police officers used to be in that category, but, you know...

The defense is always simply, "We're human, too," and that's fine, but the American hero we crave in our mind doesn't jive with, "Sorry, I'm human," and there are people who make their living making sure we know just how very imperfect our heroes are.

That is as it should be; truth is always better than denial. But the world has operated for thousands of years on the stories of not just heroes, but also black-and-white stories of good versus evil.

Now we don't. We know more than ever that not every intention is pure, and that few things are black and white. The major adjustment period we seem to be living in is that movement leaders still seek to portray simple narratives and attempt to get a lock on the truth, but outside of totalitarian regimes, it's a difficult task. Everything is complicated and nobody has a lock on the truth.

Perhaps it's this new reality, rather than changes in super-power status, that defines the new world order. The new world order is about the power to command the narrative, and the fringes, both good and evil, have just as much of a shot at it as the mainstream.  

It's this, as much as anything, that makes our world today very different from the one in which we grew up.

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The Political Stories I Can't Read After Trump's Win

In the wake of Donald Trump's surprise (for many people) victory in the general election, I find myself just as hooked on politics as I've ever been. On the edge of burnout, mind you, but just as hooked as ever.

But there's one type of article I just cant bring myself to read anymore. I'll see the headline, find it interesting, and almost click. Then I stop myself.

It's the political analysis article telling me what to expect next. 

Some guy from the New York Times wants to tell me that Trump's climate change policies could work in surpising ways. Somebody else at Slate wants to tell me that Trump will be a gift to Wall Street. 

What the hell do these guys know?

The media said Trump couldn't win the primary, and he did. Then they ignored their mistakes and said he couldn't win the general, and he did. 

Now they want to tell me they know what will happen next with climate change or financial matters?

How can they know?

This election exposed just how much the media really knows, which is a lot less than they think. So much of their punditry is based upon rules that somehow became rules not because they were laws of nature, but because others followed them and they assumed that's just how things had to be.

And that assumption was wrong.

We're living in an age where all of society's institutions have lost some of the authority they wanted to portray. The police can't claim to always be the good guy. The protesters who protest them can't claim to always be the oppressed. Republicans who went for Trump can't claim the moral high ground of family values. Democrats can't claim they understand the working man.

For good or for bad, today's emperors really do have no clothes. And while our society adjusts to this new reality, one of those groups, the media's pundit class, sure as hell doesn't get to act like it knows what happens next.



A Mea Culpa, And Seven Steps For Less Belligerence and More Productive Conversations

If you're like me, you're sick of the fighting back and forth on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere in the media. Everyone is yelling and nobody is listening. The slightest misconstrued comment leads to a lashing from people you may or may not know in the real world, including people you may have thought were your friends.

It's sad and disgusting and it doesn't have to be this way.

I helped create this problem. A little over 10 years ago, I hosted a political talk-radio show and, like a whole lot of others who have done the same thing, considered it a goal to burn up the phone lines. That often meant riling up the masses one way or the other, either with me or against me, but often at the expense of civility.

This isn't to say that none of that work, just like the political commentary of today, was without merit, or unnecessary, or unproductive. But a lot of it was. It was all a part of the schtick of being a political junkie who relished the debate, and it didn't stop when I left the radio. I've certainly done my fair share since then of "stirring the pot," media-business-speak for "being an ass."   

It's a shame, and I'm sorry, and I want to find a way to help it get better. We have at our disposal communication tools that people 20 years ago would find amazing. Anyone with an Internet connection has the power to influence. Anyone with an Internet connection has the power to connect across the globe.

And yet we squander this great tool with the discourse we have today.

In the weeks since the election, I've had time to try to digest what's wrong, both with our information consumption and with our interactions with others. Some say America hasn't been this divided since the Civil War. Below are seven things we should all strive to do better if we want to change the course we’re on and have more productive conversations.

1) We have to be more purposeful in our news consumption. That means slowing down and giving ourselves time to not simply read a headline, but time to digest the story and it's broader implications on society. So much of what we do today is react to a stream of information that we do not control. Professionals write headlines designed to induce emotion and get us to click or share links. Algorithms decide what to place in our social media feeds with the purpose of doing the same thing. Political hacks plant stories designed to get us to react in favor of their agenda or in opposition to their opponents. Stop giving them that control. Formulate your own trusted sources of news (preferably those that most people can find trustworthy) and stop relying on the social media feed.

2) Stop idolizing like minded-thinkers and demonizing non like-minded thinkers. You are an individual, and as an individual, you know you are not like everyone in your age demographic, racial demographic, religious demographic, or political affiliation. Neither are others. We owe it to ourselves and to others to overcome the desire to be tribal. The only people that benefit from tribalism are the people trying to form tribes and get power from them. There's always a selfish motive to tribalism. It's built into our DNA to be tribal, but part of building a better society is overcoming our worst instincts.

3) Promote your values without subscribing negative values towards others. What do you stand for? Why? Let others speak for themselves and explain their motivations.

4) Be humble. There's so much freedom that comes when you recognize you don't know everything and don't have to. Nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. Everyone has room to learn and grow. It's part of what makes life exciting.

5) Engage with others. Have dialogue. Seek to understand others, their points of view, and their motivations. Have empathy. It doesn't mean you have to agree with a position, or condone a behavior. Just seek to understand.

6) Be a seeker and promoter of truth. Everyone sees the world through a lens, and everyone has an agenda. Make it your duty to cut through the noise and determine the truth of the situation, even if it challenges preconceived notions you may have. If you're not seeking and promoting truth, but only reinforcement for your own agenda, you're simply trapping yourself within your own ideology and adding to the noise.  Seek and promote truth and others will respect you for it.

7) Don't respond to everything. This speaks directly to your credibility. How many people discount Donald Trump as an effective leader simply because he couldn't let any slight during the campaign go? How many discounted the credibility of his opponents when they couldn't let anything Trump said go? When everything is an outrage or cause for concern, nothing is. Choose your battles wisely, and think of how much less stress you'll have as a result of not constantly allowing yourself to get caught up in emotional moments.

I'm not perfect. I've failed at these things more times than I can count and will fail again in the future. But dammit, I'm going to try, and I hope you do, too. Because change starts at home, and there's got to be a better way to talk to each other than the way we've been doing it.

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