Playground Politics for the Trump Era

We should’ve seen it coming.

The moment Senate Republicans refused to hear Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination—screaming “La La La” with their fingers jammed inside their ears, no doubt—our democracy transformed into the middle-aged, predominantly male version of Mean Girls.

“You can’t sit with us!”

Republicans were determined to attain ‘Queen Bee’ status no matter who got burned in their wake. Most didn’t seem to care how such actions might undermine democratic tradition, as they were merely out for revenge against President Obama. Garland’s credentials were hardly relevant—his bid floundered before it even had the chance to flourish.

But now, as Senate Republicans once again work to subvert our country’s founding principles by stealing health care from 22 million of Americas most vulnerable citizens behind closed doors, it’s clear to see that these behaviors weren’t the exception, but instead, the new rule.

Melodramatic as it may sound, Donald J. Trump’s fledgling presidency, and the contentious campaign on which it was built, exacerbates this trend toward infantile impulsivity. After all, those drafting the latest version of the health care bill essentially established an offshoot of the boys’ club we all know D.C. to be. At this point, it’s not even far fetched to imagine these 13 men congregating in some makeshift treehouse with a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked to the door.

For modern Republicans, party “trumps” people, so to speak. Despite the fact that these elected officials were chosen to represent their constituents long before Trump moved into the neighborhood, they seem desperate to remain in the good graces of the curmudgeon-in-chief. Few have had the backbone thus far to speak out against Trump’s polarizing policies, not because they agree with his views necessarily, but because they don’t want to lose their seat at the lunch table.

Most Republicans are so unprepared to defend their actions, in fact, that they’ve actually tried (and failed) to curtail press freedoms within the halls of Congress. Let’s just say, these so-called leaders never would’ve survived my eighth grade history class. Our teacher, Mr. Finn, warned us that, if we crossed paths in the hallway outside our designated class time, we might still be subject to an on-site pop quiz. No one enjoys being caught off guard, but when your grade’s on the line, you’ve got to use any opportunity you can to excel.

Of course, we are talking about the party that used the national debate stage to argue about the implications of male hand size, so perhaps shining in the spotlight isn’t their strong suit.

But at the end of the day, the bell tolls for those who’ve compromised their dignity to appease the man who, judging by the true results of the 2016 election, wasn’t actually the most popular candidate in America. Delaying the vote on a bill that’s more reminiscent of a death sentence cannot and will not absolve this group of the guilt associated with their methods, either. Their colleagues—on both sides of the aisle—must hold them accountable for its content and its creation.

Trump himself deemed the bill “mean” in a private meeting with Senate Republicans—and he’s the Regina George of this entire mess, so that speaks volumes. Yet, even if the bill still isn’t as “kind” as he’d prefer, there’s no doubt that he’d sign it into law if it manages to pass. Like the rest of his cohorts, he’s determined to destroy Obama’s legacy by any means possible.

From climate change to Cuban relations, Trump will scribble his name on any executive order or piece of legislation that undoes Obama’s landmark achievements, even if it means compromising America’s future in the process. He’s all about spectacle, not substance. “Getting things done” means nothing if, in the end, everything’s come undone.

Maybe, if we promise to stick a gold star at the top of each document that crosses his desk, Trump will finally sign something that benefits the greater good.

 

Who Are You to Criticize Someone Else’s Happiness?

Every time tragedy strikes, celebrities and school choirs come together to sing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” in an effort to spread peace. When faced with immense sadness, we do everything in our power to emphasize the good and eliminate the bad. But the moment anyone expresses true happiness, it’s as if every Negative Nancy on the planet unites behind one giant megaphone to tout their disdain—those feelings of euphoria are clearly unfounded and they’re here to tell you why.

Last week, for instance, comedian Patton Oswalt and actress Meredith Salenger took to social media to confirm their engagement. While such announcements usually elicit an outpouring of “likes” and emoji-laced exclamations, Internet enthusiasts took the opportunity to hunker down behind their screens and anonymously expound their unsolicited opinions. You see, Mr. Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara, died unexpectedly in April 2016 and, because he’s been so honest and forthcoming about his ensuing grief, these commenters clearly deserve to voice their concerns before these two consenting adults proceed with their impending marriage.

For some reason, the Average Joe seems to think they’re entitled to rain on someone else’s parade just because the people in question happen to be celebrities. (Call me crazy, but living life in the limelight shouldn’t mean you must silently endure such abuse.) In this case, Mr. Oswalt’s critics chastised him for “moving on too quickly” after his wife’s death. Yet I can’t help but wonder—what constitutes “too soon” and who are these naysayers to judge?

There’s no doubt that Mr. Oswalt was crushed by the loss of his wife. His gut-wrenching Facebook posts and subsequent interviews are testament to his undying love for Ms. McNamara. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve this new love he’s found. Loving once doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to love again, timing be damned. His life was torn to shreds with no warning, so why would this man—this man who knows how precious every minute can be—wait for the rest of his life to begin just because complete strangers might not approve?

In this situation, the only other party besides Mr. Oswalt and Ms. Salenger who has any real right to their opinion would be Mr. Oswalt’s 8-year-old daughter, Alice. Judging by Ms. Salenger’s recent Instagram posts, however, she’s definitely onboard. Who are we to deny this young girl another person who loves her? More love doesn’t dilute the love that already exists. Instead, that love grows and expands until it consumes all those touched by its warmth and its light.

If you’re that interested in judging others, purchase a gavel—that way you can whack yourself across the knuckles every time you consider adding your two cents. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. No matter how transparent someone might seem online, you’ll likely never know the full story.

To put it simply, love and let love. After all, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Images courtesy of Meredith Salenger’s Instagram

Trump’s War on Women Includes Mother Nature

Women’s bodies are always under public scrutiny. We’re on display from the moment we’re born. Why do you think so many of the naked babies featured in films and advertisements are clearly girls? Even before we learn to command our own bodily functions, our bodies are not our own.

And ever since Trump and his cohorts came to town, it seems almost illegal to inhabit the female form.

Sexual assault victims, as it stands, will soon be treated as accomplices of their own attack if the GOP has anything to say. Under Trumpcare, victims will no longer have access to safe abortion services, should the need arise, leading them to take matters into their own hands or carry the child to term—an alternative to the traditional life sentence. Because rape will soon count as a pre-existing condition, victims likely won’t be able to afford maternity care and mental health services either, forcing them to pay—both monetarily and emotionally—for the sins trespassed against them.

Of course, while women are nothing more than “second-class” citizens whose only crime was being born, Trump has chosen to tackle an even greater foe of the female variety—Mother Nature. By pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump has stripped Mother Nature of her rights. And she will not remain silent.

Source: kellybdc/Flickr

While women continue to speak out against the injustices we face, it’s easy for the predominantly white, male Republican Party to brush us off as nothing more than noise. But Mother Nature? No, she will never go quietly into the night. No matter how deep their denial flows, lawmakers cannot and will not put an end to climate change by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Because it does exist. Anyone with common sense and an eighth grade education will agree. We’ve failed our planet and, in response, our planet has begun to fail us. Why do you think the massive crack in Antarctica’s ice shelf grew 11 miles in only six days? Why do you think the once-vibrant Great Barrier Reef now suffers from coral bleaching and imminent death? Why do you think koalas, polar bears and countless other animal species are struggling to survive in their evolving habitats?

It’s downright preposterous that the political party that so closely associates with the pro-life movement continues to pursue policies that imperil the lives of those who are and those who will be. They might not live to experience the repercussions of their decisions, but their children and grandchildren certainly will. Even great wealth won’t save them from what’s to come.

Remember when Cal, played by Billy Zane, tries to bribe his way onto a lifeboat in Titanic? While Mr. Murdoch takes the money initially, he ultimately throws the stack back in Cal’s face as he says, “Your money can’t save you anymore than it can save me.” No amount of money will ever be able to reverse the damage Trump’s decision will inflict.

We are all in the same boat and everyone’s the captain—if the U.S. proves to be the iceberg that destroys the world’s environmental efforts, we’re all going to go down with the ship.

Government officials and their law enforcement lackeys can continue to treat women like one collective menace to society, but they cannot punish Mother Nature without being punished in return. Climate change will persist no matter how fervently the GOP resists. We might not be able to leave this planet in a better state than it was when we arrived, but we can do everything within our power to make the future brighter for those who don’t yet have a say.

In this instance, Trump shouldn’t be concerned with the people of Pittsburgh or Paris. When it comes to Mother Nature, he should focus solely on the children of tomorrow. He has an 11-year-old son, after all. Such disregard for science should be considered some form of negligence, if you think about it. In fact, it’s downright criminal.

 

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(This post originally appeared on the Ms. Magazine Blog.)

The Creepy Truth Behind Determining Your Family’s Heritage Through AncestryDNA

Commercials tell consumers only what the company wants them to know. But when it comes to Ancestry.com’s ‘most advanced’ DNA test, the TV advertisements have always left me scratching my head.

For $99, the AncestryDNA kit can unlock “deeply hidden answers in your family lines,” according to the company’s website. But what’s the process behind determining someone’s ethnic background and are these tests even accurate?

Based on AncestryDNA’s description and one writer’s firsthand experience with the process, nothing about the test should be considered an exact science, as the subsequent results represent rough estimates of the given subject’s familial history as compared to the markers from others within the Ancestry.com system.

“By looking at the DNA of people with long histories in a single place, we determine genetic signatures for people who came from particular regions,” as stated on the company’s website. “Your AncestryDNA test looks for those signatures in your DNA and uses them to help predict where your ancestors once lived.”

Customers need only send in the saliva collection tube that comes with the kit in order to gain insight into their ethnicity. From this process, AncestryDNA can also distinguish genetic markers that might signal links to both close and distant relatives within its database. Those who’ve subscribed to Ancestry.com can also link their family tree so they may compare their connections to those found on their DNA match’s family trees, too.

Yet, while the entire concept seems rather innocent, albeit vague, there might be more at stake than meets the eye.

Joel Winston, a consumer protection litigator, recently published an article that outlines the dangers buried within the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy these customers likely neglect to read. Essentially, Ancestry.com becomes owner of your DNA forever. (Creepy, but true.)

Winston writes that there are three significant provisions in AncestryDNA’s disclaimer to consider on behalf of yourself and your genetic relatives: (1) the perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide license to use your DNA; (2) the warning that DNA information may be used against “you or a genetic relative”; and (3) your waiver of legal rights. (For an in-depth analysis about what this means for customers, read Winston’s article in its entirety here.)

“Customers must understand that turning over their DNA means a loss of complete ownership and control,” Winston writes. “Ancestry.com customers should also know they’re giving up the genetic privacy of themselves and their relatives.”

Beyond an invasion of privacy, Ancestry.com appears to be out to steal its customers’ rights entirely—and these unsuspecting individuals don’t seem to gain much information in return. While it’s an intriguing concept, the short-term value behind learning about your potential ancestors just doesn’t seem worth the long-term loss of your rights.

My suggestion? Talk to your relatives, if possible. They have countless stories to share. Plus, even if their accounts aren’t 100 percent accurate, they’ll still likely be right on par with AncestryDNA’s estimates, anyway—minus the personal and financial costs, of course.

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(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Trashin’ Fashion 2017: Trends That Need to Get Canned

Fashion can be quite fickle. What’s popular one moment might be shunned the next. It’s difficult for anyone to remain trendy when styles tend to change with the direction of the breeze. However, then there are those trends that never seem to relent. They pop up out of nowhere and they refuse to disappear. Though potentially appealing at the start, their sickening prevalence turns them into an inevitable eyesore. Here are some of the latest styles that need to call it quits:

Chokers. Have you ever noticed that everyone who wears a choker looks like they’ve had their severed head reattached? Sure, some of these necklaces are actually quite pretty, but the ones that look like “tattoos” need to go. I used to wear one back in the day when they were first cool, but I never thought this trend would reemerge so soon. Take it from someone who’s been there—don’t wear one unless you want to look like some sort of zombie in all your photos from this time of your life.

Cold shoulder and off-the-shoulder tops. Shopping loses its appeal when every single shirt looks identical, and this year, none of them seem to have shoulders. Many have holes cut from the sleeves, hence the “cold” shoulder moniker. While the trend isn’t awful in moderation, it’s exhausting to find that every designer and brand can’t seem to diverge from this style. Off-the-shoulder tops are becoming equally as common, unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever worn one can attest to the fact that lifting your arms will leave you disheveled afterward. Clothing that leaves its wearer immobilized doesn’t seem all that fashionable to me.

Rompers. Behold, the perfect ensemble for adult babies everywhere! We all know they’re onesies for those who’ve outgrown their diapers, so don’t try and sugarcoat things by claiming rompers are comfortable. Yes, choosing an outfit might be easier because the top and bottom are fused at the waist, but there’s nothing convenient (or pleasant) about having to strip down to you skivvies every time you need to use the restroom. Plus, there’s nothing worse than coming upon an attractive dress on the sale rack only to discover it’s shorts.

Gladiator sandals. When sweat and sunburns are in the forecast, it’s rather ridiculous to wear cages around your calves. You cannot wear these sandals during prolonged periods outdoors because they’ll leave you with the worst tan lines imaginable. Plus, we all know they’re not made with absorbent material, so you’re bound to become a hot, sticky mess up and down your legs. Gladiator sandals aren’t even remotely attractive, so why suffer? Never sacrifice comfort just to conform to what’s “in” at the moment.

Crop tops. Technically, I’m not opposed to baring ones belly. If worn tastefully, crop tops can even look cute. But, in most cases, these supposed “shirts” are small enough to qualify as bras (for women of the A-cup variety, at least). Years ago, crop tops used to expose ones belly button—nothing more. These shirts still offered sufficient amounts of material. Now, however, even those with a moderately sized chest cannot wear crop tops without risking indecent exposure. NEWS FLASH: You don’t need to verbally body shame people to imply that their size and shape aren’t the ideal.

Now it’s your turn! Which styles should be banished for good? Share your choices and your reasons in the comments below!

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(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Reality TV Exploits Real-Life Drama — and Viewers Are to Blame

Everyone who’s ever watched multiple seasons of any given reality show knows that the producers are following some semblance of a script. Take the “Bachelor/Bachelorette” franchise, for instance. Each season features one set of archenemies that must ultimately endure a ‘dramatic’ two-on-one date. Sure, personalities are likely to clash when living in close quarters with strangers, but this level of conflict always comes around like clockwork. Throw in some whacky professions—such as Free Spirit, Chicken Enthusiast, and Tickle Monster, for example—and you’ve got yourself some entertainment value.

But, as viewers begin to grow weary of the tiresome cycle, producers have become desperate to spice things up now and then. When Kayleigh Morris of “Big Brother” was forcibly evicted recently, the star brought attention to how eager producers are to manufacture drama, even if it’s at the expense of the cast’s reputation.

Morris told Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace of The Sun that it’s “really frustrating, as I had so many happy times in the house, but only the bad parts were aired, which I guess is the nature of the beast, but still…” Reality TV surely offers an opportunity to achieve fame and fortune for those who maintain their dignity, but those who’re targeted as villains live on in infamy, nothing more.

Nothing, however, compares to the fiasco on the set of “Bachelor In Paradise.” While the summertime offshoot never garnered quite the audience of its parent series, producers have tried to up the ante each season by cultivating the most controversial cast members of seasons past. For the upcoming incarnation, Corinne Olympios (Nick Viall’s season) and DeMario Jackson (Rachel Lindsay’s season) were set to reprise their ‘roles’ for some fun in the sun. But, just days into filming, everyone was sent home so investigators could look into claims of sexual assault involving the two stars.

Prior reports claimed that both Olympios and Jackson had been drinking excessively throughout the day, and that an encounter may have taken place while Olympios was too intoxicated to consent. Since then, officials have concluded that no such assault happened, allowing the show to resume filming ahead of its August premiere date. Olympios retained representation in order to get to the bottom of this matter, while Jackson has been dealing with the ramifications of being portrayed as a rapist, guilty before proven innocent.

While I’m not one to disregard assault allegations, for I don’t doubt that there could’ve been foul play, I can’t help but wonder if ABC will use this incident to boost its audience—and viewers are to blame.

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Click here to find out why viewers are at fault…

 

Could the Fictional Suicide in ‘13 Reasons Why’ Inspire Real-Life Copycats?

Source: IMDb

It’s the latest title on everyone’s binge list. Yet, while Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has captured the imagination of countless viewers since its March debut, the most tweeted about show in TV history may also be one of its most controversial.

Based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, the series revolves around Hannah Baker’s suicide and the cassette tapes she leaves behind. As you might’ve guessed, each tape explains one reason that drove her to take such drastic action. Producers behind the series, including Selena Gomez, hoped the fictional suicide would spark conversations about the state of mental health amongst tweens and teens. But school officials across the country are now warning parents about the show in their attempt to prevent copycat suicides.

Jia Tolentino, contributing writer for The New Yorker, writes, “Rather than starting a valuable conversation that could help students who are struggling with mental-health issues, the show, these schools fear, might push students with issues over the edge.”

Many administrators believe “13 Reasons Why” could romanticize the idea of suicide among the younger set, and rightfully so. Known as the Werther Effect, researchers have seen spikes in copycat deaths in response to celebrity or fictional suicides throughout history. Vulnerable parties often derive inspiration from examples in the media when seeking justification for their own impulses—and that’s precisely what has adults worried right now.

Source: IMDb

“For kids who are vulnerable, who suffer from depression and anxiety, it can be a trigger for suicidal idealization and that is of course a concern,” Anne Moss Rogers, who lost her 20-year-old son to suicide two years ago, told WTVR. If mainstream depictions of suicidal acts become ingrained in the fabric of modern pop culture, these hypothetical concerns might very well become real-life epidemics.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, researchers noted a 50 percent increase in intentional exposures—the third most common form of suicide—by adolescents between 2012 and 2016. MarketWatch reports that, in 2016 alone, poison centers managed more than 76,500 cases of intentional exposures in young adults. Overall, incoming call volume to poison centers continues to decrease, but cases with more serious clinical outcomes, including death, have increased by 4.3 percent per year since 2000. Some centers, however, have seen an uptick in cases just since the show’s premiere.

Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, told MarketWatch that these suspected suicide cases are particularly worrisome. “In our center alone, adolescent suicide and suicidal intent cases for the month of April were the highest we have observed in the past two years. Many of the more recent calls have referenced popular television shows that include messages of suicide, sometimes glamorizing suicide or inspiring deadly copycat behavior.”

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Click here to find out how students at one school are responding to the controversy!

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