net neutrality

Whether you have been aware of it or not there has been a lot of talk lately about net neutrality. Its a term that’s getting thrown around more than pies at a clown convention, but what does it really mean? Well, in very basic terms, Net Neutrality refers to the idea that the flow of information on the internet should be treated fairly and equally. It means that no company has the right to restrict or slow down your access to certain sites, prioritize certain internet services over others, or limit the kind of content a user can see based upon political or other biases. After all, we pay for our Internet bill, therefore we should be allowed to decide what and when we see something… At least that’s the way it is supposed to work in theory.

-For more FAQs, check out the Save the Internet site.

Reach for the Cloud and Give me All Your Money
And that is how most people think the Internet works: You pay your bill and then you can go on whatever website you want. Additionally, If you live alone, you assume that you’re the only one using the Internet -unless Todd is parked outside stealing your wifi again- So, if you have the browser clicked over to Amazon, or you are watching Hulu, or whatever you assume that all your bandwidth power is being directed to that one site. Yet, in the past, Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon have artificiality slowed down certain sites, most notably Netflix. They have basically tried to extort money from large Internet companies, like Amazon, YouTube, and Netflix. In a world without net neutrality, if a company doesn’t pay, then the ISPs can slow their access down to a crawl, which means that when you’re streaming Die Hard 5 -or a good movie- you will keep losing video quality and buffering speed. Worst of all, who does the customer blame? Not Comcast. No they blame Netflix, even though its not their fault.

Netflix has already paid Comcast their blood money to ensure that their service will not have their speeds restricted. Netflix paid Comcast for the right to not be restricted. They didn’t pay for priority access. They didn’t pay for their service to be faster than others. They only paid so as to not be restricted. That would be like you paying extra for food, not because it was better or served faster than other food, but just to ensure that the cook doesn’t decide to drop cyanide in it… And do not mistake our meaning. Without net neutrality, this type of behavior is cyanide to the freedom of the Internet.

This is all possible, because large ISPs like Comcast and Verizon basically form an oligopoly. It’s like a monopoly except there is no singular man with a top hat and monocle buying Park Place. Instead, it would be like if the battleship, the dog, and the race car decided to split the board equally and charge the same prices to everyone to use their services. They are no longer competing, because once a year they get together and decide to raise their prices or change their services equally, and what can most homes -or hotels- do about it? Comcast and Verizon own and lay the fiberoptic cables that carry the Internet. Most places in the country literally don’t have a choice in who their Internet service provider is. It’s similar to the electric and gas companies, except that those services are regulated by the government. ISP’s are 100% private, and now they are pushing for even more freedom, but freedom to them amounts to tyranny for the Internet.

Honk if You’re Angry
They have tried this before, but were stopped by net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama Administration. Now, with a new orange sheriff in town, and his appointed head of the FCC, former Verizon lawyer and all-around-frat-boy-who-thinks-he’s-the-most-hilarious-you’ve-ever-met, Ajit Pai, those rules are being slowly undone in favor of major ISPs. up until now, Comcast and Verizon were classified by the Federal Communications Commission as Common Carriers. Its a legal definition that applies mostly to phone companies, -which Verizon and Comcast also are- and both companies, as well as lesser known ISPs, have basically been happy to be classified as such for the past few decades. After all, being a common carrier comes with certain protections, but it also comes with certain restrictions, most notably the rule that common carriers cannot prioritize one communication over another. A phone company can’t charge an automated calling company more to prioritize their phone calls over your Aunt Phyllis. However, ISPs have been arguing for a while that they aren’t common carriers, because they claimed they were carrying information and not communication.

If Chairman Pai has his way, ISPs could start charging content providers or even customers directly for services that were otherwise free. You want access to YouTube? That will be $4.99 additional. Do you want access to Facebook or Twitter? Get the social media package for an additional $8.99 a month. It will appear automatically on your bill. Regardless of whether ISPs charge the customers or the content providers, the cost will eventually get passed along to the consumer. That means higher costs, longer download times, and -if it gets bad enough- you will start to see a lot of the Internet’s more innovative and free sites fall by the wayside. The death of net neutrality also hinders growth, because small businesses would not be able to compete if they can’t afford the same priority access as larger and well established companies. Websites… like this own… have the most to lose under this ruling.

Larger companies also have a lot to lose. Sites like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube provide services which directly compete with services already provided by the ISPs -or cable companies as they used to be called- If net neutrality dies, ISPs can slowly strangle those services to death, and if enough customers stop using Netflix than that is another win for the cable companies. Remember, for an additional cost they can provide a customer with hundreds of channels of TV to watch, and premium movie channels for an additional cost, and DVR functions for an additional cost, etc… Have you ever looked at your cable bill and wondered why your Internet cost was the most expensive item on it? It’s because Verizon and Comcast want you to use their cable services, and all the little extras you can buy. The Internet is a flat fee for them, which means the only revenue they get from it is that monthly charge. There are no extras or add-on packages -at least not yet- and they can charge whatever they want for it, because there is no competition. It’s ironic we have started calling them Internet Service Providers, because from where we stand they are still just cable companies trying the same old tricks they always have. Yet, whatever you want to call them, make sure you call them Common Carriers.

Go FCC Yourself
Striking down net neutrality runs parallel to everything the Internet has accomplished up until now. Our freedom and our future are being strangled by the greed of corporations. Most people who should be outraged by all of this, barely even know its going on. America’s future prosperity is inescapably linked with the prosperity of the world wide web and our ability to access it freely and fairly. If we let net neutrality slip away the future is going to be a less bright, less free, and filled to the brim with that frustrating loading symbol. Today is net neutrality day, and it is being championed by websites across the Internet, both big and small. Everyone from Google to The NYRD is fighting for the idea that the Internet is free and fair, but we need your help.

In short, ISPs are trying to turn the information superhighway into a one-lane game board where they control all the spaces. -Do not pass Go, pay us $200- If you want to help, then contact the FCC and let them know your thoughts on the Restoring Internet Freedom Act. These ISPs have the money, the lobbyists, and the time to make their voices heard. We need to make our voices heard, and let the people in Washington know why it is a terrible terrible terrible terrible idea to do away with net neutrality. Use the links below to contact the FCC. However, Chairman Pai has vowed to ignore the public’s comments on this subject, so make sure you contact your congressional representatives as well.

Comment form for proceeding 17-108 “Resoring Internet Freedom”
Contact your Representatives

game of thrones

It’s that time of year again, our dear summer children. Game of Thrones will be returning to television for its seventh season, and we here at The NYRD, thought it would be a good time to delve into the series and -again- talk about why it resonates with modern viewing audiences. Now, let’s be clear, there is a lot of parallels we can obviously choose from: narcissistic mad rulers, climate change, and even over-the-top violence. However, we want to go a little deeper with this, so today we are going to be looking at Game of Thrones as an interregnum. What is an interregnum? Well, glad you asked…

A Song of Interregnum and Fire
George RR Martin loves to borrow from history when it comes to Game of Thrones, and the concept of the interregnum is no different. The world literally translates as “between reigns,” and historically refers to periods like the Great Interregnum, which started in 1250, when the Holy Roman Emperor died and there were no clear successors. It lasted for 23 years as various contenders vied, fought, and back-stabbed their way to the throne. Sound familiar?

More generally, the term has come to symbolize a period of time when societies and governments are in flux. It is a time often characterized by the breakdown of traditions, the decay of long-held values, and general upheaval and uncertainty. Look at the world of Game of Thrones. After Robert Baratheon dies, the seven kingdoms break down into literal warring factions over who should be king. The tradition-steeped Night’s Watch has decayed into little more than a ragtag group of criminals and misguided bastards. The Freys break longstanding and conventional morality to murder the Stark family while they dine under the protection of their roof. All of this is indicative of an interregnum, a time when it feels as if the very fabric of a familiar society is tearing itself apart.

It is also what makes Game of Thrones so fascinating to us in the modern world, because it could be argued that the world -and specifically America- is currently in an interregnum. Now, we’re not just talking about what’s going on this year, at this moment. After all, we may have a President with record low approval ratings, bags of governmental uncertainty, and plenty of people complaining that the very moral fiber of our civilization is unraveling faster that someone’s internal organs after they’ve been sliced by Valyrian steel. We are not even talking about our own impeding white walker doom that is constantly hanging over our heads. You see our interregnum and the success of Game of Thrones has nothing to do with Trump, or even Obama. We’re Americans, and we always exist in a constant state of interregnum.

Red, Blue, and White Walkers
The English Interregnum lasted  from 1649 to 1660, and -similar to Robert’s Rebellion- it was preceded by a Civil War that ended in the execution of the former king, Charles I. After that, the English monarch and parliament were briefly replaced by a council and a lord protectorate. It ended when Charles II was put on throne and parliament was reestablished in 1660. The English Interregnum -like all the historical and non-dragon-related interregnums of our world- is significant because it marks a departure from business as usual, which for most of recorded history has been monarchies. Kings, queens, and their progeny ruled nations both big and small for centuries, and despite all the failings of monarchy -or even tyranny- the good ones do give a sort of steady and reliable structure.

However, we do not live in a monarchy. In fact, the United States of America was born and continues to exist in a sort of long interregnum. The colonists threw out the British monarchy and established a democracy, creating a cycle of short leadership and uncertain politics. Add to this that every decade, every year, and even every week, we now have some new piece of technology or social advancement that continues to disrupt our status quo. So, to many our world may seem more chaos than order. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we cannot shake a feeling of uncertainty when we think about a future under Obama, or under Trump, or under one of the Bushes, or under one of the Clintons, or under Hoover, or Johnson, or even Millard Fillmore. There is no guarantee that the things we value will be shared by the person in power for the next four to eight years. That means we have real stakes in each election. So, each election becomes like the War of Five Kings -or in the case of the GOP Primaries, the War of Five Kings and like Twenty Other Guys.

Our ancestors lived using the same technology and adhering to the same religious and philosophical understandings as their grandparents and their great grandparents. The most uncertain times they ever had were when the monarchy changed hands. In modern times, we experience that transfer of power every four years. Meanwhile, our grandparents and great grandparents are still trying to figure out how to set the clock on the VCR that we threw away ten years ago. Modern times moves fast, and whether its gay marriage or the newest iPhone, our lives are completely different than the one’s lived by any generation who preceded us. The interregnum of Game of Thrones is relatable to modern Americans because we live and work in constant political and moral ambiguity.

The Winds of What’s Next?
Politics in America have become hugely divided between left and right. It’s a gap that has been growing since the 80’s, and in this war of ideas, we like to paint our political side as the good guys, the smart ones, the just ones, etc. Yet, let’s face it, that’s a very wrong way of looking at the world, as Game of Thrones often shows. With the exception of one or two characters, no character is ever portrayed as truly good or truly bad. Our sympathies for people like Jamie, or the Hound, or even Cersei change all the time. So how come -in the real world- we don’t give the same courtesy to our own political adversaries, especially those on Ye Olde Facebook? Maybe if we started considering that, then maybe elections would feel less like the Red Wedding.

Another characteristic of an interregnum is that things can change. After the wars and the conflicts subside new traditions, new philosophies, and new values all arise. Let’s return to the example of the Night’s Watch. After the chaos of the last White Walker invasion, the Night’s Watch was established, as was the Wall. It was an entire new knightly order that broke boundaries of lineage, nationality, and even economic standing. Thousands of honorable men, both noble and common, manned castles and strongholds all along the Wall. They stood as silent and valiant watchers over the safety of the world. There is every indication that after the climax of Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch may be reborn again, or something new entirely will arise to take its place.

The journeys of Daeny, Jon, and even Tyrion would not be possible in a world of stable leadership. Jon Snow is born a bastard, but he’s able to work his way up to great heights. So, yes, our world feels constantly in flux. Our politics, our culture, our values, and everything around us changes faster than a single human life span. In the days of our ancestors those types of changes took decades -if not centuries- except for periods of interregnum. We relate to Game of Thrones, because on some level we keenly understand the uncertainty, maybe more than any other generation in history. We live in a new paradigm, a perpetual interregnum, but that also means we are living in a era of perpetual possibility.

Paris

Superman is dead, and it looks like the Justice League is on its own.

The American Century is over. We’re going to get a lot of hate for saying that, but the way we see it, it’s a little like climate change: It’s a global shift that is big, has a lot of moving parts, is uncomfortable to think about, and will definitely be something that Trump supporters will deny. When it comes to Europe, the Paris Accords, NATO and more, the world is on its own. We seceded our position as world leader the moment that a minority of us elected a self-invested, egotistical, narcissistic, car salesman with questionable mental stability as President. Most people thought our decline would be gentle and gradual, like an old dog slowly dying in the comfort of its home, but last week Donald Trump brought that old dog out behind the shed and decided to put it out of its misery.

Justice League of Nations
The United States’ position as a superpower and a leader in the free world has been in decline for a while. Factors like globalization, the rise of the European Union, our drop in STEM related fields and education, the accessibility of information and technology, and many many other factors -many of which we initiated or put into motion- have doomed our sole position of dominance. Donald Trump did not cause the decline of American power and influence in the world. That was going on long before he ever put his tiny hands on any piece of legislation, but the factors that got him elected are inexplicably linked to that decline: ignorance, fear, bigotry, scapegoating, corruption, ignorance, and ignorance.

It has become abundantly clear that our of President no longer deserves the title of “Leader of the Free World,” nor does he seem to want it. He wants to be the leader of “Pittsburgh not Paris,” but by doing so he has made America less safe… again. Global cooperative treaties, like NATO or the Paris Climate Accord loose some of their power without the United States, and our country will not survive as a lone ship on the sea of coming change. In the past two weeks, The Donald has gone out of his way to alienate allies, embrace global controversy, and deny even the most basic niceties of international diplomacy. Unsurprisingly, the only country still applauding his efforts is Russia.

We could make some joke where we compare Trump to Lex Luthor, but that would be an unfair comparison. At least Lex Luthor had a plan. Trump is led solely by his impulses and his need for complete self-importance. He berated NATO allies for owing “massive amounts of money,” –which is untrue– and made several statements that prove he may not fully understand what NATO is or how it works. He then made sure to physically push aside the Prime Minster of Montenegro, refused to listen to advice from other world leaders, and forgot to reaffirm Article 5 of the NATO treaty… which is kind of the point of the NATO. Article 5, is the article that assures mutual defense of all allied countries. Of course it came out later, that he may only have failed to endorse it because he just made up his own speech as he went along.

Paris Climate According to Trump
After Trump spent a week arm wrestling our closest allies, and posing like a real-freaking-to-life-super-villain, he then announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. He cited several misleading and incorrect statements about the historic international accord, but basically admitted that he pulled out of the Paris Agreement because he thought people were laughing at us. For the record, Paris is a non-binding agreement that held no penalties or international sanctions, and was signed by almost every country in the world, including China, Russia, and North Korea. Despite what Trump claims, experts believed it would have actually grown the US job market. There are currently 374,000 people in America employed in solar energy, compared to the 160,000 currently employed in the coal industry. Trump is mistakenly focused on saving an industry that employs less people in America than Arby’s restaurants.

By snubbing Paris and the EU, Trump is only hurting American leadership in the world. China, has already begun to take the lead on green energy initiatives, and that is great for the environment, but bad for the US economy. Renewable technologies, resources, and energy are going to be the industries of the future, and by clinging to old ideas, the US is conceding future jobs and influence. One of the reasons for America’s success has always been our ability to invent the future. Planes, cars, telephones, the Internet, smartphones, and a thousand other common everyday items were all first created in America. We created the modern world and that put us firmly in charge of it. Now, we will be playing catch-up, and in ten years the world may be buying solar panels manufactured and invented in China.

The Last Moron of a Dying World
Trump has this fascinating -and dangerous- ability to make decisions in service to two personal deities: narcissism and greed. Any choice he makes seems aimed at stroking his ego or padding his wallet. Yet, he only has a rudimentary understanding of diplomacy, politics, and history. He operates with a very narrowed perception, mostly focused on himself, and that is a dangerous way for any leader and diplomat to make decisions. Take his withdrawal from Paris as an example. He incorrectly perceived it as an economic sanction, and failed to weigh all the other factors surrounding the agreement: environmental, defense, political, and more. Europe and the world will now turn toward China for leadership, which is something that American Presidents have been trying to avoid for decades.

Remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty? Think what you will of the TPP, it was not perfect, but it also was not the terrible deal that Donald Trump made it out to be. First of all, it was very good for American farmers, but part of the power of the TPP was not in its economics. It strengthened trading alliance between friendly Pacific nations, while keeping westernized Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, from needing to rely heavily on China for imports. The TPP weakened China’s economic hold and social influence over Asia, but without it our allies have no where else to turn, which makes them more susceptible to Chinese influence in international political and military decisions. The TPP is also a little moot, as it was dead in Congress before Trump ever took office, but that did not stop him from signing his jagged name to a worthless piece of paper to confirm it, all for some cheap applause… which he loves.

A lot of Trump’s grandstanding on his past international trip seems aimed at his supporters back home: his tough talk with NATO, his pulling out the Paris Agreement, and even his manhandling of world leaders. He was not thinking about what those things would do on the global landscape, he was thinking about how they would play to Joe and Jane Smith at his rally in Ohio, or Missouri, or Mar-a lago. Do you know what other world leader talks tough, rattles sabers, and threatens other nations, all in the sole name of domestic popularity? Kim Jong-un -also any strongman dictator in history- but North Korea is the most obvious modern-day example.

The Daily Planetary Crisis
FDR once said that Americans have nothing to fear, but “fear itself.” Donald Trump tells us we should be afraid of everything, terrorists: the news media, refugees, and basically the rest of the world, but that is absolute bullshit. The United States of America is not a country built on fear. We are the risk-takers, the home of the brave, the land of the rebel. When did we become a country that jumps at its own shadow? When did we become a country that hides behind bans and border security? When did we become a country that kicks our friends and throws out the “huddled masses,” all because we are afraid? That is not America. That is not the America we want to live in, but that is the American vision that Donald Trump offers: A paranoid, fearful America who only sees the rest of the world as enemies or suckers.

Trump has no understanding of “cause” and “effect.” To him it is like the world began on November 9, 2016. We need a leader who brings people together, and not one that gets into fights with city mayors who just suffered terrorist attacks. We can no longer survive with an “every man for himself” attitude, nor can we survive by being petty and mean-spirited toward our allies or our enemies. Superman is not a hero if he only considers his own interests -as we saw in Batman v Superman- because when that happens the Justice League is better off without him. So, maybe -for the time being- the world is better off without us.

In the comics Superman dies a noble death and comes back again a hero. We are suffering an ignoble death, but if we continue on this path there may be no coming back for us.

sanctuary cities

There are people among us who are hunted, marginalized, and whose very existence in this country is considered to be a danger to others. We are of course talking about mutants, but we could as just easily mean illegal immigrants. After all, Donald Trump and others like him paint this small population as if they were sinister and super-powered criminals who are responsible for the woes of our society, as if they were actually capable of firing laser beams from their eyes or manipulating metal with thought. Yet even the mutants of Marvel Comics had a place where they could call their own, a safe haven away from the politicians and the paramilitary organizations hunting for their heads. For people like Storm, Wolverine, and even Jubilee, there was Xavier’s Mansion, and for undocumented immigrants there are sanctuary cities. Yet, what are these cities and what do they actually do to protect those who live there?

The House of M…igrants
A recent survey touted by Trump stated that 80% of Americans were against sanctuary cities. Of course that statistic turned out to be misleading to the point of inaccuracy. The truth is that a lot of Americans do not even really know what sanctuary cities are. To most it is just another vague and misleading buzzword like “engine malfunction” or “Sir Patrick Stewart.” So let’s start by demystifying the term a bit.

Vox, has a fairly satisfactory explanation of what a sanctuary city is. There are multiple places in the United States that could be considered a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, but most people think of places like San Fransisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc, but this is not just about large cities. ICE has identified 165 counties and cities across the country that have policies against cooperation in matters of illegal immigrants. Sanctuary cities do not go around actively harboring illegal immigrants, so much as they just turn a blind to their presence within the city’s limits. Technically any city or town that has a law or an unofficial policy that limits municipal funds or personnel from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers could be considered a sanctuary city. ICE cannot force local law enforcement officers to cooperate in detaining and handing over illegal immigrants, all they can do is make a request, and the distinction of sanctuary versus non-sanctuary usually comes down to how municipalities treat that request.

For local police departments and city officials this often leads to a dilemma. If a city police department ignores an ICE request to detain or hand over an undocumented immigrant, than the federal or even state government could retaliate by withholding funds, as Trump has attempted to do. This could be a real issue, as the Justice Department gives millions of dollars in assistance grants to local police, especially in cities such as San Fransisco, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and others. However, choosing to turn over undocumented immigrants, could mean holding them without bail, often for multiple days, and usually on minor or no official charges. Additionally, cooperating with ICE requests breaks down trust between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. If illegal immigrants believe that they are going to be deported every time they talk with the police as a witness or when they report a crime, than they will stop doing those things. That ultimately makes the job of policing harder, especially considering undocumented immigrants are already less likely  to report crimes to the police. That is why their population is at the highest risk of being victims of crimes -such as domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape- and not its perpetrators.

Come to think of it… that may be why Magneto can attack the X-Men so often and yet Xavier never calls the police. Mutants who are constantly vilified in the media and by the government have as much to fear from the authorities as they do from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In the Marvel universe politicians and hate groups cast them as literal dangers to society. Thus, if the police show up to a scene where a mutant is the victim, there seems to be no guarantee how they will be treated regardless of their fault in the crime. They could be arrested simply because they have giant metal claws coming out of their hands. Illegal immigrants may not have special or dangerous powers, but their fear is equally real, especially with the pervasive rhetoric of Donald Trump labeling them all as criminals and rapists.

Four Hombres of Apocalypse
A lot of the rhetoric surrounding sanctuary cities and the illegal immigrants who populate them has to do with the crime rates of those cities. Yet, the facts don’t bare out any sort of evidence that sanctuary cities are more lawless or more dangerous because of their undocumented population. In fact, the truth may be the opposite. Using an Immigration and Customs Enforcement data-set obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Center for American Progress analyzed various indicators that compared the success of sanctuary cities and non-sanctuary cities and came up with some interesting conclusions.

According to their statistical analysis there are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. In a small way, this makes sense as –we have already discussed– undocumented and documented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens. A look at census data between 1980 and 2010 shows that for men between the ages of 18 to 49, immigrants were 50% to 80% less likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States. Justice Department figures show that -across all ages and sexes- immigrants only make up 5% of the American prison population, yet make up 7% of the general American population. Trump and others sometimes point to the fact that 22% of federal inmates are immigrants, but that fact is misleading, as about one-third of those federal inmates are serving time for immigration offenses which are not covered by any specific state laws -thus they are not eligible for state prisons.

To return to the X-Men analogy, a person who is already part of a persecuted minority tends to do their best to stay out of trouble, rather than involve themselves in it. After all, if you are a mutant walking around you are going to be more wary of who you interact with or what situations you involve yourself in. Of course, there are always opposite and anecdotal examples that hardliners will trout to make their point, but when you examine the national trends and statistics you see that they tend to be the minority. Most illegal immigrants, like most mutants are just trying to live their lives, regardless of the target on their back. Maybe that is why sanctuary cities are just as safe -if not safer- as non-sanctuary cities or counties.

The Pays of Future Cash
Perhaps even more surprising, sanctuary cities perform better in certain metrics than their non-sanctuary counterparts. The annual median household income in sanctuary cities, on average, is $4,353 higher compared to non-sanctuary counties. On average, the poverty rate is 2.3% lower and unemployment is 11.1% lower in sanctuary cities compared to non-sanctuary counties. Now at least some of these discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that sanctuary cities tend be larger metropolitan areas with more opportunity than smaller -and more rural- non-sanctuary areas. However, it is also proven that immigrants -even illegal immigrants- have positive economic impacts on the areas in which they inhabit.

An increase in economical indicators in sanctuary areas has at least some correlation with the availability of cheap labor, but also with the availability of ambition. Immigrants -especially illegal immigrants- who risk everything to come to America do so to make a life for themselves. In fact, according to a study conducted at Harvard, undocumented immigrant men are more likely to be employed than documented immigrant men, who themselves are more likely to be employed than men who are US citizens. Undocumented immigrants now account for about 5% of US labor. And with more people employed -and not on welfare, because having no documents literally means that you cannot apply for welfare- than that is more money that gets pumped back into the local economies of those sanctuary cities. That means more people purchasing, and paying taxes -because yes illegal immigrants do pay billions in taxes.

In Marvel Comics there is only one small gene that separates humans and mutants. However, in our world there is no difference between “average” Americans and undocumented immigrants. We are all looking for the same opportunities, the same comforts, emotions, and the basic protections that all humans are owed.Professor X created his school and his opened his home as a safe space for a persecuted population. He knew that given the chance the mutants under his care would flourish and find their purpose in life. Together he believed that they could build a safe community where everyone was given a fair chance, and that equality among regular humans and mutants would ultimately raise up both groups up together.

Sanctuary cities, like Professor X’s mansion, are nothing more than places where those who are being hunted can feel safe. They are places where illegal immigrants can expect at least some basic considerations, where they do not have to always fear that ever siren or every person on the street could mean their end. We do not have a small marginalized population that can fly or walk through walls, but we do have a population of people who are invisible, and without places like sanctuary cities, they would suffer even more than they already are.

Now cue the best damn theme song in cartoon history:

Science March

They came out. They came out in their lab coats. They came out in their rain ponchos. They came out in their Starfleet uniforms. They came out in their Ms. Frizzle and Captain Planet outfits. Even The Doctor came out. They came out with signs, and slogans, and science-jokes. Yes they did, despite the rain and the heat and the cold. Scientists and science-supporters alike all came out for this past weekend’s Science March. In similiar fashion to the Woman’s March, April 22nd’s March for Science took place, not just in Washington DC, but across the nation and across the world. Over 15,000 marched in Washington; 12,000 in Los Angeles; 20,000 in New York, 40,000 in Chicago, and even 2,000 in Oklahoma City. Over 600 marches took place on Saturday, not just in the United States but also in cities like London, Sydney, Auckland, and more. 10,000 people marched in Philadelphia, which included a few members of the NYRD staff.

The Science March was not a condemnation of anyone or anything -not even the Orangeman-in-Chief. No, it was about supporting science and science-based reasoning. It was, as the organizers put it, “political, but not partisan.” However, we also must acknowledge that these marches are in response to many of the policies of Donald Trump and his top law makers in the Senate and Congress. Scott Pruit, the EPA chief, is a known climate-denier. The Donald is threatening to cut science spending by more than 10% in his budget proposal. Climate change is continuously questioned by the GOP. And all of these are cases of lawmakers not understanding or downright denying real and verifiable facts. These reasons, and more, are why we need events like the Science March.

Scientists are not always known for their politics. In fact, when the Science March was first conceived there was an argument over whether it was a worthwhile idea. Many people hesitate to politicize science anymore than it already has been, but the truth is that if scientists are not part of the policy conversation, than they have no notable impact in the decisions being made. The Science March is a march of necessity, made in hopes of making a better and more rational future. However, Saturday’s demonstrations were only the beginning. Now the real work must commence.

Take a look at the gallery below to see some of Saturday’s marchers and the causes that rallied them on a rainy weekend morning in the city of brotherly love. Don’t forget to share and do your part to support science-based policy.

American Identity

Perhaps you’re familiar with Two-Face, the Batman villain, played both by Aaron Eckhart and by Tommy Lee Jones doing an impersonation of a malfunctioning black-light. Regardless of which version you cling to as the definitive one, Harvey Dent is a super-villain who uses his trademark coin to make all his decisions. One flip to decide which bank he will rob, which city official he will shoot, and which pair of sewed together suits he will wear for the day. -His tailor fees must be outrageous- Yet, in a lot of ways Two-Face may be a good metaphor for our American identity, because it feels as if we are split between two parties, two points-of-view, and as if every decision we make is made by the flip of a coin.

The Face You Choose
Harvey Dent had acid thrown in his face, leading to his identity complex, but America’s split-personality disorder traces its origins back to something much more sinister and corrosive, politics. Since 1852 either a Republican or a Democrat have come in first or second for the Presidential race, except for one. Theodore Roosevelt lost as a third-party candidate to Woodrow Wilson, but that was after he had already been President as a Republican. In the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats have become the only two parties to hold power -aside from a very few exceptions- for the better part of a century and a half. In fact, since World Way II no more than two seats in Congress have gone to third-party candidates. We have to face facts, people, we have a Two-Face problem with our American identity, and its not something that Batman can simply solve by punching.

Our election process uses First Past the Post Voting. Basically it a system where the person to win the majority wins the election. It seems like the most simple form of democracy -mostly because it is- but there are serious drawbacks. The biggest being that even electoral systems that feature multiple parties will, over time, eventually be whittled down to a two-party system. It is something that very often happens in Britain, Australia, or other countries that have several political parties. Two tend to emerge as more dominant. That is because with FPTP voting, there is a lot of potential for wasted voting.

Think about the 2016 election. -We know it hurts, but try anyway- Anyone who wanted to vote for Jill Stein or that other guy… we want to call him… Jerry… It doesn’t matter… Either way, you knew with a fair amount of certainty that there was not a Mr. Freeze’s chance in Hell that either candidate was going to win the election. So, even if you agreed 100% with their platforms, you still realized that you were throwing your vote away, and by doing so you might be accidentally helping the candidate you dislike most. Thus, most rational voters tend to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” Basically, you’d rather choose to vote for the mafia over the Joker, because at least your fairly certain you understand the mafia’s motives. In FPTP voting most people tend to vote against candidates rather than for candidates. Now there are other systems, but that’s for another article. As for right now, all we need to understand is that for 150 years America has been stuck in an entrenched two-party system, and that has very much affected our American identity.

Heads or Tails
In much the same way that Harvey Dent’s injuries are superficial, so are the labels of Republican and Democrat. They are two valid philosophies on how to approach the governing of our country, at least that was how they started. Two-Face’s injuries may be superficial but they have become the basis for his mental disorder, in much the same way that our political parties have become the basis for our American identity crisis. This has become especially true over the past decade. Each party has always had their extremes, but they always seemed to be able to find compromise, yet that has changed. Gridlock, in-fighting, and extremism have become the common practice of Washington, and it has come to affect the rest of the country.

A new survey from the Associated Press’ NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that we can no longer even agree what it means to be American. Unsurprisingly, the results are split down party affiliation lines. Roughly 65% of Democrats cited a mix of cultural groups and ethnicities as being either very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 35% of Republicans agree. However, 57% of Republicans believe that strong Christian values are very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 29% of Democrats agree. Republicans are far more likely to cite European values and Christian practices as our biggest strengths, while Democrats are far more likely to cite our country’s traditions of immigration and diversity as our biggest strengths. Regardless of party affiliation, 7 in 10 people agree that America is losing its identity.

These results aren’t exactly surprising. What is surprising is that: despite the fact that the amount of Independent voters -or voters unregistered with any party- is up, strong political leanings of voters -especially over the past few years- have sharply divided down demographic lines. Depending on whether you are old, white, Hispanic, religious, college-educated, or live in Gotham city, it is more likely that your political leanings have become sharpened over the recent years in very predictable ways. Overall, 48% of registered voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward Republicanism. That only leaves about 8% of American who are truly undecided and independent, and this hyper-partisanship is tearing at our American identity.

Everything is becoming political. The advent of social media, cable news, and the constant echo-chamber-interaction of modern politics has ensured that almost every issue -from religion to Broadway– exists inside a political spectrum. That means when people begin to strongly identify with conservative or liberal leanings, they also tend to mindlessly begin to judge the world through those lens. In many ways, it has stopped being about what do you think of an issue and become more about what does the party think about an issue. In a sense, we have lost a bit of our own thoughtfulness and replaced it with blinded adherence to political doctrines handed down from self-serving political super-villains. We are no longer content to be “fiscally conservative” or “socially liberal” or some other piece-meal-political view. We have begun to pitch our tents under one flag or the other, and that does not lead to a healthy American identity.

The Bicameral America
A phenomenon happened in America over the past two decades where politics became something more than external labels. We equate it to how people feel about sports teams. Of course, we’re nerds so we cling to labels such as Trekkie or Whovian, but the principal tends to be the same. As humans we don’t like complexity, it muddles our minds and takes brain power away from things we enjoy, so we condense ideologies and slap labels on them, like a can of soup. We also do this when it comes to ourselves, and thus we get people who live and die by the New York Giants, or the LA Lakers, or your local high school sports team. We all want to feel as if we are a part of something bigger and then we take that thing and integrate it into our own sense of identity. In one form or another we all do it. Yet, before the 1980’s, people rarely did it with politics. Sure, there were always the exceptions, but back then knowing how someone voted did not always correlate with their self-identity.

Something started during the Reagan years, where people’s party affiliations and labels of progressive and conservative became ingrained with their sense of self. That’s not a good thing, because… well just log onto Facebook. When your political affiliation starts to become essential to the core understanding of who you are as a person, than your liberal aunt isn’t just attacking Donald Trump, they are attacking you. When your conservative cousin badmouths Obama they are -in essence- badmouthing you. The vitriol and hard-line division is not because we are really defending one policy or politician over another. It is because we defending ourselves against each other. This is why people cry at baseball games. -Despite what Tom Hanks believes- When your team loses, you lose. When someone tells to you that the “Yankees suck,” all you hear is that “you suck.”

America has become Two-Face because much like Harvey Dent we have internalized our superficial disorder. The American identity has become a split personality because we have become homogeneous in our beliefs. Among engaged voters -those who always vote- 99% of engaged Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, and 98% of engaged Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. That’s up from 88% and 84%, respectively, in 2004. We have compromised our American identity for party politics and it is driving us farther apart. We have stopped looking for the common ground and started fighting over the higher ground. We want to protect our sense of self so we argue that we are on the winning side in a battle that was never really meant to have winners or losers. In a way, we have internalized politics and that is a dangerous chemical to be fooling around with, unless of course you are fine with becoming a super-villain.

zombies

This past weekend, AMC’s The Walking Dead returned to television to finish up the second-half of its seventh season, and with a Republican in the White House, we are expecting the shows popularity to soar once again. Now, we are not saying this because it is very likely that Donald Trump is the American President who will lead us to some hellish zombie strewn wasteland, -but we aren’t not saying it either. No, what we really mean to point out is the correlation between movie/TV monsters and the party that holds in power in our government. You see, over the years some people have noticed a trend in our entertainment. When there is a Democrat sitting in the White House, vampires tend to be more popular, and when there is a Republican then zombies surge in popularity, like some sort of viral media plague. So, how does our current Tangerine-in-Chief lead us to a resurgence of zombie love? Let us explain…

28 Years Later
Now, unfortunately, the correlation is not always exact, especially in the past couple years where sustained success by AMC zombie shows and YA vampire movies have distorted the formula, but for the most part it appears that when a Republican sits in the Oval Office we get more zombie movies/TV shows, and when a Democrat sits in the Oval office we get more vampire-related media. This is not a new phenomena either. It goes all the way back to the 1960’s when Night of the Living Dead premiered during the Nixon era. There were several adaptations of Dracula during the Carter administration. Ronald Reagan gave us a Night of the Living Dead remake, a sequel, and two Return of the Living Dead movies. Bill Clinton bequeathed us Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview With a Vampire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, From Dusk to Dawn, Blade, and many more. George W. Bush gave us the start of the Resident Evil series, 28 Days Later, and even Shawn of the Dead.  President Obama’s term started with the release of Twilight and True Blood, and though AMC did not premiere The Walking Dead, until 2010, the comics go back to 2003 and George W. Bush.

No, as we stated before, this correlation is not one to one. After all Christopher “Saruman” Lee’s classic portrayal of Dracula happened during the Eisenhower administration, of course it was also a British movie, so it might be harder to fit it into the chart. -It is also worth noting that during the movie’s release in 1958, the Democratic party regains control of both the House and the Senate– Regardless, there have been plenty of good and bad zombie or vampire movies released in years opposite their associated political party, but this theory tends to focus on the sheer number and popularity of these mediums as they correlate with the man sitting in the White House. The real question is, why does this happen? What is it about the public psyche that embraces zombies during the days of Republicans and vampires when the country is ruled by blue states? Well, it could be a combination of a lot of things.

Interview with a Republican
The first theory is that when vampires take hold of our pop culture imagination it is because of what they represent and what we are afraid of, which correlates to why we vote. Republicans fear the concept of vampires. After all, if Dracula bites a good conservative girl on the neck then she becomes a sexual and liberated being. She does not need her father to protect her and she cannot be stopped from biting and sucking -if you know what we mean- with whomever or whatever she wants. That is very antithetical to good conservative values, which preach that everything must be prim and proper. For a political party that makes their claim on keeping everything traditional, the lifestyle of a vampire is pure terror. It is also how some Republicans may see a Democratic President, a person infecting the youth non-traditional ideas and values. Thus, the fear of vampires rise when a Democrat sits in the White House. It is a rational fear manifesting as an irrational scenario.

However, there is more to it than that. After all, Republicans share some traits with vampires too. Please excuse us if this gets a little cynical, but in the latter half of the 20th century the Republican party became the party of the rich and powerful. That can also describe vampires. Unlike zombies, which are broke shambling masses, vampires are usually portrayed as cultured and rich. They are sometimes lords or even royalty. Modern depictions, such as those in the Underworld, series show them as the aristocracy. They control things behind the scenes to ensure that their human cattle remains unaware of their machinations and remain as a steady and pliable source of nutrition. They literally suck the blood from the working class, the homeless, and the destitute.

So, perhaps the fascination of vampires in the Democratic era can also be explained by the way people vote. When the country leans toward liberalism people are more willing to embrace the progressive vampire, while also fearing the the oligarchic bent of the Republican party. This second theory basically states that instead of fearing what we voted for, the people vote against what they fear. Maybe the masses -who consume pop culture- voted for a more liberal leader because they associate Republicans with powerful blood-suckers. Our movies then reflect the fears of “what could have been.” A story about all powerful vampires lets us view our fears -through a fantastical lens- making the genre more about escapism than horror.

Night of the Living Democrat
However, we cannot let the Democrats off the hook either. Conventional wisdom about the subject says that Democrats fear zombies, because they are everything that the Republican party loves in voters: mindless -flag-waving- unquestioning masses. Zombies make the most prominent appearances in Republican eras because the progressive liberal voters most acutely fear the idea that the unreasonable and mindless have overthrown their civilization, dismantled their federal government, destroyed diversity, and returned power to small concentrated groups… of survivors. Zombies legitimately try to eat people’s brains in order to turn a thinking and feeling person into the same sort of unquestioning creature as themselves.

Yet, similair to the example of vampires, there is more going on here. After all, to claim that only one political party has the monopoly on the mindless masses would be disingenuous. The Democratic party has shifted in the latter part of the past century, and to many conservative voters it appears as if they are the party now trying to tear down the old world and disrupt the old systems. Remember George Romero made Night of the Living Dead, not only as a horror movie, but as a critique against American consumer culture -basically the idea of capitalism. So, when a Republican rules the White House and when zombies rule the airwaves, maybe we are again partaking in a sort of dissociative fantasy where we all revel in “what could have been.”  Thus, those who voted for Bush or Reagan or Nixon, could just as easily fear the progressive horde coming to ruin of their traditional American way of life; and that translates into zombies.

Then again, maybe it is both theories, or neither… After all, and regardless of how you vote, or how you feel, it is important to remember that these are just monster movies. The most effective of them channels our already predisposed fears and prejudices to give us something that is a familiar reflection combined with a foreign image. Horror movies don’t work unless we can find something of ourselves in the unknown, and that is what vampires and zombies have been doing since the Kennedy era. So maybe zombies are a little red and blue, and maybe vampires are a little conservative and liberal. That just means we are all diverse people with different thoughts, opinions, and even fears.

The popularity of these two undead monsters do statistically shift along with the political opinions of the country, but whether you want to put stock in this odd correlation or not it is still worth remembering that we all have fears. We are all afraid of something, whether that be the vampires, zombies, or even the real undead, politicians. We fear monsters because we see them as stereotypes who are both the same and not the same as ourselves, in much the same way we have come to view those of opposing political view points. Thus, maybe instead of judging each other as monsters it is time that we all sit together, grab some popcorn, and remember that the world is not the horror movie we sometimes make it out to be.

Protests

Saturday was an historic day in the United States. 2.9 million people across the country got out and made their voices heard in protests from New York City to Los Angeles to Washington DC. The NYRD was present for it all. We took a trip down to the nation’s capital to make our voices heard in the largest single protest ever in American history. However, it has also left us wondering, what was accomplished? After all, Donal Trump is still President. His cabinet nominees are well on their way to being confirmed, things like Climate Change and Immigration Reform are still missing from the White House website. So why do we march? Why do we even bother?

“Get Over It…”
There has become this prevailing myth in America that protests, such as the Women’s March that took place over the weekend are simply about rejecting Donald Trump as President or lamenting the failure of Hillary Clinton. The conservative right enjoys likening protests to temper tantrums by children who refuse to eat their vegetables, but making that kind of a generalization is a disservice to the people and the process of our democracy. We cannot disagree that there are plenty of people out there who are still frustrated over the outcome of the election -As Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote by 2.9 million more people- but that is not the whole story. These protests are not so much about rejecting the election results as they are about rejecting the policies and questionable actions of Donald Trump himself.

Time and time again, you have an educated electorate watching a man denigrate women, spew hatred toward immigrants and Muslims, disregard constitutional law because he finds it inconvenient, and set forth a wholly pessimistic and isolationist viewpoint toward what America is and what it should become. No, the protests are not about the past. They are very much about the future, and there are a lot of people anxious about that future. Humans fear what they can’t control, and protesting feels like a way to take that power back. For the critics out there, yes, sometimes that has meant isolated violent incidents, but on the whole those seem to be the exception and not the example.

“You’re Not Going to Change Anything…”
Protesting alone will not change anything. Trump and his team will ignore, deflect, and lie as they have throughout the election process. The Donald seems impervious to truth, reason, and logic, like some sort of delusional Superman. However, the protests are not really about getting Trump to change. They are about showing unity and putting anyone who is paying attention on notice. Senators, congressmen, local legislators, and more now know that people are willing to fight and they are willing to fight in large numbers. Democracy is not just about voting, but about showing up and making your voice heard. That is why the the right of peaceable assemble is enshrined in the First Amendment.

Protests such as the Women’s March have another purpose too. The world’s eyes are on America. Such giant displays of spectacle and protest go a long way to assuring the international community that the American people will not go quietly. It tells our friends, our allies, and even our enemies that the people of this country still have a voice and we are still fighting. That message is more important than any we can send. We are a country of the people, for the people, and by the people.

There are many nations out there who have become saddened and afraid by the election of Donald Trump. Make no mistake, the international community is now a less stable place than it was on January 19. Trump’s call for isolationism, and “America First” is a return to a diplomatic policy we haven’t espoused since the end of World War I. Yet, the world needs America, and -despite what our new Dear Leader believes- America needs the world too. Shutting our doors and shutting our eyes is only going to make everyone less safe and less prosperous. However, letting the American people’s voice be one of unified dissension gives hope, and proves the real reason why are still one of the greatest countries out there.

“There is More Work to Do…”
The NYRD has felt very privileged and honored to be a part of these historic protests, even in our small way. Yet, we have to recognize that our job is not done. We can take hope from our small victory, but we cannot let it be the end. Protests are only the first step toward standing up against what is alarmingly wrong. Now that we have put people on notice we need to follow through. Write letters to your Congress-people. Support the causes you believe in: Women’s Rights, Climate Change, Fair Immigration, Refugees, Minority Rights, and more. There are plenty to choose form. Research organizations that are doing the most good, and if you cannot support them financially then get out there and volunteer. Make sure you support the free press. Make sure you are well-informed. Make sure you build bridges to people with different views. AND make sure you can identify the real information from the propaganda -or the “alternative-facts” as they are now being called.

The bottom line is that we can no longer sit on the sideline. We can no longer trust the government to do what needs to be done. It is now up to us to change the world and not simply rely on the people we voted for. Yes, in a way that is sad, but it is also an opportunity. We are entering into a time of great change and we now get to define what that change is, not Washington, not Congress, and certainly not Donald Trump. So great job to all 2.9 million protestors, but now the real work begins.

inauguration

Donald Trump’s inauguration is tomorrow, and there is a persistent question that has been popping up around here the past few weeks. “Would you rather live in the rise of an empire or the fall of an empire?” It’s a fundamental question about personal preferences and ideals. Would you rather live at a time when your deeds and thinking might matter, a time where your actions might shape the very fabric of your world? OR would you rather live at the height of luxury, enjoying the fruits of all the laborers that have come before you? Your civilization might be on the decline, but at least you will be personally comfortable… well unless you’re living at the very end of the decline than things might get a little, “barbarian-y.”

When Rome Burns
We would be lying if we pretended this question was not related to the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump. However, we are also not implying that Trump himself is solely responsible for the decline of what was once called the American Century. There have been indications all along that America’s place as the world’s last superpower has been coming to an end. The election of Trump is just a prominent signpost on that road. We also don’t want to indicate that we think the United States will be any less powerful militarily, politically, or otherwise in the world, but we need to acknowledge that we’ve lost a step or two in our old age.

After all, Nero fiddled while Rome burned, or so the story goes -the fiddle would actually not be invented for another 1000 years. Yet, Nero stand as a good example of Trump. The Roman Emperor was the last of the Julian-Claudian line, last blood Emperor of Augustus. He was very popular among the common people and he was a noted land developer… We’re talking yuuuge gymnasiums and theaters. He was also a performer and grew up in the lap of luxury. His reign was fraught with scandal and frivolity. And eventually Rome and the Senate turned on him, declared him a public enemy, and impeached him… from life. Now, we are not saying anything like that is going to happen again, but the parallels are worth thinking about. Nero ruled during a very troubled and polarized time in Rome, and that rule did not end well. However, Nero was not the end of the Empire. In fact, Rome lasted another 400 years, but Nero certainly showed the cracks in the system.

We have to wonder if that is what Trump’s inauguration is doing, showing us the cracks in our system. He will not be our end, but he certainly is an indication that things are changing. The United States has enjoyed nearly a century of dominance on the global stage, but the election of Trump and his isolationist policies show that we may be heading toward a world where America does not stand up as a global leader, not on terrorism, not against Russia, not on human rights, and certainly not on climate change. Maybe in 2000 years people will remember how Trump fiddled as the world warmed, but this editorial is not on Trump so much as is it on America and how we deal with these tests to our national identity and our most sacred ideals.

When Romulus Burned
Maybe, we are approaching our first question in the wrong way. Maybe, concepts like “rise” and “decline” are just arbitrary ways humans use to measure time and history. After all the Roman Empire did not entirely fall over night. The Byzantium Empire lasted centuries longer, and When Rome fell others were able to rise. History continued. It’s not like the world exploded, unless of course you are the Romulan captain, Nero. The Star Trek villain gives us another good and possible representation for the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration. For many on Friday, our world will seem like it is literally exploding, literally collapsing. Captain Nero watched his planet burn, and he went crazy. For him there was no road to take, but revenge and death. He burned Vulcan and attempted to burn Earth. He choose to succumb to despair and anger. He gave into the pessimism of his situation, but Star Trek has never been about pessimism, so he lost.

We need to remember that, because we can choose to look at the bigotry-misogyny-ignorance-isolationist-wave of super-heated orange gas that is coming toward our world, and accept defeat. We can stand by just share mean tweets, funny memes, and spew our frustration and hate on Facebook and Twitter. We can try to burn down the worlds of other people as our has been burned. Yet, Star Trek give us a different option on how to view this inauguration. It is a franchise built upon the hope that humanity will one day become something greater than it is. It is a series that tells us that humans are their best at their darkest hour, and we at The NYRD choose to believe that. Maybe it is some kind of fatalistic flaw, or some evolutionary benefit, but when things get bad humans have the ability to band together, fight together, and come out stronger on the other side. Take World War III for example.

We know what you’re thinking, “Whoa, WWIII? Slow down. That won’t happen for at least two weeks after the inauguration.” Maybe… but in Star Trek history World War III is the absolute worse thing that happens to humanity. We are talking nuclear war, biological warfare, fracturing nations, human savagery. Earth literally descends into hellish chaos for decades. Yet it is from that darkest time in humanity that humans develop the warp drive, and finally learn to work and live together toward something greater. They graduate to the next step, but even then all of humanity’s problems and fears are not solved. We see again in the lightly-watched Enterprise series starring Scott “Quantum Leap” Bakula, that before Earth can become the founding world of the United Federation of Planets they must compete with the Terra Prime movement. It is an isolationist and bigoted movement that opposes non-human immigration, promotes Earth as being more important than the rest of the galaxy, and wants to close Earth off to all alien contact. Its leader even mimics and reveres the rhetoric of another famous genocidal leader. -Actually, now that we put it into words that is sounding eerily prophetic for a series that aired in 2005-

This Will Be on the Final Exam
Regardless, our point is that Terra Prime, like the ghosts of World War III are eventually overcome by humanity. Then we create the Federation, the embodiment of tolerance, peace, and science. Earth becomes a utopia, but it doesn’t happen over night. There were a lot of challenges to overcome, and a lot of times when things looked bleak. However, this “future-history” is built on the idea that sometimes it is always darkest before the dawn, and that we cannot move on till vanquish our demons. Racism, sexism, poverty, inequality, corruption, and many other demons still exist in America today. Trump has embodied them all in one form or another over his life, but maybe there is a reason this inauguration is happening.

Trump is our Terra Prime. He is our final test before we can move forward, the last dying gasp of an extreme form of conservatism predicated on the irrational fears and hatreds of our past. Donald Trump is our sins made manifest, and we must force ourselves to look them in the face. He is the Nero of our time, except he is not an alien conquer, or an Emperor, only a President, and as powerful as the POTUS is, he is not America. We -the people- still have the ability to do what is right even if our leader does not. So now -with the impeding inauguration- we find ourselves, again wondering about that first question. Maybe it is not the right question. Maybe we are not living in the decline of America, but simply just another another bump in the road. Maybe it is all about perspective.

So, we need to decide: Do we accept Donald Trump and his inauguration into the halls of power as the indicator of our decline, the first step toward the barbarian hoards that will one day come to our gates? Or do we take him as our greatest challenge to overcome before we get to move onto something better. Before Trump, it was assumed that liberalism had won the culture war. It was assumed that America and the world would just progress toward equality and justice. We know now that that was a lazy assumption.

After all, there is always a final exam before you get to graduate. So take out your No. 2 pencils and begin. You will have four years to finish the test.

Obamacare

Well, we’re back from vacation and we spent our break playing a lot of roleplaying games and if there is one thing we have learned it is that every party needs a good healer. That is true whether you are a Level 1 Warrior or a Level 17 Civil-Engineer. However, the US Senate is looking to repeal Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act. So, seeing as we are back from break -with fuzzy heads and lingering colds- we thought now would be a good time to explore this keystone healer act in detail. Is it “Good?” Is it “Evil?” Or is it just “Lawful Neutral?”

Wand of Lesser Health Care
In order to explain Obamacare we need to take a look at what came in ages past. In those days of yesteryear, -2010- 1 in 6 Americans did not have health insurance. That is about 50 million uninsured people, and if they broke a leg or got deathly sick their only option was the Emergency Room and high medical bills. When these bills couldn’t be paid the costs usually got deferred by hospitals by passing it on to those of us with health insurance. That is one of the reasons why the amount we spend per person on health insurance, $8,745 -according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – is at least $4,000 more than the per-capita expenditures in countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK.

Before Obamacare, health insurance premiums were rising at about 10% per year. In comparison, the housing market in New York City increased by 20% between the beginning of 2001 and the end of 2010. That is about 2% on average a year, but it doesn’t stop there. Health premiums were even higher if you had a pre-existing condition, such as cancer or being a woman. In fact, the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States was because of medical expenses. Over 75% of people declaring bankruptcy for medical bills had insurance, and -on top of all that- you could be kicked off your health insurance plan if you were sick, which sounds… absurd. An insurance company used to be able to kick you off for getting sick… you know the very thing you paid them to help you with. That would be like a Rogue who refused to disarm traps. It’s your damn job, Todd. If you didn’t want to deal with traps you shouldn’t have chosen to be the Rogue. Children were also kicked off their parent’s health insurance by the age of 24 or younger depending on individual health plans.

Since taking affect in 2010, Obamacare has righted some of these wrongs. Children can now stay on their parent’s health insurance until the age of 26. You cannot have your health insurance plan cancelled if you get sick. You cannot be charged more if you are a woman or have a pre-exisitng condition. You cannot now be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Birth control is now covered under insurance for women. 20 million people now have health insurance who were not able to get it before. There is also evidence to suggest that health care premiums have risen slower under Obamacare then they would have otherwise. These are all objectively good things -and it is worth remembering that- but Obamacare is not perfect.

In the Eye of the CL13 Beholder
In August 2008, 82% of Americans were dissatisfied with their health insurance and were looking for an overhaul of the system. yet, in 2016 people who overwhelmingly wanted Obamacare gone voted for Trump. In fact, 74% of Republicans want the Affordable Care Act repealed, but why?… Here is where it gets more complicated than memorizing all your Level 16 Wizard Spells. The numbers and benefits of Obamacare get a little murky when you start to look at them through the eyes of the average American. It is legitimately debatable if the ACA has benefited or hurt middle of the road Americans.

About 12.7 million people are now buying health insurance through State marketplaces or Healthcare.gov. More than half of all Americans still get their insurance through work. About a third of Americans are on Medicare or Medicaid. The rest are still uninsured. Overall, only about 4% of Americans are on the Obamacare exchanges, and in the past year their Obamacare premiums rose 22%. Yet, subsidies also rose, meaning that most people getting health insurance through the ACA will not have to shoulder the full cost of that hike in 2017. Unfortunately, those subsidies come from somewhere, and that is the taxpayer. Now there are indications that those healthcare premiums are lower than they would have been without Obamacare, but that has been disputed by conservative analyzers.

This whole debacle shows the weaknesses of Obamacare, like the soft underbelly of a mountain troll. Taxes have increased thanks to the ACA, but mostly for higher wage earners and the healthcare industry. Those along with the new mandates that force health insurance to cover sick people -we know its an odd thing- do mean that some costs have filtered down to middle-income and lower-income consumers and business owners. The paperwork has also become more complicated, especially in regards to the Individual Mandate, filing for exemptions, and filling out tax forms. More to the point, because of mandatory insurance laws for businesses some employers have cut workers’ hours so as to avoid giving them health insurance. For those people who are getting bare-minimum health insurance through their employers, they do not qualify for the marketplace, even though they could get better coverage there. Similarly, there is a not-so-insignificant population of Americans who do not qualify for healthcare subsidies, but who are still forced to purchase healthcare on the exchange at the higher price… And yes, under Obamacare, some people had to give up their doctors.

Rolling a Perception Check
So, in the end what does this all amount to? Every year America shells out a Dragon’s hoard of money to the insurance industry and Obamacare has not changed that very much. Even President Obama has admitted that. The law is not perfect and in need of fixing. The ACA has failed to insure all Americans, as only about one-third of eligible Americans are actually enrolled. It has failed to reduce healthcare premiums in any significant way or curb outrageous pharmaceutical and medical costs. Lastly, taxpayers -mostly high-wage-earners- subsidizes about $6,000 per formerly uninsured person. However, we ask that you don’t label it as a failed system just yet.

Part of the flaws of Obamacare came because it was a compromise law between Republicans and Democrats. It was not a single-health payer system, but it was also not an entirely free-market solution. It was a potion of lesser health, which only restores about 1d8+1 hit points. Strengthening certain aspects of the law can make it more effective in combating high costs and premium increases. It can also go farther to offer protections for low and middle-income households. Unfortunately, that all requires rational thought and debate, which is something so rare as to almost be Legendary in the US Congress these days. Donald Trump, our Orc-War-Chief-Elect and his clan of Republicans have made a career of calling for the appeal of Obamacare, no “ifs” “ands,” or “buts.” This “baby with the bath-water” solution fails to recognize the good of Obamacare. Instead of tearing it down we should all be working to improve it going forward, because it is not an entirely failed system.

You see, if there is one real benefit from Obamacare, it is that the law has changed our conversation. It is no longer about: “whether every American deserves healthcare,” but instead is about: “how do we make sure every American can have healthcare.” Women, pre-existing conditions, young adults, and low-income earners now all have a rhetorical and agreed upon right to be insured in our national conversation. We just need to figure out a better way to improve on what already exists, keeping the positive mandates while doing away with the bad ones. The Affordable Care Act is not the end goal that Democrats hoped it would be, but at least it was a step in the right direction. So maybe we should all calm down, ignore the propaganda of both sides; and think of the ACA as the first level on a long road to something better… Maybe even a Prestige Class.

*Disclaimer: A lot of this has been a simplification of our health insurance policies, and we apologize if we have made it too simplistic, as health insurance is a radically dense and labyrinthine subject matter. It is filled with pits, dungeon bosses, and a fair share of traps… which Todd refuses to disarm. Nat died because of you, Todd. He died.

journalism

Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It doesn’t matter, because we ask that you look across the street to the office building and watch one intrepid reporter click-clacking away at her computer. Yes, the world needs Superman, but now more than ever the world needs people like Lois Lane. The world needs good journalism and we’re not just talking about fancy news reporters working away in their low-paying jobs. No, we’re talking about everyone, because we are the ones who are failing in our understanding of what journalism really is. We may not be able to fact check faster than a speeding bullet or be less biased than a locomotive. We may not even be able to leap tall logical fallacies in a single bound, but we have to try. Journalism is not a passive process and somewhere along the way we have forgotten that. So let us remind you what it means to participate in a process that keeps our democracy free.

Questions of Steel
There is one thing that every journalist has in common, well make that five or six things. When writing a story every reporter, whether they work in Smallville or Metropolis need to keep a few key questions in mind: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How. On the surface these questions might seem pretty basic, but think about how important they are in conveying information. Where did the event take place?… In Lex Luthor’s penthouse apartment. What happened?… A doomsday laser was fired at the moon but stopped at the last minute. Who was involved?… Superman and Lex Luthor. When did it happen?… Last night. How did it happen?… Lex Luthor constructed the machine and used it. Why did it happen?… Good question.

You see these basic questions will not always have answers or most-likely they will have very complicated answers that may require some lengthy explaining or additional research. However, these are the basic questions that every journalist needs to keep in mind when writing or reading a piece. Yes, we said reading, because remember -and we can’t stress this enough- JOURNALISM IS NOT A PASSIVE PROCESS. Everyone is a journalist in one form or another. You may never win a Pulitzer or even put a sentence to a page, but you still have a responsibility in the world of journalism. If you read the news or engage with articles online you have to always be asking yourself: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How, as you read the article. You need to identify the essential questions of anything you read, because if you can’t or if you find an unsatisfactory answer it is your job to do further follow-up. Something might be rotten in the Daily Planet, but if you are not actively being aware of the core information being relayed to you, you might miss it.

Now, larger “think pieces” or “interest pieces” such as what we do here at The NYRD will not always cover all those questions. We try to, but the nature of the things we write about doesn’t always allow us to cover the When or Where or sometimes even the Who of certain pieces, but it also worth arguing that in journalism those are not always the most important questions. In fact, the biggest question every person needs to keep in mind is the “Y” of an article. In journalism there is an unspoken why, which we like to abbreviate down to the “Y” of a story. This is the bigger “why.” It is not the “why did the events of this story happened,” but the “why is this story being told?” Is it informative? Is it entertaining? Is it persuasive? This unspoken why is essential to the practice of journalism, especially in today’s modern age. This seventh question helps us interpret the intent and the execution of news articles, and -especially- online pieces -like what we do here at The NYRD.  That is why the burden of this question lies heaviest on the reader’s shoulders.

Lois Lane is a good reporter, but much like her husband, Superman, she can’t do it alone. We’ll say it again: Journalism is not a passive process. You, the reader, need to keep this unspoken seventh question -the “Y” of whatever you read- always in your mind. To do so, you need to be able to do some critical thinking and even fact checking. Good news: That is easier than it has even been, thanks to the Internet. If something is too ridiculous to be true or too infuriating to seem believable, then question it. Many times the “Y”of a story might be simple and dull. The police blotter in your local paper, for instance, will tell you the arrests that happened that week because as the citizens in a community you have a right to know what goes on there. However, the “Y” might also be something more sinister. Propaganda is the extreme side of this spectrum, where false news is reported in order to influence the populace to think or act in certain ways. More Importantly, remember that news does not always have to false to be misleading or even an outright lie.

The Bias of Kryptonite
Another thing that good journalists try to avoid is “bias.” That is the evidence or appearance of a journalist having ulterior motives in a story or slanting the narrative in one party’s favor over another’s. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, and most people assume they understand it, which is also why so many people -and at least one President-Elect- get it wrong. It turns out most people are actually are very bad at identifying bias, mostly because they fail to recognize that bias is unavoidable. Professional journalists understand that bias cannot be avoided. That is why when they talk about it they talk in terms of managing it. After all, we are humans and whether it be through the use of subtle adjectives or even paragraph construction bias will always exist in our endeavors. That is something all the Citizen-Lois-Lanes out there need to recognize. So let’s start by breaking down how to identify the slant of a news stories.

Managing bias needs to start with accuracy, because the most common form of bias in journalism happens unknowingly Often it is accomplished through omission or misplaced weight on shaky sources. The best way to think about the reliability of news sources is called the Protess Method. Basically, picture it like a giant target with three rings.

  • The outer ring -or the least reliable source of information- is secondary sources. This is when Lois Lane quotes a fact from another print news organization or publication. For instance, when writing a story on Lex Luthor’s corruption she may quote a fact from the Gotham Gazette, which is usually a fairly reliable source of news. The problem is that unless the Daily Planet researches where the Gazette got their information there is potential for the propagation of misleading facts, or even simply misquoting how those facts were used in the first place. -It is also worth noting that this is the primary type of the source material that we here at The NYRD rely on, though we try to find corroborating accounts from multiple sites-
  • The middle ring is related to primary source documents. These are court transcripts, senate bills, and other documents generated by an official organization that is part of the story being handled. Thus, the official police report detailing the arrest of Lex Luthor is considered a more reliable source than the article about the incident from the Gotham Gazette.
  • The center ring is comprised of interviews with people directly involved with the story, such as witnesses, lawyers, police, superheroes, etc. If Lois Lane gets a quote about the arrest from Superman -who was at the scene at the time- than we generally take that as a more accurate source than the police reports.

You may say that eye witness testimony is not always the most reliable, and you would be right. That is also why you need multiple corroborating sources. You see, the number of sources that corroborate each other gives weight to the information, regardless of its place in the Protess Method. One shaky eye witness whose interview is completely negated by multiple other sources is probably unreliable. It is often best to get multiple sources from multiple rings, court documents, eye witness testimony, etc. Regardless, it is a journalists’ duty to find the best and most accurate sources of information before going to print with a piece. That means it is a reader’s duty to identify and gauge the accuracy of sources being presented in a news story. Check to find corroborating evidence? Evaluate if shaky sources are being presented as solid fact.

As we said before, bias is part and parcel of the package. In fact, some news source purposely bias themselves in one direction or another. This is often done to garner ratings, outrage, political favor, or even out of pure self interest. That is also why it is so important for us, the readers, to do our best to be aware of the slant of the new organizations that are supplying us with our information. For instance, the Luthor News Network is not going to be very non-partisan on the arrest of Lex Luthor, but that example is easy to spot. The real problem comes when the Metropolis Times is owned by Rocket LLC, which is actually a subsidiary of Luthor Corp. Funding is a powerful conflicting force, especially in journalism. In our world, sites like Breitbart or even Slate know they can garner more clicks and more advertisements if they stoke the fires of outrage and lure in more readers with click-bait headlines. That is why you, as the reader, need to understand where a news piece is coming from, as well as what it is saying.

These are two titles for the same video. Note the sources.
These are two titles for the same video. How does each influence you to feel?

The Last Son of a Dying Business
Journalism is not a passive process, but it also an essential process to a free and vibrant democracy. The press is called the fourth pillar of our government. It is the check and balance against the corruption of our system, and it is the pillar that relies heaviest on us, the people. Participating in democracy means participating in journalism, and that means you have a responsibility. You cannot take anything you read -especially on the Internet- at face value. Thankfully, there are a lot of non-partisan sources that can help you distinguish between fact and fiction. However, you have to be able to open your eyes to what you at reading so that you can question the assumptions being made, not only in the article, but the assumptions that you might already hold. As a citizen journalist you need to ask that “Y” of everything. “Y” is this news source reporting on this? “Y” are they writing it the way they are writing? “Y” did this particular piece show up on your news feed? Could it have been written from another angle? How accurate is the information? We know that all this sounds exhausting, but after this last election it is more vital than ever.

So as we admire the Man of Steel, let us not forget Lois Lane, and maybe we can all be a little more like her too. Superman may be able to punch a comet out the sky, but he cannot save you from your own bias or the slanted news reporting. Only you can do that, because when it comes to journalism, fact checking and questioning are burdens we all bear. After an article is published, or an interest piece, or even a sports blurb in your local high school paper, you have a responsibility to question it, because nobody will do it for you.

bubble

We made a promise to ourselves that we were done writing about election-related issues, but much like our electoral college, promises were apparently made to be broken. -Oh, sick civics burn- Yet, if this election has proved one thing it is that we know nothing about how the other half of the country works, lives, or even what starting Pokemon they would choose. We believed that the Internet was going to open up the world and expose us to people from all around with different lives, opinions, and thoughts, but it’s quite the opposite. The Internet has only become a maddening bubble of echoes where our own opinions are shouted back at us, except in a deeper voice and sometimes in the form of a Kermit meme. So how did it get this way, and how do we stop?

Identifying Your Bubble
We realize that because of the very nature of the Internet, your Google search algorithms, custom advertising, the history of articles you have previously “shared” or “liked,” and because of Benedict Cumberbatch many of you will never even see this article, let alone read it. However, that is kind of the point we are making here. In small and large ways, we are all trapped in a bubble, and your first instinct may be to respond, “No, I’m not.” Well, than you are in the biggest bubble of all, Self-Denial. It is the nature of humanity and our genetic disposition toward tribal instincts that make us we naturally gravitate to those we find similiar, whether those groups be based upon ethnicity, politics, sports teams, or even Star Trek captains. -Picard 2020-

It is also worth mentioning a bubble is not necessarily bad. They do serve a purpose, giving us a sense of community and a space to feel connected and safe among those of our own kind. It’s basically, the Comic Con factor. Dressing up as Link and Zelda in almost any other context would be weird and confusing, but in the convention hall it so common that no one looks at you twice. Moderate bubblization is fine until we take it too far. For example, Giants or Yankees’s fans having a good natured rivalry with Cowboys or Red Sox fans is all part of the experience, until it turns into a brawl. If we become closed off to the opinions and experiences of those of other or opposing sides than we start to move into bad territory, and now, thanks to the advent of the Internet, we never have to hear another person’s opposing opinion again, if we so choose.

Yet, when bubblization is at its most extreme, that is precisely the time we need to take a step back and evaluate our own place and our own bubble(s). You see, our bubbles are more live Venn Diagrams than complete encompassing circles. We all belong to a variety of different bubbles and some are stronger than others. We might be Trekkies, or Republicans, or African Americans, or tax attorneys, or all of them all rolled into one. Each bubble that surrounds us will have a varying degree of strength and elasticity. One bubble may be mutually exclusive to another, but probably not as often as you might think. It is our job as caring and thinking humans beings to take stock of ourselves and not only start seeing the bubbles we live in, but how big or strong they are. We need to recognize where we live, what we do, what we believe in, and how we live our lives. These factors all help us build our worlds and our world views.

The real concern is when our bubbles become part of us. As humans preconditioned with tribal nature, we can sometimes confuse the bubble that surrounds us with our own skin. This happens when we feel as if we derive self-worth or importance from that flimsy soapy encasement. This is also what happens so often in politics. People begin to identify so strong with the labels of Democrat or Republican; or Liberal or Conservative that we lose sight of the smaller picture. We all share the human bubble, but thanks to our other bubbles no one man or woman among us will ever truly be the same as another. That means a candidate or a party will never fully embody everything we believe in, but if your political bubble is too strong -if you make it part of your self-identity- than you will face more than a few challenges. Not only will you need to find ways to ignore or integrate viewpoints and beliefs that you don’t normally hold, but you will intimately feel every little poke and prick that tries to to pierce your bubble’s exterior. That is the difference between laughing something off and starting a soccer riot.

Stepping Outside
Let’s be truthful here. You are never going to fully step outside your bubble, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a walk every now and then and get some fresh air. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is something worth remembering. Putting yourself in others’ shoes helps in almost any situation. Trying -really trying- to see an argument from your opponent’s viewpoint not only lets you gain a better understand of their side of an argument but also your own. Now, we know that is easier said than done, especially when it comes to entrenched topics like politics. So our advice is: start small.

Don’t tackle an entire political landscape or doctrine all at once. Look at it in small parts and try to think about how and why people might support small positions. Is it out of fear or hope? Is it our of anger or laziness or joy or ignorance or what? And… this is important… don’t make a judgement. You have to be able to see what other people think without superimposing your own views and judgements on top of them. We know that is probably the most difficult thing anyone can do. We won’t lie, you will probably fail more times than you succeed, but for this exercise there is as much value to be found in the attempt as their is in success. Being able to stretch your mind to see the world as someone different is a great way to gain a wider perspective. In fact, it is a lot like traveling. You can never fully understand Hong Kong, Johannesburg, or even Cincinnati until you have seen them and experienced them for yourself. In the end, you may not want to live there, but you will be enriched for the attempt.

Usually the best way to do this is to ask questions and to listen. People want to explain their point of view and they want to do it to a person who is willing to hear them out. Let them explain their position and then ask genuine and thoughtful questions about it. Try to learn why that person believes what they do. Piercing your own bubble is about gaining a greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and a greater appreciation for those that hold them. Often a person’s perspective is shaped as much by their circumstances and their environmental factors as it is by their own intelligence and emotions. Thus, making a effort to understand why a person believes something is as much about understanding them as individuals as it is about acknowledging their ideas.

Lastly, just because you entertain a different idea does not mean you have to accept it. It is okay to examine an idea or a doctrine that is completely opposite and still come back with the conclusion that you were right all along. For instance, you may try to understand why some people think The Force Awakens was not a completely hackneyed attempt to rehash A New Hope, but that does not mean those people are right. In fact, being right or wrong is not actually what this exercise is about. It is about building bridges and understanding. You may never believe that JJ Abrams is nothing more than someone out to ruin your favorite space-themed franchises, but that should not stop you from meeting those who -incorrectly- think otherwise.

Don’t Make it Personal
Perhaps most importantly, you need to show other people respect. The only way you will ever expand your view and the view of others is to have conversations with those that disagree with you. Yet, you can’t make it personal. You can argue with someone about their ideas of policy or their opinions on the news of the day, but when things degenerate into: “You’re a filthy and ignorant liberal…” or “You’re a racist…” or “you’re a Nazi…” then the argument breaks down into petty name calling. You will have failed. All name-calling does is force people to retreat back to their own bubble and close off to what you are saying. Personal attacks don’t work. They are the last refuge of the ill-informed and the frustrated.

Engaging someone with a different view is a two way street. You will say things that will make them upset and they will do the same to you, but for the process of breaking out of your own bubble that is necessary. It is like getting a tooth drilled or a cast set. There will be discomfort, there may even be some pain, but it is how the healing begins. Always remember to treat each other with respect and to try and understand where the other person is coming from. You may not convince anyone. Actually, you almost certainly will never convince anyone no matter how many sources or logical ideas you bring to the table, but there is purpose in the effort. When we stop reaching out, when we stop reaching across to those who think differently, than that is when we wake in a country that cannot be fixed.

It doesn’t matter who the damn President is. It doesn’t matter what the people in Washington say or what they do. America is not a country built by rulers. It is a country built by people, and as long as we make the effort to break out of our little Internet shells and engage others thoughtfully and respectably, than this world will get better. You also shouldn’t be afraid to have your mind changed, because growing and gaining new understandings of the world around you is not a betrayal of who you are. It is a sign that you are living a vibrant and well-examined life.

For homework:

  1. Identify your bubbles;
  2. Read something from a news source* that does not necessarily reflect your worldview;
  3. Engage with someone who does not normally agree with you; and
  4. Keep an open mind.

*Conservative Reading to Consider                                                                *Liberal Reading to Consider
National Review                                                                                                – Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal                                                                                   – BuzzFeed
The American Spectator                                                                                  – The Atlantic
The Weekly Standard                                                                                       – Slate

trump

We know that you believe you did the right thing. We know that you didn’t cast your vote out of racism or hatred, but because there was something there that you believed.  Maybe you sincerely believed that one candidate was going to make your own life better, or maybe you were just mad as hell at the system. Maybe you voted for the candidate you wanted or maybe you voted against the candidate you hated. Maybe you felt ignored. Maybe you felt angry. Maybe you believed that it was better to burn it all to the ground than work within the system we had. So, you voted for Trump, and we can respect that.

That was what you believed. Now we ask to respect what we believe, because it is not that at all. We believe that Donald Trump embodies everything we fear. There are many people in America who are afraid today, not angry, not sore losers, but actively and physically afraid. Our new leader threatens everything we hold dear, and even everything you hold dear.

You think Trump will help get your manufacturing jobs back? Trump doesn’t even use US manufacturing in his own company. And here’s the kicker, US manufacturing jobs have been back on the rise 2012. The Presidential candidates -all of them- have very little power in controlling the globalized market. Yes, they can tax and tariff, but in the end that will only do more harm than good. Putting tariffs on manufactured goods from overseas and Mexico will only raise the price that everyday Americans pay on items by that same amount, some estimates put the price hike on products as high as 45%. Paying that much on products does not help the average American, whether they voted Democrat or Republican.

You think Trump has a tax plan that’s going to fix our economy? He will for the wealthy and the corporations. His plans will cut taxes on the rich, reducing their tax burden from 39% to 33%. Most middle-class tax rates will remain the same -about 25%. However he is going to standardized exemptions and deductions, which means that most middle to low income families will get less exemption and less deductions on their annual income tax. He is also going to do away with Estate Tax, meaning that money inherited will no longer be taxed. All of this benefits the people in his tax bracket. The kicker is that low income families will feel the worst of the squeeze, with their lower tax rate being offset by a larger loss in exemptions and deductions. His plan is going to reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over the next decade, and 47% of those tax cuts and relief will go to the top 1%… to the Trumps of the country. Even worse, according to the Tax Policy Center his plan could increase the national debt by nearly 80 percent of gross domestic product by 2036.

You think he believes in good family values? You think he respects Christian values? When has he ever acted as Jesus would act? When has he ever showed compassion? When has he ever acted humble? When has he ever appealed to love instead of fear and anger? No. You may have small town values, but not Trump. He lies, constantly. He does not love thy neighbor, especially if they are an immigrant, a minority, or a woman. He brags about his sexual exploits. He treats women as objects. He has never shown an ounce of charity or altruism. He cares nothing for the poor or needy -refer back to his tax plan. He is an adulterer, and does not value the sacraments of marriage. He is as far from a good Christian as you can get.

You think Trump will close our borders and make us safer? His polarization, his us versus them attitude, will not keep us safer. His fear mongering has been wrong from the start. America was the safest it had been since the birth of this nation, but like some self-fulfilling prophecy his very candidacy has made us less safer. Bullying and hate speech have been on the rise for the past year. His candidacy has been used by terror groups as recruitment propaganda. An isolationist attitude toward the world is only going to make America even more hated and feared. Its not going to fix the problems. Closing our borders and withdrawing from international politics is only going to cause more problems, especially amidst the resurgence of Russian power and aggression. Its not going to stop terror attacks, it will only make us less informed in fighting and preventing them. Our society -like it or not- is a global society. Isolationism for any country is a daydream at best and a dangerous and misguided principal at worst.

We’re going to do what? Ban all Muslims? Because the terrorists who sneak into our country would obviously never lie about their religion to serve their greater purpose. We’re going to build a wall? Because forget that 40% of illegal immigrants actually arrive by plane, but they can’t can fly over walls. Right? How about in the inner cities? Are we going to crack down hard on criminals and lock them all up? Because that has been working so well in the past. We need to fear people who are different than us? Because building bridges between people of different races, sexual identities, national backgrounds, or even political opinions is… what? stupid?… No, no its not.

Listen folks, normally we would make some jokes, maybe relate this topic to some pop culture reference like Hunger Games or the Star Trek mirror universe, but not today. We can’t today. Everything about what just happened has been absurd enough and the only thing we can think to do is write about it.

The truth is that women’s rights are in serious dangers. Trump’s supreme court nominee will have the ability to overturn Roe v Wade, and he’s promised to do it too. That means women are going to face tougher uphill battles to gain access to their own reproductive rights. In a Trumptopia, women will have no right to control their own bodies. It is darkly comical that Trump talks so much about hating Islamic extremists, yet he shares that particular value with them. This is a disaster for half the American population.

The truth is that programs like healthcare are going to be cut. Obamacare will almost certainly be killed. You may rejoice but that means 24 million Americans will lose their health plan. That is a national disaster.

The truth is that not taking in Syrian refugees is very very dumb. The USA already has one of the most stringent vetting process to accept refugees, and that goes doubly for Syrian refugees. Not doing our fair share to help people in need not only makes us look bad, but it hurts us economically and politically. Refugees bring in economic wealth and growth to areas that they are resettled in. You have a greater chance of being shot by a toddler with a hand gun than a Syrian refugee. This is a humanitarian disaster.

The truth is that science programs are in legitimate danger, including NASA. However, we should take it as a given that The Paris Climate treaty is ruined. Trump will do everything he can to back out of that deal. He has repeatedly called climate change a hoax. He will not implement any of the desperately needed changes that this country needs to become energy independent and green. They are bad for business, especially his business. This is a global disaster.

The truth is that almost every person knowledgeable in economics, politics, science, military, international relations, domestic relations, national security, humanitarian rights, and common human decency said Trump was a bad bet. But we showed them… Trump now has the Presidency, and is the head of a populace movement. The Republicans control the House and the Senate, but even the more moderate and level-headed of them will not oppose his will for fear of facing his disapproval and losing their seats. We are facing the legislative equivilant of the French Revolution, guillotine and all.

With that said. America has pulled through worse. We have overcome far dire consequences. As a people, as a nation, as a brotherhood of humanity if we come together we can endure and we can thrive as we always have. Maybe today isn’t a day for despair. Maybe today is a reminder that we need to be better versions of ourselves and come together to help each other. This country’s strength has always resided in its ability to put partisanship aside and do what is best for everyone. We sincerely hope and believe that we can do that now.

We have to…

trump-voters

This Presidential race is closer than you might think or hope… “Do’h!” And the reason is: that despite the hatred, bigotry, and sexism of Donald Trump, his voters are NOT all idiots or closet racists. -Don’t get us wrong, some very much are- but support for The Donald goes deeper than that. So we wanted to take a look at Trump’s strongest demographic and what our research unveiled was that they look a lot more familiar than you think, especially if you watch cartoons on Fox. No, not Fox News, just the Fox Network on a Sunday night. Because the ideal Trump voter looks kind of like someone who might live in Springfield, Quahog, or Arlen, Texas.

President of the Hill
Thanks to polls and demographic studies conducted by the Washington Post, ABC News, Nate Silver, and 270towin.com we are able to get a much clearer picture of what a typical Trump supporter looks like, and they are exactly what you might expect. Please know that this is just a statistical average, as we realize that there are others who support The Donald who may not fit one of these categories. However, if you are voting for the Republican nominee it means that you are most likely to be: White, Male, Identify as Conservative, Heterosexual, Between the Ages of 40 and 65, Do Not Have a College Degree, Do Not Live In or Near a Major Metropolitan Area, and Are Making Around the Medium Household Income -AKA Middle-Class.

We know these aren’t exactly shocking statistics, however they are representative of a kind of common American, an Average Joe. It is the kind of representation we see every week on TV, especially in the form of Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Hank Hill, and hundreds of other animated and non-animated typical TV father types, and that says something. We do not hate these characters, -well, most of the time- but at the very least we see them as well meaning buffoons. Hank Hill, for instance, is a true-blue Texan-American who like trucks, Reagan, and propane. In fact, the main conflict of his story is often that his conservative ideals must cope with the changing landscape of things like immigration, sexuality, and other uncomfortable topics. He doesn’t always handle them right, but we do not see him as the bad guy. He might be a little obtuse, but we know he is well meaning, and that would probably not be an unfair assessment of many Trump voters.

As fun or comforting as it might be to believe that all of Trump’s supporters are toothless raving racists or backward sexists stuck in a idealized 1950’s fantasy, these generalizations don’t help the contentious climate or the progress of our country. Don’t get us wrong, Donald Trump has certainly captured the white supremacists demographic, but we can’t believe that 39% of likely voters are just in it for the cross burning. These cartoon dads are upset over something and simply dismissing their votes as simple fear or protest is too simplistic. It also diminishes the possibly legitimate concerns of two-fifths of America’s voting population. So maybe there is more going on here.

Lost in Springfield
We, here at The NYRD, have lambasted Trump in the past, and proven why he would make an unfit President, but this article is not about The Donald, himself. It is about his voters and why people have chosen to follow him. There are several factors, but if you really look at the statistics the most undeniable conclusion is that a lot of Trump voters are people who feel voiceless. Most of them are low to middle class white men, over the age of 40 who feel as if the country has left them behind. They are the Homer Simpsons of the world, living in some generic Springfield and wondering why their American dream means going from paycheck to paycheck while the Mr. Burns of the world rule over them from a super-villain-like position of power. The irony is that they have basically chosen a “Mr. Burns” to combat the rest of the Mr. Burns out there, but for them the choice does still makes some amount of sense. They believe no one is paying attention to them, and they’re not exactly wrong.

According to survey form the RAND Corporation, likely voters who agreed with the statement: “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to be for Trump, and we kind of get it. Listen, we are born and bred New Yorkers, living in a liberal bastion of progress and sewer rats, but if you are Homer Simpson living in a -presumably- Midwestern small town you understand that there are no TV shows or movies that take place where you live. The celebrities, politicians, and wealthy 1% don’t always share your values, and the sources of your media and entertainment come mainly from LA or NY. To rural America, the cities get all the attention and control all the culture. For our part, the coasts export our ideals as if they are universal, but maybe Ned Flanders or other fundamentalist might disagree. Right or wrong, Trump supporters are the ones who feel sandwiched in the middle and lost in the mix. After all, it can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you aren’t even being heard at all. So without a voice they have seemingly decided to pick the loudest person in the room to speak for them, which is not all bad because they do have some legitimate complaints.

A lot of the small towns around the United States have fallen on hard economical times. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 61% of the total job losses under NAFTA were relatively high paying manufacturing jobs, centered heavily in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California. In small town ares, like Springfield, if the main source of employment dries up or moves to foreign soil that can be devastating for residents. If Mr. Burns were to close the nuclear power plant a lot of Springfield would be out of a job, and towns like that -with low populations- cannot simply shift to a service-based economy, like what has happened in New York, Chicago, or other big US cities. There is a reason that Trump usually scores the highest in debates when the candidates are talking about trade agreements or economical issues. Those are some of the most important things for those disenfranchised voters. Unfortunately, their justifiable grievance are often lost in the rhetoric of racial tension also spewed by The Donald, not that most of them mind. To them, that tension is also a direct result of some of the other things we have been discussing.

Buttscratcher! Buttscratcher!
Now, let’s be clear we’re not saying they are right, but for a lot of Trump voters their economic troubles tie in with the questions of race and immigration. A lot of the Peter Griffins of the world look at the top 5% of American earners and see that their income has doubled, while minimum wage has barely moved. They can look at Washington and see a place that looks like it is doing everything it can to improve the lives of African Americans in the “inner cities,” but wonder why no one is doing the same for them. After all, it is usually politically savvy to at least talk about how you will improve the “inner cities,” -even if nothing gets done- but some poor rural white communities don’t even get that kind of lip-service. Meanwhile, they also watch as politicians talk about immigrants and refugees coming into the country, and to the person barely making end’s meat for their family, that could mean more workplace competition and a feeling that someone else might be getting something without putting in the same effort that they did. It is the beginning of resentment and misunderstanding, and Donald Trump -for all his many faults- understands how to harness that frustration.

Peter Griffin does not see himself as a racist, after all he has Cleveland as a friend… and that counts… right?… In their mind, even if people like Peter blame Mexicans for certain things or those “other” black people for things they are not going to self-identify as bigots. That is important to understand too, because when people and the media portray Trump supporters as hatred spewing Klan members a lot of them -ironically- feel as if they are being stereotyped, and that turns them off to any thoughtful engagement of the issues. It doesn’t help that Trump often sets up the media as being unfairly out to get him -despite the fact that they have given him at least $2 billion in free advertising and counting. This feeling of persecution only further hardens the resolve of Trump voters and drives them away from active engagement. In a sense, even the most reasonable people can start to become hardened to reasoning when they feel as if everyone from journalists to the Republican leadership is turning them into some ignorant, hillbilly, backwater cartoon parody, which is something movies and TV have done for years. After all, even in Rhode Island, a liberal state, there are still plenty of Peter Griffins and plenty of disenfranchised Trump voters.

Two-Dimensional Voters
And maybe you have noticed that is part of the problem. You see, while discussing the topic of not reducing all likely Trump voters to stereotypes or caricatures, we have done just that. We are comparing them to cartoon dads, like Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson, and though that comparison is wildly clever and comical, it is also a reduction of real people and the issues they care about. So why do we do it? Mostly because it is funny. While we here, at the NYRD, pride ourselves on being inclusive and examining the major topics of the day in thoughtful and complex ways, we have also found that we are not above making generalizations when it comes to making jokes, and Donald Trump and his followers sometimes make that too easy. Remember, that the statistically average supporter of The Donald is also the last demographic that America has agreed is still okay to make fun of: white, middle-aged, middle-class, men. That is why we have the stereotype of the stupid and fat cartoon dad to begin with, and that is also one of the reasons why these voters feel as if they have been pushed to the fringe.

For some, Donald Trump is a flare fired off in a crowded room. He is the loudest and most obnoxious thing they could find to make everyone notice them. Yes, he might be dangerous and others might get hurt, but at least -for them- something might change. Still for others, they may recognize he is crass, abrasive, and more than a bit myopic, but at least he is talking to them. Two-fifths of likely voters will cast a ballot for Donald Trump. So maybe instead of reducing their views as being crazy or racist, we need to do more to understand why they feel the need to vote for an orange misogynistic demagogue, even if he is not someone they would ever leave their daughters alone with. Nothing is going to change if, after this election, we just reduce Trump voters to cartoons and shuffle on with another 4 years as if nothing happened. We love people like Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, and Hank Hill, but they are stuck in a perpetual state of animation. They and their families don’t even age, and they often have little to no lasting character development. We can’t afford to let so many in our country feel the same way for even another season.

police

An oversized and heavily armored transport lumbers forward accompanied by armored troops with weapons at the ready. Impersonal faces concealed behind masks suddenly raise their weapons and fire into the crowd of rebels. Gas canister fall among the ragtag ranks as some of their number panic and scatter in the face of such an imposing army… No this is not a scene from the latest Star Wars movie, but it could be. Instead, this is a scene that has been played out across the country as local law enforcement continues to become more militarized in their equipment and attitudes. In many places the police are looking less and less like a domestic peacekeeping force and more and more like an army of stormtroopers marching on the orders a Galactic Empire…

1033 Why Aren’t You at Your Post?
We want to start off by saying that we respect the police and everything they do. They have an incredibly hard job, and the majority of our boys and girls in blue are dedicated and amazing people who do a service to our country. However, we cannot ignore the facts that more and more local law enforcement is looking like stormtroopers invading Hoth, rather than officers of the law. Militarization of our local police forces began simply enough. In 1990, with the National Defense Authorization act. This was replaced in 1997 by the 1033 Program, both of which allow the transfer of military surplus to local law enforcement agencies, including camouflage, body armor, assault rifles, and armored transports. This was enacted at a time when we were at the height of our “War on Drugs,” and as a way to justify a bloated military budget in the post-Cold War years.

These programs may have been conceived with the best of intentions. Transferring surplus equipment from the military to police makes cost-saving sense on a certain level, and for the most part it has helped alleviate some cost burdens on smaller municipalities. Many departments have taken advantage of this program to acquire equipment like binoculars, radios, headsets, bullets, and even office supplies, but that’s not all. Small towns like Mishawacka, Michigan and Watertown, Connecticut have used the program to acquire things like MRAPs. In case you don’t know what that is, MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. They are used to protect soldiers from roadside bombs and ambushes in war zones. We aren’t entirely sure how many mines there are in Watertown, Connecticut, but is there enough to justify their use of $733,000 military vehicle? In one instance, the town of Bloomingdale, Georgia received four grenade launchers under the 1033 program, which seems a bit extreme.

In that instance, a representative of the police force stated that possessing the launchers told criminals that officers were, “

DOD Equipment
Aren’t You a Little SWAT to be a Stormtrooper?
In the Star Wars Universe there is no local police force, at least not in places like the Outer-Rim, such as on Tatooine. We see in A New Hope that Mos Eisley is patrolled not by police, but by stormtroopers. That’s because, white armored soldiers setting up checkpoints and arresting people with rifles drawn are all telltale signs of an invading army. By the Empire’s own admission stormtroopers are as much tools of intimidation as they are of peacekeeping. The same is true of the AT-AT, the lumbering walking tank that can be seen in Empire Strikes Back. The All Terrain Armored Transport is a psychological weapon of fear above all else. It was designed to keep peace on conquered worlds as an imposing expression of power. It along with fully armored and armed stormtroopers tells the local populace that they have no power. They are subjects and any resistance means dealing with swift retribution at the hands of a 22.5 meter tall walking tank.

In our world, a fully loaded MRAP and fully armored SWAT teams send much the same message. Police looking to justify and play with their new toys and have made the sight of giant armored vehicles and military grade weaponry a common one on the streets of downtown America. According to the ACLU, nearly 80% of studied SWAT teams were used to serve search warrants in drug cases. It has been estimated that 50,000 to 80,000 SWAT raids occur every year in the United States. Most police departments are reluctant to release exact numbers on how often they use their SWAT teams, but the use of them has been on a steady rise for decades. This is startling considering that SWAT teams were originally conceived in the 1960’s as special operations units that responded only to the most serious threats, such as hostage situations or mass shootings. Now, over the past 80 years the percentage of small US towns with SWAT teams has grown from 30% to 80%. In Maryland in 2012, half of all SWAT deployments were to issue search warrants for “Part II,” or nonviolent crimes, and two out of every three SWAT raids used forced entry. Even more disturbing, about 15% of the raids in Maryland in 2012 resulted in no seized contraband of any kind, and a third of the raids resulted in no arrests.

It should come as no surprise that SWAT raids disproportionately affect poorer neighborhoods of color. Proponents will say that is just where you find the most drugs, but according to statistics white Americans are more likely to possess and use drugs than African Americans. However, the real problem with the excessive use of SWAT teams is the message they send. Stormtroopers and AT-ATs marching through Mos Eisley and searching house to house for missing droids is not the kind of reputation that helps police do their actual jobs. Similarly, owning four grenade launchers and saying that police are prepared to use them, sends the message of a military gearing up for conflict, not peaceful patrolling. In fact, in some cases the presences of militarized SWAT teams have escalated situations instead of restoring order. By some accounts, violence did not start in Ferguson, Missouri until SWAT teams moved in and fired tear gas, turning the protests into something that looked like a less entertaining version of the Battle of Endor. In fact, the Ferguson protests were one of the reasons that President Obama made the decision to restrict the sale of military weapons to local law enforcement, because police need to start being less stormtrooper and more community oriented.

A Galactic Community
One of the reasons why the Empire’s troops tend to be so reviled is that they are outsiders. White clad faceless enforcers landing from outer-space to occupy and control native populations. The men behind the helmets do not come from the occupied system, nor do they have any attachment or relations there. They know nothing of local customs or of the local people, and that is a problem that also faces our own nation’s police force. In urban areas of color, and other lower income areas the police who patrol it are often not from the neighborhood. They come from the outside, and know nothing of the the people or the places. In many cases, those police also do not relfect the diversity or makeup of the community itself. In Ferguson, for example, the police department only has 3 out of 53 officers who are black in a neighborhood that is 67% African America. That means 94% of the officers cannot even begin to relate to the experiences of 67% of the community. To them the neighborhood becomes “just a job,” a place where they go to put their lives in danger and deal with the criminal element. Those officers, like the invading stormtroopers, will never see the areas they patrol as anything but crime-infested and dangerous. That is their only interaction with the community they have. They only ever meet its criminal elements.

However, ideas of community policing help change that. It is an old idea done in a new way. In cities where the new program has been tried, police officers are no longer just there for enforcement. Instead, policing becomes a community service. They attempt to walk the streets, meet the people, and get to know the good as well as the bad. The principal is that it will give officers an affinity for the neighborhood, and begin to build trust between residents and law enforcement. Today, more than ever, police officers need to be seen as community helpers, and people who have a stake in the success of the neighborhood, not just as an outsider. This is the type of thing that has been going on in local and rural communities for years, but it is desperately needed in inner cities and urban areas. Building relationships also helps prevent crimes. People are more willing to go to the police with their problems or contact a local officer with information pertaining to criminal activity. It makes the police and the community-at-large partners in preventing crime, not adversaries with an “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Some officers will be quick to dismiss it, calling it dangerous or a waste of time, and it is true that community policing initiatives have had mixed results over the years. However, that also has a lot to do with the willingness of the officers who are assigned to engage in such initiatives. It is also worth mentioning that it is safer than ever to be a police officer. Police homicide rates have dropped dramatically over the past decade to record lows, and crime in general has taken a nose-dive, and yet people feel less safe and police feel more under threat than ever. We need to deescalate the antagonism between police and residents by returning to older ideas of policing. In fact, even the way officer dress can affect, not only how the community views them, but also how they view themselves. Wearing combat camo and armor immediately puts everyone involved in the mentality of violence. Even something as simple a wardrobe change can go a long way to giving police a better image, but many departments are still reluctant to make the change.

We can’t forget that being a cop is -at its heart- a service job. Law enforcement exists to serve and protect, but lately many department have adopted a mentality of by any means necessary. This has led to military vehicles rolling down our roads, SWAT teams breaking into private residents, and a whole lot of distrust between police and the people they are trying to serve. Some departments are not always willing to take the first step toward deescalation, but we can only hope they remember that deescalating a situation is entirely their job. So if that means throwing away the stormtrooper helmets and stepping back from their AT-AT’s than maybe that is what needs to be done. We understand it can tough, though. It is hard to put away your super-cool toys, but like our old Star Wars action figures maybe it would be best if we left them behind in a galaxy far far away. And for more information on this subject check out the documentary Do Not Resist, coming to theaters this weekend.

Now move along… move along.

Trump Pokemon

“I wanna be the very best. Like no one ever was…” No that’s not part of some Donald Trump campaign speech, it is actually the opening lines to the Pokemon theme song. Both The Donald and Pokemon Go saw a huge popularity at the height of the summer, but like the augmented reality phone app that lets you catch pocket monsters by sneaking into your neighbor’s backyard, the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States has begun to decline in popularity. However, it is unfair to compare Trump to Pokemon Go, because the truth is he is more like an actual Pokemon. Not only is Trump a wild shade of orange, but he enjoys repeatedly hearing his own name and he is constantly evolving into new and terrifying forms.

Egomogul
A capitalist-type Pokemon, Egomogul enjoys the spotlight. This creature is a buffoon by nature, often starring in reality shows and making its mark on the world by writing its name in gold on the side of buildings it doesn’t actually own. As a political candidate it is mostly a joke, involved only to promote its next book or next season of television… Its main attacks are Childish Insults and Facebook Arguments.

It’s hard to remember now, but in the beginning of his campaign Donald Trump was a man on a mission, a mission to get as much free publicity as humanely possible. So he announced his candidacy by descending a golden escalator and spouting off whatever the heck came to mind at the time. This is where the famous line, “When Mexico sends its people… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…” The sad part is that it was that one terrible and very false statement by Trump which changed the US political landscape forever. It drew national media attention and -like an expensive and racist car crash- America couldn’t seem to look away. The Donald spent most of his nomination campaign playing the fool, making outrageous statements, and even making remarks about his own penis size during a Presidential debate, and worst of all it was “super effective.”

Trump being outrageous meant that he basically got about 2 billion dollars worth of free advertising. Suddenly, Donald Trump, became a name you heard every night on the news. He was given front and center positions at the debates. Everyone from Stephen Colbert to Matt Lauer to actual journalists were talking about the walking-talking-Internet-comment-section-come-to-life. Featuring his latest crazy remark or rally violence was a way to improve their own ratings, but it also improved his notoriety. Maybe the old adage is true, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Trump spent only $10 million in advertising during his Republican nomination campaign, as opposed to Jeb Bush who spent $82 million. Guess who dropped out in shame, because it wasn’t the one who called for the American military to commit war crimes against Muslims. You see, that was the real power of The Donald. In the beginning he was a running joke, an Internet meme, a late night punchline, but much like the initial cute and non-threatening form of most Pokemon, something more terrifying was just waiting to emerge.

Egomeleon
The evolved form of Egomogul, Egomeleon is an opportunist-type Pokemon. Weaker than its initial form, it is much more unsure of itself, often flip-flipping to try and mimic more mainstream political-type Pokemon. This form is also a lot less popular than Egomogul, but a lot more dangerous, especially to women, minorities, and immigrants… Its main attacks include Incite Riot and Racist Tweet.

Like a Pokemon fed a bad candy treat, Trump was forced to evolve from his buffoonish persona to one that was supposed to be more “mainstream.” Unfortunately, the transformation was not exactly what his Republican Poke-Masters had hoped for. So instead, we were given a candidate who he is constantly spouting off impossible to believe remarks as his handlers desperately try to recant them. On the issues, Donald Trump has changed his plan on dealing with illegal immigrants: 6 times, his plans for tax reform: 6 times, his plans for defeating ISIS: 5 times, his plans for “fixing” Obamacare: 4 times, his ideas on gun control: 7 times, and the list goes on. Of course, this might have been avoided if Trump had actually started out having some sort of initial policy -aside from his “secret” plans to magically solve these problems- but that wasn’t the case. The real irony is that the candidate who is famous for “saying exactly what he means,” is having real trouble saying what he means.

However, there is something a lot more terrifying about RNC Nominee Trump as opposed to Candidate Trump.  When many news personalities and journalists predicted that he would pivot toward a more mainstream centralism appeal, he did the opposite. His campaign doubled down and decided to ramp up the fear factor. Instead of the usual flag waving and chants of “USA… USA,” which are so expected at the RNC Convention, Trump’s people pushed a narrative that made America seem dangerous and dirty, like New York in the 1980’s or Pallet Town during the Pokemon Gang Wars. Even worse, Trump’s own acceptance speech contained dozens or bold-faced lies about the state and safety statistics of America, because the Egomeleon cares little for actual facts, just the narrative that it knows it can get away with. The Republicans spent a week telling Americans that they were in danger from terrorists, criminals, and generally anyone who had a darker shade of skin than printer paper. It was a narrative aimed at people who enjoyed Pokemon White, to exclusion of those who enjoyed Pokemon Black, Red, Yellow, and even Blue… if you get our meaning.

This is the true danger of Trump. With his numbers looking like they are, it is unlikely he will claim victory in November, but his campaign has proven itself to be ugly and dangerous in its own right. It is giving a strong voice to a small minority of prejudice, violent, and bigoted Americans, and it is making their ideas more mainstream again. It is giving permission for hate speech to be said in public, on a podium, from a position of media-backed authority. The moment that The Donald stepped on stage at the RNC Convention was the moment he stopped being an odd political curiosity and became a major threat to American ideals, security, and constitutional rights. We have fought so long and so hard to get to a point in history where we have come to see the value in diversity and the moral principal of freedom of religion and speech and so much more. We are not saying the road has been easy or that we are anywhere close to its end, but we cannot let an orange hate-breathing creature gain power or we might face its true and hideous final form.

Egotator
The Egotator is the evolved form of the Egomeleon and the final form of the Egomogul. A demigogue-type Pokemon, it is considered the most power hungry form of any creature. The world has only seen a half-dozen or so Egotators in the past century, most of which have resulted in wars and genocides that have cost millions of lives… It’s main attacks are War Crimes and Nuclear Launch Codes.

There are many jokes about a world under President Donald Trump, but the reality may be no laughing matter. The biggest problem with President Donald would be that he is first and foremost a reactionary man whose sole purpose in life seems to be to convince everyone of how great he is. We have seen him often rise to cheap insults and go out of his way to aggrandize his own accomplishments and power. That is fine for a reality star, but it is dangerous in a man charged with representing the international interests of the United States. Vladimir Putin has already demonstrated that he knows how play the Republican candidate like a cheap fiddle. You need to wonder how much negotiating power is really going to come from a man that is so easily flattered. Will he really be willing to “talk tough” with Iran, or China, when their leaders start off meetings by showering him with praise about his “genius” intellect or his big “hands?” Will he even really care about the interests of the country if he is offered a deal that benefits him personally?

He has also shown a distaste for the press, a disregard for the rules of warfare, and a tendency to play to the passions of a crowd. More to the point, Trump has shown very little understanding of constitutional rights and a willingness to use power to feed his own ego. We know for an almost absolute certainty that he would look to maximize the power of the Imperial Presidency. He has proven that he is willing to do what is convenient and expedient, regardless of legality or morality. That is why so many people have become concerned about Trump having his small finger on the proverbial button. By his own admittance he does not often confer with advisors before making decisions, and nuking a small Asian country is usually the kind of decision you want to talk out before you do it.

In all likelihood, most of his more outlandish campaign promises -like a certain wall- would be attempted and then quietly backed down when the true financial, political, and common sense implications come to bear. Most experts do seem to agree that he is probably going to start a trade war with Asia, which will be very very bad for the common American. Yet, the real problem with predicting a Trump Presidency is that we seem to have no solid policy basis from which to do so. Other than generalized and hyperbolic statements about how something something is bad and something something is good, the Republican candidate usually gives very little detail about how he hopes to “Make America Great Again.” That makes him both confusing and possibly even more dangerous than you might believe. We will not be able to pin a lot of solid positions on Trump by the time he would take office, and that means he could do almost anything, even things that are are counter-intuitive to the Republican base that elected him.

Regardless of your opinion on Donald Trump -and if you can guess we have a low one of him- you have to admit that he is not the same man who started this campaign so many months ago. He has changed and evolved, gaining more experience, radicalized followers, and more CP than anyone thought possible. In many ways he is a magikarp that transformed into the biggest meanest and scariest gyarados you can imagine. We don’t know for sure what the world might look like if America collectively screams, “Donald Trump, we choose you!” but we do know one thing for sure… His pokeball is probably solid gold and inscribed with thirty foot tall letters that spell out his name.

America

So, our time on the road is coming to an end. As we make our way back to the Big Apple we find ourselves reflecting on our weeks of traveling across America. Sure, we could dwell on all the fun we had, all the interesting sights we have seen, or on all the things that went wrong. Yet, that has not been our real takeaway from this experience. Ultimately, our journey has always been about the people. We have met people from New York to New Orleans, from Chicago, IL to Fayetteville, NC, and for the most part everyone has been kind, caring, and amazing. It has not mattered whether we were in a blue state or a red state, Americans have proven to be truly special people, and that is something worth remembering in today’s climate.

Gateway to Understanding
The news media has this tendency to cast everything in a bad light. We get it, good news doesn’t sell. However, sometimes this leads to a skewed perspective on the world. Talk to anyone who does nothing but stare at their Facebook feeds all day long. “The world is coming to an end.” To look at all the bad news and to watch what is going on out there you might think these are the end times. After all, violence is up, the economy is out of control, Donald Trump is being elected President. Surely the four horsemen are not far behind. Yet, that’s not the America we found out there, and its also not the first time we have thought like this either.

Traveling across the nation is also about traveling through our history. We spent some of our days visiting Native American sites, Civil War battlefields, and even Dollywood. When walking through such historic places it is almost impossible not to find yourself reflecting on the good the and bad of our collective history. That was especially apparent in St. Louis, where the Dredd Scott case took place. For anyone not familiar, Dredd Scott and his wife, Harriet were slaves who sued for their freedom. The case was lost, but the Scotts were eventually granted their freedom by their masters. The Supreme Court case made national headlines at the time, and proved to be a polarizing issue in the lead up to the Civil War. The court ruled that the Scotts were property and had no right to sue under the US legal system, but the legal battles raised awareness of the issues surrounding slavery and the decision helped galvanize support for the Emancipation Proclamation.

Similarly, while we were touring the famous St. Louis courthouse and learning about the case, one of our team picked up a newspaper. It was a souvenir reprint of the original newspaper that was published on the day the St. Louis Arch was completed. The main story was -of course- the towering new monument, completed in 1965. Yet, once you got pass that fluffy and inspiring article a further examination of the paper showed nothing but stories of political scandals and news of Vietnam. After all, 1965 was not exactly a calm year for the United States. So, picture holding that newspaper in your hand on the day it was printed. Despite the main story, it would not have been hard to look at all the scandal, war, conflict, and violence and believe that, “The world was coming to an end.”

Road Tripping Across History
That is kind of our point. Maybe we always think the world is coming to an end? Maybe that’s how it always goes.

In hindsight, we know that the world didn’t fall apart in 1965, and that slavery eventually did end, as did the Civil War, World War I, and the Cold War. It may seem that we live in a crazy world of turmoil, politics, terrorism, Pokémon, and heaven knows what else. It may seem that this is the worst time the world has ever faced. There are school shootings, and the government is coming for your guns, and taxes are out of control, and liberals are running the White House, and conservatives are running the Congress… But when you really look at history you begin to realize, that may just be the human condition. After all, wouldn’t you have felt the same if you lived through the Civil War? Didn’t they feel the same when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Didn’t people feel like the world could end any moment if the Russians ever dropped that bomb? And don’t even get us started on the 80’s -that was just one agonizing fear sandwich of a decade.

Our point is that during the Dredd Scott case all the slave owning white people probably thought the world was turning itself on its head, in the same way many evangelical Christians probably feel about Marriage Equality. When it was finally decided all the abolitionists probably screamed about the “backwardness of the country.” During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had people who hated and blamed him as much as he had people who loved him, much like our current President. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War… and maybe, we are a country doomed to repeat our own history. Maybe we are a people doomed to repeat our own panic attacks, because we always think our time was worse than anything before. Maybe it is time we all took a step back and looked at the world in comparison to our ancestors.

Two Steps Back, One Look Forward
The truth is that the world and America are going pretty well. According to ForeignPolicy.com, “combat deaths are the lowest they have been in 100 years.” We’re smarter than ever before. We’re living longer than ever before. Violent crime is way down. The number of people living in poverty has been cut in half in the past two decades. 22% of the world is getting energy from renewable resources, The US deficit has been cut by nearly 50% since 2009, and our taxes are among the lowest in the developed world. We have smart phones, and the Internet, and Netflix, and the ability to travel to anywhere on the globe in hours. We have rockets and robots on Mars, and even robots that have left our solar system. Our medical care is better than any time period before, and childhood death is so low that any incident has become unthinkable, which is something that was not true even 100 years ago.

Objectively, any person from any other time period would look at our world and claim that we lived in paradise, and yet all we see is the darkness. We tend to focus on the bad because of our perspective bias. We don’t know any other time or any other place, so we have no way to compare our personal experiences to that of someone else from another era. Couple that with the fact that we tend to look at the past with nostalgia. We see our childhood through rosy-colored glasses. We like to think it was amazing, and the world was better back then. Yet, while we were happy and content playing stickball -or whatever- there was racism, and war, and sexism, and poverty. We look at the past as better, but it really wasn’t. So we believe the cable news networks, or the nostalgic listicles, or the orange polticial candidates that tell us the world has “gone to hell,” and that “America was better in the old days,” because we feel as if it is true. It’s not.

Listen, we are not saying that is still not problems that are in dire need of fixing, because there are. Climate change is real, systemic racism still runs rampant, and terrorism is one of the defining problems of our times. All we are saying is that maybe we can try and dwell on the good sometimes too. On our trip, we met a lot of Americans of all religions, races, and political persuasions. We learned that they are all good and decent people, reasonable in their beliefs and their respect for life. We sometimes tend to construct these bloated ideas about other places or we demonize other people, and we never bother to verify those assumptions with our own experiences. Well, we here at The NYRD have done just that, and we can reassure you, life is pretty sweet, but there is no place like home.

New York, here we come.

Dear Great Britain,

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation… but on this side of the Atlantic we’re not entirely sure you have done that adequately. Speaking as friends, we’re concerned for you. We just want to make sure that you have really thought out this whole “Brexit” thing. Leaving the European Union is a big decision and maybe its time we had a real conversation about that.

In a week’s time it will be 240 years since we last sent you a formal letter of declaration. We all know how that one turned out, but if We the People of the United States were to be really honest with ourselves, the truth is that a lot of our reasons for leaving the British Empire were specious at best. In fairness, you treated us better than we usually like to admit. So please know we completely understand the impulse to be rebellious for no other reason than anger and the desire to thumb your nose at the establishment. However, our circumstances were also not the same. In 1776 we were colonies with no representation in Parliament and no choice but to follow your rules. In 2016, the United Kingdom was not a colony of the European Union, but a voluntary member. You had a vote -and an important vote- in how things were done. Now, thanks to Brexit you have thrown that away, and there are going to be consequences… for all of us.

To be James Blunt about it, your actions have weakened your own country, weakened Europe, and weakened global stability. There is now a very real possibility that Scotland and even Northern Ireland will be leaving the United Kingdom in order to stay members of the EU. For anyone who voted for Brexit with delusions of getting the old Empire back together, than that notion should be quickly dispatched. Speaking as a former colony, those days are gone, and now you are on the verge of losing at least half of what you still have, including the lucrative oil fields of Scotland. Yet, the problem goes much deeper than that, because the European Union is now weaker and may even face similiar referendums from hard-line conservatives in places like France. A united Europe has been good for the world, especially when it came to dealing with threats like Russian aggression, piracy, and terrorism. An EU without the might of Britain and especially its military will no longer be as strong or connected.

Many Americans do not yet understand the ramifications of Brexit. Some will even incorrectly applaud it as a “blow for freedom,” or other such cliched rhetoric, but it will affect us as it will affect the world. The day after the Brexit Referendum passed the global stock markets, including the NYSE, plunged to record lows. The British pound dropped to about $1.37 against the dollar, the lowest it had been in decades. Even worse, America has now lost its most trustworthy ally in the EU. Great Bee, we know you always have our backs and we will always have yours, but that was why it was so important that you remained in the EU. You were the counter-voice to nations like Germany and France. Don’t get us wrong we love the Germans and the French as well, but sometimes they have strange ideas. Don’t believe us? Check out the EU’s national anthem. You were our voice of reason, our rock, our everything, and now that’s gone. Even worse we are going to have make all new trade treaties with you, but quite frankly we’re the least of your problems.

You see the United States is Britain’s second largest foreign market, guess who the first is? It’s the European Union. Now, economically speak it’s very complicated, but one of your biggest reasons for Brexit was because of the insistence that Europe was creating Draconian regulations that were stifling the UK’s economy. Unfortunately, leaving the EU is not going to fix that. Your private industries still need to trade with Europe, which means they still need to follow those regulations for export, and since it makes no sense to manufacture the same goods in two different ways, so will the UK. Even US companies follow certain EU regulations, because we want to sell our goods to Europe and Britain will too. That means your country is going to have negotiate all new trade agreements with a Union you basically just told to go “Sod off.” They are going to look to make an example of you so that no other countries *cough France* gets any similiar ideas. That probably means higher exports and limited access to some markets.

You may think, “well that’s alight, as long as we get to keep those bloody refugees out of our country.” See… here’s the thing. You’re probably not going to be able to do that either. Unless the UK is planning on going full isolationist, the EU is not going to allow you to close your borders indefinitely if you want to keep trading with them. Your economy needs the European markets. Even worse what are you going to do with the thousands of Europeans living and working in the UK? Do you give them citizenship or do you boot them out? Kicking out foreigners and refugees may feel good, but it is also another way to nosedive your economy. More labor import actually increases a country’s value. In fact, many experts are expecting an economic boost for Europe thanks to the influx of refugees. There are also 2 million Britons working in Europe. What happens to them? Do they have to come home? Do they become European citizens? You see by withdrawing from the EU you are also withdrawing your citizens from the EU and that means they are going to lose a lot of privileges when it comes to travel and overseas work. Not everyone is going to be happy about that.

Maybe that’s why Brexit so was heavily rejected by the younger generation of Britons. The generation that grew up under the EU and experienced all the privileges that if offered. It was the older generation that favored leaving. We do want to say that the United States completely understands this knee jerk impulse. Similar to your former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, we here in the States also have a crazy-haired insane man screaming nonsense from an undeserved pulpit. We are months away from possibly electing an orange skinned bigot to our highest office. We know how you feel, because whenever we mention the chance of a Donald Trump Presidency everyone still sort of chuckles at the impossibility of it, than quietly weeps to themselves at the sheer terror of it. Brexit was a lot like that. No sane person probably ever thought it was going to pass, and now it has. All over the world, we are seeing countries having sporadic and terrifying ultra-conservative reactions. In our progressive world we want to believe that these are simply the last gasp of an older way of thinking, but they still pose very real dangers to the stability of our planet, and that has been illustrated in no clearer way than with the United Kingdom’s most recent referendum.

So in response, and the real reason we are writing this letter is because we are hoping to get your permission for the United States to join the European Union. We hear they have an opening and it just feels like the right decision. We will of course have to change the name to something like the Transatlantic Union or the United Federation of Planets or something, but we can work all that out going forward. You see, under the EU, Britain’s unemployment rate has been consistently lower than our own, even during the financial crisis of 2008. Your economy is one of the strongest and has grown tremendously thanks to access to the European Single Market, as well as benefiting from the individual trade deals that the EU has set up with 52 countries around the world. As EU citizens, Americans would be allowed to move and work freely throughout most of Europe, and quite frankly a lot of our people could use a little more worldly travel.

Being part of the EU would be a great opportunity for any country. In America, our economy would grow, we could become less dependent on China, our citizens would become part of something much greater, and we could gain a seat in the governing body of the EU and help them make decisions that better affected the stability and peace of the world. Yet, and more to the point, it’s not 1776 anymore, and the world is no longer separated by vast oceans of wooden sailing ships. We’re sorry to be the ones to tell you this, but the British Empire is never coming back, except in steampunk novels. Similarly, the “American Century” is over. Both our countries need to accept that our powers are starting to wane, but instead of railing against it, we should be using what we have to build a better and more peaceful world. As countries and people we can no longer stand apart from one another. The challenges of climate change, radicalism, Daleks, and more must all be met with unified resolve. This planet is more connected than ever and it imperative that we start to learn how to live, work, and pull together as nations and as citizens of Earth.

So… would you think the European Union would be open to letting us join? After all we have a strong economy and a decently sized military, and we hear those are two things they are going to be needing now. Listen, we know this is an awkward request to make. After all, you two just broke up, and its going to take at least two-years of a messy and painful divorce before it is all over, but we were kind of hoping you could put in a good word for us? Also, we wanted to ask your permission first, because we’re best buds and all. We wouldn’t want to do anything that might make you uncomfortable. So, what do you think? Are we cool?

Anyway, thanks again. Say hello to Wales for us and let us know what the EU says. We would really like to maybe get this done before November… for reasons.

Love Always,

The United States of America

It’s hard to unpack the events that happened in Orlando last week. There are a lot of elements to what is going, terrorism, violence against LGBTQ, but at the core of it is a very familiar debate about gun rights in the United States and a very familiar pattern of outrage, ineffectual silence, and a frustrating inability to change our laws or do anything about it. We here at The NYRD were on vacation while these most recent events took place, and normally we would try to write some sort of witty article about gun rights and statistics, maybe by comically comparing them to movies or cartoons or whatnot. After all, we have in the past, but this time around that doesn’t feel appropriate or especially effective.

We don’t want to clutter this already jam-packed issue with more noise or nonsensical pop culture references. Instead, we have decided that this time around we are just going to give you a list of straightforward and researched facts and let you be the judge. And, quite frankly, we are sick of using the phrase “this time around,” but we have to, because unless things truly change “this time” will keep coming around again and again.

So we’re just going to leave this here:

Mass Shootings
A Mass Shooting is a “single shooting incident which kills or injures four or more people, including the assailant.”

  • There were 372 Mass Shootings in America in 2015.
  • 457 people were killed and 1,870 people were injured in Mass Shooting incidents in 2015.
  • There were 64 school shootings in 2015. (This includes incidents where a gun was discharged but no one was hurt.)
  • Every major American City, except Austin, Texas, has experienced a Mass Shooting incident since 2013.
  • Mass Shootings do not follow any clear seasonal patterns.
  • In incidents involving high-capacity magazines, an average of 13.3 people were shot.
  • 50% of Mass Shooting victims are Female, but Females only make up a total of 15% of gun homicide victims each year.
  • In 57% of Mass Shootings a perpetrator killed a spouse or family member.
  • In 58 of 133 incidents examined the perpetrator committed suicide during the incident.
  • In 16 of 133 incidents examined the concern over the perpetrator’s mental health had been previously raised to medical practitioners.
  • Mass Shootings only account for less than 2% of gun deaths each year.

Other Gun Statistics

  • 13,286 people were killed by guns in the USA in 2015. (This excludes firearm suicides)
  • In 2012, in the US 60% of all murders were committed with a firearm.
  • 88.8 per 100,000 American residents own at least one gun.
  • There are 794,300 police officers armed in the USA compared to about 800,000 armed civilians.
  • Police error rate with a firearm is 11% compared to the Civilian firearm error rate of 2%.
  • Between 1968 and 2011 1.4 million Americans died in gun deaths.
  • Between the Revolutionary War and the Iraq War, 1.2 million Americans have been killed in war.
  • There are estimated to be 300 million civilian guns in the USA, all owned by a third of the US population.
  • From 2005 to 2015, 71 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks.
  • From 2005 to 2015, 301,797 Americans were killed by gun violence.
  • 40% of Americans know someone who committed suicide with or was killed by a firearm.
  • 50% of men killed by guns are men of color.
  • In total, 756 American school children were killed by gun violence, in 2015.
  • In 2015, on average, at least 1 American toddler shot a person at a rate of once a week, a total of 59 incidents for the year.
  • In 2014, gun deaths equaled motor vehicle deaths for the first time in history, about 10.3 per 100,000 people per year.
  • Homes that have a history of domestic violence and own a gun are 12 times more likely to result in one or more gun deaths.
  • 8% of gun owners own 10 or more guns, that is 6 million Americans.
  • Chicago police seize an illegally purchased and unlicensed gun every 74 minutes.

We are not sure what else we can really do, but we cannot let people like the NRA or hard-line conservatives turn this argument into a gun/anti-gun argument, because it is not a black and white issue. No one is talking about banning weapons altogether, but putting restrictions on the selling and purchasing of such weapons does seem a common sense solution. We are not anti-gun. In fact, we believe strongly in the Second Amendment, but no amendment is absolute. Unfortunately though, the results of our country’s loose gun laws often are… absolute.

“Mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand,” at least according to Magento, and as much as we want to disagree sometimes the hopeless cynicism of the Master of Magentism just tends to properly illustrate the plight of humanity. In the Marvel universe mutants are feared and hated because of their differences. They are unfairly labeled as different, dangerous, and categorically stereotyped as being menaces to decent society. In that universe, mutants often face harsh discrimination, often finding themselves barred from even the most common of places, like public bathrooms. At least on that point, Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, and all the X-Men seem to have a lot in common with the transgender population of many US States.

You Homo-Sapiens and Your Laws
The issue currently being discussed around the country is over whether transgender and other people who associate themselves with a gender identity other than their biological gender, can use bathrooms that better fit their identity as opposed to their biological gender. Perhaps, the most notable anti-non-discrimination bathroom law has taken place in North Carolina. In a special session, North Carolina legislators created a bill aimed at specifically barring transgender people from using public bathrooms that did not befit their biological parts. This bill, created in response to an anti-discrimination ordinance put in place by the city of Charlotte, was put up for vote even before some lawmakers had a chance to read it. However, it is worth noting that North Carolina is not alone. Battles over similar bills have taken off across many southern and western states including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and others. In fairness, many of those bills were ultimately defeated. Meanwhile states like Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware already have laws that protect the members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination, though not always specifically when it comes to bathroom use.

President Obama added his voice to the argument by issuing a directive to schools for LGBTQ children to be allowed to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity rather than their biological gender. This of course, was countered by a fair share of backlash from more conservative members of the educational community, including 11 States that have now filed a lawsuit against the POTUS. Yet, the laws and legal battles are really just a reflection of something deeper. After all, the bathroom has always been a battleground for societal changes and discrimination. It’s like the Savage Land of social change. Whether it be women, African-Americans, or the differently-abled, bathrooms seem to be the places where our culture and our country go to argue over what it means to be human, and maybe there is something humbling and embarrassing about that. Or maybe it is just because, -to quote our favorite book- “Everyone poops.”

Brother(Sister)hood of Evil Mutants
In the Marvel Universe mutants are literally an offshoot of normal humans. They are the actual “other.” More to the point, an argument can also be made that they are dangerous. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants certainly demonstrate as much. We mean, c’mon, they even  have the word “evil” in their name. That would be like the if the Westboro Baptist Church called themselves the Westboro Hate Group. It’s a little on the nose. However, transgender people are 100% human and 99% not dangerous -because, unfortunately, every group has some bad eggs.

However, a minuscule percentage should never be used to represent the majority. That is why despite anecdotal evidence, there are no transgender or imposter-gender people sneaking into bathrooms to sexually assault anyone. According to FBI statistics, in 2014 there were about 84,000 reported cases of rapes in the United States. First off… Holy crap people. That is 84,000 too much… Secondly, none were committed by people exploiting gender identities to sneak into bathrooms. 0 reported cases of rape in 2014 in the USA were committed by people of a transgender identity in a bathroom or by people pretending to be of a transgender identity in a bathroom. In comparison, during that same time frame, 2 people were shot… by dogs. Rape culture in America is a huge problem -and a topic for another article- but no serious proposal for preventing rape in the US even comes close to mentioning banning transgender people from bathrooms.

That is why it is absurd to see these “preventative measure” bills cropping in so many states. They are legislation constructed from ignorance and fear. The greatest irony is that many Republican controlled state legislatures are going against their own conservative beliefs to pass sweeping laws to preempt local ordinances that would protect LGBTQ members from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity. The party who is often terrified of government laws infringing on civil liberties -especially when it comes to the right for dogs to bear arms- is using the very tactic they fear to infringe on the civil liberties of others. This is all in despite of the fact that when a person enters a bathroom to sexually harass, sexual assault or rape, it is already illegal. People who commit these crimes are going to do them anyway. It’s not like the perverts, rapists, and pedophiles of the world have been sitting back waiting for non-discrimination bathroom laws. Sexual assault and rape are always illegal, but people using a bathroom that makes them feel safe and accepted should never be.

X-(Wo)Men United
In a way it is often easier to relate to the plight of the X-Men. We know their names and their stories. To anyone who has seen a good or bad X-Men movie over the past decade and half, you know who they are. They are not statistics in a book or nebulous unnamed bogeymen being flaunted by politicians as the “enemy of decency.” That also means we get to understand their struggles and we get a glimpse of the world from their perspective, a perspective of the persecuted and feared. In essence, that is the viewpoint of today’s transgender and cisgender people. Yet, in the real-world we don’t always know there names, or their stories. Sometimes what politicians forget is that those Americans are also their constituency, and are the people who need protecting more than any other hypothetical peeing person.

Maybe that is why biggest irony of this situation, is that it is transgender people whom face the highest threat of being harassed or physically assaulted. In fact, in 2015 the rate of murdered transgender women -especially women of color- climbed at a worrying rate. Transgender people often face discrimination even when not in a bathroom, and trans-women especially often face physical beatings. When it comes to deciding between which bathroom to use, transgender citizens must face the decision between going into the bathroom that fits their gender identity and being yelled at, or going into the bathroom that fits their biological gender and being beaten up. It’s even worse for transgender students. In fact, discrimination like this has led to a increased risk of suicide for transgender people. 46% of trans-men, 42% of trans-women, and even 41% of cross-dressers have attempted suicide according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Gender neutral bathrooms are not entirely a solution either. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 53% of 6,450 transgender people surveyed have reported being harassed or made to feel unsafe in a gender neutral bathrooms.

We as people and as a country must do better. We cannot be ruled and legislated by fear. Remember, at the end of the day, the X-Men are heroes. They are mutants that fight for a society that discriminates and hates them. The politicians and the voting public of the Marvel Universe can’t always understand that, but our society needs to be more than two-dimensional ink blots on a pulp page. After all, we are all complex individuals with thoughts, hopes, and fears, and that includes transgender people. This issue can be hard for some to understand, in part because there are only around 700,000 transgender people in the USA. In comparison, at its height the Marvel mutant population numbered at more than 33 million worldwide. However, 700,000 people -though only about .03% of the population- still have the right to be protected and feel as safe as everyone else, especially in the bathroom. Transgender people try to be true to themselves, but that struggle can be made much harder when they find themselves made out be mutant villains or a sexual predators.

So, let’s try to remember that public restrooms should be reserved for awkward urinal talk, questionable toilet hygiene, and frustratingly inefficient hand-dryers, but never hate crimes. As Charles Xavier would say, “We have it in us to be better men [women, and cisgender people]”

Money is a tricky thing. We need it to survive and even be happy, but too much money can hurt fragile ecosystems. This is especially true for environments that are designed to balance skill with hard work, much like video games or politics. The gaming giant, Blizzard, found that out the hard way back in 2012 when they introduced the Real Money Auction House so that players could simply purchase high-level weapons and armor with real-world money, as opposed to in-game gold. It nearly ruined the game in much the same way that the current explosion of campaign finance is threatening our political system, and if you think it might be too simplistic to compare to a hack and slash video game with the hack and slash world of the US Congress, than we would agree. At least Diablo III has rules that make sense.

Your Starting Class
In case you haven’t been paying attention this week -and let’s face it, a lot of the news media has not- hundreds of people were arrested at the Capitol, in a protest called Democracy Spring. The group is demanding that Congress pass the Government by the People Act, the Fair Elections now Act, the the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015, and/or the Democracy for All Amendment… Really they are just looking for any sort of change that can begin to reform our broken campaign finance system, as we all should be. The influence of money in campaigns and the political process has been increasing over the past several decades. “Why is that a problem?” you might wonder. Well as Deckard Cain would said, “Stay a while and listen.”

Many people will point to the decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as the main tipping point in the rampant campaign finance spending that has been flooding politics over recent years, but that is really just the last save point on a long journey to hell. An equally important decision was arguably 1976’s Buckley v. Valeo, which held that political money is equal to speech. That challenge by Senator James Buckley set the stage for Citizens United, which further argues that campaign finance spending is not just equal to speech but protected speech and that the Federal government has no right to limit corporations or unions from spending their money to exercise their right of “protected speech.” By the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1996 the Democratic party had raised over $122 million in “soft money,” which is campaign finance that is unregulated and undisclosed money that can be spent by third parties in favor of candidates. The Campaign Reform Act eventually banned soft money from federal campaigns, but the damage was already done. Politicians had seen the power of money in elections and in 2010 when an appeals court struck down the limit on contributions to independent expenditure groups -aka Super-PACs- things like soft money were the least of anyone’s concerns. 

We don’t think there is anyone out there that disagrees that money affects the way the political process is conducted, but as a correlation it is worth returning to our example of Blizzard and their Real Money Auction House for Diablo III. Like Citizens United, it was a decision built upon a growing trend. For Blizzard it was the popularity of purchasable DLC, freemium Candy Crush bonuses, and the black market that existed for selling Diablo 2 items on eBay. So Blizzard went ahead and added an auction house where players could spend real money on high level items to help them advance in the game, instead of having to find and work for them like everyone else. However, when you break it down that grind is kind of the point of the game. Putting a Real Money Auction House may have been done with noble intentions, but in the end it just allowed people who had more money to acquire more items and level-up more quickly. It was a system that gave more power to people with expendable income over people who wanted to play the game fairly. In the strictest sense of the word, it was a cheat for the rich. More money meant more power and greater standing in the game’s community, and we’re pretty sure you can guess where we are going with this.

The Cash Cow Level
In arguments that are often similar to the  ones used by the defenders of Diablo’s Real Money Auction House, people will try to make the case that candidates who have more money don’t always win. In fairness, that is true, but more money does at least guarantee you a place in the adventuring group, because nobody is going to fight Diablo with someone who has a low level dirk and and cloth armor. No political party is going to take a candidate seriously if they don’t have enough money to stay in the game -or at the very least a slotted Resplendent Rage Blade. This year’s candidates are certainly finding that out. After all, a candidate can have the best platform in the world, but if they don’t have the cash to get their face or their message in front of the voting public it won’t matter. Still the question remains, how much does money influence a candidate’s ability to win?

The answer is, we can’t be 100% sure. It is a tricky question because there are a lot of factors in play in any given election, but a more accurate question might be, “how poor does a candidate have to be to lose an election?” You see, the tricky thing about campaign finance is that elections actually do cost money, and every year they cost more and more, thanks in no small part to the massive build-up of campaign spending over the past decade. The Maplight Foundation found that the average cost for winning a seat in the 113th Congress was $1,689,580. That was the average cost. Unfortunately, the average household income of Americans in 2012 was about $51,000. Thus -unless your Bernie Sanders- politicians generally need more money than the average donor can supply. According to the Sunlight Foundation, in the 2012 election cycle 28% of all disclosed political contributions came form just 31,385 people. that is about 1% of 1% of Americans. And don’t be fooled. Corporations and donors may not be explicitly “buying” politicians, but they are definitely buying influence. You don’t need to look any further than the 1991 Keating Five Incident, where five US senators -including John McCain and John Glenn- tried advocating to Federal regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating and his failing savings and loan business. Keating gave all five senators a combined $1.3 million in 1990’s money, and that is the problem. Americans may all get one vote, but thanks to massive importance of campaign finance that small 1% of 1% receives a disproportionate amount of attention from those in power. It is their issues that take precedent when it comes to campaigning.

DiabloChart

In the 2012 elections it would have taken 322,000 middle-income Americans donating .37% of their net worth to match the donations of Sheldon Adelson’s 91.8 million dollars worth of donations, which is only .37% of his net worth. Incidentally, 322,000 is more people than it took to crash the Diablo III servers -just 300,000- when they opened for beta testing in that same year. Even worse 31% of the $1.03 billion spent in 2012 by outside organizations was “dark money,” meaning those donors were undisclosed to the general public. When it comes to elections there is a lot of money exchanging hands and more and more a lot of it is happening outside the realm of public scrutiny. In fact, one of the unintended consequences of taking “soft money” out of the hands of the GOP and DNC, but later allowing unlimited Super-PAC donations has only served to diminish the power of political parties and campaign finance accountability. Parties are losing control of their candidates because they no longer have a financial leash to hang over them. Just think about this year’s Republican circus of a primary. The two frontrunners are not who the GOP would have picked. Thanks to Citizens United, the influence of the DNC and GOP are waning in realms of campaign finance as the influence of big donors grow, like Adelson, the Koch brothers, or Thomas Steyer. Candidates are less reliant on the party bosses, but are more under the influence of a very small percentage of those who can afford to buy the best armor, the best weapons, and the best candidates.

Patch Notes
In 2013 Blizzard shut down their Real World Auction House for good. They officially acknowledged that “it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot,” and it was the right thing to do. It restored the integrity of the game. Diablo III was never supposed to be about buying your way to the top, but about earning it through work and dedication. Politics is very similar. Getting elected should never be about who has the most campaign contributions, but who has the best policies and the most support of the people. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has done an amazing job grinding for his loot, but even with all his small donations he still cannot match the likes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance and her big donors and Super PAC. In a sense, they are not even playing on the same difficulty mode, and that’s not fair. The democratic process should be about “killing monster speeches and getting cool votes,” not having enough money to plaster your face on every billboard from here to the voting booth.

That is why we desperately need campaign finance reform, and that is what the recent Democracy Spring protests are all about. We urge you to again take a look at the bills they are fighting for. Many of them offer common sense solutions, such as creating a fund that helps match campaign donations from individual small donors; giving $25 refundable tax credit for political donations; a public debate requirement; political advertising vouchers; fair broadcasting time for all candidates; limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates; and a lot more small ideas that could really add up to a big change. The sad part is that most elected officials agree with a lot of these reforms, but they are also completely pessimistic about them ever getting passed. After all, Congress has tried to enact campaign finance reform before. At worst it falls flat, but even at best it ends up being a temporary relief, because for every Campaign Finance Reform Act that gets through there is a Citizens United waiting in the wings.

Yet, as long as the current system reigns the issues that candidate focus on will always tilt toward the interest of bigger donors, leaving the rest of us out in the wild, with all those skeletons and ooze creatures. The races are getting too expensive. It is forcing candidates to stockpile cash like nukes during the Cold War. Nowadays, to even be considered competitive you need a Super PAC or some other massive financial backer. That could mean literally selling your soul to Diablo, and that’s not fun or fair. Any gamer will tell you that you don’t give up when things get difficult. You keep fighting and working. If Blizzard can restore integrity to a game about fighting the devil, than we can do the same for politics. We just need to keep grinding away.

If you agree or want to help, maybe it is time to write a letter to your Congressman. Let them know how you feel, because if we don’t fix this, we really could be facing Hell on Earth.

Like many children of the 80’s and 90’s most of us here at The NYRD were fortunate enough to be raised by a third parent, television. The moving images on the screen kept us entertained and taught us many lessons  in the process. Bugs Bunny expanded our vocabulary -indubitably- and how to avoid hunters by cross-dressing. Reading Rainbow taught us that the USS Enterprise has a really good library, but it was Saturday Morning Cartoons that taught us all about what it meant to be a hero, to be the good guy. So, in this turbulent time of politics, struggle, and uncertainty it might be time we all stepped back to our younger days and revisited those Saturday mornings, when the difference between “good” and” bad” was defined by a character’s actions.

He-Manhood
While other boys and girls were modeling their ideals of adulthood on professional sports players, teachers… mailmen? We wouldn’t really know… For many of us our vision of responsibility came came from men and women who fired lasers at each other, while never once killing anyone. It came from mutated ninja creatures who brandished dangerous weapons, while never once killing anyone. It came from talking-car-robots, talking-cat-warriors, and even that one show where spacemen rode dinosaurs. Truly, it was a magical time to be alive. Do you remember when you got up earlier than you ever would again in your life? When you stuffed yourself full of cereal and spent a solid four or five hours ingesting as much animated antics as possible? There was nothing like being hopped up on sugar and watching the forces of good do battle with the minions of evil. The best part was that in shows like, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, or Thundercats you always knew who was the good guy and who was the bad, and it wasn’t just because some were dressed like snakes.

There was always one particularly defining moment in every single cartoon that separated the good guy from the bad. It is a TV Trope, called Save the Villain, but around here we simply call it the “Cliff Test.” There always came a time when the hero was fighting the villain high atop a mountain, or suspended walkway, or floating balloon-platform-death-machine. Whether it was Duke duking it out with Cobra Commander, Lion-O battling-O with Mumm-Ra, or He-man He-punching Skelator in the face, it usually ended the same way. Inevitably, the villain would lose his footing and fall, grabbing for the ledge at the last moment. Then the hero would step to the precipice to find their fiendish mortal foe dangling helplessly by a mere few fingers. It would be so easy to finish them off and end the fight, but not for our true blue hero. Instead the good guy would reach down his hand and grab the very same person he or she had spent the last five minutes fighting in a life and death battle.

It was in those moments that heroism became defined for many of us. When a foe was clinging helplessly to life, regardless of how evil or terrible they were, the hero had to save them. It was almost an obligation, an understanding that all life is precious. The real test of valor is passed once the hero makes the decision to assist their nemesis, even in spite of all the bad that person had committed, and  the fact that seconds before the hero would have killed that villain in combat given the chance. It is the difference between self-defense and letting a helpless man -even an evil man- suffer needlessly, because that would not be heroism. That would be cowardice, and it serves no one, least of all the hero. Despite how childish that kind of thinking might seem to some people nowadays, it is not an ideal we should be so quick to discard as people or as a nation.

A Mutant Teenager’s Guide to Politics
Nowadays, when we look at the news and read about how some States are trying to deny services and opportunities to the LGBTQ community; or how we -a nation of immigrants- fear those who are fleeing violence and oppression in the Middle East; or that the front-runner for the GOP nomination is… well a literal cartoon super-villain we have to take a step back and wonder. Are we really the heroes we want to be? Did we grow into the men and women that those little sugar-addicted-cartoon-devouring kids would be proud to be? We are not claiming that America is the bad guy in this story, but it is also time to wonder if we are still the good guy, or at least the hero?

Everyday we watch the country and those around us succumb more and more to greed, fear, and mistrust. When we were growing up we would watch TV and find colorful heroes teaching us lessons of selflessness. The children of today now watch TV -but most likely the Internet- and see Presidential candidates openly condoning the bombing and torturing of enemies and innocents. That is not just a failure of the Cliff Test, that is like gleefully throwing a box of small puppies at your helpless enemy, in hopes of knocking him from his perch. If our cartoons gave us hope for a better future and a better us, where will the children of today find hope when they see how we treat our most vulnerable? What will they grow up believing when Tennessee, North Carolina, and a slew of other States use the thin guise of religion to mask their bigotry, like the plot of a Saturday Morning Cartoon that would border on unbelievable even if Shredder himself came up with it. We are not just failing the Cliff Test, but actively plotting to push people off in the first place.

We are not saying that we should all hope for peace and love, because those cartoons were also about fighting for what was right -and selling toys. We are not naive enough to believe that the world is black and white, filled with Autobots and Decepticons -a thought that was more appealing pre-Michael Bay- but it is worth measuring our actions today against the expectations of our childhood selves. After all, when refugees from war torn countries, who are begging for our help and fleeing the very enemies we claim to oppose, don’t we have an obligation to do so? Isn’t that what Master Splinter would tell us to do? If we are the heroes than we have a sacred duty to pull them to safety, and yet even in this we often fail to live up to our potential. Maybe you cannot apply technicolor 2D morality to our 3D world, but does that mean we should stop trying? Maybe it is easier to close our borders, “bomb the sh*t” out of everyone else, and deny rights to anyone who is different from us, but is that what Optimus Prime would do? Is that what Lion-O would do? Is that what the eight year old you would do?

‘Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal
In those old cartoons -undoubtedly- the villain would use the moment he is being saved to revel a weapon or try to do something to knock the hero from the ledge, just as he or she reached down to grab them. There may be some who will point to that as a worthwhile and cautionary metaphor. A bad guy will always try to use our heroism against us. They will inevitably take advantage of our good graces and our compassion, but that does not mean we should stop having compassion. In the Cliff Test, when the villain lashes out it often forces the hero to jump back resulting in Cobra Commander or Skeletor or whoever falling to their doom -at least until the next episode- but that betrayal is not the point of this test. The test is not about what a villain can do, only about what a hero should do. You show compassion not because of the person you are saving but because it is the right thing to do… roll credits. The betrayal will come or it won’t, but it cannot affect how we conduct ourselves.

Being a hero means choosing hope for us and those around us. If we allow ourselves to live in fear of the infinitesimal percentage of refugees who are actually criminals -let alone terrorists- or if we find it easier to hide behind “Religious Freedom” rather than face those who are different, than we had better be ready to stop claiming any moral high ground. No, if we as a nation want to be the “good guys” that we have always told ourselves that we are, we have to be prepared to climb to that precarious ledge, and fight and help anyone who is vulnerable or downtrodden, whether they be Muslim, LGBTQ, or even a Trump supporter. They all deserve to be rescued from whatever ledge they are grasping desperately onto, because if we refuse than what will today’s cereal-eating eight year olds come to believe about heroism? If we disenfranchise the next generation during their formative years than one day we may find that we are the ones dangling from that cliff, without anyone willing to help us.

Ultimately, the Cliff Test is not about the villain at all, but about the hero. By helping the bad guy, the good guy is helping himself. It is a way to reaffirm his or her actions and reinforce the kind of world we are all fighting for; a fair one, a just one, and a merciful one. So in fact, the hero is not only reaching down to save the villain, but they are reaching down to save themselves. Right now we all stand upon a similar cliff, over a a possibly hot and menacing volcano. Everyday we are faced with others in need who are dangling by mere fingers, ready to fall. This is true for us as a nation and for us as individuals in our day-to-day lives. We may not agree with them, we may even hate them, but we can never turn our backs on them or forget that they are human beings who deserve a chance at hope.

There are issues facing our country and our world that just seem so big, too heavy to lift, and it would be simple to let them fall away. It would be easy to stop fighting and stop caring. It literally requires that we do nothing, but is that what He-Man would do? Is that the principals that GI Joe, the Ninja Turtles, and all the rest of those colorful childhood heroes fought for? We can choose to do nothing or we can reach down and help, and not because that person may be someone we see as an enemy, but because they are a person. It is not about agreeing with them, but it is about choosing to believe we can all be better. We need to do the right thing for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do. We all stand on a cliff, everyday, in big and small ways. So what will you do?

Perhaps you recently read that we here at The NYRD have decided that it is time to introduce a new party to the hot, sticky, and unseemly jungle that is American politics. Thus, the Nerd Party has been born and we are committed to doing what is right for Americans, young and old, man and woman, poindexter or dweeb, alike. As a party we believe in values like justice, fairness, equality-ness, and cosplay, but it’s hard to launch a campaign on those vague ideas, especially cosplay. That is why we thought it might be time to clarify our positions on some very important topics.

Healthcare
Since March of 2010 America has endured under the economic weight of the Affordable Care Act. This legislation, passed by partisan votes in the House and Senate, has become one of the most divisive bills in American history, and has suffered tragically in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, and fewer choices of robots. So, we at the Nerd Party believe that there is another way, a better way, a mechanical way.

On day one in office we will ask Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace this divisive law with a plan we are calling Robocare. Much like the Republican candidates and their esteemed orange front-runner we believe that the free market can fix all our problems, like a magic wand made of elm with a core of a single strand of toupee of Trump. So, we asked ourselves, what is the most proven tactic for the free market economy? Then we answered ourselves: automation.

This proven tactic helped drive down costs and increase production in factories all across the American heartland and it is painfully obvious that if we want to truly reduce the costs of our medical system, robots are our only logical choice. So, the Nerd Party is committed to the belief that anyone in America has the right to visit any robot physician they choos. Best of all the GOP Congress will have to vote for it. It embodies all the the cold, unfeeling, and mechanical aspects of a free market healthcare plan that they are looking for, because when getting a prostate exam there is nothing quite like the metallic finger of the free market. So, America, we don’t care if you’re visiting a state of the art surgery-droid or a Roomba with a scalpel duct taped to it. It is your God given American right to be able to have access to any robot of your choosing, because if Donald Trump gets his way most people will probably only be able to afford Dr. Siri anyway.

International Relations
A main component of our China policy is leadership, and demanding extra egg rolls. We strongly believe that good international relations are key to the prosperity of America, but we are not afraid to get tough about it either. That is why we will never back down and never compromise with tyrant countries like China, Mexico or Smurf Village. The rest of the world has come to see the United States as soft over the past 8 years. They have even begun to believe that we might be a country willing to work toward reasonable global partnership, as if we actually cared about the rest of the world.

So we at the Nerd Party have a plan to fix all that. To start we will be ordering Wakanda to forgive all our debts for Vibranium purchases going back to World War II. After all, we legally purchased the material and promised payment in good faith, but screw them. We’re Americans, not Lannisters. We don’t have to pay our debts. Also, we are fully prepared to order the US military into Narnia if thier religious dictator of a lion refuses to build a wall around every wardrobe in this country. We can no longer tolerate them sending us their murders, rapists, and satyrs. More importantly, we are fully prepared to order airstrikes on all training camps used by terrorists and dark wizards. We cannot let places like Hogwarts -an admitted school of witchcraft- continue unchallenged.

Political Finance Reform
The Nerd Party finances its own campaign, mostly through the selling of our old comics and Star Wars action figures -still in the original packaging- but there are a select few politicians that believe there is too much money in politics. Currently big corporations and billionaire donors can give unlimited money to Super PACs, anonymously. Super PACs can then use that unlimited cash flow to support any candidate they choose, and by “any candidate”  we mean the candidate that set up the Super PAC in the first place. However, we here at the Nerd Party believe that there should be even more money in politics, and different types of money too. We’re talking BitCoins, Steam credit, and even Amazon gift cards, because if it’s good enough to be a gift from our grandmothers, than surely it’s good enough as a campaign donation.

The way we see it, money in politics is like money in video games. Sure you can work hard, level your character, and gain experience and gold through honest gameplay, but that’s for suckers. Why not just use your credit card information to purchase that Level 100 Glowing Weapon of Awesomeness or that +20 Strength Armor of Impenetrable Steel? Who cares if wearing them unfairly represents the actual level of skill and trust that you have earned in a game that so many others have devoted months and years of their life to playing fairly? Politics isn’t about trust, its about winning, so why should we have to settle for that Level 5 Campaign Poster when we can get a few rich kids to pay for the +30 Platinum Campaign Ad Blitz. After all, they’re just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s not like we’re going to owe them anything at some point down the line… right?

Tax Reform
Too few Americans are working, too many jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many families cannot make ends meet. The Democrats want to blame this problem on the top 1% and say that we should raise their taxes to compensate for our failing middle class. Yet, we here at the Nerd Party feel that we need to place blame where blame is due, and that is squarely on the scaly shoulders of those who deserve it, dragons. For too long these giant fire-breathing lizards have terrorized farm lands and horded our gold reserves, putting good working class families out of business and obtaining wealth that they have no intention to reinvest in the economy. Who really needs to sleep on a mound of gold, other than Donald Trump, but we hear that’s just for lumbar support.

The rich are not to blame. We give them tax breaks and they give the rest of us wonderful gifts in return, such as low wage jobs, union crushing lawsuits, and the Kardashians. No the real culprits are dragons and it is time we start raising taxes on Smaug and his ilk of fiendish lizard misers. Unlike bank CEO’s or trust fund managers, their greed knows no bounds. They only live to acquire more wealth  than they possibly need. That is bad for the economy because if money or Dwarven gold is not invested properly into the market than it cannot grow or be taxed to help provide public services or private industry growth. That is why under the Nerd Party we will be implementing a 35% Dragon Horde tax. Every year we will send a group of IRS agents to the lair of every dragon in America to collect a percentage of their gold. Those that come back alive will surely bring with them enough new tax money to help boost our flagging economy. You might laugh at us now, but even you have to agree that taxing dragons is at least less of a fairy tale economic strategy than giving breaks to the already wealthiest 1% of this country.

Immigration
Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first, and that is why the Nerd Party we will not back down from our powerful neighbors to the south. We have had enough of Mexican tyranny. Sure, they are ranked 15th in GDP, and we’re ranked number 1. Sure, they import more American goods than almost any other country, but we are tired of their sass and lack of construction efforts. When the Nerd Party takes power, we will not only force them to make a wall, but also a ceiling, some nice laminated wood panel flooring, and maybe even a sun porch.

This wall will be the biggest wall you have ever seen, but that is only the beginning, because after we build it we will form a group of dedicated individuals who will stand atop that wall and swear an oath to hold no lands, father no children, wear no crowns -not even those paper Burger King ones- and win no glory. They will live and die at their post, and make sure no Mexican, Wildling, or White Walker can ever get across. Our first priority needs to be securing our borders against anyone who just wants to make a better life for themselves.

That is also why we will be closing our borders to all Jedi Knights. Please know that we are not unreasonable, and we acknowledge that not all Jedi are Sith, but can we really take that kind of a risk with the safety of American lives. Last year Dark Jedi killed millions during the Starkiller attacks, and even though that was the work of only one or two individuals, we will irrationally blame every person identifying as a Jedi. Please also note that this will only be a temporary measure, but it will be aimed at keeping out any knight, padawan, or anyone else in a bathrobe. We will turn them all away, even those who are desperately and innocently fleeing the very things we are afraid of: terrorism, war, and Order 66. We cannot let these types of religious fanatics into America, especially when we already have so many of our own types of religious fanatics already here.

Second Amendment
The Second Amendment to our constition is clear -well kinda/sorta clear- and that is why we have made our position on this issue equally clear. However, we feel this amendment needs to go further. That is why the Nerd Party is pushing for an expansion to allow citizens the right to keep and bear doomsday devices, without limit. We are talking about weather dominators, moon-based laser cannons, fission bombs hidden away on islands shaped like skulls. The world has changed and muskets alone are no longer enough to overthrow a tyrannical government on a whim, and for far too long only super-villains have had access to these types of weapons. We, as Americans, cannot rely on British super spies to be there every time one of those criminals wants to hold a global nation hostage for ransom money. The only way to stop a bad guy with a thermonuclear device is a good guy with a thermonuclear device. Thus, our stance on the Second Amendment is much like America’s stance on nuclear weapons in the Cold War, mutually assured… something. We never really paid attention too well in history class, and it doesn’t matter.

You see, our real problem is that we need to reform our mental health care system. Places like Arkham Asylum are nothing but revolving door facilities, and super-villains by definition are criminally insane. We need to improve our medical screening process to be on the look out for megalomaniacs who might have the power and resources to do real damage to this country. All super-villainous acts have one thing in common- there were red flags that were ignored. People of power and influence, with giant egos and small hands, who were allowed to continue in their megalomania undiagnosed, until they were pushed too far. One day a man is a typical billionaire real estate mogul/reality star and the next he is wearing an iron mask and calling himself a ridiculous villain name like “The Revenger,” “The Doomsayer,” or  “The Donald.”

The Nerd Party truly believes that we need a better system for identifying these types of people and getting them off the streets, because at least the majority of people who own guns can only hurt a few innocents, but megalomaniacs can hurt our entire nation, sometimes even without missile based satellite technology.

So, remember to get out there and vote Nerd, because really what other choices do you have left?

One thing has been made painfully clear this election cycle, America is in need of an overhaul of its political system. For the past century the United States has been stuck with two powerful political parties and now both the Democrats and Republicans are showing more holes than the plot of Spider-Man 3, except maybe with more believable acting performances. Both monolithic political parties have maintained a stranglehold on American ideology and the election process, and if the popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show anything it is that America is ready to split from a world dominated by only two options. It is time for a new vision of American politics. It is time for a third party to arise form the ashes. Now is the time of the nerd.

The Baneful Effects
In his farewell speech to the American public -before ascending to Asgard- George Washington warned the newborn country against political parties, believing that it could undermine the electoral process and incite Americans “with ill-founded jealousies.” Now, he did not mention Donald Trump by name, but we like to think that Washington saw exactly what was coming, because Donald Trump is the end result of the party system. The Republican Party has spent the last eight years turning Congress into a game of “Us versus Them.” The GOP stopped being about governing and became about opposing everything that President Obama and the Democratic party tried to do. Donald Trump is nothing more than the cave troll that they uncovered in their excavation of the American political landscape. He does not need to run on any coherent policy platform. The GOP has laid the groundwork that politics is no longer about governing, but winning, and if there is one thing “The Donald” is good at it, it is inciting his followers to believe that winning is all that matters.

That is what the modern political party system has become, a game of winners and losers, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Giants vs. Eagles, X-Wings vs. TIE Fighters, etc… and the Democratic Party shares as much blame in this as their rivals across the aisle. The Dems often like to play the victim card -portraying the Republicans as the intractable bullies and bogeymen- which only further radicalizes the political parties, and that is something they benefit from as much as their opponents. Too often the Democratic call to action is not so much “Vote for Our Candidate,” as it is “Vote against Their Candidate.” When people stop thinking about governing in terms of individual candidates and their individual policies or ideas, and start thinking about voting out of fear, then we have to admit the process is no longer working. Even worse, Democratic Presidential candidates know they can ignore states like New Jersey and New York, because they are perpetual blue states. That means unless you live in Iowa, Florida, or the mansion of Lex Luthor your individual concerns are never going to be fully addressed by any national level candidate, and the effects are even worse when it comes to Senators and Representatives. With our two-party system, staunchly Democrat or Republican districts have little say in their elected officials. In areas where party loyalties are unbreakable then elections are a foregone conclusion, and you basically have the political party deciding who will get to be the next Congressman and not the voters.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 60% of the American people say that they are ready for a major third party, but where would this new party fall on the political spectrum, the right side, the left side, the dark side? No, it is pretty clear that any major third party needs to be both centrist and youth based. We need a party that can approach the political table not with dogmatic party standards, but a real desire to affect change that can be embraced by the Millennial Generation and beyond. That is why we here at The NYRD are suggesting the formation of the Nerd Party. Think about it, what does being a nerd truly mean? It means we are outsiders, just like the kind of people that America is clamoring to vote for. It also means that we are stereotypically intelligent, which is more than you can say for a lot of the candidates still in the race. Lastly, it means that nerds are in touch with pop culture and the next generation of voters. Also we can quote Star Wars and Family Guy, and that always make filibusters more entertaining. At the very least, the introduction of the Nerd Party could help break down the established party lines, and get our elected officials back to becoming governors instead of perpetual campaigners, because like Magic: The Gathering, it is always more interesting when you have three or more sides playing rather than just 1 vs 1.

The Good the Bad and the Nerd
The Nerd Party will encourage its candidates to think about every decision as part of the larger picture, not based upon the political interests of the party, or left versus right. As centrists  we extremely believe that extreme beliefs are usually extremely wrong. Eating ice cream for every meal can be just as hazardous to your health as nuclear war -and is just as extreme as that last example. Very few people are completely conservative or completely liberal. In fact in 2015 the number of independents in America reached an all time high, with 43% of Americans claiming to be neither Democrat nor Republican. So the Nerd Party understands that it is unreasonable to make the voting public choose between entirely liberal or entirely conservative candidates, despite the fact of how our system currently works, or doesn’t work.

Political parties -and certain cable news networks- have convinced the public that they only ever have two choices, and that misrepresentation benefits no one but the political parties themselves. Individual candidates -like their voters- are often an amalgamation of beliefs and ideas, like some kind of publicly elected Voltron. Privately candidates may support some aspects of their party’s official platforms and not others, but in our modern world of Red vs. Blue, there is no room for gray… or purple. Instead, moderate conservatives, centrist liberals, New York Republicans, conservative libertarians, Dwarven socialists, and Vulcan Marxists all get pushed to the fringes of one side or another, lumped together with one ideological platform or its opposite. That means reasonable elected officials are forced to promote the extremes of the political spectrum in order to keep favor with their party. Toeing that party line often requires many moderate candidates to compromise or discard any difference they may have, and any refreshing or well-meaning ideas often get lost in the constant pitched battle of the political arena.

Believe it or not, both political parties actually have good ideas and bad ideas. The beauty of the United States is supposed to be our ability find the compromise between them. In the past, the moods of the electorate have swung back and forth like an oiled pendulum from Republican to Democrat to Republican to Democrat: Carter to Reagan, Bush to Clinton, Bush to Obama, but now extreme forces in both parties have pushed that pendulum to its breaking point. “Reasonable compromise” has become akin to consorting with the enemy and it could cost a Congressman the ire of his or her party which in turn could cost them their position. That is what the Nerd Party aims to fix, because -as our grandparents always told us- we’re good with fixing that “technology stuff.” So, did you try turning the electorate off and then back on again?

The Millennial Factor
Bernie Sanders is a hit with “the kids.” According to recent polling, Sanders has a 16% lead among voters aged 35 and younger, especially young women voters. There is a reason his message resonates with the younger electorate. Sanders tends to talk about the issues that Millennials are most concerned with. According to USA Today voters under the age of 35 are 80% in favor of renewable energy, 82% in favor of background checks for gun ownership, even among young Republicans. They are also increasingly in favor of marriage equality, gender equality, and much more. However, the halls of power and the political parties are still very much controlled by older generations who only seem to care about political infighting. That means for Millennials and other young Americans there is a disconnect between what they want to see happening and what is actually happening. That can be frustrating, especially as Senators and Representatives cling to their elected positions for thirty or forty year -thanks modern medical science- never once forced to change their opinion on anything, and often with no viable political rival to replace them.

The irony here -for both political parties- is that younger voters identify with both conservative and liberal ideas. Even though the next generation tends to tilt toward Democrats rather than the GOP by 41% to 28%, Millennial voters are more likely to identify with the conservative party on policies of economics, international relations, and BBQ recipes. Again and unfortunately, the Dem/GOP system is binary, and that hurts candidates more than it helps. Even if a Republican candidate had a smart and effective plan to cut spending and lower the college debt they will still lose youth voters because they are forced to follow their party’s script on banning marriage equality or background checks for firearms. For younger voters who tend to vote with their social ideals they may never find a candidate they agree with on all fronts, and very often that leads to a system of “voting against the opposition.”

Bernie Sanders may not win the nomination, and if that happens you will have a lot of people -especially Millennials-  who will be forced to support Hillary Clinton -a candidate they do not want- in order to defeat the greater of two evils. The truth is that a candidate like Bernie probably would have fared better in an electoral system where there were three or even more established political parties to choose from. Unfortunately, for the Independent Senator from Vermont -and his legion of Twitter followers- to be considered a viable candidate for the US Presidency under our current system you need to run as part of one of the two major political parties. That means going through political primaries, which is basically the Hunger Games of politics.

Battle Royale
The nomination process is especially hard on candidates. Winning the vote of the American people is hard enough, but convincing a political party that you stand for everything they want you to stand for often forces even moderate candidates to move to one side of the spectrum or the other. Regardless of what a candidate looks like at the beginning of the process the end result is often someone who has been forced into being a poster child for the acceptably branded message of either the Republican or the Democratic party. Remember when John McCain was the maverick of Congress. The top gun Tom Cruise who never feared crossing the aisle to find a compromise to solve a problem? Then he ran for president, and by the time he was done with the primaries there was nothing left but an angry old white conservative man whose only companion was a squawking Alaskan Dodo bird.

That is why the Nerd Party is going to do it differently. We say forget primaries, instead we are going to conduct candidate vetting the same way every other American applies for a job. Our candidates will be expected to submit a letter of interest and a resume, before being asked in for a job interview, because you need four years experience to manage a McDonald’s, and it is not unreasonable to ask the same thing of the people applying to run our country. Moreover, we will not pick our candidates based upon their blind adherence to doctrine or dogma, in fact we encourage our candidates to be free thinkers and find creative solutions to problems. That is why we will also design a series of tests that the potential candidate must pass, including a written exam which will quiz our potential candidates on general knowledge, leadership potential, moral and ethical standards, pop culture, and possible psychic potential. If the candidates score well on the written exam and during the interview process then they will move on to the physical challenge, where they will be tested for strength, mental acuity, leadership abilities, endurance, speed, comedic performance, hand eye-coordination, and martial arts abilities, because you never know when the President may have to retake a hijacked airplane. Once candidates have passed the internal party tests they will be placed into the race with the full support and backing of the party. From that point on their only mandate is do what is best for the country as a whole, and specifically not for the party.

Ain’t No Party Like a Nerd Party
The current political parties are broken. It is time to start thinking toward new political horizons, and the rise of a third party, and that is not actually as far fetched as you might think. Mainstream media and the political parties themselves like to portray the Republican and Democratic parties as permanent fixtures of our political landscape, but historically that has never been true. As much as the Democratic or Grand Old Party would like to have you believe, they are not our country’s first or even second political parties. The first Democrat in the White House was Andrew Jackson, and the first Republican was Abraham Lincoln. Before that there were Federalists, and Whigs, and even the Democratic-Republican Party. You may not believe that the Nerd Party or any new third party could ever rise to prominence in the United States, but thanks to the Internet and the democratization of information that is more possible now than ever in the history of our nation.

The popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show cracks in our old political system. Voters of all ages are pushing back at the political parties whom they feel no longer represent their views. This election has -in a sense- become a battle between the old process and the desire of the next generation to have their voices heard. Sanders persists on Facebook and Twitter even as CNN and Fox News claim he is finished. Donald Trump was able to build a support base, despite being the butt of every late night talk show joke for six months. The time for change is now and the power to do so resides in the very thing you are using to read this absurd piece of rambling information. Now is the time to believe in change. Now is the time to vote Nerd.

Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a flying illegal immigrant. Immigration, both legal and illegal, has been a hot topic issue for over a decade, but with the upcoming election it is gaining new prominence, thanks in part to our own toupee-wearing version of Lex Luthor. Donald Trump has proven his obsession with immigrants in much the same way that the bald CEO of Luthor Corp both hates and fears a certain undocumented worker at the Daily Planet. Both men even enjoy putting their names on the side of buildings, but this article isn’t about Trump or Luthor or any other super-villain running for President. This is about looking at how modern immigration works for both legal and non-legal residents, because when you start to look at the paperwork, the rhetoric, the costs, and the red-tape, you begin to understand that even the Man of Steel would have problems leaping through them all in a single bound.

The Golden Age of Immigration
The immigrant story has always been a core part of who Superman is, a being come to live in a place where he never feels as if he belongs, but striving to do all he can to help his new home prosper. There is a reason for this. Both Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel were the sons of Jewish immigrants. In fact Shuster himself was originally from Canada. They created Superman in the late 1930’s, at a time when Jewish immigrants were trying to escape Germany and the encroaching horrors of the holocaust. America -still emerging from the Great Depression- was torn on whether or not accept them. Thus, in 1938 Superman arrived on the scene, an immigrant with extraordinary abilities. We’re not claiming that Superman was created as some sort of political statement about immigration policies, only to point out that we are not the first nor the last generation of Americans to struggle with questions of immigration.

SupesChart

For much of the 18th and 19th century, this country had a fairly open policy when it came to migrants, whether they be German, Irish, or Kyrptonian. It was not until after the Civil War when economic hardships forced states to pass their own immigration laws that things started to become more complicated. In response, the Supreme Court ruled that only the Federal Government could regulate immigration, and regulate it they did. They created laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act, which did exactly what it sounds like. From that point forward laws governing citizenship and immigration grew more convoluted and biased, until 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act. It ended a 1924 quota system, which heavily favored Western European immigrants over all others, and aimed at bringing skilled workers to the United States whatever their ethnic backgrounds.

The Migrant of Steel
Essentially, the 1965 law ended immigration preferences based on race, sex, or place of birth. It also heralded a rapid decline in white European immigrants. In 1965 European and Canadian immigration made up 60% of the migrants entering the USA. By 1970 that number had dropped to 20%. The total non-Hispanic white population in America declined from 85% in 1965 to 62.2% in 2014. Certain politicians -like Lex Luthor and his orange real-world counterpart- use fear and bigotry as a justification for closing our borders, often claiming Mexicans and other illegal immigrants are coming to take Americans’ jobs, but really we have not been talking about illegal immigration up to this point. The changing racial and ethnic make-up of America is not due to people here illegally, but because of those that came through the proper channels. In fact, undocumented residents make up a very small proportion of the people who enter the United States every year, but you would never know that by the rhetoric of some politicians.

Would it also surprise you to know that only 81% of illegal immigrants are from Latin America? Did you know that the illegal migrant population has actually declined from 12.2 million in 2009 to 11.3 million and has remained steady ever since, or that Mexicans only make up 49% of the undocumented population? When most people think of illegal immigrants they have a clear picture in their heads, and the Lex Luthors of the world often exploit those stereotypes to put blame particularly on Mexico for sending us their “criminals and rapists,” who burden the good people of America.

Superman is an illegal immigrant, and far worse Clark Kent lives each day under a forged birth certificate and a falsely issued social security number. Most undocumented migrants do not have that luxury, but the Man of Steel, on the other hand, is eligible for healthcare -not that he really gets sick- and social security benefits, -not that he really ages- but we don’t think of people who look like Kal-El when we think of undocumented residents? Maybe we forgive Superman because of his abilities, but what if that is not the only reason? What if it has less to do with his heat vision and more to do with the color of his skin? There has always been an ugliness to the American immigration system, one that is often lessened for white immigrants. The more you examine the history of US Immigration policies the more racial and regional biases become apparent, and that is doubly so when it comes to illegal migrants.

Faster Than a Speeding Green Card
You might be saying, “Why don’t they just come here legally, like everybody else?” Current American laws are complex and take a lot of time and money. Not everyone has access to either of those things, especially when trying to escape violence, drought, or starvation. In many cases the people that would benefit most from immigration are the ones that simply cannot do it.

The legal immigration process is fraught with more obstacles than a deathtrap designed by the Riddler. There are only four conditions under which a person is allowed to legally immigrate to the United States:

  1. Already have a family member who is a citizen;
  2. Marry a citizen;
  3. Have a valuable skill set; or
  4. Be a refugee fleeing from a country.

Each of those four criteria come with their own host of problems. For example, marrying an American citizen is not the “easy-street” process that movies and hilarious sitcoms make it seem. Not only do you still need to go through the regular channels of immigration, but your marriage will be evaluated and tested by the government at every turn. Being a refugee is not much easier either. America accepted less than 80,000 refugees last year and the paperwork, inspections, and background checks could take years, even for people in urgent need of relocation. Normal immigrants could wait literally decades to be allowed to enter into the country, and the process takes a lot of money. Medical examinations, interviews, legal consultation, and more interviews. The process is far from straight-froward and the paperwork is often confusing. Mistakes are common and that could mean delays, more legal fees, and even starting again from scratch. Most people will find themselves paying thousands of dollars and could be left waiting for up to 20 years to be accepted. There are over 1.3 million Mexican immigrants waiting on backlog to come to America legally, right now.

We at the NYRD are not excusing illegal immigration, but when your home planet is exploding you don’t always have the time to fill out the proper paperwork. When you live in a place where drug cartels behead people and your child has to subsist on diseased water you probably cannot afford to wait two decades. Where does that leave Clark Kent? An argument could be made for refugee status, or foreign adoption, or even that he has a unique skill set. After all, the immigration policy literally says that they are looking for “aliens with extraordinary abilities.” Yet, Jonathon and Martha Kent followed no legal channels. They forged documents and created false records, offering sanctuary to a literal illegal alien. Does that put them in the wrong? What about Jor-El? Should we demonize that Marlon-Brando-wannabe for not going through the proper channels before sending his baby to Earth? Is the plight of Kal-El so much different than the plight of a child from Honduras or Mexico, whose parents can only hope that they are doing everything they can to send them away to a better world?

Believing a Man Can Fly
Lastly, it is worth dispelling certain notions that people have about illegal immigrants. First off, 69% of Americans, are actually against deporting the undocumented whom are already in this country, and maybe that is because those people understand that illegal immigrants are not “taking American jobs” or “sucking dry the welfare system.” When you logically think about the argument, it seems more absurd than that time Superman flew backwards around the planet. By definition undocumented immigrants are undocumented. That means they do not have a social security numbers or even a birth certificate. They don’t have the proper paperwork to get a driver’s license let alone apply for unemployment, food stamps, medicare, or any of the other systems that certain people claim they are overburdening. Illegal immigrants are already here and they are already contributing. In fact, illegal immigrants only make up 3.5% of the US population, but they make up an estimated 5.1% of the US labor force, and not because they are taking people’s jobs as doctors, lawyers, or journalists with the Daily Planet. Many have to work multiple low-income, highly physical, and hour intensive jobs just to support their families. Another recent study found that illegal immigrants actually pay about 11.8 billion in taxes, with no chance of receiving any of that money back through refunds or services.

Of course, this situation does hurts the rest of us as well. Some estimates say that illegal immigrants cost Americans residents 100 billion each year, but not in the way you think. Illegal immigrants can’t drive because they don’t have driver’s licenses, but on the rare occasion they are forced to drive -whether for work or due to an emergency- and they hit your car, then guess who will have to pay for all the damages. Undocumented residents also tend to avoid hospitals because they are afraid of being deported, which means they only seek medical help for the most dire of problems. Unfortunately, they are not eligible for healthcare, so the cost is shouldered by the hospital who then shifts that burden to other patients. Deporting Clark Kent and other illegal immigrants is not the solution either, as the deportation process is lengthy and costly. The irony here, is that the best course of action is to actually give these 11.3 billion migrants legal status so they can contribute and work in our nation in legal and meaningful ways, because if Superman is meant to teach us anything it is that people can be extraordinary if they are given the right chance.

There have been more than a few studies to prove that immigration works. Immigrants, of any color or creed, help revitalize areas like Detroit. Many do work that native residents often shun, while others start business and bring fresh ideas to boost the economy. Migrants also help keep our country young at a time when modern and developed countries are facing an aging crisis. Places like China and Japan are looking at an aging population, while we will continue have a fresh workforce and young taxpayers. Immigration has shaped this country for the better, but we need to move beyond those old fears and bigotries. America has always been about taking in the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free the rays of a yellow sun that will make them stronger here then they were at home.

Yes, we 100% need to reform the immigration system, but we cannot close our borders, nor forget the people who are already here. To do so would mean a chance on missing out on the next Einstein, Shuster, Siegel, or maybe even the next Superman.

GM: Welcome. Most other networks and news outlets are concerned with how the political candidates fair in debate or at town hall meetings, but here we don’t care about any of that. At the NYRD we believe that there is only one true test of leadership and teamwork, and that is why we have asked the top 5 presidential hopefuls -and Jeb Bush- here to play a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons. Now, let’s meet our adventuring party. Please introduce yourself and tell use something about the character you created.

TRUMP: I think I will go first. I have made a great character, absolutely the best and most creative here. I’m a financial wizard so I figured let’s make it official and just become an actual wizard. I’m human, because of course I am, look at me. My character’s name is Trump the Best, which is a very imaginative name. I don’t know where I come up with these things. I am also the richest character here. What can I say, I like the gold.

CRUZ: I think I am going to go next. Now, I respect the Wizard Trump…

TRUMP: He’s the best…

CRUZ: I respect him, but we all know that wizards are pagans. I am a God-fearing citizen and that is why I chose to play a priest today. I like the sound of that. I am also a 6’5″ human male that weighs a strapping 200 pounds. My character, Father Thor Cruz, is very muscular, just like ripped all the way down his stomach. He has great hair and a chiseled attractive jawline. All the women of the surrounding villages want to be with him, but of course he is devoted to the Lord and does not partake in the pleasures of the flesh.

GM: Senator, I can’t read your handwriting. What god is your character worshiping?

CRUZ: Why the Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

GM: Because it looks like you wrote Lesus.

CRUZ: I didn’t. I wrote Jesus.

GM: There is no Christianity in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

CRUZ: Not yet. That is all the more reason why the work of Father Thor Cruz is needed in this heathen world.

GM: Fine… but I’m writing your god down as Lesus.

CARSON: I’m going to go next.

GM: Oh, I’m sorry Dr. Carson. I thought you were asleep over there.

CARSON: No, just resting my eyes. I want to roll the dice and buy some property.

GM: No, Dr. Carson, this is not Monopoly. Just tell us what you wrote down on the character sheet in front of you, please.

CARSON: Oh, of course. I am a human rogue, because everyone knows how good I am with knives. We all know the story of the time I stabbed someone. If you do not believe it, you may ask my mother. It also says here that my name is Dr. Benjamin son of Car, because he is also a trained doctor. He’s very skilled at things like doctoring and foreign policy.

GM: Dr. Carson, you put none of your skill points into healing? How are you claiming your character is also a trained a doctor?

CARSON: Oh you know. He’s just very good with people. Now before we start I need some of those letter tiles that we all get.

GM: Again, Dr. Carson, this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Scrabble… oh forget it. Governor Bush, please go next… Governor?

BUSH: Oh, yeah, sure. I am a human bard. My name is Turtle.

GM: Is that it? You don’t want to make some kind of profound or borderline narcissistic statement?

BUSH: No, I’m good.

GM: Okay. It is also worth pointing out that the game so far consists of four human males, but I guess no one should really be surprised by that. However that will change as we move across the table to our two remaining players. Secretary Clinton, would you like to start and bring some gender diversity to the group?

CLINTON: Actually I chose to make my character a male human as well.

GM: …Why?

CLINTON: I did a survey on Twitter and most of my supporters put more faith in the reliability and leadership of male fantasy characters like Harry Plotter or that man from Lord of the Ring, uh… Viggo something. See, people like to think that I’m not hip and “with” the times, but I also enjoy popular entertainment, just like the youths of today.

GM: Wouldn’t it be better if you played a strong female fantasy character, like Hermoine or Lady Galadriel?

CLINTON: You’re right, but do you think that would play well in Middle America?

GM: I don’t think anything we are doing here today is going to play well in Middle America.

CLINTON: Oh what the heck. I am a female, and I am proud that I am can be chosen as your first female adventurer on this party. In fact, I am going to Tweet this out, but if people disagree can I change my character’s gender later?

CRUZ: You cannot change the gender of your character once the game starts. The Lord made you a man or a woman and that is his will. To change your gender after the game has begun is to defy that holy will…

GM: …I would need to check the core rulebook…

CRUZ: The only core rulebook any of us need is the Bible.

GM: And I just realized I don’t actually care… Secretary Clinton, what is your class?

CLINTON: According to Facebook, I am a human barbarian named Clintina of the Hill.

GM: My head hurts all of a sudden. Senator Sanders, what is your name.

SANDERS: I’m Bernie.

GM: No Senator, what is the name you wrote on your character sheet?

SANDERS: Don’t patronize. I’m not an old man you know. My character’s name is Bernie. He’s a ranger and a damn good one too. I am also Elvis.

GM: I think you mean to say that you are also an elf.

SANDERS: Oh, is that what that says. I don’t have the right glasses on. I thought it was odd that I got to pick to be Elvis, not that I minded. You know I loved his music growing up as a poor kid in Brooklyn. I used to sit in my room at night…

GM: …Moving on… All six of you find yourself sitting in a tavern known as the Plow and Pundit. It is located in the center of a village called Washing Town, DC. The smells and noises are almost overwhelming, stale liquor with the earthy scent of soil and a long day’s work. People would normally be drinking, laughing, and celebrating the end of the harvest season, but you all notice that tonight is a melancholy one. There has been a murder in town, the beloved mayor, Lord Barry the Just, has died under mysterious circumstances. The powers that sent you to this town believe that foul play is afoot and have tasked you with solving the mystery surrounding the death of Lord Barry.

TRUMP: Let me just stop you right there. Are there any mosques located in this town? I bet it was terrorism. Boom, I’m a genius. I win this game.

GM: No one person wins Dungeons and Dragons. You need to play as a group… And there are no mosques in the city…. That’s unnecessarily racist and inflammatory.

CARSON: I bet the murder was committed by Colonel Mustard.

GM: Dr. Carson, we are not playing Clue.

SANDERS: Tell me this, what are the economic policies of Washing Town? Is there a large gap between the wealthy land owners and the minimum wage earners? What does the stable boy make an hour? What’s going on here?

GM: That’s almost a good question, Senator. What you all know is that Washing Town is a farming community and there is a large social disconnect from those in power and the men and women who live in the village itself. Washing Town is run by the Lord Mayor who is the wealthiest land owner. In fact, in order to even be elected as mayor it almost unnervingly traditional that you be the one with the most money and the most backing of the other rich land owners and special interest groups.

TRUMP: Boom. I’m the new mayor. Trump the Best is by far the best wizard and the richest man in this little crappy village. I mean come on. Who else would it be?

GM: Mr. Trump, you currently have 30 gold. That does not make you the richest man.

TRUMP: Do you know how much gold is actually worth?

CLINTON: Who do all the people think committed the murder. I bet it’s going to be just like the time Darth Vader killed Benjamin Kenobi in Star Wars.

GM: That is an oddly out of context reference, but actually a good question, Secretary Clinton. You can roll your dice to make a Gather Information check to spend an hour to talk to the people around town and get their impression of the situation, but I should tell you that as a barbarian you do not have the best of Charisma…

CLINTON: Oh, what else can I do as a barbarian?

GM: You are mostly a fighter. You have a rage ability that let’s you gain extra strength and hit points in battle when you get angry.

CLINTON: Oh, I never get angry, unless other people think it is appropriate that I do so.

GM: Rage just one of the barbarian’s abilities. It doesn’t mean you have to be angry…

CLINTON: Can we change the name of it to Restrained and Appropriate Anger. Rage sounds like it would not play well on the East coast.

GM: …

CLINTON: But I am still going to poll the people about what is going on. <Rolls  a d20> I got a 14. Is that good?

GM: It’s good enough.

CLINTON: Good, because I also want to ask the people if they feel as if they can trust me and what would help them see me as more trustworthy.

GM: Clintina of the Hill wanders off and starts talking with people around the tavern, asking them information on the death of Lord Barry and also if they think they can trust her and what she can do make them trust her more. That will take an hour, so what is everyone else doing during that time. Governor Bush?

BUSH: I’m a bard, so I have a guitar or something, right?

GM: Yes.

BUSH: I just want to sit there and pluck at it.

GM: Okay, so the Governor is fiddling as Rome burns around him.

BUSH: (Shrugs)

SANDERS: I go up and talk with the woman waiting on tables.

GM (Bar Wench): Hello sir, what can I get you, roast mutton, honey mead?

SANDERS: “Noble waitress. I am Bernie son of Eli, and I want to ask you about how much money you make by working here?”

GM (Bar Wench): “Uhh… The owner let’s me take a loaf of the day old bread with a little gravy every night.”

SANDERS: “That is outrageous. Simply outrageous. What about healthcare and pension benefits?”

GM (Bar Wench): “I got sick once with the black cough and I got to leave for an hour to go see the local healer, but Mr. Dorrsman only gave me a half of loaf for the day.”

SANDERS: This truly astounding. It’s like we’re living in medieval times.

GM: Well…

SANDERS: I turn to address everyone else sitting in the tavern. “Noble people,” I say. “Noble people you toil and work in the fields and the shops and the taverns of this town every day and what do you get for it? A half a loaf of bread and a bit of gravy? This is unacceptable. The minimum wage of everyone in this town needs to be raised. How can people expect to raise a family on a single loaf of bread and a bit of gravy. It should be two loaves and a slab of lamb. 99% of you are breaking your backs and are starving, while 1% gets to keep all the gold and lamb meat for themselves. This is not how societies are meant to work and this is not how it will work as long as Bernie the Ranger is in town.”

GM: …Uhhh, roll your Diplomacy, I guess.

SANDERS: Where is this dice thing? <Rolls the D20> What does it say. I can’t see it.

GM: You rolled a 16 with an additional bonus of 3 from you Diplomacy skill makes it a 19. As you talk to the crowd more and more people begin to listen to what you are saying. Some even begin cheering and shouting in agreement.

TRUMP: This is stupid. This whole thing is stupid. I want to turn to the crowd and say, “Listen. Some people are just rich and successful because they are better than other people. I mean look at me. I started out with practically nothing. My millionaire father did very little to help me get where I am today, very little. Now look at me. I’m a successful wizard with gold in his pocket.”

GM: Roll your Bluff.

TRUMP: Why?

GM: I am pretty sure most of what you just said was a lie.

TRUMP: <rolls the D20> Bang, I got a 4.

GM: You failed the roll.

TRUMP: Isn’t this like golf? Incidentally, I own a lot of golf courses.

GM: The crowd starts to get angry at Trump the Best. They look ready to take their rage out on you, Mr. Trump, and the rest of your group.

TRUMP: “Listen, all I’m saying is that I’m better than you all and you need people like that. I mean think about it. Without people like me who’d protect you from…” What are things that happen in this little make-believe world of yours?

CLINTON: Oh, I know this because I know how to connect with the young voters. It’s Christopher Lee and that big eyeball.

TRUMP: “Right who would protect you rabble of peasants from the Christopher Lees of the world and floating eyeballs and those green guys with the axes…”

GM: Orcs?

TRUMP: “Yeah Orca. Orca are your real problem here, not the rich. Aren’t you tired of Orca coming in a stealing your money and taking your jobs? They’re the real enemy. They’re the real people you should be mad at. I bet they were the ones that killed this mayor fellow of yours. I say we round up all the Orca we can find and ship them back to Orc Mexico or where ever it is they come from.” There and I’ll roll again. <Rolls a d20>

GM: You got a 20. That’s a critical success.

TRUMP: See, the only reason I rolled so low in the first place was because you never explained that this game wasn’t like golf.

GM: Part of the the crowd begins to nod and cheer at what you’re saying, and many of them start to break bottles and look for weapons.

TRUMP: Now these are some smart villagers, that’s what I say. I tell them, “Now you should go find some Orca and we’ll deport them back to where they came from.”

GM: Half of the crowd exits the tavern in a frenzy of shouting and cursing, looking more like a lynch mob than a thoughtful party of engaged citizens.

TRUMP: There. Problem solved. I win again.

GM: The small remainder of the crowd is still standing by Bernie the Elf talking about starting a parchment-writing campaign to get the minimum wage of the village raised.

CRUZ: Now this is all well and good, but I think we are losing the essence of why it is we came here.

GM: I can’t believe I am saying this, but you are right, Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: We need to teach the people of this village good Godly values, and Father Thor Cruz is just the one to do it, what with his large biceps and rugged good looks.

CARSON: Maybe we should, like examine the body of the dead man. I am a doctor, you know. I can pull those pieces out of him without touching the sides.

GM: That’s Operation, and I have to believe you’re doing this on purpose now? You can’t possibly be this unaware of how things work by this point in the game?

CARSON: I have been coming in and out, but I say never underestimate a person. That is why I am going to go find the body of the dead mayor and perform an autopsy.

GM: Once again, Dr. Carson, I feel the need to remind you that your character has no points in any skills that come close to being useful for doing anything like that.

CARSON: It’s fine. I have my knives.

GM: Is anyone else going to go with Dr. Benjamin son of Car?

SANDERS: I want to stay here and help the townspeople organize a petition to invoke some real economic change in their lives.

GM: Okay… Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz, Governor Bush?

TRUMP: Sure it might be worth a laugh.

CRUZ: I would like to go out into the town and perform some missionary work as well as see if any of the ladies would like to commune with Father Thor Cruz.

GM: I thought you said your priest was celibate?

CRUZ: I am and it drives the ladies wild, just like my toned and tanned buttocks.

GM: Governor Bush?

BUSH: I guess.

GM: Governor, I need to ask, do you even want to be here? It kind of seems like your not even trying? In fact, for the majority of the time most of us have barely even registered that you’re here at all. I think you need to ask yourself, “Is doing this really what you want from life?”

BUSH: I mean, sure I want to be here. My father and brother said I should try and I definitely like the idea of being in the game, but you know I never thought about it like that before… Is this really what I want to be doing? I mean playing this game is hard, and if I were to be honest I am only doing it because it seems like a family tradition, but I don’t know… I think I am going to wander off and spend some time alone to think. <Gets up from the table.>

GM: Okay, Turtle the Bard wanders out of the tavern to find a quiet place to think and Governor Bush has walked out of the room…

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I go see the body too?

GM: No, you are still gathering information.

CLINTON (from the next room): Can I meet them there when I’m done?

GM: Fine. Whatever, and what are you doing in our kitchen?

CLINTON (from the next room): According to a survey on BuzzFeed you need snacks when you play these sorts of games. I am getting a bag of Doritos and a bottle of something called Sierra Mist. Does anyone else want any?

GM: Secretary Clinton please come and sit down… and bring in the Doritos.

CLINTON: <She takes her seat.> Well  I think we are having a good and a suitably humanizing time.


1/2                  <CONTINUE READING>


With the return of The X-Files we at The NYRD have had some strange notions lately. Maybe the world is run by secret Illuminati bent on controlling our lives and dictating the fashion trends of our tinfoil hats, or then again maybe we are just succumbing to the very human need to see conspiracies where none exist. Either way we decided that it was time to delve into one of the biggest tinfoil hat theories in American history. It famously involves the assassination of a well know and beloved President of the United States who served during a time of crisis… You’ve guessed it, we’re talking about Zachary Taylor.

The First Presidential Assassination?
Zachary Taylor was only seventeen months into his first term as President when he died of what doctors concluded was stomach-related illness, but because we are humans and conspiracy theories are not a modern invention, there were all sorts of rumors that Taylor had been poisoned by arsenic, as his symptoms were very similiar to arsenic poisoning. So who would kill the President? Why might he have died? Wait, are we you talking about that kid on Home Improvement? We know you are asking yourself these questions and more. So in order to tackle your Tim Allen and non-Tim Allen related inquires we believe it is best to start at the beginning.

Taylor was an army man. He fought in the War of 1812, but won his fame during the Mexican-American War. He became a national hero, known for being a great leader and an inspiring man. The Whig Party eventually persuaded Taylor to capitalize on his popularity and run for President in 1848. By all appearances Zachary Taylor had no interest in politics or being President. He won because of his popularity as a war hero, but he spent most of his time ignoring Congress and avoiding his cabinet, like Todd when he refuses to put his dishes away after lunch. In a time when the United States was becoming increasingly polarized over the question of slavery, the lack of vocal and political support for slavery from the President -who himself was a slave owning Southerner- became increasingly frustrating for the South, maybe even enough to commit… dum dum dum… Murder.

Who Done it?
To further compound the problem for Southern slave owners when Taylor found motivation to be Presidential his policies seemed to favor abolitionists and anti-slavery proponents,  more and more. You see, Zachary Taylor did not support the idea of allowing the right to own slaves to expand into the western territories, a move which would eventually begin to erode the power of the pro-slavery voting block in Congress and the Senate. He also died a few weeks before he was set to veto several pro-slavery bills that had been presented to him by Congress. To add further credence to the conspiracy theory, Taylor’s death opened the door for Vice-President Millard Fillmore, a pro-slavery figure, who very promptly passed the Compromise of 1850 as one of his first acts in office. So is this all coincidence, or something more sinister?

One of the problems is that pinpointing who committed such crime has its own difficulties. Remember back in those days there was no such thing as the Secret Service or even the FBI. The White House was a government building and Mrs. Taylor often reported that she would find strange people wandering the halls and even in her own bedroom. The President of the United States was very accessible, as was the food he ate. Taylor contracted cholera morbus, a 19th century term that commonly meant, “We have no idea what killed him.” His sickness coincided with a long day of celebration and public meetings on the 4th of July in 1850, and the list of people he had contact that day with was a long one. Yet, that did not stop people from speculating, loudly and publically.

At the time of Zachary Taylor’s death, the Baltimore Sun really got into the conspiracy vibe of things. They were like the CNN of their day. In all fairness, the newspaper was not the only one putting forth the poisoning theory, but they did go so far as to name names. Prominently, The Sun suggested that the death could have been the work of two men, Robert Toombs and Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Both men were Georgia Congressmen and were called “Southern Ultrists,” at the time. It was reported that they threatened to vote for Taylor’s “censure,” if he did not support the South. In all fairness to the Sun, -they didn’t know it at the time- Toombs would eventually become the Confederacy’s Secretary of State and Stephens its Vice-President. So in retrospect, they may have been pretty “ultrist,” but the real question is, were they extreme enough to censure Taylor… dum dum dum… permanently?

The Verdict
Enter Clara Rising, a retired University of Florida humanities professor and author, she became interested in Zachary Taylor and his death in the mid-1980’s. In 1991 she even went so far as to convince Taylor’s descendants and the US Government to exhume the dead body of the twelfth President so it could be subjected to modern -well 1990’s- laboratory testing. Various dental, bone, and hair samples, were sent to three different facilities for that purpose. The final result came back that Zachary Taylor died of… drum roll… a “myriad of natural diseases which would have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.” It was ruled a death by natural causes, despite the fact that the remains yielded trace amounts of arsenic, but the medical examiner felt assured that those were too low to cause the death. Even more reassuring he explained how apparently all human beings have between 0.2 to 0.6 ppm of arsenic in their system at any given time… so, yay?

Many people in Taylor’s day were convinced that the popular, reluctant, and possibly anti-slavery President was murdered in order to pave way for a Southern power grab. Republicans, especially, subscribed to the idea as they were the party of most Northern abolitionist, which also shows you how much things have really changed since the days of Zachary Taylor. Many believed that there would be other targets, like Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, and William Henry Harrison. Yet, in perhaps the greatest irony of this whole story, when Abraham Lincoln first took office he received hundreds of letters warning him that he was going to be assassinated, just like Taylor. Of course those letters warned against eating suspicious food and nothing about celebrities wielding guns.

So the next time a friend espouses a rumor to you about 9/11 or tells you how Kennedy was killed by hitmen hired by his own dog, Pushinka -She was Russian after all- just smile and nod and know that conspiracy theories have existed as long as humans. Maybe, in a way, the paranoia of people in the mid 1800’s justified. The Civil War was only years away and tensions were growing in all parts of the country. To many assassination may not have seemed like a big leap, and in some ways it is more comforting to believe that coincidence and bad luck are the result of secretive and powerful sources -whether they be big business, the government, or the Southern aristocracy- rather than just random chance. Conspiracies are a way we humans try to claim some agency over our chaotic world. The truth is often a lot scarier, sometimes bad things just happen. That is true whether it be car accidents, a deranged man with a gun, or just a bad bowl of cherries on a hot 4th of July in 1850.

2016

It is 2016, a shiny new year in the 21st century. There is no denying that we are in the future, a time when our sock hopping ancestors believed we would have things like jet packs and underwater cities. Instead all we have are underwater pollution and -criminally mislabeled- “hoverboards.” Still, our modern era is not all bad, and we here at The NYRD are optimistic about what is yet to come. 2016 holds a lot of promise and we thought it would be best to start the year off right and talk about all the good possibilities, trends, and breakthroughs for the coming year, because we all know there will inevitably be bad enough ones too.

Virtually All Reality
2016 will mark the beginning of consumer virtual reality. VR headsets are set to become the next big “thing” in the technology and gaming world. This year will see the release of the Oculus Rift as well as several other devices. These new VR sets will range from premium high end models to cardboard boxes that can be fit around your smart phone, but rest assured our reality will never look the same again. Whether it will be playing games, watching movies, or even experiencing news stories first hand, the world is going to start to look  a lot different in ways even we cannot imagine.

Franchise, Franchise, Franchise
We would be remiss if we did not use this opportunity to bring up some of the most anticipated video games, movies, and TV shows coming out in 2016. This new year will most assuredly be the year of the shared universe, with movies like Batman V. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ghostbusters and of course, Star Wars: Rogue One. Disney will be certainly looking to shove even more Star Wars and Marvel down our collective gullets, and -truth be told- we are sort of okay with that. On the small screen side there will be plenty of old and new shows to look forward to, including the return of Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Sherlock. However, we are also looking forward to new Agent Carter and Daredevil, not to mention a possible Luke Cage show near the end of the year. Meanwhile, other shows like Preacher and the new X-Files have our interest piqued, and, of course, we would hate to leave out that 2016 will mark the last season of Mythbusters.

In the literary world, everyone is talking about a possible 2016 release date for The Winds of Winter, George R. R. Martin’s next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Unfortunately, we would advise that you don’t hold your breath, unless you want to be just another causality in the long list of deaths attributed to the blood soaked career of Martin. JK Rowling is also getting back into the Harry Potter game with her newest movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a new stage-play following the adult Harry Potter titled, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

On the video game side, there is only one title we here at The NYRD want to talk about, No Man’s Sky. This self-creating infinite galaxy MMO has the possibility to blow the lid off the immersive video game genre, and has the potential to pave the way for all new gaming experiences. Last year, NMS “stole the show” at every conference and convention where it was previewed. This could mark the next leap forward in video game experiences and we fully expect that we will have to shut down our office for a week just to get a grip on it.

Juno, the Dragon, and Beyond
This year in space exploration will see the Juno probe visit Jupiter in hopes of unlocking more of the gas giant’s secrets, including the moisture content of its atmosphere and how it was originally formed. There is still a lot we don’t know about the largest planetary body in our solar system and Juno is going to help us figure it out. We should also see the first manned launch of SpaceX’s Dragon V2.  SpaceX just ended 2015 with the successful landing of reusable rocket boosters that have the potential to dramatically cut costs of space launches. If everything remains on schedule American astronauts will no longer have to be dependent on Russia to reach the International Space Station. Instead NASA will buy them tickets on the Dragon, much like one might buy a bus ticket, except with more explosions and more leg room. Lastly, the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will be completed this September in Guizhou Province of China. The largest single-aperture telescope in the world it will be able to gaze three-times further into space than its predecessor, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Weathering the New Year
We ended 2015 on a high note, the Paris Climate Summit was an unmitigated success, but in 2016 the real work begins. There is a lot of reason to be hopeful. In June all the states of the USA need to submit their plans to reduce emissions from power plants. The US Energy Commission is predicting an impressive increase in all renewable energy sources, and a steadying of CO2 based emissions in comparison with the past four years. This includes a 14% growth for solar and wind energy. With hybrids and electric cars becoming more affordable and commonplace, and with increasing EPA emissions standards even car manufacturers and other big businesses are starting to think green.

Around the world places like India and China are starting to slow their pollution. China has even suspended new mining endeavours, which gives real hope that we can stay under the 1.5 degree mark for global warming. One could even say the winds are starting to change, at least as long as that person doesn’t mind using terrible cliched puns. We at the NYRD are completely above all that, of course.

The End of the Rainbow Discrimination
With both Hilary Clinton and Barry Sanders -who co-sponsored the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964– have expressed deep concern for the fact that 31 states have no explicit law  against firing members of the LGBTQ community for their gender or sexual identity. This is despite the fact that it is now legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. There is a strong hope that 2016 will see an end to this type of discrimination. With the two front-running democrats both claiming they will push for a more protection for LGBTQ people we have high hopes that something will get done this year on this issue. At the very least it should become a topic of major debate both for Presidential nominees and members of Congress.

50 Shades of Gun Metal Gray
President Obama recently announced that he will be enacting an executive order to tighten existing gun laws in the country. This comes after a 2015 filled with mass shooting and nonsensical rhetoric. In fact, 27 Americans were killed by guns on Christmas. We will not go into the specifics of the President’s plan -as he still has yet to announce the majority of it- but hopefully more regulated gun control can make 2016 a much less violent year. Unfortunately we are already off to a rocky start. With any luck things can only improve.

Another hope for less violence comes in the form of an announcement that the Justice Department will begin keeping track of how many individuals are killed by law enforcement officials. In the past, the data collection on either purposeful or accidental deaths caused by police and other law enforcement were voluntary. In other words, it was near impossible to get clear statistics, data, and accountability on the rise and decline of police violence in certain areas. This is only one small piece that has led to more mistrust of law enforcement by citizens, especially by black Americans, in a year already riddled by alleged brutality and possible police misconduct. Having greater statistical accountability is only a small step, but it is one in the right direction. With any luck, in 2016 we will heal the wounds of the previous year and help us move forward not as black or white but as citizens and neighbors.

No Country for Old Politics
Currently, the American political landscape is a mess. The Republican primaries are more bloated than Jabba the Hutt after a large meal, and the front-runners are more extreme and perverse than even some of Jabba’s tastes. On the Democratic side a David and Goliath battle is being waged between the party establishment-hopeful, Clinton, and the social media darling, Sanders. Even worse everybody on your Facebook seems to have an opinion and none of them are completely satisfying, but there is a possible silver lining to this darkening and maddening cloud.

The popularity of Sanders, Trump, and Carson -despite what anyone may think of their politics- is actually a hopeful sign. The Democratic and Republican parties have been controlled for too long by party elders and big donors, all of which seem out of touch with what the common American wants. The fact that any of the “fringe candidates” are still polling competitively at this point in the race shows that things are starting to change. Trump and Carson are especially interesting, because even though they couuld never win a general election, they are exposing cracks in the normal GOP/Tea Party rhetoric. There has been speculation that this could even lead to the dissolution of the party or at the very least to a radical changing of the Republican party in America. That may be an extreme example, but either way nothing is ever going to be the same again for the conservatives.

Bear in mind, that we have made our opinions on Trump and his hate-mongering known before, but he does prove that the power of the people can outweigh the power of the corporations and the lobbyists. Bernie Sanders, too, has practically financed his entire campaign from donors giving $200 or less. Whenever anyone talks about the political system these days it is always in tones of how much worse things have gotten, but for once, let’s take a step back and see the positives of what is going on.

All the Rest
Finally, we cannot forget that 2016 marks the Summer Olympics in Rio, where -surprisingly- the USA Rugby team has a decent chance at winning the gold. -We bet you didn’t even know that the US had a rugby team- Of course, there is also San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and all the other great conventions and annual events look forward to as well. As it stands the coming year offers a lot of promise for a better, stronger, and nerdier America and the world. However, these things are never easy and the path is almost never clear. That is why it takes people like you and us to forge it.

So, if you are looking for a resolution, let us offer this suggestion. Do everything you can to read and educate yourself on the important changes, topics, and events going on around you this year. Use your knowledge to take an active role and not sit on the sidelines. Get out and vote, or volunteer, or even just offer a helping hand to a friend in distress. 2016 can be a truly amazing year, but only with your help. As for us, we here at The NYRD promise to do our part to try and keep you informed and entertained this new year. So stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.

Have a Happy and Hopeful New Year.

There is a little document that a lot of Americans really enjoy fighting over, and for once we’re not talking about the draft sheet for your fantasy football league. The United States Bill of Rights were the first ten amendments added onto the US Constitution after its ratification, and much like the Bible or a Quentin Tarantino movie people try to use it as justification for doing almost anything. Now, like all good Americans we have all 10 amendments memorized -okay maybe only like 4 of them- but we all have our favorites. For example, we know that Todd particularly enjoys the Third Amendment, because every year during the Memorial Day parade, when members of the military band ask if they can use our bathroom, he screams “stop violating my civil rights,” and slams the door. Others out there may enjoy the First Amendment or the Sixth Amendment, however, most people these days are doing a lot of talking about the Second Amendment. So we thought it might be good to get a little historical context on what the Second Amendment was and how it has shaped the national debate currently going on around us.

Our Forefathers Can Beat-Up Your Forefathers
The full text of the Second Amendment reads, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Odd capitalization aside, we often find ourselves discussing the second part of that sentence but forgetting the first part. The ambiguity of the sentence has led to more than few arguments. It is just another thing we can blame on our Founding Fathers, because the argument we are having today still echoes the argument they had more than 200 years ago.

Before the Constitution was ever ratified the men who created our nation found themselves divided into two camps, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Federalists essentially favored the Constitution and a stronger central government while Anti-Federalists favored stronger rights for the States. Sufficed to say, the Federalists won in the end, but not without a few compromises, and the biggest contention was over the right for the new US Government to raise a standing army. Federalists argued that a standing regular army was needed to protect the interests of the nation. The Anti-Federalists believed that a standing army, loyal to the government, was the first step toward tyranny. They resolved the debate by granting Congress the ability to raise an army, but could only fund it two years at a time. However, the second and more crucial safeguard against the oppression of a Federal army was the idea of militias.

Local militias were something the colonists were very familiar with. Colonial militias had existed for years and had fought with mixed success in the American Revolution, but State and local militias in colonial times were a lot more than just what the National Guard is today. They also served as the nations first paid police force. Aside from elected Sheriffs, militia men were tasked with bringing dangerous criminals to justice. So when the Bill of Rights was finally written in 1789 one of the first amendments passed by the House and Senate was for the establishment of State militias as a check against the existence of the Federal army and as a lawful body to help keep local peace. That makes sense, because at the time our Founding Fathers were more preoccupied with States rights versus Federal rights rather than if people could own guns.

The NaRrAtion of the Law
Even the original wording of James Madison, who wrote the Bill of Rights, seems to be more focused on the military aspect rather than a private citizen’s “right to bear arms.” Before it was altered by the Senate the amendment originally read, A well regulated Militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms. Madison even included a clause for conscientious objectors, which again points to the fact that the amendment was more focused on the military aspect rather than gun ownership. However, we feel compelled to point out that the Founding Fathers may not have specifically pointed to the “right to bear arms,” but there is also evidence that in their day it was considered a natural and normal right and they may not have felt the need to codify it more than they already did. Thus, the “right to bear arms” part cannot be completely negated.

Going forward there became two narratives concerning the Second Amendment. Up until about the 1970s and 1980s, the narrative of “collective rights,” or “states rights” dominated the political and judicial thinking of the Second Amendment. This narrative argued that the amendment only protects gun ownership of the States, and not individual private citizens. Basically, it argues that the Second Amendment is meant to be interpreted as the Constitutional right of each State to establish National Guards that are controlled and armed by State officials. Fifty years ago, no one was having a debate about the right to gun ownership. Then in the late 20th century the narrative suddenly shifted to favor what is known as the “standard model,” which argued that the amendment was meant to be dominated by the second part of the sentence, in that it really grants individual citizens absolute rights to own and keep arms. This narrative became popular around 1977, when a little known organization called the National Rifle Association went from being a group that promoted gun safety to a group that suddenly began to lobby for gun ownership.

It is worth noting that even when the NRA started proclaiming that the Second Amendment was about the “rights to bear arms,” the conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time, Warren R. Burger, openly mocked the idea as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American people.” He thought it was a laughable interpretation. Yet, the NRA kept pushing, and their new narrative was bolstered by the election of Ronald Reagan, a pro-gun rights President, and by the gun manufacturers themselves who gave large sums to make sure that the people in Congress got behind it too. Still it was not until 2001, in the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court, in the case of The United States vs. Emerson, that any judge even voiced acceptance of the the idea that the Second Amendment protected the rights of individual gun owners. Even then, the opinion was not legally backed until 2008 in the case of The District of Columbia vs. Heller, when Antonin Scalia ruled that the government did not have a right to infringe on the ownership of handguns.

An Infallible Right
In 2011, gun manufactures made 4.3 billion dollars, thanks in no small part to the new interpretation that the American public had come to accept about the Second Amendment. Suddenly, it was American to own a gun and un-American to want to regulate guns, and they had a vested interest in keeping it that way. Yet, even during the entire period when the majority of Americans accepted the idea that the Second Amendment was about regulating militias, gun ownership was not illegal, but by changing the dialogue and making gun ownership a right -on par with free speech and religion- gun ownership went from “not being illegal” to “protected by the law” and those are two very different things. Gun ownership suddenly became so sacred as to be untouchable, but we feel compelled to point out that no other right granted by the constitution enjoys such unfettered legality.

George Washington famously said, “Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.” In other words, yes we have rights as citizens but we have to understand that when those “rights” interfere with the lives and rights of other citizens than we have to recognize the need for moderation. Thus, it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, or to say “bomb” on a plane when there isn’t one, because those are not examples of free speech. They only serve to put others at risk. We have laws limiting or mitigating the effects of almost every amendment in the Bill of Rights, so why is it suddenly so unfathomable to have laws limiting gun ownership, regardless whether the Second Amendment was meant to refer to that specific right or not.

A lot of the problem goes back to the way the amendment was worded. People who claim it refers to the individual gun ownership model argue that the first part of the sentence, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, is meant as a justifying preamble to the second half, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. And that could be true, but it is worth mentioning that no other amendment in the Bill of Rights starts with a justifying preamble. Everything else just states what it means to say without beating around the Constitutional bush. Still, it is worth remembering that the words are in there, and we know that the Founding Fathers did see gun ownership as a natural part of life. Yet, to them guns were single fire muskets that required a full minute of reload time, and that is also worth remembering.

The Right to Bear History
Times change, opinions change, and laws have to change to change with them. It is ironic how worried our Founding Fathers were about the existence of a standing United States Army, and yet there is not a single person today who still argues if the USA should have a standing army. Even more ironic Federalists like Washington, Adams, and Hamilton did not want a Bill of Rights at all, believing that the Constitution was enough to guarantee the freedoms of the people. They believed that codifying what they saw as the natural rights of man would ultimately make those rights “colorable” and open to be misinterpreted and used for demagoguery, kind of like exactly what is happening today with the Second Amendment.

Lastly, our Founding Fathers were men, who fought and argued, and bickered same as we do today. They compromised and struggled. They were not divine beings who granted us a document from the almighty. They were not perfect, and you do not need to look any further for proof than in their Three-Fifths Compromise. They also could not predict a future of drones, tanks, or assault weapons, and that is why they made the Constitution a living a document, one that could change with the times and be amended. They knew that future generations would face new problems and need to find new solutions. So, regardless, of how they, or the NRA, or you, or this website chooses to interpret the Second Amendment, it is also worth remembering that all those famous historical founders that stare at us from the fronts of money, entrusted us to make laws and interpret them to fit today’s world, and not the world of the single shot musket.

It’s time to talk about a subject that makes some Americans uncomfortable. We here at The NYRD have been putting off delving into this topic for a while now as we know how divisive it can be, even if it really shouldn’t be. There are definitely hard core believers and zealots on both sides of the issue, but its time we, as a country, really sat down and started learning about and addressing our issues with Anime, and their gun control. You see when it comes right down to it, the truth is that you would probably not be too comfortable if Cloud Strife walked into your local grocery store carrying his giant mother-loving Buster Sword, so why are you comfortable if anyone person walks around with a deadly weapon? Because unless you’re expecting a few random encounters in Niblheim you need to ask yourself, “what is the point?”

The Weight of Dragonslayer
Dragonslayer is the impossibly large weapon of the Black Swordsman, in the anime, Berserk. More of a giant heap of raw iron, it weighs in excess of 500 pounds, but it is not the physical weight alone that gives it its true power. Its history of killing monsters and evil spirits has turned it into something more than just an ordinary blade, and that is really a microcosm of the issue we face with today, because much like history and momentum, once our problems get moving in a certain direction it can be hard to stop them, at least before a lot of people need to die. More importantly, the Dragonslayer was forged for a brutal and medieval world, full of demons and monsters, and is that the kind of world we want to live in?

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2013, there were 33,636 firearm related deaths, that is 10.6 Americans per 100,000. In comparison there were 33,804 motor vehicle related deaths, which is about 10.7 Americans per 100,000. The number of gun deaths is only 200 less than motor vehicle deaths. People may want to point to that and say, “Ha, driving a car is heavily monitored, licensed, and regulated, and there are still almost 34,000 deaths on record,” and that is true. Imagine how many deaths there could be if driving was not so regulated? Also consider that cars and other road vehicles are things we see everyday, and are things we operate everyday. They dominate our lives and are essential pieces of equipment we need to live and work. Equating them to firearms is literally like comparing apples to hand grenades. There should be no correlation, as gun serve very specific and few purposes in our day to day lives. Yet, the number of deaths each has caused is almost equal.

More importantly, consider a second and rarely talked about statistic, Of the more than 33,000 gun related deaths in 2013, only 11,208 were homicides, whether they be a mass shooting scenario, random encounter violence, or other similar incidents. That is about 33% of the total firearm related deaths for that year. 22,428 died of non-homicidal or accidental deaths, hundreds of which were children. In fact, children in America are 9 times more likely to die from accidental gun use than in any other developed nation. However, the vast majority of these deaths 21,175 people in 2013, were suicides. Now some may look to dismiss these deaths -and there is still some debate over the nature of suicide itself- but the statistics tend to show that states with better gun control laws have lower suicide rates, due in part to the fact that waiting periods and mental health screenings help keep firearms and other weapons out of the hands of people who are looking to end their lives in one brief moment of depression. Connecticut enacted stricter laws and saw suicide rates drop while Missouri repealed similar gun control laws and saw suicide rates increase during the same 10 year period. Even enacting laws that prevent open carry in California and Oklahoma were accompanied by a 3.5% and 1.7% decrease in their respective suicide rates.

Justice or Punisher
Punisher from the anime Trigun is extremely unwieldy and bit on the side of overkill. It conceals two machine guns, a rocket launcher, and it has a compartment that stores four handguns, all without any needed permits. It is also shaped like a giant cross which is carried on a person’s back in the most obvious anime symbolism since Goku rose from the dead to save the world. Sufficed to say it’s a lot more than a simple hunting rifle, but much like the guns that NRA lobbyists try to justify today, it is a weapon hidden beneath an obscuring icon that tries to mask its true nature. Unfortunately, the fate of its owner Nicholas D. Wolfwood, echoes the fate of many people who believe that having a firearm helps keep you safer.

Every time a gun is successfully used in the defense of a home, there are 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving firearms in or around a home. Do you know the number of mass killings stopped by a “good guy with a gun” in the past 30 years? The answer is 0. In fact, owning or carrying a weapon tends to make people more aggressive. Drivers who carry firearms are 44% more likely to be aggressive on the road. Stand Your Ground laws and laws that make it easier to carry firearms have been linked with a 7% to 10% increase in statewide homicide rates. A recent study that examined 30 years of homicide data in all 50 states found that for every 1% increase in a state’s gun ownership rate, there is also a nearly 1% increase in its gun homicide rate. States like New Jersey and New York, which have stricter laws and less firearm ownership, have seen very little per capita deaths as opposed to Wyoming and Montana, which have very loose gun laws and high ownership, and all this despite the fact that NJ and NY have more urban and gang-prone areas. The odds of an assault victim being killed were 4.5 times greater if he was carrying a handgun. A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase by more than 5 times if that abuser has access to firearms.

NarutoChart1

We here at The NYRD are not advocating against gun ownership, but there is no question that less weapons and stricter laws keep people safe. Take the example of Australia. After the 1996 mass shooting at Port Arthur in Tasmania, the Australian people enacted stricter gun control and implemented an aggressive buyback program for handguns, rifles, and possibly cross-shaped machine guns. They bought back more than 600,000 weapons, one-fifth of the total number of guns in circulation. Between 1995 and 2006 their firearm homicide rate dropped by more than 59%. Firearm suicides dropped by 65%. Meanwhile home invasions and anime conventions did not increase at all over the same time period. Before 1996 there were 11 mass shootings in Australia. Since 1996 there have been 0. Australia never outlawed gun ownership. The government did not break down doors and take anyone’s weapons. America has more than 314 million guns, and only 4 million of those are owned by law enforcement or the military, that is a lot of fire power. Yet, whenever anyone suggests that we need to enact real and lasting change politicians and lobbyists hide under rhetoric and symbolic cross-shaped icons.

Tessaiga Laws
Nothing is scarier than a demon blade, one that can change from a normal-sized katana to a giant oversized blade in the blink of an eye. The Tessaiga is the demon sword of Inuyasha of the anime of the same name. When active the sword is capable of killing 100 demons in a single swipe, but in its inactive form it looks like nothing more than a harmless normal sword. It is literally a concealed weapon capable of killing hundreds. Unfortunately, the laws of America would not be completely equipped to deal with such a weapon. Our nation’s gun control laws are weak and ill enforced.

Take the example of Chicago, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun control laws, but also some of the nation’s highest firearm deaths -a statistic that many pro-gun lobbyists are quick to point out- but the facts are misleading. First of all, Chicago is a highly populated city and if you take the violence as a per capita statistic you see that Chicago is not as much of an outlier compared to smaller cities. However, and more importantly, the Chicago PD seizes more illegal guns than any other city in the nation. Here, the word “illegal” is a relative term, because these weapons are illegal in Michigan, but not in Indiana or one of the other neighboring states in which they were bought. 6.7% of the firearms recovered in Chicago come from Mississippi and 19% come from Indiana, both from legal stores and legal weapon shows in those states, and the problem is that there is no way to regulate any of that.

Federal Gun Control Laws are either non-existent or so toothless so as to be almost laughable. They do try to prevent transfer or selling of guns across state lines, “except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers,” which basically means most people who sell firearms. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004 and was not renewed, and the Brandy Gun Violence Prevention Act requires background checks from anyone purchasing a gun, but “depending on seller and venue.” Even worse, if your name appears on a terrorist watch list, then you can still buy a firearm. According to the FBI, between 2004 and 2014, more than 2,000 people listed as known or suspected terrorists purchased rifles, guns, and even other assault weapons. These people aren’t even allowed to fly on airplanes but they can purchase weapons? Even worse-er the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the organization we have in place to police and investigate these very violations, has been slowly neutered over the years by aggressive lobbyists. The department is underfunded, understaffed, and often barred from enforcing existing laws. The ATF did not have a permanent director for seven years, and they are not even allowed to inspect gun dealers more than once a year. Yet, around 40% of all legal firearm sales involve private sellers and do not require background checks, and 40% of prison inmates who used a gun in their crimes got them this way.

The Truth Behind the Animation
You may think we are being ridiculous by comparing the very serious problem of gun violence in this nation with the absurd violence of Japanese based animation, and you would be right. Because when we look at anime we know that those weapons are too large, too impractical, and too over the top to be realistic, but when we look at the violence that takes place around us every day, the mass shootings, the suicides, the accidental deaths, the gang violence, and all the rest we just think of it as normal. So maybe it is time that most Americans began think about this problem the same way they do anime, because it is confusing, absurd, and at times disturbing.

Some people claim that it is too late to do anything about guns, the cat-demon is out of the bottle, but that is no reason to not try. Because the real amazingly absolutely ridiculous thing is that it is already illegal in most states to openly carry any sword of any size in public. That literally means that it is more of a felony in most states to walk around with a 500 pound impractically tall blade than an 11-ounce handgun, but unlike that Buster Sword, when it comes to the handgun, you do not need to have spiky hair or giant eyes to do serious damage.