Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When Did Secrecy Become a Fundamental Value?

There appear to be two universes at war in the United States and the media right now. Interestingly, both have become completely deluged in conspiracy theories and echo chambers. Right now the liberal universe sees Donald Trump as a dangerous Russian patsy, and everything he's done in the last two weeks has been almost designed on purpose to prove them correct. The right-wing universe sees every news story as an exaggeration and dishonest character assassination, built up by a government and media that wants to nullify the results of the last election. Both universes see the world as the direct opposite: what is white for one is black for the other. And there can be no compromise. However, both are relying on an assumption about America that is perhaps the most disturbing element of this whole Trump saga.

I don't really see much point in talking about the details of the Comey firing, or the accidental blurting out of Israeli intelligence to the Russians, or just the utter chaos that the Trump administration seems to create all across the government*. Because you know already what I think, and if you need my thoughts confirmed, read the footnote. You'll have heard whatever I have to say a thousand times and were probably thinking it before you read this article. I'm going to try to look at this another way. Both universes are making a fundamental mistake right now, which is something the larger discussion around the unraveling** of the Trump administration seems to be missing:

Why are secrets so important? Why are we so quick to defend the Deep State and despise all who fail to uphold its values?

What happened to this country which, theoretically is a democracy, where secrets and lies and darkness have become so key to the job of the president? Trump's run-in with the Russians is just the latest form of a story that's been going on for years now. Add it to the issues with Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Hilary Clinton's emails, the DNC hacks, and the leaks to the press from what remains of the White House. The issue of America and its secrets has become one of the central problems of our time, possibly above even healthcare, and apparently neither side wants transparency. It defeated one presidential compaign, and might kill the current administration. Breaking the dogma of keeping secrets is the greatest sin in Washington today. We cheer when our opponents are caught failing the standards of classified info. Yet those secrets which discredit our enemies do not benefit us, the people. We are actively working against our own knowledge.

So with the slim possibility of light at the end of this Trump tunnel, I want to look at the darkness in the government which we seem to have accepted. Because maybe that's not better.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Why Are So Many Americans Worthless?

I wish the Republicans voted on whatever healthcare plan Donald Trump thinks they passed through the House of Representatives yesterday. In Donald Trump's mind, this bill keeps protections for pre-existing conditions (outright lie), still grants insurance to everybody (at least twenty-four million will lose coverage*), would offer "great healthcare" (his definition of "great" varies considerably from mine), and it’s going to lower healthcare costs (for the young and healthy only - maybe).

Typically I’m just an idiot on the internet, but the AHCA/Trumpcare/Ryancare is one of the few places I can actually speak with some level of expertise. Health insurance is my day job, I work as an Insurance Analyst for a healthcare provider. (Not my dream profession, but it pays.) So for once, I actually know what I’m talking about. Personally cutting Medicaid is really bad for the company I work for, since we need those plans to stay in business. But beyond that I can also tell you that the healthcare system in this country is a goddamned mess of epic proportions - the fact my job even exists is testament to that. RINOcare is not going to make things any simpler, just more chaotic and segmented.

The reality, of course, is that the bill guts Medicaid and creates a roadmap for its eventual death, gives wiggle room for states to opt out of pre-existing condition restrictions, allows insurers to bring back crappy plans that don't cover a whole lot, and deeply increases costs for the elderly. You lose if you’re poor, if you're sick, if you're old, and you'll even lose if you’re young and healthy because the policies you’ll now get are much worse than the ones you need. And this bill has brought everybody in the healthcare sector together... to oppose it. Hospitals are terrified of it, the AARP hates it, doctors don't like it, and even health insurance companies have spoken out against it. The only winners in the immediate term are the upper class, who will get lower taxes. The rest of us are losers.

The AHCA seems like a bill for nobody. So why would this legislation even be considered in the first place? Why do so many Americans simply not count in the eyes of their Congress?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Are We Starting a Fight with North Korea, Again?

Every year I hear the same news story: North Korea threatens World War III. You know the tale by now. The dictator of North Korea is a madman ready to end the world if he doesn’t get his Ann Takamaki body pillow on time. While Kim Jong-Un lavishes himself in luxury and delusion his people suffer, then he threatens to nuke the world because he's desperate for respect. Let’s all point and laugh at this pathetic nation and its weird dorky leader.

Right now we’re in the latest round of this semi-annual ritual. Kim Jong-Un is going to make some apocalyptic threats, the news will dutifully spin the story for maximum panic. Then in a week this will all pass over. So it goes year after year.

The eyes of the media are still focused on Syria thanks to a grand piece of theater on Donald Trump’s part last week. But while Syria has been a festering ulcer for years now, it isn’t an immediate danger. North Korea is. Kim Jong-Un's threats to nuke the United States are dubious but his threats on cities like Seoul and Tokyo are very real. North Korea has been the most dangerous flashpoint of the world for decades. Any time it heats up, no matter how ridiculous the threat, is something that needs to be a taken seriously. Taking things seriously is something our current president Donald Trump just doesn't seem to do. Now in 2017 you have the unpredictability of the Trump administration facing off against a nuclear state with its back against the wall. This is deeply worrisome.

North Korea is a terrible nation that rightly should be evaporated off the map forever. It’s one of the final evils that Communism has left behind. (Thanks, Stalin.) But no matter how bad the other side is, this newest crisis is one largely of our own making. For no good reason the US is suddenly acting very aggressively in the region. We now represent a considerable threat, even if we don’t realize it. Trump’s chaotic governing style is no longer just a problem for Washington, it’s a problem for everybody.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: First Impressions of the Wild


Some caveats: Technically this would be a "seventh" impression since I have now played "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" through seven sessions across approximately fifteen hours of gaming. I played deep enough to have beaten the first dungeon and boss, met a sexy fish prince, and gotten a good handle on most of the game’s systems. Most of the game was played on a WiiU but I’ve also played a bit on a new-fangled Nintendo Switch.

A little bit over five years ago “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” came out to what was then very high praise. I was in the minority back then when I called it "a game from the past, too restrictive, too structured, and too small". I didn't want to be in the negative camp, I really to love "Skyward Sword". But slowly all the little weaknesses tore it down for me, I still consider it to be the worst game in the series. "Skyward Sword" was badly padded between dungeons and story segments, it lost all sense of freedom, and it offered no new innovation other than motion controls. As it turns out, I was on the right side of history on that debate. Motion controls were not the future of the franchise, "Skyward Sword" was a mistaken dead-end. Thea actual future was in pure expanse, the adventure of an open world. Thank goodness for that.

"Breath of the Wild" is a game that borrowed ideas from a million other titles of this decade. It has "Assassin’s Creed" climbing, it has "Metal Gear Solid V" combat variety, it has "Dark Souls" ruthlessness, and it has the maddening scale of many other open world titles. But it also feels like a natural extension of Legends of Zelda past. I chuckled at gaming sites reporting that "Breath of the Wild" would be the "first open world Zelda". They forgot that Zelda was a pioneer of open world gaming back in 1986 along with things like "Hydlide" and "Ultima" and "Dragon Quest". Zelda might be borrowing concepts from other games. But those games are its grandchildren, and they owe Zelda a lot more. "Breath of the Wild" isn’t Zelda fighting to keep up with trends. It’s Zelda finally returning to what it was supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban and Foriegn Policy by Imagination

What twitter hashtag should we use to describe this newest Trump executive order? #TravelBan or #MuslimBan? Which is more accurate depends on your perspective, I suppose. Opponents of the measure call it a Muslim Ban because that's the clear intent here. Trump and his supporters want to ban Muslim immigration, let's not dance around this fact. Yet his supporters point out that this order is limited in scope, does not cover all Muslim nations, and is "temporary". This is actually the kind of illogic that Trump and his government intended when they wrote this order. It's a cloud of dishonesty, creating confusion and nonsense.

Trump supporters believe that this executive order is both a Muslim ban and it isn't. To them, the president fulfilled his campaign promise to ban Muslim immigration, while arguing that he did not fulfill that promise because it is illegal. The left is overreacting in their eyes, yet Trump supporters really do want Muslims gone from this country. So the president is somehow both making good and not delivering, whichever is more convenient at the time. Trump himself has been pretty glib about the ban's intentions, saying "call it whatever you want". This is the kind of attitude that speaks volumes really.

So let's say for the sake argument then, this Travel Ban is not about targeting Islam specifically as a religion. Then what is it for? What are the operational goals of this Travel Ban? How can we measure success or failure? What is the strategic justification of banning travel from the sponsor of terrorism, Iran, and not the sponsor of terrorism, Saudi Arabia? Why target the civil wars in Sudan or Somalia and not the civil wars in Nigeria or Ukraine?

Consistent logic is not really a part of Trump's foreign policy. Trump has never made a case for why this ban is necessary because there is no case to make. It isn't about making a case, and never has been. Facts and strategy are too physical, they can be disproven. You can't argue against emotion and fear. How do you disprove foreign policy by imagination?