The Death of Privilege

One thing that’s been blowing up the internets recently is Gawker’s “Privilege Tournament.” According to the description:

“Privilege: so sweet to have. But even sweeter to not have. Privilege has its benefits, but the lack of privilege confers that sweet, sweet moral superiority. With that in mind, we have decided to determine who, exactly, has the least privilege of all.

These days, teary privilege confessionals pour forth from the lips of college students in equal proportion to the fiery critiques of our grossly unjust world that pour forth from the unprivileged masses. None of it, however, is very scientific. This is the privilege bracket. It is like an NCAA bracket, but without the privileged assumption that you know about sports, which are an inherently masculine-dominated, ability-privileged activity. Here, we will pit eight categories of non-privilege against one another, tournament-style. Each round, the least privileged will advance. At the end, only a single category of non-privilege will be left standing. Or, more likely, unable to stand.”

Modern “social justice” theory defines privilege as “the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because” of features such as class, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.” For example, white people are privileged in that they aren’t viewed as possible criminals as much a people of color. Straight people are privileged because they can get married anywhere in the country. Rich people are privileged because, well, they’re rich.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this idea of privilege. It is a good way of trying to understand people who are different than oneself and allows us to see where we can make a difference when it comes to equality. However, this concept has been twisted and manipulated into something that is meant evoke guilt and to legitimize opposing points of view.

Privilege has become the modern version of original sin. You have it the minute you are born and you are told that you must spend the rest of your life feeling guilty because of it. Modern social justice theory is the church where you can find salvation, but only if you subscribe to the church’s teachings. Heresy and apostasy are not tolerated and those who deviate from the dogma are excommunicated without a second thought.

“Check your privilege” is the battle cry of many self-proclaimed social justice warriors (SJW) and can heard far and wide from the depths of Tumblr to the typical college campus. But rather than being a call for self-introspection, it has been used to basically say “Because you are not (gay/black/transgender/poor/disabled), you don’t get to have an opinion on this issue.”  On the flip side, this leads to the belief that the less privilege you have, the more valid and important your ideas are. This inevitably leads to something called the “Oppression Olympics,” where people try to duke it out to see who is the most oppressed and therefore has the moral high ground.

What the concept of privilege does is create an “us versus them” mentality. There are those who have privilege (the oppressors) and those who don’t (the oppressed). This is a bad thing because it begets confrontation and animosity for both groups, thus making it more difficult to solve the underlying inequalities. Because when these two groups are fighting each other, the privileged always win. Always.

The only way true and lasting equality is achieved is through dialogue and mutual respect. This is a long and difficult process, but unfortunately there literally is no other way. Humans by our nature are imperfect, so if you want to make any positive impact on the world you must first accept reality on its own terms.

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Cruz Makes His Case, But Is It a Lost Cause? (The Answer is Yes)

As the country lurches towards another possible government shutdown, the fight over Obamacare is heating up in the Senate. Starting at 2:30 pm yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) launched into a nearly 24 hour tirade against the unpopular healthcare reform law. While most of the time he was on topic, he did occasionally veer into non sequitors and pop culture references. He even did his best Darth Vader impression.

However, what Senator Cruz did cannot be called a filibuster. He didn’t stop or delay anything, and the Senate voted a few hours ago to end debate on the motion to proceed for the House bill that would fund the government. Then tomorrow comes the actual vote to proceed on the House bill, followed by a vote to end debate on the House bill, followed by the vote to amend the House bill to remove the prohibition on the funding of Obamacare, and finally the vote on the bill itself. As you can see, the Senate really likes to vote. A lot.

Senator Cruz has been trying to throw a monkey wrench into this process and so far he hasn’t had much success. However, he has managed to anger a good deal of his Republican colleagues. One by one GOP Senators have expressed their unwillingness to shut down the government over this issue. This result of this has been name calling and a lot of bad blood going around.

If the Republicans want to be the governing party in this country, they need to stop the craziness. There is no way a government shutdown would lead to the end of Obamacare. When the government grinds to a halt and it’s the President versus Congress, the President always wins. Always. The GOP will cave sooner or later and not only will Obamacare still be in place, but they will have handed the Democrats a political gift that keeps on giving. Simply put, a shutdown is a suicidal move for the Republicans.

But the ideologues like Ted Cruz don’t even seem to care. They want to make a statement and they don’t care what gets destroyed in the process. For them it’s not about results but rather emotion. Sure, they could work hard to develop an effective alternative to Obamacare and sell it to the American people. But it is way more satisfying for them to grandstand with a war of words against Democrats in a do or die battle for the future of America.

Frankly, I don’t know if Cruz is dumb enough to think he’s doing the right thing or cynical enough not to care. I believe that it’s the former, but you can’t ever be sure with a politician, especially ones with presidential ambitions. That being said, GOP better hope it’s the latter because while you can reason with a cynic, you can’t fix stupid.

Obama Lays Out US Foreign Policy at UN

A lot of the attention regarding Obama’s speech at the UN will focus on his efforts to reach out to the Iranian leadership in hopes of finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. However, I think the most important thing that he said today was when he described what the US objective is when it comes to global affairs.

Here’s him laying out line by line his Middle East policy:

“The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it’s necessary, defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.”

The best way to explain any type of policy is to be succinct and consistent. In his speech President Obama highlighted one simple policy goal that the US wants to achieve and how it plans to achieve them. He unequivocally said that the United States of America is fully willing and able to engage in military force to protect its interests in the Middle East. Nothing is off the table when it comes to protecting the flow of petroleum, getting attack terrorists via drone strikes, and enforcing the ban on weapons of mass destruction.

Contrast that with his almost conciliatory tone that he struck with regards to Iran. He acknowledged the US role in overthrowing the democratically elected Iran government in the 1950s and while he did not publicly apologize, he did imply that there was some legitimacy to the Iranian feelings towards the US.

Combine the two seemingly incongruent aspects of his speech and what you see is a President trying to reach out to American’s adversaries while at the same time reminding them that the US reserves the right to use force if necessary. Of course, this is what American presidents have been saying for decades. But what’s notable about this is that the message has changed from “We don’t want to bomb you, but we will if we have to” to “You have some legitimate grievances against us, but we’re still going to bomb you if don’t cut this out.” The latter leaves much more room for engagement on the Iranian’s terms. And while I don’t see this being productive in the short term, it may be the only thing that works in the long term.

North Dakota Town Fights Against Nazi Takeover

No, that headline is not a joke. For those of you who are not aware of what’s going on, the tiny Leith, North Dakota is attempting thwart attempts by (Neo)-Nazis to take over the town and turn it into a hotbed of white nationalism.

It all started last year when white supremacist Craig Cobb started buying up land in the town, which has a population of around 20 people. As of September 2013 he owns at least 13 plots and he has given away several more to fellow white supremacists. He hopes to flood the town with his fellow travelers and crowd out the original residents, two of which are a mixed-race couple.

Obviously, the town didn’t take too kindly with this and started a public relations campaign to kick out the Nazis. This got the attention leader of the National Socialist Movement, of Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement. The NSM is the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country, with 69 chapters in 35 states. He decided to make a “fact-finding” trip to Leith check out the situation for himself and to “protect” Cobb’s civil rights.

Schoep is quoted as saying that the Nazis are here to stay and that he has “every intention of legally assuming control of the local government.” Organizations such as Anti-Racist Action and the Last Real Indians protested his visit and vow to help the town fight off the Nazis.

To quote a cartoon: Nazis are bad, mmkay? But I’m not exactly sure what the residents of Leith can really do here. You can’t stop people from buying land and moving into a community just because they are racist jerks. The Constitution protects even the most vile of speech and it’s that legacy of freedom of expression that makes America stand out among the nations of the world.

The only recourse I see is to get even more anti-racists to move into town in order to keep the racists from taking over. There are only so many Nazis in this country and I can’t imagine they’ll get more than a hundred people. All Leith needs is a hundred tolerant Americans to take up the cause of fighting hate and move out into the middle of North Dakota.

FAA to Relax Rules on In-flight Use of Electronic Devices

From the New York Times:

“The rules on when to turn off electronic devices on airplanes have long been a sour, and sometimes contentious, point for travelers. But faced with a surge of electronics on airplanes and under pressure from a growing number of tech-savvy — and increasingly tech-dependent — passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration recognized that change was inevitable.

This week, an F.A.A. advisory panel will meet to complete its recommendations to relax most of the restrictions. The guidelines are expected to allow reading e-books or other publications, listening to podcasts, and watching videos, according to several of the panel’s members who requested anonymity because they could not comment on the recommendations. The ban on making phone calls, as well as sending and receiving e-mails and text messages or using Wi-Fi, is expected to remain in place, the panel members said.”

I never understood the ban. If electronic devices are so hazardous to the safety of the aircraft, why are they even allowed on board? Could a group of terrorists use their cell phones to take down a plane? How many would it take to do that? Five? Ten? Fifty?

Every year millions of passengers use electronics when they’re not supposed to and nothing bad has happened. I myself have violated this rule many times without ever crashing an airplane. Either we’re just have amazing luck when it comes to air travel or maybe, just maybe, this rule is a load of bull.

As the article noted, the evidence that these devices interfere with the aircraft is mostly anecdotal and no conclusive link has been established. One would think that after all these years that cell phones have been around, there would be at least one verifiable instance where someone’s electronic device interfered with the operation of an airplane. And yet there is nothing.

So if there is no apparent reason behind it, why is this silly rule still enforced? Like an exhausted parent to a petulant child, the FAA’s response is “because I say so.” And on top of all the hassles that come with air travel nowadays, the last thing that the flying public wants is to be treated like a child.

 So it’s time for the FAA to treat airline passengers like the adults they are and allow them to play Candy Crush while their plane is taxiing to the runway. It’s just the American thing to do.

German Election Results: Merkel Wins Reelection, Possibly a Majority

(19:00 Berlin Time): According to the exit polls released just an hour ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU is projected to win the plurality of seats in the Bundestag. However the numbers suggest that she will likely be forced to form a “grand coalition” with her political rivals as her SPD allies are kicked out of the Bundestag for the first time in more than 60 years.

The result from the exit poll conducted by the German television station ARD are as follows:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) 42.0 %

Social Democratic Party (SPD) 26.0%;

Free Democratic Party (FDP) 4.7%;

Greens 8.0%;

The Left (Die Linke) 8.5%;

Alternative for Germany (AfD) 4.9%,

Pirate Party (Piraten) 2.5%

What remains to be seen is whether AfD and the FDP can inch over that 5% threshold that is necessary for parliamentary representation. The fate of the future governing coalition is dependent on the outcome of these two parties.

(19:40 Berlin Time): As the results start to trickle in, German television stations ARD and ZDF are revising their projections. As of right now, Angela Merkel’s CDU is on track to win not just a plurality but a bona fide majority of the seats in the Bundestag. Obviously these are only projections and the results could change at any time. But if she does pull it off, Merkel would be the first Chancellor to win an outright majority since Konrad Adenauer in 1949. It would be quite a feat indeed.

(23:00 Berlin Time): As of now 64% of precincts are reporting in and the CDU/CSU coalition’s lead is holding firm. ARD and ZDF are split as to whether Merkel will get a majority in the Bundestag, but both have her between 41.7 and 42.1. If she can get over 42%, then her prospects for a majority will look very good indeed. The main districts that are still undeclared are mostly in eastern Germany and we hope that they’ll start reporting pretty soon.