REI makes the right decision closing on Black Friday

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it's time to take REI's message to heart.

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it’s time to take REI’s message to heart.

For years, I’ve ranted and raved about the depravity of Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping. In lieu of family time, we devolve into a proto-human state, as we trample, bum rush, and make a mad dash into Targets, Best Buys, Wal-Marts, and other big box stores across the country. All for a deal, right?

We seldom consider what we ask of retail employees–often some of the lowest paid employees in the country–as they give up their holiday to service our endless quest for bargains and mostly junk. The deal on electronics, toys, and clothes is just too much for the American consumer or the American retailer to pass up and in recent years, retailers moved Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day, ruining the holidays for countless numbers of Americans. It’s not just the employees who give up their holiday to watch the hordes stuff mass quantities of “Made in China” dreck into a cart, but the families of those who wolf down Thanksgiving dinner because Target opens in two hours.

As I said, I’ve discussed this before and I am firmly against retailers who open on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the only secular holiday in the United States in which we gather with family, eat a festive meal, and hopefully feel thankful for all we have. It’s important, it’s reflective, and it’s a day that ties us to a simpler, more respectful United States. Retailers and consumers have changed that, but fortunately, someone is bucking the trend.

Outdoor retailer REI–which also happens to be a coop–won’t just close on Thanksgiving this year, but they’re also closing on Black Fridaypaying employees to spend the day outdoors, and encouraging their customers to do the same.

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Benghazi hearing more about campaigning than Clinton or the truth

Clinton's face said it all.

Clinton’s face said it all.

After eleven grueling, often mind-numbing hours of testimony by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it seemed as if the GOP member of the Benghazi committee had met their match. Clinton remained calm, cool, and collected for most of the hearing, with Democratic members throwing barbs, while Republicans found new ways to ask the same question several dozen times. As the hearings wound to an end, I had a thought: what if this has nothing to do with Benghazi or stopping Clinton’s march to the White House? It sounds ludicrous. After all, Republicans have orchestrated Benghazi hearings for years with the goal of putting an end to Clinton’s dreams of winning the presidency, but with just a year until the general election, and a clown car of a GOP primary field, Republican members of Congress may consider Clinton all-but-invetiable. So why grill Clinton for 11 hours?

Congressional Republicans have elections to win in 2016 too. Their own.

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Can we do anything about gun violence in the U.S.?

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that's not normal or OK.

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that’s not normal or OK.

Once again, Americans are reeling at the sight of another mass shooting. In what’s become all-too-commonplace, we react with horror, sorrow, anger, and discussion, but at the end of the day, we all know this will happen again. President Obama said as much during his remarks addressing the shooting in Oregon, and regardless of your politics, every American probably agrees with Obama when he said it’s likely he’ll have to address another mass shooting before his term is over. However, in our efforts to end the horrific violence caused by guns, we address a few key issues: the ease in which potential shooters access guns, how we handle mental illness in the United States, and whether any reasonable limitations on gun ownership are appropriate if it means preventing another mass shooting like we’ve seen across the country, year after year.

The following piece attempts to address a few key issues. First, we must try to find a way to prevent mass shootings from ripping apart communities across the country and if reasonable gun legislation is off the table (despite overwhelming support in most parts of the country), we need another solution. We simply cannot accept mass shootings as normal, or something that cannot be prevented because the Second Amendment prohibits the adoption of any legislation preventing some individuals from accessing firearms. The piece takes a look at perhaps a key psychological reason why it’s so challenging to pass reasonable legislation aimed at ending the scourge of gun violence affecting Americans every single day. Additionally, we must consider our rhetoric towards guns–especially the paranoid notion that someone is coming for them–which may–or may not–be contributing to gun-related violence in the United States.

What’s laid out here isn’t a series of concrete solutions to gun violence, but perhaps it will provide us with an outlet for deeper discussion–on both sides of the aisle–on what can be done to make sure we can end the evils of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

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Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

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Kanye 2020 and the end of the American democracy?

No, Kanye, you can't be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

No, Kanye, you can’t be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Alright, so the headline is a bit hyperbolic, but Kanye West’s rambling, 12-minute diatribe at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday left me grumpy about the future of our grand experiment in democracy. A few bad apples aside, Americans typically come together every four years to hire someone to run the country. It’s quite possibly the most challenging job in the country, even if it doesn’t require the skills as a brain surgeon–although Dr. Ben Carson would probably tell you otherwise.

Kanye’s bizarre remarks made a mockery of our presidential system, even if Kanye’s goal was to address the candidacy of jokers like Donald Trump. However, young people who hopped on the #Kanye2020 train immediately following his remarks are sadly growing up in a country where we belittle the concept of public service, believe all politicians are self-serving and that any person has the capacity to run the country.

A few things:

  1. Public service should absolutely be taken seriously
  2. A few bad politicians should not spoil those truly looking to make their community, state, country, or world a better place
  3. It requires incredible intelligence, patience, and tenor to be president.

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Why are they called “mass shootings?”

Sadly, we are dealing with yet another tragedy caused by a maniac with a gun. Today it was in southwestern Virginia as the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward were senselessly taken by a former colleague. As Americans and the media try to unravel what’s behind today’s horrific acts, I noticed something and those were the words “mass shooting.” Those two words are sadly all-too-common in today’s day, when mass shootings seem to be the norm. According to a Washington Post story published this afternoon, the United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day. Those horrific numbers are for a separate conversation about gun violence and the perpetuation of gun ownership in America, but this is about the media’s portrayal of mass shootings and whether a quality definition exists for heinous acts.

Today’s tragedy took the lives of three people (gunman included), wounding a fourth. In the Washington Post’s article, they cite a subreddit called GunsAreCool (a sarcastic title), which defines a mass shooting, “as any single incident in which at least four people are shot, including the gunman.” The WaPo article goes onto to mention the FBI’s definition, “which requires three or more people to be killed by gunfire.”

Do either of those definitions fit what you consider a “mass shooting?” Without doing the quantitative and qualitative research necessary, it seems as if the term “mass shooting” is applied to any shooting–regardless of the number of victims–covered wall-to-wall by the media. Since we first learned of the senseless acts committed by a madman, media–both online and television–have covered the story incessantly. To me, it seems that when the media decides one particular heinous act committed with a gun demands the nonstop coverage, then–and only then–is the shooting considered a “mass shooting.”

It’s difficult to admit this, and perhaps this is hyperbolic given the nature of today’s events, but it seems that “mass shootings” is media code for “terrorist attack committed by an American on American soil using a gun.” Yes, we generally reserve the term “terrorist attack” committed by Americans when bombs are involved, but at this point, that’s what these “mass shootings” are doing. They terrorize and terrify victims, bystanders, and all those affected directly or indirectly by the attacks. Recent shootings at movie theaters now have you looking around a theater before enjoying a show. Is that different than checking around an airport or a plane post-9/11? We are scared of our movie theaters, our schools, our churches, our malls, our neighborhoods, and almost every place we go. Why? Mass shootings.

Will we finally let go of the numbness we experience following a mass shooting if we correctly identify them as a terrorist attack? Yes, most of the shooters do not have an ideological goal, but based on the testimony of the Charleston shooter and the suicide note left by today’s attacker, both provided plenty of ideological fodder for their twisted, senseless violent actions.

We have a problem in this country when “mass shootings”–or however you want to define them–become the new normal. After 9/11, incredible changes were made to this country to prevent another attack from happening. Whether you agree or disagree with the changes made post-9/11 is beside the point, but we can say that the government has foiled a large number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since that horrible day and we’ve done a far better job protecting the country. Is that too much to ask when it comes to those terrorizing our schools, churches, movie theaters, and homes? Is it too much to ask our country and fellow citizens to do something to protect us?

As we try to determine how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again–which again revolves mostly around the proliferation of guns in America and American culture–we must consider how and why we define certain actions as “mass shootings,” instead of the terroristic actions they are.

Until we find a way to stop this madness, they will continue, unabated. The pain and suffering of today’s events will subside for most Americans, as we leave the victims’ friends, families, and colleagues to grieve and ask why, but the rest of us will continue about our business until our day is interrupted, once again, by the sound of a breaking news alert as we once again learn the names of the victims and the senseless individual responsible for yet another attack. No more movie theaters, schools, churches, malls, homes, streets, cars, or any other location where victims are senselessly gunned down. It must end.