So it seems we are now deep in the doldrums of a presidency. I guess this is what people mean when they say the second term is always a problem.

And a problem it is indeed. I’m not happy about a lot of things. I’m not happy about the situation with Russia. I’m not happy with the IRS losing e-mails. I’m not happy about the flood of kids coming across our border, although in that case I’m unhappy with both sides for a muddled immigration policy. And I’m very unhappy about the conditions at the VA.

And, with all that being said, I still don’t regret my vote for the President’s re-election. With all the things I’m unhappy about, would I have voted for Romney/Ryan? Nope. I would not have voted for someone who would’ve done his best to repeal the ACA–definitely not voted for someone whose budget plan would have cut Medicare and Social Security. And I would not have voted for someone who would possibly have gotten us involved in another war with Iran.

Politicians are flawed, so they will not always make me happy. As long as I’m less unhappy than I was during the W years, it’s all good. Happiness, after all, is the absence of pain. It will remain to be seen what Obama’s legacy will be in the end, and we will not be able to determine that until his presidency is over and some time has passed. All I know is that one day, when we have a Republican in the White House again? I will miss this guy soooooo much.

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It looks like my native country of Poland is just as politically divided right now as my adopted home country of the United States.  In last week’s EU parliamentary elections, the two main rival parties received the exact same number of seats–19.

The party which is the “winner” of the election–with only 32.8% of the popular vote–is Platforma Obywatelska (PO) or Civic Platform, a center right party.  And this may be the one time that I will be excited about the right winning an election.  Because PO is–there is no other way to put it–the sane party.  They are right wing in a very moderate sense–perhaps this is what the Republicans in America used to be like, or wish they could be like again.  They are interested in free markets, open to Poland being a part of the European community and the economic benefits that can bring to the country.  They have previously come out in favor of privatization and deregulation, but have been in charge for the last few years and privatization has only happened on a small scale.  They don’t seem to be interested in dismantling society.

On the other hand, there is the opposition.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS)–the Law and Justice party.  It’s a bit unclear to me if they would be considered left or right by American standards.  What they are, more than anything else, is religious.  PiS followers are fervent Catholics.  They are nostalgic people of the sort which wants to wind the clock back to a better time in the past, in this case possibly back to the Middle Ages, when the Church was safely in charge and the priest was the ultimate authority figure.  Hence their opposition to Poland’s involvement in the EU–they don’t want Polish culture to be influenced by all that Western moral decadence, with its pesky feminism and pride parades.  This would also be why some Catholic right talking heads have actually expressed support for Putin’s expanding influence.  Sure, Russia may endanger Polish sovereignty, but at least it doesn’t have gay rights.  The spiritual scene in Poland has become a lot more diverse since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with Buddhists and pagans popping up, and PiS followers are not big fans of that.  While we’re at it, they would also prefer it if women would step back into the kitchen where they belong, thank you very much.  This would mean no rights to abortion or contraceptives, and a proposed tax rebate for each successive child, to encourage Poles to continue following the Catholic big family model.  There is definitely a populist streak to the PiS platform–they are in favor of welfare programs and at one point made promises of a large-scale guaranteed housing project for Polish families.  This is where your average American observer might get confused.  PiS essentially combines social conservative values with some progressive safety net ideas.

Funny thing is, the Civic Platform party isn’t that terribly liberal about social issues either.  But they are closer to the middle, which has caused them to be accused by Law and Justice of being depraved and sinful heathens, ready to take Poland over the brink into heresy, which is enough to recommend PO to me.  And I guess there’s the similarity–whether in Poland or America, elections aren’t about voting for the party you love, they’re about picking the less crazy option of the two.

So after writing a blog about the dangers of abusing Godwin’s Law, I’m about to Godwin myself in the worst way.  I can’t help it–as much as I hate making this comparison, the current situation with Russia reminds me of the eve of World War II.

There’s the Eastern European country which nobody in the West knows much or cares about.  Back then it was Czechoslovakia, now it’s the Ukraine.  There’s the invading country making up exaggerated stories of persecuted ethnic minorities, and naturally, the way to save those minorities is an armed takeover.  There are the economic rewards which the invaders stand to gain.  Eastern Ukraine is rich in industry and energy resources, and this means much more to Vladimir Putin than the Russian-speaking population in the region ever will. And then there is the rest of the world, looking on and making vague gestures of condemnation, but unwilling to invest blood and treasure in a fight they don’t feel a connection with.

But of course, the modern-day Russians are not Nazis.  This is where a Godwin comparison always collapses.  Yes, Russian society is guilty of a few human rights abuses.  But the last time someone in Russia killed millions of people was far back in the last century.  So are we witnessing the historical chain of events leading to another global war?  It’s possible.  But it’s also possible that Putin will be satisfied with grabbing the riches of eastern Ukraine and leaving the impoverished western part of Ukraine for Europe to deal with.  And Russia’s military threats may be empty posturing, a la North Korea doing its nuclear dance without ever lobbing any missiles at anybody.  Maybe what we’re watching is the universal process of a powerful country trying to get more territory.  Jumping into a wider conflict would be foolish and draw too much attention, so instead the invader nibbles away, bite after bite.  So how should we react?  It’s difficult to decide when we don’t know what Putin’s intentions are.  If we’re too soft and diplomatic, are we walking down the road of appeasement again and could we be emboldening Putin to commit further aggression?  But if we choose the kind of tough response which John McCain seems to favor for every situation in the world, would we be rushing into an overseas quagmire, the way we have too many times in our history? 

The only thing I can say is that I hope this isn’t the prelude to another world war.  It’s too overwhelming to even think about.  I’m not ready for something that big–I’m not good at dealing with a delay to my Facebook connection, much less WWIII.  I have to wonder if today’s generation is up to a challenge like this.

When you go on a journey, you discover that the world is full of dangerous people.  My life has been no different.  I’ve come far and faced off against many villains.

For example, when I was a child, I was told that evil American capitalists wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  But then I moved to a different land and found out that it was, in fact, evil Russian Communists who wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  That was confusing, but then things got even more complicated.

When I lived by the northern European seas, abortion and gay rights were considered good things, and anybody who opposed them was strange.  But when I lived in the American desert, I learned that abortion and homosexuality were sins, and anybody who supported them was immoral.  Now I live by the Pacific Ocean, and once again it’s those who are too religious and too traditional that are suspect.  I’m having a hard time keeping track of all this.  Maybe it would be easier for me to tell the good guys and the bad guys apart if I had stayed in one place and didn’t move around so much.

What makes it even harder is that so many people wear magical disguises and are not what they seem.  For instance, those who aren’t Christian aren’t really American, even though they pretend to be.  Just like those who aren’t Catholic aren’t really Polish.  Ah, but hold on–it’s not enough to know that someone is wearing the Christian label.  If they are liberal, they aren’t really Christian.  You see how tricky this gets.

Now I feel as if I’m living in a cursed time, because everyone is starting to look like an enemy.  The conservatives aren’t true patriots and neither are the progressives.  I’m supposed to be on the watch for thieves who will steal my money through taxes and robbers who will steal my work by paying me too little for it.  There are hawks who want to attack everyone and doves who want us to get attacked.  Gun nuts want to shoot me, but then again I hear that those who favor gun restrictions want to see me defenseless and shot.

So how do I move forward on my way when I’m surrounded by dragons?  Could it be?  Is it possible that I’m the only one who’s right and everybody else is wrong?  After all, many wise men and women around me are making this claim–that they are the only ones who hold the key to true knowledge.

Believing that those who think differently from you are monsters to be fought is one way to journey through this world.  I find the travelling lighter and easier when I don’t carry all that heavy weaponry with me, though.  The dragons are imaginary anyway–they’re just imperfect human beings, a lot like me–and our battles are unnecessary.

April Fools has come and gone, yet people continue to promote ideas so ludicrous I can only assume they’re pranks being played on us.  Perhaps this entire year should be dedicated to the Fool.  Here are some of the best jokes so far:

Paul Ryan:  “My plan to replace Medicare with a voucher was such a huge success, I’m totally going to bring it back.”

Chris Christie:  “I’m innocent!  My lawyer buddy says so.”

Sarah Palin:  “The Republican budget plan doesn’t cut enough benefits for the poor!”

Paul Ryan again:  “The pre-existing condition clause of the Affordable Care Act is wildly popular.  But I’m sure nobody will mind if we repeal it.”

Ann Coulter:  “If they really want to endear themselves to the voters, conservatives should keep making comments about rape.  For instance–immigration is just like rape.”  (Thanks to the Kavalkade Krew for drawing my attention to this one.)

Vladimir Putin:  “Ukrainians long to be freed by their beloved Russian brothers.”

Kim Jong Un:  “I haven’t done enough executions.  Let’s try one with a flame thrower.”

Miley Cyrus:  “America is in love with my sexiness!”

Ted Cruz:  “America is in love with my intellect!”

If this is any indication of what this year will be like, I will spend the rest of it in constant fits of laughter…or weeping.  I haven’t yet decided which.

Watching Russia Today is like doing the Soviet time warp.  The pro-Russian propaganda takes me right back to my Eastern bloc childhood.  I feel like I should be wearing my blue school uniform and clutching my ration cards when I watch RT.  Even the vocabulary of the news anchors is the same–they still talk about Western imperialism.  When America invades Iraq, it’s an example of imperialism–and I agree with that!  But when Russia invades the Crimea, they’re “liberating” that region of the world.  Hmmmm.  Sounds like somebody’s recycling old Don Rumsfeld sayings.

Not all old memories are getting recycled.  I’m not hearing anything about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat–they’re not in fashion anymore.  When I was a Commieland kid, the bourgeoisie was maligned for being a tool of the capitalists.  Now it’s turned into the squeezed middle class, and RT is defending it.  You gotta keep up with the changes.

But some things stay the same.  In the 80s, when my parents and their friends protested against the Communist government, the official news channels labelled the protesters as a violent and criminal fringe element, and threw in allegations of heavy drug use and orgies.  According to RT, the protesters in Kiev were also part of a violent fascist fringe.  I’ve heard that song before.  On the other hand, the people marching against austerity in Western Europe are always “peaceful”.  It’s a thin line between a peaceful civil resistance movement and crazy neo-Nazis, I guess.

Another classic move in the Cold War time warp dance?  Promises of a wonderful economy.  Russia is going to bring vast economic improvements to the Crimea, RT says.  Once upon a time, we heard the same sales pitch in Poland.  That one ended with bread lines around the block.

Now, I’m by no means claiming that American news media don’t do their share of propagandizing as well.  In fact, Russia Today doesn’t just remind me of Communism–it also reminds me of Fox News.  Maybe Putin’s dream was to be able to run his own version of Fox.  If so, he succeeded.

CNN finally seems to have woken up from their nap today and has started covering the Ukraine crisis in a serious way, and it took the Russian Parliament voting for military action for them to do so.  Not that there wasn’t ominous stuff going on in that part of the world before today, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at my TV machine.

Once again, I’m completely frustrated by the lack of international news coverage in the American media.  I like MSNBC for the political stuff–yes, I admit it, they reflect my bias–but they’re better on the domestic stuff.  I can’t take Fox News for the constant Obama bashing–I think that’s their full-time job at this point.  And CNN has been useless lately.  Endless Oscars specials and Justin Bieber gossip, while the world has been coming apart at the seams.  Were they joking about the “News” part of their name?

So I’ve been left with Al Jazeera.  They’ve been doing in-depth reporting on the Ukraine, and it’s been quality reporting that doesn’t appear to be too heavily biased in one direction or another.  I realize that a lot of people wouldn’t touch Al Jazeera, mainly because of who has created and owns the channel.  All I can say to that is that I would gladly watch American news channels if they improved their coverage of the world outside our borders.  But as long as they continue focusing on awards show red carpet BS, I don’t have too many options.