Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election thoughts and recommendations

With the election upon us, I wanted to get my thoughts and recommendations in before the polls open nationwide. The presidential race may be sucking up most of the oxygen in the room, but down ballot races and measures are just as important. It’s still crucial to keep the unqualified demagogue that is Donald Trump out of the White House, and to not assume that if things got bad enough under him it would trigger the revolution we need. Sometimes the lesser evil really is the lesser evil, and third parties would do better to build more from the bottom up. But the chief executive can only do so much without the support of the legislature, so you shouldn’t forget to vote down ballot wherever you are.

As a progressive, I want to elect the most progressive Senate candidate, and that is Kamala Harris. As for State Assembly, I once interned for Sandré Swanson, however he and Nancy Skinner are both decent candidates, so I could recommend either one.

With so many measures to vote on, I believe these ones are worth going into in depth:

Opponents have called California’s Prop 56—a tobacco tax—a giveaway to insurance companies. But the tobacco industry is the one pushing that argument to defeat it, so the proposition deserves a yes vote.

One of the arguably more confusing ballot measures in California is Prop 61, designed to lower drug prices, but opponents charge it will raise them instead.  With so many organizations and ads on each side, and many progressive organizations taking no position, it can be hard for progressives to decide. Personally it seems like the possibility of higher prices is more of a blackmail threat from Big Pharma than an inherent consequence, so my recommendation is to vote yes.

There may also be confusion about Oakland’s Measure HH, the soda tax, which opponents have labeled a grocery tax. The beverage industry is the main funder of the opposition, so we shouldn’t let them fool us. I recommend a yes vote.

These links offer progressive recommendations for the various statewide measures:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An enlightening evening with Angela Davis and Tim Wise

On Friday May 13, I went to my hometown of Oakland on an SSU Residential Life trip to see Angela Davis and Tim Wise in Conversation at the First Congregational Church. Upon arrival it was clear that the attendance would be in the hundreds, as there were throngs of people going into the church. It was a very diverse audience with a large number of African American people, which makes sense considering the subject matter was race. Angela Davis is a well known activist/communist/fugitive/retired professor whose recent work has focused on, among other things, how capitalism and the prison industrial complex relate to race. Tim Wise is a prominent antiracist speaker and writer who I first saw at SSU speaking about his piece titled "Between Barack and a Hard Place," and I have since read a lot of his online writings.

The conversation addressed many realities regarding race, many of which I have already developed some awareness of as someone interested in social justice. But it also helped to further open my eyes to both past and contemporary issues regarding race. They discussed several subtopics, including the influence of capitalism and private prisons in keeping racism alive, white animosity toward discussion of white privilege (the "I work hard, so why shouldn't I be able to keep my rewards" mentality), and a tendency among working class racially resentful whites to vote against their own interests to punish people of color they feel don't deserve the same interests. That last point addresses something which I have thought and worried about a lot lately, due to its negative effect on democracy serving the interests of the people. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the speakers were able humorously spice up their discussion often.

The evening was a very productive experience for me and the presenters offered a lot of hope for solving the modern-day issues of race being discussed. It also made it ever more obvious that you are never done learning about an issue. I would definitely recommend these kind of events to others, especially considering that while we have come a long way on race, we still have a long way to go, and we should never ignore the topic.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A lot of progress in disability advocacy efforts

In the past couple of weeks, I have made a lot of progress toward my yearlong goal to create a space for disabled students and their allies to form a support group and raise awareness. The first week in May was Disability Awareness Week, during which I both answered questions for a screening of my film "The Asperger's Difference," and got initiated into the disability honor society Delta Alpha Pi. During both events I shared with people my efforts on campus. Then on Thursday of that week, for the first time I held a meeting with several staff and students who are interested in helping and we starting discussing logistics of moving my efforts forward, particularly when to start, and whether or not to start an independent club or an outreach effort within DAP itself. Since then I have been able to hold regular meetings with the same people to discuss these issues, meeting with the newly elected officers of DAP during the most recent one and attending a presentation about club chartering right after that.

All of these recent developments are looking to be a lot more promising than the more occasional ones that have previously taken place. The people I have met with have really demonstrated an enthusiasm to help me out with my specific goals. The new leaders of DAP have expressed an interest in actively reaching out to all disabled students regardless of their year and grades, as well as allies, in order to create the sort of space that I would like to see. Several staff have offered to sponsor my efforts. I have laid out specifically what it is I am hoping to achieve to more and more people who have been very receptive. I have a very good feeling about the way things are going and I look forward to establishing an open support group for all students with disabilities and their allies in which we can raise awareness and work on projects toward achieving it. Although its been difficult at times, perseverance seems to be paying off.

Death of a terrorist-to celebrate or not to celebrate?

I was in the SSU Library on the evening of May 1 when I first heard the news that American forces had killed Osama bin Laden. Being from a progressive family that condemns war and violence, my reaction was not one of celebration, but of amazement and of uncertainty regarding the impact of bin Laden's death on the War on Terror. I know that apart from short-term backlash from terrorists, bin Laden's death and its long-term consequences are obviously good news, and bin Laden definitely deserved to be brought to justice after 9/11 and all the other mass murders he is responsible for. However, I personally feel that celebrating his death kind of brings the US down to his level (considering the way those who supported his actions celebrated on 9/11).

I realize many think there is no good reason not to celebrate and that some (such as President Obama) even think that those who don't like that bin Laden was killed should have their heads examined. Many of those who have celebrated are close to my age and thus have spent half their lives fearing terrorism, so in a way it offers some relief. My parents and I even have friends in New York who are just as progressive as we are, but as residents of the city hardest hit by 9/11, their gut reaction was to celebrate and not hold back on a moral basis. But before taking such a position it is important to put things in perspective. For instance, there are politicians and other officials in our own country who have orchestrated policies that have taken many more lives than bin Laden ever did, and yet most have not received any sort of criminal punishment. And since bin Laden was unarmed (as described here), I think there was less justification for killing him than there would have otherwise been, though the fact that capturing and trying him would have been a nightmare makes me more ambivalent on this issue. But as awful a person as bin Laden was, celebrating someone's killing (regardless of what it achieves) felt wrong, especially considering others were killed and that children were there. I concur with the sentiments in this article, which draws a comparison to the Passover Seder practice of dripping wine when mentioning the Ten Plagues to avoid celebrating the disasters that befell the Egyptian oppressors in the story of Exodus.

So yeah, the reaction to bin Laden's death is perfectly understandable, given all the circumstances. But as explained in this article, it does not make America great, and celebrating someone being killed should not be one of America's values, no matter how awful the person who died was.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama's identity under attack

As the 2012 presidential election approaches, the Republican Party in its search for a challenger against Obama has been increasingly latching on to the bogus conspiracy theory that Obama is foreign, that he'd been hiding his real birth certificate. Now today, largely because of media coverage of Donald Trump, it finally got so out of hand that Obama was actually compelled to hold a press conference on the issue and release his long form certificate, and while he did the right thing, it is unfortunate he had to. And now that he’s released it,“birthers” are already suggesting that the one he posted is fake. Polls have been showing increasing percentages of self-identified Republicans doubting Obama's citizenship, even though he debunked all conspiracies as a candidate by posting his birth certificate, and the fact that Obama's birth was announced in Hawaii's newspapers makes those conspiracies completely farfetched. This “birtherism” has basically moved out of the fringes and into the mainstream, making it impossible for reasonable people to just ignore.

This recent spike in birtherism and the media coverage of Donald Trump (and subsequent coverage of birther claims without challenging them), reached a new low when Trump applauded himself for Obama's actions. To appeal to the racist undertones behind birther conspiracies he then attacked Obama's college record as having only been possible through affirmative action (which is clearly racist, since it was never such a big issue with a white president). At a time when the country is facing so many real problems, the media chose to focus on distracting, divisive, and ugly race-baiting, which has increasingly been consuming the Republican Party, leading some websites (namely LeftAction) to say the party has been turning into a cult of stupidity. Party politicians who acknowledge the truth themselves continue to try to benefit politically from birther sentiments by not challenging them and not taking responsibility for allowing those sentiments to increase. It is long past time for this kind of race-based nonsense to be confined back to the fringes. It will be interesting to see what twists and turns the birther movement will take now that the long-form birth certificate has been released and there is really no justification for the mainstream media or the Republican Party to give any credibility to this issue.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The difficulties of self-advocacy

After a long succession of posts about politics and the world, I have finally decided to return to posting about something more personal--the topic of Asperger's Syndrome and autism. In my first post in this blog, I discussed awareness efforts and the ways in which Asperger's Syndrome is misunderstood. Now I plan to discuss the difficulties of actually raising awareness. Last year I decided that the SSU campus was lacking in inclusive groups to provide social support for students with disabilities. DSS only offers academic support, and the Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society is exclusive to those with high GPAs, so I decided I should start a new group to offer more social support, especially since I felt a lack of such support as a freshman despite being part of the MOSAIC program.

Trying to build support for my group idea hasn't been easy and has taken up a lot of time. I attempted to get out the word of my idea to those interested both this year and last by distributing fliers, but that never really worked. Initially the only real support I had was from an LSS specialist and a Psychology professor. One thing I started to do successfully beginning in the Spring 2010 semester was raising awareness through showing the film I am in called The Asperger's Difference and answering questions during screenings and brown bag lunches. I have been doing this ever since, but starting this school year I got the idea to start my own disability support group. I started attempting to find people who were willing to get involved. I didn't find a substantial number of people until a screening in December. I got acquainted with some people who were sympathetic and interested in helping me start, and over the course of this semester I have tried to arrange meetings with those people. I often procrastinated (which can be an issue for me even when I care about something, since it isn't always easy for me to forge ahead) and they were often busy, so it was hard to make things work. However I did have a recent success when one of the people I met at the screening introduced me to several friends who were also sympathetic and interested in getting involved.

One way in which I have tried to attract more people is lay out more specific goals for the group. I came up with one idea after I participated in the Tunnel of Oppression and saw that the disability room was lacking in covering non-physical disabilities. My hope is that if do get this group started, we could contribute to next year's Tunnel of Oppression by adding more information on invisible disabilities.

Trying to pull off something like this takes a lot of effort and there have been ups and downs, but as far as I am concerned, it is worth it. I will continue to keep up my efforts to make SSU a better campus for those with invisible disabilities.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Budget woes and the spine of the Democratic Party

In recent months, when you compare the battle for workers' rights in many states to the budget impasse in Washington, it shows a stark difference between Democratic politicians at the state level as compared to the federal level. Grassroots support has encouraged state Democrats to stand firmly with workers whose rights are under assault in many states, but the same kind of backbone does not seem to have reached Washington Democrats, who have been notorious for often allowing Republicans to always have their way and to keep shifting the country rightward politically ever since the 1980s.

The latest episode of capitulating has been occurring with the current budget standoff that threatens a government shutdown. In the midst of an economic recovery House Republicans have been insisting on draconian cuts and have continued moving the goal posts in order to please the Tea Party, and the cuts Democrats are currently agreeing to are greater than what the Republicans initially proposed. If Washington Democrats had more backbone, they would never have agreed to more cuts than were in the initial proposal, and would be more firmly defending programs that are crucial to the most vulnerable and insisting on shared sacrifice. Personally I believe that any cuts should mostly made to those who can afford it, particularly the wealthy and the military, but Republicans say they won't compromise and Democrats often don't fight hard enough. This has been very similar to the December battle over extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which then-minority Republicans refused to allow to expire and Democrats capitulated to ensure the extension of unemployment benefits. Now Republicans are trying to force cuts on the backs of those most hurt by the economic recession, pushed by a Tea Party that is, in pursuit of ideological purity, rooting for a government shutdown, while Democrats are trying to prevent that. A shutdown would be highly irresponsible during a fragile recovery (and the whole SSU community would be affected if it lead to the shutdown of education funding), but Republicans for a long time have shown willingness to play political games if it hurts Democrats, and Democrats should do a better job of calling Republicans' bluffs.

This all highlights a key difference between the two parties today and how they interact with their base. Democrats tend to take their base for granted, while Republicans tend to fear theirs. Since the 1980s, Democrats have often failed to really fight for their supporters and take advantage of opportunities, and have too often made appeals for bipartisanship that have gone nowhere. They keep chasing the center as the Republicans keep moving it to please their base. This is currently culminating in some of the most radical budget proposals seen in many decades all while we are still recovering from the recession. With Republicans becoming ever more radical, it's time for Washington Democrats to learn something from state Democrats and to stop disappointing the people who vote for them.