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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not just another conflict in the Middle East

When I saw on the news that the United States started launching tomahawk missiles at Libya assist the rebellion against the country's dictator Muammar Gaddafi, my reaction was quite different from when the U.S. was planning to invade Iraq. In the case of Iraq I was opposed from the start, and I knew that the Bush Administration's reasons for going to war were lies, and that it was a cover for a neoconservative wet dream. It was also a virtually unilateral act opposed by most of the international community. In contrast, I find myself much more conflicted on the issue of Libya. As a principle, my parents and I are generally anti-war. However the case of Libya is very unique and quite different from Iraq. There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue here, and as is often the case with foreign policy, people's views are not falling along party lines. Within the right wing, neocons are criticizing President Obama for not doing more and sooner, while libertarians are opposed to the action. Within the left wing, most support Obama except for those whose are staunchly anti-war. Here I will list the valid arguments both in favor of and against Obama's actions.

Arguments in favor of what America is doing are quite obvious, particularly the argument that what is happening in Libya is a potential humanitarian crisis, in which Gaddafi could slaughter large numbers of innocent Libyans if he is allowed. We have intervened in humanitarian crises before, notably the ones in Balkans and in Kosovo in the 1990s. In the same decade, we failed to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, which Bill Clinton has said was one of the greatest regrets of his presidency. It is likely that if there had not been any intervention, that Gaddafi's forces would have massacred the rebel stronghold of Benghazi by now, especially considering how poorly equipped the rebels are to fight on their own, which is another reason why they need assistance. Not only does the situation warrant intervention, but the action has the support of the international community, including the Arab League. This is not a unilateral action. Obama is also trying make as small an American footprint as possible, a clear shift away from the Bush Doctrine, which is better not only for affected countries but for America's image in the Middle East and as a supporter of democracy.

On the other hand there are multiple reasons to be cautious about action in Libya. The most obvious is the risk of America getting sucked into another foreign conflict when we don't want to. Not only is it costly financially on top of the two wars we are already involved in, but if events don't go smoothly there, we could end up having to stay longer than we want and more involved than we want to be, all of which can have adverse consequences. Another thing to consider is America's decision to intervene in Libya but not in other countries in which humanitarian crises are happening, such as Bahrain, as well as some cases in which America is actually backing the dictator. There is also the aspect of the action's constitutionality, given the fact that Congress was not consulted. As mentioned above, both sides of the ideological divide have people who are opposed; both Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX) oppose involvement in Libya, the former believing that taking such an action without approval of Congress is an impeachable offense (and while I generally agree with Kucinich I think that is a bit over the top).

After considering all the factors, I think that personally I am leaning in favor of the intervention as long as Congress approves and as long as the American role can be kept as small as possible. Still, it is a complicated matter and it isn't easy to take a side.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan goes nuclear

I have always been personally opposed to nuclear power, which can be more dangerous and polluting than oil or coal. Nuclear disasters can harm very large numbers of people with the release of radiation, including people who may be far away from the disasters. I learned at a young age how nuclear energy can be one of the dirtiest and most polluting methods of producing energy, even more so than coal, since radioactive pollution lasts so much longer than any other kind. The damage Japan has suffered from last week's earthquake and tsunami was awful enough in of itself, however the country's escalating nuclear disaster is becoming one of the worst ones of all time (second only to Chernobyl). It has reopened to debate over the safety of nuclear power here in the United States, especially in earthquake prone areas.

Yet some politicians don't see this as a reason to stop pushing for nuclear power and they view it as "clean, alternative energy." I was appalled when I saw on the news that Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said we shouldn't stop using nuclear power because of one disaster because we don't stop flying planes after one crash. That is an absolutely ridiculous analogy because the damage from a plane crash is nowhere near as great as the damage from a nuclear disaster. It also turns out that nuclear power has bipartisan support. President Obama endorsed nuclear power as alternative energy in his most recent State of the Union Address, but what really put me in disbelief was when Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was on the news stating how he was still supportive of nuclear energy. Politicians ought to know better considering the severity of what is happening in Japan. On a related note, what is even more ridiculous is the willingness of House Republicans to make cuts to life-saving tsunami warning systems, even after the devastation the tsunami that hit Japan caused.

What really worries me is the danger nuclear power and radioactive pollution pose to the West Coast of the United States. There have already been reports that radiation leaked from Japan could reach the West Coast, but the most troubling thing of all is how unprepared this region of the country is, not only because of how seismically active it is, but also because a system is lacking to get people within large population areas to safety. Considering the damage that has been done in one of the best prepared countries in the world, we really should rethink the use of nuclear power here in the U.S.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A fast one in Wisconsin

For this post I initially intended to go back to the topic of Asperger's and autism that I covered in the first post, but after what I saw on the news about the latest event in Wisconsin, I was so astounded that I had to write about that instead. What happened in Wisconsin is that State Senate Republicans, along with Republican governor Scott Walker, who showed signs yesterday of compromising with Democrats and giving up their efforts to bust unions in the state, pulled a fast one and got around the rules to push through union-busting legislation without Democrats present. In a desperate, undemocratic, ideologically driven move, Wisconsin Republicans subverted laws requiring an open process and took budget repair language out of the union-busting bill so they could pass it without the AWOL Senate Democrats, making it obvious that unions, not the state budget, was their target. This makes it more obvious than ever that those Republicans were going to stop at nothing to wage war on the middle class, following a series of extreme tactics to get the Democrats to return to the state. Recall efforts directed at the Republicans have been given great additional momentum in the wake of this outrage.

Wisconsin is not the only state in which Republicans have attempted extreme power grabs. They have done the same in Ohio, and in Michigan they are attempting something even more extreme, trying to give the governor authority to declare fiscal emergency and then be able to not only disband unions, but entire local governments. All of these unprecedented unpopular efforts have generated a huge backlash which is not likely to subside any time soon. This all confirms what I already knew, that this is class warfare, and this will not stand.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A revitalized left

On February 26, 2011, I went into San Francisco where many people were gathered together for a rally that was held in solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin in opposition to the state government's efforts to break unions. Similar rallies were held that day in major cities and all 50 state capitals. Demonstrations were also held in support of Planned Parenthood, which the House of Representatives is trying to defund. In addition, while I was in San Francisco, I also came across a protest supporting freedom for Libya. This activism is some of the largest and most enduring continuous liberal activism that has been seen in this country since the 1960s (except perhaps with the exception of protests against the Iraq War).

For much of the time period since the 1960s, conservative activism has been much more prominent, whether it was the rise of religious conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s, or the rise of the Tea Party movement in recent years. In fact over the past several decades, since the Reagan Revolution of 1980 (which ultimately led to the term "liberal" becoming a dirty epithet), the whole country has been moving to the right, to the point that today's Democratic Party is essentially to the right of the Republican Party of the 1950s. The Republican Party has kept moving the center further to the right while the Democratic Party has kept chasing the center and capitulating to the Republican Party, no matter who has been in power. Now for the first time in a long time, the Democratic Party is really holding its ground and refusing to budge on the issue of worker's rights. The firm standing in Wisconsin, in addition to the other above mentioned activism, could potentially be a sign of the end of the country's rightward shift, but only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The realities and importance of public employees

A battle for the heart and soul of the country and for how we want it to be is currently being waged in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, and it has brought discussion about American labor to the forefront of national debate for the first time in a long time. Under the guise of balancing the budget, the rights of public employees in those states are under attack. While union-busting and ending collective bargaining rights is the true motive for all of this, proponents of these actions have been using other excuses as justification. They have claimed that public employees are overpaid freeloaders and paid more than private employees (and thus taxpayers shouldn't have to be providing so much money for them), as well as blaming them for the financial difficulties of states. At the same time, these opponents of organized labor continue to support deficit increasing upper income tax cuts.

In reality, public sector employees are generally paid less than their private sector counterparts (although they have better benefits because they have more and stronger unions). Pensions are not the main cause of the economic recession like some are claiming. While some public pension funds are in financial trouble and contribute to the budget problems of some states, many, including those in Wisconsin, are still very healthy. The financial troubles of states are a result the financial meltdown which resulted from the greed of Wall Street. And public employees comprise many of the taxpayers these labor opponents claim to be listening to. Unions are also the only big money contributors to the Democratic Party and keep the party competitive in elections, since corporations and other wealthy organizations heavily back the Republican Party. These attacks on public employees affect my family personally, since my mother is a retired public employee, and thus part of a community that is essentially being blamed for the mess that Wall Street caused. Standing up for the public sector is essential for preventing the rolling back of decades of progress and preventing the end of American labor and its influence on politics as we know it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The significance of Egypt, social media, and a history of American foreign policy

In the wake of the uprising in Egypt which successfully ousted its dictator Hosni Mubarak, it is a good time to examine two things. One is American foreign policy and its history. The other is the rise of social networking and the influence it has had on uprisings in recent years.

On the first point, while the United States has always expressed support for democracy, it has often failed to put its money where its mouth is. While opposing foreign conflict for most of the 19th century, a precedent of foreign intervention began with the Spanish-American War under a pressured President William McKinley and was accelerated under President Woodrow Wilson that continues to be followed to this day. Over the past century the United States has often intervened in other countries and backed dictators as a means of maintaining stability, making a profit off of resources in a region (usually oil), or containing communism. Some of the worst of this occurred in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan backed many repressive Central American regimes. All of this of course has expectedly had many negative consequences, including the rise of brutal regimes in the Middle East, and the fueling of the Anti-American sentiment that among other things, inspired the 9/11 plot (and even more of that sentiment has arisen because of the American response). Recently, foreign interventions in the Middle East have been justified by an argument for stability. In the wake of Egypt's uprising, it is best to reconsider foreign policy and practice what we preach when it comes to democracy so we don't come down as hypocrites, or on the wrong side of history.

On the second point, it is quite a phenomenon that the brainchildren of a few college students and tech experts has been used as a tool making it easier for people to organize and assemble than ever before, and has made it much more difficult for governments to crack down on such movements. They can no longer just stop TV stations and newspapers, because individuals have other methods showing the world what is happening in their countries. We have seen this in numerous dictatorial countries over the past couple of years, most notably beginning with protests against the last election in Iran, and it has since spread throughout the region. Another remarkable aspect what has been going on is the way that young people have been using technology to organize these events, something that has only really become possible in recent years. It will be interesting to see how modern technology continues to affect the region in the future.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Invisible disabilities-a case for the rights of the misunderstood

This past weekend, I engaged in the three latest events that were part of an awareness campaign I started nearly a decade ago. The weekend consisted of three screenings of The Asperger's Difference, a film in which I was featured along with two other students with Asperger's. This was followed by question and answer sessions. Raising awareness about the autism spectrum disorder with which I am diagnosed is nothing new, as the first time I spoke publicly on the topic was when I was 12, first during a Hayward Institute presentation, then for the then-new administrator for the Oakland School District. About four years later, I was filmed for The Asperger's Difference, which was being produced by a family friend who runs a school for kids on the autism spectrum. That same year I did a presentation at Cal. Then a year ago, the film was finally released, and since then I have participated in multiple screenings. First there was a screening in one of my classes freshman year (and there was a brown bag lunch not long after), then there was one last semester during a Psych seminar, then a Student Union screening not long after that, and finally, this past weekend. Each subsequent screening has been to larger audiences with more and more strangers, so I have been opening up to more and more people, and increasingly with people I don't even know.

One of the unique aspects of Asperger's Syndrome is that as an invisible disability, it is not well understood by the neurotypical community. This has led to many problems for the community, since first of all, without an explanation, those on the spectrum can come across as weird, insensitive, unable to perform certain tasks considered normal, and as having behavioral issues. Then, even with explanations, many neurotypical people will assume Aspies will be able to pick to up on how to behave normally, and be annoyed by quirks. There is often sympathy but not empathy. In some cases there is arrogance, in which someone who works with a person on the spectrum thinks they are an expert, and doesn't realize that no two people on the spectrum are exactly alike. There may even be cases of discrimination based on behaviors, something that has actually happened to a friend of mine. Such lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation, which is a shame, especially when the individual has a lot of potential. This has personally been an issue for me over the course of my life, and even today, I continue to have difficulty moving past being acquaintances with other people, among other issues. Therefore, I have made it my goal to continue to keep raising awareness like I have done so many times before.