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.