In the Fields of the North-En los campos del Norte

Join Author and Photo-Journalist David Bacon on September 12th from 6-7 pm at 2521 Channing Way in Berkeley. He will be talking about his new book “In the fields of the North”. The book highlights the hardest-working and most disenfranchised laborers in America. This is the time to learn more and stand in solidarity with the Latino community. This event is free and open to the public.

Can’t make it on the 12th? Join David on Friday September 15th at 7pm at the Green Arcade in San Francisco (1680 Market Street 94102).

Entertainingly “Atypical”: The Current State of Autism in Media

 This piece is the first of the ongoing series “Neurowrites” – where disabled writers comment on politics, society, and media. Contributing writer Zoey Giesberg was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and writes about her life and experiences at Jumping Out of the Fishbowl and is a regular contributor to PopFront. She holds her masters degree in social work from the University of Southern California.

By Zoey Giesberg, MSW

When I was young and was unaware of my autism diagnosis,I did not have a reference point for autistic people because there was no representation of Autism in the media. I only knew about autism through a Baby-sitters Club book. The book, entitled Kristy and the Secret of Susan, was about one of the titular “baby-sitters” taking on a non-verbal autistic charge and I honestly don’t remember much about it, except that the main character Kristy decides to leave her autistic charge Susan alone after unsuccessfully trying to force her to integrate with other kids. I didn’t much care much for the book at the time despite being a big Baby-sitters Club fan, and I’m sure if I read it now I’d be appalled at how the characters were written and treated. Either way, I didn’t have a reference point as to what autism was because I didn’t really have that much exposure to it in media. I had characters that I liked and related to, but none that felt especially representative of me as an autistic girl.

I think it’s safe to say that the days of autism being a non-entity in pop culture are coming to an end. Since diagnoses have risen in the last twenty years, movies and television have slowly come to recognize and insert autistic people as characters. Various television shows like Girl Meets World, Sesame Street, Parenthood, and Community have featured characters explicitly stated or implied to be on the autism spectrum. The 2016 crime thriller “The Accountant“, starring Ben Affleck as an autistic accountant was a unexpected box office hit and is green-lighted for a sequel. And this August, Netflix premiered a dramedy series about an autistic teenager looking for love called “Atypical”: Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieHh4U-QYwU&feature=youtu.be

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Eleven Questions for Hillary Clinton, from Bernie Sanders Supporters

Hillary Clinton’s supporters’ argument that Bernie Sanders backers should throw their support to her in November relies on two main points: mainly, that the party must unite to defeat Donald Trump; but also, that Sanders has already pushed Hillary to the left, and hence 2016 Hillary is much more palatable to left-liberals than her earlier incarnations.

Photo courtesy Phil Roeder

On some issues, this might be true.  Hillary now claims to support raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, expanding the Social Security Trust Fund, and inaugurating a work-study program to eliminate college debt.

Still, Hillary’s stances on several key issues remain unclear, and if she wishes to sway Bernie voters to her side, she should answer the following questions:

1) Is Hillary for or against “capital f” Free Trade?  

A cynic might claim that Hillary opposes Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) while running for office, but supports them while in office.  Or, perhaps she opposes them generally, but favors them in every specific case—since every new FTA, unlike the previous, includes provisions that will protect labor rights and the environment.

As a candidate in 2008, Hillary opposed the Panama, Colombia, and South Korea FTAs, and promised to renegotiate NAFTA.  As Obama’s Secretary of State, she vigorously supported all of these agreements and did nothing to alter NAFTA.  In so doing, she stood far to the right of House Democrats (84%, 67%, and 65% voted against the Colombia, Korea, and Panama deals, respectively).  She also heaped praise upon the TPP, calling it the “gold standard” of FTAs. She now opposes it, and would adduce this flip-flop and her only other opposition to an FTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA) as evidence that she has always staunchly opposed them.

Debating in Michigan, Hillary stated, “I voted against the only multinational trade agreement that came before me when I was in the Senate. It was called CAFTA.”  This is true only in the most gymnastically semantic sense. Yes, technically, the Central American Free Trade Agreement was the only “multinational” FTA that Clinton voted on as a senator (she joined 77% of Senate Democrats in opposing it) if “multi-national” is defined as involving three or more countries, rather than two.  But as senator, she supported “bi-national” FTAs with all of the following countries: Oman, Morocco, Australia, Singapore, and Chile.

Substance-minded Sanders voters have strong reasons for disliking, distrusting and opposing her, and since Bernie's campaign is based on ideas, not idolatry, a remark or two won't sway them.

Her world-class prevarications notwithstanding, Hillary must do two simple things to impress Bernie voters: 1) Defend or repudiate her record or overwhelming support for FTAs, and 2) “Set the record straight” that she will unconditionally oppose similar FTAs as president. Continue reading

The Gig Economy is Rigged: Struggles of Working Musicians in Seattle

Companies like Spotify have promised to “create real value for the music industry” and to support artists and creators, but if the path to cultural democracy is anything like their pay-per-stream rates, we’re only .0084% there.*

Gig Economy Image

In her book “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age”, Astra Taylor challenges cyber-utopian notions of the emancipatory power of the Internet to democratize culture, music, art, and film. Certainly, the openness of the Internet gives artists and creators the tools to produce and distribute their work in a DIY fashion. Yet the laissez-faire nature of the net can also magnify the persisting inegalitarian features of the creative economy.

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Hillary’s “Pragmatism” Would Make Norquist and Friedman Proud

The debates have exposed differences in Clinton and Sanders’ positions on key issues.  Sanders wants free pubic college, a new Glass–Steagall Act to regulate the banks, and single-payer healthcare, whereas Clinton wants a work-study program for debt-free college, and prefers strengthening Dodd-Frank’s financial regulations and the Affordable Care Act. By invoking her experience in “getting things done” versus Sanders’s “idealism,” Clinton conveys that pragmatism is inherent in her platform; that she stands to the right of Sanders because her positions have a better chance of being enacted. But in fact, Clinton disagrees with Sanders’s major positions on principle first, and thus stands to the right of most Americans. Worse, her principles are unsound, inane, or petty, and often taken straight from the far right.

Clinton has at least two reasons to oppose single-payer healthcare. One is that since she claims single-payer would constitute a slight tax increase on the middle class, she will not allow herself to consider it. Here, Clinton is the perfect anti-pragmatist, making up her own arbitrary rules to obstruct sensible policy, and retain the U.S.’s position as the most inefficient health care state in the world (How pleased is Grover Norquist!).  Never mind that the “tax increase” would be a semantic one for most Americans, since most will save thousands on health insurance and medical bills while paying a few hundred dollars more in taxes. Second, Clinton also opposes single-payer because of the fiction that it could not pass unless Obamacare were first unilaterally abolished. This notion is a demonstrable fabrication, contradicted by a basic understanding of legislative procedure. It is embarrassing that Chelsea Clinton first peddled it; shameful that Hillary would advance the lie.  Continue reading

Stand Your Ground Laws in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

warning: some mild Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers follow.

Even before its release, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the subject of both critical praise (and racist hate) for its multicultural cast. But while the seventh chapter of Star Wars has been lauded for appearing more inclusive, the film ultimately suffers from some of the deeply conservative, even subtly racist tropes inherent to most big budget action movies—the same kinds of flimsy hero logic that provide the moral justification for racist “Stand your Ground” laws across many US states.

Stormtrooper image

Do stormtroopers have humanity behind the mask, or can they be murdered without mercy?

To understand this connection, let’s start with a recent article about Star Wars written by Aaron Bady in The New Inquiry. Bady writes:

[Finn the Stormtrooper’s] psychology makes no sense at all if you think even a little bit […] there’s something extremely unsettling about how easily he shrugs off a lifetime of indoctrination into a fascist death-cult, how quickly and painlessly he becomes one of the guys, just basically a good dude. […] Where is the ideological indoctrination (and psychological scar tissue) that would have accompanied being crassly made into biopower and canon-fodder?

Bady doesn’t quite go so far as to touch on the allegory of Finn-as-slave, though it seems like the filmmakers are rubbing it in our face. Finn (John Boyega) is a “rebel” stormtrooper who describes having been stolen from his family as a child to serve in the despotic First Order—a series of events that, in our own galaxy, we’d be apt to call “slavery.” The Star Wars movies have touched on slavery before—recall Darth Vader (formerly Anakin Skywalker) was a child slave, although as a white character serving an alien master, his character lacked the symbolic thrust held by a black character like Finn. (“Do race and racism exist in the Star Wars universe as they do in ours?” is a wholly different question, and one that is never really examined with any satisfaction). Continue reading

Does this study prove SFBARF’s mission is puke?

You’ve probably heard the urban planning acronym NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard. Often used in a pejorative sense (as in nimbyism), the word recalls the political sentiments of neighborhood groups—nominally, wealthier ones with more clout—to cease any local development or change whatsoever, regardless of social benefit. The term could be applied, for instance, to Marin County’s perpetual efforts to stop BART from running through their county (much-needed 40 years ago when first proposed) —motivated by racist fears of diluting their lily-white demographic.

Then there’s SFBARF, a citizen activist group that promotes YIMBYism—the counterfactual to NIMBY, i.e. a philosophy of “Yes In My Backyard.” A punk-sounding acronym for “San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation,” SFBARF advocates for building more luxury homes and condos as a way of reducing the housing crunch on middle- and lower-income households in the Bay Area. To that end, they travel around the Bay Area and attend city council meetings, lobbying on behalf of developers.

Condo illustration

Illustration by Naomi Rosenberg.

Does that sound confusing? Here’s the economic logic: lots of rich people want to move to the Bay Area, and they don’t necessarily want to live in poorer neighborhoods—but, they will if that’s all they can find. Better to keep building condos and luxury high-rises in wealthy areas, so as to keep the poor and middle-income neighborhoods for those who need them most.

Yet many Bay Area activists have called for SFBARF’s head, claiming that they’re a “faux-grassroots” group that only encourages developers, and poses as progressive. Is there any basis to that claim? Continue reading

Rewriting Autism: An Interview with Steve Silberman

By Zoey Giesberg

Autism may be one of the most misunderstood disorders in the world. As a developmental disorder affecting social and life skills development, it has been long been subject to misinformation as to why it occurs, how it affects people, and especially why diagnoses are on the rise. Even though diagnostic criteria for autism has changed two times in the last twenty years, panic has set in since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 68 people are diagnosed with autism as of 2014 (opposed to 1 in 150 in 2000). Everything from vaccines to genetics has been scrutinized to try to explain why autism occurs and has prompted a push to find a way to “prevent” or “cure” the disorder. And this quest to “fix” or “cure” autism has pushed autistic people to face a world at best not accessible to them and at worst outright hostile.

NeuroTribes book cover

Science reporter Steve Silberman argues that there might not be anything to panic over. Expanding on his 2001 Wired article “The Geek Syndrome”, his new book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity explores the history of autism—from simultaneous “discoveries” in Austria and Maryland, to “refrigerator mothers,” to the modern autism advocacy movement. And through all of this, Silberman shows how autism has been plagued by narrow interpretations and how the modern era is changing them. The New York Times Bestselling book is being touted as changing how we see autism from a “disease” to a different way of life. PopFront’s Zoey Giesberg interviewed Silberman to discuss his book in detail.

PopFront: Can you explain what neurotribes are?

Silberman: I invented that word based on an idea by Irwin Lazar, the founder of the Children’s Hospital in Vienna where Hans Asperger worked. Lazar tended to think of humanity as “clans” or “tribes,” based on inborn skills and aptitudes that each person had. So instead of seeing the children in his clinic as patients, Lazar saw them as future engineers or future farmers or future bakers. What he saw the job of the people working in the clinic as determining each “tribe” each child was in, and helping them express their maximum potential by developing methods of teaching them that would suit their particular learning style. Hans Asperger developed this idea and ended up discovering the autism spectrum because he was prepared to look for natural groups of people within the population of children at the clinic. Continue reading

The Great Santa Cruz Craigslist Rent Strike

Santa Cruz Rent Strike

Illustration by Naomi Rosenberg.

Santa Cruz County has taken quite a bruising in terms of housing costs. Despite being an ill-advised commute to Silicon Valley and having a much more working-class constituency, Santa Cruz County is the fifth most expensive in the US for renters. This is even more remarkable considering that the southern parts of the county are primarily farmland, that at least 20,000 residents are university and community college students, and that there are few high-paying industries besides higher education.

Hence, there’s a deep question as to why housing is so expensive in Santa Cruz. One theory touted is that despite the more working-class constituency, housing is subject to inelastic demand. Since shelter is a requirement to merely survive, demand for it is divorced from market price changes. Yet “inelastic demand” feels like a free-market euphemism. Landlords do not have to explicitly collude, but know that they will be paid when they raise rents. Working people have no choice but to pay them—or, as both students and farmworkers often do, live 2 or even 3 to a bedroom.

Housing, unlike tea, pineapples or manicures, is not an optional expense, nor a commodity. Yet it is treated as such by investors and financiers. It is not recognized as a right. The need for housing can mean life or death, shelter or homelessness, for many people. So it is unsurprising that renters have strong feelings. But, how can renters, the large majority of us, fight back against a system that tells us housing is not a right?

One piece of evidence that the housing kettle has boiled over? Craigslist. Continue reading

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

Writing in Jacobin, Managing Editor Keith Spencer discusses why Burning Man became a festival that rich libertarians love:

In principle the annual Burning Man festival sounds a bit like a socialist utopia: bring thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Ban money and advertisements and make it a gift economy. Encourage members to bring the necessary ingredients of this new world with them, according to their ability.

So why do rich libertarians love it unironically? Perhaps because the way that the city is created charitably allows them to build the world that they desire, unimpeded by the pesky democratic process or the protestations of the proletariat; in other words, it provides a model for the sort of laissez-faire, top-down economy they want to live in: .

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”

This is the dream of libertarians and the 1 percent, and it reifies itself at Burning Man — the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.

Read the full piece over at Jacobin.