Category Archives: Politics

2017-When Powerful Predators Pay the Price

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” opened its 2017 season on an interesting note. While the popular Emmy-winning news comedy show has never shied away from delivering scathing political commentary, its first main piece of the year was about how the newly-installed Commander-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump, is a dangerous machine of lies.  It’s a hefty and bold accusation for an entertainment show to make, even when you consider “Last Week Tonight” has affected some actual change (notably in net neutrality). Towards the end of the segment, Oliver pleaded with the media and the viewers to hold Trump and his team accountable for any misinformation they may spread and for the actions they commit. And if enough people push this position, real consequences might come.

Looking back, that segment almost feels like a foretelling of a theme of 2017: holding powerful men accountable for terrible deeds. Over the course of the past eleven months, we have seen many prominent and powerful men in many industries forced to face consequences for reportedly bad behavior — Travis Kalanick stepped down as UBER’s CEO, Harvey Weinstein was ousted from his film production company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Warner Brothers studio has severed ties with director Brett Ratner, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly, and just recently NPR’s Vice President of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes was placed on indefinite leave. All of these cases stem from one commonality: all the men ousted had been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault.

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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

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

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

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 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

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

The author 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 rest: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/

Also featured on Salon: https://www.salon.com/2015/08/27/why_the_rich_love_burning_man_partner/

Policing Disability: Update on Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Eleven-year-old Kayleb Moon-Robinson was convicted in April of felony charges for kicking a trash bin and defending himself against an aggressive police officer in his Virginia school. PopFront covered Kayleb’s case as part of an investigation into a disturbing trend of police brutality towards disabled minorities (Kayleb is autistic and black). With his sentencing pending in June and an appeal currently in process to overturn his convictions, what is Kayleb’s case status?

Astonishingly, Kayleb’s former school district has made no attempt at transparency, nor apologized for the incidents leading up to Kayleb’s arrest. When contacted, the representative for Lynchburg City Schools released the following statement:

“We’re at a distinct disadvantage in responding. We cannot reply to all of the specific allegations that have been made because the law doesn’t allow us to discuss the specifics regarding the child or the court proceedings. The public is only hearing one side of the story, and based on our investigation of this matter, the incident did not take place in the manner in which it was portrayed. SROs [School Resource Officers] play an important role in the school division, and we have and will continue to work together on procedures for when SROs should become involved in incidents involving students. We feel they are being unfairly portrayed in this matter.”

Besides this statement, district officials have not responded to other allegations concerning the police officer’s misbehavior. The district is also currently under investigation for its high student-to-court referral rates. Kayleb has not returned his former middle school since his arrest—he is currently attending an alternative school awaiting sentencing. Continue reading

Policing Disability: Child Arrested for Being Autistic

Kayleb Moon-Robinson headshot

Kayleb Moon-Robinson, after being assaulted by the police officer.

Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Walter Scott. We know all these names as victims of police brutality within the last calendar year. Their deaths have sparked nationwide protests and conversation about police brutality targeted at young black men and systemic judicial racism. These are important conversations America needs to have, but I’d like to talk about a recent case that hasn’t gotten as much nationwide attention. A case where a young boy was misunderstood and his innocent actions were seen as criminal. One that, like the aforementioned, pits a young black man against police with a special circumstance.

Meet Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an eleven year-old African American child from Lynchburg, VA. At the beginning of the school year, Kayleb was charged with disorderly conduct by a school resource officer after he kicked a classroom trash bin during a tantrum. Kayleb was acting out of stress of being overwhelmed on a bad day, but the officer overreacted to a bin-kicking near no one. Two weeks later, the same officer forcibly grabbed Kayleb to take him to the principal’s office for accidentally leaving class early. When Kayleb struggled to get the officer off him, the officer slammed the child down, handcuffed him, and charged him with felony assault. On April 13th, Kayleb was found guilty of both charges in juvenile court and is currently waiting his sentencing in June. And all because a school officer mistook Kayleb as a threat for his tantrum as opposed to a child who needed some extra help.

And Kayleb could’ve used the extra help, because he is autistic. Continue reading

Fear of a Capitalist Planet

Martian Canals

A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.

A Popfront contributor wrote how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:

Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.

With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.

The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.

While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading