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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

What white people need to do to resist the Trump administration

After the violence and protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, I started following journalist Sarah Kendzior on Twitter. She was a local white woman who had a lot of insightful commentary. Eventually she started posting about Donald Trump and the danger he posed to the country. I didn’t disagree with her, but she was also sure he would win. I thought that she was being alarmist. I knew what the polls said. I knew many people who had worked to re-elect President Obama were also working for Hillary Clinton. I was pretty confident we would get the right woman for the job. Last spring, I muted Kendzior.

Then, of course, everything she predicted came true. Trump won the election, and his bizarre behavior over the course of the campaign made sense through the authoritarian lens Kendzior provided from reporting on Central Asian dictatorships.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not paranoid. But I believe the United States is heading toward being an authoritarian dictatorship faster than the majority of the population realizes. I underestimated the threat Trump posed once. I will not do it again. We cannot afford to. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And because Americans are convinced of our exceptionalism, believe “it can’t happen here,” it will. It already is, faster than most of us can keep track.

This is not normal is only a partial list of all of the things that are abnormal–racist, misogynist, corrupt, immoral, etc–about the incoming administration. Every day, there are more things to add to it. It’s difficult to keep up, which is why a lot of it isn’t being reported as vigorously as it should be. Trump settled a fraud lawsuit over Trump University. His daughter is sitting in on visits with foreign dignitaries. White supremacists are being nominated for Cabinet posts. NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL.

This is not politics as usual. This is the freedom of our country and the world at stake. As someone on Twitter so aptly put it, the United States is one terrorist attack away from becoming a military state. And there are no checks on his power. The Republicans will go along with it. Democrats may put up a token resistance but people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, supposedly liberal lions, are already talking about compromising with Trump.

There is no compromising with a fascist.

Our institutions have failed us. The only thing we have is ourselves. Our belief in a better world than the one Trump envisions. The certainty that he and his supporters are a minority of the population. Roughly half of the voting population didn’t (or couldn’t, because of suppression) vote, about 25 percent voted for Hillary, and slightly less than that voted for Trump. Hillary won the popular vote by more than 1 million votes (and counting). There is reasonable suspicion that Russia hacked our systems and swung things Trump’s way. At the very least, there should be an investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election.

I believe dire times are ahead; indeed, they are already here. The day after the election, there were reports of up to eight trans youths who had completed suicide because they were terrified of living under a Trump administration. Another woman had a friend complete suicide because she knew her health care would be taken away, and she could not live without it. Hundreds of hate crimes have taken place. And it will undoubtedly escalate.

There is little good news to be found since Nov. 8. However, there ARE things we can do to resist Trump and fight for the future. Here is a far-from-complete list:

–First, no safety pins. Most people who are being targeted by Trump–people of color, immigrants, Muslims–see this as an empty gesture with little real effect. And white supremacists are already planning to co-opt it and use the pins as bait to attack unsuspecting people.

–Call your senators and representatives and let them know you oppose any effort to put Steven Bannon and Jeff Sessions in the White House. Calling is more effective than emailing. If aides are on the phone all day taking calls, their bosses will hear about it. Call regardless of which party your representatives are. Let them know you are watching them closely and will hold them accountable for their actions.

–Donate to organizations that will be on the front lines: the ACLU, your local abortion fund, Planned Parenthood, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Trevor Project, CAIR, Sacred Stone Camp (fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline), Black Lives Matter, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center.

–Reach out to your local mosque, synagogue, temple, and black church and ask what you can do to help. Let them know you will stand with them in the coming months and years.

–Consider running for office. Too many down-ballot Republicans run unopposed. Republicans understand many of the decisions affecting people’s everyday lives are made at the local level. Democrats haven’t made many strides here. If you can’t run for office, recruit your friends to do it.

–Donate to Foster Campbell, a Democrat running for Senate in Louisiana. He’s in a runoff election in December and could secure another seat for the Democrats in the Senate, which would be crucial. If you’re near Louisiana, consider volunteering for him. Encourage your friends and family nearby to do the same.

–Donate to and volunteer with your state Democratic Party. This is important for many reasons. First, the statehouses are the ones that do the redistricting for congressional seats. There will be a census in 2020, and whichever party is in control at the time will determine the congressional districts. In 2010, Democrats didn’t turn out to vote, and Republicans swept to power in statehouses across the country. They gerrymandered districts so that even though House Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote nationwide, Republicans are safely in control of the House. We cannot let them continue to dominate statehouses. Second, it takes three-fourths of states to ratify amendments to the Constitution. If many more statehouses turn Republican, they will have a clear path to doing away with any amendment they don’t like (for example, the First), and adding any amendment they please (forbidding marriage equality, ensuring lifetime terms for presidents, prohibiting abortion, whatever your nightmare scenario might be). The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is a nationwide group devoted to putting Democrats in more statehouses.

–Work to restore voting rights to disenfranchised people and felons. Voter suppression worked exactly the way the Republicans wanted. We must push back against this and work to expand voting rights. It’s crucial to our democracy.

–President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder have created the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which has a similar goal to the DLCC. Watch for more information on that and how you can get involved.

–Hold people accountable for normalizing Trump. There is no “everyone does it,” “both parties do it,” “nothing to worry about here.” Every. Single. Thing. He. Does. Is. Not. Normal. The media have already started by refusing to call white supremacists what they are. They won’t call a racist racist or a fascist fascist. Words have meaning. We need to use them.

–Read this and believe it: Autocracy: Rules for Survival

Read this.

–Lastly, but most importantly, we white people need to work on our racism. Many anti-racism activists and researchers, including Jane Elliott, believe we are all racist simply for growing up in the country we did. The United States is a country built on racism–first the genocide and colonization of indigenous people, then slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. We have never acknowledged any of it. Too many white people, who often only know other white people, believe racism is a thing of the past. They think black people talk about racism too much. They insist “I don’t see color.” It’s easy not to think about race when you’re white because it affords us so much privilege. We aren’t targeted by police for being white. We’re not incarcerated at higher rates for being white. We’re not denied housing, education and employment for being white. We don’t die at earlier ages because we’re white. The list goes on.

We are all taught racism, if not by our parents, then by our culture. I grew up in a predominantly white area. There were no black students in my class until I got to high school. I had maybe two teachers who were people of color until I got to college, though I did have one white science teacher who would perform in blackface each year for his lessons on George Washington Carver. This teacher admired Carver and I’m sure he thought he was honoring Carver by wearing blackface. The administration allowed this. My classmates thought it eccentric but not incredibly racist, as it is for me in hindsight.

My classmates were more likely to be Asian–Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Pakistani–than black. There were two or three black students in my class of 300+ people. And it never occurred to me to discriminate against them for anything, but it also didn’t occur to me until years later how hard it must have been for them to live and grow up and learn in such a white area.

So, just because you don’t go around saying the n-word, that doesn’t mean you can congratulate yourself on not being racist. Being non-racist is a lifelong process. It’s a matter of degree. It’s being able to call each other out when we mess up. It’s being able to admit most of our favorite popular culture is racist–because most of it is created by white people. And it’s important to remember that liking it doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. But it’s also important to know that the issues are there.

Some favorites who are problematic: Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry, which genealogy has disproved. She has never really apologized or had a conversation about why what she did was wrong. That is racist. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I love dearly, is racist. Her new series is racist. The Lord of the Rings is racist. Star Wars is racist. Katy Perry is racist. Gwen Stefani is racist. Johnny Depp is racist and an abuser. Cultural appropriation is a real thing. Stealing someone’s culture and identity for your own use is racist and wrong. White people having dreadlocks is racist. Saying things like “you speak English so well” is racist. Asking a person of color where they’re from is racist. Buying into the “welfare queen” stereotype is racist (the majority of welfare beneficiaries are white, not black). Consuming all-white media and not criticizing whitewashing is racist.

It’s also racist to think there is such a thing as reverse racism. Racism is based on power structures. As long as there has been a United States, white people have held the power. White people have never been an oppressed population here. So people of color may dislike white people as a group or stereotype them, but they cannot be racist against white people. However, they can be racist against fellow people of color. White supremacy is a powerful thing, and it rewards people of color who buy into its myths, the same way patriarchy rewards sexist women (e.g. Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc).

Don’t assume racism is something that will die out with older generations. Young people are plenty racist. Racism is taught, so if Baby Boomers and Gen X are racist, their children will be too. There’s also no rule that says just because you have one black friend you can’t be racist, or because you have gay friends you can’t be homophobic. It doesn’t work that way.

If you know people of color, remember it’s not their job to educate you about all of this. It’s your job to learn and do your own research. People of color have had to learn how to live in a white society to survive. White people’s lives don’t depend on knowing the ins and outs of black culture and history, so we are ignorant. The good news is, there are plenty of resources available. Go to your library. Use your friend Google. Make sure  to study and read authors and researchers who are people of color.

When the economy crashes–because Trump has plainly stated that’s his goal–remember it was white people who voted him into office and white people who implemented his policies. He will try to blame everyone else for what happens. Nothing is ever his fault. Remember. It’s not the fault of immigrants. It’s not the fault of people of color. It’s completely Trump and the people who voted for him.





Woman fired for publicly calling out sexism

A conversation at a tech conference has resulted in two people being fired from their jobs. Adria Richards, a developer evangelist at SendGrid, overheard some sexist jokes at PyCon and tweeted about it, attaching a picture of the two parties and asking that PyCon staff speak with them. They did, and that should have been the end of it.

However, one of the men was later fired over the incident, and Thursday, Richards was fired, too, after receiving death and rape threats online for standing up for herself.

I tend to believe women when they say they have been subject to sexism, sexual harassment, racism, rape and violence. There’s simply no advantage to lying. False accusations happen incredibly rarely; 99 times out of 100, she’s telling the truth.

But even if Richards misunderstood the conversation, it’s barbaric and hateful to threaten her with rape and death. I’m of the opinion it’s never cool to threaten to rape or kill anyone, even convicted rapists and murderers. It should go without saying that the physical safety of someone whose Internet protocol you disagree with should never be in danger.

I also think that in most cases, and certainly this one, firing someone for making a joke — or for reporting it — is an overreaction. SendGrid’s CEO has responded to Richards’ dismissal, saying

To be clear, SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs.What we do not support was how [Richards] reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. … A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.

That’s a pretty pathetic excuse, if you ask  me. An industry that already has a dearth of women proved that if you encounter sexism and want to keep your job, you’d better shut up.

Make sure HHS has American women covered

There was good news in the reproductive rights movement this week. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that birth control be a preventive service that insurance companies must cover with no co-pays under the Affordable Care Act. Now it’s up to the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Kathleen Sebelius, to enforce that recommendation.

Almost every woman I know has used birth control at some point in her life. My own parents delayed starting their family for more than a decade, enjoying their careers and being together before deciding to have kids. Birth control has near universal use (99 percent) among women of childbearing age, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And considering women are capable of becoming pregnant for more than 30 years of their lives, that adds up to a lot of medical costs.

The panel also recommended covering domestic violence counseling, sexually transmitted infection and HIV testing, cervical cancer screenings and an annual well-woman visit. Pregnant women would have greater access to gestational diabetes screening and more help with lactation counseling and equipment. Women’s health care would take a huge step forward if these recommendations were adopted.

I’ve written before about making birth control free, as have the wonderful writers at Feministing (“Opposing birth control coverage should be as ridiculous as hating puppies”). It’s the most commonsense thing we can do to prevent unplanned pregnancies and make women, children and families healthier. Conservatives should be on board because it would save $4 for every $1 spent and reduce the number of abortions. Don’t expect them to be leading the charge, however. Anti-choice activists consider contraception to be an abortifacient (despite the fact the medical community disagrees) and think people who aren’t married shouldn’t need birth control because they shouldn’t be having sex.

So it’s up to those of us who believe in science and care about women to take up this fight. Sebelius is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks. Please sign the petition by Planned Parenthood urging birth control without co-pays. This could be a major victory in a year that has seen more anti-women and anti-choice bills pass state legislatures than ever before.

What would a Republican recruitment video look like?

I had that thought the other day while thinking of a woman I spoke to during my calls for OFA. Laurie has had incredibly poor fortune the past few years. She and her husband both had health emergencies in 2008. Her husband lost his job because of his, and he couldn’t get another one because he was a) illiterate and b) too ill to work. They had to deal with a mess of red tape to get unemployment benefits, which have since run out. Laurie has diabetes and so can’t get private insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Her husband gets about $900 a month in Social Security payments, $650 of which goes to the rent. They have no other income and are struggling to provide for their daughter.

Laurie was obviously lonely and desperate; it was the longest call I’ve had so far because she kept talking and I just didn’t have the heart to hang up. She kept saying “it’s not fair” and I completely agreed with her. Obviously an election more than a year away was not at the top of her list of priorities. I gave her the number for the local United Way hotline and said I honestly believed President Obama had the interests of average people like her at heart when he crafted policy.

It’s because of people like Laurie that I’m involved with the summer program at Organizing for America. It’s because of people like Laurie that I’m trying to get Obama re-elected. We have to lower the unemployment rate and create jobs. We have to raise taxes on the rich to raise revenue and balance the budget. We have to revise our health care laws so people like Laurie and her family don’t fall through the cracks. We have to raise disability payments to a living wage so Laurie isn’t worried about her family ending up hungry and homeless. That’s not the promise America was founded on.

Of course, Republicans are totally opposed to all of the steps outlined above. They seem to care only about the top 1% of fellow millionaires. I presume the Republicans have a similar program in which they recruit volunteers. How do they do that? By appealing to “family values” and “tradition”? By extolling the racism and sexism of the 1950s and refusing to acknowledge a multicultural future? By saying “you, too, can help pollute our nation’s air and water”? By championing massive profits in the oil, financial and health care industries? By criticizing so-called “entitlements” while at the same time benefiting from government subsidies and health care? By bellowing about constitutionality while taking away people’s right to vote? By advocating smaller government while at the same time nosing into the most personal details of women’s medical care? By celebrating all of the old white men in their establishment?

I just honestly can’t imagine what kind of tools they use to get people interested in their party. Obviously those people are out there, what with the success of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. And certainly Democrats aren’t perfect. We don’t have strong, assertive voices or clear messaging on vital subjects. But I believe more Democrats have more average people’s interests in mind than do Republicans.

Does it matter if species become extinct?

I met a man Monday while doing work for OFA, and we were both political junkies, so we sat for more than an hour talking about dozens of subjects. Somehow the topic of zoos came up, and I mentioned my recent visit to the one in town, including how sad it is that some of those animals, like the Amur leopards, are on the brink of extinction. He posed an interesting question: Does it matter if Amur leopards go extinct?

That made me stop and think. We always talk about extinction in dire terms; it’s never reported as a value-neutral subject. I started wondering whether that made sense. The man I talked with is right in the sense that no, the world isn’t going to end if Amur leopards, or human beings, or poison dart frogs, or mosquitoes die out. When it comes right down to it, no creature on this planet is necessary for the Earth to go on spinning around the sun.

So I think the answer to “does it matter if species become extinct?” is both no and yes: no in the existential sense that nothing really matters in the cosmic scheme of things; yes in that extinction is a result of a bigger problem. It’s hard to think of many ways species could go extinct that aren’t the fault of human beings. Either we hunt animals until there are no more, or we destroy animals’ habitats through deforestation and global warming. (One exception is the disappearance of many amphibians because of a deadly fungus.)

The world is getting warmer. That’s a fact, whether you believe climate change is caused by humans or not. It’s likely too late already to save animals in Arctic and Antarctic habitats such as polar bears and penguins. It doesn’t have to be too late for other endangered animals. And it is something we should be concerned about, because no one knows how many links in the food chain have to disappear before it collapses.

It’s a popular urban legend that the cure to cancer could be hidden in the Amazon rainforest, but we’d never know because of the rate at which it was being destroyed. However, the pace peaked at 27,000 square kilometers per year in 2004, and dropped to 6,500 in 2010. Still not good, but an improvement. But because of the success environmentalists have had in their endeavors, now Brazil is contemplating loosening regulations for farmers and ranchers. If it does, it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that plants that are key to curing cancer and other deadly diseases will be lost. Parts of the Amazon are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet and home to several endangered species. Look at that picture. Are we really willing to let that disappear?

Photo of Amazon courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

Doing my little part for Earth Day

I went on a walk last week to enjoy a day of nice weather and found myself stopping to pick up trash in my apartment complex, because I was reminded of Rick’s resolution. There was more waste than I had expected: the ubiquitous cigarette butts and candy wrappers, plus straws, a broken comb, and, most surprising, an audio cable that had been there for so long it was mostly overgrown with grass.

I could have picked up a lot more than I did, but I wasn’t prepared and could hold only so much trash in my hands. So I decided my Earth Day project would be to take out a bag (plastic, unfortunately) and collect trash in earnest. I only have to take a couple of steps from my door before I find dozens of cigarette butts. I have to say I don’t understand why anyone starts smoking. If you absolutely MUST, however, at least dispose of your cigarettes in ashtrays or trash cans. Don’t throw them on the ground or out your car window.

I recycle every day, which is another little way I do my part for the Earth. Recycling and picking up trash are two easy ways to celebrate today. You could also bike commute, plant a tree or bush, or make a donation to an environmental charity. Be kind to the Earth, because it’s the only one we have. It is much easier to treat it properly in the first place than have to clean up after ourselves once our home is damaged.

If you're not reading Mother Jones, you should be

I’ve never been a huge fan of Huffington Post, and that feeling solidified recently when it came to light Arianna Huffington refuses to pay her bloggers for their work (Why I’m boycotting the Huffington Post, and I hope you will too). Not only do her business practices leave much to be desired, but her site seems more interested in sensationalism than actual news.

If you are looking for an alternative to HuffPo, you can’t do much better than Mother Jones, which describes itself as “bimonthly magazine of investigative journalism that exposes the evils of the corporate world, the government, and the mainstream media.” The magazine has a print edition as well as a website that is updated 24/7. There are excellent photo essays and daily photos to remind us We’re Still at War. Reporters have written more than 500 posts about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the year since it happened, and for the anniversary this round-up post of coverage was compiled. This listicle of America’s 10 Most Overpaid CEOs is guaranteed to make you see red. Today Kate Sheppard wrote about “Climategate: What Really Happened?” to investigate “the best-funded, best-organized smear campaign by the wealthiest industry that the Earth has ever known,” according to climate scientist Michael Mann.

If you are a progressive looking for great reporting on important topics, you don’t want to miss Mother Jones.