Invest in Humanity 2016

This being Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d share something I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

Just after the election, I wrote about the initial constructive steps I decided to take to combat the racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and hate which dominated the 2016 election cycle. Although I initially wrote that post (and on Facebook rather than this blog) and took actions immediately due to my disappointment at the present state of the election, I knew that I wanted to do something bigger. Over the course of a couple of days of thinking it through, I formulated a plan and decided to call it Invest in Humanity 2016.

To that end, I set aside $60,000 (inclusive of my initial donations) to “invest” in causes far and wide which work to advance humanity. However, I also realize that the problems faced by different groups and the challenges known by people of different life experiences are not universal… so I knew I wanted to do something a bit unique to reach people I would not have reached by myself. I recruited several fairly diverse groups of friends (which I called “teams”), with their diverse experiences and gave each team an individual donation budget to manage. Each team has been fully responsible for finding causes they want to support, vetting them, and deciding how to support them and how much support they’d like to give. I’ve taken care of the bookkeeping and of course provided the funds. I’ve provided only very broad guidance rather than any rules or requirements for causes to support.

The teams have been busy! As of right now, we have supported 39 different organizations with a total of $21,850 in donations—but we’re just getting started.

The organizations we’ve supported so far include:

  • ACLU Nationwide
  • Alliance for Multicultural Community Services
  • Amaanah Refugee Services
  • American Humanist Association
  • Border Network for Human Rights
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • FairVote
  • Family Promise of Knoxville
  • Food Bank of Northern Nevada
  • Gender Diversity
  • Girls on the Run
  • Houston Food Bank
  • International Refugee Assistance Project
  • Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
  • Knox Area Rescue Ministries
  • Literacy Advance of Houston
  • Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • NAACP
  • National Immigrant Justice Center
  • National Organization for Women
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Our Center
  • Planned Parenthood
  • RAINN
  • Reno Works c/o Volunteers of America
  • Reproductive Health Access Project
  • Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • The FAYCO Foundation
  • The Love Kitchen
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • The Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality
  • The Trevor Project
  • The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
  • Trans LifeLine
  • Transgender Allies Group
  • Transgender Law Center
  • UNR Resettlement and Placement
  • YMCA of Greater Houston

I’ve set up a small (and currently very simple) web site related to this effort at InvestInHumanity2016.com. If you’re interested in investing in humanity as well, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you. If you represent a charity or other cause (registered or not) and could use our support, please reach out as well!

A response to those supporting Trump based on his abortion position

[I have copied this content from my original post on Facebook, and have backdated it appropriately to maintain context.]

As for me, from the beginning I aligned much more with, and supported Bernie Sanders. I was very disappointed with the actions of the DNC in this election, and I was fairly cold on Hillary Clinton from the start (largely because she is, by anyone’s standards, a lifelong politician). Along the way, I could not have ever stomached voting for Donald Trump though, as he has made it very clear from the beginning that his positions on most everything: (a) tended to be made up on the spot based on his audience; and (b) generally amount to hating or denigrating different groups. I saw nothing of actual substance (especially that could also actually be believed) in his entire campaign, and I still haven’t since the election has closed.

I ended up aligning with and supporting Hillary Clinton in the end, and I did vote for her. I do feel that the DNC strongly pushed her, more than was probably wise, and certainly against their supposedly independent position, because they really wanted to be responsible for electing the first woman president. She has a very “unclean” past largely because of being *so* deeply involved in politics for *so* long, and due to of course being first lady to an ex-president. There are a lot of people with a lot of free time to hate her and Bill Clinton, and they’ve gotten her involved in so much scandal (and she’s gotten herself involved in enough) that regardless of how much has any merit it’s impossible to tell, objectively, how much is real. So I preferred mostly to stay away.

As for me, I would have preferred that our first woman president had a much cleaner/simpler past, so we could purely focus on her qualifications and actual positions, and deal with the inherent biases in our cultural and political system against women as leaders, as a single issue (essentially a woman version of Bernie Sanders would be ideal). Instead, of course, most of that was pushed to the side by all of the scandal, as real or imagined as it was.

Donald Trump, however, is a totally different case for myself and for many others who voted “anti-Trump”. The vast majority of those upset about his election are not upset due to his proposed policies per se (as weak and ill-defined as they may be), and are not upset because of accusations against him (based on fact or not), but based on things he himself has said (most often on camera), positions he has taken, and statements he has made about others, all on record and irrefutable. His oft-stated desires to forcibly deport all illegal immigrants, and to require registration for all muslims are frankly terrifying for many of us. His behavior towards women (ignoring all accusations and just focusing on things on record and irrefutable) is completely and absolutely unacceptable for any presidential candidate let alone president-elect of our country. And it’s those beliefs that drive their and my disappointment, anger, and ultimately actions (right or wrong).

I personally made the switch from being merely upset about Bernie Sanders’s seeming exclusion from the political process, to fully supporting (both mentally and financially) Hillary Clinton as a candidate (to defeat Trump) based on Trump’s comments, on video, towards a young (10 year old) girl: “I’ll be dating her in 10 years, can you believe it?” That was, for me, the tipping point, and the moment where I felt I had to switch from being on the sidelines, aghast that the man was still a serious candidate, to doing everything I could to try to ensure he didn’t become our president. If you think you can justify his remarks in that tape, I’d love to hear it. This was, of course, on top of the already lengthy series of previous remarks by him, indisputably, which range from questionable to what should have been immediately disqualifying.

I fully understand and sympathize with those who are having a bad time in modern America, are unemployed or underemployed, underpaid, or feeling like they don’t have opportunities to better their life. I can see why people align with the concept of the slogan “Make America Great Again”; they really want America to be great again, for them, today. The problem is that practically nothing proposed by Trump will have an actual impact to make their life great, again. The jobs those people used to have are never “coming back” as politicians often promise them, and the irony of the whole thing is that Trump, as a businessman, has had a lot more to do with their demise than he could ever do to reverse it as president. We’re not going to get back these jobs because there isn’t a market for their product at the price it would take to bring that job back, in America or elsewhere. Failure to follow this chain of thinking to its natural conclusion is dangerous and disingenuous.

It’s nice to say we’ll close the borders and wall ourselves off, and make it impossible to export jobs and import goods, we’ll forcibly remove all illegal immigrants, and anyone with a differing belief system or religion than “we” (white, Christian, America) understand. Then what? We’re suddenly great again? What’s the next step of this plan? Have we thought that far ahead? What’s next?

Republican supporters of either candidate in the previous elections did not riot when their candidates lost to Barack Obama, not because they are less “sore losers”, but because Obama’s candidacy and position was not based on hate, division, and demagoguery–it was based on hope, love, and bringing people together. And, had he lost to any typical Republican candidate, there would also not be rioting–losing a campaign based on love is not the same as winning a campaign based on hate. This time around, people are not upset that a Republican candidate was elected over a Democrat, that a man was elected over a woman, that their candidate lost, or *even* that Donald Trump (the man) was elected. They are upset that Donald Trump was elected in spite of (or possibly because of) his indisputable positions which amount to racism, sexism, hate, and divisiveness. They are upset that so many of our fellow countrymen were able and willing to support those positions, or at the least willing to ignore them to, in theory, get something else they wanted.

Illegal immigrants and muslims are currently the political bogeymen of today’s America, and because of that, politicians and constituents alike are able to treat them as abstract issues rather than as actual people. These are all complex issues which can’t be summarized into bumper stickers or campaign signs, so it’s tough to convey sensical positions on them. I think it is helpful though, for better context on the present day, to replace the current bogeyman in any present day argument with a bogeyman of (hopefully resolved) days past: how would Americans feel, today, on average, if we proposed to deport all Japanese, or require registration of all black people? I hope that those sound like crazy propositions to a modern American regardless of political affiliation.

(Yes, I realize that by definition, an “illegal immigrant” is also a criminal, in that their mere presence in the country is breaking the law. The societal, economic, and business implications of their presence is a lot more complicated than that, though. In order to keep this short, I will not go into any more detail here, but I’d be happy to discuss or debate further. I also realize that there will always be a hopefully small fraction of people who would say both of those proposals above sound “great”; but that’s not what I am arguing here, either.)

Back to the original question at hand in this thread, I do understand that one can be quite reasonable and totally against abortion of any kind. I know many people, who I respect, that take this position. I don’t agree with their stance, but I can respect that it is their belief.
However, if that is one’s stance, and one is going to vote based on that stance alone (ignoring ALL other opinions, policies, and positions of the candidate), I should hope that the candidate’s understanding of the issue would be much stronger than Trump’s is. I watched the debate live, and nearly choked during his answers on abortion because not only were his answers completely off base (borderline crazy), but he repeatedly (so it’s definitely not anyone misunderstanding him) and clearly displayed great ignorance of the entire issue.

Trump’s responses about “in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby” and “as late as one or two or three or four days prior to birth” (both direct quotes) are just buffoonery and blatant appeal to blind emotional reaction. (And of course, his statements previous to this debate including “punishing” women for getting abortions notwithstanding.)

On the other hand, Clinton’s responses were well reasoned and completely fair and honest. You may agree or disagree with her, but she holds a position which is at least backed by an understanding of the issue. Her position is the same as mine, basically (which was convenient for me, since Bernie was no longer an option): that abortion should be available to those that need it, and that there are various reasons for which it is in fact actually needed.

Personally, I support a multi-part approach with regards to abortion:

  1. Comprehensive (not “abstinence only”) sex education and open dialog.
  2. Easy and cheap or free access to contraception, without roadblocks such as parental consent.
  3. Easy and cheap access to emergency contraception such as “plan B”, again without roadblocks.
  4. Easy and cheap access to at-option early term abortion, again without roadblocks.
  5. Free access to all medical care, including of course pre- and post-natal medical care.
  6. Comprehensive social support programs for both mother and child (and for myself, all people generally).
  7. Access to abortion at any phase of pregnancy due to medical necessity.

With all of these in place, it’s possible to limit the amount of conception occurring in the first place, limit the number of abortions occurring due to accidental pregnancy (due either to ignorance of the process or availability of contraception), and ensure that any pregnancy regardless of cause is well cared for, and that the baby is born healthy and baby and mother can remain healthy. Unfortunately literally *all* of the above are antithetical to the platform of the Republican party. Their policies amount to, at best, hopeful ignorance, and punishment for all when that doesn’t work. The combination of denying all seven of the above are and have proven to be disastrous societally.

Claims like “in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby”, while they sound horrific, sound so because they literally *never* happen, theoretically legal or not. (Outside of mentally unsound people self-aborting their pregnancies, but I think we could agree that sort of thing will happen regardless of legality.) Not only would the mother have had, for some reason, to carry the baby that long and then change their mind, they will then have to find a doctor willing to perform such an abortion of a viable fetus based purely on the mother’s whim. Not likely, and it’s not necessary to make laws banning things that literally never happen, while bundling with those laws ones which place encumbrances on other practices that *are* done out of medical necessity.

I could actually understand if we had in place a society willing to widely embrace actual sex education and contraception programs, and we then *still* had some kind of abortion epidemic, and then religious groups wanted to take a more hard-line stance on it. We’re not there, though. If the groups so vocally opposed to abortion were also vocally supportive of (as opposed to obstinately against) sex education, contraception to avoid conception in the first place, and especially if they were also in support of medical care access and social support programs to support the baby during pregnancy and long after birth… then I would be much more sympathetic to their (and presumably your) cause. The current reality amounts to willful ignorance, hoping for the best, and punishing those that meet the inevitable outcome. I can’t support that and I am not sympathetic to those that advocate for it.

Combining the two issues here, and especially in light of the above, I cannot fathom support for Trump in spite of himself in order to “get” a harder stance on abortion and a hopeful overturning of Roe v. Wade. People are not rioting because they don’t understand, support, or sympathize with your cause, but because:

  • You’ve said, through actions and alignment, that the collateral damage of pushing through your cause is worth their lives–millions of them, who are alive today.
  • Widespread support of a candidate who so openly supports this level of racism, sexism, bigotry, etc. legitimizes and has and will continue to embolden those who also hold those beliefs, many to a much more extreme degree.

Hopefully this explains at least my position, and hopefully speaks for others in similar positions to myself. I’d love to debate anything here in more detail.

A constructive start for post-election 2016

[I have copied this content from my original post on Facebook, and have backdated it appropriately to maintain context.]

I don’t normally say much publicly about donating anything, and until lately about politics or social causes, either. I only really occasionally mention my support of loans through Kiva (mainly because it’s a long-running passion of mine). Today is a bit different, though; today, in honor of our democratic process, I thought a number of organizations could use a bit of extra help for the coming months and years.

So, as a constructive start, I’ve donated $1,000 each to the following organizations:

  • Planned Parenthood
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Reproductive Health Access Project
  • RAINN
  • ACLU Nationwide
  • NAACP
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
  • Transgender Law Center
  • Gender Diversity

If you, too, are looking upon the election outcome and wondering how the hell we got to this point of intolerance, overt racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and hate, then I encourage you to find a few organizations that you can support, too, in whatever way you can.

I’m certainly not going to ask anyone to give all your money to the DNC (ugh), or run out into the streets with torches. I certainly don’t believe that a president Trump and Republican majority across the government will instantly be the end of the world, or even that half of the rhetoric upon which Trump’s entire disgusting campaign was based is even serious.

However, I do believe this is a clear signal from a large number of my countrymen that they support divisiveness over inclusion, fear over understanding, spectacle over reason, and hatred over love. And I can’t say I am surprised, but it leaves me dumbfounded and heartbroken. Not for Hillary Clinton’s loss–I could have easily supported any other serious candidate on either side without much regret–but for the loss of the dignity of our country. And, not even the loss, but the recognition of that loss, or the realization that that dignity was a farce all along.

This is not what *I* stand for, it’s not what I want my children to grow up with, and certainly not what I want my grandchildren to face. We can do a hell of a lot better. Why don’t we even bother trying? Why can’t we get past the color of a person’s skin, or the gender of a person as an authority figure, or the religion practiced by another person? How do we have so little compassion for others? Why do we continually act in a self-serving way and abuse others? I struggle to accept that the human race is just incorrigibly terrible, but I don’t see anything materially changing, either. I want more than anything for America to be a positive example to the world, but we just keep proving that we don’t have the courage for it.

While I fully respect the democratic process that allows for a country to be cast in whatever way its constituents decide, I am sure I don’t have the stomach to sit idly by while it is cast in *this* way. The fact that it has even gotten this far gone makes me feel physically ill, and doubly so because I know or am related to so many of the people who have made it so.

So, I won’t stomach it anymore. If you’ve ever claimed “Obama is a muslim” or “but he’s black”; if you’ve called someone a “nigger” or “sand nigger” or “towel head” or “wetback”; if you’ve championed from your sofa to restrict the rights of women or called Hillary a “bitch”, or made any reference to her inability to serve due to being a woman; if you’ve called someone a “fag” or “dyke” or “tranny”; seriously: fuck you.

Yes, I know that includes quite a number of people closely related to me. Sorry, but I am not sorry. This has to stop.

Look inside yourself, ask yourself: Does this make you a better person? Why do you do it? Do you truly believe that you’re just better than these people? Can you defend your ideas and ideals? Can you defend your choices? Can you defend your sense of decency?

Obama Rally for Change in Reno

This morning, Barack Obama was in Reno, at UNR for one of his Rally for Change events. Since I haven’t seen him in person before, I figured I would go up there and see him speak, take some pictures, etc. It was pretty awesome, and he gave a really good speech. I took a few hundred pictures, so here are a few select shots… I’ll get the rest posted soon:

 
 

Obama speaks to the crowd gathered at the Rally for Change event in Reno, Nevada on October 25, 2008.

 
 

The crowd at the Obama rally in Reno, Nevada.

 
 

Obama frustrated during a power failure in the middle of his speech.

On Barack Obama and Blackness…

The other night, the guest on The Colbert Report was Debra Dickerson, the author of the book The End of Blackness. Colbert questioned her about Barack Obama—whether or not he is “black”. She argued that in the “American political context” Barack Obama is not “black”. I can kind of buy that, but what really made me chuckle was her insistence in referring to him as “African African American”, as though the term “African American” is reserved for the “real” blacks in America.

Get over yourself, Debra: “Black” is a reference to the color of his skin, not to his upbringing; and “African American” is a reference to his lineage in Africa—he is only 2nd generation after all—his father was born in Kenya. He is a hell of a lot more African American than most people in the US that give themselves that designation. American politics is such a joke these days.

Colbert on Bush on Healthcare

In reference to Bush’s suggestion during the State of the Union address that a tax break will help poor people afford health insurance, Steven Colbert said:

It’s simple: Most people who can’t afford health insurance are too poor to owe taxes, but if you give them a deduction from the taxes they don’t owe, they can use the money they’re not getting back from what they haven’t given to buy the health care they can’t afford.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Teen does something meaningful…

Farris Hassan, a Florida 16 year old has done something meaningful. He visited war-torn Iraq, on his own, without telling his parents. And what does he get for it? A lot of flak and harsh feelings.

The news is reporting it with a strong emphasis on how stupid he is, and how he could’ve been killed, and how he will get in a lot of trouble with his parents. My perspective is a lot different.

I commend him for having the guts to do it. No, it wasn’t stupid. He wanted to see how it was first-hand, with no media filter. And he did it. Yes, he’s only sixteen. So what? The kid has a bright future, as far as I’m concerned. If you can figure out how to get to Iraq via Kuwait and Lebanon, and you have the guts to actually do it, at only 16, you have my support.

Update: Rich Tatum also blogged about this, a bit more eloquently, and I completely agree with him. Be sure to read the essay Farris wrote, at the Wikipedia link above.