Why Fair Trade Matters

I want to take some time to talk about fair trade, both within the context of our current system as well as how it might look going forward.

Let’s start with a fact: Our current economic system, whatever you want to call it, is exploitative. It is built on exploitation and slavery, and there isn’t really any way to contest that. From chocolate to textiles to seafood, I could endlessly list industries – almost every single one is touched by this kind of exploitation on an industry-wide scale. Enter fair trade.

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Taxes on Linux

Taxes have always been an annoyance, at least here in America where the tax code is as long as your intestine (and just as convoluted!). But taxes are extra annoying on Linux due to the scarce availability of tax prep software on the platform. When I first started doing my taxes, I copped out and used a version of Turbo Tax on a Windows virtual machine I had (my parents had TurboTax already, so it was just a matter of installing it). But that year, I resolved to make taxes work on Linux.

Given that my taxes are generally fairly simple (I’m a graduate student…generally it’s just a W-2 and 1099-INT), the biggest hurdle I faced was finding a way to (easily) fill in the PDF forms. Enter pdftk.

pdftk is a fantastic piece of software for many reasons. In this case, though, it’s particularly useful because of two commands: dump_data_fields and fill_form. You might be able to see where this is going.

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Venezuela, Maduro, and Guaidó

I implore my friends, especially my liberal ones, to stop and consider the possible implications a US-backed coup in Venezuela. Yes, Maduro is awful, No doubt about that. But a US-backed coup would most likely lead to a civil war, massive civilian casualties, and possibly a right-wing authoritarian government (e.g. a military dictatorship) — the US is great at getting those kinds of governments installed. Just. Look. At. History. Were y’all the same people who wanted to invade Iraq on a humanitarian basis? Serious question.

It’s been terrifying seeing so many of my friends latch onto imperialist rhetoric, and I understand the impulse to want to do something. As Cody says, there are non-military options that include brokering diplomatic negotiations, actual humanitarian aid (rather than political destabilization masquerading as humanitarian aid), and possibly getting Maduro to agree to new elections held by the UN.

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Why I’m Voting #UnionYES!

As you might have noticed from my recent posts, we are coming upon an election! I know I’ve spoken with many of y’all personally over the past 2 years(!), but I want to take some time here to discuss my personal reasons for voting yes for SUGSE.

Crucially, my personal experience here at Brown has been pretty great — my adviser is pretty awesome, my classes have been taught well, I don’t have a requirement to TA (but can if I want to), my stipend isn’t too bad, and so on. So this begs the question: why exactly do I want a union? And this is something I’ve thought about over the past couple of years, and the reasons have slightly evolved over time.

Note: Ideologically, I am fairly left-wing (at least in the context of American politics), so I’m already predisposed to supporting unions in that regard. While that certainly helps, it has mainly served as extra inspiration during certain rough patches.

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Family separations

Let’s talk family separation for a second. Yes, it’s very clear that what’s happening now is unprecedented. Yes, it’s true that Trump created the policy (not the Democrats). Yes, it’s true that we should be agitating to end it once and for all (somehow I don’t trust that the executive order actually did anything).

But let’s not kid ourselves. We were doing inhumane, awful things to undocumented immigrants at the border well before Trump. And the kinds of stuff Trump says could very easily have been said by a Democrat. Hell, they were. Trump (or rather, Sessions) said that the purpose of separating families was to send a message. When asked what the policy should be regarding children seeking asylum from Central American countries, Clinton is clearly on the record stating that we need to send them back to send a message to their parents. Obama, too, has defended his actions regarding family detention, saying that we need to send the parents a message. I could go back further, but hopefully this is sufficient to show that this kind of dubious rationale is not only not new, but also bipartisan.

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Western countries and democracy

Western countries only like democracies when they can chose the people running them. Western countries only like democracies when they allow companies from those countries to go in, exploit people, and plunder resources. Western countries only like democracies when they don’t serve the people, but rather the elites and the corporations. Otherwise, those same countries who wax eloquently about the dangers of dictatorships and the need for democracy will launch an invasion on some pretext (real or made-up) and replace that democracy with a puppet state. Or, they ensure a stable state never forms in the first place. And, of course, this is tied in with capitalism and the ownership of our government by (big) corporations.

Don’t be distracted. What Donald Trump said today is not an anomaly — it is implicitly or explicitly believed by at the very least a large minority of the population. The reason these nations are getting screwed over is that companies and governments from all around the world are ensuring that either those governments are obsequious to other governments and corporations (and not actually working for their people) or that those governments don’t exist in the first place. Fixing this requires deconstructing the paradigm that we have built.

War on Christians

Now that the holiday season is officially upon us, I want to take some time to dispel a pervasive notion that has creeped into the public consciousness.

There is no War on Christians. Christians are not being persecuted.

Fact: The government, on all levels, is dominated by Christians.

Fact: The government has celebrated Christmas, Easter, Lent, and so on. Every. Single. Year.

Fact: Christians are the vast majority of the population. And have been. Since they killed off the Native Americans.

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Military spending

The most depressing news for me from the last couple of days was the $700 billion increase in military spending over the next 10 years.

If you take a look at the vote distribution, you’ll see that the vast majority of both major parties voted for the bill. The same damn people who insisted (and sometimes still insist) that single-payer is too expensive, that tuition-free college is too expensive, that we can’t afford to build our infrastructure — those same goddamn people had the nerve to vote for this bill. The same people who deride Sanders and other progressives as pie-in-the-sky idealists who don’t know how to make actual policy vote for an increase in the military budget that would more than cover providing tuition-free college.

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Hillary Clinton’s interview

So Hillary Clinton did an interview recently.

[1:57] “I had not drafted a concession speech! I had been working on a victory speech!”

That…is kinda entitled. But, I suppose, if you believe in polling as your primary deity as she seems to (and, to be fair, as many do across the political spectrum), she had every reason to believe she would win.

[2:15] “I just felt…this enormous let-down…this, kind of, loss of…feeling and direction and sadness.”

I understand this — especially if you’ve been campaigning for the last few months and thought you would win (again, based on polling).

[3:56] “[Interviewer:] You specifically bought this house for a reason. [Clinton:] I did. [Interviewer:] And this was to be… [Clinton:] Well…I know a lot about what it takes to move a President and I thought I was going to win…[Narrator:] The Clintons had acquired the house next door to accomodate White House staff and security during a second Clinton administration.”

Okay, seriously? Look, I understand thinking you’re going to win. But being so sure that you already start making preparations honestly smacks of entitlement. It smacks of smugness and this sense of “Of course I’m going to win!” which is honestly quite frustrating and off-putting. And for those who are angered by my reaction, do you really think we liberals and the media wouldn’t lambast Trump if he had done the same thing? Of course we would.

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