Archive for October, 2010

John Lennon Shines On

October 25th, 2010

John Lennon would have turned 70 this month. Over the next couple of months there are several noteworthy, commemorative releases and events, including: all of John Lennon’s solo recordings, re-mastered and released this month; a new documentary called LennonNYC, an independent film called “Nowwhere Boy” that focuses on Lennons teen years, and the annual Imagine Peace Tower lighting in Iceland that Yoko Ono will preside at and present Peace awards.

A couple of years ago, after watching the documentary, “The U.S. vs. John Lennon“, my interest in John Lennon was renewed. Not only was this man a musical genius, but he remains an icon of the peace movement. He used his fame to influence public opinion about the Vietnam war, and in response, the US government tried to deport him, spied on him, and used intimidation to silence him. In the end, Lennon was murdered by an obsessed fan. But his legacy remains. Three songs stand out as anthems to the peace movement:

  1. Imagine
  2. Give Peace a Chance
  3. Happy Xmas (War is Over!)

These songs, and others, have been sung by hundreds of artists. In 2008, Amnesty International produced a double-disc tribute to Lennon, as a fundraiser for the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Some of the remakes are stirring. Check out the additional material at the iTunes store; you will find numerous artists with remakes of, for instance,Imagine, including Jack Johnson, Avril Lavigne, Willy Nelson, and Josh Groban. Also, .

Beyond the power of Lennon’s music, his message of peace is inspiring, and the context of his story is legendary. Richard Nixon is the perfect villain in Lennon’s hero story. The Nixon administration sought to deport Lennon because he was seen as a threat in winning the coming 1972 election—with a new voting demographic, between ages 18-21—a threat to public support for the Vietnam war, and to the establishment in general.

Isn’t it nice that we have moved beyond illegal government spying in today’s world?
(Unless you count what the Bush administration was doing for 8 years)

Lennon’s story resonates with today’s political situation in profound ways. What can we learn from Lennon and his willingness to confront the powers of his day?

First, he did not just speak out. He was also a man of action. He made donations, attended rallies, performed countless benefits concerts, and traveled to–and influenced–areas where there was injustice, such as South Africa. Also, he and Yoko purchased billboard space all over the world with a message: “War is Over! (If you want it) – Merry Christmas, John and Yoko Lennon.”

Second, he was positive about the possibility for change. He did not give up to the hopelessness that power pushes on to the masses. He empowered himself and others. His message “War is Over – If you want it” really says to us that it is not an impossible dream. He was optimistic in this regard.

Third,  he made a meaningful personal life for himself. He spent time improving his marriage with Yoko, and delighted in the birth of his son, Sean. He also spent time educating himself about issues in the world. John was a true patriot of the United States. Becoming a citizen was an honor for him. One could say John had “family values” and was, nevertheless, involved in what his FBI records calls, “revolutionary activities.”

We want to highlight some other exemplary traits of John Lennon (from Larry Kane book on Lennon:Lennon Revealed).

The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.

—John Lennon

Some of the peace folks want violence…I want peace in the world…You gotta remember: the establishment is just another word for evil.

—John Lennon

» Read more: John Lennon Shines On

Immigration Reform, Now!

October 21st, 2010

Whenever I visit a metropolitan area, I like striking up conversations with the cab drivers. Inevitably, the driver is from some far-away country. I try to guess where by the sound of their accent. I have met drivers from Ghana, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, to name just a few. I ask about their families, their language, what brought them to the U.S., and of course, their politics. I have been amazed at how knowledgeable these foreign-born cab drivers are about U.S. politics. The cab drivers I met can carry on, in their broken English, intelligent conversations about domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy. They seem much more engaged in public policy than most U.S.-born citizens that I know.

What is most interesting to me is how they seem to have a great sense of appreciation and pride for both their country of origin and the United States. For example,  earlier this year, I met a cab driver in Denver who was from Ethiopia. He spoke about his family, and how great it was to live in America. But when I asked him about Ethiopia, he became very animated as he told me all about his country of origin. With great pride he told me, “Ethiopia is the only country in Africa to have never been colonized.” He went on telling me about how empire after empire had tried to conquer Ethiopia, but each time the people of the country had fought back their invaders.

Immigrants are proud of their cultural heritage, but they are also proud of being part of the American Dream. The “Papers Please” law that was passed in Arizona earlier this year brought new attention to the immigration debate. Immigration has also come up in discussions about controlling spending and in the healthcare reform debate. In 2005, Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “We know that people come to this country illegally. They come for many different reasons. Some out of fear of persecution, some for work, all for opportunity…About 50% of the agricultural workforce are illegal workers…With respect to agricultural work, I know that it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to get Americans to work in agricultural labor.” (Congressional Digest • June 2005 )

The bottom line is that we need immigration reform. We need to find a way for people who are here and working to gain citizenship. Chances are they are being exploited by an employer, and their low wages are harming the labor market for U.S. citizens in those industries. If people have skills and can find work, they should be welcomed. If people are refugees and need our help, they should be allowed in the country to get temporary help. The extreme-Right wing (e.g., Tea Baggers) want Americans to be scared of “illegals”. They want us to see them as a drain on our economy. These perceptions just do not match up with reality. » Read more: Immigration Reform, Now!

The Cove

October 18th, 2010

The Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, is an amazing film. George Clooney said, “this is better than Ocean’s 11, but this is real!”

Check out this trailer.

The web site explains the story:

The Cove exposes the slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises off the coast of Japan every year, and how their meat, containing toxic levels of mercury, is sold as food in Japan and other parts of Asia, often labeled as whale meat. The majority of the world is not aware this is happening.

The focus of the Social Action Campaign for The Cove is to create worldwide awareness of this annual practice as well as the dangers of eating seafood contaminated with mercury, and to pressure those in power to put an end to the slaughter.

It’s been working. The film has been making waves since it premiered last year. Critical praise and audience awards worldwide have focused international attention on Taiji and the annual dolphin drives off the coast of Japan. Under intense pressure, Taiji called for a temporary ban on killing bottlenose dolphins in 2009. The film, originally rejected at the Tokyo Film Festival, was eventually shown due to public outcry, and has appeared in theaters in Japan. Residents in Taiji are being tested for mercury poisoning, and for the first time Japanese media are covering the issue.

But the effort needs to continue. On September 1, the six-month dolphin hunting season opened again, and fishermen in Taiji plan to take to the cove despite international pressure. Experts say education, awareness and persistence are needed to eventually turn the tide.

Check out this excellent interview with the makers of The Cove:

See the official web site, and the take action site.

The Cove is streaming from NetFlix. You can also purchase it from Amazon:

Is Obama a Socialist?

October 10th, 2010

Is Obama a socialist?

This is a question that many are asking. Right-wing pundits, from Hannity and Beck to Palin and Gingrich, are claiming that President Barack Hussain Obama is a socialist. I have actually never heard of a Indonesian Muslim, black liberation theology-believing, socialist (as conservatives are alleging). Conservatives have really uncovered a unique character in Obama. A few months ago, I called Sean Hannity’s show and asked Sean,”Do you really believe Obama is a socialist?”

Sean: “Yes.”

Me: “Really?”

Sean: “Yah-ess.”

Me: “Are you kidding me…the guy is pro-business…does a ‘socialist’ give tax cuts to 95% of Americans.”

Sean: [hangs up on me and continues talking as if I was still on the call] Ah…ah…look…we cover this over and over on this show…anyway, gotta run.”

Sean promised me a copy of his book, but then hung up on me before he could hook me up with his staff. I called his people back and said, “Sean promised me a book, and I am liberal, so I want my handout.” They thought that was funny so they sent me a copy of his book. I read it. His argument that Obama is a socialist is just silly. Basically it says that a couple of statements Obama made about “spreading the wealth around,” and his ties to liberation theologian Reverend Jeremiah Wright, proves he is a socialist. Glenn Beck has made similar arguments.

However ridiculous these arguments seem to the rational observer, right-wing propagandists are having an impact on public opinion. A poll (PDF) from Democracy Corps found that 55 percent of likely voters believe that the word “socialist” describes the president either “well” or “very well.” This is very interesting in light of the fact that the left has repeatedly criticized Obama for being to conservative. Pick up any issue of The Nation magazine (let along International Socialist Review) and you will find criticism of virtually every policy that is being pushed by Obama.

If you take a look at what real socialists think of Obama’s policies, you will find an even larger degree of discontent—to put it lightly. For instance, in Alan Maass’ recent book, “The Case for Socialism,” he repeatedly criticizes Obama for his rhetoric of change and a bottom-up society that never really turned into reality when he took office. Maass takes issue with Obama’s ongoing support for two wars (perhaps three, if we include Pakistan), the watered-down health care law that is beholden to private insurance industry, Obama’s lack of action on LGBT rights, and a host of other issues. » Read more: Is Obama a Socialist?