Rally to Restore Sanity

November 1st, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

On Saturday, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert teamed up for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” It was an entertaining, and inspirational, rally on the Washington Mall. The rally included Cat Stevens (AKA, Yusuf), Ozzy Osborn, Roots, Sheryl Crow, Karim Abdul Jabbar, and Anderson Cooper’s tight black tee-shirt. (You can watch the entire rally here.) When I compare this rally to the Glen Beck’s recent rally, “Restoring Honor,” the differences could not be greater. Beck’s rally felt contrived and was nothing more than a propaganda fest focused on Beck’s patriotic greatness. The Stewart/Colbert rally was fun, sincere, and made me proud to be an American. Stewart ended the rally with a sincere, and mostly-serious, speech. His entire concluding speech is included below.

jon-stewart-photo-3.jpg

“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

Unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems and illuminate problems heretofore unseen, or it can use its magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous-flaming-ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rich Sanchez is an insult — not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put forth the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker. And perhaps eczema. Yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good, because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a funhouse mirror, and not the good kind that makes you slim and taller — but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass like a pumpkin and one eyeball.

So, why would we work together?  Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster?  If the picture of us were true, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable.  Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?  We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do.  We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.

Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans live their lives that our just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often it’s something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things get done every day that are only made possible by the little, reasonable compromises.”

[Stewart then plays a clip of cars merging before entering the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey]

“These cars — that’s a school teacher who thinks taxes are too high…there’s a mom with two kids who can’t think about anything else…another car, the lady’s in the NRA. She loves Oprah…An investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah…a Latino carpenter…a fundamentalist vacuum salesman…a Mormon Jay Z fan…But this is us. Everyone of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear — often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river…And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go — oh my god, is that an NRA sticker on your car, an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go…”Sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together and the truth is, there will always be darkness.  And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.  But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me.  You’re presence was what I wanted.  Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder.  To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.  Thank you.”

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart – Moment of Sincerity
www.comedycentral.com

Watch the entire rally at C-Span here.

John Lennon Shines On

October 25th, 2010 by Whitey 1 comment »

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 by Whitey No comments »

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 by Whitey No comments »

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 by Whitey No comments »

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?

Education: Watch “Waiting for Superman”

September 27th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

Earlier today, Politico reported that Obama watched the new documentary, Waiting for Superman.

President Obama recently watched the new documentary “Waiting for Superman” in the White House screening room, a senior White House aide tells POLITICO.

In an interview with Matt Lauer on Monday, Obama called film about the nation’s struggling education system “heartbreaking” and “powerful.”

“When you see these parents in the film, you are reminded [of]…their stake in their kids, their wanting desperately to make sure their kids are able to succeed,” he said.

When it comes to education, children “shouldn’t depend on the bounce of a ball,” Obama said, referring to the education lottery system for charter schools, which some parents in the film depended on to place their children into better schools.

Watch this trailer and pledge to see this important documentary about education in American.

See the web site.

See also this clip from Meet the Press on Sept. 26th, 2010.

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Check out the companion book to the film, Waiting for Superman.

Healthcare Reform: Still Confused?

September 23rd, 2010 by Whitey 1 comment »

Are you still confused about what is in the new healthcare bill? Join the club.

This is an excellent short video that explains the new law(i.e., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act)

Views on Health Reform Back to an Even Split – Kaiser Slides.

Other great links and resources:

http://healthreform.kff.org/

http://www.healthcare.gov/

The Difference Between a Liberal and a Conservative

September 20th, 2010 by Whitey 118 comments »
Of all the political theories used to understand our complex political system, one of the most useful is “Social Dominance Theory” (SDT) developed by Sidanius and Pratto. This is a sociological theory that seek to make sense of social hierarchies and how they are formed and maintained. To understand social hierarchies is to understand discrimination, oppression,  stereotypes, inequality, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, nationalism, and the like. In short, SDT provides a framework for understanding power and group inequality.
Sidanius and Pratto’s 1999 book, Social Dominance, exhibits high scholarly standards, and is considered a classic sociological text. For anyone who wants to understand human systems, including political-economic social systems, this is an excellent read. There work is particularly relevant for understanding the difference between conservatives and liberals. Essentially, a political conservative is someone who accepts group inequality—that is, when a small group of elites dominates the majority (the subordinate group). A liberal is someone who seeks more egalitarian social organization, with equal opportunity for all groups. SDT identifies the attitudes associated with conservative/liberal views by measuring a group’s “social dominance orientation.”
“Social dominance orientation” is the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and domination of “inferior” groups by “superior” groups. Individuals have varying degrees of social dominance orientation. Political conservatism, authoritarianism, racism, sexism, lack of empathy, acceptance inequality, patriotism, and the presence of oppressive and discriminatory behavior is strongly correlated with social dominance orientation. » Read more: The Difference Between a Liberal and a Conservative

Legalized Marijuana is Coming

September 12th, 2010 by Whitey 7 comments »

Recreational cannabis use may become legal in California this November. That’s right. Whatever you prefer to call it—pot, grass, weed, marijuana—like alcohol, it would become legal for adults to use recreationally. Cannabis is already permitted for medical purposes in 14 states. Millions of Americans use it for recreational purposes. Regulating it allows the government to tax it and control how it is used. This is not unlike the prohibition amendment in the early 20th century that led to a massive black market. When substances like alcohol and cannabis are forced underground, you simply feed crime, lose control of age limits, lose out of taxing it, send a lot of otherwise productive citizens to jail, create drug wars in other countries (e.g., Mexico), and make it more attractive to users.

The state of California need the money. Taxing cannabis will bring in between $1.4-2 billion annually, and will significantly reduce the costly prison population of California’s overcrowded detention facilities. It will also save on drug enforcement, allowing the police to work in more productive areas. In 2003, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published “Economic Costs of Drug Abuse,” which stated without separately analyzing cannabis related costs, the United States was spending $12.1 billion on law enforcement and court costs, and $16.9 billion in corrections costs, totaling $29 billion.

Right now polls indicate that the bill have a shot of passing this November. Before we look at further implications of this initiative—called Prop 19—let’s review some history. » Read more: Legalized Marijuana is Coming

The Yes Men: Jackass meets Michael Moore

September 9th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

A new kind of activist journalism has been created. It is humorous Michael Moore “mockumentaries” meets the daring stunts of the show Jackass. These guys are for real! Their latest documentary, “The Yes Men: Fix the World,” is intellectually stimulating and very funny at the same time. (Both of their films are streaming items on NetFlix!!) Here are a few clips from the most recent film, and some media coverage of their work.

» Read more: The Yes Men: Jackass meets Michael Moore