30 September 2009

How Mackenzie Phillips can redeem herself -- and help others

The celebrity magazines and TV tabloid shows are abuzz with actress Mackenzie Phillips' recent revelation that she had a 10-year-long sexual relationship with her late father, legendary musician John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, while both of them were heavily involved with drugs.

This kind of story can sell a lot of magazines. Sex sells. Scandal sells. And a good sex scandal outsells them all.

And I'm sure the story will sell a lot of copies of Mackenzie's new book High on Arrival.

But, as Mackenzie gets richer off her family scandal, I hope she will find a way to use that tragedy to help others.

While Mackenzie was already an adult of 19 when she first awoke from a drug-induced stupor to find that she was having sex with her dad, many girls much younger are victims of incest. According to the website Shattered Souls, 1 in 3 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, and 30-40% of victims are abused by a family member.

In addition, 70 to 80 percent of sexual abuse survivors turn to excessive drug and alcohol abuse. In Mackenzie's case, it was probably like pouring gasoline on the fire of her addiction.

But, rather than just sitting back and profiting from the sale of her new book, this is an opportunity for Mackenzie to speak out against drug abuse and incest, and help other victims of these two destructive problems.

I hope she will take advantage of this opportunity to turn her personal scandal into a positive tool to make the world a better place for other victims and potential victims of drug abuse and incest.

If she does not, then all she is doing is glamorizing both problems. And that can only make matters worse for those who could otherwise benefit from more positive advocacy.

29 September 2009

Obama death threats should be taken seriously

Bullet sales are skyrocketing.

The Secret Service is stretched thin, investigating a record 30 death threats per day against President Obama (a 400 percent increase from a year ago when Bush was in office).

Facebook just took down a poll that one of its users had posted, asking "should Obama be killed?" (Choices: "yes", "maybe", "if he cuts my healthcare", or "no") Some 750 Facebook users had voted in the poll.

And a black guy sits in the Oval Office.


Ever since Obama won the Democratic nomination for president, I have worried about his safety. And I continue to worry.

The right-wing pundits have created a very emotionally charged atmosphere out there, as evidenced by the extremist behavior of their followers at recent town hall meetings and tea party protests (some of whom came armed).

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," the saying goes.

All death threats should be taken very, very seriously. And all perpetrators should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

28 September 2009

Enough in Afghanistan!

October 7 will mark the eighth anniversary of George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan. And what have we accomplished there in those eight years? Nothing to be proud of, really.

Sure, we initially took out the Taliban, who were allegedly providing refuge to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But that didn't last very long. Bush took his eye off the ball and let bin Laden get away in order to shift gears (and troops) and attack the unarmed nation of Iraq, which had posed no threat to us and which had nothing to do with 9/11.

So the Taliban have regrouped and are once again terrorizing Afghanistan.

Afghan women and girls are afraid to leave their homes, lest they be attacked with acid or gunfire.

Afghanistan is now the greatest illicit opium producer in the world because farmers there have no other reliable source of revenue.

Osama bin Laden remains at large.

And al-Qaeda and its allies continue to plot attacks against the West.

Nice job, Mr. Bush!

And now President Obama is expected to clean up this mess and finally "win" what has become a no-win situation in Afghanistan.

How can we "win" in Afghanistan when al-Qaeda are now actually in Pakistan and in cells around the world?

How can we "win" in Afghanistan when our eight-year involvement there has neither made life better for the Afghan people nor made us any safer here at home?

How can we "win" in Afghanistan when the past eight years have made it clear that, purple fingers or not, you cannot spread democracy at the point of a gun? Democracy, by its very nature, cannot be forced.

And what other practical interest could we possibly have there? Anything other than oil?

Still, General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, wants us to send thousands of additional troops there.

The war in Afghanistan has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $200 billion so far. And the military wants this to continue for how long?

Fortunately, President Obama did not immediately say "yes" to McChrystal's request. He wants to reassess the situation in Afghanistan.

In doing so, I hope he hears the concerns of his vice president. Over the past few years and some face-to-face dinners with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Joe Biden has come to identify some additional obstacles that face us there. He found that the Karzai government is corrupt, the Karzai government denies the corruption, and so the Karzai government is not being honest with us.

And so Biden rightly questions the clarity of our mission in Afghanistan, as quoted in The New Republic: "If you asked ten different U.S. officials in that country what their mission was, you’d get ten different answers."

Which of those ten answers will Obama choose? Or will he instead heed the concerns of his vice president, whom he chose for his experience and expertise in foreign policy?

Just as Iraq has been called Bush's Vietnam, Afghanistan could easily become Obama's, unless he chooses wisely. And I hope he chooses to support the troops by bringing them home, sooner rather than later.

27 September 2009

It's Banned Books Week! Read a controversial classic!

Banned Books Week 2009 has begun! This annual celebration of the First Amendment and intellectual freedom is being observed this year during the week of September 26 - October 3.

A list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century, with nearly half of them highlighted in bold font to indicate that they have at some point been banned or challenged, can be found on the American Library Association's website here.

The top 10:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell

10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

So, of the top 10 novels of the last century, only The Sound and the Fury has escaped puritan outcries. But, thanks to the First Amendment, they are all available for our reading pleasure.

So head on over to your local library or bookstore, pick up a controversial classic, and celebrate your freedom to read!

26 September 2009

Obama brings America back in sync with the world

Over the past few days, we've seen President Obama back on the world stage. First he addressed the United Nations General Assembly and later he hosted the G20.

He spoke calmly and confidently of the need for international cooperation in order to defeat terrorism, fight global warming, fight HIV/AIDS, handle Ahmadinejad, and address other challenges and crises in the world. No threats, no finger pointing, no "you're with us or you're with the terrorists."

And Obama's approach was fruitful. For example, at the U.N., he won passage of a nuclear nonproliferation resolution.

Surely George W. Bush could not have inspired that kind of cooperation with his Cowboy-style bullying and tough talking.

But then, Bush would never have agreed to such a deal, which he surely would have seen as threatening his own power to do whatever he chose, no matter how dangerous.

While Obama has not turned out to be the more ideal leader I thought I voted for, he deserves much credit the things he is doing right. And putting America back in sync with the rest of the world is one big feather in his cap.

25 September 2009

Philly's Columbus Day parade canceled - for the wrong reason

Columbus Day is celebrated widely here in Philadelphia, from South Philly's Italian-American neighborhoods to their suburban counterparts throughout the metro area.

But this year, Philly's annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled due to a lack of funds.

But there are better reasons not to celebrate Columbus Day, regardless of funding issues.

What we learned about Columbus in school was not the whole truth. In some cases, it wasn't the truth at all.

First of all, Columbus did not originate the theory that the earth is round. Such had been known since ancient times.

Columbus also did not discover America. Leif Ericson and his Norsemen had built a settlement in what is now the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador some 500 years before Columbus wandered into the West Indies.

And, once Columbus got here, he enslaved the Native Americans and forced them to convert to Christianity, while helping himself to the new world's gold and other precious resources.

In other words, it seems that he paved the way for the better-known genocide and subjugation of Native Americans that took place on the North American mainland in later centuries.

Is this the kind of thing we should be celebrating?

Not me.

24 September 2009

Philly area swim club penalized for racial bias

You may recall that a Philadelphia area swim club made national news in July when a group of young campers, who had a pre-arranged and pre-paid agreement to use the pool, were subjected to racially charged comments and were ordered to leave the club. Most of the campers (if not all) had brown or black skin.

Now the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has completed its investigation of the case and has issued a finding that racism was a factor. The swim club will now have to pay some hefty fines.

It is good that the swim club is learning that it cannot get away with causing the kind of emotional pain those children must have felt when they heard the racist remarks aimed at their group.

But the club does intend to appeal the decision. So stay tuned for updates.

>> Read the Commission's official findings.

23 September 2009

To insurance industry, spousal abuse is a pre-existing condition

It's bad enough that an abused spouse has to endure the violence. But it gets worse, like when the insurance industry adds insult to injury.

In this excerpt from a recent piece in the Huffington Post, Ryan Grim explains:
It turns out that in eight states, plus the District of Columbia, getting beaten up by your spouse is a pre-existing condition.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you're more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.
This is just another sad example of society blaming the victim.

How can the insurance executives sleep at night?

And how can the Senate Republicans sleep at night? Grim goes on to explain their part in this:
In 2006, Democrats tried to end the practice. An amendment introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), now a member of leadership, split the Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee 10-10. The tie meant that the measure failed.

All ten no votes were Republicans.
This is just one more reason why we need legislation that will forbid insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions -- or, better yet, a public option in which pre-existing conditions are not an issue. But do Obama and Congress have the backbone to make that happen? Stay tuned.

22 September 2009

Ridiculous: PA lawmaker says domestic violence awareness bill has a "homosexual agenda"

Sometimes the right-wing nonsense gets to the point where it's just ridiculous. So it is here in Pennsylvania these days.

HR105 was proposed to recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. But the measure was halted by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (a Republican).

According to Keystone Progress, Metcalfe's explanation (per his remarks on the House floor) amounted to this:
"I protest, this is not non-controversial, and if you read the language it has a homosexual agenda."
Well, I did read the language, and it says nothing about gays or homosexuality. It simply recognizes that domestic violence "is a pattern of abusive behavior used to establish power and control over an intimate partner" and that it "often causes emotional harm to victims, their children, other family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers," and affects "men and women in all racial, ethnic, religious, educational, social, and economic backgrounds."

It goes on to note that domestic violence "takes many forms, whereby victims are often subjected to abuse, harassment, threats, vandalism, trespassing, burglary, theft and stalking," and that it is "often escalated, causing victims to suffer physical and emotional trauma, anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation, loss of confidence, fear and, in some cases, injury and death by suicide or homicide."

It then lists some alarming statistics underscoring the pervasiveness of domestic violence in our society, and notes that domestic violence "is one of the most chronically underreported crimes."

"Therefore, be it resolved," the bill concludes, "That the House of Representatives recognize the month of October 2009 as 'Domestic Violence Awareness Month' in Pennsylvania."

That's it.

No mention of gays, lesbians, or homosexuality at all. Just some recognition of the suffering of victims of domestic abuse regardless of who they are.

But wait: There is some good news. On the same day, the House was preparing to vote on increasing marriage license fees from $3 to $28, with difference going to a fund for victims of domestic abuses. Metcalfe also opposed that measure, calling the funding of domestic violence programs "a slap in the face to family values."

That bill passed anyway.

Take action:

>> If you live in Pennsylvania -- or even if you live elsewhere and want to give Rep. Metcalfe a piece of your mind -- click here to send an email asking him to apologize and allow a vote on the resolution recognizing October as "Domestic Violence Awareness Month".

21 September 2009

Obama's role problem

I believe that President Obama has good intentions. I believe that he wants what is best for most Americans.

Unfortunately, Obama sometimes seems too idealistic, and a little bit naive.

Obama is still in community organizer mode, trying to herd everyone together -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- into a nice, happy circle, where everyone can work together to reach a consensus on every issue, and then sing "Kumbaya".

The problem is that the Republicans don't do "Kumbaya". Most of them are clearly unwilling to cooperate with Obama and the Democrats. They admittedly want Obama to fail.

And, if Obama fails in health care reform, economic recovery, or any of the other major problems plaguing our nation, then it's us -- ordinary Americans who elected him based on his promises and our hopes -- who will continue to lose.

It's time for Obama to stop being a community organizer and start being a strong leader.

After all, we did not elect him to sell out to the right-wing bullies and the corporate power brokers. We elected him because we wanted change. And we won't see change until he can find the strength to effectively stand up to -- and disarm -- those who want him to fail.

But, before he can disarm them, he must accept that they exist.

20 September 2009

Arizona revokes benefits for domestic partners and the disabled

Shame on the state of Arizona!

About a year ago, domestic partners of state employees had become eligible for state benefits. Now, suddenly, it appears that they will soon find themselves uninsured, after a bill recently signed by Governor Jan Brewer redefined a "dependent".

The change will also eliminate coverage for children of domestic partners and disabled adult dependents -- in other words, the more vulnerable citizens who need insurance coverage the most, but can least afford it.

And, the way things seem to be going in Washington, D.C., I'm not optimistic that they'll have a national public option to fall back on anytime soon.

So now domestic partners in Arizona, their children, and disabled adult dependents will once again be treated as second-class citizens.

And, in some cases, this could be a matter of life or death.

19 September 2009

Comments from a Canadian on nationalized health care

In criticizing the prospect of a national health care system here in the U.S., the right wing will often paint a horrific picture of national health care systems in other countries like Canada and England. They talk about very long waits to see a doctor, rationing of care, and other myths.

Don't believe the spin. As Michael Moore illustrated in his movie SiCKO, people in countries that have a national health care system are generally very happy with the service they receive. And they're a lot healthier than we are, as highlighted by the fact that the U.S. ranks 37th in the World Health Organization's ratings of the world's health systems (below Malta, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other countries that might surprise you).

Recently, a Canadian woman shared her thoughts with me about her own country's health care system, and how the right wing in America has been stretching the truth about it:
I am a Canadian woman, 52, and I am disgusted at how our health care system has been presented in the U.S. I moved from Ontario to British Columbia last year, had a choice of three local MDs, found one in a day, and have never waited more than five minutes to see him.

Yes, there are some areas in Canada that have shortages of doctors and nurses, but overall we are lucky here. No one up here loses their home over medical bills. If you polled Canadians and asked us if we would rather have our system or yours, I bet you would have either 100 percent or close to it in favor of what we have.
Who in their right mind would not want health care offered by the state? How crazy is that? I don't understand it at all. Isn't something better than nothing, for those who have no coverage?
Yes, the answer seems so obvious. But, unfortunately, here in the U.S. we have a government run by the rich and greedy, where health is treated as a commodity. And that just seems sick. (Pun unintended.)

18 September 2009

Of course it's about race!

A few days ago, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter noted that racism is likely responsible for much of the anti-Obama sentiment that has monopolized the media in recent weeks.

That seems pretty clear to me, too.

But the right-wing mouthpieces are denying that race has anything to do with it. Racism, you see, is not something most Americans would want to publicly admit to these days.

According to the New York Times, Rush Limbaugh mockingly responded, "Today, it's all based in racism - the criticism of Obama's health care plan or whatever." This was quickly backed up by Newt Gingrich, who added, "I think it's very destructive for America to suggest that we can't criticize a president without it being a racial act."

But that's not what anyone is suggesting, Newt. The giveaway is not in whether you criticize the president, it's in how you criticize him.

As Media Matters for America recently pointed out, the Rush Limbaugh who is trying to deny accusations of racism is the same Rush Limbaugh who has said things like:
"[I]n Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering."
"How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration? By hating white people or even saying you do."
"[T]hey're finally hearing me. 'He's an angry black guy.' I do believe that about the president. I do believe he's angry. I think his wife is angry."
And, of course, this is the same Rush Limbaugh who has entertained his radio listeners with a tune called "Barack The Magic Negro".

Then there are the signs spotted at various "tea party" protests around the country:
"Obama's Plan: White Slavery"
"Save White America!"
Then, when they run out of anti-black slogans, they go back to emphasizing the president's Middle Eastern middle name: Barack HUSSEIN Obama

And these loud and rowdy critics are inspired by the likes of Glenn Beck of Fox News, who has publicly accused President Obama of being a reverse racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people."

But it's not about race, they tell us.


Who lies?

17 September 2009

Obama and the PATRIOT Act: Bad news and possibly some good news

Many mistakes were made during the George W. Bush administration in its misguided "war on terror". One big mistake was the USA PATRIOT Act. Rushed through Congress in the wake of 9/11, the Act was described by Amnesty International as "potent in its ability to erode basic civil and human rights."

So I was alarmed when I read a recent news story indicating that the Obama administration wants to extend three "key" provisions of the PATRIOT Act that are due to expire at the end of this year -- the John Doe roving wiretap provision, Section 215 or the "library records" provision, and the "lone wolf" provision.

That doesn't sound like change I can believe in!

Then I checked in with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for their take on it. The ACLU clarified for me that the Obama administration is actually "open to reforming those and other provisions."

On Monday, the Justice Department sent a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for the reauthorization of those three provisions, but also expressing an openness to reforming those and other provisions.

So there may be some hope after all.

Senator Leahy has announced that his Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the PATRIOT Act on Wednesday, September 23.

Meantime, the ACLU will be pushing hard for the following reforms:

• Narrow the scope of the National Security Letter (NSL) authority, adding judicial oversight to all NSL requests.

• Reform the overly broad material support statute.

• Revisit the changes made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) last year in the FISA Amendments Act that gave the government sweeping and overbroad new surveillance power.

• Narrow the recent expansion of authorities given to FBI agents by the revamped Attorney General Guidelines that allow agents to conduct physical surveillance without suspicion.

• Expand oversight mechanisms such as audits by inspectors general and public disclosure requirements related to the PATRIOT Act and statutes that allow for surveillance of Americans.

Let's hope that they are successful.

Stay tuned for updates. Meantime, keep your fingers crossed for change.

>> Read the ACLU's September 15th news release on the subject.

>> Read the ACLU's report Reclaiming Patriotism and learn more about the three Patriot Act provisions up for expiration this year.

16 September 2009

Why is Obama pimping for Specter?

Yesterday, President Obama was here in Philadelphia for a fundraiser for Senator Arlen Specter.

Here is what I don't like about it:

Specter was a Republican for decades. He switched parties in April when he realized that he might have trouble winning the Republican primary next year. In other words, it was a selfish tactical move, not one from the heart.

And changing his party affiliation doesn't change Specter's record of support for some of George W. Bush's most egregious policies.

So why is Obama supporting Specter rather than Specter's rival for the Democratic primary, Joe Sestak? After all, Sestak's positions on the issues in general are much more in line with good Democratic values.

Or why is Obama supporting Specter rather than just remaining neutral on Pennsylvania's senatorial primary race?

I am not alone is suspecting that it has something to do with the theory that Obama needs Specter's support to pass health care reform.

And, if that's the case, then Obama is not only pimping for Specter -- he's whoring for him too.

And it verifies the notion that Congressional votes are bought and sold, not based on the will of the people or the conscience of the lawmaker.

15 September 2009

Congress gets rolling on DOMA repeal; Barney Frank declines!

Today, U.S. Reps Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO) are expected to introduce a bill that would revoke the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Under DOMA, the federal government defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and relieves states of any obligation to recognize same-sex marriages, even if those same-sex marriages are recognized in another state.

This is a good step, and I applaud Reps Nadler, Baldwin, and Polis, along with their 50-plus cosponsors. After all, government-sanctioned discrimination has no place in today's society (or so I would like to think).

Therefore, I was shocked to learn that openly gay Congressman Barney Frank is not a cosponsor of Nadler's bill. Frank explained, "It's not anything that's achievable in the near term." As if that's a good reason to not even try!

A private health insurance option might not be achievable in the near term either, but that doesn't mean that I want the Democrats to roll over and give up the fight!

Frank also has a problem with a specific provision in the bill that would require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Perhaps that is too much too soon, but I don't think that justifies throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Legislation evolves. A bill is introduced, and then it is amended, and provisions are added and removed until enough people are comfortable with moving it forward.

Therefore, isn't it better to start out by giving them a strong bill to hack away at, rather than initially setting the goal post too low?

14 September 2009

The new GOP: Civility optional

Today's GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower, or even the party of Reagan. Today's so-called conservatives are anything but conservative in their seemingly desperate displays of anti-Obama sentiment.

Indeed, their behavior in 2009 makes their 2004 anti-Kerry chants of "flip-flop" seem almost charming by comparison.

It was bad enough when some of the needlessly frightened sheep started bringing loaded guns to health care town hall meetings -- even including a meeting where President Obama was the featured speaker. (Remember how George W. Bush's handlers would systematically banish -- and sometimes actually arrest -- citizens who merely sported tee-shirt slogans that they disagreed with?)

And the rabidity of the vocal right-wing masses was illustrated again recently when author, columnist, and frequent cable news commentator David Sirota shared the following development: "Just received a full-on death threat for my CNN appearance discussing the racial undertones of the tea party protests."

This is what politics has become.

But every party has its fringe elements. Can't blame the whole party, right? At least not usually.

These days, however, it seems that the boldness and the rudeness have become much more pervasive throughout the GOP.

It's no longer just the radical fringe.

It's no longer even just the extreme right-wing mouthpieces like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, and Beck, although their encouragement surely helps to embolden others.

No, it seems that the belligerence has worked its way into the very halls of Congress. During one of our nation's most solemn kinds of official events -- a presidential address to Congress and the American people on September 9 -- Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "You lie!" after Obama said that his health care plan would not cover illegal aliens. (For the record, it was Wilson who lied. H.R. 3200, the House health care proposal, actually contains a section titled "No Federal Payment For Undocumented Aliens" which explicitly states that "there will be no federal funds spent to cover illegal immigrants.") But why let the facts interfere with their agenda to establish fear and distrust of Obama as a cornerstone of our national zeitgeist?

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that it has come to this. After all, this is the same GOP whose then-vice-president Dick Cheney once dropped the f-bomb on the Senate floor.

If that's the kind of behavior that they feel they must resort to, it's their prerogative. I just wish they'd stop telling us that they stand for "family values".

13 September 2009

Alliance for Justice: Vicious attacks must not silence progressive leaders

So Van Jones was pushed to the point of resignation by the right-wing smear machine. Nothing he said was anywhere near as controversial as the stuff Karl Rove used to spew, but Rove lasted for years in the Bush administration, while Jones was squeezed out in a matter of months.

But we should be used to double standards.

Hopefully Jones will now continue his environmental advocacy in some other capacity now that he is no longer under a political microscope. He certainly has the support of a lot of progressive individuals and organizations.

One of those organizations, the Alliance for Justice, had this to say about Jones's resignation:
Van Jones' forced resignation is a hard lesson for our progressive community. We have always known the corrosive effect the organized right wing has on reasonable debate, and their willingness to lie and wage baseless attacks on the character of good and strong leaders.

But instead of each group defending leaders of our own communities, all of us -- environmentalists, civil rights, women's, human rights groups, you name it -- must work together to defend progressive leaders from the kind of vicious attacks that have denied America a creative, innovative public servant like Van Jones, and that threaten to keep Dawn Johnsen, Tom Perez, and others from serving in the Obama administration.
Indeed. But our voices can make a difference only if they are heard and heeded by those in charge. And therein lies the real challenge.

But it's worth fighting for. Now is not the time for complacency.

12 September 2009

Broadway cast of Hair to march in Washington for gay marriage

"Hair" has always been one of my favorite musicals, and still is. To this day, 40+ years after it was written, I am still struck by the strength and originality of the book, lyrics, and music. When the (needlessly) controversial show first hit the stage in the late 1960s, and its music inspired some hugely successful singles by some popular singers (most notably, "Hair" by the Cowsills, "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" by the Fifth Dimension, and "Good Morning, Starshine" by Oliver), I was too young to understand the message that the show conveyed. I just enjoyed the music.

But, as I grew older and saw various productions of the show, I fell in love with it all.

And the show's message is still as relevant today as it was 40 years ago: Peace, love, and tolerance. Harmony and understanding. Sympathy and trust abounding...

And now there's another reason to be a fan of the show.

The cast of the current Broadway revival of "Hair" (which won the 2009 Tony Award for best revival of a musical) will be taking part in the October 11th National Equality March in Washington to support same-sex marriage.

The producers have canceled the Sunday matinee performance that day so that the cast can join the march.

As the show's artistic director, Oskar Eustis, explained, "[Hair's] message of change and hope and inclusion is one we try to live, not just preach."

For that the show deserves a huge standing ovation.

11 September 2009

On 9/11, did the terrorists win?

As I write this on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I think of the Bush administration's response to those attacks, and how it seems that we've let the terrorists win.

After all, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. He and his followers are safely ensconced somewhere along the Af-Pak border, as far as we know, and apparently unreachable (or else we really don't give a damn).

The Taliban have regrouped and are again up to their violent crackdowns on freedom in Afghanistan. The only things thriving in Afghanistan today are the Taliban, the warlords, and the vast fields of opium poppies.

Iraq is still trying to rebuild from the mess we created there for no good reason.

People have been tortured by U.S. agents paid for by our tax dollars, which cost us whatever moral authority we may have had before it happened.

Even under the Obama administration, we're still rendering suspects to other countries for interrogation -- countries known for their use torture. (Oh, but they promise not to hurt anybody. Of course, we heard that before.)

Even under the Obama administration, lawsuits against warrantless government spying are still being challenged on the basis of "state secrets".

Even under the Obama administration, we still cannot board an airplane without jumping through numerous security hoops.

We no longer enjoy the rights and freedoms that were ours before 9/11. And I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden is celebrating that fact today.

10 September 2009

Public option, RIP?

President Obama's speech on health care was pretty good last night. But I had one major problem with it. While he did recommend a public option, he said that he was "open to other ideas".

Of course, he may have no choice, because it looks unlikely that the Senate would pass a public option.

That's because Congressional votes are bought and sold by the corporate elite, including the so-called health insurance industry, no matter what We The People might want and need.

And the public option is too much of a threat to the insurance CEOs who have made their fortunes by ripping off (and, in way too many cases, denying coverage for) sick and dying Americans.

So, even though it appears that the House might be able to pass a public option, it still would need to clear the Senate, which doesn't look possible at this point.

It appears that, once again, big business wins and the not-rich rest of us lose.

Unless, of course, enough Senators reconsider and decide to support a public option. I won't hold my breath.

09 September 2009

U.S. Supreme Court to consider corporate campaign contributions

Do you think the big corporations already have enough control over our government? Or should they have more? The U.S. Supreme Court may soon decide.

Today, September 9, the Supremes are set to hear arguments in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This case could overturn the longstanding rules barring corporations from making political contributions in federal elections. This would make it even easier for our elected representatives to prostitute themselves to the highest corporate bidder.

On July 29, Jeff Clements and Clements Law Office, LLC filed an amicus brief on behalf of five organizations urging the Court not to overturn the existing rules. The participating organizations are the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy, the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, Shays2: The Western Massachusetts Committee on Corporations & Democracy, and the Clements Foundation.

Jeff Clements summarized his side's argument as follows:
"The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit, and intent of our Constitution. The organizations that joined to bring these arguments to the Court have worked with others for many years to empower democratic self-government. They remind us that corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations need not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and state governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy."
Good point.

Some good background on the case from WILPF:
The Supreme Court is considering overturning federal campaign regulations for corporations, originally enacted in 1907, and may soon overrule previous Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the constitutionality of legislative restrictions on corporate money in politics.

The case now before the Court began when a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation calling itself Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of a federal ban on expenditures for "electioneering communications" by corporations and labor unions within 60 days of an election. The ban is part of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Under the Act, corporations and labor unions may still contribute to Political Action Committees.

Citizens United argued that the restrictions under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the Constitution as applied to the corporation that sought to distribute an anti-Hillary Clinton movie during the 2008 presidential primaries. A panel of three federal district court judges upheld the regulation of corporate expenditures, and agreed that the Federal Election Commission could enforce the law. The District Court relied on a 2003 Supreme Court case, McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), that had ruled that the corporate expenditure regulation did not violate the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court overrules McConnell and Austin vs. MI Chamber of Commerce, First Amendment rights claimed by corporations will be significantly expanded and local, state, and federal governments will be further restricted in the ability to regulate corporations and corporate influence on our democratic processes.
Benito Mussolini once said, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." And, depending on how the Supreme Court decides this case, we may find ourselves a step or two closer to a kind of government that Mussolini would be proud of.

>> Download the brief.

>> Read the press release announcing the brief.

And stay tuned for news in this case. A lot is riding on this.

08 September 2009

This Friday: 9/11 National Day of Service

Some people believe that September 11 should be a national holiday like Memorial Day or Labor Day -- banks closed, government offices closed, most business closed, etc., in observance of the anniversary of the attacks on that day in 2001. But, for now, the least we can do is participate in the September 11 National Day of Service, and spend the day doing something good in observance of this grim anniversary.

So I've made arrangements to take the day off from work and spend my Friday doing whatever I can to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the brave heroes who responded to the tragedy, and all who have suffered in the Bush administration's misguided mishandling of the resultant "war on terror".

I encourage you to do the same. Or, if you can't take Friday off from work, do whatever you can in your spare time this week to support the September 11 National Day of Service.

Find a project in your area, or create one:

Find 9/11 National Day of Service projects in your area, or to create your own local project: www.911dayofservice.org

Or just spend the day writing letters to the editor of your local newspapers, contacting your elected representatives, or talking to your family, friends and neighbors about how we can get this country back on track to honor those who died on 9/11 and those who later served as Bush's pawns in the "war on terror".

If we do nothing and allow the nation to stay on the misguided course set by the Bush administration, the terrorists win. And allowing that to happen is no way to honor those who needlessly and tragically lost their lives at the hands of either al-Qaeda or the Bush administration.

07 September 2009

A hollow, gratuitous Labor Day

Today, September 7, is Labor Day in the U.S. -- a day set aside each year as a tribute to the American worker.

But what is there to celebrate this year?

Sure, the American labor force is worth honoring. Very much so. But a day of hollow, gratuitous honor can hardly atone for the abuse that the workforce has taken in recent years, especially since so many people associate the holiday with a last trip to the beach rather than acknowledge its real meaning.

A day of hollow, gratuitous honor means little when U.S. companies continue to ship our jobs overseas to places like China and India, where workers cost a small fraction of what their American counterparts would be paid, and where labor laws are much looser.

A day of hollow, gratuitous honor means little when the official unemployment rate in this country is nearing 10%, and the actual rate is probably much higher.

A day of hollow, gratuitous honor means little when corporations continue to intimidate workers who want to form unions, and who pay lobbyists royally to fight against workers' rights in Washington.

A day of hollow, gratuitous honor means little when a serious illness or injury could wipe out everything you've worked so hard for all your life.

And a day of hollow, gratuitous honor means little as the gap between the rich and the poor in this country grows wider, the middle class continues to shrink, and the American dream becomes a nightmare.

Ah, yes, the American dream. It was nice while it lasted.

06 September 2009

Why the U.S. is not a democracy

This nation was founded as a democratic republic, specifically a representative democracy. As voters, we like to believe that we play a significant role in our government's affairs by more-or-less directly choosing who will represent us in Washington.

But, with few exceptions, the men and women in Washington do not represent the voters. Instead, they represent the special interests which have the money to influence the voters at election time. And, while history class taught us that we have a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," what we've really ended up with is a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. Whether it's the big bank vs. the foreclosed homeowner or the insurance industry vs. the sick, the rich corporate interests win almost every time.

To add insult to injury, the special interests are so good with the lies and the propaganda that they've got working class Republicans rallying against their own best interests. (See any health care town hall meeting for examples.)

The special interests are so good with the lies and the propaganda that they have convinced the sheep that it's better to have a profit-driven insurance executive administer your health care coverage rather than a public servant in Washington whose salary is paid through our own tax dollars.

The problem didn't start with the Obama administration. For decades they've been fighting to roll back Roosevelt's New Deal, loosen any remaining regulations, and crack down on labor unions and workers' rights in general.

And, especially in the years since Reagan moved into the White House, they've been on a winning streak, as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen and the middle class continues to shrink. Because the special interests are so good with the lies and the propaganda.

They even convinced Bill Clinton that NAFTA and the WTO were good ideas.

But it seems to have gotten worse in the past decade.

During the George W. Bush administration, big business went wild. Jobs were shipped overseas by the thousands, environmental and other regulations were trashed because they were too inconvenient for the wealthy CEOs, and labor unions became even more of an endangered species.

And still, Bush was reelected in 2004. And in 2008 John McCain scored 45.7 percent of the popular vote. Because the special interests are so good with the lies and the propaganda.

They know they cannot win with the truth. So they use fear-inducing lies, because they know the powerful effect that fear can have on the brainwashed. In 2000 and 2004, it was about God, guns, and gays. Now, in 2009, it's about death panels, and a black guy in the White House who will decide whether you live or die. The more ridiculous the rumor, the better it seems to catch on.

It's been said that democracy requires a well-informed citizenry. And that is why we do not have true democracy today in the United States of America. Because the special interests are so good with the lies and the propaganda. And because, for far too many voters, it is easier to fear than to think.

05 September 2009

Republicans vs. education

"As people do better; they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing."

-- Karl Rove, as quoted in The Daily Texan, 19 March 2004
The right-wing pundits are trying to frighten the sheep into keeping their children home from school on Tuesday, which is when President Obama plans to broadcast a speech to the nation's school children.

And it seems they're having some success.

They already have some of the sheep convinced that Obama will be using that opportunity to "spread [his] socialist ideology" and "force it upon the nation's school children."

So what is this horrible "socialist ideology" with which Obama will be brainwashing our children? According to information from the White House, Obama plans to "urge students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it."

How threatening! How radical! How.... socialist???!!!

Yes, apparently working hard in school and being successful in your studies is now a socialist ideal, and a message that we must shield our children from hearing!

And people -- many people -- are actually falling for this twisted logic, because they cannot -- or will not -- read between the lines.

Of course, these are probably the same people who believed that Sarah Palin was qualified to be vice president. (Perhaps that was already an example of the effects of an anti-education mindset.)

With so many Americans holding this kind of blind faith in the extreme right-wing propaganda, I shudder at the possible implications for our nation's future.

04 September 2009

Good and bad developments in the cable news wars

It's funny how the cable news networks so often become the news topics themselves. And this was a big week for that kind of "news news" -- some good, some bad.

First, the good news:

According to a recent announcement from ColorofChange.org, 11 more advertisers have pulled their ads from Glenn Beck's program on Fox News, bringing the total to 57! This is in response to Beck's recent assertions that President Obama is a racist who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people."

The latest companies to take their money away from Beck include Capital One, Dannon, Discover, Infiniti, and Mercedes-Benz.

For now, the management at Fox allows Beck to continue his show. He's a good little soldier after all, good at propagating the most extreme right-wing talking points. But will Fox get to a point where the bottom line is more important? (I won't hold my breath.)

Now, the disappointing news:

CNN's Lou Dobbs, famous for his obsession with immigrants and a proponent of the birther movement, might soon outdo himself. Apparently he's scheduled to broadcast his show later this month from a rally sponsored by a hate group.

Media Matters for America explains:
On September 15 and 16, Dobbs is scheduled to broadcast his radio show from Capitol Hill as a leading voice of the annual "Hold Their Feet to the Fire" legislative advocacy conference and rally sponsored by the rabidly anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Founded by a man with a history of espousing racist beliefs and who remains on its board, FAIR is labeled as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dobbs' participation -- and, through him, CNN's -- will bestow mainstream legitimacy on the rally and on FAIR, something FAIR recognizes and is bragging about to its members.

CNN's association with FAIR through Dobbs is a major stain on an organization that calls itself "the most trusted name in news." FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a man who has a long history of making racist statements. In 1986, Tanton reportedly wrote: "As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night?" In 2001, Tanton even praised the work of John Trevor, a notorious Nazi sympathizer, saying his work should form "a guidepost to what we must follow again this time."

FAIR has been sharply criticized in the past for funding racially charged ads, including several in 2004 targeting former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost and former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel that featured dark-skinned men loitering on street corners and running from the police. In an editorial, the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star called the ads "trash" that "incite hate," "play upon stereotypical racial fears," and "are full of half-truths and lies."

And yet, rather than denouncing the group, Dobbs is scheduled to be a leading voice at the upcoming FAIR rally. What's more, his CNN show has cited FAIR as a credible source on immigration issues no fewer than six times in the last year.
While Dobbs' brand of hate-and-fear mongering is a little bit more subtle than Beck's, I agree with Media Matters that CNN should be concerned, especially since that network promotes itself as "the most trusted name in news".

If CNN allows this sort of thing to continue, it could end up becoming just a watered-down version of Fox News.

Is that what CNN's management really wants? I hope not.

03 September 2009

Sept. 26 rally for Troy Davis canceled (for a GOOD reason)

This is for anyone who had been planning to attend the national rally for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis on September 26th in Washington, DC:

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision that Davis is entitled to a new hearing which may prove his innocence, the point of the rally is now moot, and so it has been canceled.

Note that it might be a few months until we get any more news in this case. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chief U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr., who was assigned the case, "ordered state attorneys to submit their legal briefs to him in 45 days. He gave Davis' lawyers another 45 days to respond. This would mean Davis' evidentiary hearing would not be convened until November at the earliest."

Some organizations are calling for international solidarity vigils to be held on the first day of the new hearing. Stay tuned for details when the time comes.

In the meantime, Davis remains alive and hopeful.

Fingers crossed for justice.

>> Learn more about this case.

02 September 2009

Peltier denied parole (despite rumors to the contrary)

Recently I've seen some posts on the Internet claiming that Native American activist Leonard Peltier has been freed from prison. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Peltier, who has been in prison since 1977 for the deaths of two FBI agents, was denied parole on August 21.

The human rights group Amnesty International has long held that Peltier should be released on parole based on "[concerns] about the fairness of the process leading to his conviction, including questions about evidence linking him to the point-blank shootings and coercion of an alleged eye-witness."

Furthermore, according to an Amnesty International press release, "One of Amnesty International's concerns is that Leonard Peltier's extradition from Canada in 1976 -- where he had fled following the shootings -- was secured on the basis of the coerced testimony of an alleged eye-witness which the FBI knew to be false. The witness, Myrtle Poor Bear, later retracted her testimony that she had seen Leonard Peltier shoot the agents but the trial judge did not allow her to be called as a defence witness at his trial. Other concerns include the withholding by the prosecution of evidence, including potentially key ballistics evidence that might have assisted Leonard Peltier’s defence."

But those concerns apparently were not good enough for the parole board. And so, sadly, Peltier remains a prisoner.

>> Read Amnesty's full press release (including background info)

01 September 2009

Cheney still thinks he's above the law. So is he?

Apparently, Dick Cheney is threatening to not cooperate with the Justice Department's investigation into the alleged (i.e., widely acknowledged) torture of prisoners in the Bush administration's "war on terror".

And no wonder. He's already demonstrated his guilt by defending and advocating the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques which are clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international and domestic law.

But, as clearly as Cheney has demonstrated his guilt, will anyone do anything about it?

It is not enough that the Justice Department is investigating whether laws were broken, although it is a good first step. Ultimately, those who broke the law must be held accountable.

The Bush administration and its Justice Department took the trouble to twist semantics, logic, and established law in an all-too-obvious attempt to justify/legitimize the illegal use of torture. (Of course, ironically, the very fact that they knew they had to stretch legal meanings tells us that they knew they were trying to convince us that black is white and up is down.)

They were breaking the law, and they knew it.

So what if Cheney doesn't cooperate with the investigation?

I say they should charge him with contempt and put him behind bars so he can have some time to think about it.

But I shall not hold my breath.