Sunday, October 31, 2010


Artist Ray Villafane began carving pumpkins on a lark for his art students in a small rural school district in Michigan. The hobby changed his life as he gained a viral following online and unlocked his genuine love of sculpting. Here are images of pumpkin carvings Villafane created over the past five years.

Thanks, Dasez

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Most Dangerous Cities For Walking

Cities where pedestrians happily walk to their destinations instead of driving everywhere are our dream, but what if walking means taking your life into your hands? This is a look at a handful of cities around the world, and how often their pedestrians are killed while attempting to traverse them. (click on the diagram above for the details)

from, The Presurfer
I walk everywhere here in New York, and it's one of my favorite things about living here, i don't even own a car. Interesting to see how the highest fatalities are here in the US and in particular in places where people mostly drive. I guess that's becuase they are not used to pedestrians?

Friday, October 29, 2010


Honestly I had no idea what the fuck i was getting into friday night a few weeks ago, but these Italian kids got to me somehow (maybe it was the oliva dolce they brought me from home?) I had a nice time hanging out and talking the night before, seeing them at their sound check the next day, then decided "what the hell" i'll bring my camera and if inspired i'll shoot some photos. Shit did i feel old ;-) Well i'm still not sure what it is you'd call exactly what they do, or what i witnessed (some crazy peek at the future perhaps?) But, i did have a good time and i think i got some dope shots. The kids there loved it, as did the friend who i brought along. Here below is my favorite photo of the evening - if not the year. (Yes, i can still do this motherfuckers! click on it to see it bigger).

Here's a link to their Death Crew 77 website

and this cover they do of a Refused song:

“Every day an artist gets up and knows he has to run. He has to run faster than the distant fragments of our time, faster than the voices hemming him in, telling him that however much he thinks,imagines, writes or comunicates, the system has already found a new way of drowning him out.
Faster than the army of pretentious pinheads boasting artistic bollox, screaming their cheapskate anger, selling out for twenty seconds of fame, filling their arses with gold so they can say I was there, applauding midgets dressed up as giants.
He knows he has to chase ideals that have packed their bags And run off to the nearest tourist haven or tax haven and chase gods that ask for a discount on the rent on olympus and apartments with a view of the clouds because, if they look down, they say they get an urge to throw up.
Down here, it’s all ours, it all belongs to men and women, but it’s common knowledge that we’ve never had a particular talent for doing things well.
Every day an artist gets up and knows he has to run. What he doesn’t know, perhaps, is that he doesn’t have to run …alone”.
btw. they are playing Los Angeles Saturday night, check out their MySpace page for more west coast shows in the next few days, then onto Europe. If you're young you probably already know about them. i'm not. i didn't. And honestly i'm still not sure what to make of it all. But like i said, i had a good time and the whole crew was really cool. (I think you'll be seeing more of my photos of them in the future.)

BONUS: Another thing i liked about these guys is that they seem to do most everything themselves, the video below was conceived and directed by the band themselves. Can't be mad at that.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We are Facing the Greatest Threat to Humanity:
Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us

from AlterNet
By Maude Barlow, On the Commons

Maude Barlow gave this stirring plenary speech, full of hope even in the face of ecological disasters, to the Environmental Grantmakers Association annual retreat in Pacific Grove, California. Barlow, a former UN Senior Water Advisor, is National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project. Barlow is a contributor to AlterNet's forth-coming book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource.

We all know that the earth and all upon it face a growing crisis. Global climate change is rapidly advancing, melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, and displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban slums. Almost every human victim lives in the global South, in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The atmosphere has already warmed up almost a full degree in the last several decades and a new Canadian study reports that we may be on course to add another 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

Half the tropical forests in the world – the lungs of our ecosystems – are gone; by 2030, at the current rate of harvest, only 10% will be left standing. Ninety percent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise “there is no blue frontier left.” Half the world’s wetlands – the kidneys of our ecosystems – were destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate one thousand times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward a “biodiversity deficit” in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than Nature can create new ones.

We are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water, the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. A comprehensive new global study recently reported that 80% of the world’s rivers are now in peril, affecting 5 billion people on the planet. We are also mining our groundwater far faster than nature can replenish it, sucking it up to grow water-guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities that dump an astounding 200 trillion gallons of land-based water as waste in the oceans every year. The global mining industry sucks up another 200 trillion gallons, which it leaves behind as poison. Fully one third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. A recent global survey of groundwater found that the rate of depletion more than doubled in the last half century. If water was drained as rapidly from the Great Lakes, they would be bone dry in 80 years.

The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human threat humanity has ever faced. As vast areas of the planet are becoming desert as we suck the remaining waters out of living ecosystems and drain remaining aquifers in India, China, Australia, most of Africa, all of the Middle East, Mexico, Southern Europe, US Southwest and other places. Dirty water is the biggest killer of children; every day more children die of water borne disease than HIV/AIDS, malaria and war together. In the global South, dirty water kills a child every three and a half seconds. And it is getting worse, fast. By 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by 40%— an astounding figure foretelling of terrible suffering.

Knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment, pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geo-political ramifications. Rich investors have already bought up an amount of land double the size of the United Kingdom in Africa alone.

We Simply Cannot Continue on the Present Path

I do not think it possible to exaggerate the threat to our earth and every living thing upon it. Quite simply we cannot continue on the path that brought us here. Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. While mouthing platitudes about caring for the earth, most of our governments are deepening the crisis with new plans for expanded resource exploitation, unregulated free trade deals, more invasive investment, the privatization of absolutely everything and unlimited growth. This model of development is literally killing the planet.

Unlimited growth assumes unlimited resources, and this is the genesis of the crisis. Quite simply, to feed the increasing demands of our consumer based system, humans have seen nature as a great resource for our personal convenience and profit, not as a living ecosystem from which all life springs. So we have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed either that nature would never fail to provide or that, where it does fail, technology will save the day.

Two Problems that Hinder the Environmental Movement

From the perspective of the environmental movement, I see two problems that hinder us in our work to stop this carnage. The first is that, with notable exceptions, most environmental groups either have bought into the dominant model of development or feel incapable of changing it. The main form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxics into the environment. Environmentalists work to minimize the damage from these systems, essentially fighting for inadequate laws based on curbing the worst practices, but leaving intact the system of economic globalization at the heart of the problem. Trapped inside this paradigm, many environmentalists essentially prop up a deeply flawed system, not imagining they are capable of creating another.

Hence, the support of false solutions such as carbon markets, which, in effect, privatize the atmosphere by creating a new form of property rights over natural resources. Carbon markets are predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations.

Another false solution is the move to turn water into private property, which can then be hoarded, bought and sold on the open market. The latest proposals are for a water pollution market, similar to carbon markets, where companies and countries will buy and sell the right to pollute water. With this kind of privatization comes a loss of public oversight to manage and protect watersheds. Commodifying water renders an earth-centred vision for watersheds and ecosystems unattainable.

Then there is PES, or Payment for Ecological Services, which puts a price tag on ecological goods – clean air, water, soil etc, – and the services such as water purification, crop pollination and carbon sequestration that sustain them. A market model of PES is an agreement between the “holder” and the “consumer” of an ecosystem service, turning that service into an environmental property right. Clearly this system privatizes nature, be it a wetland, lake, forest plot or mountain, and sets the stage for private accumulation of nature by those wealthy enough to be able to buy, hoard sell and trade it. Already, northern hemisphere governments and private corporations are studying public/private/partnerships to set up lucrative PES projects in the global South. Says Friends of the Earth International, “Governments need to acknowledge that market-based mechanisms and the commodification of biodiversity have failed both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.”

The second problem with our movement is one of silos. For too long environmentalists have toiled in isolation from those communities and groups working for human and social justice and for fundamental change to the system. On one hand are the scientists, scholars, and environmentalists warning of a looming ecological crisis and monitoring the decline of the world’s freshwater stocks, energy sources and biodiversity. On the other are the development experts, anti-poverty advocates, and NGOs working to address the inequitable access to food, water and health care and campaigning for these services, particularly in the global South. The assumption is that these are two different sets of problems, one needing a scientific and ecological solution, the other needing a financial solution based on pulling money from wealthy countries, institutions and organizations to find new resources for the poor.

The clearest example I have is in the area I know best, the freshwater crisis. It is finally becoming clear to even the most intransigent silo separatists that the ecological and human water crises are intricately linked, and that to deal effectively with either means dealing with both. The notion that inequitable access can be dealt with by finding more money to pump more groundwater is based on a misunderstanding that assumes unlimited supply, when in fact humans everywhere are overpumping groundwater supplies. Similarly, the hope that communities will cooperate in the restoration of their water systems when they are desperately poor and have no way of conserving or cleaning the limited sources they use is a cruel fantasy. The ecological health of the planet is intricately tied to the need for a just system of water distribution.

The global water justice movement (of which I have the honour of being deeply involved) is, I believe, successfully incorporating concerns about the growing ecological water crisis with the promotion of just economic, food and trade policies to ensure water for all. We strongly believe that fighting for equitable water in a world running out means taking better care of the water we have, not just finding supposedly endless new sources. Through countless gatherings where we took the time to really hear one another – especially grassroots groups and tribal peoples closest to the struggle – we developed a set of guiding principles and a vision for an alternative future that are universally accepted in our movement and have served us well in times of stress. We are also deeply critical of the trade and development policies of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the World Water Council (whom I call the “Lords of water”), and we openly challenge their model and authority.

Similarly, a fresh and exciting new movement exploded onto the scene in Copenhagen and set all the traditional players on their heads. The climate justice movement whose motto is Change the System, Not the Climate, arrived to challenge not only the stalemate of the government negotiators but the stale state of too cosy alliances between major environmental groups, international institutions and big business – the traditional “players” on the climate scene. Those climate justice warriors went on to gather at another meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, producing a powerful alternative declaration to the weak statement that came out of Copenhagen. The new document forged in Bolivia put the world on notice that business as usual is not on the climate agenda.

How the Commons Fits In

I deeply believe it is time for us to extend these powerful new movements, which fuse the analysis and hard work of the environmental community with the vision and commitment of the justice community, into a whole new form of governance that not only challenges the current model of unlimited growth and economic globalization but promotes an alternative that will allow us and the Earth to survive. Quite simply, human-centred governance systems are not working and we need new economic, development, and environmental policies as well as new laws that articulate an entirely different point of view from that which underpins most governance systems today. At the centre of this new paradigm is the need to protect natural ecosystems and to ensure the equitable and just sharing of their bounty. It also means the recovery of an old concept called the Commons.

The Commons is based on the notion that just by being members of the human family, we all have rights to certain common heritages, be they the atmosphere and oceans, freshwater and genetic diversity, or culture, language and wisdom. In most traditional societies, it was assumed that what belonged to one belonged to all. Many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, air, land, water and livelihood. Many modern societies extended the same concept of universal access to the notion of a social Commons, creating education, health care and social security for all members of the community. Since adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, governments are obliged to protect the human rights, cultural diversity and food security of their citizens.

A central characteristic of the Commons is the need for careful collaborative management of shared resources by those who use them and allocation of access based on a set of priorities. A Commons is not a free-for-all. We are not talking about a return to the notion that nature’s capacity to sustain our ways is unlimited and anyone can use whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. It is rooted rather in a sober and realistic assessment of the true damage that has already been unleashed on the world’s biological heritage as well as the knowledge that our ecosystems must be managed and shared in a way that protects them now and for all time.

Also to be recovered and expanded is the notion of the Public Trust Doctrine, a longstanding legal principle which holds that certain natural resources, particularly air, water and the oceans, are central to our very existence and therefore must be protected for the common good and not allowed to be appropriated for private gain. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, governments exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to sustain the essence of these resources for the long-term use and enjoyment of the entire populace, not just the privileged who can buy inequitable access.

The Public Trust Doctrine was first codified in 529 A.D. by Emperor Justinius who declared: “By the laws of nature, these things are common to all mankind: the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” U.S. courts have referred to the Public Trust Doctrine as a “high, solemn and perpetual duty” and held that the states hold title to the lands under navigable waters “in trust for the people of the State.” Recently, Vermont used the Public Trust Doctrine to protect its groundwater from rampant exploitation, declaring that no one owns this resource but rather, it belongs to the people of Vermont and future generations. The new law also places a priority for this water in times of shortages: water for daily human use, sustainable food production and ecosystem protection takes precedence over water for industrial and commercial use.

An exciting new network of Canadian, American and First Nations communities around the Great Lakes is determined to have these lakes names a Commons, a public trust and a protected bioregion.

Equitable access to natural resources is another key character of the Commons. These resources are not there for the taking by private interests who can then deny them to anyone without means. The human right to land, food, water, health care and biodiversity are being codified as we speak from nation-state constitutions to the United Nations. Ellen Dorsey and colleagues have recently called for a human rights approach to development, where the most vulnerable and marginalized communities take priority in law and practice. They suggest renaming the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals the Millennium Development Rights and putting the voices of the poor at the centre.

This would require the meaningful involvement of those affected communities, especially Indigenous groups, in designing and implementing development strategies. Community-based governance is another basic tenet of the Commons.

Inspiring Successes Around the Globe

Another crucial tenet of the new paradigm is the need to put the natural world back into the centre of our existence. If we listen, nature will teach us how to live. Again, using the issue I know best, we know exactly what to do to create a secure water future: protection and restoration of watersheds; conservation; source protection; rainwater and storm water harvesting; local, sustainable food production; and meaningful laws to halt pollution. Martin Luther King Jr. said legislation may not change the heart but it will restrain the heartless.

Life and livelihoods have been returned to communities in Rajasthan, India, through a system of rainwater harvesting that has made desertified land bloom and rivers run again thanks to the collective action of villagers. The city of Salisbury South Australia, has become an international wonder for greening desertified land in the wake of historic low flows of the Murray River. It captures every drop of rain that falls from the sky and collects storm and wastewater and funnels it all through a series of wetlands, which clean it, to underground natural aquifers, which store it, until it is needed.

In a “debt for nature” swap, Canada, the U.S. and The Netherlands cancelled the debt owed to them by Colombia in exchange for the money being used for watershed restoration. The most exciting project is the restoration of 16 large wetland areas of the Bogotá River, which is badly contaminated, to pristine condition. Eventually the plan is to clean up the entire river. True to principles of the Commons, the indigenous peoples living on the sites were not removed, but rather, have become caretakers of these protected and sacred places.

The natural world also needs its own legal framework, what South African environmental lawyer Cormac Culllinen calls “wild law.” The quest is a body of law that recognizes the inherent rights of the environment, other species and water itself outside of their usefulness to humans. A wild law is a law to regulate human behaviour in order to protect the integrity of the earth and all species on it. It requires a change in the human relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of democracy with other beings. If we are members of the earth’s community, then our rights must be balanced against those of plants, animals, rivers and ecosystems. In a world governed by wild law, the destructive, human-centred exploitation of the natural world would be unlawful. Humans would be prohibited from deliberately destroying functioning ecosystems or driving other species to extinction.

This kind of legal framework is already being established. The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that protection of natural lakes and ponds is akin to honouring the right to life – the most fundamental right of all according to the Court. Wild law was the inspiration behind an ordinance in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania that recognized natural ecosystems and natural communities within the borough as “legal persons” for the purposes of stopping the dumping of sewage sludge on wild land. It has been used throughout New England in a series of local ordinances to prevent bottled water companies from setting up shop in the area. Residents of Mount Shasta California have put a wild law ordinance on the November 2010 ballot to prevent cloud seeding and bulk water extraction within city limits.

In 2008, Ecuador’s citizens voted two thirds in support of a new constitution, which says, “Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights.” Bolivia has recently amended its constitution to enshrine the philosophy of “living well” as a means of expressing concern with the current model of development and signifying affinity with nature and the need for humans to recognize inherent rights of the earth and other living beings. The government of Argentina recently moved to protect its glaciers by banning mining and oil drilling in ice zones. The law sets standards for protecting glaciers and surrounding ecosystems and creates penalties just for harming the country’s fresh water heritage.

The most far-reaching proposal for the protection of nature itself is the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that was drafted at the April 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia and endorsed by the 35,000 participants there. We are writing a book setting out our case for this Declaration to the United Nations and the world. The intent is for it to become a companion document to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now as we begin to understand the urgent need to protect the earth and its ecosystems from which all life comes. The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth must become a history-altering covenant toward a just and sustainable future for all.

What Can We Do Right Now?

What might this mean for funders and other who share these values? Well, let me be clear: the hard work of those fighting environmental destruction and injustice must continue. I am not suggesting for one moment that his work is not important or that the funding for this work is not needed. I do think however, that there are ways to move the agenda I have outlined here forward if we put our minds to it.

Anything that helps bridge the solitudes and silos is pure gold. Bringing together environmentalists and justice activists to understand one another’s work and perspective is crucial. Both sides have to dream into being – together – the world they know is possible and not settle for small improvements to the one we have. This means working for a whole different economic, trade and development model even while fighting the abuses existing in the current one. Given a choice between funding an environmental organization that basically supports the status quo with minor changes and one that promotes a justice agenda as well, I would argue for the latter.

Support that increases capacity at the base is also very important, as is funding that connects domestic to international struggle, always related even when not apparent. Funding for those projects and groups fighting to abolish or fundamentally change global trade and banking institutions that maintain corporate dominance and promote unlimited and unregulated growth is still essential.

How Clean Water Became a Human Right

We all, as well, have to find ways to thank and protect those groups and governments going out on a limb to promote an agenda for true change. A very good example is President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who brought the climate justice movement together in Cochabamba last April and is leading the campaign at the UN to promote the Rights of Mother Earth.

It was this small, poor, largely indigenous landlocked country, and its former coca-farmer president, that introduced a resolution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation this past June to the UN General Assembly, taking the whole UN community by surprise. The Bolivian UN Ambassador, Pablo Solon, decided he was fed up with the “commissions” and “further studies” and “expert consultations” that have managed to put off the question of the right to water for at least a decade at the UN and that it was time to put an “up or down” question to every country: do you or do you not support the human right to drinking water and sanitation?

A mad scramble ensued as a group of Anglo-Western countries, all promoting to some extent the notion of water as a private commodity, tried to derail the process and put off the vote. The U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand even cooked up a “consensus” resolution that was so bland everyone would likely have handily voted for it at an earlier date. But sitting beside the real thing, it looked like what it was – an attempt, yet again, to put off any meaningful commitment at the UN to the billions suffering from lack of clean water. When that didn’t work, they toiled behind the scenes to weaken the wording of the Bolivian resolution but to no avail. On July 28, 2010, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to adopt a resolution recognizing the human right to water and sanitation. One hundred and twenty two countries voted for the resolution; 41 abstained; not one had the courage to vote against.

I share this story with you not only because my team and I were deeply involved in the lead up to this historic vote and there for it the day it was presented, but because it was the culmination of work done by a movement operating on the principles I have outlined above.

We took the time to establish the common principles that water is a Commons that belongs to the earth, all species, and the future, and is a fundamental human right not to be appropriated for profit. We advocate for the Public Trust Doctrine in law at every level of government. We set out to build a movement that listens first and most to the poorest among us, especially indigenous and tribal voices. We work with communities and groups in other movements, especially those working on climate justice and trade justice. We understand the need for careful collaborative cooperation to restore the functioning of watersheds and we have come to revere the water that gives life to all things upon the Earth. While we clearly have much left to do, these water warriors inspire me and give me hope. They get me out of bed every morning to fight another day.

I believe I am in a room full of stewards and want, then to leave you with these words from Lord of the Rings. This is Gandalf speaking the night before he faces a terrible force that threatens all living beings. His words are for you.

“The rule of no realm is mine, but all worthy things that are in peril, as the world now stand, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair, or bear fruit, and flower again in the days to come.

For I too am a steward, did you not know?” —J.R.R. Tolkien

© 2010 On the Commons All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Confounding Fathers
The Tea Party’s Cold War roots.

Glenn Beck’s view of American history stems from the paranoid politics of the fifties.

by Sean Wilentz
from the New Yorker
A few months ago, the cable-television and radio host Glenn Beck began his Fox News show with one of his favorite props: a pipe clenched between his teeth. “I’ve got my pipe,” he told his audience, his speech slightly muddled by the stem, “because we’re going to speak about schoolish kind of things.” The theme of the day was “Restoring History,” and Beck, looking professorial in a neat dark blazer and a pink button-down shirt, began the lesson by peering at a stack of history textbooks and pronouncing them full of falsehoods, produced by “malicious progressive intent.” Progressives, he explained—liberals, socialists, Communists, the entire spectrum of the left—“knew they had to separate us from our history to be able to separate us from our Constitution and God.” For the next hour, Beck earnestly explained some of the history that “is being stolen from us”: the depression of 1920, for example, or how conservative economics saved the nation from the “near-depression” of 1946—crises that progressives don’t want you to know about. “You’ve been taught one lie, I think, your whole life,” he said.

For the fractious Tea Party movement, Beck—a former drive-time radio jockey, a recovering alcoholic, and a Mormon convert—has emerged as both a unifying figure and an intellectual guide. One opinion poll, released in July by Democracy Corps, showed that he is “the most highly regarded individual among Tea Party supporters,” seen not merely as an entertainer, like Rush Limbaugh, but as an “educator.” And in the past few months Beck has established his own institute of learning: the online, for-profit Beck University. Enrollees can take courses like Faith 102, which contends with “revisionists and secular progressives” about the separation of church and state; Hope 102, an attack on the activist federal government; and the combined Charity 101/102/103, a highly restrictive interpretation of rights, federalism, and the division of powers.

During the “Restoring History” episode, Beck twice encouraged viewers to join his Web seminars, where they can hear “lessons from the best and brightest historians and scholars that we could find.” The B.U. faculty consists of three members, including one bona-fide academic, James R. Stoner, Jr., the chair of the political-science department at Louisiana State University; the other two are the head of a management consulting firm and the founder of WallBuilders, which the Web site calls “a national pro-family organization.” Beck himself often acts as a professor, a slightly jocular one, on his Fox News program. Surrounded by charts and figures, he offers explanations of current politics and history lessons about the country’s long march to Obama-era totalitarianism. The decline, he says, began with the Progressive era of the early twentieth century, in particular with the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, when both the Federal Reserve System and the graduated federal income tax came into existence. “Wilson,” Beck told his radio audience in August, “just despised what America was.”

Beck’s claims have found an audience among Tea Party spokesmen and sympathizers. At the movement’s Freedom Summit in Washington last September, one activist told a reporter, “The election between Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in 1912 was when it started going downhill.” And in April an angry member of the Tea Party Patriots group from Cape Fear, North Carolina, claimed on the group’s Web site that “the very things you see happening in this country today started with the Wilson Administration.”

At a Tax Day rally this past spring, the veteran conservative organizer Richard Viguerie described the Tea Party as “an unfettered new force of the middle class.” And, indeed, calling Obama a socialist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson is audacious enough to seem like the marker of a new movement—or, at least, a new twist in the nation’s long history of conspiracy-mongering. In fact, it marks a revival of ideas that circulated on the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the John Birch Society and among its admirers.

Beck’s version of American history relies on lessons from his own acknowledged inspiration, the late right-wing writer W. Cleon Skousen, and also restates charges made by the Birch Society’s founder, Robert Welch. The political universe is, of course, very different today from what it was during the Cold War. Yet the Birchers’ politics and their view of American history—which focussed more on totalitarian threats at home than on those posed by the Soviet Union and Communist China—has proved remarkably persistent. The pressing historical question is how extremist ideas held at bay for decades inside the Republican Party have exploded anew—and why, this time, Party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge those ideas, and a great deal to abet them.

The early nineteen-sixties were a turbulent time in American politics, for the right wing in particular. In the South, racist violence against civil-rights workers was constant, deepening sectional splits in the Democratic Party that would in time deliver the once solidly Democratic South to the Republicans. Southern elected officials, in support of what they called “massive resistance” to civil-rights laws and judicial rulings, resurrected the ideas of nullification and interposition, which claimed that individual states could void federal laws within their own borders. Others focussed on what they considered a fearsome Communist menace inside the United States. General Edwin A. Walker caused an enormous stir when he resigned from the Army in 1961, after President John F. Kennedy’s Pentagon reprimanded him for spreading right-wing propaganda among his troops and accusing prominent American officials of Communist sympathies. Senator Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat from South Carolina, spoke for many on the far right when he declared that various modestly liberal domestic programs “fall clearly within the category of socialism.”
Continue reading HERE

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Feds forced to admit that it's legal to take pictures of federal buildings

via BoingBoing
The New York Civil Liberties Union and Libertarian activist Antonio Musumeci just won a court case that affirms the right of photographers to take pictures and record video out front of federal courthouses. The US federal government settled the case by apologizing to Musumeci for his arrest, acknowledging that it is legal to record at courthouses, and promising to issue guidelines to federal officers explaining this fact to them.
"Not only will this settlement end harassment of photographers outside federal courthouses, it will free people to photograph and film outside of all federal buildings," said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. "The regulation at issue in this case applies to all federal buildings, not only courthouses, so this settlement should extend to photography near all federal buildings nationwide.
NYCLU Settlement Ends Restriction on Photography Outside Federal Courthouses

Monday, October 25, 2010

John Sinclair Freedom Rally: rare 1971 rock concert for your viewing pleasure

from DangerousMinds

Ten for Two: The John Sinclair Freedom Rally, directed by Steve Gebhardt is a filmed document of the John Sinclair benefit concert held in 1971.

John Sinclair managed the MC5 and was the founder of The White Panther Party. His uncompromising radical political stance made him a target of the U.S. government. He was busted in a sting operation for selling two joints to undercover cops. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Musicians, politicians, artists and friends organized a rally to bring attention to Sinclair’s unjust sentence. It worked. Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state’s marijuana statutes were unconstitutional.

Ten For Two was produced by John and Yoko, who also perform in it, and features Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Leni Sinclair, David Peel, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders, Bob Seger, Archie Shepp, Bobby Seale, The Steve Miller Band, Commander Cody, Stevie Wonder and more.

The rally was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan. John and Yoko came on at 3 a.m.

Why hasn’t this been released on DVD? Rumor has it that Yoko owns the rights to the film and won’t release it. In the meantime, this funky video is all I’ve been able to get access to.

Here’s an in-depth article on the concert here.

Part 1 kicks in at the 15 second point.

I'd like to add John Sinclair's "Guitar Army" is an incredible book from the man during the era. And his wife Leni shot some of the greatest band portraits of the MC5, I proudly own one.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Five Ways the Democrats Can Avoid a Catastrophe and Pull Off the Mother of All Upsets

By Michael Moore [back on October 1st]

The election is one month from tomorrow and, yes, it looks hopeless. November 2nd -- the day the Dems are expected to crash and burn.

Sadly, it's a situation the Democrats have brought upon themselves -- even though the majority of them didn't create the mess we're in. But they've had over a year and a half to start getting the job done to fix it. Instead, they've run scared ever since they took power. To many, the shellacking they're about to receive is one they deserve.

But if you're of a mindset that believes a return to 2001-2008 would be sheer insanity, then you probably agree we've got no choice but to save the Democrats from themselves.

Memo To: President Obama and the Democratic Party Leadership

From: Michael Moore

Subject: 5 Things Dems Can Do to Turn It Around by November 2nd

1. Immediate Wall-to-Wall TV Ads, Internet Videos, and Appearances Hammering Who the Hell Put Us in the Misery We're In.
We Americans have very short attention spans (Quick: Who Won the Oscar for Best Picture last year? The World Series? Exactly.). People need to be reminded over and over that it was the REPUBLICANS who concocted and led the unnecessary invasion of two countries, putting us in our longest war ever, wars that will eventually cost us over $3 trillion. Bush and Co. also caused the biggest collapse of our economy since the Great Depression. I don't know a single person in Hollywood who wouldn't shoot and produce those spots for you for FREE. Dems: Do not pull a single punch on this. Quit being a bunch of wusses and let the bastards have it! The public will be astonished that you've found your courage and your spine. We expect you to be Muhammad Ali, not Ally McBeal.

2. Indict the Criminals.
Announce that the Justice Department will seek indictments against both those who caused the economic collapse and those who became war profiteers. Call it for what it is: organized crime. Use the RICO statutes. Use the basic laws that make fraud of any kind a crime. Get in the face of those who stole the billions, make them pay for it -- and the people will love you. We want Dirty Harry, not Dirty Dancing.

3. Announce a Moratorium on All Family Home Foreclosures.
Last month (August) there were more home foreclosures than in any month in U.S. history. Worse than any month in the worst year ever, 2009. The bleeding hasn't stopped -- it's only gotten worse. And now, this week, two of the largest crime organizations who are throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes (GMAC and JPMorgan Chase) have been forced to momentarily stop doing this. It turns out, they don't really have the paperwork to prove they actually own these houses! It's madness. So if you do one thing for the middle class this week, do this. It will take an hour of your time to draw up the decree and issue it. We'd rather watch "It's a Wonderful Life" than "Poltergeist."

4. Announce a New 21st Century WPA.
"Who's hiring? THE GOVERNMENT IS HIRING!" Put together a simple plan to hire enough people to repair our roads, fix up our aging schools, and rebuild our infrastructure. Fund this by taxing the richest 1% who have more financial wealth than 95% of Americans combined! Unemployment will drop to 5%. Can you pass it? Well, you sure can't unless you try! And as you're trying, announce that you will force the Republican senators (who until now simply have had to say they "intended" to filibuster in order to kill a bill) to have to actually filibuster! Make them stand on the floor of the Senate and read from the phone book 24/7. They won't last a day. And America will see them for who they really are.

5. Declare That No Democrat Will Accept ANY Wall Street Money in the Next Election Cycle.
Pick a day in the coming week. Have all your fellow Democrats in Congress stand in front of the Capitol (with President Obama) and pledge that if America allows you to retain control of Congress, none of you will take a penny from Wall Street for the 2012 election. Instead, promise to accept donations of only $2, $5 and $10. You will also pledge not to take a job as a lobbyist or lawyer for ANY corporation for ten years after you leave Congress. The message will be a powerful one to the average American fed up with corrupt political hacks. Act like Honest Abe, not Fast Freddie -- and see what happens.

And here are two bonus suggestions: Use what sense of humor you have and go after these candidates and their agenda with all the hilarious ridicule they deserve. And quit complaining about "the base" not doing enough to help you. You want help? Do something this week to earn it. I've offered five suggestions. I'm sure the rest of "the base" has a few more.

UPDATE [Friday, October 1st, 8:52 PM]: The crime syndicate continues to crumble. Today we learned that Bank of America is joining JPMorgan Chase and GMAC in suspending foreclosures in 23 states after a BoA executive admitted she signed up to 8,000 documents -- in one month -- without even reading them. And on top of that, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has halted ALL foreclosures by ALL banks for 60 days in what the Washington Post calls "the most radical action taken by a state on issue of document irregularities." As Rep. Marcy Kaptur said in 'Capitalism: A Love Story,' "Don't leave your home. Because you know what? When those companies say they have your mortgage, unless you have a lawyer that can put his or her finger on that mortgage, you don't have that mortgage, and you are going to find they can't find the paper up there on Wall Street. So I say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes. Don't you leave." President Obama: Now do what Blumenthal has done.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Should Progressives Do Now? Here are 5 Important Forces to Consider

from The Nation via Alternet By Gara LaMarche and Deepak Bhargava
There are accomplishments to be celebrated and lessons to be learned from the intense period of history we have just lived through that can inform a comeback strategy.

Twenty-one months after Barack Obama was inaugurated on a wave of hope for change in America's politics and policies, at least two important and seemingly contradictory things can be said.

First, there has been a series of significant progressive reforms: an economic stimulus bill that contained far-reaching antipoverty, infrastructure, green jobs and conservation measures, and that is widely credited with pulling the economy from the brink; comprehensive healthcare reform that has eluded presidents of both parties for a century; and financial regulatory reform.

For progressives, each of these accomplishments are flawed—the stimulus could have been bigger, there could have been a public option in healthcare and more teeth in financial regulation—but they are long strides in the right direction, and given the near-total opposition of Republicans and the conservatism of key Democrats, this is an impressive substantive record that has made and will make a big difference in people's lives.

Second, the nation's politics are more toxic than ever. The president's approval ratings have fallen steadily, even if they may have bottomed out. Independents are said to be disillusioned, many Democrats are demoralized and Republicans are in the grip of an increasingly—there is no other way to say it but—crazy "base," ousting very conservative officeholders in favor of extremist Tea Party candidates who oppose virtually every role government plays.

That's where things stand today

Two Possible Scenarios

It seems likely, even beyond the usual midterm swings, that the Republicans will make significant electoral gains, perhaps retaking the House of Representatives and even the Senate. The only bulwarks against that could be a newly feisty president, a resurgent progressive movement energizing voters or the scary wackiness of many Republican candidates that simply renders them unelectable. But the latter point is not something to be sanguine about, given the election of waves of similarly "unelectable" candidates in 1980 and 1994—many of whom—like Orrin Hatch (R-UT)—now seem like virtual statesmen in the present political environment.

Under the best scenario we can imagine, with retained but narrower Democratic majorities, it is likely that the 2009–10 period of legislative reform, which progressives fought for vigorously, is over. It is possible that comprehensive immigration reform, which some see in the long-term interests of Republicans as well as Democrats, can be resurrected in a Congressional "lame duck" session or in 2011. But the Tea Party movement taking over the Republican Party has a strongly nativist flavor that makes this challenging, to say the least. The need to energize his core constituencies in the run up to the 2012 elections may make the president more open to dramatic uses of executive power to address issues that matter to progressives, but there is no question that it will be very difficult to enact sweeping legislation in a more closely divided Congress.

Under the worst scenario, Republican majorities, newly seeded with zealots, would take control of both houses of Congress, forcing the president and progressive advocates into a completely defensive posture in which the key tool available would be a veto pen. Republicans would likely unleash a tsunami of recrimination and investigation that, given the current state of political discourse, would make the post-1994 Congressional attacks on the Clinton administration look like the Era of Good Feelings.

In either scenario, how this country might address frightening and urgent national problems like climate change, growing inequality and worsening poverty is increasingly hard to imagine.

What Is the Story?

The rapid change in political climate has left us, like many advocates who have been involved in human rights and social justice issues for our entire careers, wondering what hit us. We have lost the story line.

We felt we knew it in the Bush years. America was in the grip of ideological warriors who wanted to roll back the social safety net, gutting the country's ability to meet basic human needs. They were assaulting science and academic freedom, dominating the deregulated media, squandering the country's moral standing by countenancing torture and detention without charges, and waging bloody, unnecessary wars for political gain.

We felt we knew the story line in 2008 and 2009. Though structural racism remained pervasive, it was possible to believe that we were making progress, as America was about to elect a black president. The economic crisis that was the consequence of tax and regulatory policies allowing banks to prey on the poor, coupled with the stark demonstration of antigovernment ideology in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, created a climate for fundamental change, maybe even a paradigm shift. With Obama's inauguration, what many called a "Rooseveltian" moment was at hand, ending a forty-year interruption in the country's long march to a humane society. Now, perhaps, universal healthcare could be added to New Deal and Great Society achievements like Social Security and Medicare, and progressive taxation and regulation restored.

We are trying to find the story line now, and indeed it is hard because, as we suggest in the opening paragraphs above, it remains to be fully written, like one of those "choose-your-own-ending" books for kids. What we are seeing may be the last desperate gasps of a dying order or a reassertion of the fundamental conservative nature of American politics, despite periodic moderate Democratic presidents (treated as if they were dangerous radicals) over the last two generations.

We got some of what we expected since that extraordinary morning in November 2008, and indeed a checklist approach to the accomplishments of the last twenty months would look pretty good. But it sure doesn't feel that way. The question is why?

In a strange way, given our own political leanings, we embrace some of the right-wing views of this moment while rejecting some liberal perspectives. The change represented by the election of a black president and the restoration, however modest, of a different approach to government, is threatening to powerful interests. They are rightly concerned. A recent New York Times article about the closeness of lobbyists to the possible House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH) [2], noted that they had relied on him for help in "combating fee increases for the oil industry, fighting a proposed cap on debit card fees, protecting tax breaks for hedge-fund executives and opposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions." Polluters and gougers have a pretty good idea of what is at stake.

As for the left, we need to be less dependent on the president—who has no magic wand—and move past the language of betrayal in which we are too often mired. For all the supposed preparation progressives did for a return to political power, we haven't figured out how to relate constructively to an actual government, with all its responsibilities and broader constituent obligations. If progressives cannot "own" landmark achievements like healthcare and financial reform, how on earth can we expect anyone else to?

For its part, it is also true that the Obama administration made serious mistakes: demobilizing its base for an insider style of governance, allowing the healthcare debate to go on too long without projecting a coherent narrative and, perhaps above all, failing to sufficiently address the jobs crisis that has created the conditions for a toxic culture of war politics to take root. Nonetheless, placing blame on tactical decisions misses the larger, deeper dynamics.

Five Realities to Consider

In thinking about how we went from the high of January 2009 to the low of the current moment, there are five interconnected realities that deserve deeper attention if we are to move beyond a discussion that is not simply about the supposed mistakes of Obama and the Democrats and the perfidy of their opponents.

If we are right, those of us who are working together to advance social justice will need to do a better job at moving past campaigns, or rather buttressing them, with initiatives that address these deeper factors.

Attitudes Toward Government

It is astonishing in a period of the manifest failure of free-market dogma that the principal target of populist ire has been overreaching by government. Looking at the current situation in historical perspective, the current backlash and the efforts of the Bush administration should be seen as just the most recent chapters in a sustained assault on government that goes back over forty years. Presidents Carter and Clinton operated within the antigovernment frame, Clinton going so far as to say that "the era of big government is over," and President Obama has done more, but not nearly enough, to challenge it. In retrospect, we were naïve to think that the damage done by forty years of delegitimization could be reversed even by the dramas of Hurricane Katrina and the market collapse. After the initial financial crisis seemed to have passed, President Obama found himself without a clear public mandate for a more robust government role [3], and containing and curbing government lies at the heart of the Tea Party movement, with no coherent counternarrative.

Political Structures

Hendrik Hertzberg, a staff writer at The New Yorker, summed this up well: "The prospects look pretty bleak just now and will probably look considerably bleaker after the midterm elections. The Obama experience, in my view, has highlighted the immensity of the structural barriers to reform—the ‘separation of powers,' the filibuster and other Senate horrors, federalism, the electoral system at all levels, the power of money. This is the sort of thing that is catching up with us, big time. Not a pretty picture."

Not too long into the stimulus and healthcare battles, once Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) had switched parties, it began to dawn on progressive advocates that the so-called filibuster-proof sixty-seat majority might be more imprisoning than liberating, converting the most conservative Democratic Caucus member—at times Ben Nelson of Nebraska, at times Joe Lieberman of Connecticut—into a virtual one-man government. The arcane Senate rules, including secret "holds" on bills and nominees, in the hands of a minority determined to block every administration initiative, began to loom larger as an obstacle to progressive reform. It was not enough to win elections: the very undemocratic nature of Congress needs to be fixed. Yet the prospects of doing this successfully remain daunting.

The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling earlier this year, invalidating restrictions on corporate funding of elections, turned a bright spotlight on the pervasive power of money in politics. It seemed in 2008 that perhaps small-donor "people power" could carry the day. But we saw in the big legislative battles of the past year—and we're seeing now in the 2010 elections—that the outpouring of special-interest money hasn't stopped. The floodgates opened by Citizens United suggest that any further progressive reform that involves economic interests may be stymied.

The Polarized Media

The 24-7 cable news environment, the proliferation of political blogs plying every angle of who's up and who's down, the increasingly polarized and personalized media bubbles that have made folk heroes of Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow to their vastly different, non-overlapping constituencies—all of these developments have made it significantly harder to govern, sustain an intelligent public discourse and address serious national problems.

The Tea Party itself grew out of the infamous town hall meetings of the summer of 2009, covered by the press as if a vast insurgency was taking off, though in fact supporters of healthcare often outnumbered opponents at those meetings. The ugly fight over the supposed Ground Zero mosque (though it is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero) was greatly amplified by disproportionate media coverage, and the pathetic Florida preacher who announced plans to burn a Koran commanded the airwaves for days on end prior to September 11 before some journalists began to question their own standards for coverage.

The trends exemplified by these incidents have been a longtime building, and will not be easily, if ever, reversed. In our view, insufficient attention has been given to the structural character of our media crisis. In other words, it is more than a question of whether, say, progressives have a perch on MSNBC that can counter the conservative domination of Fox. It is that, as in the broader economic realm, the deregulation of a community resource—the publicly allocated spectrum—has relieved broadcasters of any residual obligation for fairness, community service or balance.

If ever there was a moment to restore some measure of accountability—consistent with the First Amendment, of course—it would be at the dawn of a progressive administration, but no such efforts were ever seriously made, and no campaign seems to be in sight. Indeed, the relatively progressive head of the Federal Communications Commission has his hands full, in the face of adverse court rulings and intense corporate pressure, just to keep the Internet from becoming fully privatized.

In the face of this situation, it is all the more necessary that we step up discussion and consideration of means of information, education and persuasion that go around the traditional media, that utilize ethnic media, and social and organizing networks.

Community Organizing

When Obama was elected, while most progressive organizers were pleased, they reminded one another that having an impressive, progressive president was not enough, that organizing needed to continue to keep the administration true to its principles. Along with the oft-cited Rahm Emanuel quote that a crisis is a "terrible thing to waste," the most recycled story was one from the New Deal in which President Roosevelt is said to have told a group of labor leaders who came to pressure him on some measure: "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

And yet it soon became clear that too many did not appreciate how important the role of an engaged outside progressive movement would be. The triumphant Obama election campaign squandered weeks deciding what to do with the millions of supporters in its activist base—no other president took office with such a rich potential resource for governing—before deciding, fatefully, to lodge it in the Democratic Party and sap it of much of its energy. The entire early and critical debate on the economic stimulus, for example, took place with little effort to mobilize outside supporters.

At the same time, while the unprecedented organizing campaign on healthcare is seen as having made a critical difference, it was not sufficient to achieve the highest progressive goals like a public option. While we often cite the immigrant rights movement as one of the most sophisticated on the progressive side, with dynamic grassroots leadership, growing alliances, remarkable mobilization capacity and favorable political demographics—we seem further away at this moment from comprehensive reform than we were at the beginning of the year. Labor helped put Democrats in office, but is nowhere near its most sought-after objective, the Employee Free Choice Act. The same is true on climate change and gay rights—where the big, high-impact goals like cap-and-trade or repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remain elusive, despite the relative money and numbers of the environmental and LGBT movements—and dramatically so on civil liberties issues like closing Guantanamo. In the last few areas, public interest litigation has been the engine of what victories we have managed. Our side simply does not have enough power.

The State of Ideas

FDR was famous for his fireside chats, which helped the public understand the causes and remedies for the economic crisis of that era. President Obama, so good and steady at governing and managing, has fallen short in his use of the public platform that once seemed his greatest strength.

Not just on the stimulus, but on the leading economic issue of the day, the stubborn persistence of joblessness, the president and the Democrats have no consistent voice or policy, even allowing for the obstructionist, idea-less nature of their opposition. There is an almost complete absence of any overarching narrative from the progressive side to drive individual policy debates and to shape the national dialogue. We wonder if part of the reason is that progressive advocates have too little to say on the core economic justice issues of the moment. We have good policy proposals that would materially reduce suffering in the country—from state and local fiscal relief, to public job creation, to strengthening safety nets. But we lack a persuasive long-term vision for how to create good jobs that would address the fundamental moral and political questions that will grip the country for the next few years.

The resulting vacuum is not good for the administration, not good for the adequacy of progressive response to the major crisis of the time, not good for the people whose lives are being turned upside down and not good for the political fortunes of those who are expected to have something coherent to offer in response to the free-market, antitax dogma of the right. The fear and anxiety brought about by persistently high unemployment are devastating to all progressive advocacy efforts, even those unrelated to economic justice.

One area of real need for progressives is the ongoing necessity of an effective, progressive framework for national security. Though our organisations (Atlantic Philanthropies and Center for Community Change) are focused most intensely on domestic policy issues, many of our progressive allies have been demoralized by the lack of progress the Obama administration has made on civil liberties.

Developing a realistic and effective framework for progressives around national security is not just good politics—eliminating a popular cudgel ("the left is soft on national security") relied on by the right for generations—it is also essential, as we have largely ceded this ground and are offering few ideas that are included in the national security debate. It may be that with a far more polarized Congress at home, President Obama's next two years could be increasingly focused on foreign affairs. This presents an opportunity for the left to claim a seat at the table in unexpected ways.

The Road Ahead

So what might we do in the period ahead of us? There is much good in the social justice infrastructure that should be preserved and strengthened, and there is much that needs to be reinvented or created. A few directional thoughts:

First, the key strategic task in this era is movement building. Without a far stronger constituency for policy change, we will make no progress and perhaps suffer serious losses. This will involve building stronger capacity in key states and with key constituencies, and also experimenting with new approaches to movement building. The Obama campaign, the immigrant rights movement and the Tea Party—arguably the three biggest national movements of recent years—have several things in common: a clear national program and vision, deep investment in local organizing and especially on recruiting new people to the cause, and the use of new media and technology to keep people connected and active. We will need to dramatically strengthen organizing efforts to build public will in the years ahead.

Second, the issue of race is obviously central both to conservative backlash and to any prospect of progressive resurgence. The Obama administration has been unwilling and perhaps unable to speak cogently about the persistent racial divide in the country or to propose targeted measures to address structural disadvantage. The need for a strong and effective racial justice movement and agenda is arguably greater now than before Obama became president.

This will probably require several linked strategies: dramatically strengthening movement capacity in communities of color and relationships among communities of color; thinking seriously about how to engage white working-class communities; and developing new initiatives (perhaps centered on the jobs crisis) that, in John Powell's framing, keep both universalism and targeting to disadvantaged communities at the forefront. At the same time we pursue such deeper strategies, it seems essential that all of us see responding to backlash politics—whether the targets are Shirley Sherrod, immigrants, Muslims or whoever is next—as our responsibility.

Third, we will need to focus more on medium- to long-term efforts rather than solely on short-term campaigns. In social change efforts, there is a classic divide between those focused on the art of the possible and those devoted to changing what is possible. In the last two years, there has been a necessary and worthy concentration of effort on seizing the moment to secure critical policy changes in a narrow window of possibility. In the period ahead, there will be critical national policy debates that require our attention—on jobs, the deficit, social security and possibly immigration reform. But more attention will need to be devoted to changing hearts and minds, recruiting more supporters and developing intellectual capital.

Finally, a recalibration in the movement's relationship to the Obama administration seems in order. The bipolar tendencies of reflexive criticism or uncritical support will need to be replaced with a new approach that defines the critical task as creating the conditions in the country that would enable a renewal of the momentum for progressive change. Candidate Obama repeatedly told audiences that the campaign wasn't about him, and in a much-maligned phrase that "we are the ones we have been waiting for." Turns out, he was right. Outside movements have a different compass than politicians, and a little less focus on what Obama is or isn't doing might serve us well.

The times are difficult and the challenges are great. But a sober analysis of our current predicament suggests that there are accomplishments to be celebrated and lessons to be learned from the intense period of history we have just lived through that can inform a comeback strategy. As important as our analysis will be upholding the commitments that have always nurtured the progressive spirit: to resist despair, to press on in times of uncertain prospects and to take risks to make a path forward.

Gara LaMarche is president of The Atlantic Philanthropies and Deepak Bhargava is Director of the Campaign for Community Change.

© 2010 The Nation All rights reserved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Radical Christian Conservatives May Succeed in Destroying Democracy

from AlterNet
There will be no swastikas this time but seas of red, white and blue flags and Christian crosses. There will be no stiff-armed salutes, but recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes spent his life battling the assault on democracy by tyrants. It is disheartening to be reminded that he lost. But he understood that the hardest struggle for humankind is often stating and understanding the obvious. Aristophanes, who had the temerity to portray the ruling Greek tyrant, Cleon, as a dog, is the perfect playwright to turn to in trying to grasp the danger posed to us by movements from the tea party to militias to the Christian right, as well as the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens. He saw the same corruption 2,400 years ago. He feared correctly that it would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber.

There is a yearning by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They seek out of ignorance and desperation to create a utopian society based on “biblical law.” They want to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy. These radicals, rather than the terrorists who oppose us, are the gravest threat to our open society. They have, with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate money, gained tremendous power. They peddle pseudoscience such as “Intelligent Design” in our schools. They keep us locked into endless and futile wars of imperialism. They mount bigoted crusades against gays, immigrants, liberals and Muslims. They turn our judiciary, in the name of conservative values, over to corporations. They have transformed our liberal class into hand puppets for corporate power. And we remain meek and supine.

The huge amount of taxpayer money doled out to Wall Street, investment banks, the oil and natural gas industry and the defense industry, along with the dismantling of our manufacturing sector, is why we are impoverished. It is why our houses are being foreclosed on. It is why some 45 million Americans are denied medical care. It is why our infrastructure, from public schools to bridges, is rotting. It is why many of us cannot find jobs. We are being fleeced. The flagrant theft of public funds and rise of an obscenely rich oligarchic class is masked by the tough talk of demagogues, themselves millionaires, who use fear and bombast to keep us afraid, confused and enslaved.

Aristophanes saw the same psychological and political manipulation undermine the democratic state in ancient Athens. He repeatedly warned Athenians in plays such as “The Clouds,” “The Wasps,” “The Birds,” “The Frogs” and “Lysistrata” that permitting political leaders who shout “I shall never betray the Athenian!” or “I shall keep up the fight in defense of the people forever!” to get their hands on state funds and power would end with the citizens enslaved.

“The truth is, they want you, you see, to be poor,” Aristophanes wrote in his play “The Wasps.” “If you don’t know the reason, I’ll tell you. It’s to train you to know who your tamer is. Then, whenever he gives you a whistle and sets you against an opponent of his, you jump out and tear them to pieces.”

Our democracy, through years of war, theft and corruption, is also being diminished. But the example Aristophanes offers is not a hopeful one. He held up the same corruption to his fellow Greeks. He repeatedly chided them for not rising up and fighting back. He warned, ominously, that by the time most citizens awoke it would be too late. And he was right. The appearance of normality lulls us into a false hope and submission. Those who shout most loudly in defense of the ideals of the founding fathers, the sacredness of Constitution and the values of the Christian religion are those who most actively seek to subvert the principles they claim to champion. They hold up the icons and language of traditional patriotism, the rule of law and Christian charity to demolish the belief systems that give them cultural and political legitimacy. And those who should defend these beliefs are cowed and silent.

“For a considerable length of time the normality of the normal world is the most efficient protection against disclosure of totalitarian mass crimes,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” “Normal men don’t know that everything is possible, refuse to believe their eyes and ears in the face of the monstrous. ... The reason why the totalitarian regimes can get so far toward realizing a fictitious, topsy-turvy world is that the outside non-totalitarian world, which always comprises a great part of the population of the totalitarian country itself, indulges in wishful thinking and shirks reality in the face of real insanity. ...”

All ideological, theological and political debates with the representatives of the corporate state, including the feckless and weak Barack Obama, are useless. They cannot be reached. They do not want a dialogue. They care nothing for real reform or participatory democracy. They use the tricks and mirages of public relations to mask a steadily growing assault on our civil liberties, our inability to make a living and the loss of basic services from education to health care. Our gutless liberal class placates the enemies of democracy, hoping desperately to remain part of the ruling elite, rather than resist. And, in many ways, liberals, because they serve as a cover for these corporate extremists, are our greatest traitors.

Aristophanes too lived in a time of endless war. He knew that war always empowered anti-democratic forces. He saw how war ate away at the insides of a democratic state until it was hollowed out. His play “Lysistrata,” written after Athens had spent 21 years consumed by the Peloponnesian War, is a satire in which the young women refuse to have sex with their men until the war ends and the older women seize the Acropolis, where the funds for war are stored. The play called on Athenians to consider radical acts of civil disobedience to halt a war that was ravaging the state. The play’s heroine, Lysistrata, whose name means “Disbander of Armies,” was the playwright’s mouthpiece for the folly and self-destructiveness of war. But Athens, which would lose the war, did not listen.

The tragedy is that liberals and secularists, like Obama, are not viewed as competitors by the corporate forces that hold power, but as contaminates that must be eliminated. They have sought to work with forces that will never be placated. They have abandoned the most basic values of the liberal class to play a game that in the end will mean their political and cultural extinction. There will be no swastikas this time but seas of red, white and blue flags and Christian crosses. There will be no stiff-armed salutes, but recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. There will be no brown shirts but nocturnal visits from Homeland Security. The fear, rage and hatred of our dispossessed and confused working class are being channeled into currents that are undermining the last vestiges of the democratic state. These dangerous emotions, directed against a liberal class that as in ancient Athens betrayed the population, have a strong appeal. And unless we adopt the radicalism held by Aristophanes, unless we begin to hinder the functioning of the corporate state through acts of civil disobedience, we are finished.

Let us not stand at the open gates of the city meekly waiting for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, like Aristophanes, begin to call our tyranny by its name.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

This article first appeared on TruthDig.
© 2010 Truthdig All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Atheists Debate How Pushy to Be

from the New York Times By MARK OPPENHEIMER
LOS ANGELES — Energized by a recent Pew Research Center poll showing that atheists are more educated about religion than religious people, 370 atheists, humanists and other skeptics packed a ballroom at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel last weekend to debate the future of their movement.

They agreed on two things: People can be good without religion, and religion has too much influence. But they disagreed about how stridently to make those claims.

The conference, sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism, drew members from all the major doubters’ organizations, including American Atheists and the American Humanist Association. The largely white and male crowd — imagine a Star Trek convention, but older — came to hear panels that included several best-selling atheist pamphleteers, like Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” and Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith” and is a rock star in the atheist world (he traveled with bodyguards because he receives death threats from both Christians and Muslims).

The conference came on the heels of a change in leadership at the council and a rumored rift there, which some described as a standoff between atheists, who focus on God’s nonexistence, and humanists, who are also nonbelievers but seek an alternative ethical system, one that does not depend on any deity.

Some of the weekend’s speakers alluded to the turmoil at the council, where several longtime employees have resigned or been laid off. But in general they emphasized unity: They shared common enemies, like religious fundamentalism and “Intelligent Design.” And they believed morality was possible without God.

The presenters did differ on where a secular morality might come from. In his new best seller, “The Moral Landscape,” Mr. Harris argues that morality is a product of neuroscience. (The good, he argues, is that which promotes happiness and well-being, and those states are ultimately dependent on brain chemistry.) Others believe morality is bequeathed by evolution, while still others would argue for ethics grounded in secular philosophy, like Immanuel Kant’s or John Rawls’s. But all agreed that nonbelievers are at least as moral as believers, and for better reasons.

The disagreement was not, then, between atheism and humanism. It was about making the atheist/humanist case in America. A central question was, “How publicly scornful of religion should we be?”

Here even the humanists got less humane, as each side stereotyped the other. Those trying to find common ground with religious people were called “accommodationists,” while the more outspoken atheists were called “confrontationalists” and accused of alienating potential allies, like moderate Christians.

At the liveliest panel, on Friday night, the science writer Chris Mooney pointed to research that shows that many Christians “are rejecting science because of a perceived conflict with moral values.” Atheists should be mindful of this perception, Mr. Mooney argued. For example, an atheist fighting to keep the theory of evolution in schools should reassure Christians that their faith is compatible with modern science.

“They resist evolution because they think everyone will lose morals,” Mr. Mooney said. “Knowing this, why would you go directly at these deeply held beliefs?”

The panel must have been organized by someone mischievous, because the next speaker was the biologist and blogger PZ Myers — a confrontationalist, to put it mildly. In 2008, to make a stand for freedom of speech, he publicly desecrated a Communion wafer, a Koran and (for good measure) a copy of Mr. Dawkins’s book “The God Delusion.” He likes to say that he tries to commit blasphemy every day.

“I have been told that my position won’t win the creationist court cases,” Mr. Myers said. “Do you think I care? I didn’t become a scientist because I want to impress lawyers.

“The word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars,’ ” he added.

That seemed close to the view held by the physicist Victor Stenger, the last speaker. He accused those who live without God of cowardice: “It’s time for secularists to stop sucking up to Christians” and other religious people, he said.

Afterward, Mr. Mooney and Mr. Myers quarreled about a figure frequently cited as living proof of accommodation between science and religion: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. In the past, Mr. Myers has called Mr. Collins “a clown” because of his religious beliefs.

According to Mr. Mooney, Mr. Collins, who was not at the conference, is an important ally for atheists: a leading proponent of the theory of evolution and a supporter of embryonic stem cell research. “By what metric is that a clown?” he asked.

“When it comes to the way he’s thinking about science, everything I’ve read that he’s written has been complete garbage,” Mr. Myers replied, adding later that he “will continue to call him a clown.”

But for many in the audience, Mr. Collins’s clown status was not the pertinent issue.

Rather, as atheists in a very religious country, they were looking for solidarity.

For example, I had lunch on Saturday with two young lovers who met earlier this year at “Generation Atheist,” a meet-up for young people at a pub in Hollywood, where they had gone looking for like minds.

“I’m not ‘out’ at my workplace,” said the woman, Claire, a 27-year-old arts administrator who asked that her last name not be used. “Because most people think atheists have no morals, I could damage the organization if I’m honest about where I stand on the issue,” she said.

Mr. Myers and other “confrontationalists” surely do alienate some potential Christian allies. But they may also give comfort to people like Claire, who feel like an invisible minority. Mr. Myers is way out of the closet as an atheist — proudly, outrageously so. We’re here, he’s saying. And we don’t believe. And we have science and reason on our side. Get used to it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Angela Davis: the 40th Anniversary of Her Arrest and President Obama’s First Two Years

Cool interview from Democracy Now:

For over four decades, Angela Davis has been one of most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States. An icon of the 1970s black liberation movement, her work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements for years. She is a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a fugitive on the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted list forty years ago. Davis rose to national attention in 1969 when she was fired as a professor from UCLA as a result of her membership in the Communist party and her leading a campaign to defend three black prisoners at Soledad prison. Today she is a university professor and the founder of the group Critical Resistance, a grassroots effort to end the prison-industrial complex. This year she edited a new edition of Frederick Douglass’s classic work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. We spend the hour with Angela Davis and play rare archival footage of her.