December 29, 2006

The 2006 You Didn’t Hear About

As 2006 draws to a close, there’s plenty of good news from the progressive front, including a groundswell of progressive activism around the world as well as at home that made significant inroads towards creating a more understanding, culturally and globally aware and involved society. Sounds like a utopian dream, but it’s nothing of the sort-people around the globe are beginning to realize that people in power can hardly be trusted with their well being, and they’re taking the matter into their own hands, either to steer the direction of their governments, or to carve out a better future for themselves:

On December 31, 2005, Black Mesa Coal shut down its mine on indigenous land in Arizona because that mine fed all its coal — as water-depleting slurry pumped 300 miles across the desert — to the Mojave Power Station that cranked out obscene quantities of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and all manner of other nasty things during the decades of its operation. The mainstream media played it as a jobs story; the alternative media mostly missed what had a decade earlier been a big environmental cause.

In February indigenous leaders, forest activists and logging companies reached a historic deal that protected five million acres outright and limited logging on another 10 million acres of the Great Bear Wilderness in north-coast British Columbia. That’s an area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park wholly preserved with another four or so Yellowstones protected — and not just set aside as national parks are, but put under the joint jurisdiction of the First Nations people from the region and of the provincial government.

it doesn’t end there, though. From the election of Evo Morales-Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Nigerian courts demanding their people’s due from Shell’s exploitation of their land, and the banding together of several central asian (former Soviet) nations forswearing nuclear weapons altogether, there were additional victories to be proud of, from immigrants’ rights (truly, human rights) to domestic wins for a cause dear to my heart, Net Neutrality:

There were domestic victories on other fronts. One major U.S. citizen achievement was the October defeat of attempts to privatize and jack up usage fees on the Internet, despite $200 million in corporate spending on the issue. A new grassroots movement defeated the telecom industry’s attempt to take over this major new zone of global communication for its own profit. A minor but sweet victory for independent thinking and bold opposition was Stephen Colbert’s April dressing down of the Bush Administration, to the president’s face, at the White House Press Corps dinner. The mainstream media, also excoriated by the bold Colbert, ignored the spectacular verbal attack until the alternative media made the story impossible to ignore. Such trajectories — major stories investigated, exposed and explained by the alternative media until the mainstream can no longer ignore the news — are one of the reasons why net neutrality matters.

We’ve accomplished a lot, with our support, our momentum, our blogging, our financial contributions, our awareness, and of course, our vote. Now we have to keep up the pressure, pushing for the positive social change, protection of our planet and the environment for the sake of ourselves and our children, and creating a more safe and stable society both at home and abroad. The work will continue next year, but for a change, we can look back on some of our accomplishments and be happy about them.

[ The 2006 You Didn’t Hear About ]
Source: AlterNet

Here are the Christians!

William Fisher’s last piece for TruthOut was incredibly evocative, and I wasn’t the only one with whom it resonated deeply. I worry for the future of the church, and for Christianity in general, if the conservative evangelicals-frequently known to forsake the tenets of Christianity in order to impose morality or control lives-are allowed to continue to be the mouthpieces of the entire religion. William Fisher asked, when it came to racism and hatred, bigotry and ignorance, “Where are the Christians?”

And he recieved several incredibly thoughtful responses that I’d like to highlight as well as Fisher did, because his article resonated with me so much. The responses he recieved are enlightening and very heartening:

Reverend Joy A. Bergfalk, of Life Listening Resources at Labyrinth House in Rochester, N.Y., wrote, “We progressives … do not have the finances of the Religious Right. We do not have Big Business and Sun Myung Moon to back us, and the oil industry is certainly not with us. That kind of money goes to those who will let the corporate world take over America. Plus, we tend to try to use our finances to change the world by helping it.”

In answer to my “Where Are the Christians?” question, Rev. Bergfalk wrote, “We are almost all of the places where peacemaking is going on. We are at marches and rallies. We are at our computers writing responses, letters to Congress and whomever we can. I have written a response to Goode’s statements. There was no way to email it to him from outside of Virginia, so I have prepared a letter to be sent to each of his five offices.”

She added, “And we are speaking out in churches and from the pulpits. I think my parishioners now realize that Muslims and Christians worship the same God by different names.”

And she closed with, “We may not be as obnoxious and flamboyant as the Religious Right, but we are here and active. Maybe if people would quit leaving the church in reaction to right wingers, the church would be a stronger force for change in our world.”

More readers responded:

One reader wrote, “The attempt to conflate Islamophobia with immigration reform is laughable, except I can only imagine that we’ll only see more of it from the Right. Once they come up with an intellectually unfounded conflation of issues, they tend to use it relentlessly until it takes hold in the minds of enough people for it to enter the cultural discourse (see their attempts to claim that all gays are pedophiles).”

Another wrote, “No matter what nonsense Congressman Virgil Goode spouts, he’ll continue to be reelected by his constituency of good-ole-boys from Franklin County, Virginia. I live in a Congressional district adjacent to Goode’s so I know whereof I speak. Please, please let’s all allow good ole Virge to keep on writing and speaking as he pleases. The more Rep. Goode writes and says to expose his own narrow-minded ignorance, the more progressives will feel emboldened to vote against his willful stupidity.”

And yet another said, “It is truly sad that the people of Goode’s district and believe me, there are many, many good people in that district, aren’t standing up and demanding either a retraction of his remarks or his removal from office … The former bastion of the Confederacy lingers with those like Goode who have no respect or tolerance for anyone different from them.”

I can’t begin to explain how much hope this gives me for the church. If more people like this stood up in this fashion, I think the church could well again be a unifying force for measured and moral progress and understanding, as opposed to the divisive and intolerant behavior we’ve seen in recent times. Fisher states that at this point these voices, while admirable, are voices in the wilderness, but I disagree. I hope that these voices are actually a silent majority, ill and tired of voices like Falwell and Dobson leading their congregations and demanding everyone conform to their personal interpretations of the faith and their own belief systems.

I can only hope that one day that silent majority becomes the vocal one it deserves to be.

[ Here Are The Christians! ]
Source: TruthOut

December 27, 2006

Where Are the Christians?

TruthOut writer William Fisher says this in perhaps the most succinct and intelligent terms, so I’ll let him lead off his own piece:

It’s not rocket science to understand why Republicans have gone into hibernation on the issue of Rep. Virgil Goode’s outrageous rant against his fellow Congressman, Keith Ellison – the first Muslim ever elected to either legislative house – who wants to take his oath on the Quran.

After all, Goode is one of their own. He’s from the same party that brought us George Allen’s “Macaca Moment” and the flirtatious “Call Me” tagline from a cute white blonde in a campaign commercial in the recent senate race against black Rep. Harold Ford.

To refresh your memory, Goode is the congressman who wrote his constituents: “If American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran in his personal private ceremony.”

Immigration? What has a single Muslim congressman got to do with immigration? Easy. If you’ve learned anything from Messrs. Bush and Cheney over the past six years, it’s that conflating wildly unrelated issues can get people so spooked that it works. The president and the veep did it with Iraq and 9/11. Goode does it with an unofficial swearing-in and dark visions of illegals pouring across our borders. If we don’t stop Rep. Ellison from taking his oath on a Quran, the numbers of illegal Muslim immigrants will become a tsunami.

Never mind that the real swearing-in is administered to new members of Congress en masse and without any holy book at all.

It’s important to remember that Goode is refusing to apologize for his statements, doesn’t care to hear public discontent and outcry at his hateful talk so he shut down his email address and slapped voicemail on his phone lines, and essentially insulated himself against a backlash he knew would come. All behavior that’s decidedly un-Christian, so where are the evangelicals on this one? Racism and bigotry is somehow more acceptable than violent videogames and smutty television?

I remember reading comments on a conservative blog post about the Macaca moment decrying George Allen, with the well-meaning commenter stating “This is inexcusable! See, this is why the American people think that the right is weak on issues of race!” See-the commenter is mostly right-it is inexcusable, and it is behavior like that that makes the right appear to be weak on issues of race, but it’s deeper than that: the right appears weak on issues of race because they are weak on issues of race.

There’s no getting around this fact-racism, religious intolerance, gender bias, and good old fearmongering and xenophobia are deeply rooted in the conservative body politic, and before Republicans and conservatives can truly convince people of color and minorities of both ethnic and religious groups in America to vote their way, they’ll have to do more than put up a few token minority candidates, (mostly an effort to garner votes in precincts where minority votes are necessary, or to maneuver around their own party history) they’ll have to excise the bigoted cancer from their ranks. The real question is whether there’ll be a Republican party left, or a conservative “base” once that intolerance is gone.

[ Where Are the Christians? ]
Source: TruthOut

December 26, 2006

Surging To Defeat In Iraq

The buzzword with regard to the “new ideas” to try and contain the madness in Iraq is to “surge,” championed mostly by John McCain, the republican that’s most likely to be the republicans’ stand-up for the presidency in 2008. The idea is simple, send about 40,000+ more troops to Iraq in order to “calm” the violence in Baghdad and Anbar Province, only as long as needed to calm the violence there. Now the vast majority of those people studying the war agree that there’s no definitive evidence that a troop “surge” would do anything to calm the violence whatsoever, but the logic is there-instead of cleaning up a neighborhood and moving on to allow insurgents to fill in behind you, American troops can fill in, clean up the streets, and hang out until there are enough Iraqi security forces to fill in themselves.

Small problem-it’s an oversimplified solution to a complicated problem. Corruption in the security forces, from the top levels to the soldiers and policemen on the ground, insurgents fighting off both American troops and Iraqi security, kidnappings, torture, and mass graves just to name a few, all present issues that an increased military presence won’t resolve. Additionally, those troops will have to leave at some point, and when they do, the insurgents that were waiting in the wings during the “surge” will fill in after the “surge.” What’s needed in Iraq is a political solution, by a valid and strong government with the power to, for example, control its own security forces-that brings all of the stakeholders and interested parties to the table for discussion.

Unfortunately, the violence won’t end until all the parties fighting, both in the halls of government and on the streets, feel that have a role to play and an opportunity to prosper in the new Iraq, and it doesn’t take a policy analyst from a Washington thinktank to figure this out. Sadly, it’s been said several times but the Administration simply won’t listen to the voices of those who know, and the Administration is too full of its own hubris to admit that it has made any mistakes and needs to rethink its policy. Currently the party line is that the Administration only needs to rethink its position as much as it believes it should, in order to make sure they were right all along. It’s a frightening prospect.

Still, the idea of a “surge,” or sending even more troops into harms way without any evidence or support to show that such a move is a good idea, is the hot topic around Washington these past few weeks, and an excellent piece at TomPaine.com by venerable voices W. Patrick Lang and Ray McGovern, lay out the rationale why a “surge” is a horrible idea, and while the Administration may talk about it in terms of “winning” and “victory,” the exact opposite is likely to be the result.

[ Surging To Defeat In Iraq ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Contraception Saves Money and Marriages

Something that seems like common sense to the vast majority of us is unfathomable nonsense to the evangelical right-the notion that by being able to freely engage in sexual behavior-as consenting adults have the right to do and to agree to do, religion or no-but retain the basic human right to decide when and how to have a family and raise children, is something that empowers couples, saves them from financial ruin raising children that they may not be prepared to raise, and alleviating stress and friction in their relationships by giving them the freedom to love, be loved, and make love, while deciding when and how to raise a family.

… Another truth is that when the birth control revolution got underway, women waited to marry and start a family. In 1970, the average age of a new mother was 21 years old. By 2000, the average age was 28. Harvard researchers recently reported that legalization of contraception is directly linked to the spike in the number of women becoming more highly educated and entering the “career” professions. In 1970, 5 percent of all lawyers and judges were women; today there are six times that. In 1970, one in 10 physicians was female, today it’s one in three. Similar patterns are true for women architects, dentists, veterinarians, economists and women in most of the engineering fields.

Few women today would trade places with the typical 1950s woman and mother, the one fervently idealized by so-called “pro-family” groups. In the 1950s, women didn’t approach parity with men in education and, guess what, their housework time was constant — despite having new “time-saving” technologies. This was the era in which birth rates soared and doubled the time devoted to child care. And with women assigned to endless tasks of the home, men shouldered the full responsibility of supporting the family economically. One dire consequence was that one in four Americans in the mid-1950s lived in poverty. By the end of the 1950s, one in three American children lived in poverty.

Not surprisingly, researchers in the ’50s found that less than one in three married couples reported being happy or very happy with their relationship. Compare that to today, when 61 percent of married Americans report themselves to be “very happy” in their marriage. Part of the sour spouse problem of the ’50s was that many couples didn’t really want to be married to each other. Often, they were trapped into marriage by unintended pregnancy. With no sex-ed, no birth control, no legal abortion — the exact legislative agenda of today’s pro-life movement! — teen birth rates soared, reaching highs that have not been equaled since: there were twice as many teen mothers in the ’50s than today.

Sounds about right to me-the “good old days” apparently aren’t what they “used” to be.

[ Contraception Saves Money and Marriages ]
Source: AlterNet

Save the Internet: Independance Day

The fine folks at Save The Internet, champions of Net Neutrality, have put together a new video underscoring how important it is to not necessarily breathe easier now that a more web and consumer-friendly Congress is coming into office, and how there’s plenty of work to be done to ensure that the basic principles of the free-market and free-access business reach to the internet, as opposed to the sweetheart deals that the large telecommunications companies are looking to secure. Check out the video:

[ Save The Internet: Independence Day ]
Source: Save The Internet (courtesy of YouTube)

December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays from Not So Humble!

Happy Holidays, all! Regardless of what you’re celebrating this holiday season, or if you’re celebrating it all, we wish you a safe, joyous, and restful holiday season, full of laughter and good cheer with friends and family.

And because we simply can’t have a non-political post, here’s a carol from our friends at the ACLU:

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
Friends of Freedom knew it was a special occasion.
Lady Liberty stood taller just off the shore
Her torch shining brighter than a few weeks before

But it wasn’t the flame turning her cheeks all rosy
It was thoughts of Snowe, Feingold and Nancy Pelosi
And leaders from every side of the aisle
Who would soon bring the Bill of Rights back into style.

(more…)

December 13, 2006

“War on Christmas” Redux: Evangelical Boogaloo

On NPR a few nights ago, I was regaled by the story of a Seattle area airport who, when approached by a rabbi who asked if it would be alright to erect a menorah to be part of the holiday festivities along with the numerous Christmas trees around the airport, was apparently so revolted by the idea that they not just denied the request, but insulted the rabbi in the process. The rabbi is part of a well known organization that works to show off menorahs in a multitude of public ceremonies, from other airports all the way to the one in the White House, but for some reason, the Seattle-Tacoma airport felt it was above such consideration. That’s where the airport was wrong.

But where the rabbi misstepped was when he threatened to sue the airport for its obvious display of grinchly lack of holiday cheer. Like the commentator who reflected on the incident at NPR, he fell right into the hands of the kinds of people who denied him in the first place, looking for an excuse to rile up the foot soldiers in the religious right’s so-called “war on Christmas,” where apparently the dominant and privileged religion in the United States is somehow under attack by other people who have the sheer audacity to want to share in the joys of the season. It was a bait and switch, pure and simple, and unfortunately, the best solution would have been to chalk up the airport to sharing little with the season aside from the Grinch’s small heart, and to move on.

So what did the rabbi do? He eventually dropped the threat, and the Christmas trees went back up. Hooray-except the airport continues to claim they did the right thing by denying anyone else the right or privilege of sharing their holidays joys with the community, even if they paid for it (as the rabbi’s organization offered to do) because-and get this-then they would have to open the door to other religions and beliefs. Heaven forbid, so to speak, that we be inclusive rather than exclusive. But then, this is the same debate we’ve been having with communities that have been privileged on the basis of race, power, prejudice, gender, or religion, for years: being exclusive only serves to make yourself feel good and drive others away. We’ve forgotten our kindergarten lessons: being inclusive makes us all stronger.

Still, the commentator at NPR is Jewish, and shares her own perspective on the issue, and I think it’s well worth hearing. I’ve heard little about the so-called “war on Christmas” this year, usually because I leave the conservative talk shows to the same fate as the rest of the garbage in my home, but I’m sure the “war” is raging out there somewhere, especially in the hearts of the evangelicals who fear sharing the public stage with anyone different. Still, I was incredibly amused by this specific report from the “front lines.”

[ An Airport Gets Its Tree Up, but Misses an Opportunity (Audio) ]
Source: National Public Radio

Revisiting Net Neutrality

Let’s revisit the topic of net neutrality. Morgan Freeman, for example, apparently knows net neutrality, since he’s launching an internet-based movie download service, which promises to require bandwidth and customers with broadband connections. And so do we, thankfully, and we know full well that net neutrality is the best possible thing for the internet at this time-a continuation of the status quo, the nondiscrimination between pieces of information on the internet, and the refusal to allow telecommunication companies and internet service providers (ISPs) discriminate on what services you or I recieve based on who they can manage sweetheart deals with, and then charge us for the privilege of making more money. It doesn’t work that way, and I think most people would definitely agree.

We see those faux “citizens groups” and “grassroots campaigns” (like the groups calling themselves “Hands Off the Internet” and “NetCompetition.org” and so on, playing on the scare-word “regulation” to try and get their points across) funded by the telecomms in order to seed doubt among people that somehow net neutrality will end in higher prices and somehow foolishly wealthy silicon valley fatcats and are endlessly amused by the irony of telecomm executives, who are much fatter than any cat in silicon valley calling the kettle black, so to speak, and wonder if the higher prices will come to pass-knowing that if they do, the only reason they will is because the telecomm companies and ISPs will punish their subscribers and customers for demanding a fair and impartial internet.

The flow of information across the internet has grown too large and too important to be stifled and controlled by corporate boardroom interests. It’s grown too large and too important to be controlled by any one government, I’ll say in the same breath, but I’d trust the government, representative of the people, to look out for those interests long before I’ll trust a boardroom CEO who’ll make millions in kickbacks and bonuses if they buddy up with their friends while punishing the rest of us.

To boil it down even further:

Net neutrality—an unfortunate term that has only its alliterative qualities to recommend it—is nothing more than carrying over the concept of non-discrimination from the telecom regulations the FCC threw out last year. Net neutrality basically means that Verizon or AT&T can’t cut a special deal to make one movie service work faster than another. If it offers that capability to one, it has to offer to all. It means that if AT&T offers an Internet telephony service, it can’t favor its own over that of a competitor. There’s nothing terribly complicated about that.

Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge, a public interest group working at the intersection of information and technology policy, has more to say about the roots of net neutrality and where sensible technology policy should go from here. Here’s a hint: that direction should be steered by the growth and necessity of the Internet, and its necessity to everything from education to entertainment-not by the profit margins of telecommunications firms.

[ Morgan Freeman’s Internet Issues ]
Source: TomPaine.com

December 10, 2006

Ten Fallacies About the Violence in Iraq

John Tirman writes an excellent and timely piece for Alternet that explains and disavows several fallacies about Iraq, especially some of the strategies that Preisdential hopeful John McCain espouses, like the “more troops, at least for a short time” strategy in Iraq. Tirman explains that the “go big” strategy has no backing or evidence behind it that would prove that it might work, or quell the violence, or make any difference whatsoever except to put more Americans in harms way and give the Iraqi government more excuses to not take control of their own political process and power struggles, and the idea that the insurgency is somehow about American politics, as though before bombings people are glued to American news channels to make sure their work will have the most impact on American politics. He also bristles against the commonly retold fallacy, that the American troop presence is the only thing keeping the country from dissolving into chaos and a humanitarian crisis, instead giving weight to the prospect that the absence of American troops might remove the impetus for violence in the most violent regions of the country-and also provide the necessary impetus for Iraqi authorities and security services to move in and fill the gap themselves-a trial by fire to protect their own country, if you will.

Still, I’m not entirely sure if Tirman is absolutely correct in all of his assessments, but he does point the finger at some of the most commonly used justifications for the current state of the war in Iraq, and at some of the most popular strategies to “clean up” the mess.

[ Ten Fallacies About the Violence in Iraq ]
Source: Alternet