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Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying: (Not So) Funny Business

by Justin Krebs

Instead of a joke or a video today, Laughing Liberally wants to share a true story that's a little sad at first and then a little happy.

Comedians are always looking for breaks.  Part of why Laughing Liberally formed was to give comedians a forum for smart, political humor that was often frowned upon in comedy clubs.  So, you'd think we'd be overjoyed by this invitation from ABC News

ABC News Research Team has discovered your website and we wanted to extend this exciting opportunity to you.

...

Send us your VIDEO joke because we're going to take the best submissions and air them on Sunday, November 18th as part of This Week's 'Funnies'.

A chance for national exposure...so why aren't our comedians laughing with joy?  Because of the part of the message from ABC I left out:

The Writers strike has forced most of the late night comedy shows into re-runs. But that doesn't mean the political humor has to stop- You be the comedian!

We at This Week are looking for YOU to help fill the void!

"The void" = "The workforce." In short, they wanted us to become scabs.

I was indecisive:  We're not in the business of strike-breaking.  But I also wanted all of the hard-working comedians who rarely get the shot they deserve to make their own decision, and so we forward the message to them.

And the comedians of Laughing Liberally refused.  Baratunde Thurston sent back the guild rules he chose to respect.  Lee Camp sarcastically suggested it was a great opportunity for someone who didn't want a career in writing.  And as Katie Halper commented:

Isn't this clearly scabbing? Am not being sarastic here, but is there anything I don't know about the strike that would make this anything but scabbing? Of course i love publicity, but we are laughing liberally, not scabbily.

The writers' strike is an important fight, as Jane Hamsher and Matt Stoller have both noted.  We on the Left need to pay attention to it:  to talk about the excesses of corporatocracy, about the rules and roles of new media...and about the respect you give professionals who strike.

You don't cross the picket line.

As Living Liberally's Josh Bolotsky noted:  "Laughing Conservatively wouldn't face this kind of moral dilemma."

PS:  ABC wrote to us from the email account: [email protected]  So we talked back.  I'm sure they'd love to hear from you too.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought: American Way Gone Astray?

by Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

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Dennis Kucinich and Alan Greenspan haven't got a lot in common, but they agree that when it comes to the war in Iraq, "It's the oil, stupid," as Beltway bellower John McLaughlin put it on his show yesterday. McLaughlin aired a clip from the recent Democratic presidential debate in which Kucinich said:

Everyone knows that the war against Iraq was about oil. This administration is trying to gain control of Iraq's oil with the help of Congress...

Then, McLaughlin read a quote from Greenspan:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.

Yes, and I am saddened that we're sending Americans off to die so the rest of us can continue to live large.

McLaughlin noted that Iraq has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, an estimated 300 billion barrels, and that if Iraq's parliament passes the oil law drafted by the Bush administration, American companies will control 63 of Iraq's 80 known oil fields for the next thirty years.

Back in 1954, when Armistice Day was rebranded Veterans Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon all Americans to observe November 11th as follows:

On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.

Our current administration prefers to promote enduring access to cheap gas and billions of dollars in government contracts to well-connected cronies. And our heritage of freedom's been slaughtered on the altar of 9/11, turning us into a tortured--and torturing-- nation.

In the parting speech of his presidency, Eisenhower warned of "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power" from the military-industrial complex that's gotten us into our current fossil-fueled fiasco:

Fifty Two Weeks

Fifty-two Tuesdays from today, Americans will go to the polls.  As the campaigns and other big institutional players spend hundreds of millions to get us to vote, there are lessons from past cycles that we hope they keep in mind:  that they don't need to reinvent the wheel, that effective electoral initiatives should support lasting infrastructure and...in the Living Liberally spirit...that some of the best ways to get people to vote are social.

Below are a few projects that got it right.  These programs in particular aren't necessarily the right ones for 2008, but they each had elements that make voter engagement and turnout effective, lasting and fun.

I'd also love to hear projects you all recommend that aren't included below.

Democracy in the Park - In 2004, a New York-based group realized that phonebanking didn't have to take place in a union hall or law office...you could organize your own call-in campaign from your cell phone.  Volunteers used weekend minutes as they hung out in Central Park.  It expanded, to include Democracy in the Quad (the campus version).  The positive energy generated from these sessions kept volunteers involved after the '04 race, as Democracy in the Park joined New York's ACT-Now, which still continues to mobilize activists (unlike ACT, the national group from which ACT-Now originally took its name, which disappeared soon after the election).

When MoveOn created a brilliant tool to allow anyone to phonebank from their own phone in 2006, they did another smart move:  they empowered anyone to host Calls for Change house parties.  While the freedom to phone voters on your own time is great, the opportunity to do so in the company of others helps commit you further.  Nothing wrong with a little positive re-enforcement and maybe some snacks while you work.

TheBallot.org - Just as ActBlue has allowed anyone to become a fundraiser, this program allows anyone to become a vote-getter -- giving you the tools to create your own voter guide.  Created by the League of Young Voters, it's a fun idea -- in San Francisco yesterday, someone handed me their personalized ballot for today's city elections and initiatives.  When there's a candidate or issue the major organizations are overlooking, a passionate individual can create her own guide...and help educate friends along the way.  (You can also find other guides that folks have created on the site).  When it comes to voting, peer encouragement goes a long way.  And shaping the voter guides shouldn't be left to large advocacy organizations and political clubs anymore.

It's a project that hasn't been too widely used yet, but has great growth potential.  And hey, it told me why Prop A is good and Prop H is bad in today's election.

Parties at the Polls - Community-oriented celebrations can boost voter turnout.  That's the concept behind this project that Working Assets (now CREDO Action) helped pilot last year, which organized social events with food, entertainment, guest speakers and kids games near polling stations on Election Day.  The idea is to draw people out, create a positive environment around the election and give them every incentive to vote.

In test precincts, it has worked, boosting turnout among unlikely voters and giving community groups a non-partisan way of engaging in Election Day.  If you want to poke around at the resources and rationale behind last year's pilot program, check out the 2006 site.

Do More Than Vote - Volunteering needs to be easy.  Furthermore, with so many organizations out there doing great work, sometimes the best thing you can do is point people to the right outlet rather than creating a new structure yourself.  That philosophy powered this simple, direct menu of volunteering opportunities that pointed you directly to campaigns and organizations in your area.  In the final days of the '06 race (which the website still shows), the effort was to plug people into field operations.  But throughout the summer and fall of '06, each page promoted a range of ways to get involved:  whether you had one hour (Calls for Change), one evening (a local phonebank), one weekend day (trips to contested areas) or longer, there were ways you could Do More Than Vote.

I was directly involved in DMTV and the Poll Parties, and big fans of the other programs.  All of them got it right.  Whether they should be created again for '08 is a separate question, but empowering individuals, making volunteerism fun and easy, and supporting infrastructure that will last beyond 52 weeks from now should be priorities for everyone.

So go ahead and use these ideas.  Bring them to your effort, your campaign.  Let's make this election year work for the progressive movement.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought

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SPILLING THE BEANS ON THOSE AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

By Guest Blogger Eve Fox

Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the stars of the just-released documentary King Corn, first developed an interest in food and agriculture as classmates in college. After graduation, they moved to Greene, Iowa, to find out where their food comes from. With the help of government subsidies, friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and potent herbicides, they planted, grew, and harvested a bumper crop of corn from a single acre of farmland. Curt's cousin, documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, came along to direct this hair-raising, heart-sinking foray into our corn-fueled food chain.

Berkeley food blogger Eve Fox interviewed Ellis and Cheney last week, and gave them some great questions to sink their teeth into, so we're pleased to be posting her Q & A here. King Corn is currently playing-or about to open--in cities all over the country. Check KingCorn.net for theaters. Please go see it!

EF: What surprised you most in making the film?

Curt: The most surprising part to me was the reality of farming. I had this pretty romantic notion of what life on a farm was like. Granted we were only growing one acre of corn, not hundreds or thousands of acres, but we really only farmed for a few hours and during those few hours we never really had to touch the dirt at all. It was amazing to me how divorced from the land our experience of farming was.

Ian: I agree with that. I was also surprised that the majority of the country's calories are stored in a few dozen buildings in the Midwest.

EF: I was really shocked by the use of anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer.

Curt: We were totally shocked. We actually went to an anhydrous ammonia factory (though it's not in the film). It's made by burning an incredible amount of natural gas. When Ian applied it to our acre before we planted our corn, one of the farmers, Rich, picked up a handful of the dirt and showed us a dead earth worm - and said, "You see here how applying the ammonia kills everything in a four inch swath." It was pretty unbelievable to us that the first act of farming was to kill all the living things in the soil. Seemed kind of counterintuitive.

Ian: That's not what Wendell Berry would do.

EF: Has this exploration changed your interpretation of the term "corn-fed"?

Curt: Very much so. It has this sort of wholesome connotation but it turns out that things that are corn-fed are really very far from wholesome.

Reading Liberally Page Turner: With a Name Like "Albus"...

by Justin Krebs

dumbledore.jpgThe revelation last week that Albus Dumbledore, the powerful and wise wizard of the Harry Potter series, was gay caught the attention of the entertainment news.  It earned the wrath of the the religious right and Bill O'Reilly (who called it part of author J.K. Rowling's "gay agenda."  And most importantly, it received applause from the audience of children and families to whom Rowling was speaking.

This is the reaction that matters -- because Harry Potter readers are soon going to be running the world and their beliefs will triumph while O'Reilly joins anti-wizard Jerry Falwell in the hereafter.  Messages of hate from the religious wrong are having less and less impact in this next generation -- while messages of love, like that Rowling offer, are gaining traction.

As we've written about before, there are groups that are using the lessons of Harry Potter to promote an agenda of social justice and awareness, chief among them the HP Alliance.  Its founder, Andrew Slack, was recently featued in an LA Times article on the "Seven Clues That Dumbledore Was Gay." 

Among the tongue-in-cheek tells -- his sense of style, his "flaming" phoenix pet and that his name's anagram is "Male bods rule, bud" -- are reasons more core to the HP Alliance's mission:  Dumbledore's openness and sensitivity.  As Slack argues:

Rowling said that she viewed the whole series as a prolonged treatise on tolerance....Like the LGBT community that has time and again used its own oppression to fight for the equality of others, Dumbledore was a champion for the rights of werewolves, giants, house elves, muggle-borns, centaurs, merpeople -- even alternative marriage.

The Alliance's aim to promote issues from genocide in Darfur to workers' rights in America isn't a stretch -- these lessons are in the novels, even if readers don't realize how political the message is.  Should we be surprised that a story-teller does a better job communicating values than many of our politicians?

So the religious right is right to be worried.  Their stranglehold on our culture has been broken.  Jerry Falwell would never have been able to stand up to Albus Dumbledore in a fight.

Screening Liberally Big Picture: When All The Standard Horror Flicks Are Rented Out...

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By Josh Bolotsky

There's only a few hours left until the end of the Halloween season. (Isn't it kind of amazing how Halloween has entered that hallowed realm of holidays which aren't a mere day, but commercialized enough to warrant their own 'holiday season'?) And, if you and/or your children don't have costumes prepped, then chances are that you are finding yourself on Halloween night with nothing Halloween-related to do. For shame.

There really aren't much more options left, typically. The ninth-hour costumes don't much extend past the "hey, I'm going out as an overstressed information worker, i.e. me" variety. Bars on Halloween without a costume feel foreign at best, and at worst, um, interesting. And any trip to the video store will find the horror section just about ransacked. Every obvious choice - Michael, Freddy, Jason - is long past rented out. (You want desperate? Some poor fool has spent actual money to rent Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.) In fact, it seems like the last refuge of the poorly planned Halloween, sharing the couch with your beau or friends for some scare flick, is simply not to be.

This is where Screening Liberally comes in and saves your ass.
There is one last-minute Halloween suggestion that is not just creepy as hell, but also hilarious, a good date film, an improbable crowd-pleaser, one of the most politically savvy films of the last 15 years, truly thought-provoking and obscure enough that the chances someone rented it out are low indeed. What is this overlooked miracle film? None other than 1996's The Last Supper, a twisted melange of black comedy, horror and political satire that is truly sui generis in its originality, and not something you are likely to see replicated anytime soon.

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth: One Stitch at a Time

by Justin Krebs

Pick up your knitting needles and let's get political.

If that command sounds to you as though it suffers from multiple-personality disorder, than you might not want to check out Crafting Liberally, the newest project of Living Liberally, which debuts Sunday afternoon in New York City.

If, on the other hand, you want to get crafty with your comrades, stitch together some solid progressive narratives, and prove that liberals aren't afraid to work with their hands, then welcome to the club.

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We could get all high-minded and make some claim that Crafting Liberally is an homage to Betsy Ross, but we're actually just taking a community-building phenomenon that's already happening around the country and crafting a political identity around it.  To cite just one well-known example, the Stich-n-Bitch network, which hosts groups around the world, is just one reminder that people want to be social.  People are already gathering as they work on ther quilts and their scrapbooks...because working together is better than working alone.

While we'll spare you the obvious clever lines about quilts and scrapbooks as metaphors for America, there is something truly progressive about these groups.  It's not just that company is nice (though it is) - you learn from your peers, share tips and resources and help reaffirm for each other that this activity is an important part of your life.

And if we believe that a progressive agenda will move forward when our politics are fully integrated into our lives, then we need to bring liberal conversations not just to blogs and bars...but to sewing circles as well.

This is the first gathering, organized by New York activist (and crafter!) Claire Silberman...but who knows how else it will grow?  We'd love to hear your ideas on what other crafts we want to be sure to include, what other activities we should infiltrate with liberal charm, and what you plan on making at the first CL meeting.

Now get out there and start promoting democracy...one stitch at a time.

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