Chris Partridge's blog

Stonewall Anniversary a Chance to Evaluate Nation's Progress

Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, one of the first instances of gay resistance to government-sponsored repression of sexual minorities. Not only was this a time to look back at a proud moment for the equal rights movement, but a chance to analyze how far we’ve come as a country.

Standards are particularly high for one President Barack Obama, and rightfully so. After opposing Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act during the campaign, Obama’s rhetoric and action since taking office have become tepid. As Michael Rowe writes in today’s Huffington Post, the excuses granted to the administration on delaying equality are becoming tiresome.

“There is a great deal that can be done now, and if there is to be a culture war, it's an inevitable one. The quest for "bipartisanship" should not be an excuse for sacrificing political integrity, or honoring a long-overdue commitment to a long-loyal and significant voting bloc. Ignoring the problem isn't going to make it go away, nor is pointing out the obvious fact that the Republicans are no friend of the LGBT community, or that a McCain-Palin administration would have been an express train to oblivion for gay rights. LGBT Americans voted for Obama to be their president too, not just the lesser of two evils.”

Check out the rest of Rowe’s razor-sharp inculpation here.

Obama is an incrementalist, but it has been 40 years since the Stonewall Riots. His expansion of rights to same-sex partners of federal employees was commendable, but hardly daring. The President’s conflicting takes on DOMA need to be reconciled and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell must become a top priority.
Why must we continue to meet regressive bigots halfway? Gay rights have been back-burnered too many times as it is. Equal rights now!

President Obama responded yesterday to criticism that he has been mollifying LGBT supporters.

Said Obama, "It's not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago."

Check out the full article over at Alternet.

Yes Men Reveal Truth through Hoax

Some of the most privileged, finest educated MBAs in the world strive for years, denying family, friends, religion, even basic human decency, for a taste of that corporate brass ring. The Yes Men just sit back and wait for the business world to invite them. The only problem is they are frauds.

The Yes Men Fix the World, follows Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, the eponymous anti-corporate pranksters, as they infiltrate the global business world, exposing the absurdity and inhumanity of corporate culture. These two merry pranksters use phony credentials to wrangle speaking opportunities at corporate summits and cable news shows. Once on the air, they use a technique called “identity correction”--posing as spokespeople for multinationals and saying what McDonald’s, the WTO, and big oil are unwilling to say.

Early in the film, the Yes Men appear on BBC World News as representatives of Dow Chemical. They announce (fraudulently) that Dow will compensate the thousands of victims of a neglected chemical explosion in Bhopal, India. Minutes later Dow had lost more than a billion dollars.

Their hoaxes reveal just how inverted the priorities of business truly are. When the Yes Men suggest the absurd--IBM was smart to do business with the Nazis, turning skeletons in their closet into golden skeletons--they are lauded by businesspeople as visionaries. When they advocate for ethical business practices--paying restitution to the victims of dangerous chemical spills--they are booed off stage.

The Yes Men Fix the World, which closed out the 20th annual Human Right’s Watch Film Festival Thursday, wields the subversive power of a thousand street demonstrators. The filmmakers brandish truth like a battle axe, slicing through the myths that rationalize free markets, deregulation, and globalization, while taking direct action to humiliate the global corporatocracy. Comedy has always possessed incredibly subversive power, and when exerted by two such cogent and insightful jesters, can quite literally bring corporations to their knees (or at least down a couple points on the NYSE).

The questions raised are simple, but fresh, and demand answers from free-marketeers, politicians, corporate shills, and everyday consumers at once. Why do businesses go to such great lengths to avoid moral action? This is hardly the first picture to expose the cataclysmic effects of unregulated corporations, and at this point it may even be passé to “blame big business”, but as the film shows, corporations need to be inculpated in a concrete, direct way. Consolidation of competition, absorption of media outlets, and litigious ass-covering insulate the Fortune 500 from the market forces which supposedly guide them.

We need grassroots efforts to pressure businesses into acting ethically, but top-down reform is a must. The invisible hand would strangle the last baby panda if it had the chance. Corporate urges are treated by Friedman’s free-market fetishists like multifarious and complex systems, but the truth is profit is the only driving factor. It is only a happy-accident when ethical business practices are profitable. But it needn’t be that way. Clearly shareholders and traders have a different set of priorities. Corporations must be regulated in such a way as to make unethical business counter to the bottom line. Business has only one rule: do what makes the most profit. That is how corporations are vulnerable. If we make it unprofitable to exploit land and labor, then corporations will be forced to act morally.

The film’s emotional range is stifling. Moments of beet-red chagrin effortlessly transform into gust-busting hilarity. Perhaps that’s because, until we restore some sort of corporate accountability, what the Yes Men do is the closest thing to justice we can hope for. In that sense, the heaving laughter this film elicits is cathartic for viewers frustrated by cycles of irresponsibility and reward that seem to define government‘s love affair with corporations.

Sometimes it takes a lie to jump-start the truth. When the Yes Men announce Dow will make restitution to the victims of Bhopal, they are derided for giving false hope to citizens of the affected area. Media fails to ask the real question of Dow, “Why does this have to be a fiction?” It is “cruel, sick and twisted” according to one news report in the film, to suggest restitution should be made, but perfectly innocuous to abandon victims of corporate negligence. Where are our priorities here?

This film just may be the kick-start we need to return corporate accountability and regulation. We have seen the ghastly effects of deregulation in Detroit, in the abandoned buildings on our streets, and in our pocketbooks. The solution seems to have been throwing vast sums of money at the culprits of corporate irresponsibility. At least with the Yes Men at large, there may be justice yet!

We progressives ought to follow the lead of these socially-conscious con-men. Through our conversations, blogs, purchases, and protest we must sound the alarm on the carte-blanche waved by international business.

The Yes Men Fix the World will run on HBO starting July27th, and a theatrical release is slated for October 7th , opening in New York at Film Forum. You have to see this film!

Protests Reveal Humanity in the "Axis of Evil"

The videos and stories (tweets in many cases) of Iran’s recent protests against electoral ambiguity and government repression must be difficult for Americans to process. This is the Axis of Evil after all! Where is the Iran the news media has taught us to know and hate--that Holocaust-denying, nuclear weapon-acquiring, burqa-mandating Muslim theocracy it was so easy to fear just a few short months ago?

The truth, as it turns out, is that Iranians are not so different, not so sinister as we were led to believe. Iran’s recent social upheaval has given Americans the opportunity to see Iranians with new eyes, as a multifarious, relatable people literally willing to die for freedom, human rights, and democracy.

As David Bromwich writes in today’s Huffington Post:

“It isn't the face of the enemy that we see in these pictures. No, these are people much like ourselves, who don't want to die at the hands of their government--or at the hands of ours, either, for that matter.”

Check out Bromwich’s articulate article here.

Coming off President Obama’s acknowledgment of US involvement in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 (and soon to come apology?), Americans have a chance now to earn back a little credit with the Iranian people by supporting transparency and free speech in a hands-off way.

Unlike his predecessor, President Obama understands the need for a diplomatic solution to ease American tensions with Iran. The constant saber-rattling by politicians on both sides only exacerbates discord. This is the perfect opportunity to reverse the pattern of distrust and animosity.

Wars depend on dehumanization. We objectify our enemies in order to so thoughtlessly destroy their homes, their bodies, and their children. Perhaps by seeing ourselves in these brave Iranian protesters (or Iranians in ourselves) we can finally begin to grasp the wealth of similarities between our two great peoples.

Indeed, we should not be too easily swayed by brief video or appeal to emotion, but sympathizing and identifying with our human brothers and sisters does a great deal to promote international peace.

Abstinence-Only Education Promotes Disinformation and Fear

Abstinence-only education does not work. I want to say that as plainly as possible, because despite overwhelming evidence in favor of this claim, there seems to be some confusion.

Abstinence-only programs do not reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy nor contraction of STDs. In many cases, teens who take abstinence pledges are more likely to have unprotected sex than those who do not take such oaths. Why then does the conversation continue to respect the virginity movement’s stubborn, regressive perspectives?

The Bush administration, placing dogma above empirical fact, poured more than $1.5 billion into this failed program. Fortunately President Obama injected a dose of sanity into federal sex ed policy, choosing to eliminate funding for abstinence-only education in his 2010 budget.

But these bruised programs are rallying, desperate to rebrand while retaining their failed approach. As The Nation’s Jessica Valenti warns, the fight for comprehensive sexual education is far from over:

“This rebranding effort includes appropriating the language and tools of comprehensive sex education and its advocates. At [National Abstinence Education Association Director Nancy] Huber's DC briefing, for example, she assured her audience that ‘abstinence education talks about STDs and the medically accurate information regarding that’ and that ‘abstinence education talks about contraception.’ But of course, the only time abstinence-only classes will talk about contraception is when they discuss failure rates -- often exaggerating those rates or spreading misinformation about the dangers of contraception. In the past, this tactic has been taken to extremes. In Montana's Bozeman High School, for example, teens in 2005 were taught that condoms cause cancer.”

Check out the full article here.

It is not merely that teens are weak-willed and abstinence until marriage is an unrealistic standard. This is an incomplete picture of teenage sexuality. The battle is not only between paternalistic sexual morality and human sexual urges. Many teens (and adults) choose to engage in sexual activity, a considerate decision which should not be dismissed as “raging hormones.”

Presenting virginity until marriage as the objective ideal re-enforces a homogenized, sex-negative value system based on fear and uncritical traditionalism. There is implicit affirmation of conservative sexual morality in this line of thinking that narrowly treats abstinence as the proscriptive aim.

The moderate position--abstinence-only education is unfit because it is inefficacious--is a step in the right direction, but there is a stronger position worth pursuing. Abstinence-only sex ed relies upon a singular value-system which reflects only a small minority of this country. Not only does it not work, but it's agenda is skewed. Instead, we should favor a broader liberal sexual morality, under which the sexuality defining decisions of young adults are up to them. Teens can choose to stay abstinent or not based on their own values.

Why not impress upon our children the idea that sexuality is an opportunity for responsible, informed decision-making, rather than crippling them with disinformation?

Raptor Needlessly Tears Through Defense Budget

Earlier this year President Obama announced in his defense budget that the US would discontinue its F-22 Raptor program. Despite this commendable shift in executive priorities, Congress continues to pour money into these air-to-air fighter planes, virtually useless in the so-called War on Terror (After all, there aren’t too many dogfights with Al-Qaida).

Jon Soltz, co-founder of and veteran of the Iraq war, took on this issue yesterday on Huffington Post:

"Congress is about to throw $369 million (on a down-payment of $2 billion) for a dozen F-22 fighter jets that even the Pentagon doesn't want. Oh, and the money for it? It's coming out of funds that were set aside to clean up dangerous nuclear waste in the U.S."

Check out Soltz’s full article here.

In tough economic times, we must be as fiscally responsible as possible with the programs we choose to fund. That doesn’t mean refusing to spend, but spending on relevant programs that promote the well-being citizens here and abroad. If we continue to fund the outmoded F-22 Raptor, we only further engorge the morbidly obese military budget.

U.S. Re-evaluates Bombing Policy in Afghanistan

U.S. airstrike policy in Afghanistan--bomb the house to get the suspected Taliban inside and never mind the civilians--has been penny-wise and dollar-poor.

Even if we set aside the heinous ethical problem with this approach, there is a tactical one that precludes attaining the ambiguous American aims in Afghanistan. Rampant civilian killing ensures anti-American sentiment will increase exponentially and that the Taliban will always have new recruits.

Finally, the U.S. is re-evaluating this approach to favor one that has more focus on the eventual peace. Read more about Gen. McChrystal’s amendments to U.S. bombing policy in Afghanistan here.

Anti-War Reps Face Executive Intimidation

While significant economic troubles continue to dominate our national attention, it is all too easy to forget that American forces are actively involved in two wars in the Middle East. The Obama administration has made earnest (though perhaps unsatisfying) efforts to pull troops out of the Iraqi quagmire, but these uniformed women and men may find themselves leap-frogging from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Check out how the administration has attempted to sway several House Dems opposed to troop escalation by threatening to pull support from freshmen representatives.

Coercive measures by the executive branch cannot be tolerated and our anti-war representatives must know they have our support. Those of us serious about ending American imperialism in the Middle East need to push President Obama to reconsider his position on Afghanistan.

Thursday's Must-Read

The discussion of health care reform, particularly in coverage by the news media, all too often perpetuates the idea that a public health care option is “controversial” amongst the American populace. The Right and those in the insurance industry have been more than willing to sell this line, and Democrats have too easily capitulated this point.

The only problem is the rhetoric doesn’t match the facts. According to several recent polls, a majority of Americans across the political spectrum favor a public health care option. So why then are we continually told to prepare for a street fight over health care? And whose interests are driving this disinformation?

Let Bob Cesca over at Huffington Post answer these questions and more!

And if you're feeling inspired, help Sen. Bernie Sanders make single-payer a reality because health care is a right, not a privilege.

Wednesday's Must-Read

Maybe it’s because The Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong’s new global warming film, won’t leave my mind, but this Op-Ed from the New York Times seems an essential read today. Check out Screening Liberally's review of The Age of Stupid here.

China and the US are the worst greenhouse gas emitters the world over. Any legitimate solution on climate change needs to be inclusive of all nations, but without serious commitments from key carbon producers, that solution will be an exercise in stop-gap futility. For too long these industrial behemoths have been stalling on cutting emissions, circling one another like boys at camp, daring one another to eat a bug. “I’ll only do it if he does it first.” But none of us, from Cincinnati to Shanghai, can afford to keep up this dance. We must take the first step, fully committing to December’s summit on global climate change in Copenhagen. Find out what you can do.

Are We Living in The Age of Stupid?

Sitting in the comfy seats at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, waiting for the house lights to fade for The Age of Stupid, I wondered if I was losing interest in climate change hysteria. After all, Al Gore packed the indie theaters almost three years ago and the incessant commodification of “green” since has made me a bit weary. I felt ashamed of myself just thinking it, but luckily, I was in the right place. The Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong’s new global warming docudrama, is not only a validation for the faithful, but an invigorating call to arms for apathetic citizens. The film does not waste much time making the case linking human actions to global warming. It plainly states early on that the research is quite conclusive on this point. As one subject remarks, “Facts are not the problem.” The Age of Stupid knows the film it needs to be and is acutely aware of the catalog of climate change films to which it belongs. There is no need to rehash An Inconvenient Truth. Armstrong’s film is instead a wake-up call to the lazy believers among us, reminding that the most immediate danger is apathy. And to that effect, Armstrong is successful.

The film begins in 2055 at The Global Archive, a high-tech Ark for humanity’s remaining animals, cultural treasures, and history. By now, Earth has suffered the wrath of climate change. London is completely flooded, the Swiss Alps are now a temperate meadow devoid of glaciers, and Sydney is consumed by unstoppable drought-fires. Pete Postlethwaite stars as the lone remaining attendant to the archive, located in the Artic Circle, and drives the film forward with a simple question, “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?” He reviews various news and archival footage, interviews, and even cartoons probing for some answer as to how humanity saw its looming Armageddon and chose to do nothing.

The Age of Stupid is simultaneously global and personal in its scale. Clearly the implications of unfettered global warming discussed in the film have world-wide relevance, but to bring the message home, Armstrong closes in on the individual. She interviews a handful of fascinating subjects with engaging ties to climate change--among them a struggling advocate for wind turbines, a Shell employee who lost everything in Katrina, and a kick-ass 82-year old mountain guide--to show the individual tolls and efforts that make up the global warming resistance. Armstrong’s film is certainly emotionally evocative, but doesn’t solely arouse fear . Her subjects have depth and humanity. We appreciate their aspirations, their frustrations, and can’t help but sympathize.

Armstrong takes on the usual suspects--Shell, big oil, global corporatocracy--but also indicts the players key players who consistently avoid scrutiny. For example, while most everyone agrees wind-power is a desirable alternative to unsustainable and detrimental fossil fuels, local groups have been wildly successful at forestalling the building of turbines. Why? Armed with a “not in my backyard” mentality, these citizens fear the aesthetic damage turbines may have on the countryside. For them, it is not important that we take steps to prevent catastrophic climate change if it’s an inconvenience.

The Age of Stupid is an alarming call for accountability, whether personal, communal, corporate, or governmental. It refuses to take the simple route of solely blaming corporations, one that is true, though under-inclusive and too easily disregarded by the Right. Instead, the film argues that we all contribute to the problem, thus, we all have a moral obligation to contribute to a solution. It does not saddle the viewer with guilty responsibility, but shows the interest that each of us has in creating a better world than the one we inherited.

Armstrong’s film espouses a nuanced position on the free market. While individual consumers have some limited capacity to vote through their purchases--a power which increases exponentially with organization--the hierarchical power-structure of global economics demands some top-down change to work in concert with the grassroots. And it is this unabashedly critical, yet considerate stance that I so appreciate about The Age of Stupid.

Armstrong is right-- the owning class has too much incentive to continue with the status quo. If the bottom line continues to be the measure of success, current business models struggle from an unsustainable growth-urge. Hyper-consolidated media ensures the large corporations are major players in agenda-setting. Not only do we as consumers need to pressure business through our purchases and boycotts, but government too must exercise some top-down power. The so-called “free-market” is far too insulated and we consumers may at points be too weak-willed to do what is necessary to stop climate change. Low prices are a temptation not easily passed up, particularly with such frugal consumptive inertia swaying our buying habits.

Ultimately, we can’t afford to continue down this current path of wasteful consumerism and thoughtless energy consumption. Not only does this habit contribute to future environmental destruction, but present human rights atrocities. We need to seriously re-think our economic priorities. Conspicuous consumption can no longer be a virtue in the West. It is simply vain suicide for the species. Indiscriminate resource-hounding, whether by the drill or the gun, has gone on too long. “Drill, baby, drill!” is the rally cry of the short-sighted , which only digs us further into fuel-addiction and the environmental red. Our top priority must be reducing carbon emissions to prevent the future effects of global warming.

The fight against global warming’s dystopian promises is a struggle for all life on earth. It cares not about our divisions between government, business, political parties, or religion. We are all in the same flooding lifeboat here. The facts are in and the speculations look bleak. But it is not too late. With a strong will, good leadership, vigilant accountability, and some serious sacrifice, we will do that which we must. There is time to adapt before the situation reaches its tipping point.

Sure, the basic message of the film is familiar--stop climate change or catastrophe awaits. But no film yet conveys the same sense of global and personal stakes with such efficacy. If An Inconvenient Truth is the reasoned thesis, The Age of Stupid is the wake-up call to the complacent. And it never hurts to be reminded. The most immediate threat, the film argues, is not hurricanes or tsunamis or melting glaciers, but apathy. At the end of the film the woman next to me, a sweet cardiganned middle-ager turned and sighed, “Well that was depressing.” But the impetus to change is not always itself inspiring. If you feel bad about yourself at the end of this film, as I admit I did, then that might be a sign. This film is a hard pill to swallow. The stakes are high, as are the demands on each of us. Significantly reducing our greenhouse emissions by 2015, the film’s ticking clock, requires serious change from each of us.

Where the film comes up light is the “how.” I found myself impassioned after the credits. “I’m ready to be the change,” I thought. But as my cinema neighbor expressed, inspiration is in shorter supply than oil. Luckily there are plenty of resources online on how individuals and government can help stop global warming. The film has set up for just that purpose.

The Age of Stupid is an invaluable addition to the current catalog of climate change films. While not necessarily required viewing, The Age of Stupid is a particularly useful kick in the butt for lazy liberals.

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