Living Liberally Blog

Living Liberally Blog

Here's to Tom Paine

By Jenny McCartney

As an out-of-towner interning in New York City for the summer, wandering around and pretending to be a New Yorker has become my new favorite pastime.

It was by luck or perhaps fate that I wandered into a Thomas Paine memorial ceremony in Foley Square right near Thomas Paine Park. At the event, Thomas Paine Friends Inc, an organization dedicated to renewing public recognition of the revolutionary author, dedicated a sign at Paine Park in honor of the 200th anniversary of Paine’s death.

It was hard not to be chuckle a bit, sitting in the scattered white lawn chairs and watching the presentation. An official Friend of Paine spoke of the great deeds of the saint Paine, and thanked the Parks and Recreation services, the city of New York, and the Governor, who supposedly signed a statute commemorating the event that no one had received. He promised he sent it though, so it’s all ok. And before anyone in the crowd knew it, the society opened the microphone up for anyone who would like to say how they feel about Thomas Paine.

My historical view of Paine has changed a lot as I’ve grown older. In my American History classes in Elementary school, I was taught to see him as the brave pamphlet writer whose words inspired a revolution. He was the supposed “Father of the American Revolution,” and his Common Sense used rebellious and passionate ideas like the great strength of the colonies’ patriotism, separation of church and state, equal rights of all men, and other crazy talk. Critics of American policy, on both the right and the left, use his name (and his appearance like in this video) to speak on behalf of our forefathers who righteously upheld things like truth and justice.

Yet my snarky high school history teacher described him differently, and in far more understandable terms. Paine wrote Common Sense, started a revolution, and ran off the Europe to continue the trend. Paine’s story makes perfect sense in a modern context. He was great at starting the rebellion, but not as great when it came to winning it and governing. His Rights of Man helped incite the French Revolution, and although he stayed in France and served in the National Convention, his efforts were not quite successful in upholding his lofty doctrine.

And so I asked myself: What is the true legacy of Thomas Paine? Of course, as liberals, we’re all too familiar with people who are able to talk a good game, but unable to exchange results for rhetoric. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to celebrate in Paine. Every movement needs someone with pizzazz and spunk in their prose, and who doesn’t love a good ole revolution starter.

As people approached the mike to discuss the man of the hour, I wondered what they perceived Paine’s legacy to be. There was a biographer of Paine who spoke affectionately about the man’s work. A former Vietnam protestor who had upheld his right against conscription just around the corner at the court house. A curious man who had discovered that the Bible predicted that salvation-bringing judges would be born around the time of Paine’s birthday in January. A cab driver and tour guide who played Tom Paine on the New York Historical tour, musket and all. (You’ll be happy to know that the last speaker is running for mayor on a platform of “a little bit socialism, a little bit libertarianism.” I’m not kidding). And, of course, a member of the New York Free Thinkers society to announce a communion service that evening.

As crazy as many of these speakers seemed, they all shared that special tone of voice. The tone that smells like rained-on picketing posters, tastes like the tears of another conservative victory, but still has a glimmer of hope. And so, as I left to the musical stylings of the catchy song “Here’s to Tom Paine,” I was pretty sure that this, as ridiculous as it seemed, was Paine’s legacy. 200 years later, people were still causing trouble with their words. And sometimes it even worked.

Don't Let Your Guard Down When it Comes to Fortified Foods

By Brian Sonenstein

Yesterday, when shopping for sustenance at my local grocery store, I had one thing on my mind: how can I eat well for as little money as possible. In a city.

Well, it's not that easy. It can be quite the trial to find a nice, fresh, untainted piece of fruit or vegetable in New York unless you maybe are a member of a co-op, or can afford market-fresh prices. I personally shy away from meat and poultry that aren't labeled as antibiotic free, organic, etc... mainly because I'm terrified of putting that stuff in my body (and, well, the cows and chickens deserve better too).

I've also found myself recently gravitating towards items that are fortified with all sorts of good stuff, since I am looking for a bigger bang for my buck. I never really thought about these items being any different than the processed meats and vegetables that I avoid just an isle away.

That is, until today. The headline of a WSJ article got my mind racing this morning. "Fortified Foods: How Healthy Are They?"

I'll admit I'm new to this stuff. I'm still educating myself about what exactly it is that I'm eating and consuming (how I can Live Liberally, wocka wocka) . I'd never even HEARD the term Fortified Foods until now. But I am by no means a stranger.

Protein-enriched pasta? In my cabinet. How about some yogurt with extra probiotics for digestion? In the fridge. What I was truly unaware of was the real effect of my choices. I’ve always assumed that the more vitamins and nutrients I could get, the better. But by choosing these 'beefed-up' products and forgoing their natural equivalents, what kind of position might I be putting myself in?

While the article treats many of the following ideas as ‘common sense’, I'll venture to guess that there's nothing common about them, at least in this country. And if there is, then I seriously need some sense. Here's what got me:

Lillian Cheung, Ph.D, a nutrition professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, also points out that adding nutrients to a food can encourage people to perceive it as unequivocally healthy, whether it's low-fat and fiber-rich oatmeal that's been fortified or a similarly enhanced bag of potato chips packed with fat and bereft of any naturally occurring nutrients that the oatmeal has. "The fact that brands have gone to the trouble to add this stuff sends an implicit message that the finished product is desirable, and that's just not always the case," she says. "Sports drinks are an example. The sugar they contain is so much worse than the added vitamins. But that information gets obscured."

Dr. Cheung says that boosting nutrients into such a wide variety of foods could also lead people to either over-consume vitamins and minerals that can be harmful in large amounts (too much folate, for instance, has recently been linked to some cancers), or under-consume others because they misapprehend how much of a given nutrient a food actually delivers.

So aside from making the unfortunate choice against eating simply and healthily (i.e. forgoing broccoli for fiber and instead opting for fiber-enhanced whatever), and aside from the fact that a lot of the vitamins and nutrients are lost when these foods are processed and pasteurized, as the Consumerist recently covered, these foods essentially have 'earmarks,' and we all hate earmarks. Hidden dangers, indeed.

What really concerns me is that the healthy trend is thus moving in the wrong direction. In our daily pursuits for efficiency in life, are we missing the main idea? It seems as though we are striving for healthy lifestyles in unhealthy ways, choosing foods that are engineered to be healthy instead of ones that actually, naturally are. The difficulty derives itself from the marketing. The NY Times reports that childhood obesity has plateaued partially because kids are making better choices. Will we be able to say the same, perhaps a few years down the road with the benefit of hindsight, should they hop on the fortified functional (instead of natural organic) bandwagon?

The bottom line: you can't cheat mother nature. If it's vitamins and nutrients you're after, then the best place to look is where they occur naturally!

What do you all know about this and how does it make you feel? Kerry is a food genius and I recommend reading her wonderful writings to save yourself from perils such as mine.

Daily News Roundup!

❂ A blogger briefly recounts his meeting with Bill Clinton, concerning the significance of the "new" progressive era, one in which the blogosphere serves as a “counterveiling source of progressive pressure” for elected Democrats

❂ Celebrations of Obama's election may be over, but that doesn't mean progressives should cool their heels and take a breather. If you haven't read Frank Rich's Op-Ed piece from Sunday's Times, it discusses the ominous nature of the growing use of violent rhetoric from conservative-fringe loonies and respectable G.O.P. members alike. Liberals be warned...it's a dangerous world out there

❂ Steve Kornacki from PolitickerNY.com muses over new 31-31 stalemate in the New York State Senate, after Hiram Monserrate flipped back to the good ol’ Dems yesterday. According to him, all the Democrats have to do is wait.

❂ Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the men responsible for the 9/11 attacks, now testifies that information he provided (while being waterboarded up to 183 times in one month) was “made up.”

❂ The Peruvian Congress is having second thoughts after attempts to legislate the use of the Amazon sparked protests between locals and the authorities

Monday's Required Reading

If you, like me, spent your entire weekend in movie theaters (or taking the subway between movie theaters) you might have fallen a bit behind on your current affairs. No sweat, Living Liberally has your back.

Since the highly dubious re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Friday, Iran has erupted in social turmoil. Supporters of moderate candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi have gone so far as to label the election a “coup.” Pro-reform activists took to the streets this weekend, dodging tear-gas canisters and drive-by clubbings from police, to express outrage over these suspect results.

With so much developing in Iran, Nico Pitney’s liveblogging at Huffington Post over the past days has been an invaluable resource. He has covered several aspects of the post-election fallout from demonstrations to international response to journalistic suppression by Iranian officials. While each section is a bit brief, this is definitely a solid run-down to get you up to speed.

Thats What's Wrong with Black People

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Elon James White

If you happen to have perused the latest Rolling Stone you might have come across an interesting comment by celebrated Black academic Dr. Cornell West:

That's not my calling. Yeah, brother, you find me in a crack house before you find me in the White House. I'll go into the crack house before I ever go that far inside.

Dr. West was answering a question about whether he would ever accept a position in the Obama adminstration's White House. On the surface this might seem like the rebel response. No, he won't join the institution that is holding down Black people across the land. He is a free thinker who will not be bound by a country who still doesn't take the plight of all of its citizens seriously.

Or you could see this for what it is. Sheer lunacy.

Municipal Composting?

BY BRIAN SONENSTEIN

San Fransisco implements municipal composting to cut down on organic waste. Brilliant! Now why don't we have this in New York?

Until then, check out the NYC Compost Project website for information on what you CAN do.

The Right-Wing Shouldn't Get Another Shot

The GOP was wrong when they were in charge
& they're obstructionists in the minority,
yet Senate Dems let right-wing Republicans
mangle the agenda on healthcare & energy
though they haven't earned the right to govern.

Decades of conservative State Senate control
led to New York voters electing new leaders,
yet defective Dems defected in a coup
that will block equal rights & progressive reforms
by giving the GOP another chance they don't merit.

And while the right-wing screams against
bringing Gitmo prisoners to trial on American soil,
it's right-wing extremists that bloody our country
from Dr. Tiller's death to the Holocaust Museum,
as homegrown extremists get a pass they don't deserve.

Whether their targets are in Kansas or DC,
or policies that would help all Americans,
the right-wing shouldn't get another shot.

Who knows what damage they'll do next?

Share your sorrow & share ideas for our country
as you share a pitcher & an evening with friends
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

The Common Sense of an Elephant

Since the national Republican spotlight turned its beam on “Joe the Plumber” (now little more than a future Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture answer), the Right has touted itself the party of “common sense.” This is a move consistent with their insistent, yet disingenuous affiliation with “real America” and “Joe Sixpack.” The Right continues to claim ascendancy to the throne of plain-speaking, evidenced by the GOP re-launch pizza party last month at Pie-Tanza in Arlington, Virginia. And now, as if America hasn’t suffered enough, Glenn Beck’s Common Sense Comedy Tour (blasphemy if he actually means to compare his unstable rantings to Tom Paine) has taken to the road. The term “common sense” keeps coming up in relation to the Right, but is there any truth to it? And just what does harping on this supposed “virtue” reveal about the GOP?

The problem for the Right isn’t that issues are complicated and nuanced, but that we - the Left - lack common sense. In a speech to Connecticut Republicans on June 4th, Newt Gingrich (apparently visiting via time machine from the mid-90s) advised that the political and economic woes of late can be solved with mere common sense thinking. “If you can’t afford to buy a house…” he led “Don’t buy it!” the $200-a-plate crowd responded. Never mind the impossibly optimistic mortgage brokers, trusted as financial experts, who sold sub-prime loans as the highway to the American dream. Never mind the oversimplification of the housing crisis this jibe relies upon.

Political, social, and financial issues are bewildering and complex problems--even without their Washington convolutions--that demand more than our untutored guts. They demand critical reasoning, a background in the respective subject matter, and a thorough grasp of history. The point is not that civic engagement is beyond the common person. In fact, I would argue just the opposite. But when Republican leaders speak to crowds of privilege about the simplicity of solutions, they do discourse a disservice. They insist (falsely) that discourse itself is unnecessary, a lofty diversion perpetrated by the Liberal Media elites. In their minds, disagreement arises not from a genuine difference in values or perspective, but from the poison of “over-thinking”.

And this harping on common sense reveals quite a bit about the post-Bush Republican mindset. They can be so assured, so rigid and uniform because common sense, believed to be a universal objective truth, provides evident solutions. Liberals, on the other hand, with a big tent for the disenfranchised, must appreciate the richness in issues of choice, social and economic justice, and international cooperation. Republicans see governance as easy, so long as we don’t muck things up with shades of grey. Perhaps this explains the Right’s self-fulfilling evaluation of government as the problem--They predict the government is incompetent, rise to power, rule incompetently with faith-based “common sense,” and then sit back and say “See? What did we tell you about big government?”

After all, it is the GOP’s uncritical “common sense” that tells us torture must work, that today it is cold so global warming must be bullshit, and that my grandpa was no monkey. But this is the same common sense that tells us more wars make us safer, that white men are the most discriminated-against, and that there should be no sex in sex-ed. With a track record like the last eight years, can anyone take this party seriously anymore? The truth is that common sense is not nearly so common. It is informed largely by our upbringing and experiences, some unique and some shared. If the GOP would like us to believe America is over-encumbered by intellectual complexity, someone explain to me how the Bush years were so catastrophic.

The Right’s belief that shooting from the hip with reactionary politics is the panacea for America’s ailments is irresponsible and oversimplified. We liberals must proudly wear the scarlet letter (I for Intellectual) and continue to emphasize that passionate positions can be taken by those with nuanced and respectful views. It is not that we have a monopoly on truth, (that is indeed the folly of the Right) but that we understand and do not fear reasoned, meticulously-crafted arguments.

We have an economic crisis on our hands, over-populated prisons, a rash of mass shootings, an energy crisis perpetually back-burnered, and now Glenn Beck: comedian. This country is truly in a dark place. Our solutions are not coming easily, but ingenuity and resolve are in high reserve. A dismissive approach that devalues complex debate will drive us only further into the dark days.

****Update
Joseph Palermo had a fantastic article (see excerpt below) on Huffington Post today that expressed (much more eloquently) some of the same frustrations over the Right's irresponsible pseudo-populism that I tried to touch upon (I say "pseudo-populism" because you can't gut civil liberties, promote corporate well-being to the detriment of labor, and claim to be on the side of the common person).

Yesterday afternoon Glenn Beck and two of his guests argued that Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party were "leftwing"; that "political correctness" led the committed white supremacist, James Von Brunn, to shoot a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; and that ultimately President Barack Obama is the one responsible for the violence because his "bailouts" and "Socialistic" policies are engendering widespread anger. Beck denounced those who claim he is "churning the pot" because, he says, "the pot is already boiling."

You can read the full article here.

"Pro-Life"...Definitely Not Pro-Living

The right-wingers calls themselves "pro-life,"
as they incite, commit & defend acts of violence
like that which ended the life of Dr. Tiller in Kansas.

They call themselves pro-life, but they're anti-health,
first fighting child coverage, and now public options
that would actually make Americans healthier.

They call themselves pro-life, but what kind of life
is pro-torture, pro-war, pro-guns,
anti-safety regulations, anti-sex-education?

The Right may call themselves pro-life,
but then why are they so often against the living?

Come Live Liberally with like-minded lefties
as we drink, eat, talk, laugh, share & scheme liberally
at our local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Markos Was Right About Us

Markos recently mentioned Living Liberally being a rare example of progressive netroots success.

We like to think that Markos was right about us - Living Liberally is as netroots as it gets, with two full-time employees and a few part-time volunteers maintaining a nationwide network. We certainly don't get rich doing this - we generally consider ourselves lucky to even keep such an effort afloat at all. With the Bush years finally over and many emboldened, vocal liberals bringing their case to Washington for the first time in eight years, it's more important than ever to have progressives in all 50 states ready to meet, socialize and, if they choose, organize for change. That's what Living Liberally means to us.

However, with one day to go until our 3rd annual fundraiser and celebration hosted by Sam Seder, there's a problem - remaining a success story, rather than one of the countless progressive infrastructure projects that had to dismantle due to lack of support, is becoming more and difficult.