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The Power of Fame To Change the World

Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

America suffers from a collective case of do-gooder deafness: we have a hard time hearing a message when it's delivered by a dorky academic or an unattractive activist. We're all ears, though, when celebrities speak out about their pet causes, or their pets, or whatever. So, in acknowledgement of the fact that I, as a mere blogger, can only hope to influence so many people, I'd like to enlist the aid of some of our most ogled and Googled celebrities to help America combat climate change and overconsumption:1. Britney Spears: Britney's evidently on the road to recovery after some much needed r 'n' r. Here are three more "r's" I'd love to see Britney promote: reduce, reuse and recycle. Our landfills are overflowing with post-consumer crap and the oceans are clogged up with plastic; what better time for Britney to redefine white trash! Recommended reading/viewing: Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte; The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.

2. Paris Hilton: A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a globe-trotting Paris Hilton gathers dross. You're just fossil-fueling yourself, sweetie; stop running around the world making geographical gaffes and hyping your hybrid SUV. Take a page out of No Impact Man's playbook and see if you can stay a little closer to home for a year. Borrow a bike from Ed Begley Jr., and pedal your way to penitence. Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping will bless you.

3. Lindsay Lohan: Lindsay confided to Elle magazine last fall that she feels bad about the fact that media coverage of her shenanigans "is distracting from the other things that are important, like global warming and that kind of stuff." So, Lindsay, why not use that media glare to highlight the hazards of climate change? You'll get a glow, and it won't be from global warming. Go on David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet, school yourself with the hot eco-doc Everything's Cool, and you'll be cool, too.

4. David Beckham: The soccer superstar and style icon's receding hairline has the blogosphere all abuzz. Stressing about your thinning tresses, Becks? Imagine how folks in West Virginia feel about the bald spots the coal-mining industry's leaving on their beloved Appalachian mountains. The tragedy of male pattern baldness pales besides the heartbreak of mountaintop coal removal. Once you've covered your semi-nude noggin with pricey plugs, why not get out and stump on behalf of your adopted home's oldest mountain range before they blast the last tree to smithereens? Recommended reading/viewing: Coal River by Michael Shnayerson, Burning the Future: Coal In America.

5. Madonna: America's most famous ex-pat has set down roots as deep as her brown hair in Britain, so she's the perfect candidate to publicize the plight of Britain's endangered red squirrels, whose very future is imperiled by an invasion of deadly pox-carrying gray American squirrels. How about an animated PSA to the tune of "Who's That Squirrel?" in which she helps Squirrel Nutkin knock Rocky J. Squirrel's block right off the island? At the very least, the pop princess could follow Prince Charles' royal lead and become a patron of Save Our Squirrels.

6. Donald Trump: The Lowbrow Baron of the High-Rise isn't getting very far with his bullying and bulldozing these days. From his proposed golf course development in Scotland to his Long Island "Trump on the Ocean" project, The Donald's grandiose plans keep running aground in the face of stiff opposition from locals. Is his stature diminishing? Here's a new mantra for the author of Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life: Think small and DO GOOD. Recommended reading/viewing: Deep Economy by Bill McKibben; Garbage Warrior, coming to a theater near you on April 2nd!

7. Rush Limbaugh: Yes, Limbaugh's a noxious gasbag, but scientists are making great strides these days converting methane gases from manure into energy. Limbaugh is the nadir of climate change naysayers, and it's a safe bet that he'll continue to pooh-pooh the notion that global warming's a threat to the planet, so why not harness the harmful nonsense he spews and turn it into a useful source of energy? Recommended viewing: Biogas, The Movie:

8. Amy Winehouse: Winehouse is, alas, goin' back to rehab, so she presumably won't be available to do any kind of pr for awhile. But once she's bounced back from her latest crack-up, I'd love to see Amy put her beehive'd head to work on raising awareness of colony collapse disorder, the mystery disease that's killing bees all over the U.S. and Europe. Come to think of it, she'd be a great spokesperson to raise awareness of white nose syndrome, too--that's the deadly illness that's decimating the northeast's bat population. Recommended viewing: Every Third Bite, coming soon!

9. Chuck Norris: Now that Mike Huckabee's presidential bid is over, Norris presumably has some free time, so I'd like to suggest that the legendary martial arts megastar turn his attention from black belts to green belts and use his status as America's number one action star to slay the developer dragons and strip-mall monsters. Who better than a diehard conservative to champion conservation? Recommended reading/viewing: The Long Emergency by James Howard Kuntler; The Unforeseen.
10. Richie Sambora: Sambora was arrested last Tuesday in Laguna Beach after his black Hummer was spotted weaving in and out of traffic. The Bon Jovi guitarist went to rehab twice last year; will a third time be the charm? Drinking and driving is never a good idea (especially when your 10 year-old daughter's in the backseat) but alcohol can be a tough demon to shake. Maybe Sambora would have more luck if he swore off driving instead? Ditch the Hummer, Ritchie, get off the Lost Highway, and become an advocate for Transportation Alternatives.

Originally posted on TakePart.com.

A Very, Very Exciting Announcement About Drinking Liberally

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by Justin Krebs & Josh Bolotsky

These are very exciting times for Living Liberally: our upcoming 5th anniversary, the launch of brand new groups like Shooting Liberally and Knitting Liberally, our preparations for Netroots Nation and various other summer events. However, as exhilarating as these projects might be, they pale in comparison to our latest roll-out. Today, we'd like to announce the biggest undertaking in Living Liberally history. Something we like to think might change progressive politics for the better. Something which will transform Drinking Liberally forever.

So, let's get right to it:

Abstaining Liberally, our newest group.

Please learn more after the jump.This was the right decision, and a long time coming. After almost 5 years and 50 states of liquor-inspired liberal organizing, we're figured out how to really shift the game for our NEXT 5 years - and that's not do anything. Well, at least no drinking.

After all, as our detractors point out, what do we ever do besides get drunk and make fools of ourselves? (They know us so well!) It's not like we inspire people to blog or otherwise take part in citizen journalism. And we're certainly not getting new voters involved in primary campaigns or the larger election season, or consolidating a scattered liberal community.

So goodbye to tonics, spirits and pick-me-ups. Abstaining Liberally will meet in senior centers, not bars, and we'll serve water and juice, not gin and vodka. But this doesn't mean we'll no longer have fun. (Just you wait to see how badly I beat you in the water-drinking contest.) It'll just be teetotaling fun.

So, this April 1st, let's say goodbye to Drinking, and hello to Abstaining!

The Knitting Liberally Giving Project

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Knitting Liberally Progressive Thread
By Gina-Louise Sciarra and Tina McElmoyl

When we started the flagship Knitting Liberally chapter in Northampton, MA last October, we knew that we wanted it to be a fun, social group combining our two passions: knitting and liberal politics. We also wanted it to be an accessible way for people to get involved in the community.

We are thrilled to be completing our first Knitting Liberally Giving Project.

We knitted toys for the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT), a wonderful organization nearby in Greenfield, MA that helps women and children who have survived domestic violence or sexual abuse. NELCWIT was excited by the prospect of being able to give the children they serve beautiful, hand-made toys to hug and love at such a vulnerable time for them. And we really couldn't imagine something more fun to knit than toys. Webs, the world-renowned yarn emporium that we are spoiled enough to have as our local yarn store, generously donated the yarn for the project, making this the perfect collaboration of three local groups.

Visit us at KnittingLiberally.com to read about the ways that yarn and politics collide for our members. You can also check on the progress of our next group project, which will be our contribution to a social justice knitting project that will have a big visual impact in support of LGBT equality in the Presbyterian Church. If you are interested in participating in the project or the website, join KnittingLiberally.com and start posting or drop us an e-mail. Knit. Vote. Blog.

OSI, YP4 and "The Progressive Version Of"

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Josh Bolotsky

As far as I can tell, this is the first time that the Open Society Institute is doing a direct fellowship program along these lines:

NEW YORK—The Open Society Institute today launched a fellowship program to enable outstanding individuals from around the world to pursue projects that will inspire meaningful debate and shape public policy.

The Open Society Fellowship will award $2 million in 2008 to scholars, journalists, activists and others working on national security; citizenship, membership and marginalization; authoritarianism; and new strategies and tools for advocacy.

I'll start with the facile, gut reaction: obviously, it's great to see another partner in the family of progressive-movement-builder fellowship programs, alongside great, under-heralded initiatives like the Drum Major Institute's DMI Scholars and the whole host of Young People For projects. In a lot of ways, I feel that these programs are both a huge extension of and a substantial improvement over what the Century Institute was aiming at a few years ago before it faltered unexpectedly.

However, there are two important differences here between the proposed OSI program and these other examples. For starters, the OSI project is somewhat unique in its focus on a global progressive perspective, as opposed to some variant of domestic policy - I say 'somewhat' because I don't want to overlook the great work being done by the participants in those aforementioned programs who've chosen to focus on issues of international concern - e.g. Alex Hill, a current YP4 fellow, and his astonishing work with S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A.:

But, secondly, a quick look at the guidelines reveals that this is not a strictly-for-students program - a real distinction, and an interesting choice on OSI's part.

Like so much of the frenzied progressive infrastructure-building of the last few years, much of the netroots support for these types of activist-in-training programs comes from the often correct perception that given the huge amount of ground left to cover in catching up to what the institutional right has done, we better get cracking on "the progressive version of" whatever given aspect of conservative advantage we seek to emulate - if we can just start with our own progressive version, in other words, we'll be on the right track. As someone who spent time as the Chair of a major College Democrats state federation, I can anecdotally attest to the kind of forced comparison points you often hear from frustrated students - that Campus Progress is or should be "the progressive version of" Young Americans for Freedom, or the Center for Progressive Leadership is or should be "the progressive version of" the Leadership Institute, and so on. In other words, we're so frustrated at how far behind we are in the race that we're looking for the reflexive response, which is a counterpart above all else - just as we might look at, say, Air America Radio to be "the progressive version of" right-wing talk radio.

All of which is not just well and good, but, I think, quite necessary - it's wonderful that we are moving towards having these counterparts. But as a first step - then you start moving towards innovations. All of which makes the choice of OSI to make eligibility open to all, student or no, all the more striking: along with projects like YP4's Young Elected Officials Network, it's a unique take on the format, one that isn't a reaction to any kind of adult-training-program that the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is cooking up.

It'd be less than honest not to admit that I have a personal take on this as well, and a personal bias - as someone transitioning into a full-time role in Living Liberally from a fellowship in YP4's Leadership Academy, another program I'd categorize as post-first-step in its innovative qualities, I can speak from deep experience about how these type of fellowship programs can be a hugely empowering experience. It is not an advertisement for myself or YP4 to note that while a lot of the problems within long-term progressive movement building might seem obvious and oh-so-lamented by now, it doesn't make them any less pressing, or the actions of those organizations that are taking them on any less commendable.

There is an enormous difference between learning skills piecemeal, between one election campaign here and one speaking class there, and having them integrated on your behalf in a planned program, and in all the aforementioned frenzy of the last several years, perhaps we don't take the time on occasion to note how amazing it is that we're getting there at all. I'm just glad that it won't just be fellow students taking the plunge.

Reading Liberally Page Turner

by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

I went to sit in on a class at a Public Policy program that I might attend next year, and decided to do the assigned reading, as I find few things to be duller than sitting in on a class when I have no idea what is going on (also I wanted to procrastinate doing my calculus homework). The book for the class was Understanding Affirmative Action by J. Edward Kellough, which is not only a clear guide to legal cases that have dealt with affirmative action, but also an excellent size to whap people with should they persist in not agreeing with your affirmative action views, whatever those may be.As an extremely small child my brother must have been exposed to a conservative news program between bouts of playing with Thomas the Tank Engine, as he would wander around the house complaining that white men were being oppressed. "How will I get into college?" he asked us angrily waving Thomas around. "How will I get a job?"

"How would you your sister to get paid seventy five cents for every dollar that you get paid? Does that seem fair?" I demanded.

I wish Understanding Affirmative Action had existed then in order to read it to my brother until he fled, and so that my pro-affirmative action arguments would have been more nuanced then "You're just WRONG!" I'm glad that I've read it as now I'll be able to argue more effectively because I understand the legal history of affirmative action, why some states decided to get rid of affirmative action, and various arguments on both sides of the issue. The next time I get into a discussion about it I'll be able to recite court cases until my face is as blue as Thomas the Tank engine — and I'm looking forward to it.

Obama's "Over The Top" Pastor, a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Anderson Cooper's Grammatical Cop Out

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

Last week, because the batteries in my remote were dead and I was too tired to get up, I was treated to an hour of Anderson Cooper, replayed 12 times. This meant that I had the pleasure of watching the special feature on Cooper. Technically, it was more like 7 minutes of Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, over and over and over, learning something new each time. The first thing that struck me was Anderson Cooper's introduction to the feature:

We begin with a new controversy on the campaign trail. That's right, a new one. At issue, Barack Obama's pastor -- this man -- and the fiery remarks he has made. A tape of one of his sermons -- you see it there -- on Hillary Clinton is all over the Web, and tonight you will hear it for yourself. Is what he says over the top? Should it even matter in this presidential race? What you're about to hear is inflammatory to some. To others, harsh as it sounds, it's the truth. That's for you to decide, along with whether you think it has any place at all in this campaign for either candidate.

Now, I like Anderson Cooper more than most media stars, not just because he went to my school (which explains why we both "go forth unafraid/strong with love and strong with learning.") The first time I heard his introduction, I was appreciative of his nuanced and brave questions -- is there any story here, does it even matter? The second or third time, I heard it, I started to methink he doth protest too much perhaps -- about the story not mattering. The fifth or sixth time, what came through was the way Cooper explained why the story does, in fact, matter: "We're running it because, like it or not, legitimate or not, it has become an issue."

The seventh time, I noticed something disturbing on a grammatical and syntactical level. Style and grammar advisers, from Orwell to MLA warn us against the passive voice and other impersonal constructions. And I know that by the seventh grade at the school we had both attended, our teachers had shaken the passive/impersonal construction habit out of us. But it wasn't just the dis to Dalton teachers that got to me, of course. The impersonal construction was misleading; saying something "has become an issue" is a convenient cop-out. There is no agency, no responsibility, no guilt, no intervention. Nobody turns it into an issue; the issue issues itself, in an almost natural and inevitable process. The impersonal construction allows Anderson to side step the very personal and active role of the media in turning Reverend Wright into an issue. Thanks to his hedging device Cooper doesn't have to say, "We're running the feature because, like it or not, legitimate or not, we in the media have made it an issue." So, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the media determines what becomes an issue by claiming it has become an issue. Cooper is hardly the worst issue-creating wolf in issue-reporting sheep's clothing. In fact, Anderson's disclaimers suggest his discomfort with the issuelessness of the issue. We sense that Anderson knows that the media is blowing this out of proportion, creating a story where there isn't one, and an issue where there wasn't one. Anderson seems to fear that we, the audience, might be onto him, which is why he inflates the story's significance with a dramatic introduction, explaining to us that, like it or not, legitimate or not, this really is a story, you are not being manipulated, we are not creating a conflict, we are merely reporting on it. Like the sales clerks who can't accept your exchange because "We don't make the rules, we just work here", the pundits can say, "We don't make the issues, we just follow them."

Of course the warning about the over-the-top pastor backfires as we brace ourselves for a racist madman, who calls on his flock to sacrifice Hillary Clinton at an altar to Fred Hampton Jr. and slay white women, children and babies. Instead, what we see is an angry black man who has some beef with America. What on earth for? (Or, to be more accurate, an angry black man quoting an angry white man who has some beef with America.)

During the post-mortem Cooper and his fellow experts decide -- I mean observe -- that "look, obviously, his remarks are incendiary. It comes at a particularly bad time... Obviously, it is [fair game] because, again, you have someone who is closely aligned with the senator in terms of being his pastor." Cooper's conscience flickers once more: "Well, it's also frustrating just from a news standpoint, because, on the one hand, I mean, people are talking about it. It's clearly an issue that is bubbling up on the campaign trail, so we end up covering it. But, at same time, it does feel just completely off track."

But, of course, the issue is still being talked about and thus the powerless media is forced to talk about it.

This reminds me of when, like it or not, legitimate or not, the controversial comments made by McCain allies became an issue. Of course, we all know that I'm referring to the HUGE media response to McCain's relationship with John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who said that "Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans" for planning "a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the?? Katrina came." Who can forget how the press crucified McCain for his alliance with Hagee? And we all remember when the media demanded that McCain break all ties with his "spiritual guide" Rod Parsley, senior pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, who said "The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001 was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore."

If you're having trouble remembering the media frenzy that followed McCain's advisors' outrageous and inflammatory statements, that may be because there was no media frenzy. If you want to hear about Jeremiah Wright, just turn on your television. If you want to learn about Hagee or Parsley, you'll have to go to Media Matters or Mother Jones. More offensive than the words Wright has uttered are what the media hasn't said about the homophobia, intolerance, and xenophobia coming out of McCain's camp. But in all fairness to the media, a black "angry" pastor who talks about history and politics is a racist. But white civilized men who preach hatred and promote ignorance and pseudo science just aren't that scary. They're kind of adorable.

Sunday Morning Segregation: Peggy Noonan & The Wright Stuff

by Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

The "Reverend Wright is Wrong" refrain has been repeated endlessly this past week as pundits on both sides weigh in on the racial and religious controversy that's rocked the Obama campaign. Martin Luther King, Jr. touched on this not-so-divine divide 45 years ago:

"We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation."

Sunday morning in our household is, by contrast, the one time during the week when we suspend our secular segregation and tune in to the hot air from beltway blowhards on both sides of the partisan divide. On rare occasions, we even agree with an aside from George Will or a point made by Pat Buchanan.

But Wall Street Journal pundit Peggy Noonan literally gave us pause on Meet the Press yesterday when she responded to a question from Tim Russert about Obama's seminal speech so reasonably that we had to grab the remote, rewind, and relisten:

Tim Russert: Is Obama uniquely situated to talk bluntly to both the white community and the black community?

Peggy Noonan: Maybe he's situated to speak with a certain sensitivity. He's a black man. He also is white. He is both. That means he has experience of both communities, if that isn't too clunky a word to use. Let me take--say, Tim, I thought one of the most important things that he did in his speech was talk about racism even though he started with slavery, and that was a long time ago. He talked about racism as a generational problem, as a problem that had changed over the years. He said Reverend Wright came from the Jim Crow days, he came from another America, and he was shaped and misshapen by that dreadful cultural arrangement of Jim Crow.

Younger black people and younger white people do not have the same experiences. They have to understand each other, they have to mark their progress, they have to, on both sides, stop using the past as an excuse not to get along or, or not to change and improve. So I haven't heard anybody say that in, in politics in some time in America. I thought it was a real insight, really smart and the beginning of a wonderful start-off point for, for more talk.

Let me say something else, though. It seems to me, every time I look at a YouTube of Reverend Wright talking and doing his thing and saying his strange things, I notice two things. One is that the people behind him look bored. Another is that frequently, not always, but when they pan to the crowd, his audience looks almost passive, like we are receiving this, we're hearing this, we know what's going on. It seemed to me that in his statements, Wright was not just extreme, radical--we all know the words to say, because they are true--but that he was a throwback. He was old-fashioned. He himself was the voice of yesterday.

And I was wondering about the extent to which that audience and people like Barack and Michelle Obama know he is yesterday, and yet he has some wonderful things within him as a human being. I just throw that open as a possibility.

Upon hearing this, my husband Matt and I looked at each other in absolute amazement. To hear Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, give the kind of response that you'd expect from, say, Donna Brazile, was a minor Easter miracle, a resurrection of rationality after a week of crucifixion from conservatives.


Originally posted on TakePart.com.

Laughing Liberally to Keep from Crying on the Iraq War's 5th Anniversary

We typically subtitle these types of posts, "Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying," a bit tongue-in-cheek. Tonight, we provide a slightly more literal look.

Laughing Liberally found itself in an interesting position this past Wednesday: making dedicated progressives laugh on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War, not once, but twice, with both an afternoon show at the Take Back America conference, and an evening show at our biweekly Laughing Liberally Labs in New York City. No further commentary - we'll let you decide how we did with a few videos with which to begin your weekend.

At TBA, in addition to an awesome Tuesday performance by Lee Camp, we were lucky enough to have James Adomian with us, doing his best...well, you'll see.

That evening in NYC, we heard the inimitable Harry Terjanian, as introduced by Elon James White.

Thoughts? Opinions on mixing the political tragic with the comedic? Consider this an open thread.