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Pras Michel on Skid Row

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Katie Halper

In his latest project, hip hop artist, actor, and filmmaker Pras Michel of The Fugees goes undercover for 9 days and nights as a homeless person in downtown LA's notorious Skid Row. I met up with Pras in a hotel lobby in Manhattan to discuss Skid Row, the documentary based on his time on the street living with 90,000 people in a 50-square block area. Pras talked to me about Muhammed Ali, why he likes Obama and doesn't go for Bill Cosby, how Oprah and Snoop could help the "lost African-American" generation by meeting face to face, and why we're in a "transitional moment."

Check out www.skidrowthemovie.com to find where it's showing near you.

Why did you make this movie?

To make people aware. The majority of Americans just want to be able to work and provide. People on Skid Row...they just want to be able to work, they don't care what it is. A lot of people think if something's going on over here and not where they are, then it doesn't affect them. We have to get away from that mindset. Keeping the masses ignorant is hurting the country. If people were educated, they would learn to not pollute. I know the theory about short term vs. long term. But you gotta think about your children, your children's children...things that we think don't affect us, come back and affect us.

We saw this mindset during the AIDS crisis. No one cared because it apparently was only for homosexuals. Then AIDS showed that it did not discriminate. That's what's happening with homelessness. The health care crisis and the foreclosure crisis are distant, if not near cousins of homelessness. Millions of people losing their homes. Not all of them have people to stay with until they figure out their situation. This project is supposed to make people aware, to build a community. The globe has gotten smaller, more interconnected. We gotta start thinking like that. My job is to get people to realize that. Our goal isn't to say we have a solution because we don't. But we can show people that thinking "I'm gonna make it on my own, and if I'm successful I did it on my own, forget about everybody else" is wrong.

Did your own success make it hard for you to stay grounded and feel connected to the community?

I think the person that I am now, innately, has always been inside me. Success doesn't change us, it amplifies who we really are. If I'm an asshole, I'm gonna become a major asshole with power and money. If I'm a hermit, I'm gonna build a moat around my house so no one can come near me.What surprised you most about Skid Row?

I met someone who said he hadn't been distracted by women in three years. That's how he stayed clean. Any little distraction and he would have slipped back. In my world, I think about sex - I mean I don't think I think about sex like the average man does-

Which is 24/7?

Which is 24/7, I'm probably like...

2/6?

22/6.

No really, more like 22/7 right?

Yeah...I can't lie to you - sex was nowhere on my mind. Maybe because I was getting acclimated. But if I was there longer, I probably would have adapted.

And I surprised myself. When you're homeless a lot of things go out the window because it's all about survival. I had to do certain things I don't do. Like I'm not one of those people who smiles. It doesn't mean I'm not happy. It's just not part of my temperament. I never had to do that before. But on Skid Row, when I was looking for money, a guy said to "smile". He was gay. I'm not homophobic, far from it. Most guys would get offended. I wouldn't get offended, I just wouldn't smile. But on Skid Row when this guy offered me $5 to smile, I'm thinking, I have to eat. So I smiled for him. And another woman said to me, "Come on brother, it can't be that bad. Smile." And I smiled for her too.

I was really surprised by how nice people were to you and how much they opened up to you. Was it your smile?

Well they saw me as part of the community. They saw me around. It wasn't like I was an outsider. They saw me on the sidewalk. And they would save my little section for me when I came back late. That was New York's [Pras's alias] little home.

How did you feel about going undercover? Did you feel conflicted about violating people's trust, even if it was in order to raise awareness?

No, because I walked the walk.

So how did people respond when you told them who you were?

They thought it was good that we were exposing it, and exposing it in the realest form. It wasn't some Tyra Banks thing, going in there for two hours with no makeup. This was real.

What was the scariest part?

The unknown. Somebody got shot around the corner from where I slept. Someone could stab with you a needle and then you're done.

What did you learn on Skid Row?

I learned a lot. I learned a lot from the people on Skid Row. I was a student down in Skid Row. I was like a student at Oxford University. Like Philly [who lives on Skid Row] is brilliant. He builds computers. This dude is a computer geek...I mean we adapt to our situation. You take Philly and you take him from the street and put him in a corporate job - everything he learned he's able to upgrade it to a level, to a corporate side. Just like if you're corporate and not street-smart and you become homeless, you're gonna be able to downgrade it to make it work on the street. That's how you're able to survive.

Is hip hop still political?

Hip hop is just a mild version of what Reverend Wright was saying to his community. And it just got acceptable because it had music behind it and people said, "They're entertaining us. They don't really mean it." Then hip hop became successful, got away from what the agenda was, started doing the gangster stuff. So hip hop lost all edge, all credibility. But it used to be the black CNN.

Are there any hip hop artists who still have the edge and credibility?

Mos Def, Talib Kweli, but it's such a cult thing. The African-American generation is lost. They're not being represented correctly. The leaders, the Bill Cosbies, the Oprahs, instead of sitting down, they'd rather just criticize and point fingers. And they don't understand. Oprah, instead of saying, "Snoop is misogynist," can call Snoop and say, "Come see me in Chicago." He'll be more than happy to. And she can say, "Snoop, explain to me the disrespect of women, the homophobic thing, the gangster thing. Explain to me how is that advancing the community." And then he's gonna express it. And you're gonna have a form of dialogue. And guess what? Whatever she says, he may not totally agree, but it's going to influence him. Then maybe Snoop will come out and say, "Listen...it's all about the community now. I'm not saying I'm making mom and pop songs but I'm gonna be a little more conscious. I wanna do more." Because we know Oprah is the god.

So you're saying if there was dialogue, instead of finger-pointing ... ?

Oprah and Bill Cosby know you're not supposed to do certain things. But if you come from a broken home, you grew up without a father, how are you supposed to know? Just because black people don't relate to Oprah doesn't mean they don't respect how gangster she is. They know she is a beast. You can't deny who she is. Oprah can make the argument, "Listen, I came from a hard life." But you take 10 people and put them through the same thing, maybe 2 of them will come out of it OK. So we need a dialogue, we need communication.

What about the Cornel Wests of the world?

I love Cornel West. I respect him. But a black kid on the street don't have a clue who he is. Look, when Muhammed Ali came out...the reason he's "the people's champ"...is because he was defiant, he went against the U.S. government when they wanted to ship him to Vietnam. And he stood by it and people stood by him. Nobody called Michael Jordan "the people's champ." ... Michael Jordan is a sell-out. There are lots of black sell-outs.

Somebody said to me you only like Obama because he's black. Well I can think of a couple black people I wouldn't vote for. I'm not into black power. And on the other end of the spectrum, you got the Uncle Toms, the Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice...I'm not into that either. Obama is a uniter. He's perfectly comfortable with the skin he's in. He's not gonna sell out. That's a man of great principle.

The African-American generation is a lost generation unless something happens quickly. You have a generation of kids who are lost. Twelve-year-olds having sex and not understanding the meaning of that...People don't understand the power of having someone on a certain level that you can identity with. Five months ago, young African-American people didn't care about politics. Until Obama. If you are a young black person, you can relate to him because he's black and he's running for the highest office and he has a real good shot. He's articulate, he's smart, he's smooth. The people in the black community, in the urban community, are changing their style, the way they dress, because they see someone they relate to. He's not Charlie Rangel. He's only 46. He's 10 years older than me. He probably listens to hip hop and Mozart and jazz at the same time. I'm telling you, people don't realize the power of that speech Obama gave. Trying to hide and act like it didn't happen is like having a wound that can never heal. Obama is walking a tightrope. But we need to talk about this stuff. It's like if you're in a relationship with someone and something's not going well and you try not to talk about it because you hope it's going to disappear. It's not. I thought it was brilliant...By the way, I don't formally support Obama. I just want people to know I really like him.

I do not believe governments change willingly. LBJ didn't sign the Civil Rights Act because he wanted to. It was the pressure of the times. The times inspired Rosa Parks. The times inspired Martin Luther King, to stand up as a leader. It inspired white people who supported black people to come out of the closet and not be called a "nigger-lover." It inspired black people to say, "We can do this." It inspired a whole nation, which led to the Civil Rights Movement, which led to the Civil Rights Bill. The people are going to make the change - you can feel it. It's brewing in the air. You see it in the way we eat, the way we interact at work, the way we watch TV, movies, interact with the Internet. We're in a transitional moment.

Katie Halper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, one of the national directors of Living Liberally and artistic director and comedy curator at The Tank. Katie blogs regularly for the Huffington Post, Working Life, Culture Kitchen and the political comedy site 23/6. Katie is working on a documentary about Camp Kinderland, the "Summer Camp with a Conscience."

A version of this post originally appeared on AlterNet.

A Tax Day Dilemma

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

To eat a free donut or not eat a free donut? That is the question.

When I was 13 years old, I overheard a friend's father say he wanted a bumper sticker that said, "Stop Whining and Pay Your Taxes." What I didn't get at the time was how likely it would have been that he'd be rear-ended with a message like that. Nor did I get just how important that message was.

Now, I get it. As our framing experts have helped us to understand, language of "tax burden" sure helps the right-wing demonize the notion that we should all invest in our nation together. We more often hear quoted Ben Franklin's quote, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes," than the message of shared responsibility from another American giant, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society." So it's no surprise that anti-tax crusaders win elections, and anti-tax messaging becomes common rhetoric on both sides of the aisle.

Living Liberally doesn't agree. Back in April, 2005, we threw "Rock Your Refund." Dubbed "A Tax Day Celebration" (and, in our somewhat less-catchy attempt to re-frame, "An Invest-in-America Day Celebration"), we hosted a dance party, and encouraged donations at the door that were directed to services which had been underfunded due to Bush's reckless war-time tax cuts for the rich. In a celebratory spirit, we encouraged people to think about what their "invest-in-America" money went to...and to feel proud for paying their share.

The party didn't become an annual event...but it could. You could throw events that celebrate all that your taxes pay for: drinking tap water instead of bottled water, dancing on well-paved roads, honoring schools and scientific research and the post office.

Which leads me to the dilemma of the donut. Dunkin' Donuts offered a Tax Day Special yesterday - get a free donut if you buy any-sized cup of coffee. Regardless of the Carlyle Group involvement in Dunkin', I haven't been able to kick the habit. Their ads get into my head, and their donuts into my heart (or at least my arteries), ever since it was the only 24-hour establishment high schoolers could escape to late night in the small town of Highland Park, NJ. So, in short, I love their donuts.

Do I take advantage of this magical moment to get a Boston Creme at no cost? Or would that just be buying into the right-wing frame that taxes are a burden from which I need the "relief" of a free treat? Would satisfying my tastebuds soil my soul?

Well...I wasn't able to resist. Consider it me eating away Carlyle's profits by taking their donut for free. And if anyone wants to throw a Rock Your Refund Invest-in-America-Day Celebration, count me in...I need to clean the taste of right-wing frame off my palette.

And one last question: if you were throwing a party with themes of all the public works and common good taxes support, what images, party favors, and festive games would you include? How would you Rock YOUR Refund?

How to Win The Iraq War Debate Against Your Dumb Friends

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Lee Camp

Recently I was arguing with one of my dumber friends about the Iraq war. He loves Bush, and thinks bigger bombs is the answer in Iraq. I wasn’t gaining any ground in the argument until I used a simple analogy. I said, “Your solution is like shattering an expensive vase and then saying, ‘We need to keep smashing it until it’s fixed.’” I stumped him. He was silent. So here’s a brief list of other analogies you can use on your dumb friends. And the truth is, I’ve seen similar ones work on some of the smartest political pundits.

1) The country of Iraq has essentially been demolished. The right-wingers keep saying the answer is continued large-scale military action. That’s like if someone got into a car accident, went into a coma, and the doctors believed the patient could be healed by more car accidents. So they just keep putting him into cars and sending him off cliffs.

2) I’ve heard people say that being against Bush or Petraeus or the war in Iraq is equivalent to being against the troops. That’s like if I knew someone who repeatedly sent brave puppies out into traffic. I called that person an asshole for abusing the puppies and abusing their power. Then you accused me of being anti-puppy.

3) The administration talks about the success of the surge because violence has decreased, but we’re in fact paying the militias not to kill each other or our soldiers. It’s like if you were treading water, two sharks approach and begin biting you, you give each one a small piece of fish to distract them. While they take a moment to eat the fish, you sit there treading water and yelling, “Problem solved!”

4) At the Petraeus hearings, he refused to give any sort of definition for “victory” in Iraq. That’s like running a foot race, you’ve gone 30 miles, you’re exhausted, and when you ask your coach driving along next to you how much farther, he just keeps saying “You’ll know it when you get there.” He keeps saying that until you collapse and die.

5) We claim to be “fighting the terrorists” in Iraq, but in fact our presence is helping to create more terrorists. The disaster in Iraq serves as a great training and recruiting tool for an entire generation of terrorists. It’s like trying to kill a gremlin by dousing him in water.

6) KBR, Halliburton, Blackwater and other companies have huge pull in our government (such as the vice presidency). So essentially they decide when the war is over. They also happen to be making millions upon millions of dollars from the war. So asking them to decide when the war is over, is like asking an ugly guy cast in a threesome porn movie to decide when the scene is over. Chances are the scene would go on for months, if not years. The entire crew would be standing around asking, “When will we know when it’s time to end it?” And the ugly guy would respond, “Um, it’s a bad idea to set timetables. Just trust me on this.”

7) Lastly, President Bush is like a colorblind child with a Rubik’s Cube.

The Stalk Brokers Who Pay Delicious Dividends

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Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

Oh, you car-crazy, meat-mad Americans, look what you’ve done now! Everybody else wants to live the way you do, wolfing down Whoppers behind the wheel. So they’re ripping up rainforests to grow more grains for cars and cows, and that’s just accelerating global warming, which is worsening the droughts that are ruining crops from Australia to Zimbabwe.

As Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday, the current global food crisis wasn’t caused by some sort of temporary setback such as crop failure, but rather “systemic change” due to increased worldwide demand for meat and the fool’s gold rush to produce more biofuels, which Brown cites as the proverbial last straw:

“The grain required to fill a 25 gallon SUV tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year, and what we’re seeing now is the emergence of direct competition between the 860 million people in the world who own automobiles and who want to maintain their mobility, while the two billion poorest people in the world simply want to survive.”

Meanwhile, the subdivisions where so many of us park our precious cars--and our dreams--have proven, like Beanie Babies and Thomas Kinkade paintings, to be a less than stellar investment, leaving millions of Americans looking for a new bubble to float their boat while Wall Street and the rest of the world blanches at the prospect of a global recession.

But though our carnivorous, fossil-fueled lifestyle’s inadvertently worsened a worldwide shortage of grains and other staple crops, it’s also created some terrific investment opportunities! As the UK website everyinvestor recently declared, “Buy Food…It’s The New Gold:”

As we all know, food prices in the shops are rising. Prices of almost all agricultural commodities have soared over the past year as some experts predict major food shortages. Is this the right time to invest?

My unequivocal answer is yes! But not in the conventional, commodity crop sense that every investor meant. Forget about corn and soy shares; buy yourself a share of the harvest from one of your local family farmers instead.

It’s called a CSA--Community Supported Agriculture--and in return for an investment of a few hundred dollars upfront this spring, you’ll be rewarded all summer and fall with fresh-from-the-farm produce picked each week at its prime and packed into a box just for you.

Good as gold? I’d argue that it’s even better; after all, when food’s in short supply, you’re better off with carrots than carats. You can’t make stock out of bullion.

Here in the land of milk ‘n’ honey, milk prices are soaring and the honeybees we need to pollinate our crops are all going AWOL. The Washington Post reports that the cost of milk’s shot up so high that one school district in North Carolina’s gone back to serving its kids Yoo-hoo drinks, “which had been taken off the shelf in favor of healthier options…Sure, officials would rather the kids chugged milk. But each Yoo-hoo sale brings in 36 cents of profit.”

American institutions and individuals alike have been addicted for decades to cheap processed foods, aided and abetted by our own agricultural axis of evil: Agribiz, Big Food, and bottom-of-the-pork-barrel politicians. But with higher food and fuel costs looking likely to be the new normal, we may finally be ready to shed the shackles of this corrosive food chain.

Community Supported Agriculture offers an alternative model of farming that nourishes us, the land, and our local economies. It produces fresh, healthy food, preserves open space, and enables small family farmers to actually make a decent living. In short, it’s the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak food forecast.

Ironically, uber-urban New York City’s at the vanguard of this pastoral phenomenon; we’ve got 60 CSAs right here in NYC and another 120 elsewhere in the state, giving New York the highest number of CSAs in the nation.

You may have only just started to hear the buzz about CSAs, but this grass-fed, grassroots movement’s been growing for more than twenty years now, as one of its pioneers, Columbia University nutrition professor emeritus Joan Gussow, noted at the recent CSA in NYC conference held at Columbia and hosted by Just Food, the powerhouse non-profit that’s done so much to promote the growth of CSAs in New York.

Gussow, author of This Organic Life: Confessions of A Suburban Homesteader and a mentor to Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan and the rest of us progressive foodie activist types, calculated that currently, a CSA feeds one out of every 727 New Yorkers, prompting Just Food’s executive director, Jacquie Berger, to reply, “Yeah, but we’re aiming for one out of 7.”

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik described Berger as “startlingly young-looking” in a piece last fall on the local foods movement, and she is, but as Gussow’s anecdote illustrates, Berger and her colleagues at Just Food are also wildly ambitious--and rightly so, according to Gussow, who’s been living La Vida Local for decades.

You might expect Gussow to be just a bit weary of fighting the good food fight after all these years, but she may in fact be more optimistic than she’s ever been about the prospects for our food culture shifting to a more sustainable model. As she told those of us who gathered for the Just Food CSA in NYC conference:

“…as I think about where we’ve come, it seems clear that nothing is impossible, as long as we know we’re heading in the right direction. For years I have listened to marketers and other people vested in the status quo say that people were unwilling to change their diets, that if we wanted them to eat well, we would have to sneak nutrients into the foods they already ate, fortifying Cokes and snack cakes, making broccoli taste like candy and otherwise violating innocent vegetables.

So who would have imagined that people raised among so many choices, among the ubiquitous markets, bodegas, delis, restaurants, fast food eateries, street carts, and the like—people who can grab and eat anytime, anywhere they are in the city—would choose to hand over money up front just to get bags that contain, at this time of year, boiling greens and leeks and parsnips?...

…what is going on here today supports and celebrates some of the most exciting and heartening and inspiring activities taking place in the nation. In a time when each of us wakes up every morning to new revelations about the coming apart of the world we live in, the kinds of communities you are creating around food are genuine sources of hope.”

And hope, as we all know, is a hot commodity these days. Maybe even hotter than corn and soy. So log on to Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide and find the CSA nearest you! Your investment will be rewarded with some of the sweetest dividends ever.

Shyness, Unfairness and The Visitor

TheVisitorPoster.jpg
Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Josh Bolotsky

The emotional impact of Thomas McCarthy's new film, The Visitor, does not emanate from the fact it is set in post-9/11 New York City. The story, that of a graying economics professor who makes fast friends with a Syrian immigrant, only to have the latter detained and potentially deported to his home country without so much as a hearing, could easily have been set, with a few adjustments here and there, in Soviet Russia, or a theocratic banana republic, and it'd still be equally heartbreaking. But it's not set somewhere else, and the fact it doesn't spend too much time harping on that particular "this shouldn't be happening here" trump card, but instead largely allows the audience to recognize and stew silently in that irony - there's maybe one shot that lasts too long of an American flag, a glance at the Statue of Liberty that's perhaps a touch too ironic - is what makes The Visitor such an effective advocate for human dignity, and the best film of the year thus far.

The economics professor is Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a lecturer at Connecticut College who, in his early 60s, is already a ghost of a man, ambling slowly to the one class he's consistently taught for the last twenty years, a bloodlessly basic Principles of Economics course. When we meet him at the beginning of the film, he talks in clipped sentences, communicating with the minimum words required to be grammatically correct, as if each word elicited its own unique quantum of pain. He maintains eye contact only when necessary. There are periodic references to an earlier, fuller life - a concert pianist wife who passed away years ago, perhaps a normal family life - but how he got to his current state is never fully explained. (Even though we spend virtually the entire film in Vale's presence, it is only once, an hour into the film, that he briefly mentions that he has a son living in London.) This is someone who knows that he has a certain allotment of life he is condemned to complete, and is hoping to get through it with at little further self-extension as possible - so when a departmental obligation requires him to travel to New York University to present a paper at a conference on globalization, he hems and haws at the invitation, doing what he can to get out of it. But the sentence is iron-clad, and he finds himself driving to his long-empty Manhattan apartment.

Only the apartment is not alone - an unscrupulous landlord has pawned it off as abandoned to the couple Tarek Khalil (Haaz Sleiman), a musician originally from Syria, and his girlfriend, a Senegalese artist named Zainab (Daina Gurira), who have been living in the apartment on their own. Unable to witness them leaving the apartment into a big apple where they have nowhere to stay, Walter, in the first act of kindness we see him offer in the film, offers them the ability to stay until they find a more permanent housing solution. Tarek and Walter bond over music, with the former's African drum serving as a sort of universal language between them.

And it is here while The Visitor really begins to shine, in the quiet, clever ways it details the ripening of a friendship. This is not, obviously new material, and the pitfalls for flagrant (and offensive) cliche here are obvious - an uptight white man learns to live life a little more openly and loudly with the help of an unerringly positive friend of color, you say? One who seems more at ease with his physical presence? Why, that sounds positively uplifting!

But it works, not just because of the stellar performances by Jenkins and Sleiman (more on that later), but because McCarthy foresees and corrects for the most obvious problem - turning Tarek and Zainab into "magical negroes" without real personalities, who exist primarily as inspiring foils for our white protagonists. Instead, these are genuine characters, with genuine flaws - Tarek's propensity to dismiss suggestions that everything will not be alright, Zainab's inability to trust in the goodness of people. And when we see that friendship develop, one notices that, unlike so many films, there's never one scene where Vale "decides" to open up a little more - it just happens gradually, his willingness to talk about himself becoming less forced and more free-flowing. (But even then, not that free-flowing - there is no magical transformation, and by the end of the film, he is still essentially a quiet man, albeit a quiet man with a few more outlets for his inner pathos.)

And then, disaster strikes - a few days into Vale's visit, Tarek is taken into custody by police in a subway station, and taken in for questioning, a questioning that turns into detention, a detention that turns into a potential deportation. Tarek's mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), leaves her Michigan household to visit the apartment, worried that she hasn't had her calls returned for the past five days. I won't say much more, for risk of spoiling the unspeakably dark and wonderful surprises of the second half, except that the film is primarily concerned from this point on with joint sufferings as they deal with the legal wrangling of a system that feels intentionally kafkaesque, trying to prevent Tarek's deportation on specious charges.

I will say this, though: "it's not fair!" becomes a sort of refrain in the film, a sort of security blanket for minds that're otherwise unable to process the sheer enormity of what they're facing. Like song lyrics, its credibility lies primarily in its delivery, and the delivery with which Jenkins imbues this line gives us more than enough credibility. Jenkins has long been one of my favorite character actors, particularly in the David O. Rusell films like Flirting With Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. However, finally given the lead role in a film, a development that would launch some actors into clearly-milking-it scene-chewing hysteria, Jenkins instead delivers a heartbreaking performance, entirely convincing as a shy man who realizes that his shyness, for once, may not cut it.

If I've given the impression the film is all dourness and thunderstorms, I apologize - The Visitor, for all of the misfortune it displays, is a story about the courage it takes to step outside of a holding pattern in your life. McCarthy's film is not just a plea for us to stand up to injustice, but to enjoy life for those who can not do so as a result of injustice. When The Visitor was over, I left the screening room in midtown Manhattan to find that the sky was overcast, rendering the whole afternoon an industrial gray. I walked uptown a few blocks, wondering who among the people I walked past and never spoke to could have been friends in another life. I wondered why everyone's face seemed to look so harried and strange. I made a mental note to look up and learn more about immigration policy and immigrant rights. And I called my mother.

Both the first shot and the last shot of the film show Jenkins approaching a musical instrument. In the first shot, he has his back to us in the privacy of his home, merely contemplating the piano in front of him, the instrument of his wife, alone. In the last shot, he has his newly acquired African drum splayed out in front of him, playing his heart out in one of the most public places imaginable, the platform bench of a busy New York City subway station, an action that would've been unimaginable to him a mere week earlier. The Visitor is about a man who realizes the unfairness in his own life, the unfairness that he uses to justify his own sadness and cruelty, is not the only unfairness worth ruminating over. That alone makes it one of the most important films for progressives in a long time.

Aborting Alarmingly

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

There's very little to say about Abortion Without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s that isn't actively nauseating. Between a step by step guide to how to fill a vagina with blood and bits from a cow's liver in order to get a hospital to perform a D&C, and realizing that the dreams of the initial pro-choice activists would never be filled, the whole book was somewhat distressing.

The book talks about the three women who gave birth to the organization that eventually became NARAL and their impetus for becoming abortion activists. One of them married at 15 because of her family's extreme poverty, was told she would probably die if she gave birth to a second child, and then wasn't given information about or access to birth control.

The book also discusses groups like JANE, a Chicago-based women's liberation group that provided low cost abortions done by laypeople in a friendly and cookie-filled atmosphere before being shut down by the government, and feminist groups that encouraged their members to learn more about their bodies and think about how they would like to change their role in society.

I don't want to have the government controlling my body and when I reproduce (they'd have to start by giving me a federally-mandated dating class—did you know that when a guy offers to pay for dinner you're not supposed to say "Sorry, that would make blood pour out of my eyeballs?" I had no idea.). On the other hand, there is something to be said for having federal standards for medical care. I don't think I'm a radical right winger for thinking it might be safer to get an abortion from a professional, instead of by having a women repeatedly stick her thumbs through her cervix, or with an apparatus made with "a mason jar, a cork with two holes in it, two lengths of fish tank tuning, and a syringe." Do I think people who practice medicine without a license should be penalized? Absolutely not, but unlike the author of the book, it's not what I would hold up as an ideal--although with fewer medical students learning how to perform abortions it might be the only option in the future.

Abortion Without Apology ultimately conjured in me a kind of nostalgia—not for the days of living-room abortion classes or feminist abortion collectives, but for eighteen years ago when the author, Ninia Baehr, thought it a somewhat obtainable dream to hope for a day when there were no laws regulating or controlling abortions. I just hope that my daughters aren't going to have to give themselves abortions with their thumbs. Baehr's dream of a world where women have complete reproductive freedoms seems to be retreating behind a phalanx of voters who place no value on a women's right to control her body and her future.

Lou Dobbs: Homophobic or Homo?

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

Last week Lou Dobbs told his viewers "I can’t say ‘I love you’ to a fellow in San Francisco." Me think he doth protest too much. Who was he talking about anyway?

Dobbs "came out" about having “one of those days” when “some folks are kind of just on you.” Specifically, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom "got on Lou" for hating on anyone who thinks that immigrants are human beings and not aliens. Menendez softened his criticism of Dobbs by saying "I love you, Lou" but a relentless Newsom spoke of "cable TV, where careers are literally being saved and salvaged, like Lou Dobbs."

Lovable Lou responded by saying "Senator Menendez said he loved me, and so I'm going to say I love you back. I can't say 'I love you' to a fellow in San Francisco I suppose." (Think Progress has the video.)

Hmmm. Is Lou engaging in some good old fashioned "Made in America" homophobia? Or is he trying to tell us something? Would saying I love you to Gavin Newsom be too close for comfort? I mean if there's one man who could awaken the latent homosexuality that lurks in the heart of another man, it would have to be Gavin "I can't believe he's not gay except I can because if he were he wouldn't be this comfortable with gay people and with legalizing gay marriage" Newsom. His sex appeal is so disarming, lesbians literally line up to get a piece, as this photo shows.

A version of this post originally appeared on Nerve Scanner.

A Detailed Analysis of Olympic Politics in Cartoon Form

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Lee Camp

In a week that saw the Olympic torch extinguished not once, not twice, but thrice, our very own Lee Camp provides the hard-hitting analysis we at Laughing Liberally have learned to rely upon.