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Dear 5-Year Anniversary Of Iraq War: America's "Just Not That Into You"

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

I don't know what IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff is getting his military briefs all up in a bunch about. So, the media isn't going OCD about the 5-year anniversary of our liberation of Iraq. Whatevs. The American people have a lot more serious things to worry about and think about. If you want to put your finger on the American pulse, go to Google's Hot Trends, where you can see what Americans are really searching the internet, if not their souls and consciences, for. On the 5-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the 5 most important issues to Americas are:

1. kristin davis sex pics
2. audrina patridge
3. tampa tony
4. boss button
5. terrelle pryor

In fact, out of the top 100 Hot Trends, not one has anything to do with the Iraq War! Mr. Rieckhoff, with all due respect, I think we can all agree that headlines like Kristin Davis Goes from Deck the Halls to Licking Balls? or Audrina Patridge of 'The Hills' went topless, and stories on rapper Tampa Tony's prison sentence, a "boss mouse" which lets you watch March Madness without getting busted by your boss, and Terrelle Pryor's decision to play for the Buckeyes over Michigan, are a lot more important than some war that has cost three trillion dollars, wounded tens of thousands and killed nearly 4,000 Americans. Oh, and, in terms of the affect on Iraqis (which is even more boring than the stats I listed above because the Iraqis don't even live in America, or talk American or look American), the war has killed up to one million people, displaced 2.5 million Iraqis, and forced more than two million to flee into neighboring countries. (I know, Americans: boring!)

So, I hope I haven't taken away too much of your time because I know there are a lot of really important issues out there, which deserve our undivided attention. I mean, Iraq may literally be in up in flames, but, according to Hot Trends, Terrelle Pryor is "On Fire." And Kristin Davis sex pix are "Volcanic," which means, technically and objectively, naked photos of Charlotte from Sex and the City are hotter than the war in Iraq. So if you'll excuse me, I have to read about the urgent "child uses lunchbox as toilet" story.

Liberal Jews, Liberal Drinks: Purim and Social Justice

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Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Amanda Milstein

Living Liberally is all about making cultural events places to become energized and educated about politics. Unfortunately I'm often too busy to attend Living Liberally events, sometimes because I'm running around New York with the liberal Jewish groups that I am part of, going to events that, oh yeah, are often places for people to become energized or educated about politics, either officially or unofficially. When I leave New York I have more than the nationwide network of Drinking Liberallys to rely upon for interesting political conversation, because all across the East Coast young progressive Jews are hanging out and praying — and then going and doing things that are pretty useful.

One of my good friend Julie Aronowitz's favorite books is Bowling Alone, and she seems determined to single-handedly reverse trends of Americans spending less and less time in community. When I spent a recent weekend at her place in Boston she invited 60 people to attend Jewish religious services and a potluck in her apartment and the apartment of her upstairs neighbors as a joint program with the Moishe/Kavod House. After the services her roommate gave a brief speech about organic produce, and how one of her friends volunteered in a community where many people were dying of cancer presumably because of exposure to the pesticides that they sprayed on the crops they were growing. She then distributed information about buying a share in a co-op, and encouraged people to split shares with those seated around them

Joelle Novey is one of the people who helps run an independent minyan called Tikkun Leil Shabbat in D.C. Every time they meet someone from a social justice organizations speaks, and provides participants with ways of getting involved with the cause that they are working for.

"We've heard [talks about how we could repair the world] about security guards organizing, efforts to clean up the Anacostia River, the local fight for marriage equality, activism to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and…more… There are 150-200 folks at each of our gatherings, and almost 500 on our email list…We're placing ongoing social justice work at the center of our Jewish community life in a way that feels unprecedented and important," she said.Ben Dreyfus, one of the founders of Kol Zimrah, an independent minyan in New York City, said he'd participated in several calling parties before the '04 and '06 elections with people he'd mainly met through the Kol Zimrah community, and become involved with Democracy in the Park and several local campaigns through people from the progressive Jewish community as well.And, of course, one of my Kol Zimrah friends proofread my cover letter for Living Liberally, thus enabling me to spend my days trying to get people to go to progressive networking events.

Thursday is Purim, when Jews are commanded to drink and give to charity—not necessarily in that order. Although I won't be able to make it to Drinking Liberally this week, I hope that the liberals that I do end up drinking with lead me to interesting progressive opportunities.

Hightower: High Tide For People Power

swim.jpgThe secret to Jim Hightower’s success lies in a style of political commentary best described as “pleasantly apoplectic;” he’s mad as hell, but in an ultra-affable way. Who else could stoke a fire in the belly with so many belly laughs?

In our climate change crisis, Hightower’s a natural source of alternative energy. He’s got his own brand of windpower, fueled by blowhards and gasbags, of which the right seems to have an endless supply.

And then there’s the wave power he’s helping to generate with his new book, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. Swim Against the Current, co-authored by Susan DeMarco, provides heartening proof that citizen activists are turning the tide against the Powers That Be who’ve dragged our democracy through the muck.

If you subscribe to the “Yes-Things-Are-Awful-But-What-Can-I- Do-I’m-Just-One-Person” school of thought, I’m giving you an “F” for fatalism. I’ll change it to an “A” for attitude adjustment after you read this book and get off your apathetic ass and join the ranks of the grassroots greenies and grannies who are the heroes of Hightower’s book.

Hightower profiles people from every region in our country who are working to better our communities and our country. There are success stories about cooperatives formed by everyone from organic dairy farmers to cabbies and strippers, and benign bankers (yes, you read that right) willing to give low-income folks a leg up. Whether urban or rural, religious or secular, these people all share a devout faith in the power of democracy.

The book also highlights the rise of eco-conscious Christians, who’ve helped grow grassroots groups like the Coal River Mountain Watch, a coalition of Appalachian residents who took on the coal mining industry. The industry’s embrace of a practice called mountaintop removal has flattened their mountains, poisoned their water, and flooded their “hollers” with toxic coal slurry, an environmental catastrophe one coal industry official characterized as an “act of God.”

Hightower calls the devastating practice of mountaintop coal removal by its rightful name, “ecocide: the total annihilation of a priceless ecosystem that is older than the Himalayas.” These rural communities are being ravaged while most of us flip on a switch and never think about where that power’s coming from. You can witness the courage of these “average” folks in the face of brutal indifference from the coal industry in the film Burning the Future: Coal in America.

Another movement Hightower gives a shout-out to is the growing revolt against revolting food. We call it the “real food revival,” or the “good food movement,” but Hightower gives it a locution worthy of the Lonestar State: “the upchuck rebellion.” Hightower’s been hurling tomatoes at Agribiz for decades; his first book, Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, written with DeMarcos in 1972, was an exposé of how industrial agriculture hijacked tax payer-financed agricultural research for its own gain, at the expense of our food chain. As Agriculture Commissioner of Texas from 1982 to 1991, Hightower fought hard to promote organic farming and regulate pesticides, and he sums up succinctly the way that Agribiz has perverted “agriculture production from the high art and science of cooperating with nature into a high-cost, high-tech process of overwhelming nature.”

Our school cafeterias are, as Hightower notes, “that last refuge of awful “mystery meats” and pre-packaged fat bombs,” but that’s changing, too, thanks to the farm-to-cafeteria movement and the efforts of good school food luminaries like Alice Waters and Chef Ann Cooper, along with ordinary folks who are fed up with the stuff they’re serving our kids:

Just as good food springs from well-tended ground, so has this grassroots movement. No one in a position of power—political or economic—made any of these improvements happen. In a remarkably short time, ordinary Americans informed themselves, organized, and acted to assert their own values over those of the corporate structure. Family by family, business by business, they have changed not only the market, but the culture. By taking charge of what goes on their plates, people are beginning to take charge of their lives.

Advocating more mindful consumption, Hightower sounds like an apostle of the Reverend Billy or a fan of No Impact Man as he calls on us to reject rampant consumerism and get a real life:

Consumerism is not a “life,” it’s a substitute for life. To elevate it to the level of a predominant social goal demeans the human spirit, restricts our potential, distorts our society, and endangers our world…

…the basic question is this:

Will we let greedheaded profiteers determine the boundaries of our lives? Or will we take charge, blazing new paths for ourselves and our country?

Beyond a series of uplifting anecdotes of folks who are doing just that, Swim Against the Current offers pages of resources to connect you to all kinds of organizations that are revitalizing our communities and reclaiming our democracy. Dive into this book and start paddling, because while you’re moping around on the sidelines, you’re really sinking. Why sink when you can swim with Jim?

Originally posted on TakePart.com.

My Abusive, Addictive Relationship That I Just Can't Quit

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Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

I am breaking my silence. I am in an unhealthy relationship. I feel bad, guilty, exploited, used and unethical, addicted and powerless. But I just can't quit it. I keep going back for more. Sure, I get something out of this relationship; I get my fix, I get a jolt, I get a high. I get plugged in, connected. It makes me feel like I'm not alone. But of course, I pay the price for remaining in this relationship. I'm totally, physically, emotionally dependent and need it to even start my day or get through the day.

If I try to stop, I want it more, and crave it more, and need it more. I'm obsessed, and I can't go long without a visit. I see reminders every where I go, on every street corner, practically, of every city, in every country. I feel like I can't escape. This relationship makes me question my judgment and my political, moral, cultural and social principles, commitments, priorities, and values. Why do I go back, day after day? Because I fear that there is no alternative. If I end this relationship, where will I go? There really aren't that many options out there. And I'm always hoping that this time it will be different, that I'll get what I really want. But the song remains the same. Or the songs remain the same. Because Starbucks only plays 10 songs a season. So, in my desperate search for caffeine and wireless, I go back to Starbucks almost every day. And I continue to pay the price, $40 a month for the wireless, $4.12 for every skim-milk, sugar-free vanilla latte.So why, you ask, am I coming forward now? Because I have learned that I am not alone. I had heard whispers about other abusive relationships, abbout union busting, spying, reading e-mails. But now other victims are breaking the silence, coming forward, testifying, engaging in class action law suits in:

# San Francisco, where about 2,500 assistant managers in California allege in U.S. District Court that since 2002 they were forced to work overtime without pay. A hearing on whether to certify the class is April 10. Starbucks had no comment on this case.
# West Palm Beach, Fla., where roughly 900 store managers allege they performed essentially the same duties as baristas and should be paid overtime. A trial in U.S. District Court is expected in late summer or early fall, according to a lawyer for the workers. Starbucks said that by the end of the week it intends to file a motion to dismiss the case.
# San Diego, where a California judge has ruled that the company's tip pool policy violated the state's labor code because "agents" of the company, in this case shift supervisors, were sharing in the tips with baristas.

This inspiring lawsuits have given me the strength to leave starbucks, and this time for good. I won't fall the nice gestures, the kidney donations, the retraining sessions, the 5 cent donations to charity. I finally see Starbucks for what it is: a monster. A greedy, union-busting, pseudo-environmentalist, pseudo-human-rights-defending, generic, mainstream, yuppy, cold, impersonal, fake, corporate monster.

A version of this post originally appeared on Scanner.

If Only He Were Republican, He'd Have Been Promoted

Spitzer had to go! He cheated on his wife!
...just like the GOP Presidential candidate,
who left his 1st marriage for his current one.

But Spitzer paid money for his adultery!
...more like the Senator from Louisiana,
still in the Senate after the DC madam scandal.

But Spitzer's was a big crime!
...though not as big as crimes like
domestic spying, messing with US Attorneys
& misleading our country into war--
which have been punished how exactly?

Yes - Spitzer betrayed our trust,
should've been damn smarter,
& was guilty of hubris & hypocrisy.

If only he were in the Bush administration,
he would have been promoted.

Make sense of Spitzer's double standards
-- & those of the media & the GOP --
while double-fisting a drink & a debate
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
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The Pitfalls of Married Life, or, Breaking Bechdel's Law in Style

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Josh Bolotsky

I'd like to begin with a brief exercise. (Paper and pencil are not required, although they are recommended.)

Don't worry, we'll get to the review of Married Life, the black-as-night comedy released last Friday, in just a moment, but before we do, we need to establish something first, and quickly.

Ready? Let's begin:

1. Write down the names of every film you remember seeing in the last two months - in the theater, on television, old, new, whatever. You technically only need one, although this works better with more.

2. Cross out every film that did not have at least two significant female characters.

3. Of those remaining, cross out every film that did not feature at least one scene where two female characters spoke to each other.

4. Now, if you have any films left, put a circle around those films where they were talking about something other than a man.

Pencils down.

If you're like me, you love film - love love love it. You try to indulge yourself in a late-afternoon or early morning cinema trip whenever time allows it. But check to see if you aren't given pause when you do this exercise.

Consider this - I've written full-length reviews for seven films at OpenLeft.com, with a smattering of shorter reviews here and there. Of those seven films, five fail this particular test - The Candidate, Rendition, The Kingdom, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, and No End In Sight - and two pass it - Margot At The Wedding (in which Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh talk about their frayed relationship), and The Mist (in which Laurie Holden and Marcia Gay Harden talk about the monster.) This is, for Hollywood films, a pretty good batting average, which is really saying something.

Alas, I can't take full or even partial credit for the exercise. The original concept is called Bechdel's Law or the Bechdel Test - the name refers to Alison Bechdel, the creator of the long-running strip Dykes To Watch Out For, who first introduced this idea in this 1985 installment:

bechdel.jpgNow, let me be clear: I do not believe that every work can or should meet the requirements of Bechdel's Law. In fact, I think it's often a lot less useful to apply to an individual film than as a tool for looking at the aggregate - as in a lot of things, it's often less the individual choice than it is the sheer ubiquity of the overall pattern. And like a lot of general principles, there are exceptions - one such exception occurs to one towards the end of Married Life, a film which totally flunks the strict outline of Bechdel's Law.

Well, less an exception than a proposed addendum: it can be broken with impunity if the film satisfactorily explains, explicitly or implicitly, why it's being violated. Under this critera, Married Life passes with flying colors.

Harry Allen (Chris Cooper), a milquetoast business executive living in a highly stylized version of early 50's city life, is a man with a surplus of potential confidantes. His wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), shows him no end of expressed affection; his best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), is almost a parody of the professional bachelor best friend with whom such nebbish characters are supposed to share their wildest plans; and his mistress, Kay (Rachel McAdams) is the very picture of a demure, pre-Friedan vision of womanhood, always willing to listen, too afraid of burdening to ever share much of anything.

Harry, it turns out has a lot to confide. As he tells Richard at the film's beginning, he is planning to leave Pat. Richard, dumbfounded at the dissolution of a marriage that appeared rock-solid, asks why on our behalf, and Harry divulges - Pat is just too focused on sex, and that will not do.

His new mistress, Kay, on the other hand, doesn't seem to care much for sex, but loves him for who he is, never questioning him, always listening to him expound upon this or that topic. (That this is because Kay never lets herself question or say much about anything goes unnoticed by Harry, but not by the film.) Just as he's explaining to Richard how he is scheming to leave Pat for Kay, Richard begins silently scheming how he's going to "steal" Kay.

And so the heart of the film begins - we'll spend the next two hours examining each man's machinations, machinations which take on a Hitchcockian tone as they run through a gamut that includes betrayal, deception and potential homicide. The key phrase being "each man's machinations" - neither of the two female characters is up to any scheming of their own, partially because they're not flagrantly unethical, partially because they're not in a world that allows them to exhibit much agency.

I love it when films make you feel like you're given a pair of binoculars peeking into another time or place. The set design and costuming of Married Life is so perfectly tuned to give a certain sense of nostalgia, of an idealized post-war aesthetic, that we are particularly shocked and our nostalgia dashed when it forms a backdrop for the heartbreaking portrayals of Kay and Pat. In one scene, Pat's golden retriever, the only real companion she has left in her lonely life now that Harry is drifting apart, has died in the night. Throughout the pet's burial, in which Harry is brusque at best, the obviously devastated Pat has to keep up the veneer of what a housewife is supposed to do - being gracious to the point of absurdity, always using the proper phrasing, and so on.

It is in this scene that it hits us the hardest - Married Life is quite aware that it is depicting a world in which women, painfully, are allowed no public display of agency. The point is only driven home later in the film, where we learn that Pat has a few secrets of her own - secrets she can't share because, well, that wouldn't look right. In fact, the vast majority of dialogue uttered by either Clarkson or McAdams is either a. about a man, or b. a required nicety - even if a heartfelt nicety, it is nonetheless required.

It is only towards the end of Married Life that the two female characters get a chance to talk to each other, and very briefly - and then, it's about a man who is getting married. We can hardly begrudge them this. After all, it's all they're allowed to talk about.

When Prison Builders Become Prison Profiteers

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Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

A friend said Hi to me on the subway while I was reading Prison Profiteers, an anthology of shocking articles about the privatization of prisons edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright. I had to send him an e-mail explaining that if I had looked like I was about to throw up it was not because of him, but rather because I was totally and utterly disgusted by the account I was reading about medical conditions going untreated in prisons managed by private corporations.

The paragraph I was reading when my friend saw me was about the medical neglect of a 57 year old man who was imprisoned for rape:

David stood now to show me the belly and the hernias, the condition his body had arrived at through an utter lack of attention… His belly was enormous, taut and pasty, seemingly glued to his gaunt frame. At the front of it, a hot-pink hernia, about the size of a grapefruit, seemed barely attached where the belly buttons should have been, giving David's midsection the overall contour of a giant breast and nipple…

…To describe David's scrotum as swollen and red would be a failure of language. It was about the size of a rugby ball, so raw and irritated, shiny and crimson, that it almost seemed to be covered with blood. David hung his head. "They give me aspirin," he said.

Later, when I heard that David had died of indeterminate causes and that his body had been cremated, I realized that I had probably been the last person outside the prison staff to see David alive, to see what his body had become from all those years of mistreatment, and I wondered: can such a secret be kept?

A rapist, David might not be the most sympathetic of criminals — but no one deserves to be forced into an environment where their medical needs will not be met. Furthermore many of those receiving atrocious care are not rapists, but drug dealers or minor criminals, who have not been sentenced to death or illness by neglect. Medical neglect is not the only problem faced by prisoners—in the United States prisons are often run by corporations who put the bottom line ahead of prisoner safety, the security of the general population, and pretty much everything else.

We now live in a country where one out of a hundred adult Americans is currently in prison. Prison Profiteers describes a system where corporations have significant control and very little accountability to the public—where a prisoner's spider bite can go untreated until his foot requires amputation due to lack of antibiotics, where medical appointments are deliberately scheduled on court dates, and when sometimes the only way to a safety and job training is to join a Christian missionary group, and where prisons have particularly high phone rates that can financially destroy family members with whom they are trying to stay connected.

I have been able to talk about little else but prison reform since finishing this book — my desire to discuss it with one friend was so great that I shipped him a copy even though he lives in England. As progressives we talk a lot about the need for healthy food for children, welfare benefits, and a living wage—but we also need to be talking about issues that impact the 1% of American adults that are incarcerated, and why our government is farming vital work out to corporations who seem to be doing a terrible job of it.

The Explosive Truth About Twinkies, The Industrial-Strength Snack Cake

Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

There are simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, and then there’s the Twinkie, made from military industrial-complex carbohydrates. It’s got some of the same ingredients as tracer bullets and artillery shells, as I learned from reading Steve Ettlinger’s Twinkie, Deconstructed.

Ettlinger’s book, just out in paperback, documents the 39 ingredients it now takes to make a Twinkie, many of them minerals and chemicals, some derived from crude oil. This petroleum-based pastry is about a million food miles removed from your grandma’s yellow sponge cake, which had a shelf life of maybe two days, max.

Today’s Twinkie, on the other hand, stays frighteningly “fresh” for an unnaturally long time (officially, 25 days, but we all know it’s really more like 25 months.) Real butter turns rancid too fast, so the Twinkie gets its butter-like taste and texture from petrochemical-based ingredients like diacetyl, a close cousin to acetylene welding gas, and butyric acid, a flavor which Ettlinger gleefully informs us is “a natural component of Parmesan cheese, rancid butter, and, unbelievably, vomit and perspiration."

Twinkie, Deconstructed may amaze and appall you, but the fact is that while a Twinkie is not particularly good for you, it’s not all that bad for you, either. It’s just an amalgam of industrial ingredients and artificial flavors posing as an actual pastry. How did we ever fall for this oily oblong cake with the mystery “cream” filling?

Take a trip down Madison Avenue’s memory lane via YouTube with the classic seventies Twinkie ad at the top of this post and you'll find out. Watch the housewife-on-a-budget vow that no matter how tight money gets, she’ll never deprive her kids of “fresh, wholesome” Hostess Twinkies, because “you can’t skimp when it comes to your children.”

Fast forward to this series of Flickr photos taken last month entitled “It’s What’s For Breakfast,” in which a visibly disgusted mom in Portland, Oregon documented five days of the hot "food" served free to kids at her local public school in the morning before school. Stuff like “Bagel-ers,” which are some kind of bagel and cream cheese concoction, and a pancake-sausage-breakfast-sandwich that “tastes like sugar,” and a cereal bar made of whole grain oats glued together by “corn syrup, sugar, high fructose corn syrup. . . followed by a long list of other ingredients most of them with names only a chemist would understand.”

Or Steve Ettlinger. Twinkie, Deconstructed is not a Fast Food Nation/Omnivore’s Dilemma-style indictment of our food chain; it’s a science writer’s agenda-free foray into the peculiar world of processed foods, an odyssey Ettlinger embarked on in response to his daughter’s innocent question, “Daddy, what’s polysorbate 60?”

After reading Twinkie, Deconstructed I have a better understanding of what goes into the “cakelike cylinders (with creamlike fillings) called Twinkies that never grow stale,” as Michael Pollan describes them in In Defense of Food.

What I don’t understand is why our agricultural policies continue to promote these “edible foodlike substances” (Pollan's words, again.) It’s bad enough that your tax dollars are paying for all those amber waves of grain that get turned into nutritionally bankrupt foods and environmentally disastrous biofuels. But did you know that the USDA actually penalizes commodity crop growers who want to replant their fields with fruits or vegetables?

I didn’t, until I read Jack Hedin’s op-ed in last Saturday’s New York Times. Hedin, a small organic vegetable farmer in southern Minnesota, reveals that, at a time when farmers’ markets are popping up all over the country to meet the growing demand for fresh local produce, the USDA is working “deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding.” Why in the world would they want to do that? Hedin explains:

Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country’s fresh produce markets.

The USDA actually fines farmers who have the audacity to switch from growing commodity grains to, say, melons or tomatoes, as Hedin learned the hard way. Talk about passive/aggressive. The USDA’s telling us we’ve got to eat more fruits and vegetables even as it’s thwarting the efforts of small family farmers to help us do just that.

At a time when Michael Pollan and those Skinny Bitches are convincing this nation of meatheads that a plant-based diet is better for us--not to mention our fellow creatures and the planet--our government is in cahoots with Agribiz and Big Food to keep us hooked on a chemical plant-based diet. And that’s a shame, because the epidemic of diseases caused by our Western diet poses a far greater threat to mankind than Middle Eastern terrorists.

Joe Wilson went off to Niger in search of “yellow cake” and came up famously empty-handed in the fiasco we’ve come to know as “PlameGate.” Little did he know we’ve got a yellow cake-based weapon of mass destruction right here at home.

Originally posted on TakePart.com.