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One Down, Three To Go, or, Do You Have Any Friends in Hawaii, North Dakota or Oklahoma?

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth

A few weeks ago, we asked some of our favorite activist friends if they had any friends in West Virginia, and man, did they deliver. Now we just need one more favor from you - to let us know if you have any leftie buddies in Hawaii, North Dakota or Oklahoma who'd like to help liberals organize over a few drinks.

In late April, as we moved closer to Drinking Liberally's 5th anniversary this Thursday, May 29th, we noticed just how close we were to hitting all 50 states, with, until recently, only 4 states left: the Aloha State (HI), the Peace Garden State (ND), the Sooner State (OK) and the Mountain State (WV). With that in mind, we made it our May goal to create Living Liberally chapters in all 50 states by May 29th, and simultaneously celebrate our 5th anniversary and a truly 50-bar strategy. We started by asking you to help us out with West Virginia.

Today, we have not just one, but two new West Virginia chapters soon to officially enter into the network, that will both hold their first meetings in the next few weeks - one in the state capital of Charleston, and one in Martinsburg.

That only leaves three states left - and we're going to have to ask again - know any liberals in Hawaii, North Dakota or Oklahoma?

Please don't make Howard Dean take back his words:

John McCain, You Are No Indiana Jones

Screening Liberally Big Picture by Justin Krebs

indiana-jones-crystal-skull.jpg An aging man-of-action shows show he can still throw punches with the young guys. A rough-and-tumble cowboy as American as apple pie wins our hearts again. A media favorite has returned.

You'd think that the release of the fourth Indiana Jones Adventure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, would be music to John McCain's ears. After all, if America can fall in love with one gray-haired hero, why not another?

And sure enough, in the opening scenes, Harrison Ford's rugged archaeologist adventurer, when confronted with a dozen guns trained his way, doesn't blink -- instead he faces down the Communist bad guys with a simple message: "I like Ike."

You can imagine the McCain spin room starting to whir, reaching out for Indiana's coattails.

But I'm sorry to say, Mr. Senator...America knows Henry Jones, Jr. And you, sir, are no Indiana.

This much-anticipated release offers 2 hours of icing for anyone who feasted on the trilogy of the 80s. It's not a film to win over a new generation, or even a stand-alone film in its own right, but a rambunctious romp that makes you laugh and cheer and roll your eyes a little bit.

The team is back together: Spielberg, Lucas & Ford -- and just as Professor Jones has one last adventure in him, so does this triumvirate. They pull out all the old jokes and references you could hope for, replacing Nazis with Communists, as Indy stumbles through a new decade (in an early moment, he even faces down an atomic threat...a far cry from the first films.)

You're in the company of old friends. It's even more implausible (is that possible?) than the original films, as Ford's aging body has become only more indestructible. But they are willing to laugh at themselves -- and their age...and their self-aware cheesiness -- and you love laughing with them. Or at least I did. I was just happy to see them again.

In a way the film is an Indiana Jones-approved spoof of Indiana Jones: louder, goofier, more tongue-in-cheek, and, yes, less sincere. At no point are characters really in danger; even in the context of the film, the characters don't really fear for one another's safety. At no point are we really surprised by their emotional turns because they aren't really emotionally-driven. And we kind of stop worrying about the plot, because really we're there for the ride.

That said, it's a heckuva fun ride. And part of what makes it work is an ingredient that also made the original Star Wars films works, but was absent from the second round of those films: quite simply, Harrison Ford.

He's great. He can still win over men and women alike with the twinkle in his eye. We're happy to have him back (back from his Indy hiatus, as well as from flicks like Firewall).

And that's one reason why John McCain can't see himself in this film: he's no Harrison Ford. McCain, looking tired, making missteps and fouled up by constant gaffes, just looks his age. Indiana Jones is a grayer figure, but just as hale and hearty, as flirtatious and reckless and wisecracking as ever.

Sorry, Senator, but you don't live in the movies.

There's also the political differences. Professor Jones is an archeologist studying and respecting past cultures. John McCain helms a party that has trouble with evolution. Indiana has as much reverence in this film for the stories of Mayan gods as he did in the last film for the mythos of the Grail; McCain can't tell Sunni and Shiite apart. Jones may be reckless at times, but he also makes allies -- from a young greaser, to an old flame -- while McCain follows the Bush tradition of going it alone.

There are few overt political nods in this film but one resonates: when Indiana Jones, under suspicion by the FBI for his friendship with an outed Communist agent, is forced from his professorial post by a timid university Board of Trustees. As much as Indiana punches Communists in the nose, he also is the victim of political persecution and fear-mongering.

Spielberg's politics come out here: a culture of suspicion -- suppression of academia -- authoritarian intervention by government. These are comments on the 1950s in which the film is set, but stand out as warnings today. It's a gentle touch, but it works. (Spielberg is no Commie sympathizer, mind you...an early chase scene has Communist thugs being smacked in the face by "Better Dead Than Red" signs at a student rally. Although, while anti-Communist sentiment is laid on thick, it never has the vigor or reaches the passionate extent of Spielberg's anti-Nazi hatred.)

But the biggest difference between the Professor and the Senator: Indiana Jones is joyous, hopeful. (Some in the audience were even a little disappointed by just how cheerful the film felt.) McCain is a dour, gloom-and-doom, fear-monger.

It's not Indy's age that makes us love him. It's that he elevates our spirits. And if John McCain wants to outrace his years the way Indiana Jones has, he doesn't just need to get more physically fit and verbally savvy...he needs to live in a more optimistic world as well.

Maybe that's what McCain's presumptive rival has picked up on...now if only Senator Obama had a hat and whip.

20-Year-Old Memo Found Apologizing for Bill O'Reilly's Inside Edition Meltdown

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying

Our contributor Lee Camp is sometimes pigeon-holed as a comedian, but there's more to him than that - for instance, this week he unearthed a 20-year old memo by the producer of Inside Edition, apologizing for Bill O'Reilly's on-set meltdown:

When Insurance Doesn't Offer Assurance

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Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

(A quick word before you read on - the review below is the last in-house work by Amanda Milstein, our incredible winter intern and indispensable partner for the last several months. While we doubt this is the last you'll see of her work on Open Left, we want to wish her the best as she heads off to get a master's degree in public policy, including a stint at a think-tank this summer. Thanks, Amanda!)

Ray Bourhis, author of Insult to Injury, is an angry man. He has good reason to be—he is a lawyer that has spent much of his career attempting to get insurance companies to pay disabled people the money that they are owed, and has seen his efforts been thwarted again and again—and seen lives of many of his clients disintegrate as a result.

Bourhis describes the travails of people like Dr. Stuart Gluck, who had three disability insurance policies. He was diagnosed with HIV and also had a nervous system disorder ad triple coronary bypass surgery, sustained brain damage as a result of surgery—this was clearly a man who couldn't work anymore. UnumProvident, his insurance company, decided that despite all of this he should still be employed and they even threatened to demand some of the money they had already paid him back.

The book talks about the insurance industry focused through the case of Joan Hangarter, a chiropractor that needed to stop practicing when she developed extreme pain in her arm and neck. Her disability insurance was then cut off, forcing her and her children into destitution and onto foodstamps. Joan wins her trial, but UnumProvident is slow in paying her the money she was awarded—and does not change its behavior towards other policy-holders.

The book provides a passionate description of how the insurance industry is allowed to swindle clients out of money that they are entitled to. Through describing the personal stories of those whose lives have been destroyed by denied insurance claims and a painstaking description of Joan's trial, Bourhis paints a picture of a society that values the corporate bottom line more than the lives of disabled policy-holders.

Who'll Cure Our Kids, Big Pharma Or Small Farmers?

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Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

Isn’t it kind of odd for a culture that trumpets its ‘family values’ to treat its children like cattle, fattening them up on corn and soy by-products? We love our kids so much we’ve let Big Food turn them into cash cows for Big Pharma. A new study estimates that “about 1.2 million American children now are taking pills for Type 2 diabetes, sleeping troubles and gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn.”

Of course, they’re just aping their elders; as the study shows, we’re the most medicated people on the planet. Apparently, our blessed way of life is a risk factor for depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, and any other malady for which Madison Avenue can find a market. Are parents counting on pills to compensate for their children’s lousy diet and lack of exercise? As Dr. Daniel W. Jones, president of the American Heart Association, told the AP:

"Unless we do things to change the way we're managing health in this country...things will get worse instead of getting better." Jones noted that “body weights are so much higher in children in general, and so we're going to have larger numbers of adults who develop high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol or diabetes at an earlier age."

Conservatives and liberals can’t agree on how to tackle this impending catastrophe. Remember Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes A Village? Its premise—that we have a collective stake in the well-being of every child—raised the hackles of the Let ‘Em Eat TastyKakes contingent and inspired a rebuttal from Republican Senator Rick Santorum entitled It Takes A Family.

What it really takes, though, is a family farmer to provide us with fresh, healthy produce. The more fresh fruits and vegetables we pile on our plates, the less pills we need from the medicine cabinet, as the New York Times noted last Tuesday in an article entitled Eating Your Way To A Sturdy Heart. And a study released last month by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy confirmed that people who lack access to fresh produce face “a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes regardless of individual or community income.”

But we haven’t got enough family farmers to keep our fridges filled, as chef Dan Barber noted in a recent New York Times op-ed:

As demand for fresh, local food rises, we cannot continue to rely entirely on farmers’ markets. Asking every farmer to plant, harvest, drive his pickup truck to a market and sell his goods there is like asking me to cook, take reservations, serve and wash the dishes.

We now need to support a system of well-coordinated regional farm networks, each suited to the food it can best grow…

But regional systems will work only if there is enough small-scale farming going on to make them viable.

Sadly, support for family farmers hasn’t exactly been a cornerstone of any of our presidential candidates’ campaigns.

But there’s another Hilary who’s made it her mission to champion local agriculture—Hilary Baum. Hilary’s the president of Public Market Partners, a non-profit whose goals include putting real food back in our school cafeterias and supporting the small family farmers who grow that food.

Unlike the other Hillary--who’s banking on bigotry to prop up her presidential prospects--my Hilary’s a community builder, not a coalition crusher. Admittedly, she does belong to a dynasty, and one with ties to the CIA. The Culinary Institute of America inducted her father, Joe Baum, the legendary restaurateur who founded The Four Seasons and Windows on the World, and restored The Rainbow Room, into its Hall of Fame.

He could have rested on his laurels, but to borrow a Clinton theme song, Joe Baum never stopped thinking about tomorrow. So he founded the Joe Baum Forum of the Future, a seminar series that focused on the future of the food industry.

When he died in 1998, Hilary continued his legacy, organizing a series of historic conferences now known simply as the Baum Forum. These conferences bring together nutritionists, farmers, educators, public health advocates, chefs, community gardeners, greenmarket leaders, activists, and high-profile folks devoted to revitalizing our local food systems and feeding our children well, including Michael Pollan, Frances and Anna Lappé, Dr. Marion Nestle, Dr. Andrew Weil, and Alice Waters.

But the good food movement’s got a tough row to hoe when the food industry spends some $15 billion annually to market unhealthy foods to kids. And the latest version of that $300 billion bit of legislation we bucolically call the Farm Bill—which the House passed last week with enough votes to override President Bush’s threatened veto--continues to favor industrial agriculture while doing little to help small farmers.

This year’s Baum Forum, entitled Schools, Food & Community, was held last month at Teachers College Columbia University and kicked off with a discussion of the need to teach our children media literacy. As one of the speakers, Melinda Hemmelgarn, a nutrition and communications consultant, noted, the food industry has a positively predatory relationship to our kids, using every trick under the sun to make kids crave their crappy products. We need to teach our kids how to dissect these messages instead of swallowing them whole.

Hilary Baum’s prescription for our sedentary, overstuffed little spuds is to get ‘em while they’re young--put the garden back in kindergarden and instill a lifelong appreciation of fresh fruits and vegetables and the gardeners and farmers who grow them.

At last year’s Baum Forum, I heard several stories about kids who were utterly disconnected from nature; one community gardener talked about instructing a child to locate a tomato plant where it would get full sun, only to discover that the kid had never realized that the light changes depending on the time of day. Another urban ag advocate talked about how he had to provide kids with plastic bags to protect their precious sneakers before they’d deign to set foot in the garden.

At this year’s Baum Forum, Jane S. Park, a curriculum specialist with Sesame Street, announced that the venerable kids’ show is devoting its next two seasons to reconnecting kids with nature. I’m not sure how powerful Big Bird is compared to Big Ag, but I’m glad to see someone in the mainstream media—even if it’s only the Muppets--doing something to save a generation of kids who don’t know how food is grown and think that dirt is, well, dirty. Because that’s a really unnatural state of affairs. Almost as unnatural as putting your kids on drugs in the name of making them healthy.

Howard Dean Raises a Toast to Living Liberally

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth

We just couldn't let the week pass without posting this - this past Saturday, Living Liberally celebrated its 2nd annual celebration & fundraiser in New York City. And while we were fortunate enough to be joined in person by some incredible guests such as Congressman Jerry Nadler and State Senator Eric Schneiderman, we had another very special guest via video:

Howard Dean's video congratulations is part of a very big month for our chapters and our supporters - you can expect more videos like that one in the next few weeks, and here's why:

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On the right, you see our tack-map, with one tack for every LL chapter in the nation - 246, to be exact. In fact, there are only four states missing: Hawaii, North Dakota, Oklahoma and West Virginia. As we mentioned here last week (and as Dean alludes to), we've made it our mission this month, Drinking Liberally's 5th anniversary month, to hit the 50-state mark, reaching out to our progressive allies in the Aloha, Peace Garden, Sooner and Mountain States, respectively.

All of which our 2nd annual celebration was meant to kick off, and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank the national partners with whom we couldn't have done any of this: Credo Mobile, Media Matters For America and Young People For, and our event sponsors AlterNet, Brave New Films, the Center for Independent Media, DCTV, MoveOn, Progressive Book Club and the SEIU.

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And a final shout-out to our honoree, and the first recipient of the annual Putnam award, the Political Director of Credo Mobile/Working Assets, Becky Bond. Becky has done some of the most important behind-the-scenes work building progressive infrastructure and opposing telecom community and illegal wiretapping, not to mention that she has been a crucial and consistent supporter of Living Liberally, and she delivered a rousing address on the importance of the work that progressive activists do day in, day out. Congratulations, Becky!

A Few Thoughts on the Politics of Iron Man

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Seth Pearce, NYC Student Union

Iron Man is a good superhero movie. Really. If you like that kind of thing, you should probably check it out.

For this genre, the acting is great. Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges are pretty much flawless at turning well-drawn, larger than life (see: Jeff Bridges' shaved head and big-time beard) comic book characters into real people...or, at least, real characters. The special effects are top notch. The science-fiction element of the movie, including the design technology used by Downey Jr. as weapons manufacturer and designer Tony Stark, and the glowing electromagnet that keeps his heart going, is really cool.

And then there's the politics of Iron Man: any movie that includes middle eastern terrorists and American weapons manufacturers double-dealing under the table is bound to raise a few political questions. So where do Iron Man's politics stand?

There are liberal aspects to the film. Stark Industries is basically a takeoff on Lockheed Martin, similar logos and all. Jeff Bridges's character Obadiah Stane (what a name) represents many of the problems of the American military-industrial complex, basically that a company making dangerous weapons and also thirsting for profit cannot always be trusted and might even work to promote war or help the enemies to keep a steady cash flow.

The key transformation of the film occurs when the debonair and amoral Tony Stark finds himself imprisoned in a cave in Afghanistan after being captured by terrorists who somehow have tons of Stark Industries weapons. He then builds his Iron Man prototype suit, escapes from the cave and swears off weapon making forever - as Rolling Stone puts it, "a switch to peace politics."

Here's the part that I don't get: Stark swears off evil weapon making and proposes to fight for peace... by building a better weapon, the Iron Man suit. The line that best summarizes Tony Stark's original (pre-cave) political views, goes something like: "Peace means having the biggest stick." I just don't see how this post-transformation approach is any different.

By comparison, the liberal stuff is developed in a downright superficial way compared to the spirit of vigilantism that pervades throughout the core of the movie. One could even argue that Iron Man's true message is that instead of depending on the clueless military or the corrupt businessmen to fight terrorism, we should just suit up and take 'em on ourselves.

Anyway, while Iron Man's political sentiments range from Super-Liberal to NRAesque, it's a darn good action movie, and worth ten bucks.

Oh, and when you see it: STAY UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS. I won't say why, just do it.

Workin' On The Food Chain Gang

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Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

For a free country, we’ve got an awfully tyrannical food chain. Our current system of food production is really founded on a contempt for life; it pummels the planet and exploits migrant farm workers, defying the laws of both nature and man. If we truly are what we eat, I guess that makes us a nation of nature-hating misanthropes.

We’ve shoehorned corn into every corner of Iowa, and shoveled it into every cow--or so it seemed to me as I watched the screening of King Corn that Eating Liberally co-hosted this week at the Tank with our friends from the Green Edge Collaborative. We’ve taken the already fertile soil of our heartland and jacked it up on steroids, to grow a bazillion bushels of a variety of corn you can’t even eat till it’s been processed into some sort of by-product.

We coax an astonishing amount of corn from each monocropped acre by saturating this precious topsoil with fertilizers and herbicides, and then we convert this nutritionally bankrupt bounty into high fructose corn syrup, or feed for cows whose digestive systems literally can’t stomach it (hello, E. coli), or the eco-disaster we call corn-based ethanol.

As King Corn’s food court jesters Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis discovered in their pilgrimage to our feedcorn fiefdom, this ultra-efficient method of growing corn has created ever larger farms run by fewer and fewer farmers, draining the soul of our rural communities even as it depletes the soil (and drives our diabetes epidemic, and fuels global warming, and makes cheap spaghetti sauces sickeningly sweet, and--oh, nevermind.)

And this is the model of agriculture that Wall Street, K Street, and Main Street all celebrate as a shining example of good ol’ American know-how that the rest of the world would do well to emulate. Feedcorn is on the march!

We were fortunate to have Ian Cheney on hand at our screening to do a Q & A, and the questions were pretty much the same ones people peppered Michael Pollan with at an Omnivore’s Dilemma reading I attended in April of 2006 (Pollan, an advisor to the King Corn crew, appears in the film expounding on the evils of industrial agriculture against the backdrop of his own abundant veggie garden, including a suitably monstrous patch of dinosaur kale!)

What folks want to know, after reading Pollan’s books or seeing a film like King Corn, is “What can we do about this awful food system?”

The knee-jerk response is, of course, to endorse community supported agriculture and farmers’ markets, but Cheney noted that we run the risk of creating an alternative food chain that serves only those fortunate enough to live in the more affluent communities where farmers’ markets and upscale stores like Whole Foods thrive.

Living at the Ethicurean epicenter of NYC, it’s easy for me to opt out of our crappy food chain; I can walk to Union Square and shop at the Greenmarket four days a week all year round, and whatever I can’t find there I can get at the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that are a stone’s throw from the Greenmarket. There are several mom-and-pop health food stores in our neck of the woods, too.

So it’s easy for me to follow Pollan’s advice to stay out of the supermarkets. But a few miles north of us, in East Harlem, they’ve hardly got any supermarkets left to stay out of. As the New York Times reported last Monday:

A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

To us farmers’ market fanatics, the very notion of a New York supermarket as a source for fresh, healthy food seems laughable; the typical supermarket is a food desert to us, with aisle after aisle of mysterious food-like substances encased in plastic and no grass-fed anything. But when your only sources for food are bodegas and fast food joints, a supermarket that actually sells fresh--though far-traveled--fruits and vegetables is a step up.

No wonder more and more city dwellers are becoming urban farmers, as another New York Times article noted yesterday; communities decried as food deserts are creating their own oases by reclaiming unused lots where they grow fruits and vegetables for themselves and even sell the surplus to others.

The Times article heralds the revival of urban agriculture that’s taking root all around the country, with the help of organizations like Milwaukee’s Growing Power, and NYC’s own GreenThumb and Just Foods, two groups who’ve done so much to support our community gardeners and local farmers. I had the pleasure of hearing Growing Power’s founder, Will Allen, speak at the Food & Society conference in Arizona last week and came away convinced that Growing Power’s one-acre farm represents the future of urban agriculture.

As the Times notes, this “one-acre farm crammed with plastic greenhouses, compost piles, do-it-yourself contraptions, tilapia tanks and pens full of hens, ducks and goats…grossed over $220,000 last year from the sale of lettuces, winter greens, sprouts and fish to local restaurants and consumers.”

Allen’s model demonstrates that city dwellers do have the capacity to produce at least some of their own food in an eco-friendly, socially responsible manner. And as more and more folks become aware of the rampant abuse that’s a hallmark of industrial agriculture, from cruelly confined chickens to Florida’s enslaved migrant farm workers, people are seeking alternative food chains untarnished by institutionalized exploitation and environmental degradation.

For a really comprehensive and inspiring look at the enormous potential of this movement to provide less privileged folks with an abundance of fresh, affordable produce while building community, preserving open space and creating an environmentally beneficial habitat, check out “Vitalizing the Vacant” from Thoughts On The Table blogger Annie Myers, who never ceases to astonish me with her clear, beautiful prose and even clearer observations.

Annie’s one of a dozen or so twenty-somethings I’ve met who blow me away with their commitment to changing our world; I was too cynical and alienated when I was that age to do much more than mouth off about our decaying culture. I’m doing that still, while folks like Annie and the Real Food Challenge students and “Greenhorns” filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming are running around remaking the world the way they want it to be. Considering how badly we've messed things up, it’s the least we can do to cheer them on.