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

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

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

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

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

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

Busting the Myth of the Welfare Queen

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

When I was a small child, my father, who often votes for Republicans, was explaining to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans. "Republicans want you to keep the money you worked for, and Democrats will take it from you and give it to people who never worked a day in their lives and make you live on the side of the road in a cardboard box. Mommy votes for Democrats — why don't you ask her why she wants you to live in a cardboard box?"

Thankfully I developed a slightly more nuanced view of the American political system. For those who still believe my father, Myth of the Welfare Queen, by David Zucchino, the story of two welfare mothers who are doing anything but living the high life, comes to the rescue by providing a detailed look at the lives of welfare mothers during the Clinton administration.The book follows Odessa Williams and Cheri Honkala, two welfare mothers in North Philadelphia who know that welfare reform might snatch the benefits they depend on at any moment. Odessa's children are all adults, but she is saddled taking care of a plethora of grandchildren, many of whom have serious health problems. Cheri runs an organization that seeks to bring attention to the plight of Philadephia's poor and works tirelessly but sometimes inefficiently to gain attention for her cause. We find out later in the book that she and her son are able to eat because of her late-night gigs as a topless dancer — that is the only way she can think of to support herself while being a full-time activist.

Odessa is the heroine of the book — we follow her as she visits her son in prison, sells people rides in her car, goes fishing to stretch her food budget, and picks through trash bags in order to cloth her many grandchildren. Odessa's children aren't always on the ball — one son is imprisoned, one daughter is a prostitute whose children live with Odessa, and one of her granddaughters keeps on having children while refusing to further her education or find a job. Not everyone in North Philadeplia is eligible for sainthood — but Odessa is doing everything she can to straighten out the lives of her family members while Cheri works to make people aware of the plight of urban poor people.

The story takes place in the Clinton years under the shadow of impending welfare reform—the women know that they system they rely on is going to end, and they cannot quite imagine their worlds without it. They are anything but lazy, but Odessa, who is ill, cannot possibly work and care for all of her grandchildren and children simultaneously, and Cheri knows how important welfare is to the many families involved with her advocacy group. The Myth of the Welfare Queen does an excellent job of creating empathy for the extremely hard working women who require welfare to allow them to support themselves and their families in an economy that won't give them many feasible alternatives besides starving in a cardboard box.

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

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

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


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.

Find - or start - a chapter near you.

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, 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.