Music has great influential power, especially when presented in the music video form. Raw Story's John Byrne writes about a new protest music video contest which will likely kindle anti-war sentiment. Raw Story also provides an Op-Critical music video that captures the funeral of Army Specialist Kendall Frederick, a Maryland native who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. Mr. Byrne says that Op-Critical shot the video at Arlington last October, and has since been banned from making films at the cemetery.Justice Through Music [jtmp.org] is announcing the 'Harmony Vids!' Protest Music Videos Campaign And Contest at their website. Their statement:
It is time to speak out loud about the state of the world through both music and videos. We know you have lots to say so we are having a contest as part of our New Harmony Vids! campaign. We are posting dozens of protest songs on our site courtesy of the band Op-Critical and offering at least a $500 cash prize to whoever makes the best video of each song by September 15, 2006.
A sample of lyrics from an Op-Critical song titled "Lobotomy":
I see what it is that turns you on, Everything you like is so unreal You accept whatever they feed you Even when it's bad you take the pill
Will you ever wake up Will you ever wake up Will you ever wake up to the truth You act like you were born without a brain
I can't understand why you follow Every little fling they lead you on You gave up your mind to something else That every child would know is wrong.
Something controversial has happened that will increase the chances that a usually-quiet bedroom community is suddenly put on Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity’s glowing map of social injustice. You may ask yourself - - “Is it immigration? Is it a gay marriage issue? A hot-button abortion case? What have those ‘latte liberals’ in New York done this time?”
This time it’s Jesus. About a wee boy saying: "Jesus saves - — - [the environment!?"] About liberals hiding Jesus beneath the fold!
This is about a case that was handed up to the Supreme Court involving the Constitutional free-speech rights of a 5-year-old (and his mother, who assisted the boy). The Supremes have been asked clarify the fuzzy area of the First Amendment - particularly the U.S. Constitution's Establishment clause which guarantees the "free exercise" of religion. As it turns out, the high court won't intervene in a lower-court fight over a Jesus poster that was deliberately folded over by public school officials to hide the portion depicting the five year old's Lord and Savior.
The Baldwinsville Central School District in suburban Syracuse wanted justices to stop a lawsuit filed by Antonio Peck and his parents, who claim his free-speech rights were violated when school officials censored his poster.
The justices' action in Baldwinsville Central School District v. Peck leaves in place an appeals court ruling that requires a trial to determine whether Antonio's rights were violated when school officials obscured a robed figure in the boy's poster in displaying it at a school assembly in 1999.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed with the school district that there was no evidence to suggest teachers or administrators had acted with hostility toward religion when they folded Antonio's poster in half.
And the appeals court found that Antonio's poster was not responsive to his teacher's assignment to "save the environment" by depicting trash collection and conservation efforts.
But the 2nd Circuit said a trial must be held to determine whether Antonio's free-speech rights were violated because his poster was censored by the district's viewpoint on religion.
The teacher in this case had said that the assigment was well explained and that the poster should have reflected what the students had been learning in class. It seems very clear that the poster was not in line with the assignment, but the courts believe it will take a trial to reach a fair and clear judgement. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the parents had raised a factual issue regarding whether officials had engaged in viewpoint discrimination based on the poster's religious content. It may take a trial to determine whether or not the boy's rights were violated, but the real public trial will be held nightly on cable television and talk radio. This is a perfect vehicle to divide the "Red" and "Blue" camps that the pundits have created and wish to keep alive lest we discover we are all Americans and their ratings slip down the drainpipe.
Let's talk about real life devoid of all the stereotypes, shall we?
Baldwinsville, New York started out as a little country village in central New York state that was incorporated in 1848. Centuries before American history was recorded, the Seneca River, which runs through Baldwinsville, transported people into the area which today is northwest of the city of Syracuse, N.Y. Predating the existence of the Erie Canal, the river was an key link in a waterway system connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River. It's a lovely area with lush green rolling hills and fertile farmland. Some of my very own ancestors were here before the largely unsettled wilderness became a post-Revolution Military tract, and some came after. In 1790, the Towns of Lysander and Van Buren (both of which Baldwinsville is a part) were designated as part of "the Military tract." Regardless of any Native American who may have lived and hunted on the land for century upon century, much of the land was " given" to Revolutionary War veterans by the new government in appreciation of their military service.
In the 2000 Census, it was found that the racial makeup of the village was 96.87% White, 0.75% ; African American; and 0.51% Native American. Today, Baldwinsville is a typical evolutionary American story - picturesque and once-lucrative land of farming and closely-knit (primarily white Christian) social life turns to "bedroom community" with new suburban encalves springing up where every house looks pretty much like the one next door to it. It isn't much different than any village you'd find anywhere in rural America .A person could easily stand at sunset and look at the rolling landscape that surrounds Baldwinsville and be inspired to say to herself, "This is God's country."
What goes on in "God's country"? The VFW is still a fairly popular place with a friendly barkeeps, lively conversation, and plenty of family activities. I 've been there myself. The houses of worship are busy on Sunday morning and the Baldwinsville Diner gets pretty busy after church, serving up hearty plates of eggs and toast. The Betsy Baldwin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution meet and the Rotary Club stresses service above self. The social capital in this place would put a smile on Robert Putnam's face.
For many, the heart of social life still rests with the church and traditional community-based activities. For some of those less inclined to be social, hearts rest in the leisurely activities supplied by the life around the Seneca river - fishing, hunting, boating, and art. It's not the kind of place where the streets are teeming with the vibrancy of trendsetters, although it's constantly trying to improve its image as a place where the young people who actually live there might actually want to gather. For many, especially the youth, social life is found with friends at the mall outside of the village limits, at their jobs, at the small taverns, on MySpace, on their IPods, in their X-Box screens, and in their television sets. It's America. We all share it. Red, Blue, Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, and Republican. The poetry of singer/songwriter Ben Folds comes to mind when he speaks about those uniquely American places where you drive through and never see many on the streets other than the homeless or mentally ill. He collectively calls these homogeneous places "Jesusland":
Take a walk out the gate you go and never stop past all the stores and wig shops quarter in a cup for every block and watch the buildings grow smaller as you go
Down the tracks beautiful McMansions on a hill that overlook a highway with riverboat casinos and you still have yet to see a soul
Some of us sit back and see America for what it is. We laugh about it, but we're not mocking Jesus and we are all a part of America, so please don't tell us we hate it. I'm a Christian myself, and I say so without reservation. I am a liberal Democrat. I live and work among others who don't fit my description and I don't argue with them when I have an occasion to greet them. We don't see each other as creatures of political invention. We see one another as human beings.
We'll be hearing more about little Antonio Peck from people who want to divide us as political creatures. But whether or not you who are reading this are believers in God, I think you can at least agree that we were not created (or born, if you prefer) to thrive on the supposition that you must extract from your fellow man (or woman) their ideology before you can care about them or cooperate as members of a thriving community. I don't know if it was right for the school to have folded Jesus out of the taxfunding-public eye, but I'd suspect if you asked most parents in that elementary school in Baldwinsville N.Y., they probably wouldn't even have noticed whether Jesus was exposed or hidden. Were the school officials "hostile" to religion when they folded Jesus, or were they just trying to minimize the possibilitythat some parents who subscribe to the divisive "Red/Blue" religion would cause a fuss when they saw the Holy Robed Crusader inspiring others to save the Earth? Does it make common sense to be wary of the social and political encroachment of those who have a political agenda based on Dominionism? Yes, I think we need to be aware ot its existence and what has been done for decades to alter the political and Constitutional landscape of America. [See these coments from Bill Moyers.] But let's not let this blind us to the fact that we are all Americans and that we need political leadership to set an example of how we can best take our common values and set our nation in a new direction. These wedge issues have been doing little except empowering and enriching divisive mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and prompting good but impressionable and uninformed people to vote for moral misleaders like George W. Bush. We haven't seen our leaders act in such a responsible or cooperative manner in quite some time, so it's no wonder that we keep fighting on political sites like cats and dogs Reds and Blues.
I think it's high time for a new American conversation, based more on the life in our own communities and less on the divisive drone from the little electronic box in our living room corners which promotes the stereotypes that have produced Republican electoral successes for far too long. What happened in Baldwinsville, N.Y. could happen anywhere in America.
And children can nestle snug in their beds until the antichrist comes and God sends his asteroids hurling toward the earth, smashing it to smithereens. Wouldn't that make a really cool poster? Happy Earth Day, little darlings.
Schlesinger Appeals to Bush for Change in Foreign Policy Says Lincoln would rejoice
"There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war.
Maybe President Bush, who seems a humane man, might be moved by daily sorrows of death and destruction to forgo solo preventive war and return to cooperation with other countries in the interest of collective security. Abraham Lincoln would rejoice."
Writing about the U.S. trade deficit, Paul Krugman says that, depending on what's wrong with the (slightly positive) investment income statistics we're being handed by our government, either the U.S. economy has hidden strengths or it's in even worse shape than it seems. By some measures, he warns that America's foreign debt, including the value of foreign-owned businesses, could be at least $1 trillion bigger than the official numbers say. (Yes, he said $1 trillion.)
60 Minutes: CIA Official Reveals Bush, Cheney, Rice Were Personally Told Iraq Had No WMD in Fall 2002
From Think Progress-
Tonight on 60 Minutes, Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA’s Europe division, revealed that in the fall of 2002, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others were told by CIA Director George Tenet that Iraq’s foreign minister — who agreed to act as a spy for the United States — had reported that Iraq had no active weapons of mass destruction program. Watch it here
Still, they lied to all of us, including the members of our House and Senate.
In my last featured blogpost, at the One America Committee, I talked about poverty and how it could "happen" to any one of us at any unexpected time in our lives. Have you ever seen the despair of a friend or neighbor who's suddenly lost his job or who has become ill and cannot support his (or her) family? We are all in this American experiment together. Our neighbor's poverty affects us all. In a healthy democracy, our government should be accountable for the conditions that affect us all, for we are only as strong as our weakest link. In his book titled "One Nation, Underprivileged - Why Poverty Affects Us All", Professor Mark R. Rank reminds us that, if we are serious about alleviating poverty, we must seek to change the conditions that produce poverty instead of blaming the poor for their plight. In the book he uses a "musical chairs" analogy. He shows that we need to focus on creating more "chairs" for those who are participating in the game so that we produce fewer "losers" in the first place.
In this post, I'd like to briefly discuss some ideas and policies that might bring about a change by providing a more efficient social safety net for low-income Americans. In subsequent posts, I will delve more deeply into each of them.
In the song "Down N Outer" songwriter, Nanci Griffith sings about a poor American on a street corner who only "wants to earn his piece of America," but he`s "just a bank account away" from it. The accumulation of assets in America is dependent upon having a job, first and foremost. It is also largely dependent upon an income surplus combined with the faith that one's income will be there and will remain stable from week to week; month to month. In today's economy, with manufacturing jobs being sent to other shores, automobile companies downsizing, pensions disappearing, and low-wage jobs with no benefits coming in to replace once decent-paying jobs that provided a full benefits-package, faith in the system is broken. Policies currently exist for the accumulation of assets for many middle and upper class workers, delivered mainly through the tax code. Examples would be deductions on home mortgages and lower tax rates on capital gains.
A significant percentage of the American population, however, lacks financial assets such as savings and/or stocks. According to a 1990 study [Oliver and Shapiro], one-third of American households had no financial assets at all. A study [by Wolff] in 1998 has shown that middle-income families could maintain their standard of living without income for 1.2 month while those at the bottom-income level would not be able to replace their income for any period of time.
What can be done to build up financial assets for those who are "just a bank account away from America?"
We can discuss big ideas, keeping an honest eye on the fact that we are facing an incredible mountain of national debt, thanks to five years of the Bush administration's policy of giving billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% of Americans and the delivery of subsidies for just about any corporate interest you can imagine. Let's not forget that when the Republican-led majority in Congress decided to trim the debt with sweeping budget cuts last fall, hardly a dime of the tax cuts for millionaires and breaks for Big Energy and Oil was touched. President Bush and his rubber-stamping Congress have rewarded wealth and turned their backs to the rewarding of hard work done by the willing hearts and calloused hands of the poorest Americans. Alleviating poverty and lifting all boats on a rising moral tide will take belief, commitment, cooperation, and caring from us all.
I have heard Senator Edwards offering solutions in the form of policies that will reward work by creating and increasing assets of the poorest working Americans. He has said that there is an asset gap in America that is every bit as important as the income gap.
A direct way to build assets for low-income workers is by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Since 1975, the expansion of this federal tax credit has provided an income supplement to low-wage workers. In the 1990s, the EITC helped move 7 million Americans out of poverty and into the middle class. As one of the biggest cash-transfer programs for low-income families, the EITC reflects congressional and public preferences to support increased work efforts and self-sufficiency and less dependency on welfare programs for low-income population. One of the chief aims of the EITC is the "rewarding of work." The EITC promotes and rewards low-wage work by reducing the taxes that low-wage workers pay on their earnings and by supplementing their wages. Senator Edwards wishes to make this tax credit more available to single workers and to get rid of the marriage penalty that presently exists. Female heads-of household can especially benefit from an expansion of the EITC. In a Grogger study (2003), it was found that the EITC may be the `single most important' policy parameter for explaining recent declines in welfare and increases in work and earnings among female-headed families. [source: tc.umn.edu]
Work bonds would help by setting up accounts for low income families to the extent that workers would be saving money while the government would match any savings they could manage to accrue. This would help them save to buy homes and send their children to college. Low-income working families would receive an extra credit of up to $500 per year that would be directly deposited into a new account held by a bank or a safe stock fund with low fees. If families put away more, the amount in the account would grow, and it would be available not just for retirement, but also for a small business or a personal emergency. [source: Senator Edwards' speech at CAP, September 19, 2005]
Senator Edwards suggests an enhancement of housing vouchers for the poorest workers and setting aside up to $1,000 in an account to help low-income workers entering the workforce to make home payments for the first five years they are working. After five years, they will have up to $5,000 for a down payment on a home of their own. Senator Edwards has also stated his aim to crack down on predatory lenders and their shameful practices because they prevent low-income workers from building assets.
In Britain, there is a program that issues Baby Bonds for low-income families. They set up an account for a child when they are born and then by the time the child reaches 18 years of age, they make that money available to them. Whether they want to go to college, buy a house, or start their own small business, they can use that money to do so. Senator Edwards has proposed similar ideas to help all Americans build their savings for the future. [source: One America Committee blog/Serb Hall celebrator]
All of these strategies are about investing in people and rewarding their hard work. The creation and building of assets for low-income families would be a direct investment in the American people. By bridging the asset gap, it would not be only their lives that would be beneficially affected. The communities where they live and work would also be enhanced by the increased opportunity. When Senator Edwards says he's fighting to alleviate poverty, I also hear him asking us to develop the political will to invest in American workers and allow them to live up to their full potential. This is so directly tied to the benefit of the entire American population that we can no longer sit back in silence as we see our elected representatives turn their backs on those who want to learn and to work hard to earn their piece of America.