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Monday, September 27, 2010

Power, Political Will and the New Movement for Democracy

"The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted."
- James Madison

Power motivates and constipates, elevates and eviscerates. Where do you stand?
"You can't stop a movement."
- Johnny 5 of The Flobots

Now is the time to recognize that not all Americans on the left are being ripped apart, excused or held back by a so-called "enthusiasm gap." For over 300 people meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, this past weekend, the worst of the gap is nothing more than a couple of centimeters between the ledge we stand on and the rest of the short climb to the mountain top - and that's only if we choose to line up behind this media driven division.

Some may allow themselves to linger, to indulge in the lazy luxury of voter vertigo that can make even the tiniest of spaces look like an intraversable gorge - but that's not how futures are built, how ships are guided or how countries thrive.

When the six-month-old Coffee Party Movement held its first ever national convention on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, two blocks from the museum dedicated to favorite son Muhammad Ali, it was not to bemoan the gap but to celebrate the fight for our country's return to its founding democratic principles. It was, in deference to the famous pugilist, a gathering of the greatest... and some famous people too.

Indeed, the fight-card was set by young Rebecca Baird, a recent college graduate and one of the event organizers, who exhorted those gathered for Friday's opening session to "roll up our sleeves and make it happen," and literally pulled the sleeves of her sweater up her small arms and curled her fists over her shoulders, making a pair of strong-man muscles. "Doing what's hard is what's good and right," she said. "Whether it's a mental or a physical challenge, you're going to come out stronger from it."

Then switch to the sixty-six year old Francis Moore Lappé, author of the seminal Seventies classic, "Diet for a Small Planet," and founder, with her daughter Anna, of The Small Planet Institute, who similarly curled her arms, saying, "This feels really good," and reminded all of us just how powerful we are. "We see power as what we create, moment to moment," she said.

Lt. Dan Choi brought the crowd to its feet with his version of Jesse Jackson's famous "I am somebody" mantra. Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig got us to believe that the Fair Elections Now Act (which just came out of committee in the House) is what everyone wants, regardless of what your beverage of choice happens to be.

Seattle activist Bill Moyer (not the similarly named journalist), founder of Backbone Campaign - as in "get one, fellow progressives" - talked about the inherent contagiousness of "celebrating progressive values," and quoted the late, great Sixties activist Abbie Hoffman, who told him to "be the 800 pound gorilla."

[caption id="attachment_323" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Bill Moyer, of the Backbone Campaign, leads a course on Creative Actions, at the first Coffee Party Convention in Louisville, KY, Friday, September 24, 2010 (Rebecca Baird)"][/caption]

Even centrist Republican strategist, Mark McKinnon, told the group that "something is happening in America..we've got a real opportunity to change the system."

"The time is ripe," he said, and quoted James Madison, who said, in 1897, "The people are the fountain of all power."

"The revolt is widespread," McKinnon added, "From the left and the right, citizens recognize that democracy does not work when the power of the people is perverted."

The power of political will, when it comes to moving the country forward cannot be taken for granted. "You can't stop," as singer Johnny 5 of the Flobots called out to the audience who had come to hear his conscious rap, "a movement."
The next thing I will post, is how and why the policy experts at the Coffee Party Convention say Fair Elections is the best way we can change the tenor of the conversation in Washington, DC.
Video from the Coffee Party Convention are available through U-stream.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tea bags and broomsticks

So it wasn't the trip to the altar she was expecting, nor the kind of sacrifice she wanted to make for love. I guess leaving blood on a Satanic altar is one way to lose your virginity. No wonder why the woman thinks lust is evil. To her, a penis is the same as a pitchfork.

But before we dismiss the crack-tea-pottery of Christine O'Donnell, let's keep in mind that the more a mama grizzly is cornered, the harder she scratches, especially when her cubbette is in trouble. She may be hiding behind Palin's skirts, but like Yosemite tourists behaving badly, the tea baggers will just keep leaving more food for the bears. The more resources they consume, the stronger they get; the harder they fight.

What killed Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican primary last week was low voter turnout. The caution expressed in this column after O'Donnell's den-mate, Rand Paul, won in Kentucky still holds true. We cannot say these people are unelectable, because they managed to get elected. So the only way we can get these folks out of politics is to vote them out, defensively. They may be clawing out only a small, conservative corner of the electorate, but they are noisy and get all the attention. Only the rational sanity of the majority of Americans showing up to vote can upstage the Tea Party spectacle.

So when Bill Maher reveals he has intercepted O'Donnell's owl-borne invitation to Hogwarts, we can laugh, but make sure you're guffawing all the way to the voting booth, that you're tittering as you present your voter ID, that you're snickering when you see Diebold across the voting screen, then just let your belly explode with laughter when you vote against these people. That way, when it's morning in America, it won't look as dark as the long, Alaskan winter night.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rounding up the Roma in Europe's Arizona

"A disgrace." That's what the European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called France's continuing deportation of thousands of Roma (part of a group commonly known as Gypsies) to Romania.

France claims the ethnic minority, who mostly live in poverty in more than 300 camps across the country, are disproportionally responsible for a high number of crimes and criminal behavior. France has expelled the Roma before, but the latest wave follows an attack by Roma on a police station, in reaction to a young woman from a local camp being shot and killed by police.

What makes this episode particularly vile, is the leaking of a memorandum that was issued in the beginning of August, calling for a "systematic action to dismantle the illegal camps, in priority those of the Roma." Furthermore, to the EU's dismay, French officials have insisted that they are working "in favor of the Roma population."

"We can improve the situation of the Roma," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, "who are at the heart of our concerns and our action."

So the French are uprooting thousands of individuals, putting them on buses and airplanes back to the discrimination they will face in Bulgaria and Romania in order to "improve the situation" for them.

The French Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, defended the action, saying the deportations are happening "not because they are Roma, but because they (the camps) are illegal." Remind you of anything?

The refrain in Arizona, and elsewhere, is that the anger over illegal immigration is over the "illegal" part, and not racism. This despite the fact that the most vocal anti-immigrant groups are the ones worried about White people becoming a minority, those who see the US defined as a nation run by Europeans.

The EU's Reding pegged it Tuesday, when she said, "This is a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War." In World War Two, Vichy France was notoriously complicit in rounding up Jews and Gypsies and sending them to Nazi death camps.

So what's going on here? The French have decided that because they are French, they cannot possibly be racist. Everything they are doing - expelling the Roma, outlawing the burqa for Muslim women - they are doing for their minority populations, not to them. N'est pas?


Thursday, September 09, 2010

When the moon says it's Rosh Hashanah and Eid al-Fitr, and the sun says it's 9/11

"Allah is great, Allah is great.
There is no deity but Allah.
Allah is great, Allah is great
And all praises are for Allah."

- Opening Takbir prayer Muslims say when Ramadan is declared over, and Eid al-Fitr begins

"It is true that You alone are the One Who judges,
proves, knows, and bears witness;
Who writes and seats, (counts and calculates);
Who remembers all that was forgotten."

- from the Un'taneh Tokef prayer, recited by Jews on
Rosh Hashanah

"This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day."
- President George W. Bush address to the nation on September 11, 2001

This year marks the first time since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), the Eid (festival) marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and September 11 have all aligned.

It is a poignant reminder that the faith of humanity moves as a clock, and will not be disrupted by angry men, violent weapons, and hateful words.

When this year's Ramadan began, and it became apparent that 9/11 could end up being the first day of Eid al-Fitr, Muslim leaders in America became nervous. It could, after all, appear that the faithful, with parties and carnivals worldwide, were celebrating 9/11, rather than commemorating the end of Ramadan festival in their traditional way.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Associated Press when the month began, that he could "sense brewing" hate on the internet, especially with the Manhattan Islamic Center controversy inflaming tensions. "It's getting really scary out there," Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR told the AP.

As it turns out, the Saudi Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Eid will begin in Saudi Arabia on Friday, which is September 10. Most Muslim countries are expected to follow the Saudi lead on this. Although in the U.S., one can expect the traditional Eid celebrations to be more muted than usual in deference to the 9/11 anniversary.

Although both Jews and Muslims follow a lunar calendar - with days and months delineated by the phases of the moon - the Jewish calendar is always adjusted to make certain that the appropriate festivals correspond to the appropriate seasons. Passover, for example, will always be in the spring, Shavuot in the early summer, and Rosh Hashanah in the autumn.

The Muslim calendar, in contrast, is not locked to the seasons. It slips about ten days a year, relative to the secular, Gregorian calendar. That is why Ramadan, a holiday where people fast during daylight hours, can come in the short days of winter or the long, hot days of summer.

A specific Muslim date will align with a specific Jewish date only once every 33 years. Some find the confluence of holy days significant. "Both Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan are opportunities for thauba or teshuvah, improving one's character through introspection, increasing one's commitment to doing good deeds," according to an interfaith dialogue on one Jewish British website.

Some, like Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who just "suspended" his plans to burn Qur'ans on Saturday's anniversary, have drawn brimstone lines in the coal sands of intolerance, hoping to rally the vapid minds of rabid ignorance to their side. Instead, their line has become a circle of light, uniting Muslims and Jews, and all those for whom the insanity of this hateful act was beyond the pale.God Willing

The "extended period of soul-searching," as one author put it, present during both Ramadan and the Jewish High Holidays, must, Insha'Allah /Im Yirtza HaShem/God willing, "help bond our communities together."