Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Disaster Relief

Setting aside last week's exhortation concerning the NRDC (still worthy of donations, just not quite as urgent), anyone looking to help with the disaster in Southern Asia should consider giving to Doctors Without Borders, a fantastic organization that spends nearly 86% of it funds directly on program operations. I'm sure a gift of any size will help make a difference to those whose lives have been upturned and those making direct efforts to help them. If you're prepared to upend your own life for at least 6 months, you can also volunteer for assignments around the world.

The basic info on the organization (also known as Medecins sans Frontieres or MSF) follows:

A private, nonprofit organization, MSF is at the forefront of emergency health care as well as care for populations suffering from endemic diseases and neglect. MSF provides primary health care, performs surgery, rehabilitates hospitals and clinics, runs nutrition and sanitation programs, trains local medical personnel, and provides mental health care. Through longer-term programs, MSF treats chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, sleeping sickness, and AIDS; assists with the medical and psychological problems of marginalized populations including street children and ethnic minorities; and brings health care to remote, isolated areas where resources and training are limited.

MSF unites direct medical care with a commitment to bearing witness and speaking out against the underlying causes of suffering. Its volunteers protest violations of humanitarian law on behalf of populations who have no voice, and bring the concerns of their patients to public forums, such as the United Nations, governments (in both home and project countries), and the media. In a wide range of circumstances, MSF volunteers have spoken out about forgotten conflicts and underreported atrocities they have witnessed—from Chechnya to Angola, and from Kosovo to Sri Lanka.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Offensive "Minister of Defense"

Reggie White was an exceptional football player, there's no arguing against that. I also don't doubt that he was basically a decent human being who did many things to try and improve the communities he lived in though you could make a case that some of his views were misguided (such as when he compained that too many churches were sending too much money to the third world rather than keeping it in the U.S.). And while his death yesterday came as a sudden shock, fans of tolerance aren't exactly shedding a tear today over his loss. Let's take a look at some of his greatest hits. From his speech to the Wisconsin State Assembly March 25, 1998:

We always should look at the situation and ask ourselves a question. Why did god create us differently? Why did god make me black and you white? Why did god make the next guy Korean and the next guy Asian and the other guy Hispanic? Why did god create the Indians?

Well, it's interesting to me to know why now. When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it.

White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world.

Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure.

When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They're very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality.

When you put all of that together, guess what it makes. It forms a complete image of god. God made us different because he was trying to create himself. He was trying to form himself, and then we got kind of knuckleheaded and kind of pushed everything aside.

And some of his various comments about homosexuality:

Now, I believe that one of the reasons that Jesus was accused of being a homosexual is because he spent time with homosexuals. I've often had people ask me, would you allow a homosexual to be your friend. Yes, I will. And the reason I will is because I know that that person has problems, and if I can minister to those problems, I will.

PEGGY WEHMEYER of ABC's 20/20: "Just last week, Reggie White and his wife, Sara, met us for an exclusive interview. White told us he was sorry if he offended anyone, but he wasn’t backing down one inch. (on camera) Are you saying there that homosexuals are like liars, cheaters, backstabbers and malicious people?"
REGGIE WHITE "Yes." - ABC's 20/20, April 27, 1998.

Please don't construe this as taking any sort of pleasure in his passing. I'm offering this information simply in the interest of giving a little balance to the commemoration of his life as none of the commentary I saw yesterday even touched on any of this.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Pros of Conifers

OK, so I'm already interrupting what should be the peaceful quiet of this impending holiday (note: does not apply to 2/3 of the world's population), but I just came across this and thought it would be good to get this out there beforehand.

What do you do with your Xmas tree and wreaths once 2005 rolls around? Bring them to New York City's Mulchfest. On Saturday January 8 and Sunday January 9 from 10am-2pm, sites throughout the city will be collecting trees to turn into mulch that will be used in New York City parks. Check out the list to find the closest site to you. You green thumb types can also bring a bag to get your own free mulch.

Of course now that I look into it, the NYC Dept. of Sanitation will be collecting trees from the street January 6th to 15th, turning them into wood chips and compost as well. So kudos to NYC for finding constructive ways to re-use several million pine trees and making it easy to take part.

Holiday Interregnum

Fightin' Words will refrain from judgment if you should find yourself wearing red this holiday season. Should you find the spirit of generosity (or the spirit of last minute tax deductions) coming over you, might we suggest a donation to the Natural Resources Defense Council?

Posting will likely be sporadic until New Year's, at which time we hope to get back to a more regular schedule. Also, we're still soliciting help from anyone out there who would like to join us on this side of the blogfence. Even if you only contribute one thing every other week, that would be welcomed.

Regardless, everyone travel safely and eat well. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Power Your Way

Reading a piece about the Brooklyn Brewery, I was reminded of why they're such a great company and that in turn reminded me of something I've been meaning to do. Besides producing a great product - including a new Sustainable Porter which is listed at Beer Advocate but not yet on their website - their plant in Williamsburg is 100% powered by wind. All the more reason to support them, but how do they pull that off exactly? It's simple - they choose to purchase their electricity from a company call NewWind Energy.

And you can do it too. Regardless of what you think of the deregulation of the electric industry (and the results are decidedly mixed), one of the major benefits is the ability to choose to support a company with a more forward-thinking approach to generating power. For those of us who have been at the mercy of ConEd's pollution-prone kilowatt factories, you can now choose Green Power through ConEd Solutions. Your electricity will be produced by 25% wind power from NewWind and 75% run-of-the-river hydroelectric* meaning you will be contributing virtually zero pollution into the air and water. And the best part is that switching will only cost you one half-cent more per kilowatt-hour of electricity that you use, meaning you're unlikely to see much more than a couple dollar increase in your total electric bill (this is much lower than in other areas). And they're offering a $25 rebate that will appear on your third month billing period that will offset whatever increases there might be. So grab your ConEd bill, take 5 minutes and make the switch to cleaner power. And if you're not in the ConEd service area, you can check out NewWind's availability in your area or check out the Department of Energy's listings of Green Power providers in each state.

* from their FAQ: Run-of-river hydropower uses the natural flow of the river to produce electricity. Run-of-river hydropower typically creates no air pollution and is seen to be more environmentally friendly than large-scale hydropower that typically requires the construction of an impounding dam. Our GREEN Power uses hydropower from small, run-of-the-river facilities located in upstate New York.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Don't Blame the Gays, Part One: We Need More Democrats Like Gavin Newsom

The Canadian Supreme Court's sanctioning of gay marriage should shame those American liberals who decided to blame San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom for John Kerry's loss. A typical example of this scapegoating can be found in Alexander Cockburn's November 22 column in The Nation. He wrote that instead of attacking Ralph Nader during the campaign, the Democrats should have turned on Newsom:

If the Democrats had wanted to identify a serious saboteur of their chances they should have homed in on Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, whose OK to gay marriage saw all those same-sex couples embracing, on every front page and nightly news in America. Ohio had a proposition banning gay marriage, and the drive to put it on the ballot and push it to victory brought the Christians out in their hundreds of thousands, marching to the polls across the rubble of their state's economy.
I'll acknowledge that the best course of action might have been for Newsom and others in California to pursue the legalization of marriage through the courts. But I also accept his argument that "putting a face" on the issue is the only way to change minds.

Seeing same-sex couples embracing shouldn't freak Americans out. But by and large, it does. That's not Gavin Newsom's fault. Nor is it the fault of gay people who want to get married. It's because Christian fundamentalism, distrust of "the other," and ignorance about sexuality have created an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance toward gays. Maybe this would change if more politicians and celebrities with a public forum were as brave as Newsom. What we need are more people willing to say, "Homophobia is wrong, religious justifications for it are bullshit, and any kind of discrimination against gay people is an injustice that affects us all."

In an NPR debate between six of the Democratic candidates in June, the only two who spoke with ease on the subject of same-sex marriage were Kucinich and Moseley-Braun, both of whom said it's an issue of equality and argued that gay people should be able to get married. All the others hemmed and/or hawed. Even Dick Gephardt, whose own daughter is a lesbian, said he wasn't for gay marriage. (Sharpton, who did not participate in the debate, is for it.)

The most absurd and convoluted response, predictably, came from Kerry. He said he's always believed that marriage is between a man and a woman, then droned on for a couple sentences about the law of equal protection and how there should be rights for gay relationships, but whether it's marriage or not is "up for grabs."

In the debate with the infamous Mary Cheney reference, Kerry spoke about homosexuality as though it were a serious injury. His tone and the look on his face made it seem like he was saying, "We should pity these people, what they have to go through, being homosexual..." And of course he agreed with Bush that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Kerry has voted for gay rights legislation and non-discrimination laws, and he was brave enough to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (unlike Paul Wellstone, who's often revered as the ideal liberal). But Kerry's stance against marriage--which can't be chalked up to Catholicism, as he is for legal abortion--and his inability to speak comfortably about gay people and their relationships, are representative of the Democratic party's problem when it comes to gay rights.

California senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the most vocal of the post-election anti-Newsom crowd. "I think that whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon, and people aren’t ready for it," she said in an interview.

Screw Dianne Feinstein. I was one of many gay voters (though at the time I was "straight") who elected her to the Senate in 1992. I don't regret it, because the alternative of a Republican senator would have been much worse. But a state like California, with such a large and vital gay population, should be represented by someone willing to stand up for that population's rights regardless of what voters in Mississippi and Georgia and Ohio think.

Even Barney Frank, the openly gay congressman from Massachusetts, has harshly criticized Newsom. He should instead turn his criticism on his fellow Democratic representatives and senators for being so wimpy and noncommittal when it comes to supporting gay rights. Frank and other gay-rights defeatists take the wrong view of current events, as profiled in this article in the Times this week:

The leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, at a meeting last weekend in Las Vegas, concluded that the group must bow to political reality and moderate its message and its goals...Pragmatists and politicians are more inclined to support the Human Rights Campaign's measured approach. Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said it was important for the movement to sensibly pick its fights. "You take risks for your gains," he said, "but you don't take risks for no gain."
Spoken like a true coward (I mean, politician). The fact is, there's no way to know whether you'll gain or lose until you do take a risk.

Before last year, I didn't expect to see gay marriage legal in this country for at least another 20 years. But now that the issue is at the forefront, it seems ridiculous to say that it has happened too fast or too soon. The two women who were the first couple to get married at San Francisco City Hall have been together for more than 50 years. Tell them to their faces that they should have been more patient, Feinstein.

The Times also published an article after the election about Democratic successes in Montana, citing the Democratic candidates' opposition to gay marriage as a key reason why the governorship and other offices went their way in this year of Republican domination, and in a state that voted handily for Bush. Unfortunately this strategy will probably be seen by many moderate Democrats as the way to go. Join the heartland of America in its gay-bashing, and maybe they'll join up with you. Clinton worked this angle to his benefit in 1996, running advertisements on Christian radio stations boasting about his signature of the Defense of Marriage Act.

What we need is not more Democrats like those in Montana, who are either anti-gay themselves or willing to sell out gay people, or like Dianne Feinstein or Bill Clinton, for whom civil rights are trumped by political expediency. We need more Democrats like Gavin Newsom, who believe in equality for everyone and are bold enough to speak up for it. Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago falls into that category as well. He supported domestic partner benefits for city employees in the mid-1990s, standing up to hardcore opposition from religious groups, and said earlier this year that he'd support same-sex marriage in Illinois.

The Democrats' problem is not that they're too gay-friendly for Joe and Jane Nebraska. It's that the party is too compromised by corporate money to passionately champion progressive causes, and can't find a candidate who has enough charisma and substance to win the presidency.

It's too bad we haven't had a presidential candidate who believes that gay people deserve equal rights and who isn't afraid to say so. If we had more leaders who would talk about homosexuality in honest, straightforward language, and be forceful in support of equal rights, maybe political moderates who just don't understand homosexuality could be persuaded that their fears and prejudices are irrational.

Even though I've made "blue" the central motif of this blog, I don't want to imply that I am a Democratic loyalist who supports the party no matter what. For me, and I think for many, blue has become emblematic of more than which party voters favored. It suggests a progressive mindset, a counter to the fundamentalist, jingoistic, ignorant "red" that prevailed on November 2. But maybe that's a stretch. Maybe the subtitle of this blog should be "Looking Forward to a More Progressive America" instead of a "Bluer" one. Debate on that is encouraged.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Just Another Reason to be Jealous

Today, the Canadian Supreme Court essentially gave the go-ahead for the legalization of gay marriage, provided it passes in parliament (which it looks likely to do) ruling "that the constitution allowed the proposed redefinition of marriage as 'the lawful union of two persons,' while protecting the right of religious organizations to refuse to perform same-sex marriages". It was an article I read with equal parts joy and discontentment, especially when I got to this sentence:

"Canada is a pluralistic society," the court said. "Our constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life."

Would that our court could be so honorable.

More Purchasing Exhortations

Not everything I post will be about consumerism, but I did want to let everyone in on a site called The Green Apple which is currently listing over 200 "organic, natural and eco-friendly" companies that are offering discounts and coupons available to everyone. These run the gamut from clothing to books and magazines to food to spas and more. The focus is on New York City, but many of the discounts are for online shopping and can be used anywhere (10% of at Powell's Books for instance). Of course there is a catch in that you have to buy the coupon book for $20 in order to receive the discounts, but if you use them no doubt you'll get that money back fairly quickly.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Choose The Blue

I'd like to thank Jim for the opportunity to join him in this bastion of progressive free thinking. Or liberal bitch-fest, though hopefully we'll manage to avoid that for the most part.

Since one of the best ways to measure approval in this country is by dollar signs, I'd like to make my first contribution here by helping you to figure out where to spend your money. The website Choose the Blue is doing exactly that by listing companies and then showing the breakdown of the money given by each to Democrats and Repulbicans during the last election cycle. By choosing companies who give more money to the Democrats (or avoiding those that support Republicans) you can have a more significant effect on the political process. And the listings are pretty interesting and in some cases surprising: Anheuser-Busch leans Red (lending more credence to my boycott), while Guinness and it's brethren go Blue. Ticketbastard? Overwhelmingly Blue. Mr. Gatti's? Red (sorry Dan). Arby's? 100% Blue. Target follows their color scheme and is Red while Costco checks out Blue. Take a look for yourself and see why Shell is the only major brand of gasoline you should be purchasing, then go out and vote with your wallet this holiday season.

Belated thanks to Kaci for the link.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Too Easily Manipulated: A Case Study

The real "liberal media" has justifiably castigated the mainstream media for giving George W. Bush too much leeway during his first term. Major newspapers and broadcast outlets played into Republicans' hands too many times--accepting the administration's false claims about Iraq as truth, failing to inform the public about the consequences of Bush's policies, and concentrating too much attention on non-stories like the Teresa Heinz Kerry "shove it" flap.

Among the many abdications of journalistic responsibility during this year's campaign, one stood out for me, not because it was more egregious than others (it was actually relatively minor), but because a) it happened during the Republican National Convention, when I was already infuriated that Bush and Co. were exploiting 9/11 by holding their convention here in New York, and b) it involved Karl Rove, and struck me as representative of the way he has engineered public opinion during Bush's tenure through a campaign of lies, half-truths and dissembling.

On September 1, the third night of the convention, the PBS NewsHour featured a conversation between host Jim Lehrer, left vs. right debaters Mark Shields and David Brooks, and Rove.

While vehemently criticizing John Kerry for his testimony against the Vietnam War, Rove gave a false impression of his own history and made blanket statements about Vietnam that he had no credibility to make. And of course, he got away with it. Here's how it played out:

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rove, you made some news today in an earlier interview where your criticism of what John Kerry said before Congress in 1971, you said you thought it was... I won't paraphrase you. What did you say? What is your point here?

KARL ROVE: Well, I said reflecting on John Kerry at his convention said he was proud of his service in Vietnam and he has every right to be proud of it. And we acknowledge that he served with honor and distinction. He also said he was proud of what he did when he came back and what he did when he came back was to go before Congress and testify and say that members of the U.S. military in Vietnam raped and pillaged and burned villages and generally routinely acted like Genghis Kahn.

I understand a lot of people who served in Vietnam and their families feel strongly about this. I had an uncle who served in Vietnam several tours of duty, he was a paratrooper, Colonel William [inaudible], and I don't think my uncle, or the men who served under him, were routinely acting like Genghis Kahn. And I understand strong feelings about the war, I was a youngster then, but I remember how strong the feelings were. But I don't think that kind of rhetoric was justified and I understand why people take offense at it. I do as the nephew of a Vietnam veteran.
Rove was born in 1950. He turned 18 in 1968, several years before the Vietnam War ended. He did not serve. Numerous references on the Internet say he “avoided” the draft, some explaining that he was “too busy being a Republican,” a reference to his election as chairman of the College Republicans in 1972. However, I couldn’t find any source that detailed what actions (if any) he took to actively avoid the draft.

But it’s unquestionable that when he said "I was a youngster then, but I remember...", he was trying to conceal the fact that he was the same age as many of the soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. If Rove had acknowledged his age and his non-involvement, viewers might have wondered, "What authority does this guy have to be criticizing a veteran like Kerry?" So he made himself a "youngster" and introduced his uncle into the discussion to give people the false impression that he's of a younger generation than those who served.

Now, you have to admit that Rove is a clever guy. Evil, but clever. Youngster is not an age-specific term like toddler and adolescent are. He didn't lie, technically. So confronting him in that situation might have seemed overzealous. But if you're afraid of seeming overzealous at the expense of not putting events in context and getting the truth to your viewers (or readers or listeners), then you shouldn't be a journalist. Lehrer should have called him on it. Of course Brooks wouldn't, as he's a loyal Republican hack.

Shields is too timid and civil, though he did fight back a bit. I give him credit for pointing out that Kerry was just quoting other soldiers' testimony, and for standing up for Kerry's right to protest the war, arguing that he earned that right by serving:
I mean, you say he tarnished the record of the service of Vietnam veterans. I mean, you know, to me he volunteered twice to go and he came back and as a combat veteran, honored, as you say, his noble service, and then took that and said "I'm going to fight this war because I don't want other people to die in what's become a fruitless cause."
But Rove continued his attack on Kerry, trying to make him into a bad guy for stating the truth about what happened in the war. Since the Swift Boat liars had been discredited (finally, and too late) in several news reports, Rove's new dirty tactic was to try as persistently as he could to tarnish Kerry's post-war record:
[Kerry] laid it in his testimony as America's indictment in Vietnam and on the basis that the government of the United States had turned our military into war criminals. And I simply do not accept the fact, I do not accept the argument that Americans in Vietnam routinely acted as war criminals.
It's a well-documented fact that Americans committed plenty of war crimes in Vietnam, just like soldiers from every country do in every war. And keep in mind, this discussion happened several months after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

Note that Rove said "I simply do not accept the fact" before correcting himself and changing "fact" to "argument." That's what the Bush and Rove and their cronies do: refuse to accept facts. Moreover, how the hell does he know how Americans did or did not act in Vietnam? He wasn't there!

When influential people make statements they have no credibility to be making, statements that could have a direct impact on something as important as a presidential election, it's the responsibility of the person in Lehrer's position, as the host of a reputable news program, to try to set the record straight. Lehrer pissed me off earlier in the year when he interviewed Rumsfeld post-Abu Ghraib, lobbing him softballs and never challenging him when he evaded answering questions directly. So by the time I saw this joke of a broadcast, which basically served as an unpaid advertisement for the Bush campaign, I had already lost a lot of respect for him.

If the newscaster's role is only to introduce interview subjects, joke around with them and ask questions that they may or may not answer, why not just have Lindsay Lohan host the NewsHour. Or Alf.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Let it Turn to Somethin' Else

Today is the one-month anniversary of Red Dawn. That's right, I'm talking about the day after Bush won the election, when we woke up to all that red bloodying up the middle of our nation's map.

After being depressed over that debacle for a few weeks, I decided that instead of wallowing in feelings of frustration and powerlessness, I should find a constructive outlet for my liberal rage.

So I'm taking the advice of Patrick Swayze's character in that other Red Dawn, the star-studded, enjoyably over-the-top U.S.A. vs. commies flick. As the plucky band of teenagers are crying up in the mountains over the loss of their town and some of their parents, Swayze echoes his dirty-faced dad, Harry Dean Stanton, telling them not to cry ever again. In a gritty voice, he says, "Let it turn to somethin' else. Let it turn to somethin' else."

That's what this blog is all about. Turnin' it into something else. Stay tuned.