Hooray for the Sheriff of Cook County

October 23, 2008

In Time Magazine’s October 27 issue, “Verbatim” (its regular page of quick quotations) includes this statement from Sheriff Thomas J. Dart of Cook County, Illinois:

We’re just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today.

According to Time, Dart said this upon “suspending foreclosure evictions in the Chicago area because renters were not being properly notified about their landlords’ financial problems.”

Without knowing much else about Dart, his stand struck me as so profoundly and simply human. Yes, let’s just stop kicking people out of their homes. It could be as simple as that. We’ve got to start somewhere.

My Google search led to a CNN article about the sheriff. Apparently, he made the statement on October 8 to protect innocent tenants who are “victimized by an uncaring, reckless system.” On October 16, he announced he would resume evictions but these would be based on specific conditions (see CNN report). Also, that he would hire a social worker to help evictees find alternative housing.

That’s heroic. Yes, one person saying “no more” CAN make a difference.

Of course, CNN also reports that the Illinois Bankers Association is critical of Dart’s actions, saying he was “elected to uphold the law and to fulfill the legal duties of his office, which include serving eviction notices.” Now THAT’s a crime.

blixity to the Illinois Bankers Association: Shut The Fuck Up.

Dart is one public official who seems to be looking out for his public. A blixity tip of the hat to a GOOD MAN in deed.

Photo of Sheriff Dart from http://www.easthazelcrest.com
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Still Life from a Starbucks Civilization

July 10, 2008

Just before the not-long-enough July 4th weekend, globalized coffeemaker Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 stores. By now, we’ve heard gleeful reactions from people who support the demise of this Walmart of coffee beans. We’ve also, of course, heard the human side to these closings: 12,000 full- and part-timers are losing their jobs (that’s 7% of Starbucks’ workforce).

I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But the Starbucks phenomenon hints at a critical issue facing countless developing communities (aka emerging markets) around the world: how to negotiate transnational and commercial development (which might bring much-needed basic services like water and electricity) with local culture (which binds people together).

Yesterday I was on a United Airlines flight, reading Paul Ricoeur’s “History and Truth”, which prompted thoughts about Starbucks:

We have the feeling that this single world civilization…exerts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural resources which have made the great civilizations of the past. This threat is expressed, among other disturbing effects, by the spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization which is the absurd counterpart of elementary culture. Everywhere throughout the world, one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda…

And as I’m reading this, I ask for a cup of coffee and what do I get?

One could make an attempt to scream.

Caffeinated, back to Ricoeur:

In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the raison d’etre of a nation?…

It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization.

Looping back to Starbucks’ store closings, though, I’m a bit more optimistic. Sometimes modern civilization just cannot sustain and absorb the shock of local culture.

Hey, some people just DON’T want to unite with the same mass-produced cups of $5 coffee anywhere and everywhere. It’s a start.


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


French Spiderman/Environmental Activist Becomes Paid Promoter

June 18, 2008

On June 5th, Alain Robert (aka French Spiderman) boldly scaled the 52-story New York Times building in Times Square to call attention to global warming. This afternoon, he climbed the 32-story Dresdner Bank building in Frankfurt.

robert dresdner

No environmental activism or political intervention behind today’s stunt, though. It’s all legal, secure (Robert wore a safety harness) — and paid for. His 40-minute climb was filmed for a German program called “Unglaublich!” (which NYT translates into “Unbelievable!”). This time, his call-to-action was replaced by a T-shirt with the name of the show.

Why do so many independent acts get turned into promotional vehicles or media opportunities? As our visual landscape gets more and more jampacked with promotional messages, corporations are always on the lookout for the next out-of-the-blue spectacle. And they’ve got the budgets to monetize these unusual acts.

Does everything and everyone ultimately have a price?

Photo: Arne Dedert/European Press in NYT

Same-Sex Weddings See First Light of Day in California

June 17, 2008

ringsLast month, California’s Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to overturn state laws that restricted marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Today, county clerks in 58 counties across the state began issuing official marriage licenses to hundreds of same-sex couples. YES!

It’s an historic day and the media has been running incredible photos and stories of newlyweds. The first marriage was performed by San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom, for a couple in their 80s. The couple had married in 2004, only to have this right stripped away, and their license invalidated.

This points to the still-precarious legal status of same-sex weddings in California and the rest of the United States. In November, voters in California decide whether to rescind the Supreme Court’s decision through a ballot measure that could revert the definition of marriage back to heterosexual unions.

Exclusionary efforts are underway. In a condescending statement quoted in NYT, a Florida-based group called Liberty Counsel said the ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.” An Arizona-based group called Alliance Defense Fund is inciting discrimination and succeeded in getting one county clerk to cancel all same-sex weddings.

LA Times reports that very protesters showed up physically today because they are focusing on the ballot measure later this year. Another conservative group, protectmarriage.com, emailed supporters that they will fight in November and cautioned against protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. The group warned: “Media outlets would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. … We must not fall into this trap.” Already, the group has submitted 1.1 million signatures earlier this year for the ballot measure to amend the state constitution. Now THAT’s a mockery of human rights.

Today, California opened a window to a new day in America. But the fight for equal rights for all is not over. Keep that window open! We need lots more happy days like today.

Here are just a couple groups that could certainly use your support: Human Rights Campaign and in New York, Empire State Pride Agenda. Feel free to add in comments.


Republican Radio Host Calls for Murder of Media Activist

June 14, 2008

Michael Reagan, eldest son of Ronald Reagan and national radio talk show host, is calling on listeners to kill Mark Dice, political activist and founder of a Christian media watchdog called The Resistance. Reagan’s words:

How about you take Mark Dice out and put him in the middle of a firing range. Tie him to a post, don’t blindfold him, let it rip and have some fun with Mark Dice. (full audio link)

What provoked the former president’s adopted son?

Apparently, Mark Dice and his group of 3,000 Christian activists had been urging people to send letters and DVDs to U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq informing them that 9/11 was an inside job produced by the American government. In an interview with Fox News, Dice explained his motivations for “Operation Inform The Soldiers”:

I don’t want the soldiers who are risking their lives in Iraq to be used as pawns in the creation of the New World Order… We want U.S. troops to know that we care about them and are doing our best to make sure that they don’t have to risk their lives based on false pretenses.

While we do NOT agree with or endorse Dice’s platform, Reagan’s open call for murder is just plain repulsive. A transcript of the words he used on his radio program:

We ought to find the people who are doing this, take them out and shoot them. Really. You take them out, they are traitors to this country, and shoot them. You have a problem with that? Deal with it. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullets.

Dice certainly knows how to fight back. He has filed a report with the FBI, is considering legal action, and is calling for Reagan to be fired immediately.

It’s not often that we see two right-wingers throwing fire and brimstone at each other. Perhaps a reality tv show is in the works.


Bill Moyers Fights Back, Sends Fox News’ O’Reilly Henchman Scurrying

June 8, 2008

Free Press is holding its 3-day National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis this weekend. Bill Moyers delivered the Saturday morning plenary to an audience of more than 3,500. (Closing remarks are later today, tbd.)

Describing the media reform movement as “the most significant citizens’ movement to emerge in this new century”, Moyers’ address called on independent and alternative media producers to challenge “the stranglehold of mega-media corporations over our press” and deliver “information that people can trust”.

Moyers’ 39-minute speech on stage is inspiring, indelible, and hopefully viral. But here’s a 9-minute video that’s REALLY worth seeing. Moyers puts his words into live action.

Background: Moyers appears cornered by Porter Barry of Murdoch’s Fox News. Barry is on assignment, sent by Bill O’Reilly on a mission to drag Moyers into his nucyular waste dump of a show. Trained in O’Reilly’s draconian intimidation tactics, Barry badgers Moyers. Without blinking, Moyers proceeds to throw it right back.

Raw video captured by correspondent Noah Kunin of Uptake. Originally found on fearless Fark.

A blixity tip of the hat to Bill Moyers! A rare class act. Here’s to learning from a master of words and slowly turning the cameras back on big media. Support public broadcasting and the fight to sustain independent productions. To paraphrase Moyers, freedom of speech is the basis of all our freedoms.