The Greatest Speech Ever Made

The message of this speech, its language, its delivery, and the images that accompany it are so powerful and true. I had to share and transcribe it here. This speech, made in Charlie Chaplan's 1940 fictional film The Great Dictator, was delivered in satirical defiance of Adolf Hitler. But how relevant and brilliant these words are today:

I'm sorry. I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible: Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one-another, human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each others' misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another.

In this world there is room for everyone, the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men's souls. It has barricaded the world with hate. It has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.

More than machinery, we need humanity.
More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together, the very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man, cries out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all. Even now, my voice is reaching millions throughout the world: millions of despairing men, women, and children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

For those who can hear me, I say do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers, don't giver yourself to brutes! Men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think, and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle! Use you as cannon fodder! Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men!
You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate. Only the unloved hate. The unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers, don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty!

In the 17th chapter of St. Luke it is written: the kingdom of god is within man. Not one man nor a group of men, but in all men, in YOU. You, the people, have the power! The power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful. To make this life a wonderful adventure.

And in the name of democracy, let us use that power, let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world! A decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future, and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people.

Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason! A world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!!



It seems like an infinite struggle to determine an equitable share of the tax load between the upper and middle classes in the United States. Last December, our holiday season was marked with the threat of raised taxes against the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for our wealthiest neighbors. Well, the fat cats celebrated a happy new year last year, with their hard-earned tax dollars safely tucked away in their pockets (oops! I meant trickled down to the rest of us, of course), costing the U.S. treasury millions of dollars every day.

This holiday season, middle class taxes are on the table again, and if Congress doesn't act in the next 21 days, they will be raised. Whether or not this will actually happen should be enough of a concern for working families during a time of year when money seems to be slipping through their fingers, but unfortunately, there's more.

Our Congress is mulling the idea of leaving our taxes be, but they're also considering a slew of riders onto this slight concession that are, to say the least, terrifying. On the republican chopping block to pass this year's spending bill:

-The right of the Washington D.C. government to fund abortions for poor women*

-Federal funding for needle exchange programs, which are effective in reducing HIV transmission**

-EPA's ability to regulate methane emissions from farms and designate new wetlands for protection, and a limit on their regulatory power in CO2 emissions, coal ash, and oil refineries

-Federal funding for family planning services, and implementation of more grant-incentivized abstinence-only sex education

-The ability of Cuban-American citizens to visit family in Cuba

These riders are completely ideological, and for the most part will have no major effect on the federal budget (government funding of needle exchange, for example, is largely symbolic and very few dollars are actually spent on supporting these programs). And while it's unlikely that all of them will pass this time (although the D.C. abortion ban already has), the fact that they are continually discussed is a frightening thing. Removing evidence-based practices such as family planning services, and plowing forward with inept ideological principles, such as abstinence-only education will have serious implications for our nation's already sub-par health status. Limiting the power of our government to protect us from environmental hazards because such regulation would hamper the market-justice of top polluting corporations is something like evil, and keeping families separated because of some archaic political agenda is simply cruel.

Personally, when I read about these measures taking place within a government that is supposed to represent my voice, I feel marginalized. I feel terrorized. And despite calling my representatives, signing petitions, occupying my city and writing this blog, I feel voiceless and powerless against their acts of injustice. Now, I know that our nation's political definition of "terrorism" involves murderous intent and a heaping amount of racism, but what if the term also applies to continuous and prolonged threats against our rights, our health, and our vitality? When a body is acting out of ignorance and ideological extremism to the ultimate peril of a vulnerable group, what do you call it?


Beginning of the End

You know an issue is significant when the last three presidents of the United States dedicate time in the same day to raising awareness about it. Check out this powerful program on the beginning of the end of AIDS. It includes great panel dialogue featuring presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, as well as other insightful and inspirational folk:

In Honor of World AIDS Day...

... I figured I'd re-post some of my favorite awareness posters (from avert.org):



The state of Florida has started requiring that recipients of welfare benefits in that state submit to drug testing before they are able to receive their entitlements. This law impacts new applicants for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, who incur the cost of these drug tests, and are reimbursed only if they pass.

Despite the fact that this new bill is questionable at best in its constitutionality, it is highly discriminatory, based on the presumption that poor people in need of benefits are likely to be drug users. This is purely a stereotype, as a 2001 pilot testing study in Florida found no significant difference in drug use among aid recipients. And in a state where the unemployment rate is among the highest in the country, the government is compromising the ability of families to survive by failing to provide a valid harm reduction model.

Consider the children who are impacted by this new law. If a parent is denied their welfare checks because of a failed drug test, which has now cost the family up to $70 of crucial funds, where will money for the child's food and clothing come from? For their educational materials? Under the law, a parent is supposed to be able to name another adult who can receive benefits on behalf of their child. But in an environment where support is low and resources are limited, this answer may become more of a problem than it is a solution.

It seems as if the agenda of this new law aims more to deter families from applying for benefits than it does to deter drug use. In the absence of a drug therapy or rehabilitation program to accompany the testing subjection, what choices will a despondent parent have to support their family and get back on their feet? If drug use was actually a critical concern of the Florida government, the position of these individuals would be considered before applying such a harsh invasion into their privacy.


Fan Moment

I met Van Jones today at an ice cream shop in Takoma Park. I was so star-struck, I even told him: "I blog about you all the time!" He was genuinely engaging, asking me questions and chatting about green jobs networking, urban agriculture, blogging, and the tea party. He was humble, inspiring, and funny to boot. Keep on fighting the good fight, Van! You've certainly got a fan in me.


Our Families are Fine, Thanks

Sidetracking slightly from its primary mission of denying civil rights for gay people in Iowa, THE FAMiLY LEADER, a powerful Christian fundamentalist group based in that state has begun to focus its influence on the 2012 presidential election. TFL has asked that republican candidates sign a pledge condemning divorcees, gays, Muslims, single parents, and [until the edited version was released] African Americans in order to receive monetary support from the organization. True to form, republican candidates inspired by white bread religious extremism, mixed with a little outright bigotry and elitism, were enthusiastic about the opportunity to prove how truly American they are: white, straight, and married for better or worse.
In the original document, which claims to uphold "human rights, racial justice, and gender equality," the following language can be found:
  • "Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American Families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of USA's first African American President." (This statement was removed from the pledge, due to obvious controversy, AFTER Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum had already signed it.)
  • Pornography, sexual promiscuity, the notion that homosexuality is innate, and non-wed cohabitant couples are just as much a danger to the integrity of marriage as is spousal abuse.
  • The document calls for a "rejection" of Sharia Islam
  • It also calls for the "fierce" defense of the First Amendment's rights of religious liberty (But not for Islam??)
  • And of course, it calls for support for DOMA: Marriage is between one man and one woman etc. etc.
Wow. Dictating what a "family" should look like... Religious Intolerance... The intimation that slavery had ANY benefit to children and families?? This type of ignorance, hatefulness, and big-brother-type interference into our personal lives should not be allowable in a free society, let alone endorsed by our so-called political leaders. And by republicans, no less, who argue that government is already too involved in our lives. I guess telling us what kind of family lives we should be leading is ok, but telling us to buy health insurance isn't. Gotta love conservative hypocrisy.


Take Control

In June of 1981, the CDC released its very first report about a disease that later became known as HIV/AIDS. Now, 30 years later to the month, we have come so far in understanding the risks and knowing how to take control of our health when it comes to this epidemic.

So today just so happens to be National HIV Testing Day in the United States. If ever there was a day when you did not have any excuses to get yourself checked out, it would be today. There will undoubtedly be many free HIV testing events going on around the country, bringing increased awareness to this invaluable aspect of self-care. Please visit www.hivtest.org to find out about testing events in your area. Use the map to find the testing center nearest you and go take control of your health!



The Supreme Court of the United States is vested with the ultimate responsibility of ensuring and upholding whatever vestiges of integrity our country's justice system can claim. They are vested with the authority to decide instantly the fate of thousands, and ultimately the fate of millions of Americans based on their own powers of deliberation and supposed impartiality. So much of our nation's design and subsequent re-design is entrusted to a group of flawed individuals, who undoubtedly are afflicted with opinions and prejudices, who exhibit strong biases just like any other person. In the light of a true democracy, the outspoken voices of citizens would be held as the true bond, not the unenlightened decisions of a select few.

Exemplifying the SCOTUS' inherently biased and subjective role in our justice system is the Roberts Court, which has time and time again sided with corporate interest over the protest of U.S. citizens in its rulings. With an agenda set by who know what, this court has shown an unprecedented favor towards corporate interest in the majority of relevant cases, from Citizens United, to Exxon-Valdez, to its most recent transgression with female workers at Wal-Mart. There are numerous cases just like these, in which the court's rulings have had enormous implications for the supremacy of American corporations, and the dwindling rights we as individuals have to fight them. In fact, the Alliance for Justice has released reports documenting these decisions, even calculating that at one point in the current court's history, 73% of its rulings favored corporate interests over citizens' interests.

This recent ruling, that female employees at Wal-Mart do not have the right to collectively take action against the corporate behemoth for discriminating against them based on their gender, is simply a notch on the Roberts court's belt of cases in which the rights of the American people seem to hold limited importance as compared to those of giant corporations. While the appalling decision has de-certified the plaintiffs from being part of a class-action suit in any type of case, it in no way diminishes or justifies Wal-Mart's blatant discrimination against its female employees, which is hopefully now receiving increased attention and scrutiny. And while each individual woman now has to face Wal-Mart and its barrage of highly-paid lawyers alone, after 15 years and 1.5 million women, it is safe to assume that this fight is far from over.


A Challenge

Over the years, Glenn Beck has had a successful career spreading fear, hate, lies, and promulgating himself as some sort of Messiah-like voice for his brainwashed conservative viewers. He has launched hateful campaigns against some influential progressive individuals, sometimes even going as far as to smear their names with misinformation and false accusations in order to derail their careers. This was undoubtedly his mission with former "green jobs" czar Van Jones, whom Beck and other radical talking heads accused of being a violent extremist, communist, and otherwise danger to "American values." They claimed that his views, which included a criticism of the Republican party and a call for truth about the attacks of September 11th, were proof that he was too partisan to be effective in the White House. As if no one in Washington has ever held a personal opinion, or sought out truth in the face of endless lies. They accused him unfairly in such a radically exaggerated measure that what followed was a resignation, not a resolution.The result of Beck's haterade campaign resulted in the removal of a social and environmental visionary from a position of potential influence.

Now, two years after resigning from his post, Van Jones is challenging Glenn Beck to a debate. Not that Mr. Jones needs to clear his name or prove anything to the manic Beck, but perhaps this proposed debate would allow him to give Beck the intellectual spanking that the outgoing anchor so greatly deserves on behalf of the American people.

Watch Jones' Challenge here:



It's that time of year again: the temperatures are rising, you're starting to feel the faint whisper of the ocean shores calling your name, feeling the urge to be outside and run and play like a child, all the while wanting to reach up to the sun and give it a big "thank you" hug for bringing you so much joy and brilliance because- at last!- you can emerge from your cave dwellings and join the rest of the outdoor world.

But just as all of these ecstatic thoughts and images are running through your mind as you mark up your calendars for July and August, another more sinister thought reaches you, and you realize that it is inevitable: that same sun who brings light and warmth and summer activities into your life also wants to kill you, and you need an arsenal of SPF this and that to keep its harmful UVA and UVB rays at bay.

But it gets worse. Like many consumer products making health claims, the sunscreen industry often tells lies about just how effective its products really are, making the choices for protecting yourself and your children that much more difficult than they should be. And the FDA, which is trusted with the duty of regulating these health claims, has just decided after 33 years of deliberation that yeah, maybe they should do something about regulating those sunscreen company's claims! Something like, oh, regulating a sunscreen with a true SPF protection of about a 10, packaged in a bottle that advertises it as a 50. Or, sunscreens that claim to be waterproof but really aren't. Oh, and also, those sunscreens that contain dangerous chemicals related to tumor development and other health problems. Yeah, those. The FDA decided they were going to do something about them. And it only took them just over 3 decades!

The truth is that these new regulations aren't going to be going into effect until the summer season of 2013. Which leaves consumers in a difficult position of having to navigate through the screen-washing health claims on their own. And unlike nutritional/environmental health claims, which are becoming easier to spot, the sparse presence of sunscreens in our daily lives makes them even harder to comprehend. Luckily for us, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put together a list of top sunscreens in terms of safety and effectiveness. The lotions on the list contain minimal chemical content, and are more honest about the level of protection they actually provide, and how waterproof they really are.

So unless you see yourself as cave-dwelling while the rest of your friends enjoy all of the pleasures of the sun, it's probably a good idea to check out that list, and to get yourself a safe and reliable sunscreen for the season. It's also a good idea to remember other dangers associated with sun and heat, and to follow safety recommendations related to summer weather in your area. And for those of you who are interested, the EWG has also put together a Hall of Shame- a list of the absolute worst sunscreens in terms of the false health claims they are making. Be sure to steer clear of those, and you should be alright. Happy sunning, everybody!


The Queen of Mean vs. The King of Cruel

So it looks like the horrid Westboro Baptist "Church", which has been labelled as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and others, is in the news again. The "church" had formerly made a name for itself by cruelly protesting outside of military funerals, and for its notoriously confrontational slogan: "God hates fags." There are many reasons to lament the attention given to such a hateful group by our news media, but this time it seems as if the joke was actually on them.

Lisa Lampanelli, a comedienne who was the focus of their most recent protest, has found an ironic way to teach them a bit of a lesson. The church had promised to protest a show of hers in Topeka, KS, because of her outspoken support of the LGBT community. In advance of said show, Ms. Lampanelli announced that she would donate $1,000 to the Gay Men's Health Crisis for every protester who turned up.

What a dilema for Fred Phelps and his people! Do they show up to take advantage of the first amendment rights they so enthusiastically abuse, and by so doing enable a sizable donation to an organization fighting HIV/AIDS? Or do they take a rest from their belligerent hate-mongering and just sit this one out?

Well, it turns out that 48 of them decided to show up, and in so doing they raised $50,000 for the GMHC. This is probably the most productive thing that the group has ever done. Good job, guys.

Lisa Lampanelli's smart move was undoubtedly an inspiring gesture, and a big boo-yah to the angry and hurtful actions of the Westboro protesters. It's hard to argue with a group who thrives on controversy, and whose primary system of action is belligerent ignorance mixed with uninhibited hatred. But, somehow she found a positive way to censure them. As the CEO of GMHC put it: "She is holding up a mirror to bigotry and hatred, and reflecting back love and generosity."

As the self-titled "Queen of Mean" herself put it: "I'd love to see their inbred faces... hopefully their jaws will drop so fast that their three remaining teeth and cro-magnon foreheads will plummet to the floor."

Ok, so I never said she was a nice person... only that she did something great. Well done, Lisa!


May is Plastic-Free Month!

Well, at least for my friend Allison it is. She's embarking on a trial to consciously eliminate unnecessary plastics from her life, and she's starting this month by declining to purchase or acquire any new plastic items. She'll continue to re-use the plastics she started out with before her experiment began.

Periodically she'll be posting tips and reflections on what it means to live plastic-free, sharing her own successes and failures, highlighting for others the feasibility of this commitment.

She's inviting people to join her on this journey, and to share their experiences as well. If you're interested and want to find out more, check out her blog: From Garbage Patch to Cabbage Patch!

"When it comes to living a sustainable life, we have to go MacGuyver!" -Allison Chang


Here it is...

Can we move on now, please?


Flower of the Week

These Azaleas sit buzzing outside my front door. Every day, the dozens of bees who live nearby help to animate the whole bush as it hums and vibrates on a very noticeable level. Like a soft chant of OM, these flowers bring to mind the subtle energy of the earth that lives within everything. It's an audible, quite lovely way for spring to officially announce itself.


For Animals, For Health, For the Environment

The most common question I hear asked of my vegetarian friends who reveal their gastronomic choices in mixed company is: "why?!"

It always amuses me to see how utterly baffled people can be that someone could possibly be satisfied by a diet excluding meat. The typical assumption is that the vegetarian is a nutritionally vacant PETA zealot (or some other equally judgmental assessment). The thought of factory farms and their widespread devastation to farmers, to the environment, to the animals, and to our own health is rarely the first topic that comes up.

A more appropriate question to ask of vegetarianism is why not? It's pretty clear that you do not need meat to satisfy protein and other nutritional needs; eating a thoughtful and balanced vegetarian diet is more than adequate in that regard. Beyond that, there are so many more benefits that come with choosing that lifestyle.

This article by Felix A. Lopez does a pretty great job of summing it all up: vegetarianism is good for the animals, but it is also good for YOU, and for the environment you inhabit.

I am not personally a vegetarian (although I've come close), but have endless respect for my friends who are mindful both of what they put into their bodies, as well as the trace they leave on the earth.

If going completely veggie seems like a daunting or even impossible task, why not try to simply cut back? Just cutting back on your meat intake can make a great impact all of the pieces of the food system puzzle. Cities and countries all around the world are promoting one meat-free day per week for their citizens, and the concept of Meatless Monday has really taken off in the U.S. So do the research, think it over... and then ask yourself, why not?


Called Out

The trouble with corporate personhood is that while behemoth corporations like General Electric and Exxon Mobile are entitled to the same basic rights and constitutional protections as you and I, as if they were individual citizens (natural persons), they are not held accountable for their actions in the same ways. For example, if you or I were unable to pay our taxes because of say, unemployment or rising health care costs, the IRS would come down on us with heavy penalties to put us even further into the hole. And if I poisoned my entire community's water supply by drilling into my backyard, using hazardous chemicals to extract natural gas to heat my home, it is likely that I would go to jail. But corporate criminals are not prosecuted the way that individual criminals are; they are afforded a lot more leeway. Meanwhile, our fellow "citizens" the big corporations are entitled to a number of tax loopholes allowing them to legally evade paying the IRS while the rest of us set-up scheduled plans to pay down what we owe.

In the midst of a huge set of government budget cuts primarily targeting programs for low-income Americans, we hear about those companies we bailed out a few years ago posting record profits, giving out record bonuses to their top execs, and failing to pay billions of dollars in corporate income tax.

But some groups are calling them out on their hypocrisy, like US Uncut. Yesterday, in collaboration with the Yes Men, US Uncut released this fake press release from General Electric, stating that the company intends to repay its $3.2 billion tax refund to the government to help alleviate budget cuts affecting the poor. The release stated:

"We know that Americans are going through tough times... While we owe it to our shareholders to use every legal loophole to maximize returns, we also owe something to the American people. We didn't write the laws that let us legally avoid paying taxes. Congress did. But we benefit from those laws, and now we'd like to share those benefits."

Ha! If only... while it is indeed true that these laws were written by congress, by OUR representatives, it is also true that they were written as a result of the massive pressure put onto these representatives (and into their pockets) by corporate lobbyists, in the form of large campaign donations and gifts. Which brings us back to the trouble with corporate personhood. Anyone else notice a pattern here? My head is spinning.


D.C. Women

For many people living in and around Washington, DC, the recent aversion of a federal government shutdown has meant so much more than a continuing budget negotiation. For those of us who live in the shadow of power, the recent deal struck between feuding parties on Capitol Hill is an infringement on local sovereignty, and a direct attack (once again) on already undeserved citizens.

The full details of the compromise have not yet been realized, but what is certain is that Washington D.C. has lost the right to determine the use of its own Medicaid funds- specifically, that Washington, D.C. can no longer use its funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. These crucial funds, which prevent women from having to make a life-altering decision based on immediate circumstances, were only reinstated in 2009, and have now been revoked again, in the agonizing, dehumanizing game of ping-pong that Congress plays with the rights of D.C. residents.

This issue is beyond women's rights, because those women who are not on Medicaid, and those who can afford to pay out of pocket for an abortion procedure will not be affected by these cuts. Instead, this setback will have a wildly disproportionate effect for low-income women, leaving them with little to no choice in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.

I understand that this is a controversial issue, and many people have very disparate opinions on the matter of abortion. However, if your empathy or sympathy will allow it, please make a donation today to the DC Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run, non-profit organization helping low-income women in the district access abortion services. You can give as little as $10, and they guarantee that 95% of your donation will go towards helping a woman in need. And if ever the women of D.C. were in need, it would be now.

If you'd like to donate to the fund, you can do so here.


Flower of the Week

Cherry Blossoms are kind of the thing around here in DC, their blooming being a natural phenomenon that brings flocks of tourists to this city for two weeks every Spring. They are also one of those flowers, like daffodils and magnolias, that bring me hope for warmer days. Seeing them lets me know that this erratic April weather will soon taper off into steady, lovely vibrant springtime. It can't be long now...


P.S. 22

It seems as if the talented P.S. 22 Chorus is getting some well-deserved national attention of late, ever since they performed at the Academy Awards ceremony back in February. Now their YouTube channel has gotten over 31,000,000 views!

It is uncontestable that the arts play a major role in students' education and development, so it's great to see a public school arts program garnering so much attention. This type of activity in schools not only fosters learning, but self-expression, self-confidence, and an outlet for creative energy. And what a great job the chorus of P.S. 22 has done to promote these lessons around the country! Seeing as I was once a student myself at P.S. 22, I couldn't help but give them a shout-out here. I'm so proud of these wonderful kids, their amazing voices and their inspiring story!

Check out their blog, and stay up to date with what these cuties are doing-> http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com/


"Study Hard, Party Harder"

Recent headlines and world events have given me a number of excellent reasons to sit down and start writing again. From compounding disasters in Japan, to democratic uprisings in the Middle East, to the GOP's all out war on the United States' middle class, the need to shout out my opinions from the rooftops has been brewing furiously over the past several months. And what is the reason for my kettle finally boiling over and bringing me here to this page? I wish I could say that it was something high-minded and morally righteous, like defending social entitlements or a woman's right to choose, or a vote of support for government employeess and union activists in Wisconsin and Ohio. I wish I could say that it was something even along those lines. But it is not.

Astonishingly, the thing that has ultimately broken my months-long period of blogging silence this time around is... 'Snooki' from the 'Jersey Shore.' I know, I know. I mean, of all of the meaningless media topics to be attracted by... But seriously, who can resist hearing about these people? It's practically impossible if you a.) live in the United States and b.) have had any sort of interaction with the world outside of your bedroom in the last year.

So, I heard about them. And ever since that first faithful time (I'll never forget being at that bar while a friend of mine told me about a girl being punched in the face on T.V.), I have been subject to these irritating tidbits about Snooki, Vinnie, The Sitch, etc. But never before have I actually taken an interest in (or been incensed over) what I heard about them... that is, until today.

As it turns out, Snooki is a published author (and a successful one at that), and something of a public speaker. So much so, Rutgers University recently paid her $32,000 to come speak on their campus. Now, let's put aside the fact that she's a highly inappropriate speaker at a university with an already less-than-savory reputation. What really got to me was learning that Ms. Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Winner, Pulitzer Prize Winner, and all-around literary hero, also set to speak at Rutgers as the keynote speaker at this year's commencement, is to be paid $2,000 less than a woman half her age and with half the amount of wisdom to offer. Not that Ms. Morrison is in any way put-out by this discrepancy: she's a NYT bestselling author multiple times over, and I'm sure the payout from her speech at Rutgers' commencement is a mere drop in her enormous bucket of success.

What aggrevates me, though, is the context and the appropriateness of Snooki being invited to speak at any academic institution for that price tag. I understand that she is technically "an entertainer," and that non-academic events on campus can provide students with much needed stress-relief from writing papers and studying for finals. I think that is healthy. But to pay the cost of one student's entire tuition for a year just to have a person preach unapologetically about her arrests for public drunkeness and shameful shenanigans is deploreable for an institution which should be enriching students' minds.

While Toni Morrison epitomizes the depth of intelligence, cultural richness, and amazing creative possibility within all of us, offering an inspiration to students as they prepare to enter adulthood; Snooki has become the figurehead of a society completely devoid of any cultural substance. With colleges and universities all over the country crying out about fiscal instability, and with tuition costs rising every year, there is no excuse for a university to shell out that amount of money on a speaker who's advice to students was "study hard, party harder." (Yes, she actually said that to Rutgers students).



In the aftermath of this past weekend's tragedy in Arizona, many people have been pointing fingers at our political leaders over their incidiary language and "toxic rhetoric." Because our political spectacle has become a proper fiasco, and gotten to a point where violent language is not only acceptable, but ubiquitous, we now find ourselves in a place where we do not know whether or not one person's violent actions have been influenced by the language they hear from our leaders. That is a truly scary thought.

People have specifically focused on Sarah Palin's map, featured on her website with cross hairs placed over the districts of Democratic congress members who voted for health care reform, Ms. Giffords included. When Palin posted the image back in March, she included the message: "Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: Don't retreat, instead RELOAD!" It is indeed a terrorizing image, one that induces fear and repulsion at the sight of it. It is insolent, small-minded, and exactly what is wrong with our status quo.

Sarah Palin is a lost cause. But whether she is culpable for the shootings in Arizona is inscrutable; it's a bit unfair to say that she is directly responsible for such a deliberate attack. However, she IS a central figure in our mainstream political circus, and her words have a significant resonance with those who hear them, as do the words of all of our leaders. I'm glad that this tragedy in Arizona has brought to light the great casualness with which we treat violence and violent rhetoric, of all things.

It is sad that it takes something so terrible happening in order for people to realize their mistakes, but perhaps this examination of the way we use our language, and the damage we can inflict with mere words, will have a real and powerful effect on our nation's leaders. And maybe this time they'll retreat, instead of reloading to fire another round of hateful speech. Because I think we all would rather live in a world that values peace and understanding, not violence.

associated press


Insanity, Made to Order

It seems as if those rascally republicans in the House of Representatives haven't missed a beat in laying a thick layer of hateful crazy onto the capitol since taking power earlier this week. They've already taken a number of damaging, damning actions and are threatening to do much more to our environment, our health care, and to our voter's directly.

It's hard to choose from the array of craziness just which measure proposed by the republicans is the craziest. Is it the exhaustive, but ultimately futile promise to repeal a health care reform law that the American people actually favor when words like "ObamaCare," "Government Option," and "Death Panels" are excluded from the rhetoric, and the true intention of the bill is explained? After all, a new finding by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that repeal of the health care reform law would actually increase our federal deficit by $230 billion. It is only the thick-pocketed favorite children of the insurance industries who so fervently defend this repeal (see Fox News' 5 Reasons Repealing ObamaCare Won't Increase the Deficit -ha!).

Then there is the republicans' outright assault on the environment. In just one week, they've managed to eliminate the House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, declared that greenhouse gases should not be subject regulation under the Clean Air Act (despite the Supreme Court ruling them so back in 2007), announced intentions to block funding for government agencies who support cap and trade, and ultimately pushed to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases and methane emissions. Meanwhile, the head of the house committee on oversight and government reform has reached out to energy companies and other business executives, asking them how they would like the government to be re-shaped.

But perhaps the insanity plat-du-jour is the blatant and vile racism that the republicans have shown towards citizens in the District of Columbia and in other U.S. Territories. Despite paying full federal taxes, residents in Washington, D.C. are not provided with any full representation in Congress. The one representative that they do have, Eleanor Holmes Norton, was stripped of her already limited voting rights in congress by House Republicans this week. Previously, the D.C. representative was allowed to vote on amendments and procedure, and could serve on committees, but could not vote to enact legislation. However, the Republicans in power have squashed even those limited rights that were previously allowed to the DC representative. And it is more than just a little suspicious that D.C., along with another 5 U.S. territories denied voting rights, is a Democratic area with a large number of minority constituents.

This is just the first week of the next two years of Republicans holding power in the House of Representatives. Over the course of this next Congressional session, we may anticipate more of such outrageous behavior. We could also maybe anticipate that the Republicans will continue, with the help of Fox News and other media puppets, to twist the truth and interject fearful, hateful language to further confuse and frustrate the American People. But perhaps we can also anticipate that this extremism will result in a powerful whip effect from progressives in the U.S., and that our citizens will become more informed, and thus more powerful to rally against this carefully pitched, well disguised agenda of the Republican lunatics.