Dear Italy, It's Me Again

By Jill G.

Dear Italy,

America here. We need to talk. You're probably sick of hearing from me, but trust me this is for your own good. I heard you went back to Berlusconi. I know you’ve had problems before with letting him back into your life, but I thought that was all over with. This guy is seriously bad news - can't you see he doesn't love you for who you are?! He's as slippery as a snake and you're a fool to trust him.

I know what you’re going to say – I’ve had my problems with men as well. I admit I've made mistakes, but "you know who" is about to be out of my life for good and I think I've finally got someone who really cares. He's showing me all the things I have to be hopeful for, and change is possible. You too can change - I believe in you!

Then there's this business of criminalizing your immigrants, and even your own children. Deep down inside you're warm and loving, and yet you allow yourself to be controlled by fear-mongering men. Don't you know when you allow these things to happen all anyone can see of you is hate? Again, I realize I haven't set the best example, but I'm trying to work out my issues (and boy are they deep). I believe I can do better; we can both do better.

Italy, the truth is, you're breaking my heart. I feel like you're a part of me and I don't want to lose you. Please think about what I've said, only you can prevent more tragedies.



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On Neighbors and Immigration

Guest Blogger: Doug West - click on title to find original post

I was an eyewitness this week to some of the worst aspects of humanity: fear, distrust, defensiveness. It was a single incident that happened behind my neighbor’s house. Running behind the houses on my street is a walking trail that weaves through some woods and along a creek and a small lake. Several children, including my 3 sons, were playing at the edge of those woods, checking out the creek, throwing rocks in the water – typical kid stuff. I was in the backyard when I heard my neighbor, let’s call her ‘Liz’, talking to someone, in a tone of voice that clearly suggested she was annoyed or angry:

“Hey you – can I help you?…………Hello? What are you doing?......Leave………excuse me...GO!”

As she was saying this I looked up to see who she was talking to and saw a landscape worker, dirty, sweaty, his weed-whacker resting over his shoulder, standing just on the other side of her fence. He was standing there looking at the children, just watching what they were doing. I could see he was Hispanic and he turned his head to acknowledge her but then just smiled and turned his head away, not moving on like she wanted. I think this clearly upset her all the more as she got louder with each new question or command she issued, thinking he was purposefully ignoring or disregarding her.

With a glance at the scene outside her fence, she had immediately turned to fear, distrust and defensiveness. Her words, tone and body language were conveying “You aren’t welcome here, I don’t trust you, what the heck do you think you are doing just standing there looking at the children?, and you better get out now.” Without a single word of dialog, the man was assumed to be, at best, an uninvited, unwanted person in the community and at worst, a dangerous threat. Because he was an immigrant, a laborer, he was most likely a criminal with ill intent. If he had been a white man dressed like an executive in a pressed business suit, I am certain he wouldn’t have received the same response – at the very least not in the same dismissive tone.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I am somewhat conversational in Spanish. I could clearly see that he didn’t understand her so I walked over to help out. José Antonio Rio is part of the landscape crew that cuts the grass and does all the landscape work on the common areas in the neighborhood. He was easily 50-60 years old, had a warm, gentle smile and had been working a full day already, with dirt and bits of grass plastered to the front of his jeans. He’s from El Salvador and told me about how bad it had been there during the war, when so many women and children were slaughtered. He is a grandfather and was quick to point out that the grass around the rocks in the drain water ditch was getting too high and was dangerous for the little children who would trip if they couldn’t see where to step. He had been busting his tail keeping our community looking nice and was just taking a break before finishing his work (cutting the grass around those rocks) and meeting up with the rest of the crew. What a thank you.

To end the story, the three of us ended up having great conversation. When Liz found out he had a reason for being there and stopped assuming he was a threat to her property, herself or her child, you could tell she felt horrible at the way she had been talking to him. She even went up to the house and got José a cold cup of water and offered to do the same every time he came through.

Now, to her defense, Liz is a widowed single mom, new to the neighborhood, with a 9-year-old son. I am sure her life experiences and circumstances have encouraged or taught her to be protective. I’m not trying to condemn her at all. I’ve seen prejudice in different forms in my own heart at times, as much as I hate to admit it. It just showed me a glimpse of how hateful or distrustful we can be toward others – particularly whole groups of people who are ‘different’ than us, whether in culture or class.

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Motorcycle Zen

By Nicole Hallengrogg

Last weekend I joined with thousands of bikers to ride through Montana and Wyoming's Beartooth Pass Highway. Now if you would have asked me a year ago if I saw myself riding switchback after switchback in leather boots and jacket on the back of a Harley, I would have taken a moment to contemplate, laughed and said "anything is possible, I guess". Now what amazes me the most about this whole experience is why I hadn't done it before.

There's nothing like it.

There's nothing like the wind in my hair, the cool breeze and hot patches of sun warmed road, the balmy segments of valley that feel like hot, moist, summer days back East. The endless snaking road stretched out before me like some great slumbering serpent. The great hillsides giving birth to segmented crimson and golden rock formations shaded into jagged sculptures of earth by sun. The treelines opening like unearthly gates to mountains that jet up to the sky, pointing sharply at the heavens, the snowcapped peaks, river valleys, and high alpine lakes that mirror wildflowers and sky.

There is nothing like the meditative hummm; a loud silence giving room for only breath and sight. It is here that I have let Zen come over me. Holding on to forward, leaving backwards in my past. It is here that I look out upon our world and see the sunset behind white and lavender mountains.

They say that that close to ten thousand bikers showed up for the Red Lodge Rally. Like some huge gathering of leathered monks, we shared these views together and alone; a rumbling sacred silence, a meditation on freedom and beauty.

And yet most people imagine a gathering of this sort to be littered with loud parties, street fights, broken bottles and women dressed in red paten leather platforms and black leather skirts- and no doubt, there was some of that. But there is something more. That gathering, that 180 miles of mountain road, those bikes riding simultaneously staggered along a winding stretch of the most beautiful highway I have ever witnessed is something pretty incredible. There is something about the ride and the rider that lends itself to our desire for freedom and beauty and how we must take it wherever it is or ride to meet it if we must. How every man and women wants to let go of the stuff behind them and move only forward, and look out onto this world with love and appreciation for its magnificence. Our tribute to its beauty is to appreciate it, however we can, and if it takes ten thousand humming motorcycle monks to do it, then so be it.

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What I Learned from Jefferson's Mountain

By Jill G.

A few weeks ago President Bush welcomed 72 new Americans as they took their oath of citizenship at Thomas Jefferson's famous estate, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. 72 new citizens got a healthy taste of free speech as Bush was continually heckled from the crowd.

I happened to be in Virginia too, visiting relatives, and as I watched Bush give his speech on TV, I wondered what it must feel like to become a citizen on such hallowed ground. I had an urge to visit Monticello and so a few days later there I was- standing atop Jefferson's mountain, guidebook in hand.

Many considered Jefferson a man of great genius. Born into one of the nation's wealthiest families he began as a lawyer them moved into politics serving as Governor, Secretary of State, Vice-President and President. Interestingly enough he did not enjoy public service saying, "I have no ambition to govern men; it is a painful and thankless office."

He had a few hobbies to distract him from his dreaded day job. He was a respected horticulturist, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, collector, and author.

He was a radical. He spoke out against religious tyranny, persuasively argued for the separation of church and state and access to public education. He also opposed slavery, notably in the Declaration of Independence, however that section was removed by Congress before the document was approved on July 4, 1776. He once said, "I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master."

Yet Jefferson inherited 200 slaves and "owned" approximately 200 slaves at all times throughout his life. It's believed that he fathered several children with a slave named Sally Hemmings, herself the daughter of an enslaved black mother and white slaveholder.

This was on my mind when I arrived at Monticello; when I saw the one room dwellings that an entire slave family would have shared situated next to the pillared perfection of Jefferson's mansion, and when I learned that Jefferson freed only seven slaves during his life, most of them Sally's (and his) children. As I glimpsed the life of an iconic man, the words of another American icon, Langston Hughes, came to mind:

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)*

I believe that Jefferson would have had a deep understanding of these words. He was an oppressor who was keenly aware of the dehumanizing affects of his oppression.

In the 1780s Jefferson brought Sally's brother, James, to France with him to learn the culinary arts, and James returned to Monticello to train other slaves to be gourmet chefs. Guests at Monticello were served macaroni, waffles, and ice cream, considered novelties at the time. Some of his favored slaves became skilled craftsmen, creating equipment, furniture, and mechanical devices out of raw materials according to Jefferson's specifications, many of which contributed to modern inventions.

He imported squash and broccoli from Italy, beans from the Lewis and Clark expedition, French figs, and Mexican peppers, planting them in his abundant fields, groves and gardens, all of which were tended to by slave hands. Many of the items grown on his land weren't seen anywhere else in the country and today are staples of American diets. Who should we thank for these influences? The man who fancied foreign commodities or those who ploughed, planted, and nurtured the land to produce those commodities and lay them at his table?

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." Jefferson wrote, and yet he could not forgo his conveniences in order to grant liberty to those who spent their lives in his service. He spoke of releasing his slaves once he had paid his debts, but that day never came. Jefferson continued to collect, import, and spend until his death, and his slaves, some of whom would have been his grandchildren, were auctioned off on Monticello's sweeping lawn.

He wrote of his hypocrisy, "We have the wolf by the ears; and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

Thomas Jefferson likely was condemned by no one but himself. What is it that we, today, do not condemn each other for? What injustices committed for today's conveniences will bring tomorrow's scorn?

I believe those who stand on emblematic mountains each day and take oaths to this country will help us as we struggle with these questions. In the meantime, I'm going to continue reading words that inspire me to go rightly into the future while never forgetting the past.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!*
*Selected excerpts taken from Langston Hughes' poem Let America Be America Again.

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Dominating the world one Gold medal at a time

By Joel Ebert

The obsession that some people have over the Olympics confuses me. I am not anti-American, but sometimes I wonder if people are rooting for the American team for the right reasons.

Allow me to digress.

Occasionally I run into people that I enjoy talking sports with. Seeing as how I live in Chicago, I mostly run into people that want to talk about whatever sport is in season. There are so many Cubs fans right now that you wouldn’t even believe it.

On occasion though, I run into Chicago Bulls fans. We reminisce about the 90s and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (sometimes Dennis Rodman) and their dominance over the NBA for six years. The thing that strikes me odd about this is not that people stopped liking the Bulls when Michael Jordan left, but that people seemed to stop liking them when their dominance was over, although this coincided with Jordan’s exit.

I don’t exclude myself from this observation. I especially lost interest once Jordan and Co. dismantled; leaving a team of mediocrity that was in place for the same amount of time as the one that was dominant - six years. The seasons between 1998/99 and 2003/04 were among the worst seasons (record wise) the Bulls have played in their entire franchise.

And then suddenly the 2004-2005 season catapulted them back into the playoffs and coincidentally, popularity. For the past three seasons now there has been a level of excitement surrounding the Bulls that have not been seen since the Jordan era. Once again, I am not immune to this. At some point in the 2007 season I found myself at a local bar watching one or two playoff games that the Bulls were in. This is especially odd because I probably didn’t watch more than five minutes worth of basketball since that wonderful 1997/98 season when the Bulls won their sixth title.

This all occurred to me as I began doing some research on the 2008 US Olympic Basketball team. With a team featuring a host of NBA superstars including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade, there has been much excitement surrounding it. Some people have even called this the Redeem Team (an obvious take on the 1992 Dream Team which featured M.J., Larry Byrd, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson) because of the failings of the US Olympic basketball team in three previous Olympic competitions. And by failings I mean their inability to win the Gold medal.

So now all of the sudden, perhaps because of the Olympic team, we may see a surge in basketball fans. But I am pretty sure that this will only happen if they win the Gold. If they fall anywhere short, it will be seen as a disappointment.

Now I’m wondering if this is such a good idea – to break things down into such extremities. Why is it that we feel disappointed when our team does not succeed in the fullest capacity possible?

I will come back to this question later.

It seems to me that there are two types of sports fans:

1) The type of fan that enjoys the actual sport and who may or may not like a particular team for one reason. Reason may include physical location or personal upbringing.

2) The type of fan that claims to enjoy a particular team but whom only passively enjoys the actual sport.

The major difference between these types of fans is where their allegiance lies – in the team or in the sport. You can determine whether you or someone you know fall into which category by asking yourself a simple question: If the I watch most often was the worst team in the league/division/conference/etc for several years, would I continue to watch/follow/like them?

You should be able to figure out what type of fan you are by answering this question.

Now let us go back to the question I asked above. Why is it that we feel disappointed when our team does not succeed in the fullest capacity possible?

Perhaps one of the reasons (and most likely not the definitive reason) is because when the team that you support fails, you in essence fail along with them. And when the team succeeds, we succeed with them. This is exactly why I think so many people are excited about the 2008 Olympic basketball team and to a larger extent why so many Americans enjoy watching the Olympics.

We inherently desire our team to succeed because it ultimately reflects on our nation. Winning a gold medal says not only that we have dominated in one sport over the rest of the world; it also gives us that feeling of dominance over the rest of the world that we felt for so many years.

Looking at the sluggish economy, the weakening US dollar, highly disputed foreign policies, and a much despised President, the United States is viewed today as less dominant in the world than it used to be. So we look for successes and dominance in any form we can get them. This may secretly be the reason why so many Americans will glue their heads and hearts to the US Olympic team this summer. Not because they love the sport that they are watching, but because they are yearning for American dominance in one form or another.

And honestly, I can’t say I blame anyone that may feel this way. I’m not saying we need to dominate the world, but it would be nice to be a leader in the world again, and perhaps an Olympic Gold medal will push us in the right direction.

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Black Superheroes Wanted

By Walidah Imarisha

How do you make a movie that relies entirely on America’s sordid racial history, without ever talking about race? Ask the makers of Hancock, they seem to have it down pat.

John Hancock [Will Smith] is a superhero that protects Los Angeles, begrudgingly. Drunk, foul mouthed, bedraggled, sexist, homophobic and ethnically insensitive, he’s about as far from a Superman as you’re ever going to get. But we find out that all Hancock needs is a little TLC.

A blow to the head 80 years ago erased his memory, so he lives in isolation from society, saving it without being of it. But all that changes when he meets Ray Embrey [Jason Bateman], a public relations man down on his luck who decides to help Hancock clean up his image. Oh, and we find out that Bateman’s domestic dream of a wife Mary [Charlize Theron] is really a superhero too, and did I mention that she was married to Will Smith for 3,000 years?

Let the games begin.

This is a movie about a black superhero that has nothing to do with a black superhero. Though Will Smith is obviously black, the film studiously avoids any exploration of what that means. Hancock has no cultural context. Throughout the film, he has no connection to a community, to a family, to a culture, to an identity, to anyone who looks like him. He is completely alone. A metaphor for the state of Black America? Try it on.

That is not to say that there aren’t other people of color, and even other black folks in the film. They’re all over. They’re the Indian store clerk, the Asian gangsters with automatic weapons, the black and Latino men who populate the jail Hancock goes to (oh yes, they send him to the slammer) – in fact, there is not a single black man in the film, other than Hancock, who is not shown as a dangerous criminal (and he’s kinda iffy). With that kind of PR, we can see why Hancock ain’t trying to claim his people too quick.

As much as this movie and Hancock lack a cultural connection, it is not a role created for a white hero. This film would never have been read the same way, and the way I think the creators intended, if it had been Brad Pitt in that role. The entire film relies on racialization of our unconscious minds to fill in the gaps of discussion, without anyone saying “race” or “black.”

We would know Hancock is a black superhero even if we never saw his face. The music in the film is almost nothing but hip hop, some dub reggae. The opening song played the first time we do see Hancock? Ludacris’ “Move Bitch (Get Out the Way).” Only a black superhero could have been portrayed as the antithesis of a hero, as someone who has to be scolded by the white PR guy about his behavior, who gets cleaned up like a child to be presentable to the larger society. Would they have punked Batman like that? The Hulk? C’mon now!

This film plays with a racially explosive history like a stick of dynamite, without every acknowledging the potentially destructive force. The relationship between Hancock and Mary is charged throughout the film with sexual tension. We find out that they were in fact made for each other, a race of ancient superbeings, that died out, except for the two of them. And when they’re in each other’s proximity, they lose their special powers, become mortals. Mary runs her hands over the scars on Hancock’s, otherwise impervious body, “Sumeria 4 BC. They came after you with swords…” 1850, he supposedly pulled her out of a fire set by a mob. And lastly, 80 years before he was attacked and his head split open, causing his amnesia. “They wouldn’t let me ride in the ambulance with you,” she says tearfully.

1850? 80 years ago, so the 1920s? Theron with her blonde hair and blue eyes, and Will Smith? The “they” is left ambiguous, and I suppose some people could have read it that the mobs attacked because they were superheroes. But if we think of 1850, when slavery was still legal in this country, when black people had to prove they weren’t property, and where interracial marriage would still be illegal for decades, you get a much clearer vision of the racialized history this film is dancing around but never steps up to claim, perhaps afraid that a frank discussion of race and power would ruin a fun Saturday night out at the movies.

In the end, Hancock is an acceptable black hero because he accepts his appropriate role in society: alone, isolated, there to save white people (we never see him save a person of color in the movie, because, again, all he people of color we see are criminals), in a silly outfit, smiling and saying thank you to police officers, far away from the white woman.

The ultimate lesson to this movie? Same as it was in 1850 and 1920: Black men, stay as far away from white women as possible, if you want to live.

(Image gratefully borrowed from Stinkie Pinkie's photostream from

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Chicago's Hometown Heroes

By Jill G

I was born and raised in the Chicago-area. I grew up going to Cubs games with my dad, and playing catch in the backyard. I spent most of my childhood in a suburb where one enjoyed the best of the city and ignored the worst.

The worst was the segregation, poverty, and police brutality. I heard about it, but I never saw it. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned about the deep divisions of my city. In some Chicago neighborhoods one can feel as if every step is scrutinized. Although I loved it here, I began to be uncomfortable in my city; uncomfortable with what my moving into the neighborhood meant for my neighbors (who were mostly African-American and Latino).

I moved to New York eventually and experienced a place where virtually anyone could walk down Manhattan's streets without attracting attention. I felt anonymous and free. Of course New York has its own set of issues, and soon enough I started thinking about my neighbors back home. I wondered if the kids on my block, who I used to tutor, were doing okay in school. I thought maybe I should plan my next visit around the annual block party. Then summer came and I started to think about baseball.

Any Cubs fan who moves away will probably tell you that the thing they miss most about Chicago are games at Wrigley Field, and that’s exactly what I was craving.

The funny thing is I don't even like baseball all that much. It can get kind of boring. And let's face it, if you're looking for superb athleticism you might want to try another sport. I was missing what happens once you walk into the stadium. The love of Cubs fans for their players is hard to explain, and I'm not sure most would want to understand it even if they could. There is one universal fact though, baseball fans love a good player no matter where they come from.

When I sat down at my first game of the season this year my heart swelled when I heard the crowd chanting Kosuke Fukodome's name (our star left-hander from Japan). Imagine arriving in a strange country with no friends and have 40,000 people rise to their feet to welcome you - every day. Kosuke may not have realized it, but in the hearts of Chicagoans he was one of us.

The same with Carlos Zambrano, who embodies the dreams of all the big farm boys pitching away in small towns across America. Then there's the story of Jim Edmonds...oh wait, he was actually born in America - well he used to be a Cardinal, so he’s actually the most foreign of all. And even though we needed some time to warm up to him, he's now loved like he's been a Chicagoan all along.

Most people who watch baseball understand that it's no longer a national pastime - it's an international pastime. It wouldn't be any fun without immigrants. Imagine turning on the game and not seeing Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Marmol step onto the field. What if all the immigrants disappeared from baseball? Would we even bother watching anymore? Now think about how we would feel if all the immigrants disappeared from our city and then our country.

We don't often like to admit it, but immigrants make this city and this country more vibrant. How would our lives change if we could transfer our loving embrace as baseball fans into other areas of our lives? What if we could take this love and bring it home or to our jobs or on our morning commute? What if we could look past an accent and block out the noise on Fox News and just see people for who they are? I think it would make this good city even better, maybe even as great as a summer day at Wrigley Field.

(Images gratefully borrowed from Wallyg's photostream (statue of liberty) and Chicago photogirl's photostream (Chicago skyline) at

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Businesses Should Follow the Money Trail on Immigration

By Eric K. Ward

(Image gratefully borrowed from Vinh Tran (on left) and WelcomingIdaho (at the bottom) at

Yesterday was hot and humid in Chicago. One of the things I like best about summer heat is that it gives me the perfect excuse to ingest one of Dunkin Doughnut’s Frozen Latte. Yesterday, while I was killing some time and sucking down my frozen latte, I decided to give in to another guilty pleasure and grab yesterday's New York Times.

As I was giving the front section a good look over, I noticed an editorial entitled Pushing Back on Immigration. In the editorial it is clear that business leaders are frustrated at their inability to secure a workforce and with the federal government’s unwillingness to create rational migration laws in the United States. The NYT editorial congratulated employers around the country who have banded together to defeat local and state-level anti-immigrant legislation.

What isn’t mentioned in the editorial is that the political action committees (PACs) of these same businesses have been some of the most enthusiastic financial supporters of the very same Congresspersons who have blocked meaningful immigrant legislation.

Consider Home Depot’s PAC; they gave $130,500 in campaign contributions to anti-immigrant politicians, more than 17% of its total donations. Ironically, these same elected politicians took Home Depots money with one hand, and with the other they introduced anti-immigrant legislation that directly attacks Home Depot – and the business community at-large - because of its supposed neutral stance on immigration.

Home Depot is not alone. Almost 2600 political action committees gave campaign contributions to anti-immigrant members during the 109th Congress (2005-2006), according to a comprehensive analysis of Federal Elections Commission records conducted by the Center for New Community.

As I sat there with my creamy frozen latte, I realized that even the milk industry was not immune from mistakenly financing individual members of Congress who, as a block, are responsible for creating the very labor shortage that the dairy industry currently faces.

All told, fifteen of the PACs closely tied to the dairy industry’s interests have contributed over $400,000 to anti-immigrant campaign coffers. In addition, when one adds the amount given by all agricultural related interests, the number sharply rises to millions of dollars. These anti-immigrant members of Congress have received campaign contributions from a surprisingly wide range of dairy industry sources, including Select Milk Producers PAC, United Egg Association EggPAC, and the Dairy Farmers of America Inc. DEPAC to name just a few. How did this happen?

While members of the business community tend to view congressional members as individuals, nearly a quarter of the House of Representatives have joined together to act as a bloc. Under the umbrella of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), over 118 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have opposed virtually ever piece of key legislation aimed at relieving present labor shortages. In addition, HIRC members have increasingly placed the administrative burden of verifying the legal status of employees onto businesses themselves, forcing companies into acting like immigration enforcement officers.

The House Immigration Reform Caucus is led by Brian Bilbray, from California’s 50th Congressional District. Before his election to Congress, Bilbray was a lobbyist for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and today continues to serve as co-chair of it s National Board of Advisors. The Federation for American Immigration Reform has a long history of accepting funds and associating with political extremists, including some folks with ties to white supremacist organizations. As Bilbray took over the HIRC in January of 2007, the California congressman announced plans to “work closely” with groups, such as FAIR and the Center for Immigration Studies – a FAIR spin-off, to seek their input on legislation.

If business is really serious about encouraging realistic solutions, perhaps they might start by not financially supporting those who promote policies that can be fairly described as both inhumane and anti-business. Perhaps it’s time for them to put their money where their mouths are.

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Do We Really Want Change?

By Sarah Viets

Have you ever broken up with someone because they rarely stood on their own? Or because they stimulated you, but the tone of their words muted the sound of your voice - their words and thoughts towered over your every word.

I have. Then I promised myself I’d never date a replica of my past. I made a vow to meet someone who would challenge me and get me to see the world and myself through a different prism. I was so tired of making all the decisions, no matter how serious or trivial they were. Tired, tired tired…

But then life goes on and my previous experiences are remembered as a small and insignificant part of my past. I meet someone new and his/her personality appears to contrast a familiar face. But then I notice something. I’ve ended up exactly where I once was. Ugg! Who put a magic mirror above my bathroom sink?! Why do I continue to not see situations as they are; is my mirror permanently distorted?

Worse yet, I desire that familiar voice of the one who is responsible for my solace and despair.

I say I want change and want to try something new. I want to break away from the only experiences I’m most comfortable in. But when it comes down to it, my actions contrast my ideals. Instead, of choosing what I desire, I merely choose a different shade of a previous color.

I live in an age of change - an era that thrives to see and experience unfamiliar paths. The internet connects us to new ideas and people across the globe, allowing me to sit in my living room and download new movies and foreign rhythms and beats.

While the present moment rings of opportunity, the opportunities we choose are not optimistic.

People may claim they’re adaptable and “open-minded,” but the only people and ideas we believe are merely echoes our own. People really don’t seek anything different, just a larger exposition of what they already proclaim to know. And if somebody challenges a point of view, people don’t question the roots of a personal position. We respond in defense by clinging to our ideals while not knowing what the opposing side actually represents. We become loyal and rigid, keeping our feet locked in place. We don’t second-guess our original stance. Re-thinking previously stated opinions are defined as wavering weak assessments and not evolving conclusions.

At the same time, we present ingrained opinions; we don’t hesitate to say why someone is wrong. Individual interpretations based on personal experiences possibly explain unfamiliar patterns.

While I obsessively shuffle through a friend’s friend-list on facebook, search on-line for that Icelandic band I heard at a friend’s house, or play chess with cyber friends from who knows where, am I really taste-testing unaccustomed flavors?

With that said, do people prefer subconsciously pre-determined opinions? And if so, is the inability to feel grounded in undetermined conclusions an individual problem or a social phenomenon?

Looking at current events, debates about immigration reform usually present solutions that aren’t any different from the past. Proposed state-wind ballot initiatives and city council ordinances that try to address problems with immigration are masked as new and innovative approaches, but they’re not.

Kind of like old policies that either banned slavery, implemented “gradual” emancipation, or held tight to their slave auctions and enacted the Fugitive Slave Act. In fact, for more than 100 years, colonies and states couldn’t decide what to do. So they began to use their borders (like states and city ordinances) as a way to advance pro-slavery positions. Even more, there were over 20 different local and state wide policies that limited where black people could work, live, and who black folks could marry.

But states could never really decide what to do to. One minute they might pass some law to protect husbands, wives, daughters and sons running away from the south, and then the next minute they might protect segregation.

It was a HUGE mess. So much that the south declared itself independent from the north (the Southern Confederacy) so they could assert their strong support for buying and selling moms and dads like a piece of cattle.

Now, I know bringing up history is like bringing up a bad relationship that you’re trying to forget. But how can anyone learn from his or her mistakes unless they draw lessons from old mistakes?

I know it’s easy to say slavery was bad, that our old relatives were off their rockers, but at one moment and time, they weren’t. It was socially acceptable to protect slavery and hunt for runaway slaves, kind of how the Minutemen (a modern anti-immigrant group on the border) hunts for immigrants on the border.
(and here's a picture)

We desperately need new ideas - we need change. But new non-traditional ideas should be examined with caution, unfamiliar views should at least be considered before firmly rejected. That’s what makes our country beautiful: the ability to challenge and adapt our American constitution.

Maybe its time to re-define what it means to be a Citizen. Maybe its time to re-think what it means to be American.

(picture gratefully used from

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My Daughter's Childcare Prison

By Nicole Hallengrogg
(Image is gratefully borrowed from Allan Ferguson on and IS NOT a picture of my child's daycare)

My three year-old daughter, Samantha, has this strange habit of hiding pieces of the playground in her pockets during outside time at school. I have the pleasure of finding these little treasures at about 12:00 am when I’m lying awake wondering what the hell I put in the dryer and why its making odd scratching sounds at each revolution. I get up to find sand and wood-chips scattered evenly on every piece of Hello Kitty underwear and Dora tee shirt. It happens way to frequently, since I, being the busy, absent-minded single mom that I am, I never remember to check her pockets before a wash.

This little quark of hers reminds me of a book I once read about a man who dug a hole inside his prison cell. Being the careful minded person that he was, he took the time to remove the debris, hiding it in his pockets, and dumping it in the yard when they were allowed to go outside. I imagine Samantha, hands dug deep in her pockets, finding an inconspicuous corner of the playground to unload her labors of the day. Looking around to make sure none of the teachers have caught her, she finds a place in the sandbox and settles in for play.

I would like to say that my childcare facility does not remind me of a prison, but in fact, there are some pretty close similarities.

Do I drop her off unwillingly? Yes. Does she beg and plead for me not to go? Yes. Do other children want to be there? Not Really. Must the children fall into line in order for the facility to run properly? Yes. Is it heavily gated and are there strict security policies? Yes. Well, you get the point. One major difference being that I pay for childcare out of pocket instead it coming out of my taxes.

Yet, I drop her off everyday. Tearing myself out of her tiny grasp and turning to complete my day at work…to pay for her being there, so I can support her, so we can survive. I work just down the steps in a two year-old room where my other daughter attends class. The truth is I can’t afford to work anywhere else. If I were to get paid eight dollars an hour (with a collage degree) at another job I would be paying the childcare facility five more dollars a day then my earned wages. The childcare facility gives me a break on my childcare monthly bill for working there - it’s the only reason I can afford it. This makes me think that correctional officers have it pretty good. They get salary, paid vacations, and benefits. I get the comfort of knowing I can probably swing my rent and electricity this month.

As it is, Samantha will continue to dig tunnels in the playground looking for some secret route to freedom. I will eventually have to buy a new dryer. And I hope to God that someday I won’t be smuggling a nail file to her in a birthday cake.

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Batman: Hoping for a Dark Knight

By Joel Ebert

You will undoubtedly read and/or hear about the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, in some form or another sometime in the next few weeks. Critics will rave about it, fans will recommend it, and kids will demand that parents take them to it. These are the ways things work in the film industry.

According to an article in the International Herald Tribune, The Dark Knight, which was released just yesterday, set a box office record for its midnight debut. Box office totals from the 3,040 theaters that showed the film are said to be at $18.5 million. This figure does not even include the ticket sales from 3:00 am and 6:00 am viewings.

What’s more is that the film hasn’t even seen its full release yet. The Dark Knight, yet to be released in some countries, is officially scheduled to show in 4,366 theaters – the largest number of theaters ever to show a film.

What is really interesting about the Batman series is that each film has made more money in the United States than around the rest of the world. This isn’t typical for most films Hollywood has made, or otherwise. Most films (with a few notable exceptions) make most of their money from global distribution.

So the fact that the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, is selling in droves in the United States didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me are the numerous reasons why people are attending the film. While there are several different reasons why people are flocking to the film in record numbers, I would like to concentrate on one factor that you most certainly will not read in a critic’s review. That factor is a collective desire for hope in America today.

In the beginning of the film, the citizens of Gotham City (the fictional, yet reminiscent of reality, city in the Batman series) are in distress. They do not know whether they are safe from Batman, the mob or alternative villains. When District Attorney Harvey Dent comes around, the citizens project their hopes and desires for Gotham onto the man, even referring to him as the White Knight. But what they don’t know is that Batman is really making things happen. He is the Dark Knight that is making Gotham a safer city. The hope that Gotham’s citizens express for Harvey Dent is not unlike the hope many American citizens have felt, and continue to feel, about the current race for presidency.

Hope was the key word for a while in the presidential primary race and will most likely continue to be big in the race for the presidency. Hope has been used by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain to entice and invigorate Americans to have faith in the future of America once again.

We, Americans, want to believe that we can get behind one person who will lead us to a better, less fear driven world. And this is exactly what the citizens of Gotham City want Batman to do for them. But they are skeptical. They think that Batman could be doing more harm than good, seeing as how innocent people are still dying while Batman is trying to save the day.

This is because Batman isn’t superhuman. He can never fulfill all of the hopes and desires that Gotham’s citizens have for him. But this does not mean he isn’t working for a better day when Gotham’s citizens can feel safe and trust their city is going in the right direction again.

But this desire for hope may not be the number one reason why people are flocking to The Dark Knight this summer. But I think that the welcoming reception that the film has received has something to do with our hope for an ordinary citizen who can lead us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.

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Obama, Satire, and Reverse Racism

By Sarah Viets

This week, news anchors and politicians are attacking the New Yorker (a national political magazine) for printing a dicey image of Michelle and Barack Obama. The cover of the magazine is an image of Obama wearing traditional Islamic dress, Michelle looking pissed off with an Afro and carrying an AK-47, and the American flag burning in the fireplace. (Image gratefully borrowed from

Conservatives and progressives are calling the drawing offensive and disturbing.

At the same time, comedians across the nation are asking why they can't make fun of Obama. They’re asking why they can’t use conservative urban legends for shits and giggles.White comedians are asking why Obama is free range for black comedians, but not for them. People like Jimmy Kimmel, a host for one of ABC's late-night talk shows said, "There’s a weird reverse racism going on. You can’t joke about him because he’s half-white. It’s silly." (Quote pulled from the NY Times 7/15.) But he also said it's harder to make fun of Obama's picture-perfect image.

But I'm willing to bet that Kimmel isn't alone. I bet there's a lot of white comedians and TV viewers asking the very same question. The only difference is that Kimmel blurted it out.

But is Kimmel right? Why don't white comedians have free range to poke fun at anyone, regardless of the color of his/her skin?

Think about it this way, if you don’t trust someone, are you going to believe his or her intention?

Let me put it another way:

Since it’s hard to trust a white comedians’ and TV viewers’ intention. It’s hard to know if white folks are making fun of black stereotypes like, “black people are criminals, lazy and irresponsible,” if they're actually making fun of his/her character as a person and not because they’re black, or if they’re rehashing some racist stereotype. Why? More black people live in poverty than white folks, it’s that simple. (Click on blue link to read 2006 census bureau on poverty.) And black poverty breeds anti-American stereotypes.

And since a lot of progressive folks like to spend their time buying separate garbage cans for their plastics, paper and glass bottles, and the Iraq War, than they do thinking about black poverty, how is someone suppose to know they’re not racist?

(That's not to say recycling, or any other issue isn't important. I just think there's a better way to incorporate each issue under one common theme (like American Identity) so the majority of American people can recognize and define what it means to be progressive. And I don't think this currently exists. If you don't believe me, ask some random Joe on the street the difference between republicans and democrats and see what they say.)

So what’s the reason?

Maybe it’s ignorance. Maybe some liberal folks don’t understand how black poverty affects them personally and attacks their American identity. Or maybe it’s because the problem seems too big to tackle.

But at the end of the day, the reason doesn’t matter. To ignore why there are very few jobs in non-white neighborhoods suggests that black people are personally responsible for high school dropout rates. When progressives ignore why dishonorable weekly paychecks breeds crime, they give folks the impressions they personally believe black people are criminal, irresponsible, and lazy – the exact stereotypes they claim to denounce.

So why should black people trust white comedians and white viewers when they potentially – and secretly - believe black stereotypes? Tell me again, Mr. Jimmy Kimmel, why this is “reverse racism?” If you’re tired of double standards, then stop complaining and do something about it.

If you want to use black folks for satire without being called a racist, then do something to erase black stereotypes.

On the other hand, I could be completely wrong. I’m as white as they come. (In fact, I probably glow in the dark.) So I don’t know what it’s like to be black and hear white comedians. But I do know a lot of white folks who say they’re “open-minded” and not racist, but always find a way to spit out random racist stereotypes.

But I also know we’re better than this.

America, don’t pull the ole “reverse racism” card. Do something to destroy anti-American stereotypes. Do something that makes you proud to be an American.

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Audio: 2050 Blogcast - July 2008

Audio: 2050 Blogcast - July 2008
By Noah Chandler
(Image gratefully borrowed from tomsaint's photos on

This month I bring you some audio that I captured during a summer trip the Middle East. What you will hear is an interview that I did with a person I met along my travels. Her name is Nadine and she was born in Lebanon and her parents are Syrian. The catch is that her family moved to the U.S. when Nadine was young and so what you get is a beautiful example of how complex the shaping of one's identity can be. I've spent many years living in the South and hate the stereotypes that people draw when they hear such regional accents. But I admit it, I did a double take when I saw and heard Nadine speaking. I couldn't ignore my own preconceptions of what she "should" sound like. Anyway, I give my heart felt thanks to Nadine for sitting down with me "under the mic" and doing this interview. And I hope you enjoy and get something from this very interesting, and complex, American. She brings up some great questions both directly and indirectly that are worth some discussion here. So, after listening take a bit of time to post a comment, thought, or?

Click HERE if you do not see a play button in this post.

[note: I did the interview on a small cruise ship on the Nile. We were docked but there is still a small amount of motor rumble and some street noise that comes through. Just an FYI for you audiophiles.]

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Racism Italian Style

By Jill G.

A few weeks ago I was enjoying a warm afternoon at the park with my friend, Lynn and her daughter Mary. As we twirled lazily on the swings I saw a man striding across the playground towards a young woman pushing her infant on the baby swings. The way he moved, with his head thrust forward, arms rigid at his side, sent a tingling shiver of unease up my spine. Lynn and I exchanged looks as he approached the woman. Silently calculating the way women often do when they detect a threat to children.

We watched as he talked, aggressively leaning into the side of her face. Finally she turned to look at him. They argued for several minutes, until the baby sat unmoving in her swing. He grabbed her wrist and I could see that he wanted something from her hand. He wasn't very big, perhaps smaller than the girl, but even from a distance I could smell his meanness.

"Momma, I wa-ant to go", Mary whined while tugging on her mom's sleeve. Without looking away from the couple Lynn said in her firmest mom voice; "We're not leaving."

I don't know if the man heard what she said or maybe just her tone, but at that moment he turned to look at us. He must have been surprised to see the hard glares of two women who were ready to kick his scrawny butt. His hand dropped away from her arm and a few moments later he stalked back across the playground, his head down - hands balled into tight fists.

When I heard of the proposal by Italian government officials to fingerprint Roma people (aka Gypsies), including Roma children in order to "crackdown on crime," I had the same premonition of danger as that day in the park.

The Roma have faced persecution and ethnic cleansing for centuries. During the holocaust alone it's believed that hundreds of thousands perished in death camps. Today, they are widely dispersed throughout the world as a result, but across Europe they still face heavy discrimination and social exclusion. This past May the poor encampments where the Roma live near Naples, Italy were attacked by an angry mob and set fire in response to the rumor of a crime.

Many of them have never been permitted to become citizens in their country of residence even though their families have been there for generations. Italy's current government has openly said they hope to identify anyone "who does not have a valid document" in order to expel them from the country. It sounds eerily familiar to 1935 when the Nazis stripped the Roma people of their citizenship along with the Jews.

Many of us probably feel that what happens in Italy is none of our business. I say, so what if it’s none of our business? When a government takes measures to criminalize an entire ethnic population, especially children, we make it our business.

Tell your friends, call your 2nd cousin twice removed in Rome, send emails to your favorite columnist asking that they write about the issue. Let's send a message that Americans are watching. We're not looking away, not this time.

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Birthday’s don’t Pay Like They Used To

By Eric K. Ward

I don’t know about you, but I’m a grandmaster of birthdays, well at least my birthday. If you happen to be one of those people who know me personally you probably know about my birthday. I celebrate my birthday for fifteen days straight. That’s seven days before and seven days after, just in case you’re doing the math. In light of all the recent studies showing a stark decline in leisure time, I want to make sure I give each of my friends the opportunity they need to free their time and juggle finances to celebrate me!

My birthday has always been special to me. It’s during that time that I like to take stock of my life and accomplishments. It’s when I like to stare into the mirror and give myself the “stern talking to,” “the pep talk,” or what I like to call the “look of satisfaction.” It’s during those quiet times - in-between opening the many wonderful presents, devouring the amazing cakes, or answering the hilarious phone calls from friends - that I think it’s important to assess my past, present and future.

I can remember most of my birthdays clearly. I can even tell you what I was doing on those days. When I was younger, my birthday parties were an excuse for the whole family to get together. Although the focus on me quickly shifted to family gossip, I also got birthday cards filled with hard cold cash. Like any American kid, I was ecstatic to see those green bills. I would negotiate with my mother over how much I had to put into my savings account (the Play-Dough container on my shelf), and over how much money I could spend on comic books, toys and candy.

I like to say I was good at saving, but I would eventually spend the money in my special container. I am sure many of you can relate to the disappointment upon picking up a piggy bank that is too light to contain much cash. (How does it go so fast? I still wonder that every pay check.) In many ways my birthdays served as my earliest lesson in the importance of taking personal responsibility for my finances.

Now that I’m an adult, it’s rare to find cash in my birthday cards. But I haven’t forgotten the financial schooling those birthdays provided me. I may not be the smartest with my money, but I still try to tuck a little away for a rainy day. And taking personal responsibility doesn’t just mean staring at my wallet, it also means looking at the wallet of the country. I mean it’s my tax dollars at work, isn’t it?

Well I’m looking at our nation’s wallet today and I don’t like what I see. A day before my birthday, IndyMac Federal Bank closed its doors and was taken over by the F.D.I.C. Two days after my birthday, Washington Mutual stock fell by 50%. Experts say these are simply the first partygoers who had a little too much to drink and that others will shortly leave the festivities as well. And there are far too many Americans for whom the gluttonous celebration has always been off limits. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine both large and small piggy banks across the country coming up empty.

While I listen to anxiety inducing news reports as I celebrate my birthday this year, I can’t help but wonder what my role has been. I mean, how did I help create a situation that allowed banks to close their doors? It's as if I've been teleported back in time to The Great Depression?

As I stare into the mirror for an answer, it’s clear that I just don’t know enough about how the economy operates to answer. That shows a lack of personal responsibility on my part, and that just won’t do.

Well, I’ve given myself a stern talking too and I’m about to do something about it. From July 27 – August 2, 2008 the Center for Popular Economics is coming to Chicago. They will teach me how economics impacts my life, my community and my work. The summer institute is designed for folks like me who slept through high school economics and don’t know the difference between the “mean” and “median.” This is my present to my country and me this year.

When you see me walking down the halls at the Summer Institute be sure to wish me Happy Birthday!

(Image gratefully borrowed from jenn_jenn's photostream on

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Personal Responsibility

By Sarah Viets

Whether you’re fighting for immigrants’ rights, against the Iraq war, the death penalty, or someone holding a sign of a fetus outside a woman’s health clinic or against same-sex marriage, each political group works relentlessly for their ‘cause.’ Each group spends hours calling elected politicians, writing letters to newspapers (so people read their opinions), restless nights on the internet reading the latest blog or the new non-fiction political book.

There’s no doubt conservative (the red team) and progressive (the blue team) activists are focused and dedicated. Each group works hard and strives for success. To put it another way, members of each political flavor are a bunch of serious folks who support the idea of personal responsibility. Now, if you’re a member of the blue team, you’re probably frowning your eyebrows and saying, “I don’t support personal responsibility! This idea ignores why some school districts have more money than others, and how personal success is determined by the school you attend.”

But if you’re a die-hard activist, you sacrifice yourself for the ‘cause.’ You replace your personal needs with political ambitions. If you don’t, someone may point you out like a sore thumb and say you’re not serious enough and you don’t understand what’s at stake. And if this sounds familiar, tell me again how you don’t support the idea of personal responsibility?

A friend of mine is visiting from Kansas City (I live in Chicago). No wait; her entire family is visiting - all five kids, her husband and her dad. The oldest will be 10 at the end of the month and the youngest is four, and they all have a mind of their own (thankfully), which means they LOVE to run away from the pack to find some hidden treasure they’ve spotted far away. She, her husband, and two of the young ones also stayed with me for one night in my studio apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s hard living so far away, and being there for each other over the phone gets old.

I’m also a blog editor, which means I never stop working! I have to read a bunch of articles, books, different blog entries, I have to record who’s referring IMAGINE 2050, and the list goes on and on. I also have an interview tomorrow (Tuesday) and I leave on Wednesday for a conference in Austin, TX.

So I have a choice: I can either spend the entire day with her family and go swimming with her kids and walk through the zoo and hear five kids fighting over who gets to hold my hand, or I can spend the first half of the day working and the afternoon with the pack. (I still can’t decide).

OR, I can talk about a different type of personal responsibility (not the one that likes to point the finger at the individual without taking any social responsibility) and remember how I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. I can think of all the times she’s helped me through those times we hate to share. I can think of how many times she says how much I mean to her and how much I’ve influenced her life. I can think of how I’ve helped her through those trying months when she didn’t know where to turn. I can think of how many times we probably wanted to yell at each other (but never did) and say, “Will you get over it already, I can’t listen to the same situation over and over again.”

I can remember how my responsibility as a friend, my social - my personal responsibility - is what makes her and I strong. It’s what makes me happy to be alive.

(I think I’ll go to the zoo….)

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The Parking Lot

By Nicole Hallengrogg

It wasn't about justice
Or about the fact
I felt
I deserved
A little of what she had.

It wasn't about anger
Or vengeance.

Or because my car
Never starts.

Or the crack in the windshield.

Or because pools of dust
Collect in rusted impressions
Of my 1986 Toyota Celica.
It wasn't
I thought
She hadn't worked for what she had.
Or because
I haven't
Stopped working
Since 14.

I was 26
She must have been 18.
Designer shirt.
Designer shoes.
And a car that goes
from 0 to 70
in 25 mile per hour
School zones.

Maybe it was that silver paint-
Looked like a lottery ticket
Silver and shiny.
Like those coins my grandmother
Kept until she died.

Mercedes Benz,
Brand new
Never saw another like it
...or was it "BMW"?

Etched in
Market decoy emblem.
Those vehicles,
Like big,
Painted Gods.
Row after row;
Neat little patterns of profit
And display.

I ran my key along the pinstripe.
From the bumper to the rear
Left a deep gouge
That ran

Like the dry
River beds
Outside of town
That remind me
So much of
Endless drought.

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SPORTS: He Loves You, He Loves You Not

By Joel Ebert

Here in America we just can’t seem to resist guilty pleasures. We do things we know we shouldn’t. American sports fans seem to enjoy the lingering relationship between themselves and a superstar. This type of relationship is much akin to exclusively dating someone and sooner or later breaking up with them. Both are a type of love-hate relationship that continue until one party either finds someone else, more money, or a sense of clarity. Feelings linger, emotions peak, and rationality is thrown completely out the window when we are invested in these types of relationships.

Usually the scenario goes like so: Person A says to Person B “Look, it has been a wonderful run, but I really must go now. I appreciate all you have done for me and I wish you the very best in the future. Don’t worry about me, I think I’ll be fine.” Person B then overanalyzes Person A’s speech and thinks about what it means. Person B thinks, “Can he/she really be gone? This can’t be it; can it?”

Then one day Person A calls up Person B and expresses a hint of regret and suggests that maybe, just maybe, they can get back together. This type of relationship comes around every so often in the world of sports, specifically when an athlete is considering retirement.

Recently, Brett Favre (the former Hall of Fame bound starting quarterback) has played the role of Person A and the Green Bay Packers have played Person B. Favre officially retired from the game of professional football in March 2008 saying “I know I can play, but I don’t think I want to.” This sort of pseudo answer is exactly the sort of fuel that kick started the suddenly turned forest fire that has become Favre Watch 2008.

In order to understand the intensity of the relationship between Favre and Packer Nation, you have to understand how much he meant to the organization. He played for the Packers for 16 consecutive seasons. That is extremely rare in professional sports nowadays. He won a Super Bowl title with the Pack in 1997 and also holds a host of records. The man was basically the face of the organization for nearly two decades.

So when Favre officially retired, hearts were tested. This happens with sports figures. They build a good rapport with a city’s fans, media, etc, and then one day it all must come to an end. Michael Jordan did it in Chicago, Magic Johnson did it in L.A., Barry Bonds (sort of) did it in San Francisco, and Roger (the Big Easy) Clemens does it over and over again wherever he can (Houston, New York, Boston).

But frankly, I am getting kind of tired of these games. I’ve learned to not be emotionally invested in athletes anymore (after the great downfall of one of the people I used to hold dearly went down in severe flames).

Sometimes its fun, as in the case of Manny (the Spazzy) Ramirez, who will do whatever and say whatever to get a rise out of fans (this year he even caught a ball in the outfield, high fived a fan in nearby seats, and threw the ball back into the infield to complete a double play). During the offseason, fans hear Manny constantly talking about being traded, retiring, or just not showing up.

But when fans grow up idolizing a figure, such as Brett Favre or Michael Jordan, they deserve better than to be toyed around with like a dog chasing a luscious bone. Jordan and Favre, while both unbelievable and irreplaceable athletes, need to learn when enough is enough. Although at 45 years old, I sincerely doubt Jordan could toy with our hearts anymore by attempting a comeback, it would not surprise me in the least if he did. And if Favre continues his coded innuendos about coming back to the Packers for another season, I would also not be surprised either.

But one thing is for sure, if it were any other profession (aside from a musician or movie star) we, the fans, would not tolerate this type of abusive relationship. If a politician, for example George Bush Sr., threatened to run again for President, I don’t think our hearts would throb as much as they do when Brett Favre opens his purse of tricks. So I warn you fans with aching hearts, let those athletes back in slowly. We can forgive, but we must never forget.

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NumbersUSA, Don't Treat Me like a Fool

By Sarah Viets

Boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives sometimes lie to each other. They say they’re faithful and would never dream of cheating, but that’s not always the case. Instead of being honest, they lie and say, “No, I didn’t, I couldn’t, you mean too much to me, and there’s nothing I’d ever do to jeopardize what we have together.” But then again, sometimes it’s easier to believe a lie rather than dig for the truth. I know I’ll never forget the day an old boyfriend lied to my face, and boy did I feel like a fool.

Kinda like Numbers USA, a national anti-immigrant rights organization. The organization says they want to improve “community quality of life,” they say they’re fighting to increase my weekly pay, but do they?

Just like people believe their loved one’s sweet lies, NumbersUSA’s mission makes sense, but only on the surface.

NumbersUSA’s website says they aim to “reach for these honorable goals of economic justice, community quality of life and environmental sustainability.” Even more, Roy Beck, NumbersUSA’s executive director, says he’s fighting for “working people,” like janitors, housecleaners, and motel maids, and knows how hard it is to raise a family on less than $30,000 a year. And he blames weak immigration laws for low paying jobs.

But why does Beck target flimsy immigration rules for thin wallets, high medical bills, and hamburger-helper dinners, and does he have an alternative motive?

What type of organization is NumbersUSA and who’s the guy in charge?

In the 1990s, Roy Beck attended and spoke at the Council of Conservative Citizen’s (CofCC) annual conference. And for those unfamiliar with CofCC, the organization use to call themselves the White Citizens’ Council when it was socially acceptable to wear white-hooded sheets over your head and demand racial segregation.

In the 1980’s, Beck’s good friend John Tanton (founder of Federation for American Immigration Reform, FAIR) asked and received over a million dollars from the Pioneer Fund. Tanton used the money to financially support FAIR and create more anti-immigrant organizations, like NumbersUSA.

But the Pioneer Fund isn’t your average national foundation fighting world hunger. The Pioneer Fund gives money to scientists who study racial IQ differences. To put it another way, they help researchers prove that white people are biologically superior to African Americans to explain black crime and high poverty rates in African American communities.

(After working in a non-profit organization, I’ve learned that foundations only give money to those who support their mission. In other words, NumbersUSA’s goals match the Pioneer Fund’s mission.)

Currently, NumbersUSA is looking for community leaders - like business owners, social workers, CEOs, politicians, or anyone who works for an environmental, civil rights, or religious organization - to build relationships with local newspapers. Roy Beck wants reporters and editors to print NumbersUSA’s mission on the front page of every newspaper, and he needs journalists to trust NumbersUSA activists so newspapers publish his personal agenda.

So far, the organization has received over 500 emails from interested applicants and will fly over a dozen qualified supporters (who can donate 4 hours a week and commit 1 year) to their first two-day training conference on July 24-25, 2008 in Washington DC. But infiltrating 12-24 local newspapers in towns across America isn’t enough. NumbersUSA will hold another training session this September.

But just like loved ones say they’d never cheat, NumbersUSA says weak immigration laws are responsible for America’s financial crises. Why? Since its no longer socially acceptable to argue for racial segregation, anti-immigrant organizations, like NumbersUSA use immigration as a way to racially divide American families. They use the immigration debate as a way to hide how they really feel about dark-skinned immigrants.

And as an avid reader of my local paper, all I have to say is this:

NumbersUSA - don’t lie to me.

You bet I’m upset that two of my closet friends had to declare bankruptcy or why I can’t find a job. You bet I want answers. But you can’t spoon-feed me your knee-jerk response. I know the answer is more complicated than you claim, so don’t use me for your own personal interests. I’m not a fool.

I may be from a small hick town where I learned how to drive on dirt roads, but I’m not stupid. So don’t insult my intelligence.

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Our Anti-American Supreme Court

By Jill

Last week the Supreme Court overturned a Washington D.C. ban on handguns, effectively removing most of the District's gun restrictions. This ruling, unfortunately, leaves the door wide open for the National Rifle Association to challenge similar laws around the country. They've already sued to overturn handgun bans in other cities, such as Chicago, based on the Supreme Court's ruling.

The National Rifle Association has such a fanatical obsession with demolishing handgun bans, I'm curious to know more about their connection to the issue. Maybe their membership could shed some light on the subject, like, for example what is the race, gender , and age of their card-carrying members? Or if it's easier to compile, non-white men under forty? The NRA conveniently doesn't collect demographic information on their membership. If they did we might be able to compare the NRA's demographics to that of the people who are actual victims of handguns.

After all, in 2005 African-Americans were 49% of our country's murder victims, yet they made up only 13% of the population. A majority of them were 17-29 years of age, and 93% of them were killed by other African-Americans (a similar percentage of white murder victims were killed by other whites in case you're wondering).

Let's go out on a limb and assume very few of the NRA's members are African-American and between the ages of 17-29. So if they aren't going to jail for gun violence and they aren't on the receiving end of gun violence, shouldn't they be the least vocal group on handgun restrictions? And yet the NRA is one of Washington's most powerful lobbying groups in favor of handguns, and more troubling, their leadership has a long history of racist statements, read more about that here.

A few years ago I had a heated argument over handgun restrictions with a friend that ruined a dinner party. As our companions looked on in dismay, we loaded all our moral, constitutional, and logical ammunition either in favor or against handgun bans and shot them across the table. Luckily for all the suffering bystanders, my friend made a fatal mistake by citing a section of the popular book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar that describes how backyard swimming pools kill far more children in the U.S. than firearms. It's a common statistical gem that gun advocates like to use. It states that 550 children under the age of 10 drown in swimming pools each year and 175 children under 10 die from gunshots. Swimming pools are obviously a greater danger to children, but the book fails to mention that children under 10-yrs-old are not the at-risk population when it comes to handguns, it's actually suicidal individuals over the age of 13.

Between 1990-1997 there were 147,000 suicides using firearms; 90,000 of these suicides were performed with a handgun.

I told my friend I would wholeheartedly support laws to regulate swimming pools, but first I would appreciate him citing ALL the information on handguns from his source, specifically the section (pp. 118-122) that says handguns undoubtedly contribute to our countries high homicide rates (2/3 of which are committed with handguns), and laws permitting citizens to carry firearms in self-defense are ineffective crime-stoppers.

As much as I love the idea of little old ladies defending themselves with pistols under their pillows the truth is in 1997 only 2.3% of handgun homicides were considered justifiable or 193 out of 8,503.

Despite the ruined dinner party, I left with the smug satisfaction that I had won the argument, but in retrospect neither my friend nor I were saying the right things. He should have argued that bans on handguns aren't effective because the black-market for firearms is so strong we now have over 200 million guns in the United States, and you can ban all you like but those 200 million have a long shelf life.

And I should have responded that we can debate statistics all we like, but highlighting racist factors or morbid death rates won't save lives, and handgun bans probably won't either, but at least they're a step in the right direction.

Regardless of all the talk about constitutional rights and civil liberties, the simple truth is that guns are designed, manufactured, sold, and used to efficiently kill people, nothing else. The gun industry is just another big business that benefits from the death and destruction of American lives, and anyone who helps the gun industry or gives in to the NRA is just plain unAmerican in my book.

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Smell Something Burning? It’s Probably Arizona

By Eric K. Ward

Did you ever play the “If I had lived during [insert appropriate historic period here] I would have . . .” game? Back when I was a kid my friends and I would sit in a tight circle often with popsicles juice running down our fingers while we discussed how each of us would have reacted to the Great Chicago Fire, escaped the Titanic, survived in the Land of the Lost, or ran bootleg rum from Canada, though I’m sure we didn’t even know what rum was.

As we grew older the game changed and took on even more significance. It was no longer made up of fantasies of how I would have invested in Disney and made it rich. Instead, I thought about how I might imagine myself reacting to important moments in U.S. history. Actually it was just one moment that fascinated me, the one called the Civil Rights Movement. “Would I have been able to keep my cool desegregating a lunch counter?” “Could I have worked up the courage and registered to vote knowing that I might get a visit from the Klan that evening?” Would I have left the comfortable confines of college to spend my summer in a place that very well might cost me my life?”

Of course I was always full of bravado about what I “would have done” if given the chance, but I made these boasts from the comfort of the present - a nice place to explore “what if?” and “what may?” I don’t think I’m alone in this and I still think many still wonder what they might have done had they been in places called Selma, Montgomery, Jackson and Boston.

In Arizona, like the tattered pages of an old paperback, the wondering is long over. With over 181 bodies recovered in the deserts in 2007, fifty five pieces of anti-immigrant legislation to be submitted in 2008, and a local Sheriff who resembles Bull Connor (a southern police officer and KKK member in the 1960's) more than Wyatt Earp, Arizona is becoming to immigrants rights, what Mississippi was to the 1960s civil rights movement—a defining moment in which each of us will be called to either embrace inhumanity or redeem the soul of America.

While I still wonder what I might do, others are acting. From day laborers in Phoenix, Arizona, who face down the Sherriff and his posse because they know that work is not a crime, to community members in Flagstaff, Arizona who were detained last weekend for “disturbing the peace” because they dared to honor the very meaning of the 4th of July by joining the annual 4th of July parade.

Kaitlyn Fahrenbruch a spokesperson with The Coalition to Repeal took part in the 4th of July Parade with seven others to deliver a declaration of their own (click to watch video). “Our goal is the repeal all anti-immigrant laws; federal, state and local,” says Fahrenbruch “We were marching in the defense of freedom for all people to live, love, and work anywhere they please” she said. Is the message extreme? Maybe it seems extreme to me, but then I remember English King George didn’t take it very well when he was told a similar message about us celebrating American Independence each year on the 4th of July.

Beyond the debate on the economic pros and cons of immigration, I think The Coalition to Repeal has realized something that I had forgotten. That hundreds of people dying in the desert each year is extreme, children coming home to empty kitchens where parents have disappeared is extreme, beings jailed for seeking work is extreme. Asking that each individual in our society be treated with basic human decency is not—it is as American as apple pie. It’s what we have been seeking since 1776.

What would I have done had I lived in the 1960s? I guess I don’t have to wonder anymore. Arizona, here I come!

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Isolation Bad, Globalization Good

By Sarah Viets

I don't think isolationism should influence American foreign policy and here's why:

The rise of isolationist foreign policies is in response to globalization. And Why?

When our American economy competes globally, so does our individual income. In result, how much we make per hour or each year competes with the standard amount of money people make in various countries.

So, if we can agree our cost of living is higher than developing countries, than we can also agree the amount of money we make is also higher.

Therefore, if we compete within global markets, our individual wages and economic standards of living will decline.

So, is this a good thing?

No and Yes

For instance, we're all aware we are the richest nation in the world. But, where’s the source of our wealth?

If we want to increase the wealth and standards of living for other countries, if we want to make sure everybody has access to basic human needs, that each mother and father has enough food to feed their family, we must realize our standards are too high and perpetuate global poverty.

And Why?

Everybody knows there are only so many pieces in a pie. If you take more than your share, somebody will always get shortchanged.

At the same time, even though you can’t compare American hard times to African, Indian, or Cambodian hardships, doesn’t mean the concerns of Americans aren’t valid.

So we can respond to foreign competition in 2 ways:

1-Cut of all ties to save our own neck. With that said, we all know problems never really go away, no matter how much we ignore them. They merely present themselves in different ways.


2-Engage in foreign competition. Why? Because we know companies are most interested in finding cheap prices for labor. In other words, the lowest wages. For example, why else do you think our clothes are made in China, Korea, Cambodia, Mexico, etc.

While it's easier to blame Koreans, Mexicans, or Ecuadorians, who work for old American based companies, aren't they simply doing what you do every morning? Just like you, they get up every morning, kiss their loved ones good-bye, and head out to work to feed and clothe their family.

But, if you prefer to stay in a bidding war against foreign competition, aren't you also saying you deserve a job more than somebody else? If so, you're also saying, you have more of a right to feed your family than the person standing next to you.

So, we can either pretend their desire will vanish, or we can wake up and realize globalization is here to stay.

What do they say? In order to change something, you must first acknowledge what already exists...

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Marry on the Mountain: July 4th

By Nicole Hallengrogg

Traveling through southwest Montana on the 4th of July, my daughters and I are always amazed by the impressive 50 foot Virgin Mary that overlooks the city of Butte Montana which is, by the way, mere miles from the continental divide. I began to think about what symbols like the Virgin Mary mean to people and the relationship between religion and country.

Marry on the Mountain
July 4th

I, Mary on the Mountain
Stone symbol of humanity’s plea
Mother of compassion
And dignity.
Oh magnificent evening!
Brother of mine

I overlook this valley,
Let the people
Here rejoice.

You stand among
The people
Giving them a voice.

Once son,
Now brother,
Now friend.

Let us
Join now here together
So You and I
Be free.

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Fried Chicken, Fireworks, & the Fourth of July

By Jill

I'm a bad American. There's a lot of reasons, but I'll just mention a few of the obvious ones. I don't like meat - hot dogs, baloney, cold cuts, big macs, meat loaf, cheese steak - hate 'em all. In fact, I'm a vegetarian. The sizing system at Starbucks? Still haven't figured it out (I know, pretty pathetic). I haven't owned a TV in five years - haven't seen one episode of the Sopranos or my entire life. Birthday cake grosses me out, mostly the frosting part. I don't have a car, an ipod or a myspace page. I can't even remember the words to the Pledge of Allegiance! So, yeah, I'm a crappy American.

Here it is though, I have a confession. My favorite holiday is the fourth of July. And the reason it's my favorite is because of fried chicken. Sounds strange I know, but let me explain. My family used to have a fried chicken picnic every July 4th; always the same spot on a grassy hill overlooking the harbor near our house. But wait, it gets better.

Earlier in the day we would attend, or sometimes host our neighborhood's famous backyard pancake breakfast. The hosts made the pancakes, and everyone brought another dish, usually bacon (I swear you've never seen so many plates of bacon!). Afterwards we would go to the town fair - jump in the moonwalk until we were sick, have our faces painted, get soaked in the water balloon toss, and maybe take a whirl on the miniature ponies. Depending on the leniency of my mom that particular year my brother and I may have even split a funnel cake or a root beer float. Regardless, by late afternoon, our minds inevitably turned to fried chicken. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, coleslaw and from-the-box brownies to be exact.

The whole neighborhood would bring their picnics down to the harbor and after eating we'd all cram onto sailboats to watch the fireworks. The dinghies would buzz back and forth, frantically trying to get everyone out in time. One year, too many people jumped onto a dinghy and it capsized. Everyone was still talking about it the following year (it was a big to-do) and from then on the dinghy drivers were allowed to yell at people who got out of hand.

The best spot on a boat was the front deck where you could stretch out on your back and look straight up to the sky. It felt like those colorful flames were going to rain right down on top of you. I still remember all the names my brother and I made up for the fireworks - the weeping willows, the crackleys and whistlers - and that thrill when one of them shot up so high it seemed to disappear and then BOOM! It was suddenly a hundred shooting stars.

After the show we'd head back to shore, and with the smoldering coals of the BBQ pits we'd roast marshmallows until they were gooey and burnt. Then we'd light our sparklers and run all the way home, slaying stormtroopers with our light, sparklers, all the way. Every year I'd get the same sad feeling as soon as I arrived at our back gate. I'd see the dark empty house, the fireflies silently flickering in the yard and I'd realize that Fourth of July was over. I'd have to wait an eternity (364 days) to do it again.

I still get that feeling now, no matter what I do or who I'm with, I get a little sad when it's all over. It's goes against all my sensibilities to love the 4th of July. Funny enough I love it not in spite of the grossly American activities (junk food, consumerism & pyrotechnics), but specifically because of all those things. I truly love it because its a sticky, excessive, loud, flag-waving, fat mess! Oh and all that freedom stuff? That's part of it too.

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Our National Pastime

By Joel Ebert

This weekend the citizens of this fair land will see three large events simultaneously occur. Of course the most obvious is the opening weekend of a new Will Smith motion picture (Hancock) – an event which coincidentally coincides with the celebration of Independence Day (and not the 1996 film also starring Mr. Smith). While big Willie has shown dominance on the American holiday (in terms of the film industry) for the past six years, an even greater dominance on the holiday has been seen by an organized sport called baseball.

With its roots tracing back to the late 1800s, baseball has often been referred to as a national pastime. While baseball may not be as old as our great nation, it certainly has held its own throughout the years. Baseball on July 4 has provided us with some of the most memorable moments in major league baseball history.

In 1881, there were two complete games (9 full innings) thrown by one pitcher. In 1900, roughly 1,000 fans celebrated their Independence by firing pistols into the air at a game in Chicago. On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” made his farewell speech. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the 4th pitcher in baseball history to record 3,000 strike-outs (today there are still only 16 pitchers who have done so). And in 1985, after a 6 hour and 10 minute game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves (which lasted until 4 a.m.), the 1,000 fans that remained were treated to a pre-dawn fireworks display that frightened local neighbors.

This year, I am especially looking forward to the long weekend because of a historical match up between two epic rivals: the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. There seems to be a perfect brew for this to be a great series: the Cubs and the Cardinals have the two best records in the National League; an ace returning from his recent stint on the disabled list (Carlos Zambrano); and a pretty even match up (what with the Cardinals’ less than dominating home record along with the Cubs’ below par road record).

If you are unfamiliar with this rivalry, I can’t think of a better time to start watching. There are many things that Americans will do this weekend to celebrate Independence Day, but I urge you to make time to fit in an inning, a game, or the entire series. And if these teams are not for you at least check out a different form of a game of baseball (whether its professional or not). It’s as American as fireworks, barbeques and Will Smith.

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