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Halfway Through Live Earth

Approaching the midway point of the Live Earth concert, with the biggest acts still a few hours away, and fans are continuing to stream into Giants Stadium. Max and I, however, have streamed in and then right back out again, after learning that our badges get us into the press tent in the parking lot and not much else. Our quick tour of the stadium concession area led to observations both expected -- $30 t-shirts, $7.00 beers, beefy security guys who wouldn't let us sneak onto the floor -- and unexpected, like the special veggie hot dogs, hamburgers and kabobs; and the compostable brown paper that much of the food came wrapped in.

Recycling stations are everywhere, many of them staffed by volunteers in light blue shirts emblazoned with a Pepsi logo who are there to help people recycle correctly. We spoke to one, Anne, who works as a scientist and recently relocated to New York from Chicago. She signed up for the gig online because she's always "cared about the planet" and wanted to lend a hand however she could. She wants to see more of these mega-concerts-with-a-purpose in the future, maybe one about balancing the budget and another about putting an end to the war in Iraq. We asked Anne whether she thought other volunteers and concertgoers were as concerned as she about the day's political message. She wasn't sure, but was staying optimistic.

Afterwards, we retreated to the press tent to watch a few of the live acts on a projection screen -- Fall Out Boy, Ludacris, Taking Back Sunday, KT Tunstall, and, most memorable thus far if only for sheer presumptuousness, a version of "Gimme Shelter" featuring Keith Urban and Alicia Keyes. An excited MSN press flack informed the assembled media folks that Live Earth was shaping up to be the "largest online entertainment event in the history of online entertainment events," and by midafternoon the MSNBC.com live feed was warning viewers that "Due to the huge number of fans tuning in, the site is a bit slow right now." Press people huddled around speakers and scribbled notes furiously during a brief stage appearance by Al Gore, during which the Live Earth champion promised to keep fighting for a "sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the twenty-first century."

Confined to the media tent, we spent a majority of our time near the press conference stage sitting through a battery of performer interviews. Most answers have been in keeping with the Live Earth script, and the questions rather innocuous: "So, what have you done to make your household green?" Well, Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall added solar panels to her London flat and plans to insulate the walls with wool if you must know. She also tours in busses powered by bio-diesel, but has yet to solve air travel, aside from endorsing Virgin Air and Richard Branson, who's committed the company's profits to global warming research you may remember. Naturally, making touring more eco-friendly appears to be a common plank with artist here. And so does opting to lead by example rather than browbeating your audience. Interestingly, Senegalese-American hip-hop artist Akon admitted to not really knowing what "green" was before showing up at Live Earth to perform. But now he knows, and when asked about how important an issue addressing climate crisis is in Senegal or Africa, the rapper deflected the question, alluding to the fact that they may have bigger fish to fry -- like poverty, if you're listening, Mr. Geldof.

There have been some sour notes to report. First, not every guest at Giants Stadium was here to support the cause. A gatecrasher, in the form of a small airplane pulling a banner, asked the audience not to believe Al Gore and to demand debate at www.demanddebate.com (word has it from an anonymous Nation stringer that this airplane was spotted flying over Jacob Riis park in the Rockaways hours before the show -- no word if Cheney has a pilot's license). The second sour note involves one of the short videos they play between artists' sets. The particular one in question involved a close-up of a cattle's ass as it prodigiously produced cow pies. I believe it had something to do with going vegan or becoming a vegetarian, but couldn't keep my eyes on the screen long enough to really read the text.

Eco-Narcissicism

Well, Thaddeus and I have arrived at Giants Stadium, the main event is rapidly approaching, and, from the looks of the parking lot, not too many of our fellow concertgoers followed our lead and the suggestion of the concert organizers and took the bus. But that's ok -- Live Earth, its participants and promoters keep reminding us, is not going to solve this whole global warming problem over night. It's just a "launch event," said a publicist in a recent issue of Rolling Stone. A "launch event" reiterated Live Earth creator Kevin Wall to Variety, "not a silver bullet"; better yet, "a tipping point of behavioral change." Despite the out-of-this world promises in the press kit for the concert extravaganza -- "more than 100 music artists"; "2 billion people"; "unprecedented global media architecture" -- you get the sense that Wall and Live Earth guru Al Gore are trying to keep any hopes for immediate climatological salvation, well, down-to-earth. A call to arms -- not a victory cry.

Ok, fair enough. As any right-headed viewer of Gore's Oscar-winning documentary should know by now, there's not much room left for equivocation on global warming -- we're talking systemic change, and fast. You have to start somewhere. As one reporter put it, Live Earth can be a "message to people to change their lifestyles."

And lifestyles are changing. As the New York Times reported last week, sales for Toyota's "built from the ground up" hybrid, the Prius, are up a whopping 93.7% from last year, well outperforming the hybrid versions of popular models offered by other car companies. Why? According to a market research poll, a sizable majority (57%) of Prius owners bought their eco-friendly ride because "it makes a statement about me," almost double the number that offered the same explanation three years ago. By contrast, 36% cited the car's higher fuel economy, and only one in four was attracted by its lower emissions. As the article concluded, "The Prius has become, in a sense, the four-wheel equivalent of those popular rubber ‘issue bracelets'...it shows the world that its owner cares." Another recent Times article, aptly titled "Buying Into the Green Movement", found "that vision of an eco-sensitive life as a series of choices about what to buy appeals to millions of consumers and arguably defines the current environmental movement as equal parts concern for the earth and for making a stylish statement." Even Time Out New York, which normally busies itself with ferreting out hip downtown night spots, implores readers to "be earth-friendly on your terms" on this week's cover.

The cynic in me says this is not ideal. George Black of the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it "eco-narcissism", which might just as well describe the spectacle of scores of pop music celebrities prancing about on stage for twenty-four hours of self-congratulatory hand wringing about the environment. After all, nothing says narcissistic excess like rock-and-roll, and those unparalleled purveyors of the aesthetic of overconsumption are unlikely role models for an environmental movement that must, ultimately, be about a wholesale reconsideration of current patterns of production and consumption, not simply pricey green homes and stylish cotton jeans.

Lest we forget when he shares the stage with Gore et al later today, in late April the proudly "light green" John Mayer reminded readers of his awesomely inane blog, "I drive a Porsche SUV, I still drink lots of bottled water, and I will be flying private charter several times during my summer tour." Sure, it's a good thing that Kanye West is using his public stature to tell millions of fans about the urgency of global warming, but his music is still used to shill SUVs in television commercials.

Just because the messenger is flawed, of course, doesn't mean the message itself is, and maybe it's our responsibility as the consuming public to send a message back to the green celebrities and other eco-narcissists. Reversing the climate crisis will mean doing away with a consumer culture that is fed by and feeds off of our collective celebrity worship. Buying green can't just mean buying different; it has to mean buying less. Let's hope some of today's performers will get serious about changing lifestyles, not just car models.

Music for a Climate in Crisis

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Good morning from New York. I am just about to meet up with Max Fraser to head over to New Jersey. The Nation was kind enough to give us access to the Notion this Saturday so that we might post a couple entries live from Giants Stadium, the North American venue for "Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis," the latest global concert-for-a-cause. (Lucky us, with ticket being sold through legitimate vendors for $83 to $348, no small commitment, they were also kind enough to obtain us two press passes, and with those, hopefully access to some of the event's performers for an interview or two.) We should be at the stadium by early afternoon.

If you haven't heard, Live Earth is a 24-hour event on 7/7/07 that will bring together over 100 musical acts to perform a series of nine eco-friendly concerts on seven continents (yes, seven -- apparently Nunatak, the house band at the Rothera Research Station on Antarctica, will slip on their fingerless gloves to play a set outdoors). The shows kicked off in Sydney, Australia last night and have been rolling westward through Tokyo, Shanghai, Hamburg, London, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Washington D.C. (originally cancelled, then added again yesterday morning) and New York all night (China and Australia are on air as I write, watch them here). According to event planners, the music broadcast will entail total media saturation -- TV, radio, web and wireless channels simultaneously -- in hopes of reaching upwards of two billion people, prodding them to take up the good fight against global warming.

Kevin Wall, founder of Save Our Selves (SOS), the establishment behind Live Earth, paired up with eco-crusader-cum-rock-star, ex-V.P. Al Gore, to organize the charitable music event. They promote the all-day concert as the kickoff to a broader, more ambitious multi-year campaign aimed at getting people to affect change locally and globally -- from personal actions one can take to reduce their own carbon footprint, to demanding that their government join an international treaty in two years that promises to cut global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries. Wall's last worldwide production was Live 8, a "global call to action against poverty" in summer 2005.

Ambitious? Certainly. Commendable? Absolutely. Predictable? Maybe. The same group of artists that united to free Tibet, save the family farm, rock the vote, rebuild New Orleans, and, yes, end world poverty will be well represented here. Good at raising money, but Earth-changing results?

As one would imagine, producers are going out of their way to tout the eco-sensitivity of the Live Earth concerts. Biodiesel has been trucked in to power buses running from the press tent to the stadium. Concertgoers asked to carpool or take public transportation. Carbon offsets purchased to atone for flying talent to concert locations. Electricity will be from renewable sources or renewable credits. All this is in keeping with a set of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Event Guidelines established for Live Earth.

Predictably, an event this large is not without its critics despite the noble intentions. Bob Geldof, the man who gave us Live Aid, probably ranks as the most notable and vociferous. Geldof recently told a Dutch newspaper, "But why is [Gore] actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all fucking conscious of global warming...I would only organize this if I could get on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's just an enormous pop concert." A bit harsh, but not wholly off point.

In the end Wall and Gore have saddled up with a pop music industry that has recently been the target of grumblings for implausibly fostering a less eco-friendly market place despite shifting into the digital-music era. Reuters recently reported music fans continue to purchase the same amount of compact discs, opting now for recordable CDs to store their own playlists over professionally produced CDs. And when they do buy music the old-fashioned way, a majority of discs are still sold in plastic jewel cases and shrink-wrap rather than recycled-paper sleeves. MP3-player continue to sell at an extraordinary clip. These devices contain heavy metals and harmful chemicals, and are often quickly rendered obsolete. This to say nothing of the carbon footprints of major summer tours (and as the Nation reported, lets not put too much faith in carbon offsets just yet). So, real change?

In a July 1st NY Times Op-Ed, Al Gore wrote, "WE - the human species - have arrived at a moment of decision. It is unprecedented and even laughable for us to imagine that we could actually make a conscious choice as a species, but that is nevertheless the challenge before us." Laughable or not, this is exactly what Live Earth aims to do, the unprecedented – save us and the world, while greening the music industry. And it's clear the unprecedented is what needs to happen to solve greenhouse gases. Max and I hope Live Earth can deliver, and will post a couple reports from the NYC concert venue to let you know how it's going.

Women's Rights are Human Rights, Iranian Edition

Via Feministing comes awful news from Iran. For participating in a banned rally for women's rights in June,2006, twenty-four year old Delaram Ali has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ten lashes. The demonstrators--around 100 women and a number of men -- were peacefully protesting flagrantly biassed Sharia-based laws, including those governing divorce, inheritance and the courts, in which a woman's testimony is worth half of a man's. Police violently attacked the rally and arrested 70 demonstrators; Ali is the seventh to be convicted. Her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, offers a defiantly hopeful interpretation of this cruel and unjust verdict: "The women's movement is expanding and this worries the government."

More details hereand here.

Killing the Money Primary

July 4th's Washington Post featured a front-page story about how campaign contributors heavily favored Democrats in the three-month period that ended last weekend, giving three dollars to the party's leading contenders for every two dollars they gave to the top Republican candidates.

Barack Obama was the big money primary winner--with 285,000 total contributors since January, exceeding the combined number of donors to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain.

While I think it's fascinating that Obama has had such success in raising money from small donors on the Internet--and see glimmers of democratization in how those small-$ donors are challenging the primacy of political finance's big guns of politics--I still question why the mainstream media seems to privilege the money primary at the expense of the ideas primary.

So what is to be done? On the money front, the New York Times counsels resuscitating matching public funds --"the once-popular tax assisted alternative that has been allowed to wither in recent years because of Congress's fixation on the power of private campaign money." But there is another alternative. Clean Money, Clean Elections--with legislation supporting this major and viable reform advancing now in both the Senate and the House. In the Senate, the Durbin-Specter Fair Elections Now Act (S 1285) and in the House, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act of 2007 (HR 1614) both have impressive co-sponsors. On the House side, of the 40 co-sponsors, many are in significant leadership positions.

But it's not only inside the beltway. According to Public Campaign, which has been working for ten years to change the way America funds elections, the movement, outside of Washington, continues to grow. As Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign's longtime and tenacious President puts it, there's a vibrant and growing citizen-centered movement out there that reflects America's diverse communities. From the AFL-CIO, to the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the NAACP --all have joined forces in support of Clean Money, Clean Elections and the legislation advancing it. MoveOn.org is also wholeheartedly behind the effort to enact reforms that have worked well in Arizona and Maine to the Congress.

What's hopeful, though not reflected in the breathless coverage of the candidates' fundraising totals, is that seven daily mainstream newspapers--including the Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and the St.-Louis Post Dispatch--have specifically endorsed congressional public financing legislation. Moreover, the race at the local and state level to take out private money in favor of clean money is moving full force ahead.

Next time you read about the money primary, take a breath and go to publicampaign.org and find an alternative which will give ordinary people and voters a chance to have their voices and ideas listened to.

Cheney on the Defensive

Dick Cheney has been a destructive force on the checks and balances of American government for more than six years. He has subverted long-standing processes, procedures, protocols and laws to lead us into the tragedy in Iraq, and is now seeking to do the same with Iran. (Both countries, mind you, that he did business with while CEO of Halliburton.)

As the Washington Post's recent four-part series on the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president showed, Cheney has usurped his Cabinet colleagues to make himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy; secretly steered the Bush administration's most important environmental decisions and purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive Congress by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq.

That's why there's a growing national movement to support H. Res 333, the articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney. The bill is already endorsed by 14 members of Congress--Yvette Clarke, William Lacy, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Jesse Jackson Jr., Hank Johnson, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey and Albert Wynn.

In the blogosphere, as Ari Melber recently reported in The Notion, leading bloggers like those at Daily Kos have launched a targeted campaign to specifically lobby Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee to put impeachment back on the table. And earlier this week, MoveOn.org launched an unprecedented petition calling on Congress to impeach Cheney if he defies congressional subpoenas issued to investigate the Bush administration's purge of prosecutors at the Justice Department.

You can sign the petition calling for the bill's passage here; watch a new video (below) by Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films for the case for why Cheney deserves immediate impeachment; check out impeachcheney.org for info on the impeachment campaign and read John Nichols's book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press), for the back-story of a vindictive, inflexible ideologue who gained tremendous power in the current administration.

A Clinton Spy Scandal?

When news of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program became public, Senator Hillary Clinton called the eavesdropping "strange" and "far-fetched." In a fundraising email she went on to blast "a secret program that spies on Americans!"

Now her chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, may have a spying problem of his own.

A lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee of Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, alleges that when the employee left the firm and started a rival consulting business, workers at PSB hacked into his BlackBerry and illegally monitored his email. The lawsuit, filed in mid-June and reported by the AP on Wednesday, claims that Penn approved of the surveillance.

The backstory is a complicated one. Penn originally sued his former partner Mike Berland and Mitchell Markel in Manhattan court for allegedly violating a non-compete clause with PSB. In response, Markel filed a countersuit detailing the supposed improper email monitoring.

As of now, it's impossible to know who to believe. Penn, through an attorney, has denied any wrongdoing. But it should be noted that Penn sued a former close colleague of his, pollster Peter Brodnitz--who's worked for Tim Kaine and Harold Ford Jr--when Brodnitz left PSB in 2004. And his firm threatened legal action when former employees started a "PSB survivors" message board documenting what they perceived as personally abusive and unethical behavior in the workplace.

So the latest suit and countersuit, while juicy and contentious, is not surprising. To be continued.

Weird Religion, Anglican Edition

According to two senior Church of England bishops, recent terrible floods in the UK are expressions of God's wrath at excess consumption -- or possibly excess gayfriendliness. "We have a responsibility in this and God is exposing us to the truth of what we have done," the Rt. Rev .James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, told The Telegraph .

"We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused." said the Rt. Rev. Graham Dow, bishop of Carlisle. "The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God's judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance." According to the Telegraph, Dow " expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with ‘environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate.'"

Now just hold on a minute here. God left thousands of innocent Britons homeless-- to say nothing of other recent flood victims from Texas to Pakistan -- to make a point about something those people had nothing to do with? A point no one, except a handful of clergymen, seemed to get? If God is powerful enough to cause floods, why isn't he powerful enough to target his smitings to, say, the annual meeting of Exxon shareholders or Friends of the Incandescent Light Bulb? Surely God is aware that environmental catastrophes hit the most vulnerable hardest. The CEOs and superconsumers in their 4000-square-foot mansions have insurance, to say nothing of Hummers in which to make a quick escape to their condo in the city.

As for the gay thing, if a human being somehow managed to flood whole neighborhoods, destroying the lives of multitudes, and when asked why replied that he was furious, just furious, at growing tolerance for homosexuality, we would think he was insane. And he would be.

So maybe God exists, but is clinically mad. That would explain just about everything.

Creating a Foundation

Co-written by Emily Greenhouse

For the last few years students have been steadily debunking the old saw that young people are politically apathetic. Young people might not be nearly as engaged with Iraq and the widening gap between rich and poor as some older folks might like. But, then, neither are the majority of Americans in any age group.

Overall, students are actually far more focused on ending the war and taking part in the electoral system than many of their generational counterparts. A new national student group offers yet another example of students pouring their energy into something other than parties or resumes. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), a for-youth by-youth organization aims to increase electoral participation among young voters by making the system more accessible and by striving to underscore the importance of voting on their lives.

SAVE has mustered support from several former politicians, and is already planning for a Congressional hearing this month in which a panel of ten students will testify before Congress detailing voting problems in the 2004 and 2006 elections. One student will speak on behalf of undergraduates at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio -- the swing state who many believe wound up costing John Kerry the 2004 election – who waited in line to vote for as long as ten hours.

The group is now seeking to start chapters on college campuses across the country, where members can supplement traditional efforts to ‘get-out-the-vote' with its student-led outreach and emphasis on civic engagement through civic education for young people. After-school tutoring programs, public issues forums, and coalition-building with politically-engaged organizations on campus are all part of the group's mission. Under the guidance of founding board member Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP's Washington Bureau, the group also plans to launch a minority awareness campaign to highlight voter discrimination, obstacles to full voting rights and ways to combat these efforts at disenfranchisement.

SAVE is also trying to launch its own youth poll worker program, in which young people will be able to take charge of elections as administrators and monitors on Election Day--the average age of poll workers at the last national election was 72!--as well as an ambitious website which it envisions functioning in partnership with FaceBook and YouTube as the ultimate forum for young people to discuss electoral issues with message boards, surveys, polls, quizzes, contests and electoral tools and resources.

"By arming young people with the knowledge to navigate the political process via a commitment to dialogue, issues awareness, and interaction with local government," SAVE's mission statement states, "we hope to create a foundation for life-long participation in the democratic system."

Click here if you want to help SAVE build this foundation.