Archive for February, 2006

Peninsula Young Democrats

February 25, 2006

Last night I went to a great meeting of the Peninsula Young Democrats.  I have to confess that I went – and subsequently joined – because a friend of mine was running for Vice-Chair (and she won!).  But it ended up being quite a fun group of folks, and I felt a lot of good energy as we approach the mid-terms and a lot of important state elections.  I encourage all of you Bay Area democrats under-36 to join – membership is only $25, and you’re automatically a member of the Peninsula Democratic Coalition as well.

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Beginning of the End of Roe v. Wade

February 22, 2006

The Supreme Court decided to hear a case on partial birth abortion today.  Given Justice O’Conner’s key vote on the subject, I think it’s fair to assume that this is the beginning of the end of the era of Roe v. Wade.  The test of our generation of young men and women is beginning NOW – will we stand by and have our rights dismantled one-by-one, or will we take a stand? 

Firedoglake takes Planned Parenthood and NARAL to task for not fighting tooth-and-nail for a filibuster on Alito.  Elections do matter, and so do right-wing extremist court appointees supported by DINOs.  I feel like I have to do something, but don’t know exactly what.  For starters, let’s all take Firedoglake’s advice:

Please contact both NARAL and Planned Parenthood and tell them to support Ned Lamont and prove that they understand that people like Joe Lieberman and Lincoln Chafee are pro-choice only when it doesn’t count.

I just e-mailed them – now can you?

Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast

February 22, 2006

A friend of a friend attended the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month and heard Bono’s remarks.  We should all read his words, study them, digest them.  He is reminding all of us once again that religion is not just the purview of the extreme right-wing of this country’s red states.  Rather, it is a call to action to minister to the poor, to recognize our unity with those suffering on the other side of the world, and to actually make a choice to DO something about it:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.  In fact, the poor are where God lives. 

Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…  I hope so.  He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not…  But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. 

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.  “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times.  It’s not an accident.  That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions.  [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.]   ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’  (Matthew 25:40).   As I say, good news to the poor.   

I particularly love how Bono describes our obligation to the poor as an issue of justice, not charity later in the speech.  We are not sitting in our particular position of power and privilege on our own – our fortune has been made on the backs of those less fortunate, and it’s time we do what’s right by them.  Making the ONE campaign and AIDS relief into a blessed act (one required by our inner conscience and/or our personal god) resonated with me.  We should all take action to make Bono’s vision in this speech a reality, regardless of our faith or our political party.
Other bloggers have dissected his speech further, including lots of Christian bloggers saying stuff that I both agree and disagree with. (I was frankly surprised at the lack of secular, lefty bloggers talking about Bono’s impressive speech…). For a taste of what’s out there, check out:  Mark Driscoll, Musings, Josh Swihart, and Against the Grain.

Qawwali Music and Islam in the Media

February 14, 2006

Last night, Ushi and I went to an amazing Qawwali concert at Stanford by the Farid Ayaz Qawwal Ensemble from Pakistan. Qawwali music is a beautiful art of the Sufi tradition of South Asia. The ensemble group sings in a chanting fashion, climbing ever higher into sheer bliss while contemplating God and his unity through this powerful expression. The performance was truly ecstatic, with the singers becoming almost trance-like as the night progressed, swept up into a state of devotion that was infectious to all of us in the audience. Everyone was clapping along, and my heart sang…

After the concert, I was so jazzed I couldn’t sleep, and ended up lamenting the fact that the mainstream media presents Muslims and South Asia in such a negative light, especially with the recent cartoon protests around the world. (Ann Coulter appears to have gone totally off the deep-end into a pool of hatred and racism this week, for an example from the conservative side.)

The concert reminded me that the Islamic tradition is so diverse, with Sufism being a mystical strain that particularly appeals to me and my Hindu sensibilities. Here is just one verse from one of the Sufi poems featured in the qawwalis of the ensemble (by Sachal Sarmast, translated by I.A. Adni):

Struck by the love of manifestation,
the absolute consented
to be imprisoned in the finite.

I encourage all of you to listen to some of the qawwali masters, like the Farid Ayaz ensemble and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan… (Oh, and P.S. – A.R. Rahman, the legend himself, was in the audience at the concert last night!)

In honor of Coretta Scott King

February 8, 2006

Pastordan had a great post today about Democrats taking a page out of the Republican playbook on religion, and turning it on its head. We need to expose this administration and the Republican party for what it really has become: a corrupt party using “religious values” in pandering ways to help the richest of the rich. Those of us who are people of faith must step forward and not allow our faith to be defined and/or dismissed by the right-wing wanna-be theocracy.

Check out Pastordan’s post to vote for which “issue of faith” could be the most politically inspiring at the midterm elections. Alright, I’ll spoil it – I voted for “economic justice.” Americans of all political and religious stripes felt heartbroken at the sight of the poor left behind by the Bush administration during Hurricane Katrina. The administration’s gross incompetence showed the Republicans’ deep disdain for the poor – adding insult to injury with the tax cuts outlined in this week’s presidential budget. This IS a religious issue – caring for the poor and disabled and weak is a value that all faiths – Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others – hold true.

Economic justice is the next step for the civil rights movement. Before his assassination, Dr. King was about to set out on a journey to advocate for poor people in our country. Let’s take this day to remember his quest and that of Coretta Scott King. Her funeral today was a great example of how powerful this faith-based strategy could be for Democrats. Mayor Shirley Franklin, President Clinton, President Carter and others gave America inspirational messages of compassion, peace, and justice – not just throwing around the words like “religion” or “faith” or “values” to justify intolerance, war, and divisiveness. Today should be a precursor for many more Democratic faith-based speeches to come, in time for November…

India Anti-Poverty Scheme – Response to Seth

February 8, 2006

Great post, Seth. Sustainable infrastructure-building is much more sound policy than promising jobs for an arbitrary 100 days out of the year in a country as corrupt as India. Improving the economy, industry, and agriculture are the keys to India’s future. Santosh’s endorsement of groups like ProGreen is right-on. Social entrepreneurship yields measurable results and has minimal danger of corrupt government involvement; it will help Indian villages thrive.

Corruption is a huge concern, as mentioned by everyone. When I was in Bangalore last December, I was struck by the horrible roads running right in front of corporate technology parks. The gates separated the plush private campuses from the mismanaged public throughways. I can only imagine – like Open Window – how politicians could easily game the system and siphon off money from the Scheme.

Santosh’s articulation of using the 100 days of work to build infrastructure that would become self-sustaining in terms of employment and revenue generation seems to be the admirable objective outlined by the government as well. To answer Open Window, yes, it is the government’s responsibility in some cases to provide jobs for the people – public works projects were key to America’s resurgence after the Depression.

It is definitely a good idea to have community workers helping people understand their rights – here in America, the UFW is a great example of success with outreach and advocacy among rural farm workers. Indian NGOs (or MBAs???) should take it upon themselves to create a similar model. (I was surprised at the sarcastic comments on Santosh’s suggestion on Indian MBAs stepping out of the malls and into the villages!)
I am particularly interested in how a “family member” will be selected – especially in order to ensure that women have equal opportunity. Although politicians promise that women will be considered as special beneficiaries of the Scheme, is that realistic? All the commentators so far have been men – how about it, ladies?

India Launches Massive Rural Anti-Poverty Scheme

February 4, 2006

India’s ruling Congress party has launched the “National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme”, which guarantees 100 days of work annually for one person in India’s 60 million rural families. Either the family member gets work or they get the equivalent amount in welfare. Needless to say this is a pretty ambitious plan, and the BBC estimates that it will cost between $5-25 billion.

The big question of course is whether it will work or not. A number of Indian bloggers have some pretty strong doubts. The Open Window crunches some numbers and offers a convincing argument that this is simply designed to make it look like Congress is helping the poor. Santhosh simply thinks that subsidy-driven plans never work at inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit needed to drive an economy.

As much as I would love to see this program work, their doubts seem well-founded. Corruption could cripple the program, and there doesn’t seem to be stringent enough protections against corrupt panchayat and state governments from dipping their paws into the honey pot. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong. Archana (or anyone else), what do you think?

Cross-posted at Non-Governmental Imagination.