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ACLU Infographic Raises Questions About Prison Industrial Complex

Although it may be hard at times to compartmentalize the work that we here at Sparrow do, avid readers of our blog and followers of our work will see some re-occuring themes. One theme is that we are critical of capitalism, another is that we are critical of the military & prison industrial complexes. With ever increasing privatization both of these complexes are growing exponentially at rates that eclipse many industrial trends world wide. An infographic recently released by the ACLU confirmed that the prison industrial complex is racist, growing, oppressive, packed with non-violent offenders, and a significant threat to our democracy.

Please share this infographic on tumblr, twitter, facebook, etc.

 

Unity Production’s Creative Video Response to Islamophobia

From Unity Productions comes a powerful testimonial of the 1.8 million Muslim Americans who are as “every-day” as the rest of us. All cliches aside, they’re our doctors, our police, our teachers, and our first responders. To paint this diverse constituency of millions with a broad brush of prejudice because of the actions of a dozen or so zealots, is not only to do so ignorantly, but also does our democracy as a whole a great disservice.

Despite all the measures this country has taken to further freedoms of expression we continue to live in a time of religious intolerance. Though some people’s anger is not completely misplaced, especially in cases where selective applications of religion further sexism, racism, homophobia, speciesism and other actions that directly infringe upon the rights of others, these legitimate grievances should never justify blindly ignorant or hateful actions. Through respectful discourse we should always challenge repressive elements of any social group, and its even ok if people feel offended while they sort things out, but when people cherry-pick negative attributes from a specific religion and then proceed to scapegoat that religion as a predicate for all the world’s problems we begin to traverse down a slippery slope of bigotry and xenophobia that can only end in disaster. Words do have power, especially in timultuous times. One need not look further then the recent attacks in Norway to see the vulgar fruits of seeds planted by hate-mongering bloggers and far-right pundits.

We live in a media-driven culture with an increasingly homogenized narrative. One that habitually trumps sensational lead-lines while passing on surrounding factual foundations because they are less inflammatory or take too long to explain in a 30 second segment. This habit has created a Hollywood-like news cycle infatuated with explosions, scandal, and falls from grace. In this cycle we almost only hear about Islam when it is conflated with terrorism, explosions, conflict, or the repressive elements of a minority’s interpretation of Sharia. Perhaps explaining these conflations is contributing to this cycle of xenophobia as well?

 

 

< The Sparrow Project has printed these benefit t-shirts in an attempt to combat Islamophobia.  Proceeds raised from the sale of these shirts will benefit victims of hate crimes.

 

Less newsworthy, but far more important facts remain under-reported. Xenophobia is running rampant across America and around the world. Racist evangelical conservatives who separate “Allah” from the “God” of the Christian New Testament, disregard the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic (a language which shares many words with Arabic including “Allah,” as the word for God) and are ignorant of the glaring fact that all of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths worship the same single deity. The term “Islamist” is a term fabricated by right-leaning pundits and bloggers like Glen Beck, Michael Savage and Pamela Gellar, who attempt conflate non-violent Muslims with fascists. Moreover, Jihad means to “strive” or “struggle,” and this term can include everything from one’s personal struggle with alcoholism to a wider social struggle against oppression from a dictator or governing body, the true definition of Jihad is completely divergent from the contemporary adaptation of the word repeatedly used by the mainstream western media. Despite popular western belief, most fundamentalist Muslims do not endorse violence as part of their Jihad. Moreover, most Muslims are not fundamentalists.

However, these less sensational facts don’t support the right-leaning media’s hysterical narrative that at times could appear to exist for no other purpose then to perpetuate a climate of fear of Muslims and to further justify preemptive US military actions in Islamic countries. When the habitual focus of media outlets on both the left and right leave little space for factual dialogue surrounding Islam, its merits, its practitioners, and its tremendous beauty then the onus is on us to create our own inventive grassroots responses to Islamophobia and racism. The Sparrow Project applauds Unity Productions for developing this hard-hitting video short where vulgar soundbites from Michael Savage and similar Islamophobes are juxtaposed against the dominant message of beauty, peace, love, and solidarity.

 

Join Pamela Olson for a Discussion of ‘Fast Times in Palestine’ at Bluestockings Books 8/15/2011

Fast Times in Palestine, tells the story of Pamela Olson, a young woman from small-town Oklahoma whose political innocence was shattered when she wandered into the West Bank in late 2003. Her fellow travelers and young Palestinians introduce her to a world of soul-destroying injustice that outsiders seldom hear about. With new knowledge and dizzying speed, Pamela finds herself working as a journalist, serving as the foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate, and witnessing the Disengagement from inside the Gaza Strip. Funny, gorgeous, surprising, and galvanizing, Olson’s memoir changes the way we think about the Middle East.

 

Monday, August 15th at 7PM
At Bluestockings Books | http://bluestockings.com
172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002, (212) 777-6028
For directions click HERE

It’s love in the time of occupation as Pamela Olson… takes us on the emotional roller-coaster of her very personal experience of life in Ramallah and in doing so lays bare the human drama of a people… determined to live free. — Tony Karon, Senior Editor, TIME

A moving, inspiring account of life in Palestine that’s enormously informative yet reads like a novel — Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace

In a field overcrowded with arcane academic texts and strident polemics, Pamela Olson has broken through with a refreshing read that packs gritty journalism into a fast-paced, intimate personal narrative. — Max Blumenthal, Author of Republican Gomorrah

 

Remembering Danny Bobis: A Life of Wealth, Weighed in Spirit

Danny Bobis was a fellow activist, a drummer, a husband, a surf coach, a math teacher, and a friend to countless people. Danny went missing almost two weeks ago while surfing in Indonesia and after an almost week-long search his body was discovered by a local fisherman. Our greatest fears were confirmed.

Danny’s right arm was tattooed with the message “Wealth is Weighed in Spirit” — a portion of the chorus from the title track of his band, Cipher’s, second full-length album, Children of God’s Fire. This proclamation was more than just a sing-along or mere tattooed lettering — these were words that Danny lived by and it is a sentiment echoed today in everyone whose life was touched by Danny’s.

Danny taught math and coached the surf team at Long Beach High School. When word arrived that Danny was gone, hundreds of his students gathered on the boardwalk for an impromptu candle light vigil, they were quickly joined by members of the community, surfers, activists and fans of his band. The gathering was an eye-opening summation of Danny’s spiritual wealth. If the people holding candles that night on the boardwalk made a point to touch only a fraction of the people that Danny did in his short life then tens of thousands of people would have their lives forever impacted.

It is people like Danny who are the game changers that will forever leave an impact on this world. In 2009 Danny helped launch a campaign with Sparrow Media that successfully halted the construction of an offshore Liquid Natural Gas substation slated to be built 13 miles south of Long Beach. In doing so he saved the fragile ecosystem of the Cholera Bank and secured the safety of Long Beach’s waters.  Danny also helped to organize fundraisers for Surf Aide International’s efforts to combat Malaria in South Asia.

 

For over a decade Danny’s band Cipher was, for many, their first taste of social justice activism, and for some the beginning of a life of charitable activism.  Danny used music as a medium for social change & education, playing benefit shows to fund relief efforts in the wake of hurricane Katrina or through helping to organize 100 Shows For Haiti. Cipher used their music as a means to educate at shows and Danny’s work as a teacher helped him to touch even more people.  Please join us in celebrating Danny’s life tomorrow at Laurelton Beach, NY.

The Bobis family would like to invite everyone reading this to a public memorial tomorrow, 8/7/2011 at 5:30pm at Danny’s hometown surf spot, Laurelton Beach, in Long Beach, NY (CLICK HERE FOR MAP & DIRECTIONS)  The entire community is invited. Join us as we honor a life of purpose and courage.

The memorial will be immediately followed by a paddle out to sea. All are invited to join. We will start promptly. For any questions, contact friendsofdannybobis@gmail.com”

 


The Sparrow Project has screen printed t-shirts and hand printed a limited run of posters on 12″ x 19″ french paper with the this image dedicated to Danny’s memory. All of the proceeds raised will go directly to Danny’s wife Rachel.

There are many benefits for the Bobis family planned for the near future.  To stay up-to-date about events in your area please check out the following links…

Daniel Bobis Fund Tumblr Page
Daniel Bobis Info Facebook Page
Alternative Press Benefit Raffle for Danny
Eastern Surf Magazine Benefit Roundup

 

We lost a shining example of a person when Danny passed.  We should strive every day to follow his example and continue to move this world as he would have.  If wealth is weighed in spirit then Danny’s legacy has left us all rich.


New York Magazine Interviews Andy Stepanian About The CMU

Q. You were a “balancer.” What exactly did that mean, and when did you come to this realization?

A. I was actually doing my laundry, and a guard comes up to me and says, “You’re not like all the other Muslim guys, you’re going to go home soon. Keep your head up, you’re only here to balance.”

 

Following his hard-hitting investigative report on Communications Management Units titled ‘Little Gitmo‘, New York Magazine‘s Christopher Stewart  conducted a short interview with Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian about his personal experience as an inmate there.  You can read the interview online HERE or read commentary in this week’s printed edition available on news stands everywhere.

Please take a moment to comment on New York’s website and thank them for their continued coverage of the CMU issue.

 

 

The Financial Institutions Fight Back

A Look at the Unapologetic Greed of the Financial Sector
by Stephanie Basile

After causing the largest economic collapse in recent memory and taking our taxpayer dollars to help themselves (but no one else) weather the storm, the financial institutions have somehow decided that the financial laws in this country are too strict! Two recent news stories in the New York Times illuminate just how incredibly greedy and unapologetic the people running these institutions are, and just how unwilling the federal government is to challenge this unmitigated greed.

It’s important that we, as activists, are aware of the aggressive and often behind-the-scenes lobbying that the industry does so that we can challenge and offer an alternative voice to the destructive behavior of the financial institutions.

First, the federal government has apparently decided that the financial institutions can be trusted to police themselves! A July 7th story details how the government adopted new guidelines which allow corporations to report their own crimes to the government. They can then negotiate a deal in order to delay or altogether avoid criminal prosecution.

In one example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began an investigation into Beazer Homes, one of the nation’s 10 largest home builders. They found that Beazer took part in such fraudulent activities as offering a lower mortgage rate if buyers paid an extra fee, but then not giving them the lower rate, and enticing homeowners by offering down payment assistance, but not disclosing that it then raised the price of the house by the same amount. After learning of the HUD investigation, Beazer paid a law firm to conduct its own investigation. The company ended up entering into an agreement with the government in which it would pay consumers and the government $55 million in exchange for the HUD dropping its investigation, thus avoiding criminal charges.

Eerily, this brings us one step closer to the ideal corporatist state, in which the lines between corporate power and government power are not just blurry but nonexistent. With these new guidelines, now we don’t just have a government that weakly enforces the law, but instead actually allows corporations to police themselves and pay their way out of criminal prosecution.

Then on July 14th, the Times featured a story on Steve Bartlett, the head of Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the country’s largest financial institutions. Bartlett is on a mission to challenge the injustices done to the financial institutions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in July 2010. This bill contains nearly 300 new rules aimed at regulating the financial institutions.

While the bill don’t substantially change the unwieldy amount of power already enjoyed by the financial institutions, these pesky new rules are offensive enough that Bartlett and others are lobbying hard to have at least two dozen of them repealed. Among the offensive rules: executive compensation disclosure, in which companies must disclose CEO pay and the ratio of CEO pay to median pay of regular employees. There’s nothing about actually limiting the absurd amount of money CEOs make, just filling the rest of us in on the enormous gap between CEO and employee pay. Another rule: improved credit rating guidelines, in which credit rating agencies must follow tighter accounting guidelines when issuing credit ratings. This measure addresses the problem in which credit rating agencies often mislead investors by releasing overly positive credit ratings.

The powers that be do not like these rules, and they’ve gone into hyper-defense mode. The Times reports that Wall Street spent $52 million in lobbying in the first three months of 2011, up 10% from the previous quarter.

Barlett estimates that the new rules will cost the financial industry $14 billion. Even in the world of cutthroat lobbyists and shrewd businesspeople, Bartlett is known for being particularly aggressive. The Times article quotes him as saying, “I wish I could look the other way. I’ve got 14 billion reasons to be aggressive.”

Nowhere in Bartlett’s “14 billion reasons” is the human cost caused to working families all around the country thanks to the reckless corporate greed of his clients. But then again, in the corporatist state, in which government’s sole purpose is to ensure unlimited power and profits for corporations, pesky things like people’s livelihoods just don’t factor into the equation.

Stephanie Basile is a union organizer who lives in Brooklyn.

New York Magazine Investigates CMU Program & Deceptive Sting Used to Entrap Yassin Aref

This week New York Magazines Christopher S. Stewart published a hard-hitting and deeply personal investigation into the secretive federal prison programs known as Communication Management Units.

The units have been given nicknames like “Little Gitmo” and “Guantanamo North” because of the glaring ethnic and racial disparity of inmates designated to these units.  62% of inmates designated to the CMUs are Muslim men — a fact that both the ACLU & The Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) highlight in their pending lawsuits against the prisons.  Labeled by the CCR  as an “experiment in social isolation” these institutions specifically isolate and silence inmates whose cases involve abundant press attention or possible prosecutorial misconduct, like that of the case against the Albany, NY Imam, Yassin Aref.

Stewart highlights the case against Aref in his feature, providing intimate details that the public has never seen before and that the federal government has made efforts to bury.  The sting employed to entrap Aref was a layered mess of corrupt government informants, uninformed innocent merchants, and high tech spying.   The three year operation to entrap Aref started with a hunch provided by military intel that was later redacted because it was grossly incorrect.  However once the ball started rolling it did not stop, and Aref now sits in federal prison serving a 15 year sentence for allegedly providing material support for a terror organization he knew nothing of…

Click HERE to to read Christopher Stewart’s article in New York Magazine

Be sure to share this important article & leave comments thanking New York Magazine for their continued commitment to important issues like this one.

 

Help Chef Ayinde Spread His Vegan Message on Bravo Television!

Ever since Chef Ayinde Howell partnered with Sparrow Media to bring us his Wildflower Vegan Pop-Up, there has been a groundswell of press attention highlighting Ayinde’s cruelty-free contribution to the grassroots pop-up phenomena. From write-ups in The New York Times, to features on New York Magazine‘s “Grub Street”, this recent press push has helped to further mainstream vegan ideals, raise questions about our nations continued reliance on animal husbandry despite amazing vegan options, and all the while help make a name for this breakout chef.

Following the surge of press attention Bravo Television has asked Ayinde to compete on their reality dinner party show “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” Ayinde will make his Bravo appearance tonight (Wednesday 7/13/2011) at 10pm EST, 9pm Central and we as a movement of compassionate activists should use this opportunity to send a message to Bravo that we want them to have an increased vegan focus in their program mix.

Bravo TV’s website features a user contributed content forum called “twitter battles.” We invite you to join us as we participate in one of these battles during and around the show’s airing to reign in the narrative on their twitter forum by tweeting links about vegan outreach, and tweets emphasizing your interest in Bravo’s continued commitment to vegan programming.

Here are a few ways you can help…

1.) Access the twitter battle & read tutorials on how to participate at this LINK. Then log on and start tweeting. The possibilities are endless but here are two examples that you can feel free to ad-lib as you like.

I wish @roccodispirito  on @bravotv featured more #vegan chefs like Chef @AYINDE

Want to know why @AYINDE is #vegan ? – [insert link to vegan resource here]

2.) You can share the LINK to the twitter battle on your facebook page, tumblr, or twitter accounts and encourage your friends to get involved in the twitter battle as well.

3.) Tell friends & family that “Rocco’s Dinner Party” on the Bravo network will be featuring the vegan culinary stylings of chef Ayinde Howell.

4.) You can also leave Bravo a comment thanking them for featuring a vegan chef and suggest they do it more often HERE

http://www.bravotv.com/contact

 

Join us This Thursday at 7pm for the Launch of ‘Fast Times in Palestine’

 
Join us this Thursday July 7th, at 7pm for a book launch celebrating the release of Fast Times in Palestine and a very special conversation with author Pamela Olson and Noor Elashi.  Admission is free and open to the public.

Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 7pm
The New School, 65 West 11th Street, Wollman Hall, 5th Floor
Hosted by Project Palestine & the Graduate Program in International Affairs
Please RSVP & share this event on facebook.

Fast Times in Palestine is a ground-breaking novel about the modern Palestinian reality, told through the eyes of a young woman from small-town Oklahoma whose political innocence was shattered when she wandered into the West Bank in late 2003. With dizzying speed she found herself working as a journalist, serving as the foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate, and witnessing the 2005 Disengagement from inside the Gaza Strip. The narrative focuses not only on violence, terror, and social and political upheavals but also on the daily rounds of house 
parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between. Funny, gorgeous, shocking, and galvanizing, this book challenges the way Americans think not only about the Middle East but about human nature and our place in the world. Fast Times in Palestine is available on Amazon HERE.

Project Palestine is an organization aimed at illustrating the Palestinian condition through films, music, literature, poetry and art.

PRAISE FOR FAST TIMES IN PALESTINE

“Olson’s masterful storytelling, imagery and wit take the reader on a transformative journey through Palestine.”
—Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine

“Pamela Olson leads the reader on an exciting, funny, at times heart-wrenchingjourney, carefully deciphering complex political and historical issues. Olson is a talented writer, intelligent and exceptional in her ability to convey both tragedy and hope.”
—Ramzy Baroud, author of My Father was a Freedom Fighter

“It’s love in the time of occupation as Pamela Olson… takes us on the emotional roller-coaster of her very personal experience of life in Ramallah — and in doing so lays bare the human drama of a people… determined to live free.”Tony Karon, Senior Editor, TIME Magazine

“A moving, inspiring account of life in Palestine that’s enormously informative yet reads like a novel.”
—Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace

“Pamela Olson operates in a great tradition of American explorers, from Martha Gellhorn to Susan Meiselas to Rachel Corrie — open-minded women who have thrown off a lot of tired received wisdom about a fearful part of the world in order to see it for themselves, then brought that understanding back to their own culture. This book is a triumph of sympathy and observation.” —Philip Weiss, Editor of Mondoweiss

 

A Message to the Media Regarding the US Boat to Gaza (video)

An update from  Andy Stepanian, co-founder of the Sparrow Project.

For the past 24 hours I have been glued to twitter as a few of my close friends set out with the US Boat to Gaza with hopes of documenting the breaking of the maritime blockade that has economically crippled Gaza since 2006 and isolated 1.6 million Palestinians in what some humanitarians are calling “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

Shortly after my release from the Communications Management Unit I started a project, reaching out to families of political prisoners still held in the CMU.  It was through these efforts that I met two amazing people — Paul Park and Noor Elashi.  I met Paul while documenting the efforts of Project Palestine. Paul directed and shot this video and Noor helped story board the piece.

With high profile interviews from academics, humanitarians and artists their video provides a brilliant response to the accusations levied against the flotilla by media outlets that support the blockade.  As activists we already understand that the flotilla’s purpose is not one of confrontation nor is it aligned with any Palestinian authority, but savvy PR initiatives by many special interests are quick to label the flotilla as such and in-tern they cultivate fear and distrust within the Israeli populace, inflame IDF forces that may at one point engage the flotilla, and control the flotilla narrative amidst the international community.  It is important that we as activists turn the tide in the smothering public relations efforts levied from these special interests.   Please take a moment this afternoon to share their video on social networks, twitter, etc.

We will be posting updates on and from the flotilla in real time via our twitter account http://twitter.com/sparrowmedia we invite you to join this conversation and help us to wage our own grassroots PR effort in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

All the best,

Andy