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Songs in the Key of “Blecch”

Every morning lately at the U.S. Justice Department, archconservative Attorney General John Ashcroft has been gathering his staff and requiring them to begin the day by singing patriotic songs he has penned himself. But instead of crooning ditties like his “The Eagle Soars,” many of his employees wish he would sing—as the old joke goes—far, far away.

The nation’s top lawyer has long accompanied his baritone pipes on piano, and also harmonizes with Trent Lott, Larry Craig, and James Jeffords in the Singing Senators, the congressional barbershop quartet. He has even made tapes of his originals, including a 1995 release modestly titled Gospel (Music) According to John (a sample can be heard on the Web at the Smoking Gun, www.thesmokinggun.com), and is known to burst into song at the drop of a hat. The staunchly fundamentalist Ashcroft already had been holding morning prayer meetings at the Justice Department, but has now found a new venue—and a captive audience—there for his musical ambitions. Staffers arriving for work are receiving printouts with the lyrics to his songs so they can take part in the daily sing-alongs. And so no one is left out, Spanish speakers have been pressed into service to translate the words.

Ashcroft’s latest effort, the country- flavored “The Eagle Soars,” starts out like this:

Oh she’s far too young to die

You can see it in her eye

She’s not yet begun to fly.

Sour notes are being heard in the choir, though. One worker, when asked by the BBC why she wasn’t thrilled about singing “The Eagle Soars,” put it bluntly, “Have you heard the song? It really sucks.” Some employees hate it so much they won’t sing it at all.

It turns out that Ashcroft has a long history of treating—or subjecting—his employees to his music, depending on their appetite for corn. When he was Missouri’s attorney general, he gave out copies of an earlier tape, In the Spirit of Life and Liberty, to his staff (a cut from this, “Keep the Bells of Freedom Ringing,” can be heard on the NPR Web site).

—Glenn Weiser

Just Say No to the Media Monopoly

Dee Dee Halleck has written the book on independent media. For more than 30 years, Halleck has been involved in community media, helping to launch both Pager Tiger TV, a pioneer, volunteer media collective, and Deep Dish TV, a progressive grassroots satellite network that links community-media activists nationwide.

Halleck is also a professor of communications at the University of San Diego and serves as a media critic and video activist. A few years back, she helped create the television version of Democracy Now! and continues to be involved in independent television projects. Halleck’s new book on independent media is also aptly titled Handheld Visions: The Impossible Possibilities of Community Media.

So, Halleck is an appropriate choice to kick off the new Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center’s lecture series on Confronting the Media Monopoly. A multipart series on the growth and importance of the independent media, the talks will bring several experts on alternative media to the Capital Region over the next three months. Halleck is the first speaker in the series, which in April will feature the culture jammer behind the Barbie Liberation Organization, Igor Vamos; in May, the speaker will be Parry Teasdale, author of Videofreex: America’s First Pirate TV Station and the Catskills. All three lectures will be held the last Tuesday of the month at 8 PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy.

In her lecture, Halleck will recount her experiences as a teacher and activist in the struggle for media democracy. Her lecture will draw from several interactive sources, including slide, video and her published essays.

The Confronting the Media Monopoly series, cosponsored by WPRI 91.5 FM and the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media center, will bring community members interested in strengthening the area’s independent-media movement together.

—Mike Greenhaus

Will Work Through This Bureaucracy for Food

While most of us will go about our days not worrying about where we will eat our next meal, many other people will not be so fortunate. In fact, many will face frustrating bureaucracy while trying to get governmental assistance for food, while others will go hungry.

That is why today (Thursday), across New York state, hundreds of anti-hunger advocates will celebrate the 12th annual Hunger Awareness Day. More than 65 events will take place statewide, including food drives, children’s anti-hunger poster projects, mass food distributions, hunger forums and soup suppers.

“The loss of 100,000 jobs since Sept. 11 in New York City alone has intensified the problem of hunger,” said Sheila McCarthy, community food coordinator for Hunger Action Network of New York State. “Hunger Awareness Day is really important so that we can come up with long-term solutions to the fact that so many people in this state are living in poverty and the fact that so many people are going to food pantries and soup kitchens each week.”

Here in the Capital Region, a welfare simulation will take place at the YWCA in Troy at 3 PM. The event will include a series of role-plays to demonstrate what it takes for a typical low-income family to escape poverty.

“Our hope is that many of our elected officials will partake in these activities by playing the part of the low-income person in need of assistance,” said McCarthy. “Perhaps they will learn firsthand the many obstacles people face while seeking assistance and some of the problems within the system.”

McCarthy pointed out that with high housing costs in the state and the decreasing value of wages over the years, more and more people are having difficulty making ends meet. Since 1997, 2 million more Americans are seeking emergency-food assistance across the country. In New York alone, more than 900,000 people use one of 3,000 emergency-food programs each week.

“This year, Hunger Awareness Day is especially important,” said Bich Ha Pham, Hunger Action’s executive director. “The attacks on the World Trade Center, coupled with the economic slowdown and major job layoffs, have led to increased lines at emergency-food programs.”

—N.G.


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