In this time of war and economic travails, there’s not much good news to keep us interested in politics and the world at large. But here’s a few tidbits to keep your spirits up and help you marshal the strength to fight the latest Ashcroft assualts on the Bill of Rights:

The Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools can pat itself on the back for its recent victory. On November 21 the Seattle School Board voted for a set of restrictions on advertising in the public schools. School Board member Barbara Peterson offered a successful amendment (on a 4-3 vote) to water down the language from “prohibit” to “significantly restrict” corporate advertising; still, it’s light years ahead of five years ago, when John Stanford was actively seeking out such ads, and CCCS activism is almost solely responsible for the change.

Channel One’s “news-and-commercials video service” will be slowly phased out over four years. The work is not over: the next move is to ban corporate logos from classrooms. Currently it’s up to principals to decide if a logo constitutes advertising or just “product identification.” Such advertising is new in the last decade, as advertisers have increased their focus on the teen market.

Proponents of Initiative 71, which would have increased the city’s funding for the homeless by 20% and increased shelter beds by 400, struck a deal with the Seattle City Council. The initiative won’t go to a vote now, but the deal is a good one. While it specifies only 170 shelter beds and 70 spaces for transitional housing, the city will increase funding for homeless programs by 20%. In addition, the council has finally pledged to find money for a new hygiene and day center for the homeless. While it’s not in the new budget, it may be added later as funds become available.

The council also promised to set aside for the working poor 50% of new apartments and houses built with funds in a city housing levy scheduled for the November 2002 ballot. That’s $50 million for housing for folks who earn less than $22,000 per year for a family of four. In a year of economic recession, property tax limits, and budget squabbles, this is a major victory.

In other budget news, our progressive city council members resisted the urge to follow Gov. Gary Locke’s lead. Gov. Jellyfish has proposed balancing the state budget by deeply cutting social services. Cuts proposed (at Locke’s request) by the Dept. of Social and Health Services (DSHS) including forcing Medicaid recipients–the state’s poorest (and largely disabled and unemployed) population–to pay a portion of their medical bills, and abolishing the General Assistance Unemployable program, which provides a base income to 20,000 adults statewide with no place else to go. Happily, the Seattle City Council has moved in the other direction: it cut funds to the Mayor’s office and the Seattle Police Department and increased funding for human services and public health. They made the right choice–one not based on politics, but on human needs.

Internationally, three pieces of news caught my attention. South Africa has one of the highest per capita HIV infection rates in the world. AIDS activists have filed suit to force the South African government to provide medicine to HIV positive pregnant women to prevent infection of their babies. 200 babies are born HIV positive every day in South Africa, but the government has been giving medicine to less than 10% of pregnant HIV positive women in a pilot program that has lasted two years. It’s time for that medicine to be given to the estimated 1 million women who need it. Chances are good that Thabo Mbeki’s government will cave in long before the suit goes to court.

Almost two years of difficult and contentious talks were concluded last week when representatives of the diamond industry, human rights groups, and 30 national governments agreed to buy and sell only diamonds that contain certificates of origin. The agreement was concluded just one day after the US House of Representatives voted to authorize the US President to impose sanctions on countries that refuse to impose a tracking system for diamonds. (The US imports about two-thirds of all polished diamonds sold in the world.) The agreement will help close the loophole on the trade in “conflict diamonds,” which has funded devastating civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and the Congo.

And, finally, Kim Krane of the Associated Press reported last week that the governments of China, France, and Germany are changing over from Microsoft Windows software to Linux. There are several reasons for the change, from national pride (the Chinese are developing a “Red Flag Linux”) to concerns about safety and security. Krane writes: “Security experts tend to agree that computers are less prone to hacking and viruses when running open-source software like Linux or the Web server Apache.” Germany’s minister for economy and technology cited “protection from economic espionage”–a code word for Microsoft’s tendency to overcharge customers for its products. Krane also notes that foreign governments fear a “back door” in Microsoft Windows that might let the CIA spy on foreign government operations.

That’s the good news. Happy Holidays!

And don’t forget: the one thing you can do to make this season a happier one is to set aside some funds for charities who’ve had fewer donations because of September 11 and the economy. I’m going to set aside what money I can and divide it into thirds: one part for an arts or alternative media group, one part for a homeless advocacy or housing group, and one part for a food bank or other hunger charity. (Hunger groups such as Food Lifeline, Northwest Harvest, Boomtown Café, and local food banks largely feed the working poor; with all the layoffs, they’ve had a lot more customers lately.)

–Maria Tomchick, with a couple bits from Geov Parrish