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New Year, New Party Vermont voters have elected Independent Bernie Sanders to five terms in the US House, sent four independent progressives to their state legislature and regularly placed control of the state's largest city, Burlington, in the hands of local lefties. That city's

Progressive Coalition

About the Author

John Nichols
John Nichols
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated...

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A Dickensian year when food stamps were cut and bankers got everything they wanted

The USPS will deliver 15.5 billion pieces of mail this season. Yet it is threatened by devastating closures and cuts.

had a hand in all these victories, yet it never evolved into a statewide political party. Until now. With more than fifteen town committees organized, party chairwoman

Heather Riemer

says the new

Progressive Party of Vermont

is positioned to nominate candidates in 2000. Party leaders meet February 13 to determine whether and how to mount a gubernatorial campaign; State Representative

Terry Bouricius

says four potential candidates are jockeying for the nod.

* * *

Sitting on Defense As Campaign 2000's Iowa caucuses approach, Iowa's Star*PAC, the

Stop the Arms Race Political Action Committee

, has been pressing contenders to make a commitment to hold military spending to current levels. Republicans demurred. "George W. [Bush] said he couldn't appear at our forum," says Star*PAC's

Harold Wells

. "The funny thing was that we didn't give them a date for the forum." Gore wouldn't make the commitment. Bradley did, winning the group's endorsement.

* * *

Millennium Anti-Death Wish No longer content to cast lonely "no" votes on bills that extend the federal death penalty, Senator

Russ Feingold

introduced the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act, declaring, "At the end of 1999, as we enter a new millennium, our society is still far from fully just. The continued use of the death penalty demeans us." Noting that in the past two years the United States was the only country to put to death people who were minors when they committed their crimes, Feingold says, "I don't think we should be proud of the fact that the United States is the world leader in the execution of child offenders."

* * *

No More Rubber Stamps Few central labor councils have known greater success than the

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor

, whose membership grew by 90,000 in 1999. Now, the 800,000-member federation joins labor councils in cities such as Seattle and Milwaukee in signaling that it will no longer hand out political endorsements solely on the basis of incumbency or Democratic Party insider status. "We've lifted the bar for endorsements," says

Miguel Contreras

, the council's executive secretary-treasurer. "It's not enough to say you're for a minimum-wage increase and expect our backing. We want candidates who make a commitment to be with us on every vote, and to be with us on the picket lines." The federation shocked local pols by endorsing the March Democratic primary challenge of State Senator

Hilda Solis

to incumbent Congressman

Matthew Martinez

. Contreras says the generally pro-labor Martinez offended unions by endorsing fast-track free-trade legislation, and he calls Solis "a warrior for working families."

* * *

Rising Up on the Farm After the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, progressive farm groups are taking the lead in answering the question, "What next?" France's

José Bové

and

Wisconsin Family Farm Defenders

head

John Kinsman

are working through

Via Campesina

--a network of farm organizations from more than three dozen countries--for an international movement to scrap the WTO. Kinsman says, "The WTO fight in Seattle woke a lot of American farmers up to the fact that their fight isn't with farmers in France or India. The fight's with agribusiness and the whole corporate vision of forcing small farmers off the land."

* * *

Reluctant Candidates Take Notice Filing deadlines for local, state and national offices will soon arrive in states across the country. Activists who entertain the notion of running for office would do well to grab a copy of Lying Down With the Lions (Beacon), a fine new record of the political life written by former Democratic Congressman

Ron Dellums

of California and

H. Lee Halterman

. In it, Dellums recounts how, at 2 am on a January night in 1967, he tried to avoid becoming a candidate for the Berkeley City Council. Dellums told the nominating committee, "I'm really not ready for politics and politics isn't ready for me." But veteran activist

Maudelle Shirek

pressed him: "If you could run on your own terms, would you do it?" Dellums replied: "That's the only way I could do it--on my own terms, stating what I honestly believe." Shirek declared, "Leave his name on the list, because he's going to get at least one vote." Dellums won that race, and went on to log fourteen terms as the radical conscience of the House.

* * *

Country Club Contender Travel & Leisure's Golf magazine features cover boy

George W. Bush

and the teaser: "Policy. Schmolicy. How's his short game?" Inside, over photos of Bush displaying his irons, a headline announces that he was "born into one of the first families of American golf."

* * *

Grabbing the Torch Portland rocker

Sarah Dougher

, who matches a PhD in comparative literature with stellar queer rock credentials, pays homage on her new CD, Day One, to feminist foremother

Bella Abzug

, singing: "The day that Bella Abzug died I thought about the ERA, I thought about the Women's Strike for Peace and all that she had done for us and I'll try to do her right, keep up this discussion, keep up the fight."
   San Francisco activist

Dick Pabich

died New Year's Day; he helped build the groundbreaking coalition that made Harvey Milk California's first openly gay elected official. Chicago's

Ida Terkel

, who died in December at 87, rarely missed protests against war, poverty and other ills her husband,

Studs

, chronicles. Historian Garry Wills says, "I think it always bothered Studs that Ida's FBI file was probably thicker than his."

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