Today's New York Times features a scary full page ad. The bold type headline, over large photos of Reverends Falwell and Robertson and James Dobson, reads: "Meet America's Most Influential Stem Cell Scientists." The ad is sponsored by DEFCON--a new and valuable online grassroots movement designed to combat the religious right 's threat to American democracy.
This campaign is needed now more than ever. Our health is being held hostage by an extremist minority. It's been a year since the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act was passed by the House. Since then, it's been blocked in the US Senate-- held hostage by political opportunists like Majority Leader Frist, who seem to care more for their political health than that of millions of American children and families. Polls show overwhelming support for stem-cell research.
Even more important, at a time when our Constitution is under daily assault, it's worth remembering that we elect leaders to put their hand on a Bible and swear to uphold the constitution--not the other way around.
Confronting the forces of war, genocide and lawlessness begins with the
belief that individual citizens have the power--and the
responsibility--to focus our government's mind, change its priorities
and save lives.
Joe Lieberman's year just keeps getting worse.
After he emerged as just about the only member of Congress -- Democrat or Republican -- who is enthusiastically on board for the Bush administration's hellride in Iraq, local Democratic party groups in Connecticut began passing resolutions criticizing the Democratic senator's pro-war stance.
Lieberman and his aides said the grassroots Dems were just letting off steam.
Just as it did before invading Iraq, the Bush Administration is manufacturing a climate of fear to prepare public opinion for another possible preemptive action -- this time against Iran.
Three years ago it was the specter of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction; today it's the threat of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb. The White House even insists on keeping the "nuclear option" on the table -- that is, using tactical nuclear weapons to strike Iranian nuclear facilities--many of which are located in or near civilian population centers. Although a full-scale invasion of Iran seems highly unlikely at the moment, the situation is so inflamed, the rhetoric so ugly, and the current Iranian regime so reactionary and crazy, that it's probably prudent to never say never.
The big problem so far, as the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's public call against both US aggression and theocratic repression in Iran, says: "The US government's attempts to bully Iran are succeeding mainly in terrorizing the Iranian people and weakening internal opposition to the mullahs."
If John McCain becomes President, his current chief of staff, Mark Salter, will be one of the most important figures in the new White House. The two have authored three books together. They are best friends.
So when Salter calls the student keynote speaker at McCain's commencement address "an idiot," it reflects directly on McCain.
The outburst provides a simple truth about a Senator who can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of the media. McCain, despite all the hype about his character and the totality of his life experiences, doesn't handle criticism well. His temper tantrums are legendary on Capitol Hill. The Arizona Republic, his hometown newspaper, once labeled his outbursts "volcanic." So too are the deep grudges he holds against his enemies.
Nancy Pelosi has shown little interest in holding George Bush to account, as evidenced by House Minority Leader's determination to distance herself from discussions of censuring â€“ let alone impeaching â€“ the president for the high crimes and misdemeanors that have characterized his tenure.
So it not all that surprising that Pelosi, despite her promise to "clean up" Congressional corruption, has been slow to demand genuine accountability from a member of the House Democratic Caucus. The minority leader has backed an ethics committee inquiry into charges against Congressman William Jefferson, D-Louisiana, the "star" of a Federal Bureau of Investigation tape in which what sounds like a bribe of $100,000 is accepted. But she so far has refrained from suggesting the obvious: that it is time for the severely scandal-plagued Jefferson to resign.
Let's be clear, if Tom DeLay needed to go, so does Bill Jefferson.
You Heard It Here First
This morning on WNYC, host Brian Lehrer and guest Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, were chatting about Wal-Mart's entry into the organic food market (stay tuned for a Nation feature on this subject in our upcoming special Food Issue). As people often do when discussing Wal-Mart, Lehrer and Fishman segued into the subject of the company's crummy health insurance, and the burden it places on taxpayers, who end up footing the bill when Wal-Mart workers have to turn to the public dole for health care. (According to the retailer's own statistics, 46% of the children of Wal-Mart workers are on Medicaid, or uninsured.) Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, the national groups now attempting to reform the company, are working in states and towns all over to pass Fair Share Health Care laws, to compel Wal-Mart to insure its employees more generously. But, Lehrer suggested, and Fishman concurred, wouldn't it be great if Wal-Mart used its immense lobbying muscle to agitate for national health care?
According to an excellent article, in the June Atlantic Monthly, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which funds Wal-Mart Watch, is hoping to force Wal-Mart to do just that. The company could neutralize a lot of progressive criticism this way, and if we did get a single-payer plan out of the ensuing fracas, we'd all be better off. I have made this very point on this very website, as well as, more than a year ago, in the aforementioned Nation/Economist debate on Wal-Mart, which was moderated by Brian Lehrer. But the point is not just to toot our own horn (well, perhaps a passing, staccato toot); rather, that it's delightful that this idea is catching on.
Much ado was made of McCain's Light on the Road to Damascus moment regarding Jerry Falwell, formerly known as an agent of intolerance, last week. But the story of unlikely bedfellows that fell through the cracks was Rudy Giuliani's snuggle with Ralph Reed, the ex-leader of the Christian Coalition and current candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
Leaving aside that Giuliani is a pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-gun control, Italian-Catholic Yankee and Ralph Reed is not, the question remains: what was a tough-on-crime fighter doing promoting the candidacy of a man who was in business with Jack Abramoff? It was the indicted lobbyist, after all, who allegedly paid Reed $4.2 million in illegal contributions to "mobilize Christian voters against casinos that would compete with Abramoff's clients."
In his past life, Prosecutor Rudy would have paraded someone like Reed in handcuffs before a scrum of media cameras. In his current incarnation, Politician Rudy praised him "as a really effective leader" during a fundraiser for Reed's embattled campaign.
John McCain is renowned for his supposedly thick skin and deft handling of adversity. Who knew a 21-year-old student singer from Nutley, New Jersey, could pierce that veneer?
As the undergraduate keynote speaker at the New School's graduation ceremony, Jean Sara Rohe had planned to talk about her love of music and the need for "social responsibility in a time of war." But realizing she would be speaking right before McCain, she tore up her prepared remarks at 2 am the night before to directly address McCain's support for the Iraq war, visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and fidelity to George W. Bush. According to her diary at Huffington Post, she saved the new text as "mccain speech subversive.doc."
Meeting McCain in the green room before the ceremony "he didn't even make eye contact when we shook hands," Rohe recalls. "So I figured I didn't owe him anything."
The Bush administration has censored photographs of the wounded, body bags, and flag-draped coffins. Imagine its fears over large numbers of Americans viewing Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill's new documentary, Baghdad ER.
Premiering Sunday on HBO, with an encore scheduled for Memorial Day, Baghdad ER examines the 86th Combat Support Hospital which the filmmakers chronicled for two months. One nurse, Specialist Saidet Lanier, describes life at the field hospital this way: "This is hard-core, raw, uncut trauma. Day after day, every day."
Initially, military officials were enthusiastic about the heroic portrayal of this medical staff which has â€“ along with other trauma teams â€“ somehow managed the highest survival rate for wounded soldiers during any war at a stunning 90 percent.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen
Nobody at all, except for virtually the entire crowd at the New School's Madison Square Garden graduation ceremony in New York City. At the beginning of the event, New School President, and former Senator, Bob Kerrey predicted a raucous affair. "Our founding purpose is proudly liberal," he said. "We began as an act of protest."
The fast food industry is taking a few knocks lately. Eric Schlosser, author of the phenomenally successful Fast Food Nation, has just published a kid's book, Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. A feature film version of Fast Food Nation -- slightly fictionalized, and directed by the splendid Richard Linklater -- will hit theaters this fall. Troubled that Schlosser's work is reaching a wider audience, the industry, joined by right-wing groups concerned about "anti-business" messages, is spending a lot of time and money trying to rebut his claims, according to an illuminating report in the Wall Street Journal.
Just as exciting, throughout this spring, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been pressuring McDonald's to improve pay and conditions for the workers picking its tomatoes. The CIW represents the Florida farmworkers that organized the four-year Taco Bell boycott, which, through the organizing efforts of workers and consumers --especially students -- nationwide, compelled the Bell's parent company, Yum Brands to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes, the paltry amount needed to ensure the tomato pickers a living wage. The CIW is also trying targetting Chipotle, which has a "Food WIth Integrity" marketing shtick -- er, sorry, I meant "mission statement " -- to expand that definition of "integrity" beyond humane treatment of animals and healthy production of vegetables to fair conditions for the workers who harvest the produce. (You'd think they could commit to treating fellow humans at least as well as animals.) Chipotle is a personal favorite of mine; I love the food, so I hope the company will sit up and take notice. CIW has a polite-but-firm letter you can send to the very rich guys who run these fast-food chains. (This is the sort of action that can accomplish something, unlike, say, not shopping at Target because you heard that the company was just as bad as Wal-Mart, which is the sort of individualistic quest for moral purity in shopping that drives me crazy.) This farmworkers' group is one of the more effective labor organizations in the US today, winning victories despite representing some of the most marginalized workers in our economy. The CIW not only draws bad publicity to companies, but marshals consumer outrage to bring about change -- not easy to do.
The Republicans are waging a desperate campaign of Rovian proportions to maintain their one-party reign in Congress. Fear, as we have seen time and again, is their most powerful weapon and they have caricatured Rep. John Conyers as a worst possible outcome of a Democratic victory.
As they fill the airwaves with claims of Conyers run amok--conducting immediate impeachment hearings--their clear aim is to manipulate Americans so they will remain in a perpetual state of fear. "So terrified," New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recently and powerfully observed, "that they will not object to the steady erosion of their rights and liberties." But central to defense of this nation is defense of its constitutional values, not just its physical security.
With that in mind, it is clear that the real threat today comes from President Bush and his administration. In blatant violation of established law, and centuries-old precedent, they have wiretapped American citizens; imprisoned citizens without warrants,charges or means of redress; ignored clear Congressional legislative intent; disabled Congressional oversight of their actions; and suppressed dissent and public-minded disclosure within the executive branch itself. This abuse and overreach of Presidential power directly challenges the "checks and balances" at the core of our constitutional design.
Among the chilling proposals in Bush's immigration speech was a plan for a "new identification card for every legal foreign worker" that would use "biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof." Tamper-proof, maybe, but would Bush's scheme be corruption-proof?
Not if current U.S. efforts at producing hi-tech ID cards are a sign of things to come. In a series of articles for the New York Times, Eric Lipton has documented the pork and corruption that's plauging Homeland Security's plans for a "tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers." At the heart of the scandal is Kentucky Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, the chair of the subcommittee that determines DHS's budget, and a raft of security and technology companies that contributed lavishly to Rogers' campaign, paid for junkets to Hawaii, employed his son or are based in his home district.
The latest wrinkle in the saga involves Irish firm Daon, which bills itself as "a leading provider of biometric identity management software." According to Lipton, Daon paid for Rogers to attend a "July 2005 conference and golf outing" in Dublin. Consequently it, along with the American Association of Airport Executives, was awarded a no-bid contract to "manage what could turn into contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for a new airport-security program and to issue tamperproof identification cards to millions of transportation workers." Oh yeah, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge serves on the board of Daon which is backed by venture capitalist Dermot Desmond.
It's an election year, so, quick, let's amend the Constitution.
Absurd as it sounds, that is the thinking of the Senate Republican leadership, which is rushing to draft, debate and endorse a whole new section of the Constitution by the week of June 5.
Why the hurry to tinker with the 219-year-old document?
Last month I wrote about Haditha, Iraq and allegations that innocent Iraqi civilians had been shot and killed by a unit of U.S. Marines. Today, Rep. John Murtha stated that a military investigation will confirm that over a dozen civilians were indeed murdered.
"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Murtha said. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."
Murtha noted the "undue pressure" on the troops because of the "poor planning and allocation of resources by the Bush administration."
John McCain's commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University attracted a great deal of media scrutiny. Will Rudy Giuliani's big money fundraiser with Ralph Reed today in Atlanta draw headlines as well?
"We're here to get you elected," Giuliani said at the luncheon fundraiser. With the race a statistical dead heat, Rudy's visit couldn't have come at a better time.
Reed's once-promising run for Lt Governor of Georgia has been bludgeoned by his connections to Jack Abramoff. (For the juicy details, read Bob Moser's terrific Reed expose, "The Devil Inside.") Yesterday the Public Campaign Action fund hit the airwaves with the first radio ad of the campaign, assailing Reed's backdoor lobbying for Abramoff's illegal Indian casino schemes.