Thirty-three years ago this month, a member of the U.S. House from Brooklyn challenged her party and her country to think more boldly than it ever had before about what the occupant of the White House should look like.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who four years earlier had become the first African-American woman to win election to Congress, declared that, "I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Chisholm, who died January 1 at age 80, ran as the "Unbought and Unbossed" candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. She campaigned in key primary states as a militant foe of the war in Vietnam and a champion of the economic and social justice movements that had organized so effectively during the 1960s. And she did not mince words. A co-convener of the founding conference of the National Women's Political Caucus, she once announced, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."
A New Year's Day story in the Washington Post reported that President Bush's allies in corporate trade associations, the financial and securities industries and Fortune 500 companies are raising millions of dollars for an election-style campaign to convince Americans--and skeptical lawmakers--that social security is in crisis, and that the proper remedy is to establish private social security accounts.
Bush's privatization scheme--he calls it his #1 domestic priority--has clear winners and losers. The winners: the financial industry which is lusting after the hundreds of billions in fees and commissions it stands to earn if it can hold Social Security funds in individual accounts. The losers: tens of millions of retirees and surviving spouses and children, plus some ten million disabled workers and their families, who will lose the dignity of a guaranteed income and the financial security that the system currently provides.
Bush's scam is clear: sell out to Wall Street and destroy America's most successful social insurance and anti-poverty program. (Social Security is the difference between a decent life and poverty for half of all Americans over 65.)
George Bush ended 2004 on a sour note.
But at least he maintained his record as the most disingenuous president since Richard Nixon.
When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were "misguided and ill-informed."
The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged thousands of coastline villages from Thailand to Somalia this past weekend has prompted an urgent need for relief from the international community. With the death toll at 76,000 and rising quickly, the threat of infectious diseases is increasing rapidly as entire islands go without clean water and medicine.
The Bush Administration initially announced a $15 million aid package in response to the disaster, and upped that to $35 million yesterday in the face of mounting public pressure. Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, got the ball rolling when he criticized the US's contributions to economically-struggling countries around the world as "stingy" in recent years.
Unfortunately, Egeland's criticism finds support in the numbers: the New York Times reported this morning that the US is among the least generous nations in the world in proportion to the size of its economy when it comes to providing assistance to poor countries.
Looking for some good news this holiday season? Check out Martha Stewart's Christmas 2004 message. The old Martha would have been instructing America's women how to wrap those presents, trim their trees and bake those holiday cookies. The new Martha has issued a different tip: a smart call for sentencing reform.
A realist might say that battlefield conversions don't last once the war is over. But Martha is no fool and her eyes seem to have been opened to the reality of how our society has come to use prisons.
Millions have followed Martha's advice when it comes to recipes. I hope some of them will listen to her call for a makeover of the criminal justice system.
Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.
That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.
Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.
So it turns out Pottery Barn doesn't even have a rule that says, "You break it, you own it." According to a company spokesperson, "in the rare instance that something is broken in the store, it's