Giving voice to the majority of Americans who support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the antiwar coalition Bring Them Home Now! has created a thirty-nine cent postage stamp. Yes, they're real. Apparently, pretty much anyone can create legal tender stamps with images of their choosing.
The new antiwar stamp features the symbol of the growing "Bring 'Em Home Now!" movement â€“ a yellow ribbon transposed over a peace sign â€“ providing millions of Americans with a unique way to show support for a pullout. The response so far has been strong. The first run of 10,000 stamps sold out quickly and the second batch of 10,000 is selling briskly.
Bring 'Em Home Now! suggests sending in antiwar-stamped tax returns in a symbolic protest against the $250 billion in taxpayer dollars spent on the war to date. At the same time you'll be raising money for veterans' groups. All proceeds from the sale of the stamps (as well as shirts, buttons and stickers featuring the popular "Bring 'Em Home Now!" designs) benefit citizen groups working to end the war, including Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace.
Finally, click here for info on antiwar protests planned for April 29. A major march is expected in New York City, kicking off in Manhattan at 12:00 noon, just north of Union Square, and proceeding south along Broadway to Foley Square, where a Peace and Justice Festival will hold sway all afternoon.
H.O.P.E. for Darfur
Nothing I can write can describe the trouble the Sudanese people have seen. Everyone knows it's genocide but little gets done. And it's not for lack of ideas. Human Rights First recently launched a H.O.P.E. (Help Organize a Peace Envoy) for Darfur Campaign. Many argue that Sudan needs not only the peacekeeping forces of the African Union and perhaps the UN, but also a peacemaker in the form of a high-level, visible Peace Envoy. Human Rights First's campaign, in keeping with that idea, calls for a high-profile leader whose entry into the process could signal a new resolve by the international community to address the slaughter. Ideally, this new envoy would be appointed by the United Nations and strongly supported by the United States.
I try not to subscribe to the great-man theory of history, but one individual sometimes really can make a difference. The Bush Administration dispatched John Danforth to Sudan to help successfully negotiate a peace between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement four years ago. The Clinton Administration turned to George Mitchell to negotiate the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
So click here to sign Human Rights First's petition calling for a UN-appointed diplomat of the highest international stature to lead a peace process in Darfur and click here for background on the horrifying situation in Sudan.
This Wednesday, April 19, our friends at the New York Society for Ethical Culture are hosting a terrific event in conjunction with Human Rights First and Amnesty International USA. Click here for details on the free discussion on how to end the atrocities in Darfur featuring Nicholas Kristof, Mark Malloch Brown, Juan Mendez and Tragi Musfafa.
The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie
The New York Theatre Workshop's cowardly decision to back off from a play based on Rachel Corrie's life has been widely publicized. (The show is currently in its third staging in London--this time on the West End, where it's playing to packed houses and good reviews.) The first musical take on Corrie that I've heard comes, appropriately, from Billy Bragg, who adapted Bob Dylan's classic, the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, to tell the story of her life and death. Click here to listen to and download the Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don't talk about it. So Kerry didn't, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib--or the Justice Department memo that 'broadened' accepted interrogations techniques--in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."
For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party's position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.
"We don't have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I've never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."
As the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, this much is known to be true: On November 19, after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 15 Iraqi civilians â€“ including seven women and three children â€“ were allegedly shot and killed by a unit of US Marines operating in Haditha, Iraq. Then, this past Friday, a battalion commander and two company commanders from the same unit were relieved of their duties.
We also know that the Marine Corps initially claimed that the 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. But in January, after Time magazine presented the military with Iraqi accounts and video proof of the attack's aftermath, officials acknowledged that the civilians were killed by Marines but blamed insurgents nonetheless who had "placed noncombatants in the line of fire."
However, video evidence shows that women and children were shot in their homes while still wearing nightclothes. And while there are no bullet holes outside the houses to support the military's assertion of a firefight with insurgents, "inside the housesâ€¦the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood."
Now we know why Tom DeLay decided to quit Congress. It wasn't becausehe resigned as Majority Leader last September in advance of his moneylaundering trial in Texas. Or because his Abramoff-connected aidesran what the Washington Post dubbed "a far-reaching criminalenterprise operating out of DeLay's office." Or because was going tolose his re-election race this November.
No, it was because of the Lord. From Peter Perl's devastatingWP article on Sunday:
DeLay recently told one of his pastors that God wanted him to leaveCongress in part because He has bigger plans for DeLay. That pastor,the Rev. Rick Scarborough, introduced DeLay to a Christian conferencejust last week, saying, "This is a man, I believe, God hasappointed . . . to represent righteousness in government."
"We have won, and now we have to start working to implement our program and unify the country," Romano Prodi told Italians after the official count confirmed from that country's national elections confirmed exit polls showing Prodi's center-left coalition had deposed the government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had allied Italy with George W. Bush's foreign policies.
With his Olive Tree coalition of moderate Christian Democrats, liberals, Greens, Socialists, former Communists and Communists on track to gain solid control of the lower of the two houses of the Italian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and a narrow majority in the upper house, the Senate, Prodi says he is positioned to begin to implement an ambitious agenda. If all goes as planned, one of the new prime minister's first moves will be to pull Italy's contingent of 2,600 troops out of Iraq.
That will deprive the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing" occupation force in Iraq of its fourth largest contingent.
After all the breathless suspense, after all the effort federal agents spent trying to seal a national security breach, after all the fingers were pointed directly at the Vice-President, last week it was revealed that the President of the United States, who everyone had previously thought was way too clueless to be involved, was behind the scandal the entire time. Yes, I'm talking about President Logan on Fox's long-running hit show 24.
How life imitates art.
In the long-running Washington DC tragicomic reality show The Bushies, it was also revealed last week that it was President George W. Bush who was behind the leak that led to the uncovering of CIA agent Valerie Plame's undercover identity.
With his op-ed piece in the New York Times on Wednesday; his remarks on Meet the Press this past Sunday; and his e-mail and online petition calling for a withdrawal from Iraq today--John Kerry has broken ranks with a silent Democratic leadership and joined the likes of Russ Feingold and John Murtha in taking a strong position against the war.
In addition to his new stance, it is good to hear that the man who wasn't known for punchiness on the campaign trail is striving for, in his own words, "pretty simple messages" such as, "Tell the truth. Fire the incompetents. Get out of Iraq. Have health care for all Americans."
And while Kerry didn't say he will run again in 2008 there are sure signs he is back on the trail: his non-answer on Meet the Press and reports by Washington insiders that he is planning to set up a national security think tank in the nation's capital (just what the city needs--the heck with voting rights, how about another think tank?) in an effort to bolster his "strong on defense" image.
The IRS has quietly proposed astounding new rules which would allow tax preparers to sell the contents of their client's tax returns to third-party businesses, as long as a requisite form is signed. Historically, tax returns were a strictly private affair, with both tax preparers and IRS agents forbidden to share the info with anyone for any reason. But this could all change if the IRS's blatant corporate giveaway is passed. That's great news for "data-brokers" like ChoicePoint that make tens of millions of dollars selling personal information to corporate marketers. (Scroll down to the comments section below to see ChoicePoint's response to this line.)
Here's how the new rules would work: when you visit your accountant or a tax-preparation firm like H&R Block, your tax preparer would ask you to sign a form authorizing them to release your information at their discretion. Once you sign that form, your tax preparer has permission to sell or share the information contained in your tax filings. You have no control over how that data will be used, who will get it, or whether it'll be adequately safeguarded from identity thieves.
The proposed rule would require express written permission from the consumer to allow the information to be sold, but as Beth McConnell of PennPIRG argued before the IRS on April 4, that's not good enough for a number of reasons: nothing in the IRS rules would prohibit tax preparers from offering incentives in exchange for privacy--say, a ten percent discount on accountant fees and a free clock in return for a signature could sound very appealing. There's also nothing to prevent unscrupulous preparers from adding another in a long series of forms for their clients to sign at tax time without amply detailing the consequences of the signature.
When the New York Times redesigned its website, I started to worry -- so dumbed down, so much white space, so many bells and whistles. Was the Times having another identity crisis trying to keep up with the Ipod-Slvr Phone generation?
This weekend's papers confirmed my concerns as the Times went VH1 over allegations that New York Post "Page Six" contributor Jared Paul Stern attempted to extort California billionaire Ronald Burkle. Over 48 hours, the Times relentlessly deluged readers with multimedia graphics, photos, charts, sexed up backstory and snarky quotes from irrelevant pundits. It doggedly tracked down former co-workers and associates who lurked in the "dark corners of nightclubs and parties" with Mr. Stern sipping on "champagne with supermodels." It obtained a copy of the key evidence (a grainy security tape of Stern with Burkle) and expertly analyzed it. It camped out at Stern's Catskills home and uncovered this vital piece of information: "he paid $220,000 for it." This revelation, however, paled in comparison to the bombshell that Mr Stern claims to "be the only child at his northern Ontario camp reading Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City." Ah hah!
Meanwhile the paper devoted far less space to Scooter Libby's revelation that Bush personally authorized intelligence leaks in the Iraq/WMD scandal -- referring to it as "no shock to official Washington" before launching into a numbingly dull rehash of previous coverage and intelligence leak history. The stories broke within 24 hours of each other, and here's the recount for the weekend:
First, the company's own employee blows the whistle on its failure to use water purification equipment. And now a physician serving in Iraq ties an outbreak of bacterial infections among soldiers to foul-smelling water she noticed at Qayyarah Airfield West during the same time period.
As the Houston Chronicle reported on Friday, testing now confirms that water used by the soldiers to bathe and brush their teeth contained coliform and E. coli bacteria.
Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann had the audacity to state that subsidiary (you guessed it) Kellogg Brown & Root provided water "consistent with the army's standards." This shouldn't come as a surprise since the company also dismissed larvae spotted by its own employee as "an optical illusion caused by a leak in the toilet fixture."
Following up on John Nichols' post about Silvio Berlusconi's likely election defeat, I'm posting a dispatch from our ace Washington intern Cora Currier, who lived in Italy and, unlike the rest of us, speaks fluent Italian.
Berlusconi's parading as Bush's buddy at the start of the Iraq war was the least of his problems. Italy's slick, perpetually tanned billionaire prime minister will likely lose the election because, after five years of scandals and corruption, Italians have had enough of his antics. Before the election he ceded to overwhelming popular opinion by promising to pull Italian troops from Iraq by the year's end, but it was too late to save face.
While Italy's economy floundered, Berlusconi, ranked the country's richest man by Forbes Magazine, was busy re-writing laws to avoid charges of tax-fraud, corruption and bribery. During the run-up to the election, supporters of opposition candidate Romano Prodi protested the inequality of TV time between the candidates. Little surprise: through various businesses, Berlusconi controls an alleged 90 percent of the national media. Last week Berlusconi announced to supporters at a rally in Naples: "we will win because we are not coglioni," using a vulgar term literally meaning "testicles" to paint the opposition as "assholes." The next day, T-shirts were seen on the streets of Rome reading Io Sono un Coglione: "I am an asshole." Looks there are quite a few of them in Italy these days…
George Bush's second closest comrade in the neoconservative "coalition of the willing" occupiers of Iraq has been swept from power. And that means that Italy will soon withdraw its troops from the coalition and Iraq.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who after British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the strongest supporter of Bush's policies in Europe, and perhaps the world, was swept from office in voting that ended Monday. Berlusconi will be replaced by Romano Prodi, whose center-left Olive coalition promised in its manifesto to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq.
Exit polls for the state broadcaster RAI gave Prodi's coalition of liberals, socialists and communists a majority in both houses of parliament.
In light of the news that President Bush authorized a top Administration aide to use previously classified information as part of an orchestrated political attack on a prominent critic of the Administration, a radio host asked me over the weekend: "What will it take to get Republicans to break with Bush? How bad will things have to get before they realize that he's a disaster for the country?"
I answered that, in small but significant ways, Republicans have been breaking with Bush for some time now. When the President travels to states around the country to pump up support for his war, he often does so without the accompaniment of GOP members of Congress who find that they are otherwise engaged on the days that the Commander in Chief drops by their hometowns. While most leading Republicans refuse to admit as much publicly, they are putting more and more distance between themselves and a President whose approval rating has dropped to Nixon-in-Watergate depths.
When Congress voted recently on whether to extend the Patriot Act, some of the loudest "no" votes came from conservative Republicans such as Don Young of Alaska and Butch Otter of Idaho, who argued with Democratic US Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that the legislation was an assault on basic liberties and Constitutional standards. As but a handful of Senate Democrats and key House Democrats such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel were lining up with the Bush Administration to curtail civil liberties, Texas Republican Ron Paul, perhaps the most consistent critic of the Patriot Act in the House, complained that "one prominent Democrat opined on national television that 'most of the 170-page Patriot Act is fine,' but that it needs some fine tuning. He then stated that he opposed the ten-year reauthorization bill on the grounds that Americans should not have their constitutional rights put on hold for a decade. His party's proposal, however, was to reauthorize the Patriot Act for only four years, as though a shorter moratorium on constitutional rights would be acceptable! So much for the opposition party and its claim to stand for civil liberties."
For the second time in two weeks an American city was rocked Sunday by a pro-immigrant demonstration of undeniably historic magnitude. As many as a half-million people, wearing white and waving American flags crammed downtown Dallas. A similar, but smaller, outpouring took place in nearby Forth Worth. Scores of thousands of others also came into the streets in Salt Lake City, Miami, St. Paul, Des Moines, Boise, Salem, Detroit and San Diego (with one report saying the crowd neared 100,000 in the latter city).
The Dallas demonstration –- which mushroomed to ten times the size anticipated by authorities -- rivaled the scope of the so-called "Gran Marcha" in Los Angeles two weeks ago – an event that to many observers marked the birth of a new civil rights movement. The L.A. demo was also the largest in the history of the city -- perhaps in all of the western United States.
And on Monday even more massive pro-immigration demonstrations are scheduled for 140 more American cities in a national day of protest. Once again Los Angeles is predicted to be the epicenter of the day's activities. As many as a quarter million of a people are expected there as well as an equal number in New York and Washington DC-- perhaps a total of two million or more nationwide.
Instead of parroting the Republicans' "tough" approach to national security, Democratic candidates should distinguish themselves from the Bush Administration by, for starters, setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq.