The Hurricane and its aftermath have, rightly, seized our attention. I find it hard to focus on other news--even the growing violence in Iraq. But there is a world turning and churning out there. So, when a new (and wrinkled chapter) in possibly the biggest end-of-year story--Ukraine's Orange Revolution"--sprang into the papers in these last days, I didn't pay enough attention to it.
But then I remembered the extraordinary street protests in Kiev. Who could forget the riveting images of the thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in the city's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting 12 years of corrupt misrule and what they believed was a rigged election?Â
But while there was something exhilirating about the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities, there was also a good deal of rank hypocrisy on display in Washington, DC. As I wrote then: This Administration celebrates pro-democracy rallies abroad, while showing no respect for America's pro-democracy protesters.Â And despite the exhiliration as The Guardian's Jonathan Steele noted at the time, "to suggest that [opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive."
In the first few days of John G. Roberts, Jr.'sÂ hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, most Senators have focused their questions on his views of privacy, precedent and free speech. So far, only Sen. Russell Feingold has asked Roberts about national security and civil liberties, a critical area of jurisprudence in this post 9/11 age.Â
As Raj Purohit writes today in TomPaine.com, a Chief Justice Roberts would guide the court's decisions on cases that test the Bush Administration's determination to emphasize the prevention of terrorism over both the rights of Americans and the rule of law.Â If the recent past is any guide, the Supreme Court could soon rule on the White House's efforts to wordsmith its definition of torture; the rendition of suspected terrorists to countries that openly employ torture; the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial; the Pentagon's Guantanamo tribunals, the scope of US obligations under treaties like Geneva, and various Constitutionally shaky provisions of the Patriot Act.Â And Roberts' record suggests he'll be strongly inclined to vote in favor ofÂ ever-expanding executive branch powers.
Unfortunately, the Democrats appear completely unable to stop or even slow Roberts, who seems to have obtained reasonable, nice-guy status by virtue of his John Edwards-like smile and his measured manner.Â Consequently, wrote The Nation's David Corn in his Capital Games blog, they can only have one political objective: to boost the number of "no" votes to Bush's nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice. This would allow the Democrats to claim their party is the one that cares about privacy rights and could help lay the groundwork for opposition to Bush's next Supreme Court pick, in the likely instance of an extremist nominee. Â
Last spring, in an attempt to make President Bush appear to be more of a regular guy, the White House released a list of the tunes the commander-in-chief was listening to on his iPod. The list featured mostly country, alt-country and blues artists, including John Fogerty, John Hiatt, Alan Jackson, George Jones and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Perhaps the most interesting name on Bush's listening list was that of James McMurtry, the brilliant Austin-based songwriter who used his 2004 live CD to poke fun at the president's attempts to fake a Texaser-than-thou accent.
McMurtry responded to the news that Bush's playlist included his song "Valley Road" by politely suggesting that the president might not be the most serious listener of his songs, which frequently detail the damage done to Americans by rampaging corporatists and an uncaring government.
In case there was any doubt about the differences between George W. Bush's worldview and James McMurtry's, the musician posted a savage critique of the president and his pals, "We Can't Make It Here," on his Web site shortly before last year's election. That song, a haunting reflection on corporate globalization and wars of whim, was the highlight of McMurtry's set last month when he played at Camp Casey, the protest vigil organized outside the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq.
The events of the past two weeks have laid bare America's secret: that poverty abounds in this profoundly unequal nation. As the body count in New Orleans rises, it has become abundantly clear that the plight of America's poor--who have suffered particularly harsh setbacks in the past three decades--is nothing short of an epidemic. Yet throughout this era of rollbacks and blind-eye politics, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) has tirelessly fought back on behalf of our nation's other half. This week, we offer a special Sweet Victory tribute to a fearless organization that has long stood on the forefront of the movement for economic justice.
In 1970, Wade Rathke arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and organized a drive to help welfare recipients attain clothing and furniture. Months later, the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now--a broad-based coalition that had grown out of Rathke's early efforts--was taking on Arkansas Power and Light, one of the state's largest corporate players. ACORN demanded compensation for local farmers whose livelihoods were endangered by AP&L's plans for a new power plant. After months of organized pressure from ACORN, AP&L backed down and dropped the plans altogether.
A decade later, ACORN had expanded into twenty different states and was creating national headlines with its nine-point "People's Platform" and squatting campaign, which hammered the issue of affordable housing into the national discourse. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, ACORN fought vigilantly against insurance redlining--a practice that, thanks largely to ACORN's efforts, is now illegal--and helped secure housing for thousands of low-income individuals.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court began with an appropriate message from Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.
A maverick within his own Democratic party and the Senate as a whole, Feingold called upon the committee, the full Senate and all of official Washington -- a city that frequently is more concerned about images than Constitutional duties -- to get serious about the monumental task that lies ahead.
"Some have called for a 'dignified process,'" Feingold said of the confirmation process. "So have I. But at times it sounds like what some really want for the nominee is an easy process. That is not what the Constitution or the traditions of the Senate call for. If by "dignified" they mean that tough and probing questions are out of bounds, I must strongly disagree. It is not undignified to ask questions that press the nominee for his views on the important areas of the law that the Supreme Court confronts. It is not undignified to review and explore the nominee's writings, his past statements, the briefs he has filed, the memos he has written. It is not undignified to ask the nominee questions he would rather not answer should he prefer to remain inscrutable, or, worse yet, all things to all people."