Watch this space all week for DNC-related posts.
This past week, the New York State Senate took the historic and long overdue step of passing a bill to raise our state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 an hour. This is a tremendous victory for the more than one million workers who will directly benefit from this increase if it is signed by Governor Pataki. At a time when low-wage jobs are failing to keep pace with price increases, it could literally mean the difference for many families. It's also a victory for the Working Families Party's hard work and the effective grassroots organizing the coalition has been doing for the last six years.
Labor unions, Democrats--even the Roman Catholic Church--joined with the Working Families Party in the fight for fairness and equity. The Daily News also earned kudos for publishing seven editorials in the last five months urging a raise in the minimum wage, and assigning reporter Heidi Evans to do a dozen related stories, including a front-page feature on what's it's like to live on $206 each week. And last week, the campaign won support from a powerful, if unexpected, quarter when the Partnership for New York City, one of the city's leading business groups, urged the State Senate to pass the bill. (The Democrat-controlled State Assembly passed a bill last March.) The business group noted that at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns only $10,712 a year, which is below the federal poverty level.
Moreover, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute effectively counters claims that raising the minimum wage will hurt small employers. It found that in the 12 states with minimum wages higher than $5.15 an hour, employment levels did not, in fact, decrease as the minimum wage was increased.
But, as Senator Eric Schneiderman (D, Manhattan) , the Deputy Minority Leader and a longtime supporter of the WFP, points out, even with the wage hike's sound economics, it took sustained political pressure, and the threat of possible electoral defeat, to ultimately force Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to drop his traditional opposition to the Assembly proposal.
"The Republican leadership of the Senate allowed this bill to pass this year because they are afraid they will lose seats in the election this fall in districts where the minimum wage increase is popular and where voters have been educated and organized on the issue of raising the minimum wage," Schneiderman said." It is the sad reality that bills don't pass the Senate because they make sense as public policy, or because passing them is the right thing to do. They pass when the Majority Leader sees that the voters may vote out one or more of his members if an issue isn't addressed, and therefore threaten his position as Majority Leader."
That is why it is so important to continue to support the WFP. Launched in 1998, this feisty coalition of community organizations, unions and individuals, has recruited and backed progressive candidates, run local and statewide issue campaigns and used the leverage of the ballot line to hold candidates and elected officials accountable on issues of concern to working-class, middle-class and poor people. Its unapologetic focus on economic justice, its savvy grassroots organizing and ability to give working people an effective voice in the political debate is needed now more than ever. As Jack Newfield put it in an opinion piece for the New York Sun, "Never before has a political party made such an impact on statewide public policy."
Or think of it this way: the WFP's hard work just helped put about a million dollars an hour into the pockets of the working poor. Click here to help the WFP continue its work and click here to add your name to the WFP's petition to New York Governor George Pataki asking him to sign the new minimum wage bill into law.
Watch this space for daily posts from the DNC in Boston.
"The American people appreciate being told the truth," announced Cynthia McKinney, as she and her cheering supporters celebrated what the former Georgia congresswoman described as "one of the greatest political comebacks in history."
Bush put ideology and religion above all in making this decision, and three years later his terrible policy choice is haunting him. Just last week, Ron Reagan Jr. announced that he would criticize Bush's restrictions on stem cell research at the Democratic convention; more than four thousand scientists (a good number of whom have served both Democratic and Republican administrations) have now signed a statement--first released in February--attacking the Administration's unprecedented politicization of science, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently updated its groundbreaking report on "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making," which examines the methods that the Bush Administration uses to manipulate and distort "the work done by scientists at federal agencies and on scientific advisory panels."
"The Administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientist's letter warned, "placing people who are professionally unqualified in official posts; disbanding existing advisory committees; censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice."
The UCS's report rigorously documents the equivalent of Bush's little shop of anti-enlightenment policy horrors, demonstrating how Bush has twisted facts and suppressed research to enact retrograde policies on such issues as climate change, mercury emissions and emergency contraception. An example: When the EPA discovered that Bush's Clear Skies Act would be "less effective" than a "bipartisan Senate clean air proposal" in guarding the air we breathe, the Administration simply suppressed the EPA study.
The UCS also charges that scientists are now getting blackballed for their political views. The report cites instances in which nominees to scientific advisory panels have been questioned about whether they had voted for Bush. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's office rejected nineteen of the twenty-six appointments that Dr. Gerald Keusch, who served as director of the NIH's Fogarty International Center until he resigned in frustration, had recommended. Bush's policy has demoralized the scientific community, and prevented our nation's smartest, most experienced scientists from serving on panels devoted to safeguarding public health.
One of the nineteen rejected, the Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel, happens to be my stepfather. When Keusch questioned HHS's decision on Wiesel, he was told that he "had signed too many full-page letters in the New York Times critical of President Bush." (When did petition-signing qualify as a measure of scientific expertise?) Ironically, this Administration can't get its facts straight--whether it's in the arena of war, budget deficits or science. In a recent email, Torsten told me, "I have not signed a statement against Bush but nonetheless for some reason I am on the Administration's blacklist. Perhaps [it is because of] my human rights activities and being contrary in general."
Torsten, who served as president of the prestigious Rockefeller University for nearly a decade, added, the Administration's "science policy has been bad in general. Instead of choosing the best scientific advice the preference is given to individuals with the right religious or philosophical pedigrees."
Preference is also given to those with big business pedigrees. As Robert Kennedy Jr. pointed out in a Nation cover story last March, Bush's agenda is "to systematically turn government science over to private industry by contracting out thousands of science jobs to compliant consultants already in the habit of massaging data to support corporate profits." This Administration's war on science "is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition," he argued.
In the last few weeks alone, Bush's assault on science has intensified. In an unprecedented move, the White House has announced that scientists now need approval from senior Bush political appointees to participate in World Health Organization (WHO) meetings. This has outraged the WHO and others in the scientific community, who believe this decision opens the door for the Administration to blackball scientists who don't follow the line on controversial health issues.
In an April memo, William Steiger, who serves as director of the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs (and has a Ph.D. in Latin American history), also announced a new policy on notices of foreign travel (NFTs). Steiger instructed that any NIH scientist who wants to attend "technical consultations, advisory groups, expert committees and workshops" located in the US and sponsored by "multilateral organizations" must first obtain permission by filing an NFT with his office. (Previously, such requests were routine and perfunctory; scientists filed them simply to alert US embassies to their travel to meetings abroad.)
Under Bush, the NFTs have become a tool to leverage control over government scientists. The changes, said Keusch in an interview this week, are intended to "escalate the levels of control over who can attend" scientific meetings and "what they can say" when there.
Dr. Kurt Gottfried, the chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview last week that a second Bush term would "further the demoralization of the professional staff now in service...If Bush is reelected, they would lose hope," Gottfried argued, and "the people most likely to leave [in a second Bush Administration] are the most valuable scientists at the NIH and the CDC, an exodus from which it would take decades for America to recover.
If Bush wins in November, the quality of science that informs policy making will be undermined by the suppression, manipulation and distortion of scientific knowledge. If you want to understand what's at stake, click here to read the UCS's report.
As the media world prepares to head to Boston for the Democratic National Convention next week, one of the most interesting related events is likely to receive little coverage outside of the invaluable IndyMedia sites and alternative radio and TV outfits like Democracy Now! and Free Speech TV.
Planned for this coming weekend, July 23rd to 25th, the Boston Social Forum will feature workshops, break-out sessions, presentations, panels and parties, all designed to hash out a helpful vision of how progressives can better work together to promote our common goals and interests. (Click here to register and for more info and click here if you're interesting in volunteering.)
Taking place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the BSF has hundreds of events and exhibits planned for the three-day confab. Confirmed speakers include Jim Hightower, Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Manning Marable, Maude Barlow, Walden Bello, Harry Belafonte, Frances Moore Lappe, Michael Lerner and many others. Other special BSF events include a Saturday afternoon screening of John Sayle's new film, followed by a discussion with the director; an Alternative Media Summit being organized by Take Back the Media and a benefit concert on Saturday night in Cambridge featuring Billy Bragg, the Reagan Babies, the Foundation and Juliana Hatfield.
The BSF--co-sponsored by The Nation along with scores of other good outfits, organizations and publications--promises a good start to what will hopefully a fruitful period of collaboration between progressive groups. So check it out if you'll be in Beantown this weekend.
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies which I subsequently published. I received the letter below after my mailbag.
I'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination and I'll keep publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Sam Lorber, Nashville, TN
The good news in Nashville is the formation of MRD-Music Row Democrats. This group is a reaction to the perception that country music is the exclusive domain of the Republican Party. Sixteen Independent, Democrat and Republican producers, artists, songwriters, publishers, managers and promotion people got together in December 2003 to respond to the appropriation of our music and, to many, their faith, by the Right. Six months later there are over one thousand members who have organized to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Kerry campaign and start Kerry-oke, roving bands of well known artists and songwriters raising money and consciousness all over the place. We are determined to "Take Back Our Country." (Click here for more information on what we're doing.)
The Sudanese government is directly responsible for crimes against humanity in its strife-torn western region of Darfur, including the widespread rape of women, Amnesty International charged yesterday in a stinging report.
Refugees from Darfur described a pattern of "systematic and unlawful attacks" against civilians by both a government-sponsored Arab militia and the Sudanese military forces, the international London-based human-rights group said.
Ten years ago, the international community stood by as the Rwandan genocide claimed 800,000 lives. Today, as world leaders remember that human catastrophe with empty expressions of "Never Again," the people of Sudan face a similar fate. In concert with groups like Africa Action as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, The Nation is sponsoring a petition drive calling on Colin Powell as secretary of state to immediately recognize the genocide occurring in Darfur and organize internationally to bring it to an end. Click here to add your name.
Amnesty is calling for an end to the conflict, better protection of civilians, disarmament of the paramilitaries, trials for those carrying out the attacks, and the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to examine war crimes in Darfur. Click here to find out more about AI's work on this issue, click here to read Salih Booker and Ann Louise Colgan's recent Nation editorial for background on Darfur and click here to read Sudan expert Eric Reeves' Nation magazine article, Rapacious Instincts in Sudan, from the magazine's June 4, 2001 issue, for a broader look at the country's political troubles.
What with all the controversy that arose after one of President Bush's appointees to the federal Election Assistance Commission sought to establish guidelines for suspending the November presidential election in case of a terrorist incident, citizens can be excused for presuming that this is a radical new notion. But it's not.
Borrowing several pages from the Joe Stalin Manual of Electoral Etiquette, the president's Republican allies canceled party primary elections in states across the country during the current election season -- often claiming that voting was pointless because President Bush was going to win anyway.
Last year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Kansas, Colorado and Utah canceled their state-run 2004 presidential primaries. The pattern continued even after the presidential campaign got going, with the suspension this year of presidential primaries in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.
I've always thought of Donald Trump as a mega-developer with an oversized ego and a really bad dye job.
So, I haven't paid much attention to his grotesquely successful "reality" show The Apprentice, in which the billionaire vamps shamelessly as a hardworking CEO, or to his latest best-selling how-to-manual, Trump: How to Get Rich.
But "The Donald" did get my attention with his interview in the August issue of Esquire, where he makes it clear that he'd treat Bush like the incompetent guy he is and fire him for his mishandling of Iraq.
"Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in." Trump tells Esquire. "What was the purpose of the whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!," Trump said.
Trump to Bush: "You're Fired!" Not a bad bumper sticker. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
Seeking to bolster support for his USA Patriot Act against Congressional attempts to weaken it, Attorney General John Ashcroft recently called the Act "al-Qaeda's worst nightmare." and delivered a 29-page report to Congress citing ways in which the Act has, according to Ashcroft, been instrumental in helping to combat terrorism.
The Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, gave the government significant new powers to conduct searches and surveillance in terrorism investigations and allowed more information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The release of Ashcroft's report is part of an effort by the Bush Administration to shore up support for the law in the wake of numerous reports and critics's suggestions that many of the Act's provisions are both ineffective and unconstitutional.
One of the most effective (and creative) critiques of the abuses of the Ashcroft Justice Department was recently released by the DC-based group Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations. AFJ has created an online animated movie, Spy-der-man, which uses humor to convey the grave danger of Ashcroft's intrusions on free speech, privacy, due process and religious pluralism.
Howard Dean, George McGovern, Walter Cronkite, Ellen Chesler, Margaret Cho, George Lakoff, Bakari Kitwana, John Brademas, Arthur Miller, John Sayles, Chuck Close, Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Doris "Granny D" Haddock, Jamin Raskin, Nell Minow, Lani Guinier, Studs Terkel, Sherrod Brown, Eric Schlosser, James K. Galbraith, Gary Indiana, Jeremy Bernstein, David Bonior