Dennis Kucinich still faces an uphill climb in his campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But his anti-Iraq war candidacy has already inspired better music than those of contenders who are garnering far more attention and campaign money. The New Year's weekend benefit for Kucinich at the Austin Music Hall was one of the finest campaign concerts in recent memory, and the sentiments of the stellar cast of performers was well summed up by singer Bonnie Raitt, who introduced a bluesy version of the Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth," be declaring, "Here's to free speech. Here's to fair elections. Here's to the possibility that Dennis Kucinich could win."
The Texas concert, which drew a crowd of 4,000 and was expected to raise more than $80,000 for the Kucinich campaign, showcased the success the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair has had in appealing to some of the country's most inspired and independent-minded musicians. The candidate who has been endorsed by artists ranging from Pete Seeger to Ani DiFranco brought some of his best-known backers together for a sold-out concert in Austin. Along with Raitt, a pair of younger artists with Texas roots and national reputations, Michelle Shocked and Tish Hinojosa turned in musically and politically charged performances. Tim Reynolds, guitarist for the Dave Matthews Band, played. So too did Pat Simmons and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, who performed some of that group's greatest hits before being joined by Raitt for a raucous rendition of "Taking It To The Streets." The highlight of the Saturday night show came when Kucinich's most high-profile musician backer, Willie Nelson, took the stage.
Nelson, who has been talking up Kucinich's candidacy since last summer, says he was attracted to Kucinich first because of the Ohio congressman's passionate defense of family farmers -- a cause close to the heart of the country singer, who has been a core backer of the Farm Aid concerts. But, as he campaigned for Kucinich over the weekend, Nelson picked up on the anti-war message that has been central to Kucinich's run for the White House.
Though the world of activism never sleeps with literally scores of brave grassroots organizing being done 24/7 across America today ActNow will be off until January 12. Please take the time to read the archives. Many of the campaigns I've written about, especially the National Conference on Organized Resistance, the fight to save reproductive rights and the Restore FOIA efforts, are still very much in progress and can use all the help they can get.
There are also a number of websites I'd recommend to keep in touch with various activist currents and issue-oriented campaigns. An incomplete, unrepresentative list would include:
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch tries to inject democratic interests into the debate on globalization by arguing that the current corporate-led globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor is it "free trade." The site offers a host of matchlessly researched material written in unusually readable language, so there's no need to feel intimidated. There are also a host of ways for you to get involved at whatever level.
Nation columnist Naomi Klein's website, NoLogo.Org, also features updated writings, by Naomi and others, on both new models of globalization and popular struggles against the manifestations of these new forms.
Nation contributing editor Doug Henwood's Left Business Observer is another unique and invaluable website, offering informed economic and political reporting that's difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere. (Doug also has a new book, After the Economy.)
CommonDreams has carved out a niche for itself and looks like it's here to stay as a useful filter for the mainstream and alternative press. A daily updated collection of links to articles of progressive interest with a thrice-daily updated news-wire, it offers smartly chosen pieces and a well-organized format.
Happy New Year!
Have you heard about the attempt to replace Franklin Roosevelt with Ronald Reagan on our dime? Some 89 conservative co-sponsors of the "Ronald Reagan Dime Act" say that anger over CBS's docudrama about the Reagans pushed them to introduce the bill. Liberal congressman Jim McGovern (D, MA) is countering with a bill to keep FDR on the coin. (Fortunately, he has gathered 106 co-sponsors so far.)
McGovern argues that changing the dime is the wrong way to honor Reagan (who already has National Airport named after him, a major federal building in Washington and schools, roads and bridges around the country). He also points out that FDR's face is on the dime because of a specific and special connection to the coin. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes, which funded the research that resulted in the polio vaccine which ended the scourge of the 20th century. (The disability community, it's worth noting, is outraged by this conservative gambit and plans to fight hard if the Republicans schedule the bill for the floor.)
The fact that the high priest of anti-tax activism, Grover Norquist, is involved in this fight--as chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project--imbues the coin toss with a distinct ideological flavor. After all, Norquist once said that he wanted "to shrink government in half to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub." Roosevelt, on the other hand, believed government could be a force for good. McGovern argues that Norquist and his fellow traveling conservatives are using this fight as part of their battle plan to diminish, dismantle, and eventually drown Roosevelt's New Deal legacy in its entirety. (Co-sponsors of the Reagan dime bill include the top pitbulls of the GOP, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom Delay, House Whip Roy Blunt and Rules Committee Chair David Dreier.)
But Norquist, Delay and their ilk may have met their match in a surprising adversary: Nancy Reagan. Her recent statement opposing the renaming effort may hopefully squash the bill's momentum. She is right to speak out--after all, unlike some of these rabid conservatives she retains a historical memory of her husband's four votes for FDR--Reagan often cited as the inspiration of his public life and the greatest president of the 20th century. She may also remember that it was Reagan who made possible the FDR Memorial in Washington.
But, as of now, Mrs. Reagan's statement hasn't discouraged the true believers who continue to push for the Reagan dime. According to one close observer of the fight, they are now arguing that Mrs. Reagan's comments show just how classy she is--that is, it would be untoward for her to publicly support replacing FDR on the dime, so it's up to others to take the lead in the fight. Even more preposterously, some of the bill's co-sponsors argue that when President Reagan was shot, the bullet was "flattened to the size of a dime," which is why it's appropriate to change the dime, rather than, say, the penny or the nickel.
Reagan's death is likely to let loose an enormous effort to rename everything, perhaps including the country, but, for now, let's keep Roosevelt's image on the dime and fight the dismantling of what's left of the New Deal.
To Take Action:
2) Send letters to the editor of your local paper and make calls to your local talk-radio program showing support for keeping FDR on the dime. Click here for contact info for media in your area.
In his year-end news conference, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan lamented that so much of the year had been devoted to Iraq at the expense of other global problems like poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. "Let's get our priorities right in 2004," Annan said before opening the floor to questions. The New York Times reported that twenty four questions were asked--all but three were about Iraq.
As the New Year approaches, I've started making my list of resolutions. Work for democratic regime change at home. Build a more peaceful and just world. Make it to all of my daughter's basketball games. For the sake of my sanity, I vow to break my e-mail addiction and build some boundaries between my work and personal life. And to stave off memory loss, I vow to stop multitasking.
Yes, multitasking. According to a growing body of scientific research, juggling three or four tasks at once as I do too often can actually scramble your brain and lead to short-term memory loss. And chronic, intense multitasking has been shown to induce a stress response--an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form new memory. Other warning signs for inveterate multitaskers--and ones I've experienced--include changes in the ability to concentrate and gaps in attentiveness.
So, in this new year without multitasking, I resolve to take up mental aerobics--or active memory training. It seems that scientists have discovered that training and stimulation may tone and firm the brain just as the nautilus equipment at the gym does the abs. The concept is catching on. UCLA offers a five-week memory training course; the Memory Training Institute in Connecticut teaches mnemonic devices and other recall tricks. And at Florida Atlantic University, there's a class that includes "brain games," checkers, bridge, computational puzzles and even flash cards for adults.
Premised on a "use it or lose it" theory, mental aerobics build on research that suggests stimulating your mind actually causes the rewiring of the brain, even the sprouting new synapses. Of course there are simpler ways to help halt memory decline--getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, reducing stress and eating a diet rich in antioxidants such as berries and vitamins A and E. But if I think I'm going to get more sleep or cut back on stress, while editing a political weekly in 2004, then I'm really losing my mind!
If you haven't been following the take-no-prisoners approach of the Congressional Republican leadership--ramming through Medicare legislation by threatening reluctant GOP colleagues, barring Democrats from conference committees, keeping roll call open for almost three hours (breaking with the usual fifteen minutes)--Senator Chuck Hagel's (R, Neb) recent remarks convey some sense of the damage being done to our parliamentary system by the rightwing thugs currently running Congress.
"It's almost anything goes," said Senator Hagel, far from a liberal voice, in criticizing his own party's leadership. "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around...It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict."
Representative Nick Smith (R, Mich), who is retiring next year and hopes his son will succeed him, is one of those feeling the heat. Smith--a feisty, independent six-term conservative Congressman--says that the arm-twisting during the Medicare vote was the strongest he has experienced in his twenty-seven years in politics.
The day after the bill squeaked through the House by a vote of 220 to 215, Smith wrote a column for a Michigan newspaper (the Lenawee Connection) detailing the Republican House Leadership's use of what he called "bribes and special deals" to eke out the margin of victory. In a subsequent interview with a Michigan radio station, Smith spoke about being pressured by the "leadership" and said "they" had offered "$100,000 plus" for his son's upcoming campaign before threatening that "some of us are going to work to make sure your son doesn't get to Congress" unless Smith relented and supported the Medicare bill. (Smith voted against the legislation.)
In the last weeks, Smith has declined to specify who allegedly offered the bribes and made the threats, though Representative Gil Gutknecht (R. Minn) recalls Smith saying it was "people from the leadership" who had offered the money. Gutknecht assumed it was someone who controlled a "large leadership PAC, who can raise a few hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers."
What is not in dispute--even eight members of the Republican Study Committee (a group of fiscally conservative House lawmakers) agree--is that Smith was pressured in unprecedented ways by a House leadership willing to do whatever was needed to pass the bill.
The Democratic National Committee (and two independent groups that work on ethics issues) have requested a Justice Department investigation into whether the pressure on Smith was not just run-of-the-mill Capitol Hill horse-trading but a violation of federal anti-bribery law. Surprise, surprise--so far, the Justice Department says no decision has been made as to whether to investigate.
If our system worked, and there was some measure of accountability, we'd have a rigorous inquiry into who did what when and key members of the House Republican leadership would resign if Smith's allegations were proven true. The real danger is that if we don't change the way our Congress is being run, it may well be, as Rep. Barney Frank (D, Mass) said after the roll call for the Medicare vote was manipulated by the Republican leadership, "the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it."
I agreed to go on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show recently to discuss progressive responses to Bush. I'm always ambivalent about participating in Fox talk shows. As one Nation reader said in a letter lamenting my appearance on the program: "It seems both demeaning to your stature as an actual reporter of fact-based news as well as lending undeserved credibility to the show."
But I also feel compelled to take opportunities to speak to an "unconverted" audience. Click here for the transcript of the program, but also read below for what I was hoping would be possible when I said yes to the booker.
December 1, 2003 (Parallel O'Reilly Factor)**
O'REILLY: All right, Ms. Vanden Heuvel, is this strategy on the left going to succeed?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I hope it does, because if it does, America will be a safer, healthier, better educated, more secure society. Progressives are uniting, thanks to Bush.
O'REILLY: Well, I agree with your last point. Your magazine's up fifty percent, right?
VANDEN HEUVEL: The Nation's circulation is up fifty percent...
O'REILLY: Then why are only twenty percent of Americans liberals?
VANDEN HEUVEL: That's a meaningless statistic. Twenty percent of Americans identify with a label in some poll. The vast majority of people share core liberal values. Reproductive choice. Public education. Healthcare and Social Security without the profit motive. An internationalist foreign policy. Fair wages and fair taxation.
O'REILLY: The polls show that President Bush's approval rating is well over fifty percent.
VANDEN HEUVEL: So what? An approval rating isn't a blanket endorsement of his policies. Those numbers crash and burn when people learn about specifics.
O'REILLY: So you're saying the American people are stupid.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Just the opposite. They're misinformed, and in some cases deceived. I think there should be a marketplace of ideas in this country that reflects a much fuller range of political opinion that we currently see.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I disagree. Something like the New York Times is basically liberal on social issues. But where's the serious discussion of a living wage in this country? Of universal health insurance? Of the fact that the Iraq war violated international law? These are the nuts-and-bolts progressive issues, but you won't hear them in the so-called elite liberal media. Much of the media is elitist because it usually serves corporate interests or follows the official line. And whatever you think of NPR and PBS, they're no match for it, not only because they too depend increasingly on corporate money to survive.
O'REILLY: But you have the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, bashing Bush, saying if we elect a Democrat, all the problems are going to be solved, just like they were under eight years of Mr. Clinton. All the problems were solved, yes.
VANDEN HEUVEL: You're equating the left with the Democratic Party. The Nation was very critical of both Clinton and Gore. We need to reassert the core progressive values that most Americans see as perfectly reasonable, may of which were not ones upheld by Clinton. This is what the Democrats need to do if they want to start winning elections again. But progressives also need to build independent political capacity, inject some passion and principle into our politics. Hell, one out of two eligible voters don't even vote.**The above conversation never happened--and it's unlikely to on Fox TV.
A right to counsel and a right to trial?
John Ashcroft wonders: How do you suppose
We'll save our freedoms and our way of life
If we start granting everybody those?