John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its National Affairs Correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “Outfoxed,” and in the documentaries Joan Sekler’s “Unprecedented,” Matt Kohn’s “Call It Democracy” and Robert Pappas’s “Orwell Rolls in his Grave.” The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: “At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift–a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history–that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country.”
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.” (Photo by Robin Holland / Bill Moyers Journal)
Battling the war profiteers of World War I, Robert La Follette reminded America that "wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism." The progressive senator from Wisconsin was complaining about arms merchants reaping excessive profits from the sale of weaponry in 1917. But La Follette's words echo with particular clarity in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because of the rise of another form of war profiteering. In an attempt to gain the upper hand in a fight they had been losing, Bush Administration and Congressional supporters of fast track--or, as supporters have renamed it, "Trade Promotion Authority"--were telling Congress Daily within hours of the September 11 attacks that terrorist threats increased the need to grant Bush authority to negotiate a NAFTA-style free-trade area from Tierra del Fuego to the Tundra.
With each passing day, these policy profiteers have pumped up the volume. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, announced, "Passing trade promotion authority for the President would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the United States is ready, willing and able to lead." The Wall Street Journal editorial page chirped about how "not everything has changed for the worse since September 11. One garden at the skunk party has been the emergence of new bipartisan momentum to expand free trade, specifically something called 'Trade Promotion Authority.'" US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick was everywhere preaching his "Countering Terror With Trade" mantra, a campaign so aggressive it left even Republicans scratching their heads. "I am not sure a trade bill has anything to do with terrorism," said Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney.
But Zoellick wasn't listening to Republicans who warned that an aggressive push for fast track could be the straw that breaks the back of the post-September 11 bipartisanship. Less than two weeks after the attacks, Zoellick delivered a speech at the Institute for International Economics that seemed to question the patriotism of fast-track foes. Members of Congress "who know trade is the right thing to do are refusing to act for rather narrow-interest reasons," the Bush aide declared, adding, "Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle."
That was too much for New York Congressman Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel issued a scathing rebuke to Zoellick's policy profiteering. "As a combat war veteran and as a person whose city has been attacked and suffered devastating losses as a result, I am offended by the strategy of the current United States Trade Representative to use the tragedy in New York and at the Pentagon to fuel political momentum behind a partisan fast-track proposal," Rangel said, adding, "To have the USTR attack the patriotism of Americans for their failure to support an unwritten, undisclosed bill demands a public apology."
When Zoellick's point man in the House, Bill Thomas, the California Republican who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, claimed he had consulted key Democrats about a move to push a bipartisan fast-track compromise through the House, Rangel shot back that the Democrats in question "have expressed to me in no uncertain terms that they do not subscribe to this attempt to wrap the flag around any fast-track bill in the wake of the September 11 attacks." Undaunted, Thomas said he'd try to bring a bill to a floor vote by the second week of October.
Long before September 11, the debate over fast track was destined to be intense. Bush, aided by major corporations, had promised to pull out all the stops. But labor, environment and human rights groups thwarted them by reminding Congress that since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, more than 355,000 US jobs (even by the government's conservative estimate) have been lost. Small farms have failed at a significantly increased rate, and environmental and worker safety protections have been undermined at home and abroad. "If the Administration had the votes for fast track, before September 11 or after, we would have had a vote. They still don't have the votes, but they're trying everything to come up with them," says Patrick Woodall, research director for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.
Zoellick and Thomas are hardly the only policy profiteers. The threat of war and recession has inspired plenty of moves to wrap unappealing agendas in the bunting of patriotism. School-prayer and flag-protection amendments are being elbowed onto the antiterrorist agenda, while Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed hard to win approval of dusted-off proposals to curtail immigrants' rights, expand electronic surveillance and allow use of intelligence gathered by foreign governments in US courts [see Bruce Shapiro, "All in the Name of Security," page 20]. Playing the patriotism card in support of Ashcroft, GOP Senate leader Trent Lott warned the Democrats that in the event of another attack, "people are going to wonder where have you been in giving the additional tools that are needed to, you know, find these terrorists and avoid plots that may be in place."
Bush aides have proposed cutting corporate income taxes, while House Republicans are flying the capital-gains tax-cut flag. Although the attacks proved that there are far more pressing security needs than developing a National Missile Defense system, Star Wars backers are still attempting to get funding for their boondoggle. And backers of the Administration's energy proposal now want an "expedited energy bill" designed to clear the way for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
If Washington is witnessing shameless policy profiteering, state legislatures have seen surreal grabs for political advantage. A Republican state representative in Wisconsin announced that after so many deaths, it was time to renew America's commitment to life--by passing his antiabortion bill. In states that bar capital punishment, proposals were made to allow executions as antiterrorist measures--failing to recognize the absurdity of threatening suicide attackers with death.
Every war has its profiteers. But it looks like this one is going to require an army of La Follettes to prevent this war's policy profiteers from warping the discourse--not to mention plundering the Treasury--in the name of a "patriotism" defined solely by self-interest.
PEACEFUL JUSTICE In every region of the country, a movement for a "justice, not vengeance" response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is growing rapidly. Among the first to act were students at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. "People were still crying, but they were also asking, 'What can we do to break the cycle of violence?'" says Sarah Norr, a junior. Wesleyan students who had been mobilizing against sweatshops and World Bank policies joined Arab-American students to create a movement for "peaceful justice." They e-mailed campuses nationwide, created a website (www.peacefuljustice.cjb.net) and tapped into Students Transforming and Resisting Corporations (STARC), Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) and 180/Movement for Democracy and Education networks to organize a "National Student Day of Action" around four principles: unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks, a call for US officials to seek justice rather than revenge in order to avoid loss of more innocent lives and to work toward a lasting peace, resistance to scapegoating of Muslims and Arab-Americans and defense of civil liberties. "Wesleyan really got the ball rolling," says STARC co-founder Terra Lawson-Remer. The September 20 Day of Action saw teach-ins and rallies on 140 campuses. Now, Wesleyan students are working with STARC to take the movement off campus. "The polls say 85 percent of Americans want a war, but when we ask local businesses to put up our signs, we're finding a longing for dialogue," says Norr. "When we say, 'We're all against terrorism; now let's talk about the best way to respond to it,' people don't reject the opportunity, they embrace it."
NO MORE VICTIMS It is tough to talk peace when your phone lines have been disrupted after a terrorist attack, but the War Resisters League did. Despite phone and Internet troubles at its New York office, the seventy-eight-year-old organization issued a statement within hours of the attack and helped organize a vigil for peace in New York's Union Square. The American Friends Service Committee, while dispatching volunteers to help victims of the World Trade Center attack, launched a "No More Victims" campaign urging Bush to "look for diplomatic means to bring to justice the people who are responsible for this crime against humanity." Peace Action, while continuing its activism against Bush's National Missile Defense plan, made the case for treating the attackers as criminals rather than embarking on military actions. Said Peace Action's Kevin Martin, "A great nation does not punish the innocent to assuage its anguish." New groups such as the Seattle 911 Peace Coalition, as well as old peace and social justice organizations, mobilized to arrange teach-ins and rallies in cities from Boston to San Diego.... After the Mobilization for Global Justice called off planned protests against the IMF and World Bank, coalition partners began organizing marches and rallies in the Washington, DC, area to criticize Bush's handling of the crisis.... An interfaith statement signed by more than 1,500 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders was delivered to Congress and posted on the websites of the National Council of Churches (www.ncccusa.org) and Sojourners (www.sojo.net). The statement reads, in part, "Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."
VOICES OF EXPERIENCE Arab-Americans facing threats of violence and discrimination after the attacks found defenders among Japanese-Americans who recalled the abuses they suffered during World War II. "We're seeing a chilling echo of what happened sixty years ago," warned actor George Takei, one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned by the US government. Takei damned attackers of Arab-Americans, saying, "The fanatics are no better than the terrorists." The Japanese American Citizens League made common cause with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in urging federal action to protect Arab-Americans, Muslims and immigrants. Democratic Representative Mike Honda of California, another former internee, is trying to convince the professional sports leagues to broadcast a statement condemning bigotry toward Arab-Americans. Warning against the "abandonment of our most cherished ideals when blinded by rage," Honda said any US response to the attacks must "make sure that we do not repeat the injustices visited upon one ethnic group in 1941."
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION? Members of Congress have been warned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to keep mum about what they learn in briefings, the Voice of America was censored and Pentagon aides are restricting the flow of information about US military responses to the September 11 attacks. "I'm having flashbacks to Richard Nixon," says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Recalling battles over media access during the Vietnam War, Dalglish says, "Everything tells me this new fight will be the most covert war we have ever seen. If it drags on, as I think it will, we are very likely to see new Pentagon Papers situations where the government tries to prevent citizens from learning what is going on. That's dangerous in a democracy. People need to know whether a war is being pursued justly, or whether it is just cruel annihilation." Dalglish is pushing watchdog groups to reactivate a coalition that pressed for openness during the Gulf War.
Most Americans are probably unaware that "the Dark Ages were not all bad and the Enlightenment not all good." Or that "homosexuality [is] a sin worthy of death." Or that one of the greatest threats to the country is "the Feminization of American Life." Or that we should still be debating the question: "Who Was Right in the War Between the States: the Union or the Confederacy?"
If you are active with the Christian fundamentalist organization American Vision, however, this is mainstream thinking--or, more precisely, the thinking you hope to force down the throat of the mainstream. The Georgia-based group's president, Gary DeMar, preaches about "the necessity of storming the gates of hell" and cleansing public institutions of "secularism, atheism, humanism, and just plain anti-Christian sentiment." He may soon be dispatching a prominent foot soldier to do just that. J. Robert Brame III, American Vision's board secretary, reportedly tops President Bush's list of likely appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, the five-member agency that determines the fate of workers seeking union recognition and helps define how federal law protects women, gays and lesbians, and others seeking representation in the workplace.
Brame, a management lawyer, previously served on the board from 1997 to 2000. Technically appointed by Bill Clinton, he was actually a choice forced upon the former President by Senate Republicans who refused to act on Clinton's appointments unless he gave Brame the job. During those three years, Brame was the most frequent dissenter from the board's pro-labor decisions. He opposed moves to make it easier for temporary workers, graduate students and medical interns and residents to unionize. He was a lonely advocate of steps to limit the ability of unions to use dues money to pay for organizing. Brame even complained about NLRB rulings that "facilitate union organizing in the modern work place."
Brame's record, his association with American Vision and the very real prospect that he could end up chairing a Bush-appointed NLRB majority by the end of the year have energized opponents. Taking the lead is the gay and lesbian labor group Pride at Work, which aims, says interim executive director Marta Ames, "to make enough noise so that Bush decides it's not worth it to appoint someone who is associated with the viewpoint that LGBT people are 'monsters' who should be stoned."
"Gays and lesbians, women, people of color and young people are harassed on the job all the time, and that harassment becomes vicious when we're trying to organize into unions," says Sarah Luthens, a Seattle union organizer active with the Out Front Labor Coalition. "To think that someone like Brame would be in a position to decide whether that harassment represents a violation of labor laws that are already too weak is horrifying."