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 Washington 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."
Getting serious about media reform.
"Our Democratic Moses is going to lead us to the promised land," United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts told grizzled coal miners in rural Virginia on the eve of the November 6 elections that restored Democrats to top jobs not only in Virginia but in statehouses and city halls across the country.
The man Roberts was introducing, high-tech millionaire Mark Warner, was an unlikely Democratic Moses. A self-proclaimed "fiscal conservative" who overwhelmed his Republican foe with $5 million in personal spending and tactical outreach to independents and moderate Republicans, Warner sold himself as the sort of "new economy" Democrat that Al Gore tried so hard to be last year. The difference, of course, is that Warner won a clear victory, making him the first Democrat to secure his state's governorship since George W. Bush's father was President. And Warner won with a campaign that backed abortion rights, opposed celebration of Confederate holidays, embraced unions and called for better pay for public employees. That made him more than enough of a Moses for Cecil Roberts and other Democratic stalwarts--in Virginia and beyond. Shaken by their party's loss of last year's contested presidential election and by Bush's 90 percent approval ratings in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Democrats were looking for a sign that their party was still in the game. And they got it.
Warner's win in Virginia--an Old Confederacy state that trended Republican through the 1990s--came on the same night that Democrats elected a former civil rights lawyer as Virginia's lieutenant governor, retook the New Jersey governorship, upset ten years of Republican control of both houses of the New Jersey legislature, took control of the Washington State House of Representatives and won most major mayoral and county executive contests. Though party chairs always try to spin off-year elections harder than is warranted, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe could stake a legitimate claim to this year's bragging rights. Eight years after Republicans swept off-year contests and then used those victories to push their successful drive to win control of Congress in 1994, Democrats pretty much reversed the trend. "[Republicans] basically said...when they swept these offices that this bodes very badly for the Democratic Party. Well, I can turn around and say the same thing," bragged McAuliffe.
The rare exception is New York City, where Democrat Mark Green lost to billionaire businessman Democrat-turned-Republican Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg won with strong end-of-the-campaign backing from outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He benefited as well from lingering anger among Latino and African-American voters, who felt Green's primary campaign had played on racial fears.
But Giuliani's coattails did not extend far beyond his city. Virginia and New Jersey Republicans relied heavily on television advertising featuring Giuliani endorsements, to little effect. New Jersey's Jim McGreevey countered with endorsements from police, fire and construction unions, which since September 11 have taken on heroic stature. Virginia's Warner also did something few Democrats have in recent years: He went after rural voters with a vengeance, returning repeatedly even in the critical closing days of the campaign to hard-hit coal-mining, textile and farming regions that Democrats often write off as lost to cultural conservatism. Warner's success in using economic themes to draw small-town and farm-country votes gives new impetus to McAuliffe's efforts to implement a rural strategy, to renew the party's national appeal.
Another new strategy, making use of initiative referendums to break legislative deadlocks on major issues, appears to be paying off for progressives. In Washington, voters overwhelmingly endorsed the highest cigarette tax in the nation to aid healthcare and a labor-backed move to create a "homecare quality authority" that will give expanded bargaining rights to state-paid homecare workers. Portland, Maine, voters endorsed universal healthcare. While it appeared Houston voters would narrowly endorse a measure prohibiting city-paid domestic partner benefits, gay rights backers won referendums in three Michigan cities, and Miami Beach voters said the city should provide city employee benefits to gay domestic partners. In San Francisco, though anthrax scares slowed counting of absentee ballots that will decide a pair of too-close-to-call votes on initiatives to take over local utilities, it appeared that at least one of two proposals was winning. Easily prevailing, however, were two solar-power initiatives designed to provide the policy and funding support for making the city a world leader in development of alternative energy sources.
MUNICIPAL UPHEAVALS The highest-profile fight nationally has to be the race to succeed New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with labor-backed Democrat Mark Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg clashing over who will rebuild the city. Criticized for appealing to white fear to secure the Democratic nod, Green is struggling to shore up black and Latino support. Runoff foe Fernando Ferrer backs him, but Green is still mending fences with hospital union chief Dennis Rivera, a Ferrer backer whose street muscle could offset Bloomberg's bankroll.
In addition to New York, hundreds of cities from Atlanta to Seattle will elect mayors this fall. Many of them are turning to new faces. Veteran black mayors are stepping down in Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta, inspiring spirited "next generation" contests. And Texas is witnessing a push by Latino candidates to win the mayoralties of Houston and other major cities, following the election this past spring in San Antonio of 32-year-old Democrat Ed Garza. In Cincinnati, where riots erupted in April following the shooting by a police officer of an unarmed African-American youth, former television news anchor Courtis Fuller, who is African-American, faces moderate Democratic Mayor Charlie Luken, who is white. Luken outspent Fuller by 11 to 1 in the nonpartisan primary. But Fuller's promise to make improved race relations a priority, along with a seven-point "covenant with voters"--which includes pledges to give the city's Citizens' Review Panel subpoena power to investigate police misconduct, to seek repeal of a 1993 charter amendment that prohibits specific legal protection for gays and lesbians, and to redirect the city's focus to better serve blighted neighborhoods--inspired a surge in African-American turnout. Fuller beat Luken by sixteen points in the primary that set up the November 6 runoff between the pair.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, who managed that city's response to the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, lost his job in a September primary. Schell was bested by City Attorney Mark Sidran and King County Council member Greg Nickels. In a liberal city that is still reeling in the aftermath of the WTO protests, an earthquake, various riots, the dot-com collapse and Boeing's exit, Sidran is running a law-and-order campaign that says the answer to a lot of what ails the city can be found in "civility laws" aimed at clearing the streets of panhandlers and the homeless. Nickels, siding with civil libertarians and antipoverty advocates, is betting that the historically liberal city will agree with his view that "we have a responsibility to do more than tell our homeless, 'You can't sit on the street or urinate on the sidewalk.'"
REJECTING ROBERTSON? Pat Robertson's favorite candidate this year is Virginia Republican gubernatorial contender Mark Earley, a fellow fundamentalist whose political rise has been shepherded by the Christian Coalition chief. Robertson has contributed $35,000 to Earley's campaign. Since September 11, however, Earley has been scrambling to explain his ties to Robertson, who concurred with fellow Virginian Jerry Falwell's view that the terrorists "give us probably what we deserve" because the country harbors abortion-rights supporters, gays and lesbians, civil libertarians and feminists. Earley has yet to part company with Robertson. Instead, he is relying on Republican National Committee money--more than $2 million so far--and a campaign that claims Democrat Mark Warner and his statewide running mates are the most extreme left-wing ticket in history. Warner, a high-tech millionaire and former US Senate candidate, doesn't live up to the billing. Though he is backed by labor and environmental groups, and supports abortion rights and protections for gays and lesbians, he also backs the death penalty, opposes new taxes and has made overtures to the National Rifle Association. Polls show Warner's well-financed campaign to be leading. If he prevails, Virginia will join one of the least-noticed trends in American politics: the return of Democratic control of governorships in the states of the Old Confederacy. A Warner win would add Virginia to a list that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
LAY OFF LABOR Republicans have for years attacked Democrats for getting too close to organized labor, and that was precisely the tactic opted for by New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nominee Bret Schundler, whose privatization schemes as mayor of Jersey City earned cheers from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. In their first major debate after September 11, Schundler attacked Democratic foe Jim McGreevey as a slave of labor "special interests." Running in a state that adjoins New York City, and where many former World Trade Center workers reside, McGreevey said he was rather proud of his endorsement from the state's fire and police unions. In a response that could serve as a model for Democrats in 2002, McGreevey continued, "Mr. Schundler calls police and firefighters special interests. I call them special heroes. They are the guys who ran into the building. They've endorsed me. And they are not supporting Mr. Schundler." McGreevey, who almost beat former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1997, has had the lead from the start. Though he is hardly a progressive, McGreevey is pro-choice and pro-public education as well as pro-labor, in stark contrast to conservative poster-boy Schundler.
INITIATING CHANGE In a state where initiative referendums have frequently been used to slash taxes and public services, Washington labor, church and community groups are seeking to reclaim direct democracy on November 6. The Homecare Quality Initiative, backed by Service Employees International Union locals as well as elderly, disability rights and AIDS care groups, would create a nine-member authority to set standards for publicly funded in-home care services for elderly and disabled adults. Initiative 773, supported by Healthcare for Washington's Working Families, would raise taxes on cigarettes and wholesale tobacco products, with the money earmarked for healthcare for low-income families. Framing the vote as a choice between initiative backers such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association of Washington, the Washington Academy of Family Physicians and leading foes Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, campaign spokesman Eric Jaffe says, "We know Washington voters trust the major organizations supporting I-773 when it comes to matters concerning health and kids, not Big Tobacco."
San Franciscans will vote on whether to create a public power company.
In trying to avoid being seen as unpatriotic, they risk looking like lapdogs.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
Moving to exploit a shifting political landscape in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush's Congressional point man on free
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.
After President Bush's "win this war" speech to Congress Thursday night, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Senate minority leader Trent Lott strode to a podium where Lott declared, "Tonight,
After President Bush's "win this war" speech to Congress Thursday night, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Senate minority leader Trent Lott strode to a podium where Lott declared, "Tonight,