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Dead as Horse Meat

Immigration reform is off until after the '06 elections. Security and mortgage moms are bolting the GOP. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Democrats will take back the House of Representatives in November.

So how are nervous House Republicans responding in their first week back in session after a month long recess? By talking about horse meat.

The "American House Slaughter Prevention Act," introduced by GOP Rep. John Sweeney and up for a vote Thursday, attempts to stop the sale of horse meat for human consumption. A laudable goal. But the top priority for the House?

Is this how Republicans plan to spend their two or three remaining weeks in Washington before the midterms? Well, not completely. They'll also try and paint the Democrats as the party of "retreat and defeat" in the war on terror, by scheduling votes on defense and homeland security spending bills, and authorizing Bush's warrantless wiretapping program (recently ruled unconstitutional by a US district court) and military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).

Yet even the GOP's advantage on security has eroded. Which isn't to say that Democrats won't find a way to blow it. But, odds are, in a few months at least some sitting Republicans will be dead as horse meat.

What a New Mason-Dixon Poll Reveals

A new and interesting poll out of the Florida governor's race suggests how (1) a broad-based, quasi-populist economic message has legs this election season; and (2) how those 2004 exit polls showing the extraordinary power of "moral issues" should be consigned to pollsters' dustbins. A just-released Mason-Dixon poll finds that only 5 percent of GOP voters were the most concerned about "moral issues" going into the Florida primaries. Many more said they were worried about property insurance rates that have skyrocketed because of hurricanes. As Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, put it in Monday's New York Times, "Even the religious conservatives are more concerned about the $2000 homeowners' insurance hit they just took."

Message to Tom Frank: Maybe it's time for a look at what's doing in Florida?

Christian Conservatives for Domestic Violence?

When a raft of state defense of marriage amendments (DOMAs) passed in 2004, observers (including yours truly) warned that such amendments would not just ban gay marriage but also imperil domestic partnership agreements, next-of-kin arrangements and domestic violence protections for unmarried people. Right-wing backers dismissed such concerns as left-liberal paranoia. Well, I normally love to say "I told you so," but in this case it brings me no pleasure. Nonetheless, I told you so.

Ohio was one of 11 states to pass DOMAs in 2004, and pundits alleged then that "State Issue No. 1," as it was called on the ballot, played a major role in John Kerry's defeat. Whatever the case may be (and let's hope the ballots are still around to see), one immediate fallout is clear: domestic violence protections for unmarried women.

In late August, Ohio's Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a right-wing organization devoted to promoting "Judeo-Christian moral values," filed an amicus brief on behalf of an alleged domestic abuser. For the past 25 years, Ohio's domestic violence law has covered married couples as well as unmarried and divorced individuals. According to CCV, such protections run afoul of Ohio's DOMA, which bars the state from recognizing any legal status for unmarried people that "intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." If CCV has their way, "persons living as a spouse" (i.e. unmarried, live-in partners) would no longer be protected under Ohio's domestic violence statute. Apparently, it's more important for CCV to preserve the distinction between married and unmarried couples (and pre-empt gay marriage) than it is to prosecute domestic abusers. So much for Judeo-Christian values...

Fight For the Internet Freedom Heats Up

Congress is about to return to Washington this week after taking a long summer break for campaigning and before taking a long fall break for campaigning.

During the brief period of governing that will be wedged into the month of September, a lot of damage could be done -- particularly to "The First Amendment of the Internet": the principle known as "Net Neutrality."

Net Neutrality, which has until now been the guiding principle that preserves a free and open Internet, ensures that everyone who logs on can access the content or run the applications and devices of every site on the world wide web. The neutrality principle prevents telephone and cable companies that provide internet service from discriminating against content based on its source or ownership.

As the "Save the Internet" campaign [www.savetheinternet.com], a broad coalition of groups fighting to maintain open access to all sites on the web, explains: "Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It's why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech."

Telecommunications firms salivate at the prospect of eliminating Net Neutrality requirements and setting up systems where websites that pay for the service will be more easily reached than sites that cannot afford the toll. And U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who has for many years been a dominant figure in communications debates on Capitol Hill, is determined to change the rules so that Internet gatekeepers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner, can create an "information superhighway" for those who pay and a dirt road for those who fail to do so.

A sweeping overhaul of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that is being promited by Stevens does not include Net Neutrality protections and would effectively clear the way for the telecommunications giants to colonize the Internet.

Stevens, the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, wants to see action on the measure before Congress breaks for the remainder of the election season in early October. But rewriting the rules to favor the telecommunications conglomerates may not be as easy this year as it was in 1996. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the overhaul legislation and says he will not lift it until Net Neutrality protections are written into the measure.

Activists across the country used the August break to urge senators who had not taken a stand to line up in favor of net neutrality. Rallies in late August targeted Congressional offices in 25 cities nationwide, and they had an impact. A number of senators -- including New York's Chuck Schumer, Minnesota's Mark Dayton, Iowa's Tom Harkin and Vermont's Jim Jeffords -- pledged their support for net neutrality.

But Stevens -- and too many of his allies in both parties -- remained unmoved as September started.

As the return of Congress loomed, however, the Alaska senator took a poke from the largest daily newspaper in his state, the Anchorage Daily News, which bluntly declared in a September 4 editoral that: "Net Neutrality is a good idea. Sen. Ted Stevens should support it."

"Sen. Stevens has said he doesn't see an immediate problem that requires regulation. In other words, he's reluctant to have the government set the playing rules until more companies are caught cheating. Apparently he thinks competition can be counted on to prevent any abuses," explained the editorial. "Only problem is, local Internet service is not a fluid, totally free market with a lot of competitors. Many markets are served by only one or two high-speed Internet companies. Switching providers is not as easy as driving to the next gas station or grocery store. Special expertise and special equipment are required to switch. Many consumers may not even be sophisticated enough to know when their Internet service is playing favorites in sending content."

The Anchorage Daily News concluded that, "Net Neutrality is hardly a heavy-handed government intrusion into the free-wheeling world of the Internet. It is a simple antitrust rule that protects consumers by keeping Internet companies from exploiting their control over connections. Congress should get ahead of the curve and ensure net neutrality before abuses begin to spread."

That's the right position. And it is summed up by a measure that the Senate should pass before its members go out and ask Americans for their votes this fall: The Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Sponsored by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan the act would provide meaningful protection for Net Neutrality.

While the machinations in the Senate this month are troubling, they also provide a critical opening for the debate that America should be having on media policy. No incumbent senator or candidate for a senate seat should be allowed to make it to November without addressing the issue of Net Neutrality and the broader question of whether media policy in this country should serve a few telecommunications giants or the the great mass of Americans and the great potential of American democracy.

Lessons for Labor Day

CEO's in the oil and defense industries are making out like profiteering bandits. Wages for American workers are declining while their productivity is rising. Recent polls show that workers feel pessimistic about their economic prospects. And a new US Census Report reveals growing poverty, especially among children.

Happy Labor Day.

The 13th annual "Executive Excess" report from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and United for a Fair Economy indicates that "the CEO's at the top 34 military contractors have enjoyed average paychecks that are double the compensation they received in the four years leading up to 9/11."

George David, CEO of United Technologies – the maker of the Black Hawk helicopter – pocketed $200 million since 9/11, explaining, "Obviously, military was a big bang for us in the post-September 11 period." UTC is currently suing the Pentagon to stop the release of documents pertaining to Black Hawk quality-control problems.

These 34 defense CEO's have been paid nearly $1 billion since 9/11. As soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, the average army private earns $25,000 per year while the average defense CEO makes $7.7 million.

As IPS's Sarah Anderson writes, "Imagine how it must feel to be risking your life every day on the front lines in Iraq, knowing that military contractors are getting grotesquely rich in the comfort of their executive suites? No wonder we're seeing the US Marine Corps having to force their reservists back to the battlefield."

Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe concludes, "There is no evidence of a [defense] contractor having a soul in the 13th annual Executive Excess CEO survey…."

The oil barons are also enjoying the spoils of our energy crisis. Last year they averaged $32.7 million in compensation, 518 times more than the average oil worker. Chuck Collins and Eric Benjamin write, "Big Oil CEO's should be held to account for their failure to dedicate their mountains of excess cash toward seeking new energy sources that move us beyond fossil fuels."

But the fact is that what is happening in the numb-to-greed defense and oil industries is not dissimilar to the rest of our economy. According to the Washington Post, "the top fifth of American households received 50.4 percent of all income last year, the highest proportion since 1967, when the census bureau started following that trend. The biggest gains were concentrated in the top five percent."

Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt write in the New York Times that "wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960's."

According to Greenhouse and Leonhardt, the median hourly wage since 2003 – adjusted for inflation – has declined 2 percent since 2003 while productivity "has risen steadily over the same period." Moreover, as Paul Krugman points out in an op-ed, "The most crucial benefit, employment-based health insurance, has been in rapid decline since 2000." In fact, according to the Center for American Progress, "the number of people living in the United States without medical insurance rose 2 percent--1.3 million--to a record 46.6 million over the last year alone as health-care costs climbed three times as fast as wages.

Jared Bernstein, of the Economic Policy Institute, told the Times, "If I had to sum it up, it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth.

Nevertheless, George Bush claimed this month, "Things are good for American workers." According to the polls, American workers disagree.

An "overwhelming majority" of adults feel workers have "less job security… than 20 to 30 years ago." A majority feel their incomes are lagging behind inflation. And more than twice as many people feel the economy will worsen next year than believe it will improve.

As AFL-CIO president, John Sweeney, told the Times, "Economic trends have strained working families to the breaking point. Workers are not sharing in the wealth they helped create, and our nation's economic recovery has not been a recovery for workers at all."

Anna Burger of Change to Win added, "These [poll] results tell us that five years into an economic recovery working families are feeling battered and are losing hope for the future."

This week's US Census Report suggests that the American people's perceptions are far more accurate than the galling assertions of the man who would be Hereditary King. In the nation's capital itself, poverty rose in 2005 by more than 10,000 people last year to 104,000. And 1 out of 3 children in the Compassionate President's city now lives in poverty.

According to Krugman, the Census Report indicates "that in 2005, four years into the economic expansion, the percentage of Americans with private insurance of any kind reached its lowest level since 1987."

Our nation has seen some miserable times when it comes to numbness to greed, and we are in another such period now. The question is: what to do?

The civilizing advances in our country, when it comes to working people – child labor laws, collective bargaining rights, Social Security, Medicare, decent and secure pensions, Head Start... all of these were fought for by movements, and then advanced by progressive legislators.

Krugman reaches a similar conclusion, writing that current times call for "a smart, bold populism. All we need now are some smart, bold populist politicians." I'd argue that to fight for shared prosperity isn't really that bold these days--it's really about rebuilding America and its social contract.

So, on this Labor Day 2006, let's support policies and ideas that will make this economy work for those who have helped create this country's wealth. For a start: Stop the assault on labor and strengthen collective bargaining. Then, let's pass universal health care and a living wage, craft trade and industrial policies that create jobs and restore workers' rights, and rebuild our ravaged pension system. These are just a few steps toward a more humane, decent and rational system that would fulfill America's promise.

While too many "New" Democrats have forgotten how to stand up for the working class, there are still enough that this November taking back Congress will mean taking back our country from the GOP's callous policies that have sped the decline of workers in America.

Republicans and Race

One of the few appeals of compassionate conservatism was the hope that it might mark the end of the Republican's race-baiting Southern strategy. Anyone who still believes that hasn't been listening to the Kings of Republican Comedy.

While riffing on the new Survivor series that will divide the teams by ethnic group, Rush Limbaugh trotted out every hoary racial stereotype he could think of. Hispanics "will do what others won't do"; Asians will "outsmart everyone"; and African-Americans will do poorly in swimming.

At a campaign event, Senator Conrad Burns thought it was amusing to joke about the legal status of "the nice little Guatemalan man" who is roofing his house in Virginia. And speaking of Virginia, George Allen has spent the last couple of weeks trying to dig himself out of a huge pile of macaca--a North African racial slur.

But almost as offensive as the word macaca was the way Allen ended his put down of the twenty-year-old S.R. Sidarth: "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." Sidarth is a native Virginian, while Allen grew up in southern California. Allen's countrified, tobacco-chewing, Confederate-flag waving persona is the Southern strategy as political self-invention.

One funny thing did result from Allen's routine: The collapse of his presidential hopes. It is proof that the last thing the country wants is another mean-spirited good-ole-boy who likes to dress up as a cowboy.

Arnold Breaks with Bush on Global Warming

California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cleanly broke with the White House yesterday by reaching a broad agreement with state Dems to severely cap greenhouse gas emissions.

California sentators voted along party lines 23-14 to approve the toughest global warming legislation in the country. Democrats voted yes. Republicans voted in unison against their own governor.

Schwarzenegger's pact is the third such major alliance he has forged with the Democrats in the past weeks. They have also agreed on a minimum wage rise as well as a deal on prescription drugs.

The Governor's wheelings and dealings, his continuing consolidation of the political center, comes as he defends a wide lead against his re-election rival, Democrat Phil Angelides.

Angelides has failed too inspire much excitement among Democratic voters and is lagging in the polls. Though the Republicans may be facing a political waterloo in November, here in the Blue State of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is coasting to a victory under ever bluer skies.

Tunnel Vision

Mr Rumsfeld: ARE we safer, more secure today? NO. Look around the world. You can--once again--pull out that tired page from your playbook and try to divert attention from this administration's reckless, go-it-alone, militarist foreign policy... with your ugly and divisive attacks ... exploiting the Iraq war and the tragedy of 9-11 with poisonously partisan and dangerously misleading rhetoric.

BUT, the bottom line – even according to a good number of retired Generals and conservatives: This administration – and particularly Donald Rumsfeld – has made us less safe. It has diverted resources from an effective fight against terrorism.... It has fueled anti-Americanism, alienated us from our allies, demeaned democracy at home, weakened and divided the United Nations, and unleashed chaos and disorder in the Middle East....

This administration and its leaders (not just Rumsfeld, who once again lashes out like a petulant little boy...or, perhaps, the spoiled son of Dr. Strangelove) misled the people for partisan ends and trampled on our liberties... They looted our treasury through the skyrocketing costs of a war which has killed over 2600 American men and women.... And they now show that they will stop at nothing to insinuate that anyone who speaks out, as a true patriot is called upon to do in times of war and peace, is appeasing the enemy. No, Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking out means holding public officials accountable for their words and deeds.

Let us hope that the American people who, polls show, now understand that the war in Iraq is distinct from fight against terrorism--see through this ugly and historically inaccurate fear-mongering. (We need to understand terrorism, but the category of totalitarianism--communist and fascist, which Rumsfeld and other Bush officials resort to, obscures more than it illuminates.)

We need to extricate ourselves from a war that is undermining our security. We need to extricate ourselves from the idea that the war on terror provides a new organizing principle for our foreign policy. Above all, in the short term, we need to extricate ourselves from an Administration that uses fear to hold on to power–-amidst the rubble of their failed policies.

The Battle Over Reconstruction

Charles Jackson, media coordinator for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), was anxious last week as today's anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached. The city had declared that on this day it would seize whatever homes had not yet been cleaned-up or reclaimed in order to resell and/or demolish them – without even notifying the former residents.

"We are trying to get the deadline extended to November," Jackson said. "Why hit people with another act of devastation on the anniversary? How about a little compassion?"

But compassion has been in as short supply as clean water in the Lower 9th Ward over the last year. ACORN had 9,000 member families in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and one year later 7,500 have not yet returned. It looked as though they might not have homes to return to at all.

However, yesterday marked a small victory for ACORN. The New Orleans City Council amended its seizure order so that residents with homes scheduled for gutting and cleaning by ACORN (or 15 other groups) will be deemed in compliance (it should be noted that the city is not providing any funds to groups like ACORN for this vital work). For homes not yet scheduled for clean-up, the city will attempt to contact the owners twice in 60 days before proceeding to take possession of the property. Jackson says that ACORN didn't get everything it wanted with this compromise but at least it stopped the bulldozers for now.

"We had already fought to get the anniversary deadline amended so that the Lower 9th residents and the elderly were exempted due to hardship," Jackson says. "But what about New Orleans East and other parts of the city? We've literally got neighborhoods with thousands of homes where we've been able to get, maybe, one family back. Lower-income families can't even afford the transportation to come back here. Now at least we've gained a little more protection for struggling families we are working with."

The work to protect homeowners, tenants and neighborhoods began in the immediate aftermath of the disaster when Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the city would demolish approximately 50,000 homes in the wake of the flooding. In December, the city was set to bulldoze the first 2,500 homes when ACORN members won a settlement requiring that homeowners be notified and given the opportunity to appeal before any action is taken.

That same month, ACORN launched its "Home Clean-Out Demonstration Program" to handle the work that the government is still failing to do. ACORN crews clean out debris, gut the interior of homes, eradicate mold and provide roof repair free of charge (ACORN spends an average of $2,500 per home). Without this remediation, many of the homes would deteriorate beyond repair. Which, perhaps, is exactly the result being hoped for by some power elites in the city.

As of August 1, ACORN crews had cleaned and gutted 1,450 homes. There are more than 1,000 homes on the waiting list. More than 5,000 volunteers have helped with the project, including students on spring break, and workers from the AFL-CIO, and the Canadian Autoworkers Union.

"At the program's peak we were gutting hundreds of homes per week," Jackson says. "Now that's down to maybe 20-30 homes per week. Volunteers can't afford the skyrocketing hotel prices and FEMA closed Camp Algiers in July."

Camp Algiers housed volunteers in town to help with the cleanup and rebuilding efforts, so it was a vital resource for groups like ACORN, Catholic Charities, Common Ground, and Habitat for Humanity. But a cut in funding has shut the camp down.

"We're hopeful though that with the anniversary, and the Spike Lee documentary, people will refocus their efforts to get down here, support our work financially, do whatever they can to help New Orleans come back," Jackson says.

In addition to the clean-up work, ACORN has gained a place at the table for long-term planning efforts. Not surprisingly, it looked early on as if low- and middle-income families would be shut out of the process. The Mayor's "Bring New Orleans Back Commission" proposed to direct resources first to the areas that received little or no flood damage. Other neighborhoods had from January to May to "prove their viability."

Jimmy Reiss, a member of the Commission articulated ACORN members' worst nightmare when he said: "Those who want to see the city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically, and politically."

ACORN didn't wait for more bad news. Instead it met with city planning partners from Cornell University, the Pratt Institute, and Louisiana State University to solicit input on rebuilding. The organization also held community meetings with displaced New Orleanians in the cities where they were currently relocated. This collaborative effort produced detailed plans for the neighborhoods of the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East. On July 21st ACORN Housing was recognized as one of 16 "official" New Orleans planning teams. The planning teams will submit neighborhood plans to the Mayor and City Council and – upon approval – will be part of the Unified New Orleans Plan" to direct resources for rebuilding as well as serving as the city's long-term vision.

Jackson says this victory cannot be overstated: "It means the people's voices are being heard."And none too soon, either.

According to the Institute for Southern Studies, as of June 30 only 37 percent of New Orleans pre-storm population of 460,000 had returned; no federal funds had been dispersed to rebuild homes – zero; and the New Orleans suicide rate had increased 300 percent since the hurricane.

"We are committed to staying here until the job is done," Jackson says. "But we're also trying to get the word out: 1 year later, all is not well here."

The small victories of ACORN and its allies have been hard-earned. As Chris Kromm writes in this week's issue of The Nation, "Ask Gulf activists what it will take to turn around the region's fortunes, and many will come back to the idea that the Katrina movement must go national – even international." Regarding the international perspective, the Institute for Southern Studies indicates that legal scholars believe that 16 of the 30 UN Principles guiding the handling of "Internally Displaced People" were violated in the case of Katrina.

To help ensure that the suffering of Katrina victims is not compounded by greed and opportunism, there are actions you can take: Contribute financially or Adopt a Home; volunteer with the Home Clean-out Demonstration Program; or contact your federal representatives via the ACORN Legislation Action Hotline at 800-643-9557.

One year after the initial devastation, be a part of the movement to demand that the rebuilding of New Orleans is undertaken in accord with our greatest democratic principles.