The Nation

Pelosi--Mother, Grandmother, Speaker

Did you see the New York Times page one photo of newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, gavel in hand, celebrating the start of the 110th Congress surrounded by a swarm of her grandchildren as well as other Congressional members' offspring? What did you think when you saw it?

I'm still sorting out my feelings--but I feel conflicted.

I wonder why Pelosi, a woman I admire, seemed so keen to use her first day as Speaker to portray herself as a traditional, family-first kind of woman? Sure, it was fun to see children working a room usually used for adults (who too often act like babies). But why not use those first, symbolic hours to surround yourself with all the Democratic women in the House--including the newly elected eight--and signal that this is "The Year of the Democratic Woman?" (That image would have also shown those newly elected alpha males, macho Dems the power women have in the new House!)

Where were the many images of the tough and shrewd politico, now the most powerful woman in American history, two heartbeats away from the presidency, who finally cracked what she calls "the marble ceiling" of the Capitol? What about the woman of impeccable style (though her suit certainly fit the bill) and doggedness who's been likened (not on the style quotient) to the late majority leader Tip O'Neill? What about the ambitious leader who's worked tenaciously to advance full equality and justice for women--of all kinds--not just moms.

But, maybe, as veteran women's rights activist Gloria Feldt put it, "like Nixon going to China, it takes what looks like a traditional woman to make lasting, radical changes in public policy." And it's not as if the image of Pelosi as mother figure isn't authentic; she's the only speaker whose first career was as a stay-at-home mom. She's led a multidimensional life--as do so many women today. In her case, she's now not only the leader of 233 Democrats, she's a mother of 5 and a grandmother of 6. And certainly her ascension means that little girls have a new role model--something the photo clearly signaled. As Congresswoman Rosa de Lauro, put it, "for every little girl who has wondered what she can be when she grows up the glass ceiling in this institution has been shattered forever."

But it's the Rorschach quality of the NYT photo that intrigues me. Reactions run the gamut, but all relate to the conflicting emotions, views men and women have about what the template is for women in power, circa 2007. (If you scan the globe, it's clear there's no one-dimensional model. Chile's first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, was elected last year as a single mother, in a conservative Catholic country where divorce was only legalized in 2005. I doubt she marked her inauguration surrounded by children--though it might have played well in a country where fewer than half the country's women work outside the home. Other women leaders around the world--German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia and Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate in France's upcoming Presidential election, also offer different models and images of leadership.)

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the men I've talked to about the photograph--an older male colleague, my father, a college friend--think it's an iconic photo and moment. To my father, the photograph suggested profound change and fresh hope for our nation. My colleague sees a new spirit, "nourishing, not destroying," that is needed in this nation. Pelosi, he believes, "has a chance to represent that, so long as she also represents the tough leader. Potentially, this a politically compelling combination that reaches across the usual divisions. Soft and tough, anchored in values that are deeper than politics. I judge that this combination is within her, we will find out. Meanwhile, it is to her advantage to be under-estimated in stereotypical terms."

Yet many of the women I spoke to worry that the photo fed into the image of woman as one-dimensional. A Friend with a new baby hadn't even had time to look at the Times that morning. (I suspect that was the case with millions of stay-at-home and working mothers--the very people Pelosi may have been trying to appeal to with these images.) At the Nation, where the top senior editors are women (as are the top business staff), one thought that invoking the "Mother thing" makes women seem weak and passive -- following, not leading. Another worried that it reinforced stereotypes of the Dems as the so-called Mommy Party. That certainly has been the stereotype and, sure, it is still very present in the culture. But maybe things are changing.

As my male colleague wrote me, "Masculine delusion is one of our great national pathologies. You can see it playing out in the politics of Iraq. How can we exit without losing our 'manhood'? I am not romanticizing women and mothers. I am channeling Carol Gilligan and suggesting her general observation of 'a different voice' is now in play in our politics. Not just because Pelosi is female, but because events and circumstances argue for a deep shift in how we approach public concerns in general, war and peace in particular. The 'boys' are going to keep picking fights, playing 'king of the hill' around the world, because that's what they know how to do. We need to blow up the scoreboard for these deadly games. I do think the country is ready for such a different cultural understanding. The younger people I know are already comfortable with a different perspective (in complicated ways) which tells me the country can change too."

What do you think?

Jerry Ford's Politics 101

The remarkable thing about Gerald Ford's many funeral and memorial services was that they brought together so many strands of the American political spectrum.

What else but the desire to pay homage to the moderate Republican who restored a measure of decency and self-control to the federal system that had just taken a brutal battering during Richard Nixon's lawless presidency could have brought together both former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Both men delivered eulogies for Ford before the 38th president before he was laid finally to rest near the library that is named for him in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Carter, the thoughtful man of peace and diplomacy, and Rumsfeld, the arrogant and inept man of war, are radically different public figures, and they will be remembered in very different ways by history. Yet, Gerald Ford was broad enough in his perspective, and in his understanding of the role of a president and former president, to count both men as his counselors and friends.

Perhaps the greatest loss that has taken place during the past few years is the recognition that a president must be bigger than his ideology, his party or himself. George Bush's presidency has had a cutthroat character to it -- not just because of Bush own uncompromising nature but because of Vice President Dick Cheney's fear of facts and aversion to the truth. But, to be frank, the presidency of Bill Clinton that preceded it was not much better when it came to hearing -- let alone respecting -- dissenting voices.

America has been ill-served in recent years by leaders who have not appreciated a basic tenet of leadership: That the man or woman in charge is best served by a range of acquaintance, an array of advice and the prospect of being challenged when one is wrong. Gerald Ford's lingering appeal has much to do with his ability to find a place in his circle for both a Jimmy Carter and a Donald Rumsfeld. And as Americans cast about for our next commander-in-chief, we would be wise to seek a president who has about him or her something of Ford's ability to look beyond easy alliances and toward the ideas and answers that come from open inquiry and wide consultation.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Selling the Surge

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol walked into the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) yesterday with a big grin on his face, as if to say "they're listening to me again!"

Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, Bolton and other architects of the war in Iraq may be gone, but the neoconservatives' stature inside the Bush Administration has hardly diminished. The same people that sold us the war, often under false pretenses, are now leading proponents of escalating the conflict by sending tens of thousands of additional troops.

An event at AEI yesteday brought together the intellectual progenitors of escalation: military historian Fred Kagan, retired General Jack Keane and Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. The focus was not on how to clean up the neocons mess, but on how to deepen it.

"The surge must be substantial and it must be sustained," McCain told a packed room. That means keeping an additional 20,000 to 35,000 troops in Iraq for 18 to 24 months. Under such a plan, 160,000 plus troops could be deployed well past 2008 at an untold cost.

Over 300 protestors convened by MoveOn.org gathered outside AEI to protest such a scenario. "John McCain, John McCain, escalation is insane!" they chanted. Around the same time, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to President Bush expressing their opposition to any troop increase.

"After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of US casualties, and over $300 billion dollars, it is time to bring the war to a close," they wrote to Bush. "We, therefore, strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq."

But Lieberman, the self-described "Independent Democrat," was having none of that. "The battlefield is in Baghdad and Al-Anbar, not in Washington," Lieberman said. "We need to support the President as he goes forward."

Who needs to support the President? Only 12 percent of Americans want to escalate the war. Most now want the US to get out. Nothing they've heard from the neocons since the beginning of the war has turned out to be right.

"I believed the initial invasion was going to be easy," McCain admitted today, echoing statements he made before the war. "Most of us did. I believed we were going to be welcomed as liberators. We were."

Little wonder why McCain and his fellow neocons can't bear the thought of ending the war they helped start.

Bush Wants to Read Your Mail

Two days after the Democrats took control of the House and Senate, they are already facing a challenge by this administration's claim of "Unitary Powers." This time it's not our telecommunications they want to spy on, it's our mail.

According to the Washington Post, "a 'signing statement' attached to a postal reform bill on December 20 says the Bush administration 'shall construe' a section of that law to allow the opening of sealed mail to protect life, guard against hazardous materials or conduct 'physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.'" This move seems to have opened the door for the government to open mail without a warrant.

This makes more than 750 presidential signing statements, according to the Associated Press, by an Administration that has consistently tried to alter laws that it finds unpalatable. This total surpasses the number of signing statements issued by all American Presidents combined before #43. The threat to democracy is obvious if laws that members of Congress have crafted after research, debate and bipartisan negotiation can be gutted with a few strokes of the president's pen.

Back to James Monroe, signing statements, usually innocuous comments, accompanied some bills after final passage. Since signing statements aren't subject to congressional review or override, they are tantamount to unilaterally changing laws passed by the legislative branch. The problem is that, as Republican Senator Arlen Specter was moved to say last year, "this president has taken the signing statements far beyond the customary purviews."

"That," as the conservative daily Macon Telegraph politely editorialized today, "places entirely too much power in the hands of an executive."

Read the Boston's Globe's extremely useful survey of Bush Administration signing statements to date and click here to send a letter to your Senators asking them to support efforts to put the brakes on statements such as these.

Taunting Bush on Saddam's Gallows

Those cries of "Muqtada! Muqtada!" were aimed at more than Saddam or even Iraq's Sunnis. They went right to the heart of the President's policy failures.

Every now and then, you have to take a lesson or two from history. In the case of George Bush's Iraq, here's one: No matter what the President announces in his "new way forward" speech on Iraq next week -- including belated calls for "sacrifice" from the man whose answer to 9/11 was to urge Americans to surge into Disney World -- it won't work. Nothing our President suggests in relation to Iraq, in fact, will have a ghost of a chance of success. Worse than that, whatever it turns out to be, it is essentially guaranteed to make matters worse.

Repetition, after all, is most of what knowledge adds up to, and the Bush administration has been repetitively consistent in its Iraqi -- and larger Middle Eastern -- policies. Whatever it touches (or perhaps the better word would be "smashes") turns to dross. Iraq is now dross -- and Saddam Hussein was such a remarkably hard act to follow badly that this is no small accomplishment.

A striking but largely unexplored aspect of Saddam Hussein's execution is illustrative. His trial was basically run out of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad; Saddam was held at Camp Cropper, the U.S. prison near Baghdad International Airport. He was delivered to the Iraqi government for hanging in a U.S. helicopter (as his body would be flown back to his home village in a U.S. helicopter).

Now, let's add a few more facts into the mix. Among Iraqi Shiites, no individual has been viewed as more of an enemy by the Bush administration than the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops fought bloody battles with his Mahdi Army in 2004, destroying significant parts of the old city of Najaf in the process. American forces make periodic, destructive raids into the vast Baghdad slum and Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City to take out his followers and recently killed one of his top aides in a raid in Najaf. The upcoming Presidential "surge" into Baghdad is, reputedly, in part to be aimed at suppressing his militia, which a recent Pentagon report described as "the main threat to stability in Iraq."

Nonetheless at the crucial moment in the execution what did some of the Interior Ministry guards do? They chanted: "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" In all press reports, this has been described as a "taunting" of Saddam (and assumedly of Iraqi Sunnis more generally). But it could as easily be described as the purest mockery of George W. Bush and everything he's done in the country. If, in such a relatively controlled setting, the Americans couldn't stop Saddam's execution from being "infiltrated" by al-Sadr's followers -- who are also, of course, part of Prime Minister Maliki's government -- what can they possibly do in the chaos of Baghdad? How can a few more thousands of U.S. troops be expected to keep them, or Badr Brigade militiamen out of the streets, no less the police, the military, and various ministries?

Despite the changing guard of military commanders and at our Baghdad embassy, consider the "new way forward," then, just another part of the Bush administration's endless bubbleworld.

For more on Bush's "New Way Forward" speech next week, check out Robert Dreyfuss's "The Surge to Nowhere."

Top 10 for a More Perfect Union

The "thumping" taken by the Republican Congress on election day was notjust a rejection of K Street corruption and the catastrophe in Iraq. Itwas a call to action on issues that are more immediately relevant topeople's lives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin to answer thatcall by pushing a "100 Hours" agenda--including common-sense legislationto increase the minimum wage, cut interest on student loans and open theway for Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

That's a good beginning, but it's only a down payment on a broaderagenda. As Bill Moyers writes in this issue, progressives now have theopportunity to develop a new vision that returns power to the Americanpeople for the first time in generations. Moyers is right that to-dolists don't add up to a vision. But Democrats must show they are seriousby passing bold measures that define a new "people's agenda." With thatin mind, here are ten existing pieces of legislation thatdeserve to be passed by our new Congress. Some of these billsare eminently passable, a few are related to the "100 Hours" agenda andothers can be seen as long-term goals. But all would help return ournation to the path to a more perfect union (note: Bill numbers maychange in the new Congress).

1. Healthcare for All

More than 47 million Americans are now living without health coverage.Representative John Conyers's United States National HealthInsurance Act (HR 676) would create a single-payer healthcare system byexpanding Medicare to every resident. All necessary medical carewould be covered--from prescription drugs to hospital services tolong-term care. There would be no deductibles or co-payments. Fundingwould come from sources including savings from negotiated bulkprocurement of medications; a tax on the top 5 percent of incomeearners; and a phased-in payroll tax that is lower than whatemployers currently pay for less comprehensive employee healthcoverage. With seventy-eight Congressional co-sponsors, and theendorsement of more than 200 labor organizations as well as healthcaregroups, there is muscle and momentum behind this bill. To get involved,check out www.Healthcare-Now.org.

2. Counting Every Vote

Representative Rush Holt has introduced the Voter Confidence andIncreased Accessibility Act (HR 550) requiring all voting systems toprovide a voter-verified paper trail to serve as the official ballot forrecounts and audits. It would also insure accessibility for voters withdisabilities. The bill, which was introduced in February 2005 andwhich currently has 222 bipartisan co-sponsors, was tied up incommittee by the Republican Congress. Senators Hillary Clintonand Barbara Boxer and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jonesintroduced the Count Every Vote Act (S 450 and HR 939), which also callsfor a voter-verified paper trail and would improve access for languageminority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities.Co-sponsors of that legislation include Senators John Kerry, FrankLautenberg, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Mikulski, and seventy-nineHouse members.

3. Healthy Families Act

According to Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce, "nearly half of allprivate-sector workers in the United States do not have a single day ofpaid sick leave. And more do not have a paid day off that can be used tocare for a sick child." Seventy-five percent of low-wage workers lackpaid sick leave--the very people who can least afford to take a day offand still be able to pay the bills. In 2005 Senator Edward Kennedy andRepresentative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Healthy Families Act (S 932and HR 1902)--a bill that would require employers with fifteen ormore workers to provide one week of paid sick leave for those who workthirty or more hours a week. Employees who work less than that wouldreceive prorated leave. The leave could be used to care for family aswell. The new Democratic Congress is expected to hold hearings on thelegislation, which has fifteen original co-sponsors in the Senate andseventy-one in the House, in early 2007.

4. The Right to Organize

The Employee Free Choice Act (S 842 and HR 1696) would strengthenworkers' freedom to organize by requiring employers to recognize a unionafter a majority of workers sign cards authorizing representation.It also would create stronger penalties for management violations of theright to organize when workers seek to form a union. Currently there are214 co-sponsors of Representative George Miller's House bill (includingfourteen Republicans) and forty-four co-sponsors of Kennedy'slegislation in the Senate (including Republican Senator Arlen Specter).This legislation would go a long way toward helping the 57 millionnonunion workers in the United States who, according to polls, wouldform a union tomorrow if given the opportunity.

5. No Permanent Bases in Iraq

Representative Barbara Lee, co-chair of the Congressional ProgressiveCaucus, has proposed House Conference Resolution 197, which declaresthat it is "the policy of the United States not to enter into any baseagreement with the Government of Iraq that would lead to a permanentUnited States military presence in Iraq." By passing this bill, Congresscan send a clear and immediate signal to the Iraqi people and theinternational community that the United States has no intention ofstaying in Iraq indefinitely. There were eighty-six co-sponsors of Lee'slegislation, including three Republicans.

6. Stop Outsourcing Torture

Representative Ed Markey's Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act (HR 952)directs the Secretary of State to submit to Congress an annual listof countries where there are substantial grounds for believing thattorture or cruel and degrading treatment is commonly used in detentionor interrogation. The bill prohibits the direct or indirect transfer orreturn of people by the United States for the purpose of detention,interrogation, trial or other purposes to a listed country. Given therecent history of black sites, torture flights, innocent victimsand suspension of habeas corpus, this legislation should be animmediate priority. It is one modest step in the right direction. Itcurrently has seventy-seven co-sponsors.

7. Access to Higher Education

Senator Richard Durbin and Representative George Miller'sReverse the Raid on Student Aid Act (S 2573 and HR 5150) wouldcut interest rates on college loans for student and parent borrowers.The legislation would save $5,600 for the typical student borrower, whocurrently graduates with $17,500 in student-loan debt. The Durbin-Millerlegislation cuts interest rates in half, from 6.8 percent to 3.4percent, for students with subsidized loans, and from 8.5 percent to4.25 percent for parents. Earlier this year, the GOP Congress cut $12billion out of federal student aid programs to help finance tax breaksfor the wealthiest Americans. The average tuition and fees at four-yearpublic colleges have risen 40 percent when adjusted for inflation, since2001, according to the College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges. Andthe average student debt has increased by more than 50 percent over thepast decade, according to the Project on Student Debt. With economicinequality and the concentration of wealth reaching unprecedentedlevels, improving access to higher education is essential. It also iscritical if we are to reverse the trend of the US workforcelagging behind other nations in education.

8. Free and Independent Media

Representative Maurice Hinchey sponsored the Media Ownership ReformAct (MORA--HR 3302), which seeks to restore a diverse media bysignificantly lowering the number of media outlets one company ispermitted to own in a single market. Since 1996 the FederalCommunications Commission has promoted massive media consolidation byincreasing that number, allowing telecommunications corporations to buyup a larger share of television and radio stations, newspapers and othermedia outlets, and forcing independent and local media owners outof business. There are sixteen co-sponsors of MORA in the House.

9. Public Financing of Campaigns

Representative John Tierney introduced the Clean Money, Clean ElectionsAct (HR 3099) last year with thirty-nine Democrats and oneIndependent as co-sponsors. The bill establishes a voluntary system thatoffers candidates an option for public financing and reduced rates onbroadcast advertising in exchange for self-imposed limits on campaignfinancing and spending. Participating candidates get a dollar-for-dollarmatch, up to a set limit, if a nonparticipating opponent spends morethan the basic public-financing grant. This system would free candidatesfrom the burden of continuous fundraising; allow those who obtain aprescribed number of contributions to run regardless of their economicstatus or access to large funders; and, perhaps most important,eliminate the skewed priorities caused by the financing ofcampaigns by special-interest contributors.

10. Clean Energy

Last May Senator Maria Cantwell introduced the Clean EDGE Act (S 2829)with twenty-four Democratic co-sponsors. The bill sets a goal ofreducing US petroleum consumption by 6 million barrels a day by 2020--or40 percent of America's projected imports. It mandates that 25percent of new vehicles sold in the United States by 2010 be flex-fuelcapable (able to run on higher blends of biofuels, which help todisplace petroleum), rising to 50 percent by 2020. It also sets anational goal of installing alternative fuels at 10 percent of US gasstations by 2015. The bill also makes gas price-gouging a federal crime.It ends subsidies for major oil companies and extends incentives forrenewable energy and efficiency technologies. To shrink US dependence onfossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the bill requires that10 percent of all US electricity come from renewable sources by2020. A report by the Apollo Alliance and the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Clean EDGE Act would create more than 500,000 jobs,including tens of thousands in states hit hardest by the loss of 3million manufacturing jobs.

This list is by no means all-inclusive. But these are good and importantinitiatives that address longstanding and formidable challenges.

Will a New Congress Check and Balance Bush?

The wonder of American democracy is the fact that power can be transferred from one party to another peacefully and, at times, even graciously.

The reason for this, of course, is that the United States is governed by a Constitution that assures the power that is transferred is never absolute. Thus, a defeated party and its followers know that they are not consigning themselves to political oblivion when they cede their authority to another group of partisans.

The separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, and protected by that document's system of checks and balances, was designed to assure that neither the executive nor the legislative branch of government could become so dominant that basic rights might be undermined or that the nation itself might be endangered.

There is genius in the design. But it is only fully functional when those who are entrusted with the duty of upholding the Constitution choose, in fact and deed, to do so.

That is the test of the new Congress. The Republicans who controlled the House and Senate but, by their own admission, failed to serve as an effective check and balance on the Bush administration's excesses, have now been consigned to opposition status. The Democrats, who promised a change of direction, have majorities in both chambers.

But the question remains: Have we seen a peaceful transfer of power, along the lines that the founders intended? Or have we merely shuffled some office assignments and changed the names on some doors?

The answer to those questions will come in the response of the new Congress to the excesses of the Bush administration.

Conveniently, on the eve of the swearing in of the Democratic House and Senate, the president set up a challenge that the new Congress can -- indeed must meet.

After signing an otherwise mundane postal reform bill on December 2O, Bush issued a so-called "signing statement" that claimed for himself sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail.

As with the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone conversations, which Bush continues to authyorize, the president's claim of an authority to open letters and packages according to personal whim is contrary to existing law. In fact, this abuse of power is in conflict with the very postal bill he was signing -- not to mention with the privacy protections contained in the Constitution.

"The signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming." says Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, who explains that "The danger is [that the administration will be] reading Americans' mail."

To be sure, that is a danger and it must be addressed.

But there is a deeper danger,

If this president is permitted to continue writing his own rules -- as did the British monarches against whom the American patriots of two centuries ago revolted. Bush is creating what Thomas Jefferson most feared: an "elective despotism." He is ruling, not as the servant of the people but as the "king for four years" that the drafters of the Constitution sought to guard against.

If power has been well and truly transferred to the new Congress, then Bush will be prevented from continuing to abuse his authority. The president's ability to spy and pry without warrant will be constrained, and his determination to trample the rule of law will be met with Constitutional remedies that the founders intended: censure and sanction.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Labor Rights Begin at Home

The right to workplace democracy, that is the right to form a union and collectively bargain, is a human right. Perhaps it sounds overly grandiose to say this, but that alone shows how far labor rights in the this country have fallen. Labor rights are internationally recognized as part and parcel of the broader litany of human rights that constitute the kind of international norms that the US govenrment professes to support. It's not coincidental that that one thing nearly all autocratic and repressive regimes -- from the Communist Party of Poland of the 1980s, to Saddam Hussein, to the current mullahs running Iran -- share is antipathy towards organized labor. It makes sense. Workers coming together to have a say in their workplace is fundamentally a democratic exercise and once they start doing that, who knows what else they'll try to organize around.

For this reason, it's more than a little troubling that a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research concludes that one in seven workers who try organize a union right here in the US are illegally fired. While the CEPR finds that situation has gotten worse under Bush, the dismal state of labor law enforcement isn't new. Six years ago, even before the Bush administration ushered in an even more anti-union era at the NLRB, Human Rights Watch released a report titled UNFAIR ADVANTAGE: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards. HRW found that the US fell short of many international labor rights standards. For instance:

The basic international norm protecting the right to organize is stated in ILO Convention 98: "Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination . . . more particularly acts calculated to cause the dismissal of or otherwise prejudice a worker by reason of union membership or participation in union activities." The NLRA's Section 8(a)(3) appears to meet this goal, making unlawful any discrimination against workers for concerted activity, including union activity.

Firing a worker for organizing is illegal but commonplace in the United States. Many of the cases examined by Human Rights Watch for this report reflect the frequency and the devastating effect of discriminatory discharges on workers' rights. An employer determined to get rid of a union activist knows that all that awaits, after years of litigation if the employer persists in appeals, is a reinstatement order the worker is likely to decline and a modest back-pay award. For many employers, it is a small price to pay to destroy a workers' organizing effort by firing its leaders.

None of this is going to even begin to change until we reform the way unions are certified. As the labor movement has argued repeatedly, the current NLRB election process makes it nearly impossible for workers to form a union because it's so easy for employers to simply fire or threaten to fire the troublemakers. That's why we need card-check elections. Here's to 2007 being the year of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Going Local

Most ActNow readers will be familiar with many of the well-known liberal bloggers and blogs. Sites like The DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, Atrios and The Huffington Post all draw massive daily audiences for their largely national commentary, reporting and analysis.

But there's a quieter revolution taking place among local blogs that are increasingly engaging the maxim that all politics is local. With a tight focus on the frequently unique, quirky issues of small municipalities, these blogs are offering an invaluable resource that is usually legitimately impossible to find elsewhere.

But how to find them? Since the internet doesn't come with zipcodes attached to urls, it's not always obvious how to discover these nodes of conversation and community? One good way is to read former Nation editor and current Executive Editor of Personal Democracy Forum Micah Sifry's recent post detailing Seven Ways to Find Local Political Blogs. It's an extremely useful primer on how to access what you want to know online. And if you have other suggestions for ways to go local, please let us know in the comments field below.