With the federal government content to let Wal-Mart run amok,it has been left up to the states to protect workers from the retailbehemoth's excesses. This past Saturday, April 9, Maryland showed America'slargest corporation who's boss.
Maryland's House of Delegates voted 82 to 48 to approve a bill thatwould require all businesses in the state with more than 10,000employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on healthbenefits for workers (or, alternatively, donate the funds to thestate's Medicaid program). Wal-Mart, with its 15,000 employees, is theonly such company that does not already spend 8 percent on health care foremployees--and thus, the direct target of the bill. Spearheaded byMaryland for Health Care, the legislation was supported by a coalition ofover 1,000 organizations representing Maryland's health, business, andcommunity interests.
"We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up...and provideadequate health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles). Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr., who is expected to veto the bill, lashed out atDemocratic legislators. Cowed by Rush Limbaugh's criticisms of themeasure, Ehrlich claimed the bill had made a mockery of Maryland.[Note to Marylanders: when your Governor cares more about Rush'sopinion than yours, you're in trouble. Thankfully though, with a widemajority of the Senate having approved the bill, Ehrlich's vetodoesn't stand a chance.]
Wal-Mart's critics hope that other states will follow Maryland's lead.The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, headed by formerdirector of the Democratic Party's Senatorial Campaign Committee AndyGrossman, plans to distribute copies of Maryland's Fair ShareHealth Care Act to state legislators in all 50 states. Already, sevenstates are considering similar measures.
The surge of anti-Wal-Mart activity has pushed the corporation into PRcrisis mode. On April 6, in its latest attempt to soften its image,Wal-Mart invited over seventy journalists to its corporateheadquarters in Arkansas. And on Tuesday--responding to a newly-formedcoalition of environmental and labor activists--Wal-Mart announced thatit would donate $35 million over the next decade to the National Fishand Wildlife Coalition's preservation efforts.
Don't count on Wal-Mart to become another Ben and Jerry's. But, withcontinued pressure from activists and legislative action from thestates, America's corporations could face a future in which socialresponsibility is no longer optional.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Most television viewers don't know it, but a huge portion of what they watch on the local news programs aired by their favorite stations is not actually "news." Rather, local television stations around the country have in recent years been taking "video news releases" from the federal government and major corporations – particularly the big pharmaceutical companies – and airing them as if they were news reports.
Video news releases (VNRs) are so common these days that they actually dominate some newscasts, blurring the lines between advertising and news more blatantly than product placements in movies do the lines between advertising and entertainment.
But, from now on, VNRs will be identified as productions of the corporations that developed them, rather than pawned off as part of the news.
The Federal Communications Commission has called on television stations to disclose the origin of VNRs used on their news programs. "Listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them with the programming offered over broadcast stations and cable systems," reads the FCC statement issued Wednesday, which was unanimously approved by all four FCC commissioners.
The FCC has instructed newscasters that they must abide by FCC sponsorship identification rules when they air VNRs and called for comments from license holders and cable operators about their use of the public-relations and advertising videos – including those produced by the government.
"Today's Public Notice… reminds broadcast stations, cable operators, and others of their disclosure obligations under our rules, if and when they choose to air VNRs, and to reinforce that we will take appropriate enforcement action against stations that do not comply with these rules," explained FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
The decision of the FCC came after a campaign organized by the Center for Media and Democracy and the media reform group Free Press, which filed a joint complaint regarding the issue on March 21. Accompanying the complaint was a petition signed by more than 40,000 Americans expressing concern about what the groups refer to as news fraud and that the Government Accounting Office has labeled "covert propaganda."
In the statement from the FCC, the commissioners cited the "large number of requests" for an investigation that had been received by the agency. "Citing the complaints, one commissioner urged the agency to aggressively investigate the use of VNRs that, according to the New York Times, have been produced using taxpayer funds by at least 20 federal agencies seeking to promote Bush administration policies.
"Recently, tens of thousands of citizens contacted the FCC demanding an investigation into the failure of broadcasters to disclose their use of government-generated ‘news' stories. They were right to do so," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. "This Commission should investigate each such case. And it should strenuously enforce the rules against inadequate sponsorship identification."
That's the hope of John Stauber, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, who said after the decision, "Not labeling VNRs constitutes news fraud and violates the most basic ethical standards of journalism. It's now time for TV news producers to own up their responsibility to the viewing public and fully disclose their use of fake news."
(John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press, which, along with the Center for Media and Democracy, is helping community groups around the country to develop "citizen agreements" with local television stations. The agreements commit broadcasters to label VNRs produced by corporations and the government. For more on the campaign, visit www.freepress.net/propaganda)
Several weeks ago, two 16 year-old Muslim girls, one from Bangladesh and the other from Guinea, were arrested in New York City on the specious grounds that they were potential suicide bombers. Neither of the girls has been formally charged with any crime, but both have been detained indefinitely in facilities far away from their homes and families.
As Ari Berman reported yesterday, few details about the arrests have been released. What we do know, however, suggests that the charges could well be completely unfounded.
While both of the girls are in the United States illegally, both have also lived here for most of their lives. The lead editorial in yesterday's New York Times reveals that investigator's suspicions are curiously based on an essay written by one of the girls in her high school--an essay arguing that suicide is a violation of Islamic law. And while investigators maintain that the two suspects are friends who attended the same radical Mosque where they plotted together, their families say that they never even met before their arrests.
From the dearth of available information, it seems likely that the case of the teenage suicide bombers is simply a routine immigration investigation gone mad. Unfortunately, the rules of immigration hearings require the girls to prove they aren't suicide bombers, rather than the government to prove that they are.
A hearing is being held tomorrow, Thursday, April 14, so please click here to send a letter of support for the girls' lawyers to present to the court. There's also a rally being planned to support the girls. Check out and circulate the details and other info about the case on a new blog created to help defend the girls by clicking here.
Co-written by Mark Hatch-Miller
Did you see the story the other day about George W's iPod? Seems he's had it since July, when his freewheeling twin daughters gave it to him as a birthday present. Dubya has some 250 songs on it--a paltry number given the 10,000 selections it can hold.
As the New York Times reported, "Mr Bush, as leader of the free world, does not take the time to download the music himself; that task falls to his personal assistant who buys the individual songs and albums." (And you can bet there's no file sharing.) As for an analysis of Dubya's playlist, it's interesting that the president likes artists who don't like him. He has John Fogerty's "Centerfield," which was played at Texas Rangers games when Bush owned the team and is still played at ballparks all over America. However, Bush hasn't gone so far as to include "Fortunate Son"--the anti-Vietnam war song about who has to go to war that Fogerty sang when he fronted Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Remember how that goes: "I ain't no Senator's son...some folks are born with a silver spoon in hand.")
Reading the Times report did evoke one sheepish confession: I share something in common with George W. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" is a top ten fave on my iPod playlist too. Seems the Irish folk-rocker is a Bush favorite going way back.
So, thinking of those thousands of empty slots on Bush's iPod, I'd like to nominate a few new songs for the leader of the free world's playlist. Here's my top ten:
Kid Rock, "Pimp of the Nation"
Beastie Boys, "It Takes Time to Build"
John Mellencamp, "To Washington"
George Thorogood, "I Drink Alone"
The Castaways, "Liar,Liar"
REM, "The End of the World As We Know It"
Steve Earle, "The Revolution Starts Now"
The Clash, "I'm So Bored with the USA"
And that old jazz standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"
I'm sure you readers have lots of better nominations. Please click here to let me know what you think and we'll see what we can do about getting Dubya's IPod some new music.
P.S. Judith Regan Goes West: What was that story about Regan and her new West Coast, Murdoch-financed, multimedia empire/salon doing on the front page of the Gray Lady yesterday? If the New York Times is going to do second-rate versions of New York Observer stories, could they at least drop in a graf about Regan's trsyt with Bernie Kerik down near Ground Zero.
"Im with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count."
Those were the words John Bolton yelled as he burst into a Tallahassee library on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000, where local election workers were recounting ballots cast in Florida's disputed presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Bolton was one of the pack of lawyers for the Republican presidential ticket who repeatedly sought to shut down recounts of the ballots from Florida counties before those counts revealed that Gore had actually won the state's electoral votes and the presidency.
The December 9 intervention was Bolton's last and most significant blow against the democratic process.
The Florida Supreme Court had ordered a broad recount of ballots in order to finally resolve the question of who won the state. But Bolton and the Bush-Cheney team got their Republican allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to block the review. Fearing that each minute of additional counting would reveal the reality of voter sentiments in Florida, Bolton personally rushed into the library to stop the count.
Bolton was in South Korea when it became clear that the Nov. 7, 2000, election would be decided in Florida. At the behest of former Secretary of State James Baker, who fronted the Bush-Cheney team during the Florida fight, Bolton winged his way to Palm Beach, where he took the lead in challenging ballots during that county's recount. Then, when the ballots from around the state were transported to Tallahassee for the recount ordered by the state Supreme Court, Bolton followed them.
It was there that he personally shut down the review of ballots from Miami-Dade County, a populous and particularly contested county where independent reviews would later reveal that hundreds of ballots that could reasonably have been counted for Gore were instead discarded.
Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor David Leahy argued at the time that 2,257 voters had apparently attempted to mark ballot cards for Gore or Bush but had not had them recorded because they had been improperly inserted into the voting machines. A hand count of those ballots revealed that 302 more of them would have gone for Gore than Bush. That shift in the numbers from just one of Florida's 67 counties would have erased more than half of Bush's 537-vote lead in the state.
But attempts to conduct a hand count were repeatedly blocked by the Bush-Cheney team, culminating with Bolton's December 9 announcement that, "I'm here to stop the count." A few days later, the U.S. Supreme Court would stop the count permanently, with a pro-Bush ruling in which five Republican-appointed justices, in the words of noted attorney Vincent Bugliosi, "committed the unpardonable sin of being a knowing surrogate for the Republican Party instead of being an impartial arbiter of the law."
Bolton was a key player in the fight to delay the Florida count long enough to allow for the Supreme Court's intervention, and he got his reward quickly. Despite his record of making controversial and sometimes bizarre statements regarding international affairs, he was selected by the Bush administration in 2001 to serve as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control. And he is now in line to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Before he is given that position, and charged with the job of promoting the spread of democracy around the world, however, senators would do well to consider the disregard John Bolton showed for democracy in Florida.
John Nichols is the author of Jews for Buchanan (The New Press), a review of the Florida recount fight that was hailed by Studs Terkel as "the best thing anyone has written on that whole damn election." The book is available in independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com)
It wasn't quite a gathering of storms. But in two different Senate meeting rooms on the same morning, committees were holding hearings on two controversial picks for George W. Bush's national security team. As the Senate intelligence committee questioned--yes, questioned, not grilled--former ambassador John Negroponte, whom Bush has nominated to be the new director of national intelligence position, the Senate foreign relations committee took the testimony of a former assistant secretary of state who maintained that John Bolton, Bush's choice to be UN ambassador, had imperiously tried to fire a State Department analyst who had challenged Bolton's contention that Cuba posed a WMD threat to the United States. The pair of hearings exposed--to a limited degree--the failings of each nominee. But they also demonstrated that there is probably not enough opposition to derail either appointment.
At the intelligence committee gathering, Republicans praised Negroponte--and so did some Democrats. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the committee, cited Negroponte's 40-year career as a diplomat and gushed, "This breeds a tough and disciplined man of self-esteem and a willingness to make decisions and tell truth to power....You've ably served the country." Rockefeller did not mention the well-supported allegation that Negroponte, when he was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, downplayed and smothered reports of human rights abuses conducted by the Honduran military, his partner in providing assistance to the contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. When Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras and ever since, he has denied that he covered up abuses or that the Honduran military engaged in systemic human rights violations. But a 1997 CIA inspectors general report and Honduran investigations have concluded the Honduran military committed serious human rights atrocities during Negroponte's tenure. The CIA IG noted, "The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned." It also noted that an infamous CIA-trained military outfit, Battalion 316, was linked to "death squad activities." As ambassador, Negroponte toiled side by side General Gustavo Alvarez, the Honduran strongman who was the architect of Battalion 316.
This may be ancient history, but hours before Negroponte sat down before the intelligence committee, The Washington Post published an article based on hundreds of previously secret cables Negroponte sent to Washington when he was ambassador in Tegucigalpa. The records show that he regularly met with Alvarez. In one cable, Negroponte praised Alvarez's "dedication to democracy." (Alvarez was kicked out by his fellow militarists in 1984 for being too much of an authoritarian.) Negroponte's support for the fellow who oversaw a battalion that engaged in kidnapping, torture and murder never wavered. And the Post reported, "There is little in the documents...to support [Negroponte's] assertion that he used 'quite diplomacy' to persuade the Honduran authorities to investigate the most egregious violations, including the mysterious disappearance of dozens of government opponents."
So these documents buttress the case that Negroponte tried to ignore or cover up human rights abuses committed by his ally in the contra war. Yet they received little attention at his confirmation hearing. Negroponte did not refer to the Honduras controversy during his opening remarks. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican, asserted that Negroponte had shown "compassion for the Honduran people." (Hatch also quipped that since Negroponte had been confirmed by the Senate for seven previous positions, it "seems to me we don't even need this hearing.") Rockefeller, after hailing Negroponte, referred to the Post article, noting he and his aides had not had the "chance to review the documents." He then asked a weak question about Negroponte's use of back-channel communications when he was in Honduras. Negroponte said this all had been examined in 1989 when he was appointed to be US ambassador to Mexico. And Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee, mused aloud, "the timing of [the Post story}...is sort of interesting to me."
Only Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, pushed Negroponte on the human rights issue. Wyden observed that if one looked at Negroponte's reporting from Honduras, which said little, if anything, about human rights problems in Honduras, and the 1997 CIA IG report (and reports produced by investigations in Central America), "it's almost as if you were an ambassador to a different country." Negroponte replied that he did not think there was "such a large gap." But he has said repeatedly in the past there was no extensive, government-sanctioned human-rights abuses in Honduras. The other sources concluded there was plenty. Pressed by Wyden, Negroponte said, "let me put Honduras into context....Honduras was a country surrounded by trouble....Political freedom was relatively greater in Honduras than in neighboring countries." Wyden was not satisfied with this evasive answer. "I see a pattern of you ducking the facts," he said, adding that he was not convinced that Negroponte was a fellow who could report difficult facts to the president.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on John Kerry's blog campaign against Bolton, Jeff Gannon/James Guckert's false accusation against me, and the latest on the banned-in Arkansas controversy.
Few other senators seemed troubled by Negroponte's record or by a newspaper story that suggested he had lied about his activities in Honduras. No one asked him, "My God, Mr. Ambassador, you were supporting and praising a military thug who created a unit that was trained by our CIA and that the CIA later said was involved in death-squad-like activity. And there's no record you ever raised a peep about this. How the hell did that come to be?" Of course, no one should expect the Republicans to broach such a politically inconvenient matter. But where were the Democrats?
They were busy chasing their tails--or Negroponte's--on other topics. Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, asked Negroponte what he would do as director of national intelligence if the president or another policymaking misrepresented intelligence in public. (As a point of reference, Levin reminded Negroponte that Vice President Cheney publicly promoted the report that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer even though the CIA concluded the report was probably wrong.) Responding to Levin, Negroponte said, "You're raising a hypothetical." Levin pushed for more of an answer, and Negroponte said he would make sure "the correct intelligence is presented" to the president. That was another dodge. But Levin's allotted eight minutes was about done. And when Wyden asked whether the United States should hand over terrorist suspects to countries that torture and abuse prisoners, Negroponte stated, "With regard to the question of rendering detainees, here's what I'm prepared to commit to you: the law shall be obeyed." Wyden requested more specificity, and Negroponte said, "I'm not sure I can add" to that answer.
None of this was surprising. But Negroponte did offer an unexpected reply when Levin asked if he had read the Senate intelligence committee's 500-page report on the intelligence failures regarding WMDs in Iraq. "I read the executive summary," he said. Actually, there was no executive summary. The committee did put out a compilation of conclusions from the report, which totaled 30 pages. Was it too much for Negroponte to read the entire report? Levin gave Negroponte no grief for this and asked if he had read the 618-page report on WMD intelligence failures recently released by a commission created by Bush. "A lot of it and the recommendations," Negroponte answered. A lot of it? That sounded like a dodge, too. A Democratic senator should have thundered, "If you really want to do this job right, don't you think you should have taken a few hours and read the entire reports on the most recent big screw-up of the intelligence establishment?"
But there wasn't any thunder--and little rain fell on the Negroponte parade. The civilians tortured, disappeared and slain by Negroponte's buddies in Honduras were absent and no one on the dais truly spoke for them.
In the hearing room of the Senate foreign relations committee, Democrats were being somewhat more fierce, taking their swings at Bolton, who was not present. He had testified before the committee the day before and had been roughed up, but hardly vanquished by the Democrats. Senator Barbara Boxer had scored points when she showed a three minute film of Bolton dumping on the United Nations during a 1994 panel discussion before the World Federalist Association. His disgust and disdain for the UN and international governance was palpable. (One disappointment that day was newcomer Senator Barak Obama, who placed no pointed questions before Bolton and who rambled when he should have been interrogating.) But on the second day of the Bolton confirmation hearings, the committee turned the spotlight on Carl Ford, a former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research. For several hours, he told the same tale over and over: Bolton had sought revenge against an analyst who had dared to prevent Bolton from misstating--that is, overstating--the US intelligence community's conclusions about Cuba and bioweapons.
The Democrats had spent much time on this episode the previous day. But Ford, a Republican who claimed to be as conservative as Bolton, came across as a sincere and convincing witness, who maintained that Bolton had tried to abuse his position and did not deserve any job in which he must work with people. Bolton, Ford said, "is the quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." Bolton's attack on the analyst, Ford noted, had a chilling effect on other analysts--so much so that Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the department's intelligence analysts and urged them not to be affected by the episode. "Clearly," Ford testified, Bolton had engaged in "an attempt to pressure this analyst." After Ford was finished, Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the committee, accused Bolton of having "shaded the truth" when he had answered questions about this incident.
Bolton's attempt to squash the analyst is one part of the case against his nomination. But watching Senator Lincoln Chafee, the one Republican who might vote against Bolton and, thus, prevent his nomination from going forward, I saw little indication that Chafee was much troubled by the incident, which Republicans were trying to depict as an isolated event. It could be that the Democrats on the committee devoted too much time to this one imbroglio. If they want to win over Chafee, they might have to pile on more. No Democrat has yet to focus on Bolton's connection to a secret Taiwanese slush fund and the possibility that he broke federal law by failing to register as a foreign agent for Taiwan. (Click here.) And why didn't Senator John Kerry, a member of the committee, ask Bolton why in the late 1980s he blocked Kerry's investigation--and that of other members of Congress--into the connections between contras and drug runners? (Click here.)
It's tough to block a presidential nomination--even an outrageous one...or two. The Democrats are making no fight on Negroponte. Rockefeller practically kissed his ring. It does appear that the Democrats would like to do battle over Bolton, but they don't seem able--or willing--to generate the amount of intensity needed to make the Bolton vote a difficult one for Chafee. "So far they're not making it hard enough for Chafee," one Democratic Senate staffer bemoans.
It's a truism: to the victor goes the spoils. Bush seems likely to get his way with both of these nominations. It's a pity that the Democrats can't--or won't--do more to stop these appointments and that Bush's spoils are so spoiled.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Among the members of Congress who attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II last week was U.S. Rep. David Obey.
It would be difficult to identify a more appropriate representative than the Wisconsin Democrat who has served in Congress for the better part of four decades.
As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Obey is one of the most prominent and powerful members of the Congress. He is, as well, one of the most thoughtful and outspoken members of the Catholic faith in Washington. Indeed, the veteran congressman has credited his Catholic upbringing with helping to shape his values and his commitment to public service. "I was raised a Catholic," says Obey. "I know in my bones that I would not hold the views I hold today if it were not for the values I learned in Catholic school."
Yet, there are some who object to the suggestion that a progressive such as Obey is a "good Catholic."
Last year, Archbishop Raymond Burke published a public notice in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, diocesan newspaper that told Catholic legislators in the diocese who support abortion rights or euthanasia not to attempt to receive Communion and ordered priests not to give it to them. Burke, a moral hardliner who occupies the right fringe of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Biships, was then the Bishop of La Crosse; he is now the Archbishop of St. Louis.
Obey, who was widely believed to be one of the targeted legislators, responded with an opinion piece that appeared in America, a weekly Jesuit magazine that is one of the U.S. church's most well-regarded publications.
In it, Obey wrote that he would not let Burke "coerce" him into imposing the church's teachings on abortion upon America's pluralistic society. The piece, "My Conscience, My Vote," noted that, "In my view, Bishop Burke attempted to use his interpretations of theology to coerce me into taking specific positions on matters that I believe are matters of constitutional law. The difference between us is that I am not trying to force him to agree with my judgments, but he is attempting to force me to agree with his. That in conscience I cannot do."
Obey also urged that "the full texture and context of all my legislative actions" -- which includes many courageous votes to promote social and economic justice goals that parallel priorities of church leaders -- be reviewed before judging him.
Obey's bold statement was broadly circulated, and greeted with a great deal of relief by members of the faith who objected to the whole debate -- stirred by conservatives looking to derail the presidential campaign of John Kerry, who is also a practicing Catholic -- about whether politicians who did not follow the church line on abortion were "good Catholics."
Unfortunately, as the group Media Matters has noted, some in the media continue to perpetuate the "good Catholic" line.
Last week, on CNN's Inside Politics, CNN host Wolf Blitzer discussed the pope's funeral with Crossfire co-hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak, both of whom are Catholics. Blitzer opened the segment by announcing that, "While they were united today in mourning the death of the pope, U.S. Catholics are a diverse group, as illustrated by two of our Crossfire co-hosts, the conservative Robert Novak, the liberal Paul Begala. Both good Catholics -- I don't know 'good' Catholics, but both Catholics. I'm sure Bob is a good Catholic, I'm not so sure about Paul Begala."
Noting that his son is named John Paul, after the late pope, Begala, a Democratic campaign aide, objected and, when Blitzer seemed to dismiss him, said, "I'm serious, that annoys me. I don't think anybody should presume that a liberal is not a good Catholic."
Begala continued, "The Holy Father is liberal. And in fact, when [CNN contributor] Carlos [Watson] was speaking [earlier in the program], I was in the green room. Underneath, some producer had written, 'Many Catholic doctrines are conservative.' Absolutely correct. Many are liberal as well. The Holy Father bitterly opposed President Bush's war in Iraq. He came to St. Louis -- and I was there -- and he begged America to give up the death penalty. President Bush strongly supports it, as did President Clinton and others. Many of the Holy Father's views -- my church's views -- are extraordinarily liberal. The Pope talked about savage, unbridled capitalism..."
Begala was right to challenge the casual use of the "good Catholic" label. When the national media joins the most extreme church hardliners and conservative ideologues in casting judgements about the faith of individual Catholics, they do damage to discussions about both religion and politics. And they foster the fallacy that the only issue of concern to Catholics is abortion.
John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) is drawing great reviews. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent booksellers nationwide and at www.amazon.com.
Last week, we highlighted state minimum wage increases in Vermont andNew Jersey. This week, once again, we salute states that refuse tomarch lock-step with the Bush Administration's radical agenda.
On Monday, Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn theUSA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not tomention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislaturepassed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Actyet, according to the ACLU. Inan overwhelming bipartisan consensus, Montana's House of Delegatesvoted to approve Senate Joint Resolution 19--which discourages statelaw enforcement agencies from cooperating in investigations thatviolate Montanans' civil liberties--88 to 12. Earlier this year, theresolution passed in the state Senate 40 to 10.
"I've had more mail on this bill than on any other, and it's 100percent positive," said House Member Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman).Republican Rick Maedje (R-Fortine) said the resolution "protects ourstates' rights and is what true Republicans in every 'red state'should be doing."
SJ-19 also recommends that the state destroy all information gatheredunder the Patriot Act that is not directly related to a criminalinvestigation, and calls on librarians to inform citizens that theirlibrary records are unsafe from federal investigations.
Although the resolution does not carry the weight of the law, itsimpact is already being felt in Washington. On Tuesday, AttorneyGeneral Alberto Gonzales, speaking before the Senate JudiciaryCommittee, agreed to minor modifications of the Patriot Act, and saidhe was "open to suggestions" about additional changes, a notabledeparture from John Ashcroft's hard line stance. And on Wednesday,Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Larry Craig(R-ID) introduced the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE)act.
As several provisions of the Patriot Act are set to "sunset" in December,lawmakers pushing SAFE hope to restore privacy protections and limitabusive tactics such as roving wiretaps and "sneak and peak" searches.SAFE, which was recommended to Congress in Montana's SJ-19, has drawnsupport from organizations ranging from the ACLU to Patriots to Restore Checksand Balances, a national network of conservative groups.
Both Red and Blue America agree: Better SAFE than sorry.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Coming right off of March Madness, the Bush Administration has launched its latest assault on Title IX, the law that ensures equal opportunities for men and women in schools that receive federal funds.
Recently, the Education Department issued rules that will allow colleges to use email surveys to determine interest among young women in playing sports. "Schools will be considered in compliance with Title IX legislation if survey responses suggest there is insufficient interest among women students to support a particular sport," the Washington Postreported. Such changes to Title IX "will likely reverse the growth of women's athletics and could damage the progress made over the last three decades," NCAA President Myles Brand has said.
I'm the proud mother of a thirteen year old basketball player, who's been the shooting guard for the last few years on her school team. Her dream is to make varsity this fall. She reads the sports section every morning. She knows stats I've never heard of, has watched the entire NCAA season and catches every NBA and WNBA game she can.
Millions of young women have reaped enormous benefits since Title IX was launched. The number of women playing high school sports increased in 2001 to almost 2.8 million, up from 294,000 in 1972. Over the same time colleges witnessed an almost five-fold increase in the number of women playing sports. Title IX has achieved "an explosion of female Olympic stars, college and professional women's teams playing to packed stadiums, new magazines aimed at female athletes But most of all the freedom, strength and joy of a whole generation of young women," journalist Ruth Conniff pointed out in 1997--in a special Sports issue of The Nation (yes, check it out!).
Jocelyn Samuels, the Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women's Law Center, pointed to the larger issue that "there have been attacks on Title IX since its inception in 1972, but the Congress has rejected those attacks and the courts have rejected these attacks, and every Administration until the present one has upheld Title IX."
In the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bush told reporters that he "opposed quotas or strict proportionality" in school sports, taking a veiled swipe at Title IX. In Jan., 2002, his true agenda emerged when the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education charging that Title IX discriminated against men by imposing "quotas" or schools, forcing schools to eliminate minor men's teams like gymnastics and wrestling to make room for women who didn't share men's interest in playing sports.
Eventually, the courts dismissed the case. (The courts have consistently declared that these arguments lack merit.) And, while the Bush Administration opposed the NWCA in court, it only defended Title IX on "narrow procedural grounds, the National Women's Law Center argued in "Slip-Sliding Away," its illuminating study of gender policy. Instead of claiming that Title IX is a "fair and flexible" policy, government lawyers argued that the schools must remedy discrimination, not the Department of Education.
Next up, the Administration signaled to its "supporters that they were not abandoning them," Samuels said, when in mid-2002 the Department of Education established the poorly-titled, "Commission on Opportunity in Athletics." Writing in USA Today magazine, Asst. Professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law "Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three gold and one silver medal in the 1984 Olympics swimming competition, pointed out that Bush's Commission was "hand-picked, weighted heavily against Title IX," and that its purpose was "to eviscerate Title IX's interpretive regulations via an end-run around the courts, congress and the will of the people."
Adding weight to Hogshead-Makar's charges, the commission's final report recommended drastic changes to Title IX including harmful proposals that schools be allowed to use private donors to fund men's teams; "artificially inflate the percentage of athletic opportunities they give to women," and send bogus "interest surveys" to students to determine interest levels in sports among female students, as the commissioners Julie Foudy and Donna de Varona argued in their brave minority report--a document that then-Education Secretary Rod Paige declined to enter into the public record.
Fortunately, the Administration was forced to backtrack amid a din of public outrage, and the Education Department sent a letter to our nation's schools reaffirming the mechanisms for enforcing Title IX as settled law. That happened in 2003. Fast forward to March 2005. Bush has secured a second term, the NCAA tournament was underway, and the Administration dropped its bombshell on a late Friday afternoon "with little fanfare--now schools could evade compliance with Title IX by using bogus email surveys."
There's an irony here: George W. Bush is a sports nut. He has appeared on the cover of Runner's World, is a former owner of the Texas Rangers and he lifts weights and bikes in a gym. Adding to the irony, First Lady Laura Bush recently returned from her trip to Afghanistan highlighting the drive to secure womens' rights in that long-suffering nation.
Apparently, real-life experiences are no match for the anti-democratic ideology that has dominated policy decisions in the Bush White House. Title IX, a cornerstone of the struggle for gender equality, must be defended.
Expect to see a lot of George W. Bush over the next day or so, as he attends the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The White House is going out of its way to hype the fact that Bush is the first U.S. president ever to attend the funeral of a pope. And don't be so naive as to think that White House political czar Karl Rove and his minions -- all of whom are deeply concerned about the president's declining poll numbers -- have failed to calculate the political advantage that might be gained by associating the president with a pontiff whose passing has drawn unprecedented attention in the U.S. and around the world.
As Bush and other global leaders pay their final respects to John Paul II on Friday, however, it is important to remember that the Catholic pontiff was not a fan of this American president's warmaking.
John Paul II was an early, consistent, passionate and always outspoken critic of the president's scheming to invade Iraq. The Pope went so far as to meet with world leaders who were close to Bush, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in a high-profile attempt to prevent the war. Finally, the Pope sent a special envoy to Washington -- Cardinal Pio Laghi, who has long been close to the Bush family -- to try and derail the administration's rush to war.
When the war began, aides said that the Pope was "very disappointed and very sad" that Bush had ignored appeals to give peace a chance.
The Pope remained a critic of U.S. actions in Iraq, especially after it was revealed in May, 2004, Iraqi prisoners had been abused by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison.
"From all continents come endless, disturbing information about the human rights situation, revealing that men, women and children are being tortured and their dignity being made a mockery of. ... It is all of humanity which has been wounded and ridiculed," John Paul II said.
Those who are honoring the Pope's memory this week frequently refer to him as a man of peace. They would do well to recall that this is more than just a phrase. While the Pope was not a pacifist, he was an ardent foe of unjust and unwise wars. And hisopposition to the war in Iraq -- and to all forms of preemptive war -- is at the very heart of the legacy he has left with regard to international relations.
John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com