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Andy Stern Speaks His Mind

"Andy Stern is not shy about speaking his mind," veteran labor reporter David Moberg wrote in our recent cover story, Can't Workers of the Word Unite? In these last months, Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation.

But while Stern's call for dramatic structural change, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people, and his sense of urgency, even desperation, about the future of labor is admirable and welcome, much of SEIU's argument about what is to be done is less persuasive. (For more on Stern and the recently dissolved New Unity Partnership's (NUP) reform proposals--and my take on the arguments--see below.)

The insistence on the need for change at almost any cost was at the heart of Stern's talk to a packed early Monday session at the Harvard Club--organized by the Drum Major Institute and its indefatigable Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger. The charismatic 54-year old leader of SEIU, the AFL's fastest growing affiliate, acknowledged that if his (and NUP's) candidate--John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE--isn't elected (and John Sweeney ousted) at the AFL's quadrennial convention this July, it's the endgame.

Or, as Stern said, "We made a decision, rightly or wrongly that we will either be part of or partners with the AFL-CIO, but we don't want to be part of a labor movement that isn't willing to make changes that give workers a chance." Meaning that either the AFL-CIO implements a slate of specific reforms that Stern and his partners are demanding, or some 40 percent of the AFL will depart the federation and form something new--raising the specter of a split in the House of Labor akin to John Lewis's departure in 1935 to form the CIO.

When I pressed Stern about the danger of a split, at a time when labor is under ferocious assault, it was startling to hear SEIU's fiery leader invoke a business model. "Competition is not necessarily the most unhealthy aspect of moments in history...in a business analogy, there is US Airways, which has a model of doing work which has not been as successful as they ever wanted it to be...If you were Herbert Kelleher [chairman of the board of Southwest] right now and you wanted to start a new airline, you could either start Southwest with a whole new model and see if it worked or you could take over US Airways and see if you could change it. To me, one of the questions in the labor movement is, do you want to take over US Airways or do you want to build Southwest?" (Click here to read an excerpted transcript of the conversation.)

Sounds like the House of Labor, under attack by the most anti-labor administration in modern history, is about to split. Is it worth it? While fundamental change in labor is critical, will changing the rules of the AFL bring about the revival Stern hopes for--and seems to promise? And will structural reforms really address the larger problem of how to revitalize a broader movement for economic democracy and social justice?

Here's my take:

Andy Stern and the other members of the recently dissolved New Unity Partnership deserve great credit for forcing the first serious strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. I do not speak to the current state of the debate, which will inevitably change between now and the AFL's convention in July.

Let me instead raise three questions about the basic proposal for reform.

First goes to the feasibility of the basic reform proposal. Second goes to the consequences of dividing labor if it's not adopted. Third goes to the truth of its basic argument: that consolidation is the key to growth. While my answers are generally negative, they're not proposed to end the discussion, but to clarify the terms on which I hope it will continue.

On the first question: Is this proposal feasible, given the current structure of the AFL and its affiliates? We'll know in July but, whatever happens at the convention, I'm skeptical. Quite apart from questions of incompetence, bad faith or fraud in claiming organizing expenditures, there is the substantive prior question of which industries different unions can legitimately and consensually claim as core. This given the growth in the "general" unions--meaning those servicing members in many different industries--is a very dense omelet indeed, taking some time to unscramble under the best of circumstances. And these are NOT the best of circumstances. The AFL faces a powerful, unified right-wing, business dominated coalition of industry associations and the Republicans control all three branches of government.

The best unions will be those anxious to defend current members under attack, not bargain them away to a structure they don't yet know. And then there are the familiar differences of union culture, and membership loyalties. For unions actually to surrender organizing ambitions or members to others is more daunting still. This would suggest indeed something like a sovereign with absolute force was needed to bring it off, but surrendering their power to some Leviathan like the AFL-CIO is one thing that almost no union is prepared to do.

On the second question: Is this worth a split? Again I am skeptical.The last time labor split was because the AFL was actively resisting the organization of millions of workers who clearly wanted to be organized. Nothing like that is going on now. And the prospect of employers and the Bush Administration further exploiting divisions within labor is horrifying, as is that of wasting precious resources in a new round or murderous turf disputes. That's precisely what Andy Stern is interested in getting away from. But splitting off makes that a virtual certainty. Any dispute SEIU has with CWA or AFSCME now will only get worse, more ugly, if SEIU is outside the federation.

But the third question is the most important. Is the basic argument even right? I certainly think that decentralization and particularly a lack of discipline among the decentralized parts are labor's Achilles heel. I'm all for coordinated industry organizing plans. And what woman would seriously disagree that size and focus are generally a good thing? But I don't see union centralization per se, especially when achieved through merger, as more than a tiny step toward improving labor's current predicament. That uncontested jurisdiction per se is no guarantee of anything can be seen in the recent decimation of many unions that enjoyed precisely that privilege in different industries. Sometimes this decimation as achieved through deregulation--here think of the Teamsters in over-the-road trucking, or CWA in long distance telephone; sometimes it was achieved through technical change that took away labor's advantages in bargaining: here, think of longshore, mining, meatpacking. And even closer to protagonists in the current debate, it's worth noting that members of the NUP are not doing very well on the density front. Outside hospitals, even SEIU is losing density in such key industries as nursing homes and building services.

Something more than union structure is going on here, and something more than union structure will need to change to turn it around. There's also the blunt fact---from the history of corporate mergers in the US in recent decades--that merger per se does nothing particularly for efficiency. Often uniting two diverse cultures creates more problems than it's worth. I THINK COORDINATION, NOT CONSOLIDATION.

But I also think and hope we can talk about what more is needed. Along with industry plans, what about massive political education of existing union membership? What about a much more sophisticated political program--one that really does build to last and keeps strength in the field after presidential elections--particularly at the state and city level, as the Working Families Party is demonstrating here in NYC? Especially outside the special context of New York electoral law, that implies stronger regional labor capacity for political as well as other coordination. And that requires confronting what many see as in many ways an even bigger challenge to labor coordination than turf wars among affiliates--that is, the war between affiliates and the central labor bodies that are needed for their political coordination and effect.

Finally, we need more aggressive recruitment of anybody who wants to join a revitalized political and social movement but doesn't stand a chance anytime soon of getting to 50 percent plus one on some NLRB election, or benefiting from a bargaining to organize fight. Labor has a lot of friends out there that it could be doing more to tap into as part of a political strategy of developing more popular support for organized labor.

So in looking at all this, I'd put more emphasis on membership clarity and focus, not just industry; on coordination of a diverse movement--more than its willed consolidation; and on the strengthening of weak ties in political affinity and mobilization, to change policy and outcomes for workers outside collective bargaining or the climate of organizing.

I just don't think labor's ever going to win this fight if it is seen as only its fight. It must be seen as working America's struggle, and that is not best organized through specific industry actions but broad and sweeping political and issue campaigns. My hope is that a transformed, revitalized labor movement will emerge from an intricate mix of different but complementary strategies.

Talking with Andy Stern

Excerpt from DMI "Marketplace of Ideas" Series with SEIU President Andy Stern. March 14, 2005. New York City, New York.

Hon. Carl McCall: President Stern I have a practical question. One of the things you've done is that you've challenged the leadership of the AFL-CIO and you've suggested to them that they adopt some of the very interesting ideas that you've presented today. I was just wondering if you could comment on what is the end aim. Is (it) to extract from John Sweeney certain commitments to move in the direction you've suggested, or do you plan to run a candidate to oppose him?

Andy Stern: I think in any situation there are always two ingredients to change, one is what we're trying to talk about, "What do you believe in?" and then "who are the leaders that actually believe in what you believe in?" Because we have lots of people who say we're all for the same thing and then they get there and we're not sure what the same thing we all were for is. So I'd say the key, the first discussion is what do we all believe in. I'm not sure we're ever going to reach an agreement, so we may never get to the second question, which is "who is a leader that embraces what we agree in?" We made a decision rightly or wrongly that we will either be part of or partners with the AFL-CIO, but we don't want to be part of a labor movement that isn't willing to make changes that give workers a chance. We believe, as I said earlier, that we have fake unity not real unity, maybe what Democrats have. We're all Democrats but you can vote for the bankruptcy bill, you can vote against minimum wage and we're all Democrats. So, to us it's either time to change the AFL or build something stronger. A lot of building something stronger isn't building another labor movement, it is answering some of these questions of how do we relate to community organization, how do we build a progressive infrastructure, how do we build relationships with other membership organizations? Whether they be all the groups that work together in America Votes. How do we build the Working Families Party or other institutions that represent a different…so for us building something stronger isn't necessarily building a parallel labor movement. It's about joining with people that share a common set of values and trying to figure out what we should do regardless of what happens. How we work together to win for working people, to see work rewarded, to have a country that has a little more tolerance, a little more belief in science and progress and democracy, in the good sense of the word, more than we have today. So for us we want to make the change, if we make the change it needs a leader that embraces the change but at the same time we all have to build something stronger because we're losing. None of us, no progressive institution, no party, no labor movement, at this moment in history is strong enough on their own.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:But are you suggesting that a split might become necessary and can a house of labor divided survive in this climate?

Andy Stern: I might just say, that the house of labor is divided, so…

Katrina vanden Heuvel: But even more divided?

Andy Stern: Yes well no…Well, I hate to sound like a business person, because that's what people accuse me of all the time. You know competition is not necessarily the most unhealthy aspect of moments in history. You can say the Working Families Party is bad or you could say it sort of holds people accountable because there's alternatives. So to me we're not going to fight with people in the AFL-CIO as far as we're concerned we can work with them politically and as much as we do now. But at some point, the rules of the AFL-CIO really hold people back from growing. It's kind of restraintive (sic) trade. The merger of the AFL-CIO was the end of competition, and we never solved the problem of "do you believe in craft unionism or industrial unionism?" We just agreed that we were both successful enough that we should stop fighting and institutionalize what we each had. To me, yeah it's …if I thought this was a tragic moment for labor I would think differently, as I say it's a moment of opportunity potentially. I think this is also a question, this may be unfair, there are…in a business analogy, there is US Airways which has a model of doing work which has not been as successful as they ever wanted it to be, it doesn't really have a business model. You can sort figure out what's the future of US Airways. You know they kind of look like everybody else but do it less. If you were Herb Kelleher [ Chairman of the Board of Southwest] right now and you wanted to start a new airline you could either start Southwest with a whole new model and see if it worked or you could take over US Airways and see if you could change it. To me one of the questions in the labor movement is, do you want to take over US Airways or do you want to build Southwest?

Wolfowitz To Rule the World (Bank)

First George W. Bush picks UN-basher John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. Then he nominates Karen Hughes, a champion spinner who has little foreign policy experience, to be under secretary of state in charge of enhancing the United States' image abroad. Next, Bush taps Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to run the World Bank.

The Wolfowitz nomination is a win for the Pentagon but a loss for the world. Wolfowitz's achievements as a warmonger may say little about his views on international development, but his record on Iraq is one of miscalculation and exaggeration. And the poor of the world deserve a World Bank president with better judgment.

A leading neocon, Wolfowitz was a chief cheerleader for the war in Iraq--even before 9/11. In the first months of the Bush administration, Wolfowitz advocated toppling Saddam Hussein by sending in US troops to seize Iraq's oil fields and establish a foothold. Then, according to Wolfowitz, the rest of the country would rise up against Hussein. As Bob Woodward reported, then-Secreatry of State Colin Powell called this idea "lunacy."

Right after the horrific attacks of September 11, Wolfowitz again called for attacking Iraq. He argued that Iraq would be a much easier target than Afghanistan. So much for his strategic sense. And before the invasion of Iraq he was a key pitchman for the phony case that Saddam Hussein presented a direct WMD threat to the United States. For example, on December 2, 2002, he said, "[Bush's] determination to use force if necessary is because of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." At a subsequent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Wolfowitz claimed the WMD case for war was "very convincing." (After the invasion, WMD hunters David Kay and Charles Duelfer concluded there had been no WMDs. And a Senate intelligence committee report noted that the prewar intelligence had been flawed--that is, not all that convincing.)

Shortly after the start of the war, Wolfowitz declared there had been "no oversell" of the WMD threat. No "oversell"? He said there were WMDs; there were no WMDs. Isn't that, by definition, overselling? Wolfowitz did tell Vanity Fair that the WMD argument had been quite convenient: "For bureaucratic reasons. we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." It just happened to be the only reason deployed by Bush and Wolfowitz that made the immediate safety of the country the paramount issue. But with the WMDs clearly missing in action, Wolfowitz tried to pivot. Appearing before Congress, he explained that intelligence is "an art not a science" and that the absence of WMDs did not mean "that anybody misled anybody." Yet before the war he had depicted the intelligence not as art" but as hard-and-fast and "very convincing" material.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Karen Hughes, Frank Luntz and Pulp Fiction, and Dan Rather's noble attempt to hold a Bush accountable.

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When the Bush White House was pushing--or manipulating--the case for war, Wolfowitz sided with the administration hawks who believed Hussein's regime had a significant connection to al Qaeda, despite the absence of credible evidence. He pressed the CIA and FBI to find proof of the unconfirmed report that 9/11 ringleader Mohamad Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague--even after the two intelligence agencies had already investigated the matter and had found nothing to corroborate the allegation.

While selling the war to come, Wolfowitz told Congress the conflict in Iraq and the subsequent reconstruction would be financed by oil sales. That, too, was wrong. And Wolfowitz shares responsibility for the administration's inadequate planning for the post-invasion challenges in Iraq. General Tommy Franks, who commanded the Iraq invasion, told Woodward that he had urged Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to prepare for the aftermath, but the pair did not do so. When Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki suggested that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to get the job done in Iraq, Wolfowitz scoffed at him and said Shinseki was "wildly off the mark." Misreading the task ahead, he also naively remarked, "Like the people of France in the 1940s, [the Iraqis] view us as their hoped-for liberators." Was that not another "oversell"?

Perhaps developments in Iraq and the Middle East will move toward Wolfowitz's grand neocon vision. The elections in Iraq were a positive and encouraging event. But the war is not over, and all the consequences of the war are not yet realized or recognized--even though some direct (and still-mounting) costs are clear: 1500 dead Americans, tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians (perhaps over 100,000), $200 billion in taxpayer funds, a dramatic drop in the United States' standing abroad, the creation (according to the National Intelligence Council) of a new breeding ground for anti-American terrorists), and the uncontrolled dispersal of equipment that could be used to produce unconventional weapons. This war, as of yet, is no slam-dunk.

So what's Wolfowitz's reward for his various misjudgments and exaggerations? The fellow who is co-culpable for diminishing US credibility overseas and who symbolizes arrogance and hubris in policymaking is handed a plum position. (Outgoing World Bank president James Wolfensohn got to play cello with Yo-Yo Ma.) What signal does it send to the rest of the world, particularly those troubled nations that need effective assistance from the World Bank? It seems the White House doesn't care. After the Bolton appointment, why worry about this one? The G8 nations, the Europeans will roll over. It's good to be king in a unipolar world

In 1967, Robert McNamara, the captain of the Vietnam tragedy, left his post as secretary of defense to become president of the World Bank. So Bush is establishing a bipartisan tradition: you screw up a war, you get to run the World Bank. With this announcement, the impoverished of the world have less reason for hope.

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For other takes on Wolfowitz, see the comments of fellow bloggers and Wolfowitz-watchers Tim Shorrock and Steve Clemmons.

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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

Celtic Tiger Bites the Poor

The music of St. Patrick's Day, if it is political at all, tends to pick at old wounds and recall even older fights. That doesn't make it bad – a good many of the old rebel songs are brilliant -- but it can make the tunes a tad redundant.

There is nothing redundant about Damien Dempsey, however. The 28-year-old Dublin songwriter, whose first U.S. album, Seize the Day (Attack) was quietly released last fall, explores the harsh realities of contemporary Ireland with an eye and an ear that owes as much to Bob Marley as it does to the Clancy Brothers.Dempsey's music is Irish to the core – as Shane Mac Gowan of the Pogues says of his Celtic comrade, "He sees the beauty that is Ireland and that is Ireland's past and that can be Ireland's future." Yet, just as Marley made the Jamaican experience universal, so Dempsey sings a global song.

Seize the Day is packed with remarkable tunes, but the standout is "Celtic Tiger," an unblinking examination of the growing gap between rich and poor in Ireland that takes its name from the label attached to that country's "new economy." But it could have been written about any developed country where the promise of globalization is turning out to be a nightmare for those who did not begin their journey on the upper rungs of the economic ladder.

Dempsey sings:

Now they say the Celtic Tiger in my home town

Brings jewels and crowns, picks you up off the ground

But the Celtic Tiger does two things

It brings good luck or it eats you up for its supper.

It's a tale of two cities on the shamrock shore

Please Sir can I have some more

'Cos if you are poor you'll be eaten for sure

and that's how I know the poor have more taste than the rich

and that's how I know the poor have better taste than the rich...

With Sinead O'Connor adding shimmering background vocals, Dempsey growls: "Hear the Celtic Tiger roar -- I want more," as he angrily observes that with Ireland experiencing "the fastest growing inflation rate in the world... a couple with kids can't afford a place to live." There is no smarmy nostalgia here; Dempsey is calling out the destroyers of the Irish sense of community:

We're being robbed by the builders and the fat cat government

A league of greed and they don't even need for a thing

It's a sin

But it's the nature of the beast

You'd better go and find a priest and confess

Because your greed is gonna leave you soulless.

One of the most astute assessments of "Celtic Tiger" came from the BBC reviewer who said, "As a pop-political barometer, the song merits comparisons with ‘Guns Of Brixton' by The Clash and ‘Ghost Town' by The Specials."

But the truest measure of Damien Dempsey's music is that, in exploring the struggle for Ireland's soul, Dempsey finds a global groove that speaks to those who live far beyond the shamrock shore -- and to those who will be listening long after St. Patrick's Day.

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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

Without DeLay!

We've spent considerable time at The Nation detailing the increasingly muddy ethics trail being traveled by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. And, every day, new details come out demonstrating that DeLay is the most corrupt politician in Congress.

DeLay has violated ethics rules, virtually at will; abused his position as Majority Leader to trample on the legislative process; used illegal corporate contributions to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters with his anti-democratic re-districting scheme and used tax dollars and government resources for partisan political gain.

Some Republicans are even beginning to worry that he may be a liability. A GOP political consultant close to top lawmakers, including DeLay, told the Washington Post over the weekend: "If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there. The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple."

So, as Public Campaign's (and former Nation editor) Micah Sifry says in a public letter he's circulating, "let's hit an artery." Click here to sign Public Campaign's new petition Without DeLay and help spread the word about Public Campaign's efforts to make DeLay pay for putting himself above the law.

Bonus Blog Link:Click here to read The Daily DeLay, a project of Public Campaign Action Fund, designed to expose Tom "The Hammer" DeLay's anti-democratic, pro-special interest agenda.

The Trials of Tony Blair

LONDON -- George Bush's favorite European is having a hard time emulating the American president's strategy of exploiting the war on terror for political gain.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose willingness to go along even with the most illegitimate and dangerous of Bush's mad schemes has made him a hero to American conservatives, is paying a high price for being what his countrymen refer to as "Bush's lapdog."

Blair's attempt to enact a British version of the Patriot Act created a political crisis last week. Day after day, Blair battled with dissidents from his own Labour Party in the British House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as the country's opposition parties, over basic civil liberties issues. While Blair eked out a victory in the Parliament, he repeatedly failed to win the approval of the House of Lords, where his own mentor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, one of the country's leading legal minds, sided with the foes.

Only after Blair's aides agreed to several concessions -- including a Parliamentary review of the so-called "Prevention of Terrorism Act" in one year, which opposition leaders correctly described as a "sunset clause" -- did the measure win approval after bitter all-night sessions of both chambers.

"The Great Terrorism Debate of 2005" has already become the stuff of legend: how the government steamrollered opposition in the Commons only to see the proposals rejected by the Lords four times in 24 hours; how members struggled to sleep in all available spaces around Westminster as both houses dug in and sat through the night; and how they stuck resolutely to their positions until the final breakthrough," observed the Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

The British human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, who sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws and led the opposition to Blair's Ashcroft-like assault on basic legal rights, explained after the battle was done that, "This was not about the law. It became a trial of political strength."

Blair's trials are not done.

Last week's newspaper headlines brought more bad news for the prime minister. It was revealed by London's Independent that Blair apparently violated the official code of conduct for Cabinet ministers by failing to share the full advice of the country's Attorney General on the legality of the Iraq war with his own Cabinet. Clare Short, a member of the Cabinet prior to the start of the war, issued a statement in which she declared that the Cabinet had been "misled" and that support for military action against Iraq had been obtained "improperly,"

The news came as Britain's national Stop the War Coalition was busily organizing mass demonstrations against British involvement in Iraq to take place on March 19. Tony Benn, a former Labour Party Cabinet minister who has split with Blair on the war issue told me, "This will be one of the largest demonstrations since the war began, perhaps the largest, and it will confirm that their remains a hearty opposition to Tony Blair's decision to follow George Bush into war."

This is all bad news for Blair as he prepares for an election that is likely to be called for May 5.

"The 'Iraq effect' is still there on the doorstep, Labour officials report from the election front line. The issue is wider than military intervention, with some voters expressing concern they have 'lost' their Prime Minister to foreign affairs and others seeing 'Iraq' as shorthand for their loss of trust in Mr. Blair," explains Andrew Grice, political editor for The Independent. "The real 'Iraq effect' will be measured May 5."

One of the most fascinating tests could come in Blair's own parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield, in the north of England. A coalition of prominent members of parliament who have argued for the impeachment of Blair on the question of whether he deceived the House of Commons -- as Bush has been accused of deceiving the US Congress -- is working with some of the country's most prominent cultural figures, including musician Brian Eno, one of Britain's most widely respected public intellectuals, to find a single challenger for Blair. The idea is that all opposition parties, as well as Labour dissidents, would unite behind a celebrity anti-war candidate who would turn the local election into a referendum on Blair's policies.

If the move succeeds, it is possible that Blair's Labour Party could be returned to power without Blair.

While that prospect remains a long shot, it is delicious enough to have been taken seriously by the British media and some of the most thoughtful young members of the House of Commons.

Says Adam Price, a Welsh member of Parliament who is active in the move to identify a Blair challenger: "The critical thing is to find a candidate who is a national figure who encapsulates in their personality the message about trust and the need to restore public confidence in the political process."

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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

Karen Hughes: Bush's Spinner to the World

Have you been worrying about the image of the United States overseas? Have no fear, Karen Hughes is here. George W. Bush is nominating Hughes to be under secretary of state in charge of public diplomacy. That's the administration official who oversees the government's efforts to sell the United States abroad. No one has been in this position since the summer--which indicates just how much of a priority Bush has assigned to this task. With the United States' standing abroad at a frightening low level--even though Bush's belated response to the tsunami disaster did boost the United States' image in Indonesia--the White House has done little to enhance public diplomacy. That is, if you don't count Condi Rice strutting across Europe in high-heel, black leather boots. And the nomination of uber-hawk and UN-basher John Bolton to be UN ambassador hardly sent a signal that Bush is serious about working with other nations (and respecting their desires).

What are her Hughes' qualifications for this post? Well, she has been Bush's chief spin doctor since he entered politics. Once a local television reporter, she turned to the dark side. During the 2000 campaign, she actively misled the press about key aspects of Bush's past--most notably, his military service and his drunk-driving conviction. As a White House aide, she used PR tactics, not the truth, to push Bush's reckless policies. Now she'll do the same concerning the United States' image abroad. (If she could sell Bush to the American voters, maybe she can sell dirt as food.)

Of course, the problem is US policies, not the administration's PR efforts. As a report produced by the Defense Science Board last year notes, "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather they hate our policies [in the Middle East]." The Bushies talk about public diplomacy--when the bother to do so--as a marketing issue. ("Gee, I just don't understand why they don't want to buy our new chalk-tasting cola? We must not be pitching it right.") No, this is about product. True, you can successfully market crap and all sorts of stuff that harm consumers. But it sure helps to be peddling something that people want and that they consider high-quality.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Dan Rather's noble attempt to hold a Bush accountable; God and blogs; attacks on progressive writers from indy publishers: and The New York Times's shoddy coverage of a massacre's history.

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Don't count on Hughes to acknowledge that. For her, PR trumps truth. In honor of her pending appointment, I'm posting below two of my favorite instances of Hughes going on a spin-bender. Coincidentally, each comes from my book, The Lies of George W. Bush. Isn't it comforting to know that the person responsible for improving the US image throughout the world is a political hack-loyalist who would say whatever was necessary--no matter how false or ridiculous--to achieve a political aim? Read on:

Soon after [Bush] entered the presidential race, the Associated Press discovered that Bush had not been honest about his military past when he had campaigned unsuccessfully for Congress in 1978. Back then, in an ad in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, he boasted he had served "in the first U.S. Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard where he piloted the F-102 aircraft." But Bush had done time only in the Guard, not the Air Force. When AP asked Bush's presidential campaign about this, the Bush crew could have taken the opportunity to set the record straight. Instead, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told AP that the advertisement had been "accurate," considering the time Bush had spent on alert and in training. "As an officer," she maintained, "he was serving on active duty in the Air Force." Bush himself remarked, "I was in the Air Force for over 600 days." Not so, according to a definitive source -- the Air Force. The AP reported that "the Air Force says that Air National Guard is always considered a guardsman and not a member of the active-duty Air Force." The 1978 ad had been a distortion, and Bush and Hughes refused to concede that."

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Concerning his more wild days, Bush [during the 2000 campaign] adopted a best-defense-is-a-good-offense stance. He branded any questioning of his personal past illegitimate rumor-mongering. He equated being asked about booze-and-drug issues with being targeted by unfair innuendo. "I'm not ready for rumors and gossip," Bush told USA Today. "I'm ready for the truth. Surely people will learn the truth." What insincerity. He was claiming he wanted people to know the truth about him, but he would not answer a whole set of questions about his past.

One concealed truth Bush had not been "ready for" exploded on November 2, 2000, five days before Election Day. A Maine television channel reported that in 1976, Bush, then 30 years old, was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, for drunken driving. He had admitted to the arresting officer he had been drinking. He paid a $150 fine and had his driving privileges revoked in Maine. After the story broke, at a campaign press conference (his first in a month), candidate Bush acknowledged the report was accurate, and he said that he had never publicly revealed the DWI conviction out of concern he would set a bad example for his twin girls. In the same press conference, Bush maintained, "I have been very candid about my past." This was obviously not a factual statement, since Bush had neglected to disclose this arrest while supposedly being "very candid about his past."

As the story developed, the issue became not his post-youth crime, but one question: Had Bush lied to keep his arrest record a secret? Wayne Slater, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and a longtime Bush watcher, recalled he had asked Bush in a 1998 interview whether Bush had ever been arrested after 1968. Slater told his media colleagues on the Bush campaign plane that Bush had said no. Slater also remembered that later in that 1998 interview Bush indicated his was about to return to this subject. But as Bush began to say something. Karen Hughes cut in, and Bush said nothing else on the topic.

While Slater was sharing this account, Hughes, several rows away, was presenting her own version to reporters "nervously," according to New York Times correspondent Frank Bruni, This was her line: not only had the governor not said anything false to Slater, he had somehow conveyed an accurate impression that an episode like the 1976 bush had occurred. Hughes, according to UPI, maintained that Bush in the 1998 interview with Slater was "hinting around that something had happened. That's why I stopped the conversation." Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank subsequently wrote that Hughes told the journalists, "I think the implication Wayne was left with was that in fact the governor was acknowledging that he had in fact been arrested." Notice the two "in facts" in one sentence. As Bush quipped, "An accurate impression of an unacknowledged event? It was an awfully weird concept."

This was spin at its most frantic. But that was the Bush camp's story. During a press conference, Hughes said Slater "was clearly left with the impression that the governor -- an accurate impression that the governor had been involved in some incident involving alcohol." And she noted that on another occasion, in 1996, Bush was asked directly had he ever been arrested for drinking, and the governor replied, quote, 'I do not have a perfect record as a youth.'" That vague response supposedly was evidence Bush had not outright lied about this arrest. But his 1996 answer had not been responsive. And had he been a "youth" at the age of 30?

Hughes' "explanation" of Bush's exchange with Slater is one of the great examples of political spin. If I were teaching college students about spin, I'd make them study this episode. Hell, it's worth an entire class. Why did the reporters not laugh her into oblivion? How could she get away with this? Here's the kicker: it worked. As Bruni noted after the campaign in a book, he and the Times (that liberal bastion!) played down the DWI charges in the final days of the campaign. And, as we all know, how the Times covers a story often affects how other media will handle it. "Bush and his advisers," Bruni wrote, "didn't end up taking as much heat for [the DWI story] as they perhaps deserved." So Hughes, with the Times' assistance, helped saved Bush's butt at a crucial moment. Can her talents at spin do the same for our entire nation? I'm betting the rest of the world is not as gullible.

*******************

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

Sweet Victory: Yo Quiero Justice!

On Tuesday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers scored aprecedent-setting victory for America's beleaguered farm workers.

After three years of a CIW-led boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agreed to improve working conditions of the Florida tomato pickers and increase their wages by paying an extra penny per pound oftomatoes picked.

The average American farm worker lives far below the poverty line,(barely) subsisting on $7,500 a year. Currently, the market price for tomatoes hovers around 32 cents per barrel, roughly the same amount it stood at thirty years ago. For the tomato pickers, the penny-per-pound increase provides a significant income boost. For America's farm workers, CIW's victory is a groundbreaking step towards a more socially responsible fast-food industry.

Taco Bell's concession comes on the heels of CIW's protest outside the Yum corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday. The protest was the culmination of CIW's massive "Taco Bell Truth Tour," which drummed up support for the boycott across the country. The National Council of Churches, representing 50 million Christians, and prominent figures such as Jimmy Carter strongly backed the movement. Campus activists also provided a major boost: students at over 300 colleges and universities participated in the boycott, and students at twenty-one schools even had Taco Bell removed or barred from their campuses.

"This is an important victory for farm workers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of worker," said Lucas Benitez, co-president of the CIW. "This sends a clear challenge to other industry leaders."

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by emailing to: nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Sunshine Is the Best Disinfectant

At a time when we need accountability more than ever in Washington, when corruption and ethical violations are sweeping our capital, we must turn to groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Setting up shop in February 2003, CREW has already played a key role in exposing corruption at the highest federal levels with non-partisan, no-holds-barred scrutiny of our elected officials. "There are already many fine groups focusing on publishing information about campaign finance abuses, or promoting legislation to improve government," Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director told Environmental Media Services, a non-profit organization, in explaining CREW's genesis. But "there is no mainstream group that is dedicated to taking legal action directly against offending politicians and their supporters." As CREW's mission statement puts it, "the greatest danger to democracy is posed [by]...public policy unduly influenced by special interests."

Sloan recently discovered that the PR giant Fleishman-Hillard had received a $1.8 million contract from the supposedly nonpartisan Social Security Administration, (which, it's worth noting, seems to have morphed into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bush propaganda machine.) Why had the government paid nearly $2 million in taxpayer money to hire a PR firm? Sloan filed a FOIA request seeking answers.

The SSA didn't even have the good sense to offer a response. "It looks like they're hiding something," Sloan said. Last week, CREW filed a lawsuit against the SSA for failing to respond to its FOIA request.

This is the tip of the iceberg for CREW. The organization has filed FOIA requests with 22 government agencies to find out which PR firms and "journalists" the Administration has hired to flack its policies. Sloan believes "there has to be more" of the Armstrong Williams-type cases out there--and CREW intends to get the information.

CREW proved its mettle when it used the ethics process in the House to expose House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's corrupt activities (including allegedly bribing his Republican colleagues to win their votes for the GOP's sham Medicare legislation, engaging in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors and violating campaign finance laws in Texas in 2002.) Sloan discussed filing a complaint against DeLay with members of the House, but nobody bit. But then, Chris Bell, the Congressman from Texas whom DeLay had effectively redistricted out of his seat, phoned her. He agreed to take the complaint to the Ethics Committee.

A former Assistant US Attorney from 1998 to 2003, Sloan drafted the complaint as if "I was writing an indictment." After Bell and Sloan traded several drafts, the complaint was filed. It grabbed headlines by exposing DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and highlighting the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.

CREW is one of a growing number of watchdog organizations in the capital that is battling against increasing secrecy and metastasizing government corruption. Not long ago, CREW became part of a coalition of eight watchdogs seeking to revive the defunct ethics complaint process in the House. (While the majority of the organizations in the coalition were on the left, Judicial Watch was an exception to the rule.)

Other groups, like POGO (The Project on Government Oversight) and the Government Accountability Project, are doing similar watchdog work in Washington. And the Institute for America's Future (Disclosure: I am on IAF's Board) is running The Project for an Accountable Congress, which recently unveiled a report charging that Rep. Jim McCrery, the newly appointed chair of the Social Security Subcommittee, received over $200,000 in contributions from banking and securities interests that stand to benefit from Bush's plan to privatize Social Security.

In the meantime, OpenTheGovernment.org is sponsoring Sunshine Week to highlight the need to lift what US News and World Report has called a "shroud of secrecy" blanketing the federal government. "There's a great need to turn up the heat," said Charles Lewis, founder and former executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. (The Center itself has used FOIA requests and sued the Army and State Department over its handling of no-bid contracts.)

Lewis cited a "tectonic shift in government information" in recent years. The "obsession with secrecy by Dick Cheney and former Nixon officials" working in this Administration, combined with the Administration's agenda to privatize government and create a 'donor class of contractors,' has severely reduced public accountability in Washington. Watchdog efforts as usual are insufficient in these perilous times...The situation is out of control."

"Since 9/11," Lewis said in an important speech last month, "the country has seen a historic, regressive shift in public accountability. Open-records laws nationwide have been rolled back more than 300 times--all in the name of national security. For the first time in US history, the personal papers of past presidents now may only be released with White House approval. A Justice Department 'leak' investigation of the White House regarding an Iraq war-related news story has degenerated into a full-fledged witch-hunt against the news media and the First Amendment, with reporters facing imprisonment if they don't reveal their sources."

"It took 20 researchers, writers and editors at the Center for Public Integrity six months and 73 Freedom of Information Act requests, including successful litigation in federal court against the Army and State Department, to begin to discern who was getting the Iraq and Afghanistan contracts, and for how much," he also said. "What has happened to the principles of accessible information and transparency in the decision-making process in our democracy?"

Plenty of scandals loom. Ralph Nader's claim that President Bush's family has profited from the US invasion of Iraq should be investigated. Sloan insists that it's important to focus on the investigation already underway of the super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Over a three-year period, Abramoff allegedly received $82 million from six Indian tribes to lobby on their behalf. He is deeply tied to DeLay and other members of the Congressional Leadership. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Abramoff secured $70,000 from Indian gaming interests to finance a trip DeLay took to Britain in mid-2000.

The Washington Post has also eported that "Federal investigators are examining tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and public relations fees Abramoff obtained from the tribes. They are also looking into his dealings with members of Congress and their staffs..."

But, says Sloan, hearings conducted in the Senate have so far skipped over Abramoff's ties to members of Congress. Sounding like the enterprising watchdog that she is, Sloan vows that CREW will continue to press for a full accounting. The Abramoff case represents "a level of corruption unimaginable to most people."

If CREW and Sloan are successful, the public will soon get a better idea of the scope of this malfeasance. And we will be reminded that the maxim about stamping out corruption has merit: sunshine is the best disinfectant.