Talk about a Raw Deal. If we don't see a boost in the federal minimum wage by next year, it will be the longest the country's ever gone without an increase. But after eight straight years of poverty-level minimums, more and more states have decided that enough is enough--or rather, that $5.15 is not enough.
In March, we highlighted minimum wage victories in Vermont and New Jersey, and since then, good news has rolled in from many more states. On May 3rd, Hawaii's legislature voted in favor of increasing the state's minimum to $7.75 by 2007. The next day, Connecticut's State Senate approved a minimum wage hike that will reach $7.65 in the next two years. A week later, Minnesota's legislature raised its floor-level minimum by a dollar per hour.
On June 1, Wisconsin became the twelfth state since January of 2004 to join the movement, establishing a raise that will gradually increase to $6.50 by next year. (Nonetheless, as the Madison Capital Times points out, Wisconsin's victory is tarnished by a clause in the bill which prohibits towns and cities from independently hiking minimums.)
California's House just pushed a minimum wage increase bill to the Senate, and legislation is on the move nationwide with activists from the Ballot Strategy Initiative Center hoping to get minimum wage initiatives on the ballots in nine more states by next year.
And according to a Pew Research Center poll, 86 percent of the public favors increasing the federal minimum which should suggest to the Dems that this can be a winning electoral issue. With an overwhelming consensus of Americans behind this fight, Senator Edward Kennedy is urging Congress to wake up. On May 18th, he introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which calls for raising the minimum wage to $7.15 in three steps. (Click here to ask your reps to suuport the bill.)
One thing is for certain: even if Congress continues to leave millions of working Americans in the lurch, the movement in states shows no signs of slowing down.
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.
If you thought last week's Sweet Victory--highlighting the electoral reform movement sweeping North America--was encouraging, you'll be thrilled with the news coming out of Connecticut. Yesterday, Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell called for a "clean elections bill," in what could become the boldest and most far-reaching plan for campaign finance reform in the country.
And Connecticut, which has been wracked by recent government corruption, is badly in need of reform. The scandal surrounding former Gov. John Rowland, who resigned and is now serving a one-year prison sentence for accepting gifts from state contractors, is symptomatic of a campaign system that favors big money and special interests over voters.
After weeks of deadlock, Rell and State Senate Republicans not only agreed to accept the Democrats' plan for public financing of all statewide campaigns but took the reform further, proposing a ban on contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. "This is real reform," said Rell, who will set aside $5 million to fund the initiative. "If you accept it, we will make history in Connecticut."
Rell's sudden turnaround seems too good to be true for some of the House Democrats, who remain skeptical about how the radical proposal will affect their party in the state. Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Clean-Up Connecticut Campaign--a coalition of fifty organizations rallying for campaign reform--says "corporate Democrats" are the only thing standing in the way of getting the bill passed. "They're tentative because they're being asked to accept a totally open process for a political system that they've figured out how to win," says Swan. "It takes a great deal of courage for both parties to admit that the current way we finance campaigns is corrupt."
Maine and Arizona have strong public finance laws, but those came about as a result of ballot initiatives, and don't have the sweeping scope of Rell's proposal. "This would be the strongest campaign finance reform bill ever passed," says David Donnelly of Public Campaign, "and the fact that this initiative came from within the legislature is unprecedented."
Connecticut's legislative session ends on June 6, and while Donnelly is confident that both parties will come to an agreement by the deadline, he urges Connecticut residents to click here and write to their legislators demanding the best possible reform.
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.
They came to hear Howard Dean.
But they got the message that matters from Arianna Huffington.
That's because, while the chairman of the Democratic National Committee delivered a tepid and predictable address to the Campaign for America's Future's "Take Back America" conference on Thursday, the columnist and author who not that many years ago identified as a Newt Gingrich conservative was the speaker who showed up with a road map for renewal of the Democratic Party.
Where Dean made no direct mention of the war in Iraq during a lengthy address to the morning plenary that kicked off the fullest day of the annual gathering of progressive activists, Huffington went to the heart of the matter.
"We cannot continue to ignore the debacle in Iraq if we are going to have any hope of [Democrats] ever again being a majority party," said Huffington, the conservative who came in from the cold and has recently lent her name and energy to the Huffington Post.
At a conference where the schedule was heavy with domestic-policy discussions but short on discourse regarding foreign policy, Huffington bluntly told the crowd, "We cannot have a solution on the domestic front without addressing what is happening in Iraq."
After a quick tour of the quagmire ("Ahmed Chalabi is the oil minister -- this is like something out of Saturday Night Live") and of the Bush Administration's steady pattern of misdeeds and missteps, Huffington asked the fundamental question of Congressional Democrats and party leaders: "Where is the oversight?"
"There is no oversight going on in this most corrupt and most immoral Congress that we have right now," she said, adding that, "I'm very troubled by the way our Democratic leaders go on television and sound like spineless Republicans." (Later in the day, at the one conference session that was devoted to foreign policy issues, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern recalled Dean's recent "now that we're there, we're there" comment regarding the "need" to remain in Iraq and then said, "That sounds like Rumsfeld to me.")
Noting that, in a recent television appearance, US Senator Hillary Clinton said she was not comfortable talking about developing an "exit strategy" to withdraw US troops from Iraq, Huffington said, "With respect to Senator Clinton, if you are not comfortable setting an exit strategy, please point us to someone who is."
Clinton is much discussed as a potential Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. But Huffington drew some of the loudest applause of the conference when she said of the 2008 race, "I want a Democratic presidential candidate who can give a straight, unambiguous answer on Iraq."
It was deserved applause; if Democrats do not come to understand this message, they will doom themselves to an agonizing repetition of the electoral debacles of 2002 and 2004.
"There is no way in a time of war that you can be a majority party without having a policy position [that is distinct from the Republicans]," explained Huffington, who suggested that, instead of avoiding the debate about national security, Democrats need to turn the debate on its head.
"The Democratic leaders need to make it clear that these men running our foreign policy are dangerous," she said. "There is no way Democrats can win an election unless they make it clear that these Republicans are not making this country safer."
I realize the motto of The Nation is "Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865," but I would advise we don't confuse informed contrarianism with churlishness. My colleague John Nichols in his web column expresses disappointment that Deep Throat--a.k.a. W. Mark Felt, the No. 2 at the FBI--was not an anti-Nixon idealist but (gasp!) a Washington insider. Nichols writes,
In hindsight, we should have known that Washington Post writer Bob Woodward's source for the investigative reports he and Carl Bernstein wrote about Nixon-era corruption would not be an idealist who sought to expose a corrupt presidency. Rather, like so many of Woodward's sources over the years, W. Mark Felt was a consummate Washingtion insider. Far from being someone who feared for the Republic, Felt was a protégé of longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.
For Nichols, this seems to discredit Felt and his work as an undercover source. But it was always assumed by Watergate-ologists that D.T. was an insider. Who else could have been a witness to the deep and dark secrets of the scandal? Would Nichols be happier had the most famous anonymous source in US history turned out to be Al Haig? Or Fred Fielding? Or Henry Kissinger? Or--yikes!--Patrick Buchanan? It had to be someone within the tribe, for only a person embedded in The System would have had access to the information and perspective D.T. shared with Woodward in that underground garage.
Actually, Felt was not a member of the ratfucking Nixon clique. (For those of you perhaps too young to get the "ratfucking" reference, click here.) Felt was a career FBI employee. He went after the Kansas City mob (a good thing). In the early 1970s he authorized FBI break-ins (without court orders) into the homes of persons suspected of being associated with supposed bombers linked to the Weather Underground (a bad thing). For the latter, Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of American dissidents; the following year, President Ronald Reagan granted him a pardon. How's that for irony?
Felt was no Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers. And he probably never read The Nation (unless he was looking for subversives). But Nichols does him a disservice with this black-and-white characterization of his actions and motives:
Felt certainly couldn't have been all that worried about Nixonian skulduggery, as the tipster himself would eventually be convicted of authorizing federal agents to illegally break into the homes of suspected anti–Vietnam War radicals.
Indeed, it appears that "Deep Throat" was less concerned about defending democracy than about getting back at then-President Richard Nixon for refusing him the directorship after Hoover's death in May 1972.
So Watergate ends up as another story of powerful men undercutting one another in a squabble over turf and bruised egos.
As the Vanity Fair article that exposed Felt as Deep Throat makes clear, Felt was at odds with the Nixon gang for several reasons--including some laudable ones. In 1971--before Watergate and before Hoover's death--Felt resisted a Nixon White House request to wiretap suspected leakers who were driving Nixon bonkers. The following year--again, before Watergate and before Felt had reason to be upset about not being appointed Hoover's successor--Felt and Hoover turned down a White House request to have their vaunted FBI lab declare as a forgery a memo written by a lobbyist that outlined a deal in which a $400,000 contribution to Nixon's re-election campaign would lead to the Justice Department dropping an antitrust lawsuit against ITT, a major telecommunications firm.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Richard Perle's latest nonsense and the Republican Weasel of the Week.
Felt apparently did fret about Nixonian skulduggery, and he was already concerned about Nixon's abuse of power prior to becoming Deep Throat. Then once Watergate was under way, he came to see that the White House was stonewalling his FBI's investigation. He also believed the CIA was handing the FBI false leads. And in those first months after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee, Felt worried that the White House's effort to make the story go away were close to succeeding. Few in the media cared. Watergate had not become much of a campaign issue, as Nixon headed toward a re-election victory trouncing Democratic Senator George McGovern. He also believed that L. Patrick Gray III, the acting FBI director, was impeding the Watergate investigation to curry favor with the White House. (Gray wanted Nixon to upgrade his position at the FBI from acting to permanent.) So Felt took action to keep the story alive. At first, he confirmed information for Woodward and later provided material and tips. This helped Woodward and Bernstein continue their run of Watergate exclusives, which kept the scandal from petering out. Felt even came under suspicion from Nixon for snitching.
Felt was pissed off at the Nixon White House for multiple reasons. He wanted the top slot at the Bureau. He also saw the Nixonites running amok. As John D. O'Connor writes in Vanity Fair, "Felt harbored increasing contempt for this curious crew at the White House, whom he saw as intent on utilizing the Justice Department for their political ends." It probably was difficult for Felt to sort out all his motives. But this is what happens with many whistleblowers. They often are propelled by several reasons. And they are company men (or women) before breaking the rules, customs and norms. Think of Jeffrey Wigand, the real-life tobacco whistleblower marvelously portrayed by Russell Crowe in The Insider.
Nichols challenges Felt's patriotism and blasts him as "just another cynical Washington insider playing the system for all it was worth." That is a narrow and unfair description. Even though Felt had engaged in his own abuse of power, he was not blind to those being committed by the White House. Nor was he a cynic willing to go along with the demands of the powerful. He appears to have cared about maintaining the independence of the FBI (whether he recognized its excesses or not) and about keeping the Bureau from becoming a covert arm of an imperious president.
We could use such whistleblowers today--even if they stay undercover. And we should not apply a political litmus test to those who risk their livelihoods by disclosing government misconduct. There are plenty of people within the national security establishment who support all sorts of policies and actions that Nichols (and I) would find dreadful. But that would not undermine their contribution to the nation if they helped expose this or that Bush wrongdoing. Those who know the secrets are not outsiders. They have reached need-to-know positions because they have accepted the fundamental values and policies of their institutions. To expect purity of politics, policy or principles from a whistleblower or leaker who comes from these quarters is unrealistic--and harmful.
Felt did not reveal his secret identity for decades, according to the Vanity Fair story, because he believed he would be castigated for having dropped a dime on Nixon. After all, G-Men do not flap their gums. But so far he has been accorded mostly accolades. Charles Colson, a Nixon adviser who served seven months in jail for obstruction of justice related to Watergate, did tell the Washington Post that he was "shocked" that a senior FBI official would have undercut the president by "peddling information in the middle of the night." And Patrick Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter, called Felt a "traitor." And from the left, there was Nichols's attack.
Felt deserves the positive reviews and credit. Such a reaction might actually encourage others. My hunch is that not too many would-be whistleblowers at, say, the Pentagon take their cues from The Nation, but such a person would not be more likely to leak important information if he or she believed they would be tarred as antipatriotic and cynical.
I hope Nichols reconsiders his first-take consideration of the Felt revelation. As regular readers know, I rarely use this space to debate with other Nation contributors. But the Felt matter deserved more nuanced coverage on this website. And I'm going to give the last word to former Senator Mike Gravel. In 1971, when the Nixon Justice Department was trying to prevent the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, Gravel officially released the entire document set, in essence shooting a finger at Nixon White House and rendering moot his effort to smother the Pentagon Papers. After the Deep Throat story broke, Gravel issued a statement:
Felt's revelations and tips kept the [Watergate] investigation alive by pulling back the shroud of secrecy hiding the criminal activities of the Nixon White House. Felt should receive the American Medal of Freedom for his courage and patriotism in defense of our democracy. The greatest threat to democracy is secrecy. It is a generic flaw of our representative system of government. Secrecy is endemic to government; it is the device government officialdom uses to hide the truth and to manipulate the media and the public, and is the slippery slope leading to tyranny.... The only antidote to the excesses of secrecy is the occasional patriot leaking the truth to the media or to the Congress. Unfortunately, the Congress is all too complicit in maintaining secrecy in government. Thank you, Mark Felt, for your service to freedom and democracy; let us hope that your revelation is an incentive to present-day whistleblowers. The need for whistleblowers has never been greater.
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.
The remarkable thing about the revelation of the identity of the Watergate-era tipster known as "Deep Throat" is that nothing about the news seems particularly remarkable.
In hindsight, we should have known that Washington Post writer Bob Woodward's source for the investigative reports he and Carl Bernstein wrote about Nixon-era illegality would not be an idealist who sought to expose a corrupt presidency -- nor even a Nixon aide experiencing a rare bout of conscience. Rather, like so many of Woodward's sources over the years, W. Mark Felt was a consummate Washingtion insider playing the sort of games that consumate Washington insiders play.
Far from being someone who feared for the Republic, Felt was a zealous protégé of a man who menaced the Republic for decades, longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.
It is difficult to buy the line that Felt was all that worried about Nixonian skulduggery, as the tipster himself would eventually be convicted of authorizing federal agents to illegally break into the homes of suspected anti–Vietnam War radicals.
Indeed, it appears that "Deep Throat" was less concerned about defending democracy than about getting back at then–President Richard Nixon for refusing him the directorship after Hoover's death in May 1972.
So Watergate ends up as another story of powerful men undercutting one another in a squabble over turf and bruised egos.
But, of course, there is more to the Watergate story than that. Despite the fact that Felt comes off as something less than a hero, he was a necessary player in a national drama that had a happy ending: A dishonest and dishonorable president was exposed and forced from office.
Perhaps this is why there is so much fascination with Watergate. It reminds us that the American experiment really can yield positive results, especially when the Fourth Estate prods Congress to police an out-of-control Executive Branch.
Considering the current circumstances of the nation, when Woodward and so many other members of the Washington press corps act as little more than stenographers to power, this week's renewed attention to the Watergate story ought to inspire an aching nostalgia in Americans who still take their citizenship seriously. It is inspiring to think that the system did once work; but it is painful to recognize the reality that Richard Nixon would never have been forced from office by today's major media organizations or today's Congress. And it is agonizing to think of how the far more serious crimes of presidents who succeeded Nixon -- especially, though certainly not exclusively, those of the current occupant of the White House -- go essentially unchallenged, even as more credible and patriotic Deep Throats than Mr. Felt have emerged. (The failure of most news outlets to examine what has come to be referred to as the Downing Street memo, official British documents that confirm George Bush's machinations to start a war-of-whim with Iraq, provides ample evidence that presidents no longer have much to fear from major media.)
Ultimately, now that Deep Throat has been revealed as just another cynical Washington insider working the system for all it was worth, one Watergate mystery remains. And it turns out to be a far more perplexing and troublesome one than that of some back-alley tipster's identity.
What remains is the mystery of how America, a country that proved her ability to depose a petty crook from power in the 1970s, has drifted so far from her ethical moorings. At the most fundamental level, it is not so difficult to unravel this mystery. A simple calculation of the roles of big media and big money campaign contributions provides most if not all of the explanation that is needed. But that calculus points to the lingering quandry of our time: Will we ever muster enough outrage at a stenographic media and a compliant Congress to steer America back to that place where lawless presidents are held accountable for their lies and the deadly consequences of their misdeeds?
Will Ron Howard's new film Cinderella Man help deliver a KO to Bush's Social Security privatization scam? It's easy to read too much into Hollywood's influence on our politics, but this movie comes out just as it's becoming clear that, as a recent memo by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it, "Social Security is a disaster for the President."
In Cinderella Man, which opens June 3, Russell Crowe plays James Braddock Jr., the contender from North Bergen, New Jersey, who breaks his hand and slides into boxing oblivion--and onto the welfare rolls--only to make the unlikeliest of comebacks at the height of the Great Depression, culminating in a June 1935 fight with Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.
How does all of this affect the current debate about the future of Social Security? By depicting the beneficial effects of welfare during the Depression, the film subtly underscores the importance of preserving what was a cornerstone of the New Deal.
"I've always been fascinated by the Depression," Howard said in a recent interview with the New York Times. (While in high school, Howard made a documentary about the Depression, interviewing his father and others and using old photographs.)
In Cinderella Man, Howard says, "I wanted to remind people that the working poor existed then, and we have it today. While the economy is mostly up and then sometimes down--the Internet bubble bursting felt a bit like '29, where people had overextended and fallen into that trap again--we're anxious. Our population is anxious. We're not in a depression, thank God, but I think it's crossing our minds that something could happen, things could change and not for the better, for the worse."
Will Russell Crowe KO Bush's shameless scam to shred America's most successful antipoverty program? Here's hoping that his blows, added to the thousands inflicted by tireless organizers and ordinary citizens, successfully expose this rip-off.
I posted this on my personal blog while traveling in a Red state:
George W. Bush doesn't disappoint. That is, if you expect him to dodge tough questions and misrepresent facts.
At his press conference today, Bush hailed "Operation Lightning," the current military offensive to secure Baghdad as a sign of progress, noting that 40,000 Iraqi troops were patrolling the streets of the capital. Bush should check in with his own military. For days, military sources have been telling reporters that the actual number of Iraqi troops deployed for this action is much less, probably about one-third to one-half of the 40,000 figure cited by Bush. And the performance of these security forces has come under question. (Do Bush and Dick Cheney live in a fantasy land? Though US military commanders have been saying the insurgency could last years, Cheney yesterday claimed it is "in the last throes.")
At least twice during the press conference, Bush was asked a question that challenged a basic policy and he ducked. Noting that Bush has called for democracy and human rights for all citizens of the world, a reporter asked why Bush had not spoken out against the May 13 massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Uzbekistan. This slaughter was mounted by the repressive and corrupt regime of Islam Karimov, an ally of Bush in the war on terrorism who allows the United States to maintain a major airbase in his country. (For more information on this, click here.) In response, Bush insisted that he had called for the International Red Cross to investigate what happened. He added, "We expect all our friends...to honor human rights." This was a rather lukewarm statement. The basic facts have been confirmed: government troops slaughtered about 700 to 1000 people who were calling for political and religious freedom. The British government has expressed outrage and called for democratic reforms in Uzbekistan (where the government in recent years has locked up thousands of political prisoners). Bush's call for more information is a weasel-ish cop-out. He is unwilling to criticize this murderous authoritarian regime because he has cut a deal with Karimov. So much for his high-flying rhetoric about democracy and freedom. It does not apply to the dead of Uzbekistan.
Bush also declined to confront a serious matter related to his moralistic rhetoric about stem cells research. He has claimed that stem cells research that uses leftover blastocysts (early embryos of 100 or so cells) found in fertility clinics is unethical because it involves the destruction of these blastocysts. But there are 400,000 or so of these frozen blastocysts stored in fertility clinics across the country. What should be done with them? a reporter asked Bush. This question does get to the core of the issue. If you believe these embryos cannot be destroyed for scientific research that might lead to cures and treatments for terrible diseases, you certainly cannot be in favor of tossing them into the garbage. And then what are your choices? Keep them frozen forever? Give them names? It's a question for which the foes of stem cell research generally have no answer. You can ban in vitro fertilization, but you still would have the 400,000 leftovers now in stock.
How did Bush handle this tricky--and fundamental--issue? He took a powder. "The stem cell issue is really one of federal funding," he said. He did note that he had held an event at the White House with "little babies" who had grown from adopted embryos. Indeed, a few dozen leftover blastocysts have been adopted. But are there 400,000 people lining up for the rest of these Petri dishes? The question remains: what should be done with these deep-frozen fertilized eggs? Bush offered no guidance.
It's no surprise that Bush bobs, weaves and misleads. The real disappointment is that the hound dogs of the press corps do not challenge him when he does so. They sit there well-behaved, wait to be called upon, and rarely think of tossing aside their prepared questions and asking, "With all due respect, Mr. President, you didn't answer the question on the leftover embryos. Can you please tell us specifically what should be done with them. Or do you have no idea?" Bush can tap-dance his way through a press conference because his not-so-grand inquisitors do nothing to change the tune.
Since the close of the Cold War, apologists for corporate arrogance and irresponsibility have argued that the world has reached an "end of history" moment when there can no longer be any debate about the superiority of cut-throat competition and business-defined "free markets." The rigid orthodoxy of the corporatists has played out in the form of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, which are crafted to allow corporations to easily relocate production facilities in order to avoid laws, rules and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment, and in the strengthening of "global governance" groups such as the World Trade Organization, which were created to take away the ability of communities, regions and nation states to hold corporations accountable.
The initiative has been advanced by conservative and centrist politicians such as George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and by most of the global media conglomerates, which stand to benefit from the deconstruction of laws that require broadcasters and publishers to display at least a small measure of concern for the civic and democratic health of the nations where they operate.
But, despite the pressure from the politicians and the constant spin campaign from the media, the people have begun to notice that the free-market emperor has no clothes. Street protests in Seattle in 1999 prevented the WTO from advancing the free-trade agenda into new sectors of the economy, saving millions of farmers around the world from being overrun by the agribusiness conglomerates and slowing the rush to privatize education, transportation and communications services.
After Seattle, the question was whether the great mass of people who believe that this is not the end of history, and that another better world is possible, would eventually flex their muscles at the ballot box. The late US Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, tried unsuccessfully to get the Democratic Party in the US to take up the issues raised by the labor, farm and environmental groups that had banded together to oppose corporate globalization. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they failed to take Wellstone's advice and ended up campaigning in successive national election campaigns on the issues that the Bush Administration and its corporate allies chose to discuss.
There have been better results outside the US. Last year, in India, a militantly corporatist government that united religious extremists and business interests was swept out of power when the poorest voters in the world's largest democracy revolted against the false claim that the free-market policies that benefitted the richest Indians were good for the vast majority of citizens. After the election, one of the leaders of the ousted government, Deputy Premier LK Advani, admitted, "In retrospect, it seems that the fruits of development did not equitably reach all sections of our society."
Now comes an even clearer, and blunter, challenge to the free-market mantra of the "end of history" crowd.
France's overwhelming rejection of the new European Union Constitution, which would have locked in free-market policies that coddle corporations while creating pressure to cut pay, benefits and social-welfare protections for workers in western Europe, sent a powerful signal that citizens are waking up to the threats posed by an unbridled free market to their livelihoods, their communities and their democracies.
While most of the French political and media establishment urged a "yes" vote on the Constitution -- which must be approved by the EU's 25 member states before it is implemented -- opponents such as former Socialist Party head Henri Emmanuelli built a grassroots campaign that warned the Constitution would pit workers from different countries against one another in a "race to the bottom" that would benefit only powerful corporations. "I'm not fighting against Europe," said Emmanuelli, as he explained that a "no" vote should not be seen as a rejection of cooperation between European states. "But Europe was not created so that we could set the poor against the poor. That's economic warfare."
Veterans of the Seattle protests of 1999, such as peasant leader Jose Bove, were key players in the campaign for a "no" vote, arguing that the Constitution would impose an economic model based on the demands of big business, rather than the needs of workers and farmers.
They were joined by the group Attac, one of the most effective of the growing number of anti-corporate globalization groups that are forming an international infrastructure of opposition to the push for corporate-defined markets and privatization. Attac's campaign urged a "no" vote, but it was not negative. Rather, it suggested that the constitution be rewritten to support development of "a Europe that is truly European, democratic, social, environmental."Attac's posters promised, "Another Europe is Possible!"
But why stop at Europe? Why not counter the big lie of the "end of history" fanatics with the big truth: Another World is Possible?
Recently, some pharmacists across the country have refused to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and other birth control pills. Why? They argue that the pills are in conflict with their moral beliefs. And in the current political climate, instead of writing legislation requiring these rogue pharmacists to comply with the law and fill prescriptions without discrimination, many state governments, encouraged by the Bush Administration, are giving these vigilante pharmacists cover. Four states already have laws on the books that permit pharmacist refusals and 12 more are considering similar legislation.
As Rachel Laser of the National Women's Law Center, told the Washington Post: "This is another indication of the current political atmosphere and climate. It's outrageous. It's sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women. We're going back in time."
No one seems to know exactly how often pharmaceutical refusals are occuring, but cases have been reported in California, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina. Advocates on both sides say the refusals appear to be spreading, often surfacing only in the rare instances when women file complaints.
Planned Parenthood is organizing nationally against this regressive trend with a new website, petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, public education initiatives and the formation of nationwide "response teams" designed to gracefully apply counter-pressure to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth-control and EC. Click here to see the many ways you can help and click here to become a member of Planned Parenthood to support more work like this.
Still Time to Capsize Bolton
Last Thursday, in another setback for President Bush, the Democrats forced a delay in the confirmation vote of John Bolton to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
By a margin of 42 to 56, Senate Democrats managed to muster sufficient support for a procedural maneuver to prolong the debate on Bolton's nomination, with the Republicans coming just four votes short of the 60 necessary to bring the nomination to a final vote. The Republicans reacted bitterly as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he was "very very disappointed," while the Democrats insisted, fairly, that they want access to all relevant papers on Bolton--which the White House is refusing--before the vote.
Let's try to disappoint Frist even more by clicking here here to implore your Senators to oppose the nominee. (And for details on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read and circulate Nation pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)
Did you know that on the eve of the Iranian presidential election, that country--with 70 percent of its population under 30--has 75,000 bloggers? I find that pretty stunning--and I'm usually skeptical of blog-hype.
Blogging has gone international in a big way. And in Iran, blogging means that news, ideas and rumors are bypassing traditional censors. As one of Iran's leading bloggers recently pointed out at opendemocracy.net, Iran's blogs are generating "an unprecedented amount of information [and] pre-election news has...been much more transparent." In fact, Hossein Derakhshan argued, " it will probably be one of the most open and transparent elections Iran has ever seen."
The internet is playing a major role. This is the first time, for example, that most of the major candidates (except the oldest ones) have their own websites. And with an estimated three or four million internet users in Iran, blogs are opening up Iranian society and culture--despite the enduring threat of government censorship and imprisonment of journalists and activists.
As New America Foundation fellow Afshin Molavi observes, "Most Iranian blogs offer a space to tell jokes, share music files and photos, satirically lampoon Iranian rulers with clever photo-shop doctoring, and generally share personal experiences. The political blogs have a power beyond their small readership because of the reverberation effect: when they break a story or simply spread a juicy rumor, it is immediately emailed to hundreds of thousands of wired Iranians and filtered to the non-wired Iranians through word-of-mouth." (Even a former Vice-President, Mohammad Abtahi, angered many officials for spilling too many secrets in his blog.)
So, for those of you who want to diversify your daily news-feed, here's my list of ten blogs that offer an unprecedented window on Iran's political culture, while helping to open up and make that society more accountable.
1) Hoder.com: Molavi says Hoder is "the godfather of blogging in Iran"; he has a wide following, and numerous Iranian bloggers link to Hoder's blogspot. Hoder's real name is Hossein Derakhshan; his blog, which he calls "Editor: Myself," comes via Toronto, where the Tehran-born Derakhshan now makes his home. He offers observations on the June election and said in a recent email interview that blogs have "given much more transparency to how campaigns operate." And blogs also, says Hoder, have "enabled the campaigns to reach out to a network of educated and influential young students who make up the majority of the blogging community."
2) Massih Alinejad was a reporter for Iranian reformist newspapers, but when she exposed financial corruption in Iran's Parliament, higher-ups banned her from entering the building and she could no longer do her job. She was, the government said, acting "rude and intrusive." So, she started a blog.
3) Mr. Behi, a 27-year-old Tehran-based political blogger, captures the reservations many Iranians have about the political process. Behi's blog recently told us that he "enthusiastically voted for [reformist candidate] Khatami" in the 1997 elections because he and other Iranians believed "Khatami's great promises for a better society." But these promises never panned out. He now says, "casting my vote will not change anything." But his pessimism is tempered by hope, as when he explains that during a recent bloggers' forum with reformer and presidential hopeful Mostafa Moin, the bloggers asked so many pointed questions "that I thought maybe I am not in the Islamic Republic!"
4) Indeed, Moin, whose blog is in Persian, is a leading reformer who has supported the student movement. He's not the only candidate to understand the power of going on-line--though he may be the only one who personally updates his blog every day. (The Guardian Council, which clears candidates to run for office, recently barred Moin from appearing on the ballot.)
5) Brooding Persian provides background and history on Iranian politics. In one recent entry, Brooding Persian writes that the June election has "1,010 potential candidates, 921 men and 89 women." Brooding Persian offer many articles about the election and breakdowns of voting patterns in recent years, mixing well-written prose with sharp, ironic observations. An example: "Here in this heartland of evil at the tender age of 15 you can just walk into any station and vote as you please."
6) Written by journalist Omid Memarian, The Iranian Prospect examines democracy, civil society and social issues including the ways in which Iran's regime represses the media. The government, the site informs us, has recently "arrested and tortured more than 21 journalists, bloggers and IT technicians" and it has closed down more than 80 magazines and newspapers.
7) Shahram Kholdi's blog paints an Iranian Constitutional referendum as "a debate over the constitutional legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself." Kholdi says that former President Rafsanjani will likely prevail in the June election, but also points out that Iranians are so disillusioned that many will stay away from the polls, especially those living in the nation's largest cities.
8) Iran Votes 2005, written by Windsteed, 29, describes the Guardian Council as a kind of "filter" that must first approve a candidate before he or she can become an official candidate for president. We also learn on this site that a former soccer star and coach, Nasser Hejazi, is trying to seek the presidency. Windsteed, like a lot of the bloggers, echoes the point that a "calm mood" in the country indicates a "lack of trust or interest in the candidates" and in the prospects for democratic change in Iran anytime soon.
9) Iranian.com. Among other cultural and political items, you'll find a good interview with the presidential candidate Hooshang Amirahmadi who also directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. Amirahmadi predicts that if the elections "do not generate enthusiasm or produce an acceptable president, Washington most likely will adopt a policy of explicit regime change. If this happens, the 'Iraqicization' of Iran will begin."
10) IranianTruth.com, edited by Nema Milaninia, the executive director of the International Students Journal, discusses, among many topics, the relationship between the United States and Iran. Milaninia calls attention to efforts in the US House to tighten sanctions against Iran, predicting that such legislative efforts will ultimately backfire. She reflects a widespread view that ordinary Iranians will feel alienated and says the moves will fail to "back the Iranian regime against the wall."
Finally, at Iran Scan 1384, a new kind of meta-blog set up by opendemocracy.net, you'll also find Hoder and Milaninia and other leading students of Iranian politics discussing the June presidential election.
As Iran Scan and all of the other individual blogs remind us, while Iran remains a closed society, a fierce debate about the country's future is underway in the blogosphere. The coming election might not bring about much, if any, change in Iranians' lives, but the blogs could help open up that society, permitting the free flow of information and ideas like never before.