The Nation

Drop the Debt

I'm in hearty agreement with Sam's post about Harvard and Princeton's decision to eliminate early admissions. It's a good move, but in reality will effect a handful of low-to-mid-income "high-achivers" who would likely receive decent financial aid packages at whatever school they end up attending. Columbia, for example, recently joined Harvard, Yale and Princeton in replacing loans with grants for families earning less than $50,000 a year. Other well-endowed, private universities will no doubt follow suit -- if only to keep up with the Lions, Tigers and Bulldogs.

All this buzz at the top distracts from the crisis in higher education at the instutions that have most contributed to upward mobility in this country: state universities and colleges. Almost across the board, state funding for public colleges shrank over the past 20 years. While Ivied NYT geeks bickered over the meaning of Harvard's decision, the Kansas City Star reported that "state support for Kansas universities is at an all-time low" (dropping from 49% in 1985 to just 29% in 2005). Meanwhile, tuition increases at state universities have far out-paced inflation. The result is that more students at public schools are going into unmanageable levels of debt.

According to a recent report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), "the average borrower who graduates from a public college owes $17,250" (up from $8,000 just ten years ago). Even more striking, in 2004, 88.5% of Pell Grant recipients took out student loans averaging $20,735, and private loans have increased seven-fold over the past ten years.

As the AASCU and Nicholas von Hoffman point out, high levels of student debt can radically limit the career and life choices graduates make. Teaching and social work are near impossible. So too are left-wing journalism or political rabble-rousing.

Compromising Justice

President Bush and the three Republican Senators opposing his efforts to contravene the Geneva accords have reached an agreement on legislation to clarify which interrogation techniques can be used against terror suspects and to establish trial procedures for those in military custody. What that legislation actually entails remains murky, but it's virtually certain to be a compromise between Bush and the three Senators which won't contain the safeguards for habeas corpus enshrined in the Specter-Levin Amendment. Here's what you can do about it.

The Bush administration's efforts to redefine the Geneva Conventions have been met with fierce bipartisan opposition, led on the GOP side by Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner.

The President's favored proposal, the military detainee bill, sought to roll back two important decisions rendered by the Supreme Court on the legal rights and treatment of terror suspects: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Rasul v. Bush. It would have established tribunals denying most basic legal protections currently required by the Geneva Conventions, and would have allowed defendants to be convicted on the basis of hearsay, evidence obtained by coercion, and evidence they had never seen. After the Group of Three blocked this provision, the White House dropped its insistence on gutting Geneva and is currently negotiating the remainder of the bill in what the New York Times called "a showdown that could have substanatial ramifications for national security and the political climate heading toward Election Day."

Warner's alternative bill, in contrast, calls for tribunals acting in accordance with the standards set out in the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision. So it's better. But, as Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith pointed out in The Nation online, it still has major problems, including the elimination of the power of federal courts to hear the habeas corpus claims of any noncitizen detained overseas or any individual who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant. This provision--which is in both bills--would retroactively strip US courts of jurisdiction over the habeas petitions of the more than 450 men currently imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

Warner's bill would also amend the War Crimes Act to provide legal cover for many of the CIA's "alternative" techniques--including use of hypothermia, sleep deprivation and threats of violence against detainees and their families. Basically, Bush's bill would strip away much of what makes America a great country, while Warner's bill would strip away some of what makes America great.

Sadly, the debate around these bills misses the point that both versions eliminate the fundamental right to habeas corpus, the right to challenge detention in a court of law, not to be locked up under the President's say-so, guilty or innocent, never to be heard from again.

But there is still hope in the form of another amendment in play that could save the basic American right of due process. Numerous groups are lobbying in support of it, and momentum is growing. Check out the Center for Constitutional Rights' site to fax or email your senators in support of the Specter-Levin Amendment on habeas corpus. Passing either of the two bills without the amendment would grant an unprecedented degree of power to the presidency. Anyone in US custody, at home or abroad, must have the right to challenge their detention in court. Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy. So click here today.

(Final Argument: If for some reason, you're not convinced of the importance of the Geneva Conventions, read this open letter to Congress urging the preservation of the treaty's terms from 40 retired military leaders, including Generals H. Hugh Shelton, Colin Powell and John Vessey, all former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as General John Shalikashvili and Admiral Stansfield Turner.)

Congress's Most Corrupt

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), my favorite watchdog group, recently issued a list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress.

Last year, CREW named the 13 most ethically challenged legislators. Since then, as scandal infects Washington, the cast of characters has expanded.

Republicans dominate the list. Of the 17 most corrupt, only three are Democrats. Those named range from well-known figures such as Bill Frist and Rick Santorum, members under investigation by the FBI, such as Senator Conrad Burns and Reps. Jerry Lewis, William Jefferson and Alan Mollohan, and people you've probably never heard of, like California Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller.

Highlights include House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, whose lobbyist pal Bill Lowery could become the next Jack Abramoff; New York Rep. John Sweeney, who a few months back showed up drunk to a local frat party, threw a taxpayer funded Winter sporting weekend and hired his wife as a fundraiser even though she had no previous fundraising experience; and North Carolina Rep. Charles Taylor, a former businessman whose partners plead guilty to bank fraud and who did numerous questionable business deals in Russia with a former Soviet KGB colonel that CREW writes is "linked to an international multibillion money-laundering scheme."

The list also includes five members, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, to keep an eye on. The way things are going in Washington, expect the list to double by year's end.

Thank You, America

Watch most TV channels and if Iraq is the subject, you see bombs going off. You hear grisly tales of tortured Iraqis slaughtered in the internecine strife that's gripped that country, and you get the almost daily accounts of American troops dying in small but steady numbers. But just as the Bush administration promised us, there is good news, Virginia -- and it's been over on Fox for the last two months.

Since late July, if your timing was right, you might have caught a lilting, almost Edenic-looking ad at Fox, one of a series from "the other Iraq." We're talking about the autonomous region of Kurdistan here. The ad begins with a male over-voice in mellifluous English: "Saddam's goal was to bury every living Kurd. He failed." By now, you're seeing Kurds of every stripe, young and old, many with small US flags, beginning to offer a fulsome chorus of "Thank you" "Thank you, America." The voice continues: "The Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan just want to say thank you for helping us win our freedom."

"Thank you." "Thank you for democracy."

Though little commented on anywhere other than right-wing blogs (after Bill O'Reilly played the ad for Arianna Huffington on his show), this has certainly been manna from heaven for the Bush administration. In fact, just what the (spin) doctor ordered from poor, sickly Iraq as the election season approached. And from genuine Iraqis no less! You can check them out (sort of) at the website of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, the "official investment site for Kurdistan, The Other Iraq -- and while you're there, scroll down for the ads.

So the semi-autonomous government of Kurdistan has put up money to thank the Bush administration in its time of need. Touching, really. But almost guaranteed not to be half the story. In the only substantial piece I've found on this "thank you" campaign, Aaron Glantz of Inter Press Service points out that it's being run by an "A-list" Republican PR firm, Russo, Marsh, and Rogers. Responsible for the "Stop Michael Moore" campaign to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, it also organized an Iraqi "truth tour" to allow right-wing radio hosts to discover "the good news that the old-line liberal news media won't tell you about."

Let's recall that when the Pentagon couldn't get the good news it wanted in Iraq itself, its officials simply bought it. Via The Lincoln Group under a $5 million-plus yearly contract, the Pentagon concocted Iraqi "good news," translated it, and with copious payments placed it in the Iraqi media, offering a lesson in the workings of a "free" press to all those new Iraqi journalists. Now, the Pentagon is plugging "the Other Iraq" by sending out glowing press releases about its latest trade fair, as is the Voice of America.

Is there a reporter in the house? I wouldn't mind knowing if this was an example of a Bush administration-funded disinformation campaign coming home to roost just in time for a rugged election. In August, Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times reported on the President's frustration that Iraqis had not shown greater public support and appreciation for the American mission in their country. Is the Bush administration, in essence, using our money to thank itself?

A Visionary for Senate?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a house party for Bernie Sanders, Vermont's only congressman, and more notably, the only Socialist holding national office in the United States. He was inspiring and upbeat, explaining that to be a socialist is to believe that "civilization has not yet begun." The idea of a society that meets everyone's basic material needs is, he explained, "not utopian -- it's completely possible."

It is refreshing to hear a politician speak in ambitious terms, of great things that we can achieve as a society -- like health care for all -- rather than simply wailing about Republican evils. Sanders was realistic about the right-wing menace, but hasn't lost his vision. After fifteen years in Congress, he's now running for Senate. His opponent, Republican millionaire Rich Tarrant is spending millions of his own money running mendacious, Rove-ian attack ads accusing Sanders of sympathy for terrorists and child molesters. Still, Sanders is leading in the polls by 66 to 27. If you want to help out Sanders in any way, or learn more about his campaign, check out his website .

Also in attendance at the Sanders gathering was Jonathan Tasini, ebullient from winning 17% of the Democratic primary votes in his race against Hillary Clinton. That's much more impressive than anyone expected, considering the popularity -- and, above all, financial muscle -- of the incumbent. Maybe he'll run for office again, now that so many more New Yorkers know who he is. I had a baby with me, and Tasini cooed at him with great sincerity -- obviously a pro after months on the campaign trail. Sanders, by contrast, awkwardly avoided the baby, which was odd for such an accomplished politico -- but nobody's perfect.

The LA Times's "Alamo"

At a time when the shift toward the Internet and the corporate quest for increased profit are threatening the future of journalism, it's inspiring to see the editor of a major daily newspaper paper push back.

Dean Baquet, the editor of the L.A. Times, is staging a high-profile mutiny against the suits at the Tribune Company, publicly refusing to make an estimated $10 million in cuts they are demanding. Baquet has said enough is enough and that a great newspaper cannot be corseted and expected to flourish.

Baquet has garnered support from his publisher Jeff Johnson; from his staff which is circulating a petition; and from an ad hoc committee of L.A. luminaries (including civic-minded billionaires and labor leaders) whose open letter to the Tribune Co. was published, yes, on the editorial page of the Times.

Some have called Baquet's move a last-ditch "Alamo strategy."

We'll see on Thursday when the Tribune board meets in Chicago. Putting down Baquet's rebellion will be at the top of the agenda.

Read the whole story on my blog.

A New Star Shines From Massachusetts

Barack Obama, whose recent campaign-style swing through Iowa has renewed talk of the freshman senator from Illinois as a presidential prospect, is still the frontrunner in discussions about who might be the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office.

But the voters of Massachusetts have given Obama some competition.

The landslide winner of Tuesday's voting in what was supposed to be a close contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Deval Patrick, is certainly not as well known as Obama. But if, as many expect, Patrick prevails in the November election, he will quickly find a place on the national stage. And if he proves to be as successful at governing the Bay State as he was as a law clerk for a law clerk for one of the nation's most progressive jurists, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as a top lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Clinton, Patrick will soon enjoy his share of presidential speculation.

Don't go looking for a rivalry between Obama and Patrick, however.

The two men, both products of challenging backgrounds who made it to Harvard Law School, have been friends for more than a decade.

Last year, when political observers discounted Patrick's prospects – the Boston Globe described him as "a political unknown" after he first discussed running – Obama endorsed the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate. The senator hosted Patrick at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus weekend in Washington and organized a major fund-raising event on his behalf in Chicago.

In June of this year, Obama returned to Boston -- where he claimed his place on the national stage with an electrifying keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention -- to introduce Patrick at a rally before the June convention where the first-time candidate would secure the gubernatorial endorsement of the state Democratic party. Noting that Patrick was given little chance of winning when the two men began talking about the race in 2005, Obama told a cheering crowd of 3,000, ``Now, lo and behold, one year later… this man who they said could not, in fact, can."

Patrick got off the best line of that night: "You know your campaign is on fire when Barack Obama is your warm-up act."

Patrick's campaign was on fire. Obama's endorsement certainly helped. But the real spark was Patrick's appeal to progressives -- with his strong support for the marriage rights of lesbians and gays, his ardent opposition to the death penalty, his sympathy for the circumstance of immigrants and his backing of a minimum-wage hike and health care for all -- as well as a highly-effective field operation run by veteran civil rights and social justice activists.

Patrick and his backers built a remarkable grassroots campaign that crossed lines or race, ethnicity, class and gender to unite Democrats in a blue state where divisions have repeatedly cost them the governorship. Like Obama in the Illinois Democratic Senate primary of 2004, Patrick emerged on the basis of a smart, aggressive campaign as the clear choice of party activists and, ultimately, of the voters.

On Tuesday night, Patrick was winning close to 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote, while the candidates who were once considered the frontrunners, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and wealthy businessman Christopher F. Gabrieli, who spent $10 million of his own money on the campaign, each collected about a quarter of the ballots.

Patrick still faces a serious contest in November with the Republican lieutenant governor of a state that has not elected a Democrat to its top job since Michael Dukakis in 1986 -- and that, despite its liberal reputation, has never elected a woman or a person of color as governor. But the momentum's with Patrick and, if he wins, so, too, will be the talk about a place on a future national Democratic ticket.

Who knows? If the America that is evolves to the American that might be, maybe we'll see bumper stickers that read: "Obama-Patrick"?

GOP Leader Threatens Lobbyists

The Republican Party's "K Street Project," intended to make lobbyists pledge their allegiance to the GOP, has supposedly been shut down in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. But in the mind of Rep. Tom Reynolds, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the effort is still very much alive.

Last week, according to Roll Call, Reynolds warned a gathering of top lobbyists to refrain from donating to Democrats. "For those of you thinking about hedging your bets, I am watching you and I am going to know," said Reynolds, according to one Republican source at the meeting. "We will have no choice but to report to the Republican Conference any changes in your pattern of giving," Reynolds added, according to a second source.

Publicly threatening lobbyists is likely not to the best PR move for Reynolds in light of Bob Ney's guilty plea last week. But it's fitting behavior for a man who once called Tom DeLay "a darn good mentor of mine."

Time to Move Beyond Bush-Hating

You know the peace movement is in trouble when Andrew Rosenthal -- who edited WMD-fantasist Judy Miller at the New York Times -- bemoans its invisibility, as he did in an editorial a few weeks ago. When protesters do hit the streets, however, the result is not always inspiring. Today's rally at the United Nations, timed to coincide with Bush's speech to that enfeebled body, was thinly attended: just a few thousand people. Energy was low, and 911 conspiracy loons plentiful. United for Peace and Justice did a good job of making a necessary protest possible, by fighting for -- and winning -- a permit to march, and doing the vital organizing to get bodies and TV cameras to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. But the event's dreary mood stood in sharp contrast to a neighboring rally for Iranian political candidate Maryam Rajavi, whose supporters played music and danced, and waved signs with Rajavi's attractive face on it. (Semiotically moderate, she wears a headscarf and makeup. Her party is reputed to be a weird cult, unfortunately, but they certainly know how to throw a rally!) The mood at the Rajavi gathering was buoyant and optimistic, while the anti-war protesters seemed doleful and stuck in the past. Things are clearly dire when the grand finale speaker is Jesse Jackson, who hasn't been interesting since the 1980s.

Part of the problem is that the left's obsession with Bush -- quite understandable but always shallow -- no longer even provides decent slogans, much less vision. Indeed, looking out at the sea of anti-Bush signs at the rally, the man standing next to me -- who had a relative who'd just come back from Iraq "fucked up" -- remarked, "The problem is not just Bush. He's doing what the corporations tell him. He represents the people with billions of dollars. Not just millions, billions. And they want to keep it." Note to protesters and Democrats alike: W's approval ratings are back up. Running against him isn't good enough anymore.