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Post-Imus Fatigue

For those of you who think Don Imus got a bad rap, and you know who you are, how do you defend this Maya Angelou poem parody a producer on his show read last month?

"Whitey plucked you from the jungle; for too many years took away your pride, your dignity and your spears."

My guess is you can't and you don't because just like most of Mr. Imus' "comedy" it ‘s about cruelty rather than wit or insight. In fact, I would argue that it's even more offensive than the now infamous "nappy headed ho's" remark which ultimately lost him both of his high profile, high paying jobs. Yet it was usually simply shrugged off or excused as the madcap antics of one of our beloved American shock jocks.

Am I glad Mr. Imus has been fired? More relieved then glad. I want to believe those in the media who have said that this incident has given the country an opportunity to explore our still very real and very deep racial divisions in this country but then I think about how the same things were said after Hurricane Katrina and the Michael Richards outburst but people moved on sooner rather than later after those too.

I also roll my eyes at the notion that the black community's loudest voice on these issues is Rev. Al Sharpton, a man who for about 20 years has demonstrated an amazing talent for self-promotion and little or nothing else. His role is a true national leader is highly suspect and his record as a public figure is incredibly dubious and checkered.

As reprehensible as Imus' behavior has been, I don't think he can hold a candle to Rush Limbaugh's radio rants in a competition for who spews the most purely hostile bile. And programs like Vh1's "Flavor of Love" have arguably contributed far more to the degradation of Black Americans than anything Mr. Imus has said. As far as I'm concerned the work of healing this nation's racial wounds is far from over and we shouldn't be looking to men like Rev. Sharpton to do it for us.

Hatch Campaigns for Attorney General

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a six-term veteran who once chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, had always wanted to cap his career by joining the U.S. Supreme Court. But Republicans prefer young justices who can serve long tenures. And, while he remains vital, Hatch is now 73.

So the senator is looking for a conciliation prize, and he appears to have found it.

It is no longer a secret that Hatch is moving aggressively to position himself as the replacement for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. With the scandal involving Gonzales' firing of U.S. Attorneys deepening on a daily basis, there is no longer much question that President Bush is going to need someone new to take charge of the Department of Justice. And Hatch has made little secret of the fact that he thinks he is the man for the job.

No a term-closing stint as Attorney General is not so hot a ticket as a lifelong appointment to the high court. But if there is no place on the bench for him, a steady steam of reports from Capitol Hill insiders says Hatch is letting it be known that he is willing to settle.

Not every Republican is excited by the prospect.

The Senator is not so reliably friendly to Bush as Gonzales. And he has, at times, broken ranks with his fellow Republicans -- Hatch's support of stem-cell research rankles the right, as does the senator's close relationship with Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, his longtime counterpart on the Judiciary Committee.

But Hatch's slight distance from the White House and from some of the more frenzied members of his own party simply adds to his appeal as a pick for Attorney General. With the Bush administration at its weakest point, a Hatch nomination would be assured of rapid and very possibly unanimous approval by the Senate.

And Utah has a conservative Republican governor, Jon Huntsman, who would name an interim senator. Whoever Huntsman picks would then be positioned to compete in the 2008 election for an opportunity to serve out the last four years of Hatch's term. Considering the political demographics of Utah, the seat would in all likelihood remain in Republican hands. And it would probably be held by a slightly more reliably conservative partisan than Hatch.

Put the pieces together and Bush has in Hatch an appealing prospect to replace Gonzales. And, rest assured, the president is going to need someone soon.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Green Festival

Step It Up! takes place tomorrow, Saturday. Check out an event near you.


For the first time, the largest and most authentic sustainability event in the world is coming to Chicago. Previously held only in San Francisco and Washington, DC, the Green Festival is expanding to one of America's greenest cities at the invitation of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's office. It takes place all day on both April 21 and 22 at McCormick Place.

Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, socially responsible investing, the climate change fight, eco-fashions, groundbreaking films, eco-tourism, green building, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more.

The Chicago Green Festival will bring together more than 300 exhibitors, 150 speakers and tens of thousands of attendees for a two-day party with a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice.

The Nation will be at booth #2008 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and buttons! Don't miss Nation writer Chris Hayes speaking on Sunday, April 22, at 3:00 in Room 1 and check out other featured speakers, including Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Dennis Kucinich, Bill McKibben, Van Jones and Frances Moore Lappe. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets. And if you can't make it to Chicago, check out the GF website for info on webcasts.

McKibben will be speaking about Step It Up!, the April 14 National Day of Climate Action, and what can be done to combat the consequences of global climate change. Click here to see what Step It Up! activities are taking place near you this Saturday and read my previous ActNow blog for more info on the largest day of citizen action focusing on global warming in our nation's history.

Finally, watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival.

The People Know Better (continued)

Yesterday I posted about the public's increasing opposition to war and its desire for our government to pursue diplomacy. This week, in the city of Urbana, IL, residents expressed that exact sentiment by placing a referendum against a war with Iran on the ballot for the February 2008 election. And in the cities of Berkeley, CA and Portland, OR, the city councils passed resolutions opposing US military engagement with Iran. Actions like these will continue to grow the peace movement's momentum and pressure our elected representatives to catch up to the will of the people.

White House "Lost" Political E-mails About US Attorneys

The US Attorneys scandal seems to be turning an important new page every day. And today it turned what can best be referred to as the "Rose Mary Woods" page.

Rose Mary Woods was the longtime secretary to Richard Nixon who as a fiercely loyal employee of the president in the waning days of the Watergate crisis claimed in grand jury testimony that she had inadvertently created at least part of an 18 1/2 minute gap a White House audio tape that had become central to the investigation of presidential wrongdoing.

"The Rose Mary Woods Defense" proved to be a tough sell in 1974, failing to close off congressional inquiries that would eventually lead to votes by the House Judiciary Committee in favor of articles of impeachment against Nixon.

But that has not stopped the Bush White House from mounting a "Rose Mary Woods Defense" in its attempt to prevent the House and Senate judiciary committees from examining the full scope of the scandal that arose after the White House fired eight U.S. Attorneys who, apparently, did not want to politicize their offices in a manner that would benefit Republican electoral prospects.

In response to demands from the Senate Judiciary Committee for records of political communications by Bush aides, the White House is claiming emails that could shed light on the role political czar Karl Rove and as many as 21 other presidential appointees may have played in pressuring U.S. Attorneys are "potentially lost."

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel had acknowledged that 22 White House aides have e-mail accounts sponsored by the Republican National Committee. Those accounts have become a focus of the rapidly-expanding U.S. Attorneys inquiry, as it is assumed that they would have been the avenue by which state party officials sent memos asking key players in the White House to pressure the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys to advance so-called "voter fraud" cases, to prosecute Democrats or to back off prosecutions of Republicans.

Stanzel says e-mails sent and received on those accounts can't be found.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is not taking those claims seriously.

"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" Leahy declared in what for him was an exceptionally passionate speech on the Senate floor Thursday. "You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."

Stanzel insists that the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to thwart congressional inquiries into matters relating to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys who fell afoul of the Bush administration for what appear to have been political reasons, now says that there is no effort to conceal emails that could reveal information about contacts regarding the eight fired U.S. Attorneys or about pressures on the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were no fired.

On Tuesday, Leahy and five other senators demanded documents regarding a botched prosecution in Wisconsin by a U.S. Attorney who was not fired. That prosecution paralleled the 2OO6 election cycle and was exploited by Republicans in a television ad campaign against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The Senate's interest in the Wisconsin case indicates that the inquiry is expanding to examine not just White House pressures on fired prosecutors but on those who were retained.

Stanzel says the White House counsel's office is conducting a "review" into the missing emails. "The purpose of our review is to make every reasonable effort to recover potentially lost e-mails, and that is why we've been in contact with forensic experts," says the Bush aide.

But Leahy bluntly responds, "E-mails don't get lost. These are just e-mails they don't want to bring forward."

It looks like the "Rose Mary Woods Defense" is not going over any better in 2OO7 than it did in 1974. To his credit, the usually cautious Leahy says he is prepared to subpoena the emails and related documents. He won't be satisfied with "dog-ate-my-homework" excuses. And rightly so.

These emails are definitely not missing, but they may well be incriminating.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Saddam Statue-Toppling, Four Years Later

The lead editorial in today's New York Times states that, four years ago this week, "as American troops made their first, triumphant entrance into Baghdad, joyous Iraqis pulled down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein." There's one problem with that statement: it's not true. "Joyous Iraqis" did not pull down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square; US marines did.

The New York Times four years ago reported that "thousands" of "ordinary Iraqis" took part in the statue-toppling. The Washington Post ran a Reuters report describing the scene at the statue-toppling as "reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989," when tens of thousands participated. Those reports also were false. The most straightforward account of the event appeared a few weeks later in The New Yorker, where John Lee Anderson described it: "in the traffic circle in front of the hotel, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by soldiers in an armored personnel carrier." Anderson made no mention of thousands of joyous Iraqis. ("The Collapse," April 21, 2003).

On "Nightline" on ABC-TV, Robert Krulwich also provided a more realistic report two days after the statue-toppling: "On television, the crowd gathered around statue seemed, well, big. But on TV, framing is everything. Widen the frame of this scene and look. It's kind of empty in the foreground. Now, pull back further, this is about three minutes after the statue fell. And that big celebration seen all over the world wasn't really very big. Pictures on TV can deceive, same with pictures in the paper."

The New York Times editorial today called the statue-toppling "powerful symbolism" – but what exactly was being symbolized? What looked like Iraqis hailing Americans as liberators was in fact a phony photo-op staged by the American military. The New York Times fell for it four years ago, when others were already skeptical; at this point, four years later, the Times editors ought to get the Iraq story right.

Duke Players Deserve Apology

The three Duke University lacrosse players falsely indicted on rape charges last year deserve an apology--from the district attorney and members of the media.

The students were guilty of throwing a rowdy and idiotic party. But they are not racists nor rapists. They did not deserve the wildly unfair treatment they endured over the last year. Finally they found justice when charges against them were dropped yesterday.

District Attorney Mike Nifong should be immediately disbarred for recklessly pursuing this case to boost his own re-election prospects. And members of the media, especially TV news, should be ashamed for rushing to paint a distorted picture that bore no relation to the eventual facts.

"I really think this was a classic case of not being able to resist these themes of race and crime and sports in an elite university," Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz told CNN last night. "And I really think we fell down on the job."

Kurtz is right. It's not a question of whether to cover the story. It's how the media chose to cover it, in a typically hysterical and sensationalist way. "It should have been covered with a lot more restraint," Kurtz said.

The Duke scandal should become a textbook case for how NOT to report the news. No wonder the public holds such a low opinion of our profession.

The People Know Better

Once again the people are way ahead of the pundits and the political parties – this time, on matters of foreign policy and national security.

The latest results from the Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index are in. This survey, conducted jointly by Public Agenda and Foreign Affairs (the journal published by that citadel of the establishment – the Council on Foreign Relations), clearly reveals the American people's "increased skepticism about the use of military force and a corresponding inclination to favor diplomatic options instead."

In dealing with Iran, for example, only 8 percent support possible military action – taking that scenario, the report concluded, "virtually off of the table for most of the public." (However, never say never with this crowd in the White House and a Congress that fears being portrayed as "weak on terrorism.") In fact, "attacking countries that develop weapons of mass destruction ranked at the very bottom" of ways to strengthen our nation's security – this despite the fact that controlling the spread of nuclear weapons is the public's top national security priority.

When it comes to war, 70 percent of Americans believe that the US has been too quick to resort to armed conflict and a whopping 84 percent believe "initiating military force only when we have the support of our allies should be important to our foreign policy."

It is also very clear that Americans have had it with the Bush administration's disastrous and hypocritical efforts to "actively create democracies in other countries." This strategy consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the list of goals deemed important for strengthening our nation's security, and only 17 percent of the public feels it is "very important." 74 percent believe that "democracy is something countries come to on their own." These results point not to a new isolationism, but a kind of wisdom – an understanding and respect for other countries ability to find their own ways.

And in another revealing and encouraging measure of our times 75 percent worry about global warming and nearly two-thirds believe that international cooperation can reduce the climate change crisis – 34 percent say there is "a lot" the US government can do to address the problem. 70 percent say "cooperating with other countries on problems like the environment or control of disease" should be a very important foreign policy goal, second only to nuclear nonproliferation. 60 percent say global warming specifically should be a very important priority.

Finally, the top two priorities to strengthen national security have been consistent for two years running now – improving intelligence operations and increasing energy independence.

This survey is comprehensive – covering over 25 major policy areas in more than 130 questions. It used a national random sample of 1,013 adults over the age of 18 and has a three-point margin of error. What it tells us is this: Americans are learning crucial "postwar lessons" that will help determine the nature of the United States' engagement with the world. With little leadership from either party, the public has decided it's time to embark on a new course.

NBC Cans Don Imus

I have no problem with NBC's decision to cancel Don Imus' show, and frankly I could care less if CBS follows suit and takes his program off the radio. Any defense of Imus' "First Amendment rights" is laughable given that corporate news and shock jock radio have never been venues of "free speech." NBC News President Steve Capus claimed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann that firing Imus flew in the face of good business practices, but let's be clear, canning Imus made perfect business sense. Not only had Staples, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline and Sprint Nextel all pulled their advertisements, but NBC's own employees were threatening open revolt. In the context of corporate media -- where profitability and good ratings depend upon shifting cultural norms -- repudiating Imus is savvy management, intended first and foremost to preserve "brand integrity" and "company morale."

But I do bristle at the self-congratulatory, self-righteous air that has accompanied the whole Imus flap. Does anyone really believe that firing Imus restores "decency" to our "national conversation on race"? Instead of one man (Imus, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson) enduring the cross-cultural tete-a-tetes and ritual apologies and emerging sufficiently rehabilitated to be profitable "talent" once again, now we have a whole network. Good for NBC for taking the bullet. But when it comes to race in America, we don't need decency. We need honesty. And good luck finding that on MSNBC or CBS Radio.

Let's take Imus' notorious slur as an example. When Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" (in comparison to Tennessee's "cute," white team) he was not just making "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" (as he now claims) or even furthering "a climate of degradation" (as Jesse Jackson puts it), he was engaging in the old, American, racist project of abjecting and regulating black woman's sexuality. "Racist slur" or "stereotype" does not quite cover it, for this ideology is not just a matter of sports banter or drive time radio, it's intrinsic to US history and public policy.

The expression, "nappy-headed hos," probably does not appear in antebellum defenses of slavery, and it certainly doesn't come up in Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report on the "Negro Family," or Bill Clinton's welfare reform act of 1996, or Newt Gingrich's Contract With America or even the myriad conservative briefs on the "culture of poverty," but such state policies and decorous studies represent the genealogy of Imus' notorious comment.

Slave owners considered black women's bodies property and their sexuality the source of future capital. Moynihan thought single black mothers a kind of "pathology," responsible not just for "inner city" cultural decline but also for urban economic malaise. Reagan labeled a class of black woman "welfare queens" who bought "welfare Cadillacs" on the state's dime. And so on...to Clinton's "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act," which ushered in marriage promotion (indirectly targeted at black, single mothers), to the Bush administration's bolstering of marriage promotion policies as a panacea to poverty. As the scholar Wahneema Lubiano points out in her brilliant essay on the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the intense speculation, denigration and regulation of black woman's bodies and sexualities far exceeds the contours of racial slur or stereotype. It constitutes "ideological war by narrative means."

And so it is no accident that Imus' "nappy-headed hos" comment was directed not just at black women, but at young, black women and their bodies, their sexuality -- at that particularly visible and yet mystified entity that is at the center of America's "conversation" on race, sex and class. And it is likewise no accident that the controversy around Imus' comment centers around his own, individual racism, or lack thereof. For in repudiating -- or absolving -- Imus, America forgets its own past and denies its present. So is Imus' firing a restoration of "decency" or merely a sign of cultural and political amnesia?

Let Imus be scorned, repentant, forgotten. I'm still waiting for Moynihan's apology.