As the media world prepares to head to Boston for the Democratic National Convention next week, one of the most interesting related events is likely to receive little coverage outside of the invaluable IndyMedia sites and alternative radio and TV outfits like Democracy Now! and Free Speech TV.
Planned for this coming weekend, July 23rd to 25th, the Boston Social Forum will feature workshops, break-out sessions, presentations, panels and parties, all designed to hash out a helpful vision of how progressives can better work together to promote our common goals and interests. (Click here to register and for more info and click here if you're interesting in volunteering.)
Taking place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the BSF has hundreds of events and exhibits planned for the three-day confab. Confirmed speakers include Jim Hightower, Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Manning Marable, Maude Barlow, Walden Bello, Harry Belafonte, Frances Moore Lappe, Michael Lerner and many others. Other special BSF events include a Saturday afternoon screening of John Sayle's new film, followed by a discussion with the director; an Alternative Media Summit being organized by Take Back the Media and a benefit concert on Saturday night in Cambridge featuring Billy Bragg, the Reagan Babies, the Foundation and Juliana Hatfield.
The BSF--co-sponsored by The Nation along with scores of other good outfits, organizations and publications--promises a good start to what will hopefully a fruitful period of collaboration between progressive groups. So check it out if you'll be in Beantown this weekend.
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies which I subsequently published. I received the letter below after my mailbag.
I'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination and I'll keep publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Sam Lorber, Nashville, TN
The good news in Nashville is the formation of MRD-Music Row Democrats. This group is a reaction to the perception that country music is the exclusive domain of the Republican Party. Sixteen Independent, Democrat and Republican producers, artists, songwriters, publishers, managers and promotion people got together in December 2003 to respond to the appropriation of our music and, to many, their faith, by the Right. Six months later there are over one thousand members who have organized to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Kerry campaign and start Kerry-oke, roving bands of well known artists and songwriters raising money and consciousness all over the place. We are determined to "Take Back Our Country." (Click here for more information on what we're doing.)
The Sudanese government is directly responsible for crimes against humanity in its strife-torn western region of Darfur, including the widespread rape of women, Amnesty International charged yesterday in a stinging report.
Refugees from Darfur described a pattern of "systematic and unlawful attacks" against civilians by both a government-sponsored Arab militia and the Sudanese military forces, the international London-based human-rights group said.
Ten years ago, the international community stood by as the Rwandan genocide claimed 800,000 lives. Today, as world leaders remember that human catastrophe with empty expressions of "Never Again," the people of Sudan face a similar fate. In concert with groups like Africa Action as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, The Nation is sponsoring a petition drive calling on Colin Powell as secretary of state to immediately recognize the genocide occurring in Darfur and organize internationally to bring it to an end. Click here to add your name.
Amnesty is calling for an end to the conflict, better protection of civilians, disarmament of the paramilitaries, trials for those carrying out the attacks, and the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to examine war crimes in Darfur. Click here to find out more about AI's work on this issue, click here to read Salih Booker and Ann Louise Colgan's recent Nation editorial for background on Darfur and click here to read Sudan expert Eric Reeves' Nation magazine article, Rapacious Instincts in Sudan, from the magazine's June 4, 2001 issue, for a broader look at the country's political troubles.
What with all the controversy that arose after one of President Bush's appointees to the federal Election Assistance Commission sought to establish guidelines for suspending the November presidential election in case of a terrorist incident, citizens can be excused for presuming that this is a radical new notion. But it's not.
Borrowing several pages from the Joe Stalin Manual of Electoral Etiquette, the president's Republican allies canceled party primary elections in states across the country during the current election season -- often claiming that voting was pointless because President Bush was going to win anyway.
Last year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Kansas, Colorado and Utah canceled their state-run 2004 presidential primaries. The pattern continued even after the presidential campaign got going, with the suspension this year of presidential primaries in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.
So it was that, while Democratic voters went to the polls to express their presidential preferences and select delegates to their party convention, the Republican process in many of the same states was effectively shut down. Instead of selecting delegates in primaries that attract significant numbers of voters, some of whom might dissent from party orthodoxy, Republicans in key states chose to play things out behind closed doors -- in caucuses or other "official" settings.
Why were so many Republican primaries canceled? Officially, the line was that Republican legislators and party leaders wanted to save the money it would cost to hold the primaries that President Bush would surely win.
Aside from the fact that canceling elections because someone is expected to win creates a democratic Catch-22, the cost-cutting talk is as bogus as the claim that a clear Bush victory could be divined from all those uncounted ballots from Florida's contested 2000 voting. The savings that can be achieved by canceling an election are small, while the cost to democracy is large. Indeed, when legislators voted to cancel the party primaries in Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed the measure and declared, "Arizona can well afford the price of democracy."
That is true of every state. So why did the cancellations really occur?
Because Republican party bosses did not want President Bush to be embarrassed by evidence of Republican opposition.
As it turns out, the concern was well founded. In several states that held Republican primaries this year, significant numbers of GOP voters rejected Bush.
In New Hampshire, for instance, 22 percent of citizens who selected Republican presidential primary ballots voted for someone other than Bush. (More than 3,000 New Hampshire Republican primary voters wrote in the name of Democrat John Kerry.) In Rhode Island, more than 15 percent of Republican primary voters rejected Bush. In Idaho and Oklahoma, more than 10 percent of Republicans cast Anyone-But-Bush votes, while almost 10 percent did so in Massachusetts. Even in the president's home state of Texas, more than 50,000 Republican primary voters refused to back Bush.
Despite the convention show that Republican leaders will put on in New York next month, Bush has inspired a good deal of grumbling among the faithful. The results from a number of the states that actually held Republican primaries reflect that embarrassing fact. There are no embarrassing results from states that canceled Republican primaries -- which, of course, was the point of the cancellations.
No wonder so many Americans got scared when Bush appointees started talking about plans to cancel the November elections. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion, based on all those canceled primaries, that this administration and its minions believe democracy is a tidier enterprise when the voters are excluded.
I've always thought of Donald Trump as a mega-developer with an oversized ego and a really bad dye job.
So, I haven't paid much attention to his grotesquely successful "reality" show The Apprentice, in which the billionaire vamps shamelessly as a hardworking CEO, or to his latest best-selling how-to-manual, Trump: How to Get Rich.
But "The Donald" did get my attention with his interview in the August issue of Esquire, where he makes it clear that he'd treat Bush like the incompetent guy he is and fire him for his mishandling of Iraq.
"Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in." Trump tells Esquire. "What was the purpose of the whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!," Trump said.
Trump to Bush: "You're Fired!" Not a bad bumper sticker. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
The Senate intelligence committee's report on prewar intelligence demonstrates that George W. Bush launched a war predicated on false assertions about weapons of mass destruction and misled the country when he claimed Saddam Hussein was in cahoots in al Qaeda. But what has caused outrage within conservative quarters? Passages in the report that they claim undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson, if you need to be reminded, embarrassed the Bush administration a year ago when he revealed that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush had referred to Iraq's supposed attempt to obtain uranium in Africa to suggest Hussein was close to possessing a nuclear weapon. When Bush's use of this allegation become a matter of controversy last summer, Wilson went public with a New York Times op-ed piece in which he noted his private mission to Niger--which he had taken on behalf of the CIA--had led him to conclude the allegation was highly unlikely. After Wilson's article appeared, the White House conceded that Bush should not have included this charge in his speech.
A week later, Wilson received the payback. Conservative columnist Robert Novak, quoting two unnamed administration sources, reported that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson (nee Plame), was a CIA operative working in the counterproliferation field. Novak revealed her identity to suggest that Wilson had been sent to Niger due to nepotism not his experience. The point of Novak's column was to call Wilson's trip and his findings into question.
The real story was that Novak's sources--presumably White House officials--might have violated the law prohibiting government officials from identifying a covert officer of the United States government. Outing Valerie Wilson was a possible felony and--to boot--compromised national security. Two months later, the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the Wilson leak. And a US attorney named Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the case since the start of this year, leading an investigation that has included questioning Bush.
But now Wilson's detractor on the right claim the critical issue is Wilson's credibility on two points: whether his wife was involved in the decision to send him to Niger and whether he accurately portrayed his findings regarding his Niger trip. And they have made use of the Senate intelligence report--particularly additional comments filed by committee chairman Pat Roberts and two other Republican members of the committee, Kit Bond and Orrin Hatch--to pound Wilson. But not only does the get-Wilson crusade ignore the main question--did White House officials break the law and damage national security to take a swing at a critic?--it overstates and manipulates the material in the Senate report.
The first shot at Wilson actually came from The Washington Post. The day after the Senate report was released, Post reporter Susan Schmidt did an entire piece on the portion of the report related to the Niger episode. (By the way, the Post devoted more space to the Wilson affair than to the report's conclusion that there was no intelligence to back up Bush's assertion that Iraq and al Qaeda had maintained a working relationship.) In this story, Schmidt claimed that Wilson was "specifically recommended for the [Niger] mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly." She also reported that the intelligence committee "found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts." Schmidt added, "The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson's bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction."
Within days, Tim Graham, an analyst at the conservative Media Research Center, wrote a piece for The National Review pointing to the Schmidt article and decrying the "truth-telling problems" of Wilson, whose recent best-selling book is titled The Politics of Truth. Then Novak, returning to the scene of the (possible) crime, cited the committee report and the Republicans' additional comments to prove that he had been right to report in his original column that Wilson's wife had been behind the move to send Wilson to Niger. And Novak approvingly quoted Senator Roberts blast at Wilson: "Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided....Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people, that the vice president had lied, and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. . . . [N]ot only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true." (In this column, Novak did not explore the ethics or legality of White House officials identifying CIA officers.) And then, of course, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page piled on. So did the Republican National COmmittee.
Wilson has written a response to Roberts that addresses many of the criticisms being hurled at him. (See it here. And read Roberts comments here and decide who makes the better case.) But let's sort out some of the various claims. First, what the report says about Valerie Wilson's role in this business. In his book, Wilson writes,
"Apart from being the conduit for a message from a colleague in her office asking if I would be willing to have a conversation about Niger's uranium industry [with CIA counterproliferation experts], Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter. Though she worked on weapons of mass destruction issues, she was not at the meeting I attended where the subject of Niger's uranium was discussed, when the possibility of my actually traveling to the country was broached. She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
So what if she had? A week in Niamey for no pay was hardly a junket. What would have been wrong with a CIA officer telling another CIA officer, hey my husband, a former ambassador, is an Africa expert with experience in Niger, perhaps you should send him to Niger to see what he can learn? But because Wilson is on record saying it did not happen this way, the question is whether he has been truthful.
The intelligence committee report says, "Some [CIA Counterproliferation Division] officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife 'offered up his name' and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from [Valerie Wilson] says, 'my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.'...The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA."
The report also notes, "On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR [the State Department's intelligence unit], and several individuals from the [Directorate of Operations'] Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of [Wilson] traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was 'apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue. The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes."
This is not what ex-CIA chief George Tenet would call a slam-dunk case against Wilson. Sure, some of the evidence seems to contradict his account. But Valerie Wilson could have "offered up" his name as a handy person to contact about allegations concerning Niger's uranium trade without suggesting he get on a plane to Niger. And it is certainly imaginable that an INR analyst sitting in a meeting in which there is talk of dispatching a CIA officer's husband to Africa could have received the impression that his wife had initiated the mission. But if that was the case, why did Valerie Wilson attend for only a few minutes? If Valerie Wilson's account of this meeting is not accurate, where are the contradicting accounts from the other participants? Why does the report not quote them on this topic? Since only a week elapsed between the time Valerie Wilson "offered up" her husband and a meeting was held to consider sending him to Niger, it is possible that someone participating in the matter might have thought that Valerie Wilson's original advice--talk to my husband--was related to question of sending an unofficial envoy to Niger to seek out additional information.
When Wilson returned from Niger two CIA officers debriefed him. "The debriefing," the Senate report says, "took place in the former ambassador's home and although his wife was there, according to the reports officer, she acted as a hostess and did not participate in the debrief." If Valerie Wilson had played a key role in sending Joseph Wilson to Niger, would she have skipped out on this debriefing? Perhaps. But this scene reinforces Wilson's claim that she was not deeply involved in his Niger trip.
It may be that in some of his public remarks, Wilson underplayed his wife's involvement in his trip. After all, according to the Senate intelligence committee's report, she did write at least one memo on the subject. But it is not clear from the report that she specifically advocated he be sent to Niger. Again, it makes little difference--or it should make little difference--whether Valerie Wilson said to her CIA colleagues "contact my husband" or said to them "you should put him on a plane to Niamey immediately." The report notes that the CIA people in charge of investigating the Niger allegation deliberated over what to do and then reached the decision to ask Wilson to perform a pro bono act of public service. And he said yes. He had the experience for the job. His trip was not a boondoggle arranged by his wife for his or their benefit.
Now on to the claim that Wilson's report to the CIA actually provided more reason to believe Iraq had been seeking yellowcake uranium. In his debriefing Wilson reported that former Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki had told him that in 1999 he had been asked to meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. Mayaki said he assumed the delegation wanted to discuss uranium sales. But he said that although he had met with the delegation he had not been interested in pursuing any commercial dealings with Iraq. The intelligence report based on Wilson's debriefing also noted that the former minister of mines explained to Wilson that given the tight controls maintained by the French consortium in charge of uranium mining in Niger, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a shipment of uranium to a pariah state.
What did this report mean to the intelligence community? A CIA reports officer told the Senate intelligence committee that he took it as indirect confirmation of the allegation since Nigerian officials had admitted that an Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999 and since the former prime minister had said he believed Iraq was interested in purchasing uranium. But an INR analyst said that he considered the report to be corroboration of INR's position, which was that the allegation was "highly suspect" because Niger would be unlikely to engage in such a transaction and unable to transfer uranium to Iraq due to the strict controls maintained by the French consortium. But the INR analyst added, the "report could be read in different ways."
Wilson's work was thrown into the stew. The CIA continued to disseminate a report noting that a foreign intelligence service had told US intelligence that Niger had agreed to supply Iraq with hundreds of tons of uranium. And in the National Intelligence Estimate produced in October 2002, the intelligence community reported that Iraq had been trying to strike a uranium deal with Niger in 2001. But the NIE noted that INR strongly disagreed with this assessment. And when the National Security Council drafted a speech for Bush in October 2002 the CIA recommended the address not include the Niger allegation because it was "debatable" whether the yellowcake could be obtained from Niger. In a follow-up fax to the NSC, the CIA said "the evidence is weak" and "the procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory." Still, in late January 2003--after the INR's Iraq analyst had concluded that papers recently obtained by US intelligence related to the supposed Iraqi-Niger uranium deal were "clearly a forgery"--Bush went ahead and accused Iraq of seeking uranium in Africa.
But on April 5, 2003, the National Intelligence Council issued a memo that noted, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years." It added that the government of Niger was unlikely to proceed with such a deal. And on June 17, 2003, the CIA produced a memo that said, "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from aboard."
So Wilson's assessment ended up being accepted by the CIA. His reporting may not have been conclusive. But as we have been told repeatedly this past week, such is often the case in intelligence collection. After coming back from Niger, Wilson's view--which he did not express publicly for nearly a year and a half--was different from that held by CIA analysts. Yet his conclusion--that the Niger allegation was probably bunk--was in line with the thinking of the State Department's lead analyst on this matter. And Wilson's reasoning came to prevail and to be shared by the intelligence community. For some reason, Novak does not mention this in his recent column.
Finally, let's address Schmidt's claim that the Senate intelligence committee's report "may bolster" the defense of the leakers--whoever they are. Whether their motivation was to punish Wilson for speaking out or to try to undermine his credibility by suggesting his only bona fides for the Niger trip was his marriage license, blowing Valerie Wilson's cover still was a possible crime and an odious act. The law does not allow a government official to reveal a CIA officer--and jeopardizing the officer, her contacts, and her operations--to score political points.
What Wilson told his CIA contacts, what he told reporters, what he said in public--accurate or not--did not justify disclosing Valerie Wilson's identity. Nor did it justify the subsequent White House effort to encourage other reporters to pursue the Valerie Wilson story. The leak was thuggish and possibly felonious. And the Wilsons and others are waiting to see what comes from Fitzgerald's investigation. (NBC News reported recently that the probe had expanded to examine possible acts of perjury and lying to investigators.) There is no telling if the investigation will end with indictments or whitewashing. It has been a mostly leak-free probe, and even senior people at the Justice Department say they have no idea where Fitzgerald is heading--if anywhere.
Whatever Fitzgerald's criminal investigation produces, the Wilsons were wronged. And Bush and his White House crew did nothing to seek out or punish the Novak-enabled leakers who placed politics ahead of national security and decency. Instead, White House officials peddled the leak further to discredit Wilson, and GOPers have been seeking to blast him ever since. Roberts and other Republicans are using the intelligence committee's report to whack Wilson, a prominent opponent of the Iraq war and a foreign policy adviser to Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. If only Roberts' committee had applied as much time and energy into investigating the Wilson leak (and how the White House reacted to the leak) as it did to the actions of Valerie Wilson. But the leak is a subject that, for some odd reason, has escaped the attention of Roberts' investigators. And Roberts and his ideological comrades are exploiting the release of the committee's report to blame the victims of the leak. They are far more angered by alleged (or trumped-up) inconsistencies in Wilson's account than by Bush's misrepresentation of the prewar intelligence. Talk about overstating a problem.
****************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 NOW 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."
Seeking to bolster support for his USA Patriot Act against Congressional attempts to weaken it, Attorney General John Ashcroft recently called the Act "al-Qaeda's worst nightmare." and delivered a 29-page report to Congress citing ways in which the Act has, according to Ashcroft, been instrumental in helping to combat terrorism.
The Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, gave the government significant new powers to conduct searches and surveillance in terrorism investigations and allowed more information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The release of Ashcroft's report is part of an effort by the Bush Administration to shore up support for the law in the wake of numerous reports and critics's suggestions that many of the Act's provisions are both ineffective and unconstitutional.
One of the most effective (and creative) critiques of the abuses of the Ashcroft Justice Department was recently released by the DC-based group Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations. AFJ has created an online animated movie, Spy-der-man, which uses humor to convey the grave danger of Ashcroft's intrusions on free speech, privacy, due process and religious pluralism.
It's great that attention has been paid to progressives like Illinois' Barack Obama, South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth, and Pennsylvania's Allyson Schwartz and Lois Murphy and Oklahoma's Kalyn Free. All these newcomers to the national stage herald a fresh populism should a Democratic tide sweep over America in November.
And in my city of New York there's Frank Barbaro, who's running for a house seat from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York City's closest thing to a red state. Barbaro, 76, is an unheralded star, a genuine working-class folk hero who deserves far more attention from the media than his candidacy has received thus far.
The 13th district isn't exactly fertile territory for a 76-year-old Democratic candidate. In normal times, the 13th--composed largely of middle and working-class Italian-Americans--is a safe Republican seat having elected Republicans to the House at every opportunity since Reagan's 1980 presidential landslide. The demographics are gradually shifting though as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans now constitute twenty-six percent of the electorate, with the area's Hispanic population growing considerably.
Barbaro, the son of Italian immigrants, lives in Bensonhurst smack in the middle of the 13th, where he opened a law practice. Despite the district's conservative leanings, the very progressive Barbaro has a serious shot thanks, in large part, to a stellar resume and a patriot's background. He joined the Navy after graduating from high school, and held jobs as an ironworker, cab driver and butcher. From 1952 to 1967, Barbaro worked as a longshoreman on the waterfront in Brooklyn, and his time on the piers profoundly shaped his philosophy. "My fifteen years on the waterfront were the foundry of my ideology," Barbaro said in an interview last week.
He started at a time when McCarthyism was in the ascendance, and anti-communists were purging the ranks of unions of suspected subversives. Brooklyn's docks were run by the mob, and the conditions were horrendous. Barbaro encountered "a total, utter disregard for workers," and decided to stand for social justice. Enduring threats against him and his friends, Barbaro expressed his outrage at his coworkers' exposure to dangerous asbestos levels in the ships and the constant hazardous waterfront tasks and mob intimidation of the AFL-CIO. One time, "4,000 pounds of concrete came pouring down on [Barbaro and his fellow workers]," and Barbaro spearheaded a spontaneous walkout, telling his bosses: "We're not gonna work like animals."
By the late sixties, Barbaro had become a firm believer in the power of organizing. He eventually entered politics and served in the New York Assembly, where he championed important pro-labor and tenants rights legislation. While an assemblyman, Barbaro led a rent strike in the city, and when he was later elevated to the state Supreme Court Justice, he wrote opinions that he proudly recalled safeguarded due process rights for the accused. But it was on the waterfront where he sunk his progressive roots, learning the "absolute necessity of building a people's movement--to be a countervailing force" to corporations.
Now Barbaro faces a four-term Republican incumbent, Vito Fossella, who Barbaro calls "a total political opportunist" who has ignored his constituents and instead done the bidding of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Fossella has indeed amassed a shameful record. He turned his back on Staten Island's veterans, supporting Bush's 2003 budget that cut veterans benefits by $14 billion. He voted against putting more cops on the beat, and supported Bush's massive tax giveaways to corporate America. "Vito is silent," thundered Barbaro at his announcement rally, when it comes to ensuring that New York firefighters and other first responders have "functioning radios" and the equipment "to fight bio-terrorism, [and] dirty bombs."
Barbaro believes that local interests--from Staten Island's Advance newspaper to the borough's business community and even some Republicans--are tired of Fossella's incompetence and inability to assist his district. "If you don't want to work, get out of the way," Barbaro has said. One of his slogans is: "Veto Vito!"
Above all, Barbaro takes the fight for social and economic justice as a lifelong task, and he's running at age 76 because he wants to give Staten Island and Brooklyn's residents their fair shake, and to send a wake-up call to the country.
"Large monies are essential to run campaigns" nowadays, "and the Democratic Party has moved to the right" in recent years, Barbaro argues. "If you stay in the middle you really don't stand for anything." If Barbaro defeats Fossella, he intends to fight "without fear" for unabashed progressive values and goals: healthcare for all; union power; tax justice so corporations pay their fair share; and a full, independent investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. "[I will fight to] redefine the "mission and philosophy of the Democratic Party," he promises. One of his first orders of business will be to gather grassroots progressives and union organizers to figure out better ways of spreading the populist agenda across America.
Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party line, which sees in Barbaro an exemplary vessel for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working-class, middle-class, and poor people into the public debate." Dan Cantor at WFP explained Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78 year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro."
A bold and passionate advocate, Barbaro says "my greatest accomplishment is my belief in America and belief in economic and social justice and my belief in staying the course. [I have] unwavering confidence in the American people that they will, in the end, do what is right for America."
To wage this tough fight for Congress, Barbaro needs progressives to rally to his cause. Click here if you want to support a lifelong fighter for liberal values and a man who never forgot his working-class roots and make a contribution today. With your assistance, Barbaro could launch a movement that will sweep George Bush and Vito Fossella ou
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies. Some of my favorites are published below.
We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination. I'll be publishing more reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Bruce Bennett,Sausalito, CA
As a former EPA librarian who was kicked out of my position because I had the temerity to criticize Bush on global warmimg I would like to mention two recent votes in Congress. One was to deny drilling and "exploration" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for at least a year. The Bushies want to exploit this wilderness and will continue to represent their oil business backers but the vote demonstrated that they will have an uphill time of it. The second was the vote to deny funds for the Forest Service to build logging roads in the Tongass National Forest of Alaska. I was once fortunate to live in Juneau and Sitka, AK and I can tell you from personal experience how glorious that region is. I was delighted to hear of the vote because the three "representatives" of Alaska in Congress are shills for the forest products industry. Despite their best efforts to clearcut these great forests the other members of Congress saw it otherwise.
Tom Lowe, El Sobrante CA
The Canadian Election is good news for the US. On Monday Canadian voters held back a neo-republican Conservative Party, which as recently as last weekend seemed able to gain control of Parliment; and, in the view of most post election comments, made a left leaning coatition the way to run the country. We Yanks should be so lucky in November!
Lyn Wall, Houston, Texas
I'd like to nominate Air America Radio as great political news. I stream it over the internet all day because I can't get it in Houston, and I'm not alone. It has helped me find other sources and like-minded people and confirmed my sense that something is terrribly wrong with mainstream media.
Richard J. Bourgeois, Ishpeming, MI
This is in response to your "Good Things in Bad Times" article. Today, in Marquette, Michigan, a small town of 25,000 in upper michigan, a small peace and justice group (fourteen adults and three children) marched for the first time (anywhere) in the July Fourth parade. The theme of the parade was "land of the free and home of the brave". Two peace group marchers carried the local homemade peace and justice banner showing pine trees, water and a peace dove, other marchers carried two US flags, and three blue and white peace flags, and all marchers wore colored lettered signs in front and back such as--"peace is patriotic , dissent is patriotic, bring the troops home, no blood for oil, war is not the answer, money for jobs and education not war." The march was over one half a mile and mostly applause and approval was heard. Although the peace marchers did not expect to win first place in the parade competition, they hoped that by marching and standing up for peace and free speech that they truly can promote "good things" (peace and justice) in bad times. Hopefully this is happening thoughout the USA.
Michael Westmoreland-White, Louisville, KY
Another sign of political good news. People of faith are refusing to let the Religious Right claim a monopoly on faith and spirituality, consigning the rest of us to the "secular left." Faithful America, for instance, is a new organization of left-of-center Christians (and smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims) which has only been around a month, but has already gathered 100,000 members and aired a commercial on Al-Jazeera TV apologizing for the Abu-Ghraib tortures. Click here for information on the group
Anonymous, Brick, NJ
The best news I heard this week was the head of the Southern Baptist church denouncing the Bush-Cheney campaign letter calling for his churches to send the campaign church member lists, share contact information for at least one other conservative church and to throw Bushie parties high and low, on campaign deadline, no less. And this relatively resounding denounciation came from the man who INVITED Bush to speak at the Southern Baptist national convention (which I thought was an abuse of principles of church/state separation). He was lured to the fire and he got burned. I could have told him, don't go dancing with the devil.
Margaret Montgomery, New York, NY
According to a front page New York Times article on July 5 by William L. Hamilton, 71 Bantu refugees from Somalia are living out "Hard-Won American Dreams" in Tucson, as "part of the most ambitious relocation of political refugees by the United States in recent history." Through the support of the International Rescue Committee in Tuscon and local business, educational, and social services, these determined Bantu families have overcome the traumas of their past: tribal warfare, low-caste status, denial of education, years in refugee camps, and sudden relocation to our Southwest. In light of the current desperate situation in the Sudan, it is heartening to remember that the West can and does take action every day to save lives, alleviate suffering, and help a 15-year-old Somalian toward his dreams of becoming a doctor.
Anselmo Liano, Miami Springs, Fl
Don't forget the unsuccessful attempt by Bush's Department of Labor to rewrite the overtime rules in such a manner that it would have denied overtime compensation to millions who need it the most: America's besieged middle class. Luckily Congress stopped this piece of legislation crafted by Bush's crony capitalist buddies.
Alice Bentley, San Francisco, CA
When Dick Cheney was at a Yankees baseball game, his picture was put up on the big screen while the song, "God Bless America" was being sung during the 7th inning stretch...he was soundly booedand his picture was removed right away. Also, my granddaughter recently attended a minor league baseball game in Altoona PA where his image was also booed.
Shari Schartman-Walczak, State College, PA
Thanks for your great article on the "good news." Here's one more item regarding stem cell research: The Chicago Sun-Times reported on July 5 that "Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican supporter of embryonic stem cell research, said Sunday there is wide support in the Senate to ease the Bush Administration's restrictive policy."
David Hazen, Eugene, OR
Sales of the automotive monstrosity, the Hummer H2, have fallen twenty-four per cent in the first four months of this year. I can think of no better index of an improving planet.
Recently in this space I asked Nation readers to join a grassroots campaign organized by supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich to let the Democratic Party Platform Committee know that millions of loyal Democrats are seeking a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. And today, at the end of the committee's meeting in Miami, the Democratic Party adopted an amendment to its national platform declaring its intention to reduce US military presence in Iraq and to push for a greater role for NATO and other nations. Click here to read more about this modest victory.