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The Nation

Sweet Victory: Preschool for All

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

It is universally acknowledged that preschool plays a critical role in the educational and social development of children. Studies have shown that those who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than 40 percent less likely to be placed in a special education program or to be arrested as a juvenile. Yet not one state in the union currently offers universal pre-k.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic wants to change this. This past Wednesday, Blagojevich http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/national/13illinois.html?_r=1&oref=slogin ">proposed in his new state budget a provision that would grant all three and four year-olds access to preschool, regardless of income. While Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida currently offer pre-k to four year-olds, Illinois would become the first state to provide genuinely universal preschool in the country's history.

"This isn't just an Illinois story, it's a national story," says Libby Doggett, Executive Director of Pre-K Now. "This week's announcement was wonderful for the children of Illinois but equally wonderful for the children across this country…Many many families will enjoy the benefits of this far-sighted and far-reaching vision."

As Nathan Newman notes, while Blagojevich may be facing investigations for pay-to-play politics, "Illinois has been quietly emerging as a national font of progressive ideas and legislation"-such as raising the minimum wage, protecting gay rights and stengthening labor laws.

Yet with budget concerns wracking Illinois, Doggett predicts that Blagojevich's pre-k proposal will face some stiff opposition. "It will be a fight. Children don't have a lobbyist, so it's difficult to see progress in this area," says Doggett. "But Governor Blagojevich, without doubt, is the biggest children's champion we have."

To learn how you can be a part of the movement for universal preschool not only in Illinois, but nationally, click http://www.preknow.org/resource/prekresources/index.cfm ">here.


Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.

The Shame of The Nation

The shame of the nation is revealed in this week's NewsFlash from the Economic Policy Institute. "Without a wage hike," EPI reports, "this year will usher in the greatest inequality between minimum-wage and average-wage workers since the end of World War II."

The minimum wage hasn't increased since 1997, and its real value has fallen drastically--with workers earning only 32 percent of the average hourly wage in 2005.

The United States is the richest nation. It is also the most unequal society in the industrialized world. How we change that immoral condition, and ensure shared prosperity for all citizens, may be our most important task in the years ahead.

Dick Should've Enlisted

The best zinger of the week on Dick Cheney's now infamous hunting accident came not from Jon Stewart or any of the late night comics but courtesy of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel:

If he'd been in the military, he would have learned gun safety.

That wasn't all. In an interview with thirty national security journalists on Thursday, Hagel provided a much needed dose of sanity on Iran:

I think one thing we ought to be doing is engaging the Iranians. Why aren't we talking to them? That's the essence of good foreign policy.

For more on Hagel, read Joe Lelyveld's impressive profile in last week's New York Times Magazine.

I have my doubts about how far Hagel will go in challenging the Republican establishment, but as John McCain makes nice with right-wingers, Hagel is emerging as the GOP maverick to watch.

Iranian Teenager to Hang for Self-Defense

Just relax and take it if a rapist attacks you in Iran. If you fight back, you may find yourself sentenced to death, like 18-year-old Nazanin. Oh, but wait, I forgot, if you do get raped and don't have four male witnesses to the actual physical act, you can be imprisoned, flogged or stoned for having sex outside of marriage. Here's the shocking story, from Iran Focus via Feministing:

Tehran, Iran, Jan. 07 – An Iranian court has sentenced a teenage rape victim to death by hanging after she weepingly confessed that she had unintentionally killed a man who had tried to rape both her and her niece.

The state-run daily Etemaad reported on Saturday that 18-year-old Nazanin confessed to stabbing one of three men who had attacked the pair along with their boyfriends while they were spending some time in a park west of the Iranian capital in March 2005.

Nazanin, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, said that after the three men started to throw stones at them, the two girls' boyfriends quickly escaped on their motorbikes leaving the pair helpless.

She described how the three men pushed her and her 16-year-old niece Somayeh onto the ground and tried to rape them, and said that she took out a knife from her pocket and stabbed one of the men in the hand.

As the girls tried to escape, the men once again attacked them, and at this point, Nazanin said, she stabbed one of the men in the chest. The teenage girl, however, broke down in tears in court as she explained that she had no intention of killing the man but was merely defending herself and her younger niece from rape, the report said.

The court, however, issued on Tuesday a sentence for Nazanin to be hanged to death.

I'm trying to get an update on the case, and will report back if I find out more, but meanwhile, take action.

Write the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Louise Arbour and ask for the UN to raise the case of Nazanin with Iran.

Sign the petition to Kofi Annan and Arbour.

And check out Amnesty International's page on underage executions in Iran-- Nazarin is far from alone. (I know this is just their bureaucratic language, but it bothered me that AI refers to Nazarin as a "child offender," when, in fact, she not only committed no crime in protecting herself and her niece but behaved with great courage.)

Lonely Defenders of Civil Liberties

In the first of what will be a number of critical votes on renewal of the Patriot Act, only three members of the U.S. Senate supported Russ Feingold's effort to prevent enactment of a version of the law favored by the Bush administration.

Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who cast the sole vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, has promised to fight at every turn to prevent renewal of the Patriot Act in a form that does not respect civil libertries.

On Thursday, he sought to clarify the rights of individuals and institutions that might be subject to inquiries undder the act. But only two senators, West Viginia Democrat Robert Byrd and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords sided with him.

Some of my colleagues have been arguing, however, that we should go along with this deal because the conference report, as amended by the Sununu bill, improves the Patriot Act that we passed four and a half years ago.

Noting that Republican and Democratic senators who demanded changes in the Patriot Act late last year are now backing a version of the act that does not include the changes they sought, Feingold said, "I oppose the sham legislative process that the Senate is facing here. And I oppose the flawed deal we are being asked to ratify. Notwithstanding the improvements achieved in the conference report, we still have not adequately addressed some of the most significant problems with the Patriot Act. So I must oppose proceeding to this bill, which will allow the deal to go forward. I cannot understand how anyone who opposed the conference report back in December can justify supporting it now. This deal was a beast two months ago and it hasn't gotten any better-looking since then."

But the beast had all the Republican and Democratic supporters it needed Thursday.

And the Constitution had just three friends in the Senate.

Green Rooms

I do a fair amount of TV.

And though I never, ever, check my integrity at the door, I have to admit that there are some shows you wish you hadn't agreed to go on. I won't name names.

A couple of weeks ago on RadioNation, host Laura FLanders asked what it's like to do battle with someone on TV and then schmooze with them in the "Green Room" before or after airtime? I replied, in all honesty, that I almost always keep my nose in my files--which I carry around like Linus's security blanket. That technique effectively precludes hanging out with guests you'd rather observe than make friendly with. (Think Ann Coulter.)

But, I have to confess that Wednesday morning was different. I did schmooze. With Rufus. Who's Rufus? Well, he's the "best in show" from the Academy Awards of dog shows--the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, to be exact, which was encamped at Madison Square Garden this past weekend. Rufus is a colored bull terrier who won because the judges loved his fabulous head, which is perfectly shaped like an egg.

He nuzzled my knee around 7:05 am, in CBS's Early Show's green room, as I waited to debate Bay Buchanan about Cheney's shooting incident. (What is there to debate-except to invoke guidance from the NRA: Think First, Shoot Second. It's advice this Veep has ignored when it comes to, well, everything.)

And I nuzzled back, breaking the schmooze rule. Then I broke the rule again. Laid back, shaggy, red-haired, gold medalist, snowboarder Shaun White arrived with his entourage. He even had his snowboard with him. I wanted to schmooze but they whisked him off to an outdoor set. Then Rufus started barking and trying to wolf down some of the spread these green rooms usually have for (people) guests.

Heading downtown to my real day job, I thought that green rooms with champion dogs and snowboarders were a little crazy but a lot more sane--and ego-free--than those stuffed with aspiring politicos and pundits.

Connecting the Dots of Cheney's Crimes

Goodness gracious! Could it be that comedians are doing a better job of connecting the dots regarding Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors than are the unintentionally ridiculous members of the White House press corps?

Huntergate is certainly worthy of coverage, especially now that the vice president has admitted to shooting while intoxicated. But the on-bended-knee "reporters" who hang around the briefing room waiting for a presidential spokesman to feed them their daily diet of spin look pretty absurd chasing after this particular story with so much gusto while they continue to ignore the big picture of Cheney's misuse of intelligence data before and after the invasion of Iraq and his role in schemes to punish critics of the administration.

If the Bush administration's court reporters are not quite up to the job of holding the vice president to account, however, the nation's fearless comedians are up to the task.

"Good news, ladies and gentlemen," announced David Letterman after news of the vice presidential shooting spree finally came out, "we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It's Dick Cheney."

Letterman scored another direct hit when he observed: "It turns out now that Dick Cheney did not have a license to hunt, and coincidentally, turns out we didn't have a license to go into Iraq."

Jay Leno was equally on target when he explained that: "You can't blame [Cheney]. Bush says you can spy on people without warrants, you can torture people, you can hold people without a trial, so Dick Cheney thinks, 'Oh what the hell, I can shoot a few guys.'"

Ultimately, however, it was "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry who hit the bullseye, when he reported that: "The Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now, according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78- year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Wittington's face."

All seriousness aside, there is a good deal of humor to be found in the fact that members of the White House press corps have finally been roused to mount the journalistic barricades by a hunting accident. While they cannot be counted on to go after the big stories, they are unrelenting in their determination to get to the bottom of every tale of celebrity folly -- be it Britney Spears failure to place her baby in a carseat or Dick Cheney's inability to shoot straight after he's downed a cold one.

But, as in the days when Pravda and Tass could not be relied upon to go after the big stories of Soviet shenanigans, Americans now know that, for the full story about this administration, they must turn to the comedians and the satirists who understand that Cheney's abuse of beer and guns cannot compare with his abuse of the most powerful vice presidency in American history.

John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

Failing Upwards

One of the perplexing things about the Democratic Party is how it rewards and glorifies consultants and experts who get major issues so wrong. Back in 2002, former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm, convinced a wide swath of the Democratic intelligentsia that Saddam possessed WMD's and thus had to be removed. Needless to say, he was wrong.

Undeterred, Pollack returned two years later with The Persian Puzzle, a book about Iran, which met with glowing reviews. Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave his House counterpart, Rep. Jane Harman, a copy with the inscription: "Jane, read this and you will know what you're talking about."

"When Ken Pollack talks, I listen," Harman said yesterday at the Brookings Institution. You see, Pollack has just authored a mammoth new report on Iraq which tells the Bush Administration and the Democrats how to make that mess right. For the last two weeks, Pollack has been selling his recommendations in meetings with Congress and the Executive Branch. Though the report contains a lot of good, detailed information and analysis, Pollack's central thesis reinforces the view of many foreign policy elites that prolonging the American occupation will benefit Iraq.

That's a stark contrast to Rep. Jack Murtha, who states boldly:

 

Our troops are the targets, and they're unifying Iraq against us...Once we get out of there, it will be more stable in Iraq.

 

Words to the wise.

Harry Whittington, Prison Reformer

This afternoon, my friend Michael Mushlin--a longtime member of the invaluable Correctional Association of New York and a venerable professor at Pace Law School--sent me a worthy article offering empirical evidence for a proposition we intuitively know: Harsh prison conditions in fact contribute to recidivism. What struck me in reading the article, just hours after skimming today's New York Times profile of Dick Cheney's hunting victim, is that Texas lawyer Harry Whittington has made the same point. "While serving on the board of the Texas Department of Corrections in the 1980s," the Times reports, "and after observing the conditions in many state prisons, Whittington once claimed, 'Prisons are to crime what greenhouses are to plants.'"

Now, as the inimitable Molly Ivins put it in her column yesterday, Whittington isn't some flaming liberal. He's a liberal, Ivins writes, "only by Texas standards, and that sets the bar about the height of a matchbook. Nevertheless, [he] is seriously civilized, particularly on the issues of crime, punishment and prisons."

Seriously civilized. Hard to think of the Texans in this Administration--or its second-in-command, for that matter--in those terms.