Quantcast

The Nation

Onward Christian Lawyers

In his scathing dissent in the Supreme Court decision that overturned state sodomy laws, Justice Scalia objected to the court's imposition of "foreign moods, fads or fashions on Americans." Scalia was directly referring to the citation of a 1981 European Court of Human Rights case in the court's majority opinion, but he was also reiterating a long-standing, right-wing jeremiad against "activist judges" taking any international law into consideration. Such objections would become a minor theme of "Justice Sundays" and even prompted a rare public rebuke from Sandra Day O'Connor, who said in a 2004 speech at Georgetown that "international law is a help in our search for a more peaceful world." Indeed it's not just on matters of world peace and anal sex that U.S. judges look abroad for ideas. The Supreme Court cited a UN convention in Roper v. Simmons, which struck down the juvenile death penalty, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court mentioned Canadian law when it legalized same-sex marriage.

Now it seems that the right-wing legal establishment has decided that if you can't beat them, join them. In an article for U.S. News and World Report, Scott Michels documents how the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Right counter to the ACLU, is "taking the culture wars overseas." Michels' opens with the ADF's role in the case of Stephen Copsey, a British man who was fired for refusing to work on Sundays, and quotes ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull as saying "if these cases are imported by the United States courts as controlling precedent, we basically abandon America as we know it." According to Michel, the ADF and other right-wing groups have "developed international networks of Christian lawyers, trained foreign lawyers, and sent their lawyers abroad."

The ADF was founded in 1994 by prominent right-wingers such as Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), James Dobson (Focus on the Family), James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries) and Don Wildmon (American Family Association). Its leader Alan Sears was the Executive Director of the notorious Meese Commission on Pornography and authored The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. While most of the ADF's $17 million annual budget is spent litigating domestic culture war cases such as Boyscouts v. Dale and Cupertino, as well as organizing a national "Day of Truth" to oppose the "Day of Silence" organized by LGBT activists -- you can expect their international reach to grow along with evangelical interest in global issues like AIDS, religious conflict and sex trafficking.

Whatever one may think about the ADF and their ilk, you gotta admire their savviness. Blast liberals for their global ambitions; launch a stealth campaign to do the same. Since the right to discriminate against gays (or what they creatively term their "freedom of religion") seems to be ADF's raison d'etre, I refer readers to Michael Bronski's recent article on the shortcomings of the gay rights movement, in particular how gay liberation's global roots (the Gay Liberation Front was an homage of sorts to the Vietnamese National Liberation Front) are both inspiring and under-developed.

Mayor Ron Dellums

It took nearly two weeks of counting paper ballots, but this weekend it became official. Legendary, retired Bay Area congressman Ron Dellums is the new Mayor of Oakland. Dellums squeaked out his victory and avoided a run-off when he crossed the 50% mark by a razor-thin 155 votes out of more than 80,000 cast.

His nearest challenger, Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente conceded the victory on Saturday. Dellums served for nearly three decades in congress, and before retiring in 1999, firmly established a reputation as one of the most liberal representatives in the House. He was active in opposition to the war in Vietnam, to Reagan administration foreign policy and to U.S. nuclear policy. He also led campaigning against South African apartheid.

The 70-year-old former congressman made the decision to come out of political retirement last year as the Oakland Mayoral seat was set to become vacant. Twice-elected Mayor Jerry Brown was being termed out and Dellums began a vigorous campaign on a progressive platform. Though the election was hard-fought, his main rival De La Fuente is also a liberal Democrat. Mexican-born, and a former union official, De La Fuente had won the endorsement of former Mayor Brown as well as the majority of the City Council.

Dellums' re-emergence galvanized much of Oakland's sizeable progressive community and gave them a living icon around which to rally. But since his retirement from Congress, Dellums' latest career --as a lobbyist--was hardly as romantic as his tenure on the Hill. Some controversy was raised by Dellums' firm having represented a local nuclear lab, one of the country's major drug firms, and by helping Rolls Royce acquire contracts for the engines made for transport planes that carry troops to Iraq.

Oakland, which has long lived in the shadow of neighboring San Francisco, will confront Dellums with some serious challenges. It's a city that suffers a high crime rate, an extraordinarily large population of former convicts, and deep economic and social divides. Managing a city as a progressive chief executive will be a very different job than being a liberal legislator among scores of others. And no doubt Dellums will be closely scrutinized by many of the constituencies who have invested their hopes in him.

Mayor Brown had come to office under similar circumstances in 1998, promising progressive reform but he wound up emphasizing programs of crime control and downtown development. Some of Brown's liberal supporters were deeply disappointed by his tenure, though the former California governor leaves office with high favorability ratings. In the election of two weeks ago, Brown handily won the Democratic primary for state Attorney General getting more votes than any other statewide Democratic candidate.

Dellums takes office and replaces Brown on January 1. One of his first tasks will be to mend fences with De La Fuente who remains at the helm of the City Council and whose political cooperation will be key in providing a governing majority.

Democrats to Jefferson: Step Down

Democrats got tough with Rep. William Jefferson last night, voting 99-58 to boot the corrupt Congressman off the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Today he was formally removed from the seat by the entire House.

Jefferson, with his $90,000 bribe hidden in the freezer, did more than anyone to undermine the Democratic message of a Republican "culture of corruption." The legal investigation has almost certainly distracted Jefferson from rebuilding his district in impoverished New Orleans, which should be his number one priority.

Dennis Hastert asked Rep. Bob Ney to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee. Allan Mollohan gave us his seat on the House Ethics Committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightfully understands that Jefferson, nicknamed "Dollar Bill" by his Louisiana peers, no longer deserves the perks of a tax-writing Ways and Means seat.

"Anybody with $90,000 in your freezer, you have a problem with this Caucus," Pelosi said after the vote.

Jefferson and his allies shamelessly tried to make this debate about race. But it's really about basic standards of decency--and important electoral considerations. If Democrats want to detox the House in November, they need to clean up their own house first.

It's Sandal Season. Was Your Pedicure Made in a Sweatshop?

In a recent post I suggested that our society needs nurses more than we need manicurists. That's true, of course, but I didn't mean to belittle nail workers. Sure, good nursing can save your life, but a manicure-pedicure, especially in this toe-baring season, can make it worth living.

Unfortunately, for the women who provide this excellent experience, the work is not always pleasant. According to a report recently released by the National Asian Pacific Women's Forum, the nail salon industry wreaks havoc on workers' reproductive health. Most of the workers -- over 95% of whom are female, and 42% Asian -- make less than $17,000 a year, and lack health insurance coverage. They tend to work very long hours, exposed to poisonous chemicals. (The FDA doesn't regulate the chemicals used in cosmetics.) Studies have found that prolonged exposure to some of these toxins can be linked to miscarriages, infertility and even birth defects. This will ring true to anyone who's ever walked into a poorly ventilated salon while pregnant; as consumers, we take that wave of nausea and dizziness as a sign to get the hell out, and quickly, but the workers don't always have that choice.

If you think you've been seeing more nail shops than ever before, often with names that sound odd to the native speaker (e.g., "Cozy Nails"), you're not mistaken. According to the NAPWF report, the nail care industry has tripled in size over the last two decades, partly because the field is welcoming to immigrants with limited English language skills (unlike, say, hair, about which customers want to discourse with endless nuance and detailed specifications). Interestingly, however, this very point can creates status indignity for some workers. Ji-Sun Oh, a nail worker and LaGuardia College student, has written a fascinating ethnography of Korean-owned salons in New York City, in which she observes that the language barrier between customer and worker highlights the sense that the manicurist is a "servant", even though she is a skilled professional. She quotes a worker who had the same job in Korea, before she came to New York: "When I was in Korea, I suggested, explained and recommended many things to customers. I was a professional. But here in America, since my English is bad, I just doing nails without any act of profession while my customers talk to her friends over her cell phone."

Ji-Sun, in her paper, notes that in Korea -- the country of origin of many New York City nail workers -- a manicurist is called a "'nail artist,' which sounds more respectful." In Korea, tipping feels insulting -- it is generally reserved for beggars and prostitutes -- thus many nail workers feel degraded by the practice when they first come to the U.S. As I read Ji-Sun's paper, I thought that another reason for the status difference here in the U.S. may be the low price of the service; a discount nail industry flourishes here, unlike in Korea. In the U.S., getting your nails done is a cheap way to look and feel a whole lot better; you'll notice plenty of nail salons -- and fabulously polished nails -- in poor or working-class neighborhoods. As with discount shopping, however, the low prices often come at the cost of workers' health and safety. It may also be that because customers pay so little to get their nails done, they don't respect the women who do the job.

From Houston to Boston, nail salon workers are organizing to clean up the toxins in their workplaces. But like the nursing shortage, cosmetic safety affects consumers as well as workers. One promising project, POLISH (nice acronym, but I defy you to remember what it stands for: Participatory Leadership, Organizing and Leadership Initiative for Safety and Health), works to educate both groups about the dangers, and to organize for change. Let's hope they will eventually push companies to make these products safer, and pressure the salon owners to improve workers' conditions. As for the more subtle respect issues Ji-Sun Oh raises in her research, let's hope she and others continue to document the experiences of this long-overlooked group of workers.

House Votes 256-153 for Perpetual War

The incendiary House debate over whether the time has come to establish an Iraq exit strategy ended Friday morning with a 256-153 vote to maintain an open-ended occupation of the country where 2,500 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in fighting since 2003.

The nonbinding vote came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who achieved her leadership position after voting in 2002 against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, delivered one of her most ardent anti-war statements yet heard from a leader of the opposition party.

"Stay the course? I don't think so Mr. President. It's time to face the facts," Pelosi told the House.

"This war is a failed policy of the Bush administration… We need a new direction in Iraq," said Pelosi, who added: "The war in Iraq has been a mistake. I say, a grotesque mistake."

The floor fight over the resolution, which was initiated by Republicans who wanted to force Democrats to either back Bush or appear to not support troops serving in Iraq, stirred intense debate. In the end, however, most Democrats and a handful of Republicans chose to counter the cynical scheming of Karl Rove's White House political machine by voting "no" to legislation that even a Republican loyalist, Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons, admitted "fails to fully address a key question that most Americans are asking: ‘When are the troops coming home?'"

Of the 256 votes for the resolution, 214 came from Republicans and 42 from Democrats.

Of the 153 votes against it, 149 came from Democrats, three from Republicans and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.Pelosi was joined in voting "no" by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, in a rare show of leadership unity on a war-related issue.

The three Republicans who voted "no" were Texan Ron Paul, Tennessean John Duncan and Iowan Jim Leach, all longtime foes of the war. Several Republicans who have expressed opposition to the war, including North Carolina Representative Walter Jones Jr., voted "present" or did not vote at all.

The intense debate allowed administration supporters to mouth election-year talking points from a memo provided by the White House political shop, with Georgia Republican Charlie Norwood saying of Democratic critics of administration policies: "Many, not all, on the other side of the aisle lack the will to win." House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, declared, "When our freedom is challenged, Americans do not run."

That line was countered by Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, the decorated Vietnam veteran who has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the war. Referring to House Republicans, many of them non-veterans, who chirped during the debate about how determined they were to fight on, the Pennsylvania Democrat said "it's easy to stay in an air-conditioned office and say I'm going to stay the course."

"That's why I get so upset when they stand here sanctimoniously and say we're fighting this thing," thundered Murtha. "It's the troops that are doing the fighting."

The vote took place one day after the 2,500th American died in Iraq.White House spokesman Tony Snow, like many members of the House majority, dismissed the death toll, telling the press corps: "It's a number, and every time there's one of these 500 benchmarks people want something."

What people got Friday morning was a House vote for perpetual war – and a lot more of those "500 benchmarks."

Who Supports the Troops?

The February Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey of U.S. troops serving in Iraq found that 72 percent of them thought United States forces should exit that country by the end of 2006.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate decided not to call for the withdrawal of combat troops by year's end when it shelved a measure proposing that "only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces" remain in Iraq in 2007.

After a stilted debate, the Senate voted to block the amendment 93-6.

Every Republican in the Senate voted for the amendment, which was advanced by their party leadership in as part of a coordinated political push by Karl Rove and the White House political shop to mock and minimize the debate about the war and create the impression that there is broad support for the long-term occupation of Iraq. So, too, did most Democrats, who chose not to oppose the latest administration strategy, just as they refused to challenge the Republicans prior to the disastrous 2002 and 2004 elections.

Who were the six senators who refused to play Rove's game and voted for the "Bring the Troops Home" amendment?

Barbara Boxer of California.

Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

John Kerry of Massachusetts.

On the day when the 2,500th American died in the Iraq quagmire, the Senate was asked to approve the sentiment of the troops who say that it is time for them to get out of the middle of a foreign civil war.

The vast majority of senators decided to do the bidding of the president who deceived them about the "case" for war and who then played politics with national security and the lives of the young men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.

Only six members of the chamber charged with serving as the ultimate check and balance on the fools' missions of failed presidents chose to support the troops. Boxer, Byrd, Feingold, Harkin, Kennedy and Kerry will, of course, be vilified by Rove regenerated attack machine for having done so. It will be suggested that they sent the wrong message to the troops by voting as they did.

At the end of the day on which the American death toll topped 2,500, however, the only message the six senators sent to the troops was this: We agree with you.

The Peace Race

The peace majority is real.

A CBS poll finds that 80 percent of Democrats believe the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than 60 percent want US troops home as soon as possible. A Washington Post/ABC poll finds that 70 percent of Independents feel the war was not worth it, and 33 percent of Republicans agree. Even 72 percent of our troops believe US forces should leave Iraq in the next year.

So what are so many Democratic politicians so afraid of? And how do we translate this majority into a politics of change for the 2006 elections and beyond? How do we send a message from the grassroots – the people outside of the beltway – that ending this war matters, and that the time to show moxie and conviction is right now?

VotersForPeace has initiated the Peace Voter Pledge along with 18 other antiwar organizations – including United for Peace and Justice, itself a coalition of 1,400 local groups.

The pledge is focused on the Iraq war as well as potential armed conflicts such as that with Iran, and – using language crafted by The Nation in its cover editorial last November – it reads: "I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."

Linda Schade, spokesperson for Voters For Peace, points to a nationwide poll indicating that 67 percent of Democratic voters support or strongly support the wording of the pledge; 59 percent of Independents and a stunning 25 percent of Republicans support it as well.

"The Peace Majority is now here. Peace Voters are the new Soccer Moms," Schade said.

Peace Voters see how the war is undermining our security and causing a tragically unnecessary loss of life, while also depleting needed resources for healthcare, education, and the rebuilding of America.

Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action, expects hundreds of other groups to join in the Peace Voter Pledge effort. The goal is to obtain two million signatures in 2006 and Peace Action is aggressively promoting it online, while chapters and affiliates circulate it at local community events across the nation.

"Support for this war, or unwillingness to speak out against it, are both morally unacceptable," Martin said. "Democrats can't beat Karl Rove by offering no real alternative on this."

Which is exactly the point Sen. Russell Feingold made in a recent interview with Dan Balz and Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post: "If we don't show that we have a strong vision of how to complete that mission, bring the troops home, and refocus in a positive way in the fight against terrorism, I'm afraid people will once again by default, you know, hedge it and maybe allow Republicans to stay in power."

One Democrat who understands the painful consequences of hedging is Senator John Kerry. On Tuesday, the former Presidential candidate spoke at the fourth annual Take Back America conference and announced that he will soon sponsor an amendment to the defense spending bill demanding a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2006.

As the death toll has increased--more than 2,500 US troops have been killed to date--and voters have become increasingly disgusted with the war and the lack of Democratic action in opposing it, antiwar candidates have emerged as challengers to the status quo.

In Connecticut, where over 60 percent of voters oppose the war, Bush's favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman, is receiving a surprisingly stiff challenge from Ned Lamont. Lamont needed the support of 15 percent of the delegates at the state convention to secure a place on the August 8 primary ballot – he doubled that.

Even in instances where a challenger falls short – as occurred in last Tuesday's California primary between Marcy Winograd and hawkish incumbent, Jane Harman – these contests are forcing Democratic strategists who would water-down any position on Iraq to confront the depth and power of the antiwar sentiment. "The voters are sending a clear message to the party," Schade says.

In New York, writer and labor organizer Jonathan Tasini is challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary – a David and Goliath contest in which Tasini has no delusions about winning. But Tasini recently proved that Senator Clinton could not dictate Iraq policy at her own state convention, where he led a successful effort to pass a resolution labeling the decision to go to war an "error" and urging "a safe and orderly withdrawal of US forces."

Peace Action's Kevin Martin says, "In the end, we want politicians to know the power of the peace voters. Even in the so-called ‘safe districts.' We want them to see the political potential of our constituency."

Hopefully, the Democratic Party leadership will soon follow the lead of grassroots activists and courageous leaders such as Feingold, Kerry and Senate candidates, Rep. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, John Tester in Montana, and Bernie Sanders in Vermont.

As Feingold said, "America knows we have to regroup and refocus on the real fight against terrorism. So I don't understand why Democrats are so meek about basically associating themselves with the number one issue in America which is to find a way to end our huge military involvement in Iraq."

Let the race for peace begin. Sign the Peace Voter Pledge today.

2,500 Dead, No End in Sight

There's two new numbers to consider as the House holds a rigged debate on the Iraq war today.

One is 2,500. That's the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq, released by the Pentagon today. In the fourth year of the conflict, there's no end in sight.

The other number is 57. That's the percentage of Americans who believe we should decrease the number of troops in Iraq. Even with Abu Musab Zarqawi's capture, a majority of Americans are less than confident that Iraq will end well, and believe the war was a mistake.

53 percent of voters said Iraq was the top issue for them in the 2006 elections. Surely that number warrants more than ten hours of false debate.

Taking Back America

I'm just back from Washington, DC, where the Campaign for America's Future staged its fourth annual Take Back America conference at the Hilton hotel near DuPont Circle. Bringing together close to 2,000 of the country's most dedicated progressive activists and strategists for a series of speeches, conversations, panels, workshops and parties, TBA showcased a raft of innovative policy proposals, initiatives and projects. Also on hand to make speeches was much of the Democratic Party leadership, including Senators Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Russell Feingold and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately, the story out of the conference, according to most media accounts, was the division in the progressive community, demonstrated by the booing Senator Clinton received as she defended her opposition to a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. I was at the speech. Though she did get static on Iraq, the general response to her talk was overwhelmingly positive. She garnered five enthusiastic ovations by my count, and by the end of her speech--mere minutes after she supposedly alienated the crowd--she left to a standing ovation much, much, much louder than the earlier booing.

Now I'm not saying that the positive reaction was necessarily a good thing. My feeling was that she was able to win a legitimately progressive crowd over far too easily with hollow progressive rhetoric. (And this isn't a call for heckling either. I think it's worth listening to people with whom you disagree. You just don't have to cheer them madly!) But people's reactions are complicated. My only point is that I didn't leave the conference feeling the story was "the widespread disagreement among left Democrats," as a particularly egregious piece in the New York Sun reported yesterday, and as the Washington Post and New York Times have echoed in dispatches this week.

I thought the story was the remarkable set of new ideas being passionately detailed by a klatch of determined activists of varied political stripes. The energetic and intelligent remarks of Robert Biko Baker in the opening plenary had me checking my laptop for info on his organization, the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Baker's group is working to develop a political agenda and an organizational infrastructure for the hip-hop generation. The NHHPC's broad goal is to increase civic and community involvement among young adults between the ages of 16 and 35. Its national convention takes place in Chicago from July 20 to 23.

Led by the dynamic Rev. Lennox Yearwood, the DC-based Hip Hop Caucus is working with a similar constituency. Yearwood spoke at a panel I saw on Tuesday morning about the failed federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, which is basically about trying to force the government to address the plight of the hundreds of thousands of American citizens stranded without jobs, housing or hope by a government that is somehow blind to their fate. (Full disclosure: We're pleased to say that Rev. Yearwood will be joining the next Nation cruise as a guest speaker.)

Because I spent much of the session in the Katrina panel, I missed most of the concurrent blog discussion. But I did catch a little of the hyper-articulate blogger Glenn Greenwald, who is also a constitutional attorney with a New York Times best-seller out. The book, How Would A Patriot Act?, published by Working Assets, has shot to the best-seller lists through internet word-of-mouth and the power of the blogs. It's essentially one man's story of being galvanized into action to defend America's founding principles against an extremist administration run amok, and its success offers an instructive model for how a book can become a huge success while bypassing traditional means of distribution and promotion. Every other single blogger on the panel -- Chris Raab, Jerome Armstrong, Matt Stoller, Louis Pagan and Christy Hardin Smith -- is a master of the craft. If you're investing time in reading blogs, you should definitely be reading them.

The last panel I saw before leaving the conference a half-day early was smart and serious and the ideas put forth, if adopted, could help save America, and probably the world. Speaking generally about energy independence and more specifically about the Apollo Alliance, a broad coalition within the labor, environmental, business, and faith communities in support of good jobs and energy independence, the panel made a highly intelligible case for a radically revamped energy policy which would cut our addiction to oil, improve our national security, and, most importantly, give us a chance to stave off the terrors of global warming.

As people like Joel Rogers, Billy Parish and Jennifer Ito explained, the answers to our energy crisis are out there -- in fuel cells, in solar power, in wind technology, in hybrid synergy, in biofuels, in "green" buildings and in areas we don't yet know about. The popular will is out there too, as demonstrated partly by the great success of Parish's Campus Climate Challenge. The question, starting with this November's elections, is who will lead us there.

Finally, on my way out to catch a train, I was lucky to meet the talented Annabelle Gurwitch, an actress and author of a hilarious new book. Fired has deservedly received great press since its release last month. If you haven't heard about it, it's a collection of stories by people--including Felicity Huffman, Andy Borowitz, Morgan Spurlock, Harry Shearer, Anne Meara, Bill Maher and Jeff Garlin--recounting times in their lives that they've been fired. It's very cathartic really. And funny! Gurwitch's essay is one of the best and her experience of being fired from an off-Broadway play by Woody Allen is the wrenching, hilarious catalyst for the book. She nicely gave me a copy and I finished it before the Amtrak arrived in New York.

There's also a new film version--a first-person documentary written and directed by Gurwitch featuring stories from many of those in the book as well as an amazing rant from Ben Stein and some interesting observations from Robert Reich (who also contributes to the book.) But more than anything, the film takes the project a step further by trying to understand the increasing insecurity of the American worker in the global economy. Gurwitch attended job fairs, career retraining classes, met with human resource directors, took outplacement workshops and spent time with recently laid-off UAW workers. It's grim stuff but our guide never loses her sense of humor, her empathy or her grace.

The doc is available on DVD and will be broadcast on the Sundance cable channel. Check out the Fired website for info on how you can watch this highly creative project, and click here to tell Gurwitch your own story of being fired.