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The Nation

Salvaging Their Future

You still sometimes hear periodic laments from progressives over the apathy of today's students in the face of major political turmoil. The Nation's investigations, however, have turned up a new generation of student activists engaged with the issues of the day and creatively and courageously working against the forces of reaction the magazine regularly chronicles.

Sam Graham-Felsen's new Nation magazine piece detailing the accomplishments of the group Students for a New American Politics (SNAP) helps demonstrate that students are not currently lacking in either political commitment or savvy.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle recently helped make the same point. Citing the efforts of students to promote clean energy and efficiency as influential in his decision, Governor Doyle announced a massive five-year program to make four University of Wisconsin campuses completely energy independent.

The program – endorsed by the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group -- comes in the wake of significant student action. Students across the University of Wisconsin system have been active for several years at both the campus and local level, promoting sustainable policies and educating students and the general public about clean energy solutions.

The program will ensure that 100 percent of each campus's energy supply comes from clean sources like wind and solar, as well as biomass, which has significant potential as a homegrown fuel in Wisconsin. Details of the energy independence program can be found by clicking here.

Meanwhile, in Maine Bowdoin College has been powered by renewable electricity since July, after a student-run campaign last spring succeeded in securing a commitment from President Barry Mills and Treasurer Catherine Longley for the purchase of one hundred percent "clean" renewable energy on its campus. The school is now buying 12 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power per year from Miller Hydro Group -- the owner of the only certified low impact hydroelectric facility in Maine.

At the College of the Atlantic (COA), as Ben Adler reports for Campus Progress, the environmental movement received a jolt that could reverberate last Friday when new COA president David Hales announced a commitment to making the school a "Net-zero" emitter of greenhouse gases. "If institutions across the country begin to follow suit," Adler writes, "the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions--and the concomitant reduction in global warming--could be significant."

In Colorado students are also in the forefront of fighting for their futures, starting with the state's House Bill 1147, which would establish energy efficiency programs for Colorado consumers. Republican governor Bill Owens has already vetoed the bill once, but he's in an increasingly tight race to keep office this November, so there's still hope that he'll sign the popular bill if it gets re-submitted by the Colorado Legislature. As the student-run CoPirg's useful fact-sheet notes, the bill would enable utilities to give consumers rebates on new efficiency products, and require the utility companies to reduce energy consumption twenty-five percent by 2011. (If you're a Colorado citizen, click here to ask the governor to support the bill.)

If you're a student and want to help move your campus toward energy independence, check out the Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) website. The CCC--which I wrote about last August--isa project of more than thirty environmental and social justice groups in the US which runs clean energy drives on campuses nationwide as well as taking part in municipal and state-level advocacy and public education campaigns. If you're not a student, don't dis the kids. Celebrate and support what they're doing.

Armitage's 5 Year Plan

Former Deputy Secretary of State (and Valerie Plame leaker) Richard Armitage called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq yesterday. Sort of.

"We notify the Iraqis that we're going to be drawing down a reasonable but careful percentage of our troops over a reasonable interval of months--just for example, 5 percent of troops every three months," Armitage told students at New Jersey's DeSales University.

Under Armitage's plan, US troops won't leave Iraq until 2011.

The Army has its own plan to keep the current number of US forces in the country until 2010. And President Bush told Bob Woodward that he'll stick with the war even if only Laura and terrier Barney support him.

But at least Armitage is talking about leaving. That's more than you can say for most Republicans these days, including Armitage's latest foreign policy advisee, John McCain.

The Fish Rots From the Head Down

When historians look back on our times and try to pinpoint the moment when the American century became the Chinese era, they may emphasize a recent battle over labor practices. To be specific, the Chinese government has drafted a law to strengthen the rights of unions to organize and fight workplace abuse while the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai has lobbied against reform, threatening to discourage the opening of US factories in China if the law is passed.

It is an important moment because it represents the first time in the last three decades that the Chinese have questioned the American neoliberal model of economic development and sought to chart their own course. Responding to the vast inequality and social unrest created by what has essentially been Robber Baron capitalism, the Chinese, especially its New Left intellectuals, may well be rediscovering the role of social justice, collective organizing, the welfare state, and workers' rights.

This moment also exposes the fundamental cynicism of American multi-national corporations. Having already used the cheap labor supplied by Chinese factories to undermine US labor unions and lay off hundreds of thousands of American workers, they are now employing similar tactics in China.

What with the passage of legislation sanctioning torture and, now, US multinationals signing onto crushing domestic and overseas labor unions--so much for America's moral authority.

The Conservative Dodge

I often disagree with TNR's Peter Beinart. But his latest essay, debunking the myth that George W. Bush isn't really a conservative, is dead on.

"Rarely has so widespread a view been so wrong," Beinart writes. "In fact, Bush is not merely conservative; he is more conservative than Ronald Reagan, the man whose ideological legacy he has supposedly betrayed."

The argument being peddled by conservative intellectuals is as disingenuous as the argument made by liberal hawks that they didn't know Bush would screw up Iraq so badly.

It's a convenient excuse for movement conservatives. The governing philosophy isn't the problem, the man is. Yet it's factually inaccurate and a gross misrepresentation of history.

In fact, Bush's policies were always the problem. "Conservatives aren't turning on Bush because his policies aren't conservative," Beinart writes. "They are turning on him because his policies, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, have dramatically failed--and failed policies, by definition, cannot be conservative. Poor George W. Bush. His supporters fear the Democrats, but they fear cognitive dissonance far more."

Republicans Who Care (And Those Who Don't)

A group of venerable moderate Republican millionaires are starting a new group, Republicans Who Care. As Ellen Miller writes on TPM Cafe, "Does that mean that the rest of the Republicans are members of 'Republicans Who Don't Care'?"

And what precisely do the moderates care about? According to Bloomberg News, the group is raising money for "Republicans who favor balanced federal budgets and believe government should take a hands-off approach on such issues as abortion." The candidates they're planning to help include Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Reps. Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, Martha Rainville and Deborah Pryce.

But do these candidates stand up on the aforementioned issues? Take abortion. Pryce had only a 40 percent rating from NARAL last year and is the fourth-ranking Republican in a GOP leadership that is adamantly pro-life.

The rest of the aforementioned Republicans voted for the Bush tax cuts that bloated the federal deficit.

And if Lincoln Chafee is re-elected to the Senate, he'll vote for Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hardly a moderate.

It doesn't seem like the rich Republican "moderates" are getting too much bang for their buck.

Voting for Impeachment

From Vermont to Illinois to California, voters this fall will be deciding the fate not just of candidates for Congress but of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Communities that are home to more than 1 million Americans will have an opportunity to cast ballots on the question of whether Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against the president and vice president.

Only the U.S. House of Representatives can impeach a member of the executive branch, and only the Senate can convict the targeted official and remove him from office. But the founders always intended for citizens to have a voice in the process. Thomas Jefferson, who argued that power must ultimately rest in the people, as they alone are the surest defenders of the republic and its democratic aspirations, observed, "It behooves our citizens to be on their guard, to be firm in their principles, and full of confidence in themselves. We are able to preserve our self-government if we will but think so."

Duly troubled by a president and vice president who have launched wars without congressional declarations, who have spied without warrants, who have disregarded and disdained the Constitution, citizens across the country have put themselves to the task of preserving self-government by raising the call for impeachment. Dozens of communities have considered resolutions calling on Congress to act, and this fall's referendums will raise the volume.

The precise wording of the questions varies from town to town. Prepared with the assistance of activists with the Constitution Summer project (www.constitutionsummer.org), the propositions in San Francisco and Berkeley read like actual articles of impeachment. In urging members of the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, for instance, San Francisco's Proposition J goes far beyond now standard complaints regarding abuses of power related to invasion and occupation of Iraq and argues for holding the administration to account for the mismanagement of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The proposal is more to the point in tiny Pittsville, Wisconsin -- population 866 -- where voters will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on a local resolution that declares: "The U.S. House of Representatives should start an impeachment investigation against President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney now."

If the voters say yes, says Bob Hoch, organizer of the Wood County Impeachment Coalition's petition drives, a call to act will be dispatched to the state's congressional delegation -- two of whom, Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore, have already joined a House call for an impeachment inquiry.

There are those who will suggest that referendum votes in handful of communities as distinct as San Francisco and Pittsville can't possibly mean much to the national discourse. But, surely, the cynics are wrong.

The referendums in those communities, and Montpelier, Vermont, and Urbana, Ill., and other locales across the land are classic illustrations of the petitioning for the redress of grievances that the Constitution does not merely protect but in fact encourages. The impeachment-from-below movement is the modern-day expression of the oldest of American ideals: No man, be he pauper or president, shall stand above the law. And it is wholly appropriate that it is beginning at the municipal level.

Former Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham, was asked during a recent visit to San Francisco: "Do you think that's the way we should go about impeachment -- municipally?"

"I don't see why not," Lapham, one of the Republic's most thoughtful and consistent defenders, replied. "I don't see any other way to go about it. I think that the impetus for any revival for democratic government is going to come not from a national level but from a municipal and state level."

There is something satisfying about the fact that the communities that are voting on impeachment -- which range from urban centers to college towns to rural towns -- cannot be stereotyped. That is as it should be, says Buzz Davis, the Veterans for Peace activist who has been leading the impeachment campaign that has qualified two referendums for the November ballots in Wisconsin cities and hopes to qualify many more for next spring's local election ballots. "Impeachment is not a partisan issue but a question of whether our nation will live under the rule of law as our Founding Fathers believed," argues Davis.

James Madison said that "it may, perhaps, on some occasion, be found necessary to impeach the president himself."

It would come as no surprise to Madison or Jefferson that citizens are the first to recognize the occasion and to call upon Congress to act. Nor would this trouble the founders; indeed, they would say that the impeachment-from-below movement is the truest expression of the patriotism that alone will preserve the republic.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

November Surprise?

The US-backed special tribunal in Baghdad signalled Monday that it will likely delay a verdict in thefirst trial of Saddam Hussein to November 5. Why hasn't the mainstream mediaconnected the dots between the Saddam's judgment day and the midtermelections?

Here's how the story was reported pretty much everywhere: "An Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein for thekilling of Shi'ite villagers in the 1980s could deliver a verdict onNovember 5, officials said, a ruling which could send the ousted leaderto the gallows…"

A possible death-sentence for Saddam and his top lieutenants on November 5? Now, shouldn't that raise a few eyebrows somewhere? If you happento have a calendar close at hand, pull it over and take a quick look. That verdict would then come, curiously enough, just two days before themidterm elections. It's the sort of thing that--you would think--thatany reporter with knowledge of the US election cycle (no less of howKarl Rove has worked these last years) would at least note in anarticle. But no, you can search high and low without finding areference to this in the mainstream media.

I must admit I hadn't thought about this myself until a friend forwardedme "No Comment," the e-mail newsletter that ScottHorton sends out from time to time. ("It's intended as ironic. AllI do is comment.") Horton, who likes to identify himself in hisnewsletter as an "obscure New York lawyer," is actually an adjunctprofessor at the Columbia University Law School, as well as chairman ofthe International Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association. He makes frequent trips to Iraq, working as an attorney"representing arrested local-hire reporters of US media."

Once he had pointed out the timing in his newsletter, I couldn't get itout of my head and, since a Google search and a spin through variousmainstream articles on the changed verdict date, brought up only acouple of passingmentions online of its relationship to the US elections, I calledHorton directly. Here's what he had to say when I asked whether hethought Karl Rove might have anything to do with this:

"For sure. That November 5 date is designed to show some progress inIraq. This is the last full news-cycle day in the US before theelections. It'll be Monday. And the American public will see Saddamcondemned to death and see it as a positive thing.

"When you look at polling figures," Horton said," there have been threesignificant spike points. One was the date on which Saddam wascaptured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third wasZarqawi being killed. Based on those three, it's easy to project thatthey will get a mild bump out of this.

"After all, almost every newspaper reserves space for Iraq reportingevery day. This just assures that they will have a positive news storyto feature. I find it amazing not that journalists don't editorializeon this, but that they report the story without even noting that this isright before the midterm elections. That's pretty amazing to me!

"This is not coincidence," he continued. "Nothing in Iraq that'sset up this far in advance is coincidental. Look at Michael Gordon'sbook Cobra II. One of the points he drives home ishow everything in the battle for Baghdad was scripted for US mediaconsumption.

"In fact, in my experience, everything that comes out of Baghdad is verycarefully prepared for American domestic consumption.

"As for Saddam's trial itself, I've spoken with dozens of lawyers andjudges in Iraq and they have a uniformly very negative opinion of thisspecial tribunal. Everybody -- pretty consistently across the board,and despite the fact that there's no love lost for Saddam himself--has ahigh level of irritation about the tribunal. Judges have said to me, ‘Iwouldn't serve on that. I wouldn't have anything to do with it. It's ablot on our country.' Their main point of criticism is its lack ofindependence. There is a team of American lawyers working as speciallegal advisors out of the US embassy, who drive the whole thing. Theyhave been involved in preparing the case and overseeing it from thebeginning. The trial, which is shown on TV, has mild entertainmentvalue for Iraqis, but they refer to it regularly as an American puppettheater."

Still, scheduling the announcement of what will almost certainly be a futureexecution to give yourself one last shot at a bump in the polls?

Welcome to Bushworld.

[If you are interested in receiving Scott Horton's "No Comment," you canrequest it at Shorton99@aol.com.]

Trudeau’s Sandbox

Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau had a terrific idea which he introduced in his Sunday strip. Explaining that the public is "increasingly disconnected from the troops," in part because it has become increasingly dangerous for reporters to cover the war, Trudeau created a milblog for troops to "report on themselves" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Sandbox offers soldiers a forum to share "… the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd."

"I think the wars are just too remote for people's minds," Trudeau said. "They see two, three minutes on the evening news, maybe, if they don't look away."

Visit the site for authentic, first-hand accounts of soldiers' experiences. Here are some excerpts from recent posts:

"Tadpole," serving in Special Ops in Afghanistan, posts: "While I was home on leave recently, all the talk on every news channel was about the 10-year-old murder case of a little girl, hardly any mention of the war at all. When there is mention of the war, it's almost always of Iraq. Many people seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan altogether. Many of us over here feel like the forgotten bastard step-children of war. We get the leftover equipment, and very little recognition."

Staff Sergeant Emily Joy Schwenkler writes from Baghdad: "It is extremely hard to be here and not question the people and events that led to our being here. I don't question my own personal choice to be here. I ran, not walked, to my local recruiter with the desire to serve my country…. But there is no "winning" here. I can see the signs that our government is beginning to realize the same thing, beginning its modern-day version of Vietnamization…."

"Spc. O," stationed in Iraq, observes, "It's easy to say ‘WE have to go to war' if you're not WE, and it's easy to say ‘Bring home the troops' if they are not your brothers getting left behind on the return trip."

Zachary Scott-Singley describes his first Memorial Day after returning from Iraq: "The memories, and feeling that guilt for coming back alive while so many others have died, both soldiers and civilians. That was all I could think about that day: Why me? God, why did you let me live when you took so many others? But it wasn't God; it was us, mankind that did this."

Trudeau is relying on word-of-mouth to promote the site and is already pleased with the traffic. "We're in the odd position of not wanting to be too successful," he said. "We really don't have the resources to edit and post more than four to five submissions (and their comments) a day."

Check out what the troops have to say at The Sandbox. It's a great opportunity to hear from those making the greatest sacrifices and directly bearing the consequences of these wars.

Retail Workers Fight Back

Yesterday, more than 200 Wal-Mart workers held a demonstration in front of a Wal-Mart store in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. In the first significant protest ever organized by Wal-Mart employees in the United States, workers objected to managers cutting their hours, and to the company's insistence on employees' "open availability," as well as to a new, more stringent attendance policy. It's courageous of these workers, who are part of a Florida group called "Associates at Wal-Mart," to speak out publicly and demand better treatment. Let's hope their protest is a turning point in the fight for workers' rights at Wal-Mart, and that more workers will be emboldened by the Florida workers' example and begin to organize. Too much of the debate over Wal-Mart takes place without the perspective of the true experts -- the workers themselves.

Speaking of retail workers, the IWW's Starbucks campaign -- which I've mentioned on this blog before -- is growing, and having some encouraging effects. Workers have organized in New York City, and, this summer, Chicago. Last week, the company raised its Chicago workers' wages, increasing starting pay by thirty cents (to $7.80) and promising that if an employee gets a favorable performance review, her pay will go up to $8.58 after six months. New York City workers will make $9.63 an hour after six months on the job (and a favorable review), which means that the IWW campaign will have raised many employees' wages by nearly 25% in two and a half years. The company insists that the raise has nothing to do with the union, but that claim simply isn't credible. As Daniel Gross, who was recently fired for from Starbucks for union organizing, points out, the wage increase "isn't justified by macroeconomic factors, or by any factors other than the union. Real wages for other workers in New York City haven't increased by 25%, or anywhere near that!"

Of course, as Daniel points out, even with the increase, Starbucks workers do not make a living wage. He also stresses that the wage increase needs to be viewed in the context of Starbucks' anti-union campaign: "The company still doesn't recognize the union's right to exist." Starbucks still has a long way to go before the reality behind its counters matches its socially-responsible image.