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Hagelberg! Bloomha! For '08! Maybe

"This country is in trouble. The world is in trouble. And we need some new, fresh, independent ideas to lead this country forward."

Sounds a like the opening line from a presidential campaign announcement speech. And it may just be.

Or, perhaps, it is a line from a vice-presidential campaign announcement.

What it almost certainly is not, however, is the message you'd expect to hear from a sitting senator who plans to seek reelection next year.

So it goes on Chuck Hagel Watch, which is rapidly becoming the most unconventional beat in American politics.

Today's indicators suggest that the renegade Republican solon from Nebraska is leaning toward launching an independent bid for national office.

Which office remains a matter of speculation.

Which party may be coming into focus. And here's a hint: It is neither grand nor old.

Hagel met two weeks ago with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another outsider Republican who has made little secret of his interest in stepping up the political ladder. Bloomberg has been exploring prospects for an independent run at the presidency for at least a year, even going so far as to make 2006 campaign appearances with an eccentric collection of non-New York candidates that included Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a different breed of maverick who was reelected last fall as the candidate of a self-named third party but caucuses somewhat uncomfortably with the Senate Democrats.

Now, Hagel is openly speculating about a Hagel-Bloomberg ticket, or perhaps a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket running on an independent line next year, or perhaps on the line of the Unity08 movement. Unity08 is the multipartisan grassroots coalition that has for months been trying to forge what its spokesman, actor and Nation reader Sam Waterston, refers to as "a third force in the middle" to fix a system that he describes as having been "broken" by consultants, spin doctors and hyper-partisan Democrats and Republicans.

Bloomberg has openly flirted with the Unity08 crew.

Hagel, who has flirted with a Republican presidential bid, an independent presidential bid, a campaign for reelection on the GOP line or an exit from politics, now sounds as if he is reading from the Unity08 playbook.

The senator says his Republican party, the party "of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan" has been "hijacked by a group of single-minded almost isolationists, insulationists, power-projectors." He peppers his commentary -- most recently on the CBS Sunday morning show "Meet the Press" -- with that talk of "new, fresh, independent ideas." And he says there is something appealing about "a New York boy and a Nebraska boy... teamed up leading this nation."

No, that's not an announcement. Just a big hint.

Bloomberg and Hagel still have a lot of differences to sort out.

The two men may be essentially on the same page regarding the Iraq imbroglio -- both are critics of President Bush's approaches, though Hagel is by far the more aggressive objector. But they have said very different things about U.S. relations with Israel. And when it comes to domestic policy, well, these guys are not just out of tune with one another, they are singing from different hymnals altogether. Bloomberg is a social liberal of the first order: pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-diversity, pro-strict separation of church and state, pro-gun control, pro-drug law reform, very friendly to immigrants and very open to raising tax rates when revenues are needed to maintain schools, public services and basic infrastructure. Hagel tends toward the other side of the debates on those issues.

Then, of course, there is the matter of who would top the Hagelberg ticket.

That said, Hagel really wants to be in the White House. And Bloomberg, a billionaire who can self-finance a national campaign, may be holding the best ticket. By the same token, Bloomberg also appears to be desirous of a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address, and he knows he could use a Midwesterner with military and legislative experience to broaden his appeal.

So the two men are talking, and hinting.

Bloomberg aides suggest that an in-or-out decision by the mayor won't come before early next year.

Hagel says he'll make some kind of announcement by late summer -- although if his track record is any indication it may only be the declaration that he isn't seeking a third term in the Senate.

For now, Hagel says, "I don't forgo any options."

Truer words have never been spoken by an American politician.

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

Big Business Invades Your Mailbox

Note: I appeared on American Public Media's Marketplace todayto talk about sharp increases in US postal rates that will have a serious impacton independent journals. Here's a transcript:

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: On July 15 postal rates for magazines are slated to go up...dramatically. It's nothing new really…postal rates are always going up. But this is different. In the past, most postage hikes were applied more or less across all publications. This time, big magazine publishers will get a big discount, small fry won't. A coalition of small magazines from The National Review on the right to The Nation magazine on the left say that's not fair. Here's Editor and Publisher of The Nation: Katrina vanden Heuvel.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The radical restructuring that small publications face could end upsilencing the diverse voices our Founding Fathers tried to foster whenthey created the national postal system.

Sure, like everyone else, we'd like to avoid a massive increase incosts. And it's not that we're afraid of intellectual competition; wewelcome it.

But postal policy for the past 215 years has played a pivotal role increating an extraordinarily free press. And we shouldn't let thismagnificent tradition change.

In this latest postal rate hike, the US Postal Service itself hadproposed a 12 percent increase that would have affected most magazinesmore or less equally.

Surprisingly, the Postal Regulatory Commission rejected that proposaland adopted a complicated alternative devised by the giant publisherTime Warner.

That proposal would give huge discounts to big magazines. But smallermagazines would have to swallow hikes of between 15 and 30 percent.

It looks like the Postal Service will adopt these rates withoutresearch into how it affects small and medium sized magazines, andwithout any meaningful public input.

For some small publications such huge and unexpected increases mayprove fatal. New periodicals will find it very tough to enter themarket. That means magazine publishing will get much lesscompetitive.

Time Warner argues that this is simply sane pricing by the postalauthorities to reward efficiency.

But wait a minute. The Postal Service is a monopoly. If magazineslike ours that require the post office to distribute our wares dislikethe onerous new rates, we have nowhere else to turn.

For decades, the Postal Service has always used its pricing mechanismto encourage smaller publications and competition.

From Madison and the Founders in the 1790s on, the idea was that lowrates for small publications made it possible to have the rich, open,and diverse media a self-governing people required.

No less than that is at stake today. For every American.

For more information, go to The Nation.com or stoppostalratehikes .com

For Mothers, the US is Not Number One (Not Even Close)

Last week your humble correspondent learned, over a dry repast of catered chicken with some of our nation's most influential men, that unlike Canada and many other civilized democracies, we cannot have single-payer health care because Dennis Kucinich is short. I wonder what these luminaries would say about a new report from Save the Children showing that the United States compares poorly to other developed countries on an equally basic measure.

Thomas Friedman and other pundits worry -- rightly -- that America is not going to remain competitive in the global economy for much longer. But we're lagging behind in other ways, too. Save the Children's eighth annual Mother's Index ranks 141 countries, and found Sweden, among more developed countries, the best place to be a mother. The United States is not even in the top twenty. The rankings are based on criteria for women's well-being -- lifetime risk of maternal mortality, maternity leave benefits, ratio of female-to-male earned income, expected number of years of formal female schooling, female life expectancy at birth, percentage of women using modern contraception women's participation in national government, and percentage of births attended by skilled health care professionals -- as well as the country's score on the organization's Children's Index. (Italy, by the way, is the best place in the developed world to be a kid, while the United States ranks a disgraceful thirtieth.) The criteria for the Children's Index are: mortality rate for kids under five and percentage of children enrolled in school (apologies to home-schoolers, but this does tend to be a decent indicator of how children are faring in a society). Interestingly, among the least developed countries, Cape Verde is number one for both mothers and children. Malawi didn't do badly either -- maybe Madonna should take that kid back!

In other Mother's Day news, fourteen national women's groups -- representing a combined constituency of 10 million women, according to Wake Up Wal-Mart -- signed a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott asking him to bring an end to the discrimination and mistreatment endured by the company's female employees. The letter launched a Mother's Day campaign by Wake Up Wal-Martwhich included actions in at least 43 cities, and a "Million Moms Call" reaching out to over one million families asking them to pledge not to buy Mother's Day gifts at Wal-Mart. In New York state, Governor Spitzer -- in response to a dogged campaign by the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers (of which I'm a member because I teach at CUNY) and ACORN -- has issued an executive order granting over 60,000 government-subsidized family day care providers the right to form a union and collectively bargain. That's great news for those hard-working women, who make about $2 an hour, and for the low-income mothers who send their children to them -- child-care workers who are better paid have access to further education and professional development, and can do a better job.

Michael Moore Exposes 'Sicko' US Cuba Policy

Michael Moore meet Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff. I think you'd both agree that the current US policy toward Cuba is the "dumbest policy on the face of the earth...It's crazy." (Note to rabid FOXers Gibson, Hannity and O'Reilly--those are Wilkerson's, not Moore's, words from a 2004 interview in GQ magazine.) What is Moore guilty of, according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asssets Control? Taking ailing 9-11 rescue workers in March to Cuba for a segment in his soon-to-be-released healthcare documentary "Sicko." But what he's really guilty of in the Bush Administration's sicko eyes is exposing the insanity of the US trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba--an embargo which has damaged families, violated the constitutional right to travel, harmed US business interests and the advancement of US security interests such as drug interdiction. As The Nation's just-published special issue on Cuba (and Moore's trip) makes crystal clear --it's high time to bring Cuba policy into the 21st century. Lift the embargo! Normalize relations!

Oh, Those Skinny Clavicles!

The New York Times' Style section is always good for a laugh -- nothing lights up my day like a breathlessly earnest piece on the new fanny pack masquerading as serious journalism. But the newspaper outdid itself yesterday with "The Collarbone's Connected to Slimness," a delightful meditation on the latest symptom of mad fashion-cow disease: skinny clavicles. Tormented by this season's roomy trapeze-style dresses -- the kind that would more easily accomodate a normal-sized (as in fat, fat, fat!) woman -- anorexic fashionistas are turning to their protruding collar-bones to establish their skinny cred:

"Sharply outlined collarbones say 'Don't let this tent dress fool you: Underneath it all, this girl can fit into a sample size.' 'The clothing threatens to make you look overweight and so you need a certain body to undo that threat,' said Virginia Blum, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky, who has written extensively on women and beauty. 'In that clothing, one has to find a way of revealing the authentically thin body.'"

Ah, if only authentic thin came so easy. Sure, my dear, you can count every vertebrae on your Darfur-esque bosom, but what about those gross rolls of fat you're hiding next to your liver and heart? Doctors have identified a new peril in the obesity epidemic: "TOFIs," folks who are "thin outside, fat inside." Worse news for the celery-chewing crowd is that they're the most likely to be secret fatties, since "people who maintain their weight through diet rather than exercise are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise slim." And so it is that most Sumo wrestlers are much healthier and "skinnier" inside than the average super-model.

Not that it matters to women who care more about what they're buried in than living long -- which in any case only means getting really, really old. How gross is that?!

Hillary, What Have You Done for Me Lately?

 My 10-year-old son is triumphant because he thinks he has me in a bind. He knows, from frequent dinnertime conversations, that I'm keen on Obama. And he assumes, because I wear my feminism on my sleeve, that I'll feel obligated to vote for Hillary so that we can celebrate the first woman president of the United States.

 "You'll have to vote for her because she's a girl," he taunts.

 "Woman." I correct, barely listening. How did I raise such an annoying child? "Eat your broccoli," I tell him. "I'm voting for Obama."

 "She'd be the first girl president ever," he sing-songs, as if he were dangling a piece of Godiva bitter-sweet chocolate in front of me.

 "Woman president," I correct. "And I like Obama."

My son thinks about this, chews his broccoli, speaks with his mouthful: "He'd be the first African-American president," my son tells me.

"Yes."

"Can I be excused to watch The Simpsons?"

"No."

"Are you just voting for him so we can have the first African American president?" he asks.

"No," I say. "I like him. He seems smart to me."

 "So even though we could have the first girl president ever, you're not going to vote for Hillary?"

 "Woman," I correct. "Yes."

 "Can I be excused now," he asks. "The Simpsons is practically over."

 "Drink your milk," I say. No Socratic grilling at the dinnertable, I think.

Then, he gets vindictive, super sly. "Did you know Obama goes to church? He's very religious."

"Go watch The Simpsons," I say. He must have seen the annoying New York Times article by Jodi Kantor last week, "A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith". Why do they run these articles on the front page where children can see them--and read those salacious headlines?

 "He talks about God all the time in his speeches."

 "He believes in a separation of church and state," I say. And then, I must explain what that is--and I do it so well that I almost persuade myself that I believe Obama believes this is a truly sacrosanct divide. I just wanna believe.

 "So you don't want a woman president?" he says, a dog with a bone.

"I do, but..."

 "What if Lisa Simpson were running? She's super smart. What if she were running against Obama?"

 "I'd vote for that girl in a second!" I agree. "She is super smart."

 "Woman," he corrects, and ducks out of the room to watch his show

 "She's eight!" I shout after him--and wonder if that children's military academy that's always advertising a disciplined respect for authority in the back of The New York Times magazine has any openings?

 

A Browner Shade of Blair? Or Better?

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair will not step down until late June. But, with his announcement that he is leaving politics after ten years as the leader of Britain's government, the national media has already shifted over to speculation about the past-his-sell-by-date prime minister's determination to make a fortune on the international lecture circuit -- "The Blair Rich Project," the BBC has dubbed it -- and on his successor.

Blair's slow exit strategy should benefit his long-time man in waiting, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who will spend the coming week's campaigning for a coronation.

Brown hopes to secure the Labour Party leadership without a fight and then assume the prime ministership on Blair's exit. If he does so -- as is likely -- it will be the end of one of the most extended periods of understudy in British political history.

Brown, who famously cut a deal in the mid-199Os to let Blair serve first as prime minister, inherits a difficult circumstance. Indeed, the new issue of Britain's Spectator magazine features a cover headline, "Over to You, Gordon," illustrated by Blair flashing a middle finger at Brown.

While Britain itself is more prosperous and functional than when Blair and Brown took over after 18 years of Conservative misrule by Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the willingness of Blair to act as "George Bush's poodle" in foreign affairs has taken its political toll not just from the sitting prime minister but from his Labour Party -- which is at its lowest point in the polls in decades.

So determined is Blair's party to distance itself from him that, on the day the prime minister announced he was retiring, his "New Labour, New Britain" slogan was struck from the party website. It was replaced with the word "Labour" and the traditional red rose of the left.

But it will take more than a rose to change the fortunes of a party that has seen its appeal sink since Blair signed on for George "I will miss you, Tony" Bush's war of whim.

Even the conservative Times of London ridiculed Blair's exit with a cartoon that had the prime minister's teeth forming the letters "I-R-A-Q."

"I can't help but feel I'm about to witness the passing of the most gifted British politician of my adult lifetime," explains journalist Jonathan Freedland, echoing popular sentiment. "And I can't help but feel that Iraq means he squandered the opportunity those gifts gave him."

Historian Eric Hobsbawm offers a similar assessment: "Tony Blair, a gifted but unthinking politician perfectly suited to the media age, will be remembered for winning three elections, but failing to build 'new Labour,' for Iraq, and -- not impossibly -- for breaking up the United Kingdom. In spite of a very respectable domestic record, his period of government demoralized Labour's traditional supporters and antagonized the liberal/progressive educated classes."

Can Brown, who as the Cabinet member charged with overseeing the economy crafted the budgets that did so much to revitalize education, health care and the infrastructure of Britain, gain popular credit for the Blair government's domestic successes while distancing himself from its foreign-policy blunders?

"I'd be surprised if he didn't take some bold initiative," says Tony Benn, a Labour stalwart who served more than five decades in parliament and was a member of the Cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan before emerging as the leader of the party's broad left. "And he would be wise to take it with regard to Iraq."

Benn, like most Labour Party members, is passionately opposed to Britain's role in Iraq. Announcing the withdrawal of British troops from what's left of Bush's "coalition of the willing" would strengthen Brown's hand as a contestant for the party leadership, which he must secure in order to serve as prime minister, says Benn, and it would also make him a stronger contender in the next national election.

"For the first time in my life, the public is to the left of what is called a Labour government," says Benn, who is frequently ranked as one of the most popular and respected figures in British politics. "Brown needs to steer the party to the left if he wants to reconnect with the grassroots, not just the Labour grassroots but the electoral grassroots."

Benn holds out some small hope for Brown. Unlike Blair, the man who is positioned to be be Britain's next prime minister has deep roots in the Labour Party's Scottish heartlands. While Blair's background was Tory blue, Brown's is Labour red. And there has always been a sense within Labour circles that Brown is a bit more committed to socialism -- with its emphasis on economic equality, social justice and peace -- than to the neo-liberal economic policies and nec-conservative international policies of Blair and his "New Labour" experiment.

Brown seemed to signal his lean to the left with a high-profile declaration that he would like to style himself as something of a British Bobby Kennedy -- a man of the establishment determined to stand up for the disenfranchised.

"Unlike Blair, Gordon Brown does have good Labour roots," says Benn. "He understands socialism in ways that Blair never did and I think he respects the traditions of the party a little more. His writings and some of his speeches certainly suggest that he has more depth. But, after ten years of New Labour, in which Brown was an active if perhaps not always enthusiastic participant, he is going to have signal that he intends to set a new course."

Benn remains especially dubious about Brown's corporate-friendly economic strategies -- even if they are paired with significant social investment -- and about whether the potential prime minister really will break with Bush on Iraq and other foreign policy issues. As such, Benn supports efforts by the Labour left to mount a leadership challenge to Brown. A pair of parliamentarians, John McDonnell and Michael Meacher, have both announced challengers. Meacher has a good deal of support from left-wing members of the party caucus in parliament, while McDonnell has obtained a decent measure of backing from union members and grassroots party members. McDonnell's book, "Another World Is Possible: A Manifesto for 21st Century Socialism" has been widely circulated in party circles. As of now, however, it is not clear whether either man has the necessary support from Labour's parliamentary caucus to force a leadership fight

Even if a leadership vote is scheduled, neither Meacher nor McDonnell -- who have struggled to reach agreement that would see the weaker of the two stand down in order to strengthen the left's challenge -- is likely to upset Brown. The power of incumbency is strong, and the challengers do not have Brown's stature. But Benn hopes that Labour will see a leadership fight. "It will do Brown good to have to campaign for the leadership," he says. "Blair leaves as a man who is broadly seen as having broken faith with Labour and the country. Fighting and winning a leadership vote would, I think, help Brown to establish himself as something more than a Blairite -- which, of course, he needs to do."

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

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

Iraqi parliament votes to end the occupation

The American public favors withdrawal

The cause of Democracy apparently demands we ignore both.

The Real Mother’s Day Tradition

"Arise then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears!" So begins the original Mother's Day proclamation of 1870, written by Julia Ward Howe, who also authored "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as an anti-slavery activist in 1862.

In a new video by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films, in collaboration with CODEPINK, Gloria Steinem explains the original intent behind Ward Howe's Mother's Day idea: "Mother's Day really was in its origin an anti-war day, an anti-war statement. Julia Ward Howe was sickened by what had happened during the Civil War--the loss of life, the carnage. And she created Mother's Day as a call for women all over the world, to come together, and create ways of protesting war, of making a kind of alternate government that could finally do away with war as an acceptable way of solving conflict."

"Say firmly: 'We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, andpatience….'"

The video renews the original Mother's Day call for women's leadership in pursuing peace, offering support for the organization No More Victims as a concrete way to take action and help Iraqi children who have been wounded in the war.

Alfre Woodard explains her motivation to take part in the video and support this Mother's Day renewal: "My mother used to say all the time, ‘I look after people's kids, because one day I know somebody will look after my kids. I feed people's kids, because I know somebody one day will feed my kids.' That informs a lot of who I am as a mother. That I know I'm not only parenting Mavis and Duncan, but I'm responsible for every child that comes through."

"Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace… to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

Women are indeed taking action this Mother's Day to "promote the great and general interests of peace" as Ward Howe advocated nearly 150 years ago. The Peace Alliance will be promoting H.R. 808--Representative Dennis Kucinich's legislation that would create a Department of Peace and Nonviolence. The bill now has 65 cosponsors and on Friday "Peace Pies" will be delivered to 150 Senators and Representatives from 38 states to encourage them to sign onto the bill. (A pie will be delivered to Sen. Hillary Clinton at her New York City office at 11:00 am.) There will be a sliver missing from each pie, representing less than 1 percent of the federal discretionary budget required to establish the proposed cabinet-level department.

Similar efforts to create ministries of peace are taking place throughout the world, including in England, Italy, Israel, Japan, and Canada. Here in the US the annual cost would be less than the current cost of just one month of war, according to Peace Alliance Executive Director, Dot Maver.

"Julia Ward Howe was a visionary," Maver says. "The Peace Alliance and each of the 50 individual state campaigns are working to establish a US Department of Peace to help make her dream of a world without war a reality."

"Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" Ward Howe wrote in a journal entry.

CODEPINK certainly will continue to "interfere" in these matters of war. Its activists will be in DC on Thursday to lobby Congress on the Bush War and the Defense Budget, and also attend some notable hearings including Rep. John Murtha's on Contracting in Iraq (where Robert Greenwald and Nation contributor Jeremy Scahill are scheduled to testify). Throughout the weekend there will be theatre, film, discussions, a "Rock the Media" event, receptions, and other activities to promote peace and reinvigorate the original intention of Mother's Day.

The weekend will culminate with a Kids Peace March and Festival on Sunday, and a "Mother of A March" on Monday – when Cindy Sheehan calls on all mothers to surround Congress and demand an end to the occupation.

"From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.'"

Chocolates are great, and should be given frequently and generously to mothers, partners and friends alike. But there is nothing – nothing – sweeter than peace. Julia Ward Howe understood that, and this weekend we mothers resolve once again to pursue her cause.