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The Nation

Food Fight!

The fast food industry is taking a few knocks lately. Eric Schlosser, author of the phenomenally successful Fast Food Nation, has just published a kid's book, Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. A feature film version of Fast Food Nation -- slightly fictionalized, and directed by the splendid Richard Linklater -- will hit theaters this fall. Troubled that Schlosser's work is reaching a wider audience, the industry, joined by right-wing groups concerned about "anti-business" messages, is spending a lot of time and money trying to rebut his claims, according to an illuminating report in the Wall Street Journal.

Just as exciting, throughout this spring, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been pressuring McDonald's to improve pay and conditions for the workers picking its tomatoes. The CIW represents the Florida farmworkers that organized the four-year Taco Bell boycott, which, through the organizing efforts of workers and consumers --especially students -- nationwide, compelled the Bell's parent company, Yum Brands to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes, the paltry amount needed to ensure the tomato pickers a living wage. The CIW is also trying targetting Chipotle, which has a "Food WIth Integrity" marketing shtick -- er, sorry, I meant "mission statement " -- to expand that definition of "integrity" beyond humane treatment of animals and healthy production of vegetables to fair conditions for the workers who harvest the produce. (You'd think they could commit to treating fellow humans at least as well as animals.) Chipotle is a personal favorite of mine; I love the food, so I hope the company will sit up and take notice. CIW has a polite-but-firm letter you can send to the very rich guys who run these fast-food chains. (This is the sort of action that can accomplish something, unlike, say, not shopping at Target because you heard that the company was just as bad as Wal-Mart, which is the sort of individualistic quest for moral purity in shopping that drives me crazy.) This farmworkers' group is one of the more effective labor organizations in the US today, winning victories despite representing some of the most marginalized workers in our economy. The CIW not only draws bad publicity to companies, but marshals consumer outrage to bring about change -- not easy to do.

The Real John Conyers

The Republicans are waging a desperate campaign of Rovian proportions to maintain their one-party reign in Congress. Fear, as we have seen time and again, is their most powerful weapon and they have caricatured Rep. John Conyers as a worst possible outcome of a Democratic victory.

As they fill the airwaves with claims of Conyers run amok--conducting immediate impeachment hearings--their clear aim is to manipulate Americans so they will remain in a perpetual state of fear. "So terrified," New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recently and powerfully observed, "that they will not object to the steady erosion of their rights and liberties." But central to defense of this nation is defense of its constitutional values, not just its physical security.

With that in mind, it is clear that the real threat today comes from President Bush and his administration. In blatant violation of established law, and centuries-old precedent, they have wiretapped American citizens; imprisoned citizens without warrants,charges or means of redress; ignored clear Congressional legislative intent; disabled Congressional oversight of their actions; and suppressed dissent and public-minded disclosure within the executive branch itself. This abuse and overreach of Presidential power directly challenges the "checks and balances" at the core of our constitutional design.

Even true conservatives now get it. A new Cato Institute study details how the President has weakened the constitutional order, and documents a pattern of "a ceaseless push for power, unchecked by either the Courts or Congress" on issues ranging from war powers, habeas corpus, and federalism to free speech and unwarranted surveillance.

Maybe Rove and his wrecking crew need to blanket the airwaves denouncing true conservatives?

In the meantime, to understand the real John Conyers read his op-ed in the Washington Post from Thursday. Here you will find a responsible, powerful, and constitutionally grounded voice which is all too rare in our leaders today.

Immigration and the Security-Technology Complex

Among the chilling proposals in Bush's immigration speech was a plan for a "new identification card for every legal foreign worker" that would use "biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof." Tamper-proof, maybe, but would Bush's scheme be corruption-proof?

Not if current U.S. efforts at producing hi-tech ID cards are a sign of things to come. In a series of articles for the New York Times, Eric Lipton has documented the pork and corruption that's plauging Homeland Security's plans for a "tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers." At the heart of the scandal is Kentucky Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, the chair of the subcommittee that determines DHS's budget, and a raft of security and technology companies that contributed lavishly to Rogers' campaign, paid for junkets to Hawaii, employed his son or are based in his home district.

The latest wrinkle in the saga involves Irish firm Daon, which bills itself as "a leading provider of biometric identity management software." According to Lipton, Daon paid for Rogers to attend a "July 2005 conference and golf outing" in Dublin. Consequently it, along with the American Association of Airport Executives, was awarded a no-bid contract to "manage what could turn into contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for a new airport-security program and to issue tamperproof identification cards to millions of transportation workers." Oh yeah, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge serves on the board of Daon which is backed by venture capitalist Dermot Desmond.

Last week, after protests from other companies in the security-technology complex, DHS scuttled the deal and opened the contract up to bidders. But Daon is still very much in the mix. And not just in the United States.

Daon recently landed a contract with Qatar to provide a "National Indentity Smartcard" using "finger, face and iris biometrics" for all citizens and residents. Daon CEO Tom Grissen said, "we have always believed that the Gulf region is of strategic importance to Daon and have built a team of technology and service experts who are focused on addressing our customer needs in the territory."

And according to the company's website, Daon has a contract with Ireland to create "an automated Visa application and tracking system for foreign nationals." Daon also provides "core biometric identity assurance software" to immigration officials in Australia which is currently debating a national ID card. With countries like Japan also considering biometric identification of foreigners, Daon's future in what it calls "advanced border control and immigration management systems" looks bright indeed.

"An Affront to the Constitution"

It's an election year, so, quick, let's amend the Constitution.

Absurd as it sounds, that is the thinking of the Senate Republican leadership, which is rushing to draft, debate and endorse a whole new section of the Constitution by the week of June 5.

Why the hurry to tinker with the 219-year-old document?

Poll numbers for Congressional Republicans are in a bad place, so bad that there is serious talk about the prospect that the party could lose the House or Senate, or perhaps both chambers, in November. And the approval ratings for President Bush, the party's campaigner-in-chief, are trolling in Nixon-during-Watergate depths that suggest he may not be able to rally the conservative base as he did so effectively in 2002 and 2004.

Hence the hurry to dig up the next big-bang issue for the GOP.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, thinks he has struck political paydirt. He wants to amend the Constitution to declare that, along with freedom of speech, assembly and worship, Americans also have the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Frist wants the Constitution to declare not just that "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman" but that "Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

So much for state's rights. And you can forget about that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness business.

The Grand Old Party's in trouble, so someone is going to have to pay, and in this case it's same-sex couples who dare to fall in love and then seek the same basic protections for their relationships that everyone else expects.

The rush to amend the Constitution in time to bring the marriage debate front and center for the fall campaign – now that the immigration issue has blown up on the party – had Senate Republicans so preoccupied Thursday that they bent the rules to the breaking point.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, scheduled the session where the committee voted 10-8 to approve the amendment in a room where access by the press and the general public was restricted. When Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who ardently opposes the amendment, suggested that perhaps the work of amending the Constitution ought to be conducted in a more open manner, Specter growled, I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I."

For good measure, the chairman added, "If you want to leave, good riddance."

Feingold thanked the senior Republican for the lecture and departed, explaining that, "Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward with the markup over my objection. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader has set a politically motivated schedule for floor consideration of this measure that the Chairman felt compelled to follow, even though he says he opposes the amendment."

Feingold added, "Constitutional amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate consideration of any matter that comes before the Senate. In addition to hearings and a subcommittee markup, such a measure should be considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day, open to the press and the public, with cameras present so that the whole country can see what is done. Open and deliberate debate on such an important matter cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the Chairman of the Committee today.

"The Constitution of the United States is an historic guarantee of individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an example to people around the world who yearn to be free and to live their lives without government interference in their most basic human decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to support and defend the Constitution. I will continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor."

The Tragedy of Undue Pressure

Last month I wrote about Haditha, Iraq and allegations that innocent Iraqi civilians had been shot and killed by a unit of U.S. Marines. Today, Rep. John Murtha stated that a military investigation will confirm that over a dozen civilians were indeed murdered.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Murtha said. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."

Murtha noted the "undue pressure" on the troops because of the "poor planning and allocation of resources by the Bush administration."

Murtha described the killings as a response to what Nation Institute Fellow Chris Hedges would call an "atrocity-producing situation."

"One [Marine] was killed with an IED," Murtha said. "And after that, they actually went into the houses and killed women and children."

Murtha was tipped to the report's findings by military commanders. His candor in shedding light on this horrible event is especially needed and courageous given the zeal with which the Bush administration hides the truth, and the smears they direct towards all political opponents.

Ralph's Day with Rudy

John McCain's commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University attracted a great deal of media scrutiny. Will Rudy Giuliani's big money fundraiser with Ralph Reed today in Atlanta draw headlines as well?

"We're here to get you elected," Giuliani said at the luncheon fundraiser. With the race a statistical dead heat, Rudy's visit couldn't have come at a better time.

Reed's once-promising run for Lt Governor of Georgia has been bludgeoned by his connections to Jack Abramoff. (For the juicy details, read Bob Moser's terrific Reed expose, "The Devil Inside.") Yesterday the Public Campaign Action fund hit the airwaves with the first radio ad of the campaign, assailing Reed's backdoor lobbying for Abramoff's illegal Indian casino schemes.

"What would you think about someone who said gambling was a 'cancer, it is stealing foods out of the mouths of children?'" asks the ad's narrator, "And then turned around and took a $4 million job from casinos. That's what Ralph Reed did."

If you're Giuliani, eager to make nice with Christian conservative primary voters, you reach out to the man once nicknamed "The Right Hand of God" and pay Reed's misdeeds no mind.

Pat Thinking on Immigration

In appearances Monday on both Hardball and ScarboroughCountry, Pat Buchanan invoked the same militaristic malevolencethat characterized his infamous 1992speech to the Republican National Convention in which heproclaimed, "There is a religious war going on in our country for thesoul of America."

Some choice comments from Buchanan this week: Hedepicted immigration on Scarborough's show as "an invasion" by "the whole world. He opined on The McLaughlin Group, " This is not Ellis Island! Thisis an invasion of this country."

Buchanan joins the likes of Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Minutemen, and thenativist right in venomous immigrant-bashing that in all likelihoodwill provoke backlash at the polls--just as Governor Pete Wilson's Prop 187 sparked a backlash inCalifornia that threw Republicans out of statewide office for a decade.

Already, the draconian House bill has mobilized a nascent politicalmovement. Republican Sen. Mel Martinez noted, "This is the first issuethat, in my mind, has absolutely galvanized the Latino community inAmerica like no other."

And whether the impact is felt at the polls in 2006 or years from now,militaristic language and actions that inflame anti-immigrantsentiments will result in Republican losses. According to the New York Times, Hispanics now represent one out of every eightUS residents and about half of the nation's recent population growth. And younger Latinos--whose political allegiance is up for grabs--willsoon be registering and voting in much greater numbers.

Robert Suro, director of the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, pointsout, "There is a big demographic wave of Hispanic kids who are nativeborn who will be turning 18 in even greater numbers over the nextthree, four and five election cycles."

So, if Pat Buchanan wishes to help the Democrats then he shouldkeep right on trying to recapture the glory days of his three ill-fatedpresidential bids. But, if he wishes to actually contribute to acomplex and emotional debate, then he should find a new way to remainrelevant.

Don't Click on This Ad

The Nation website has been running an ad recently urging readers to "say no to government regulation of the internet." Please don't click on it. It's a deceptive campaign created by high-priced consultants and paid for by the cable and phone industries to build opposition to the net neutrality bill. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and their trade associations are spending millions every week to mislead and misinform the American public through tricky ad campaigns such as these.

As the invaluable group Free Press reports, their latest attempt to hoodwink Internet users is a cutesy cartoon at www.dontregulate.org -- a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and conveys a fake populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.

Why, you may ask, is The Nation running the ad? The short answer is that we take ads because we're a business that runs, in part, on advertising revenue, not because we agree with the advertiser. It's the same answer we gave to outraged readers when we took full-page magazine ads from Fox News. (Click here to read The Nation's advertising policy.) My goal here isn't to defend the policy--though I do find it legitimate and unobjectionable--but rather to try to highlight this particular ad's devious and misleading opposition to "net neutrality"--something that The Nation magazine fully supports. (Network neutrality is simply the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.)

The ad, with faux populist oratory, asks readers whether they want the government regulating the internet. The answer: Of course! Without government intervention, the corporate sector will slice and dice the internet based on nothing other than maximixing profits. In practice, this would mean that a service provider could make it faster and easier to reach some websites over others, or even refuse to connect to some websites altogether. (Check out video and text dissections of the ad campaign.)

As digital democracy expert Jeff Chester wrote on The Nation's site, "The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online."

The Net Neutrality bill, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and supported by many leading Democrats as well as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Internet giants, will help prevent that from happening. Click here to ask your reps to support the bill and check out a wide range of related resources from Save the Internet.com, where you can sign a petition (now with over 600,000 names), write to Congress, learn more about the issues at stake, and forward messages to help thwart the big Telecoms from turning the Internet into little more than a big profit center.

Equal Opportunity Hating

Since my last post bashed Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, let me indulge in a little Hillary-bashing today. If you're angry at Hillary and all she represents -- i.e., the total non-opposition of the supposed opposition party -- help discredit her with the party's liberal base so that she won't become the Democratic nominee in 2008. I suggest getting involved with Jonathan Tasini's upstart campaign. Tasini -- a longtime labor activist and writer -- is challenging Hillary for the Senate. (Full disclosure: Jonathan and I were debate partners in a smackdown sponsored by The Nation and The Economist magazines, on the question "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?") Jonathan is, by his own admission, unlikely to unseat Hillary. But this is not really about the Senate; it's public education for 2008. Jonathan is calling attention to Hillary's dismal pro-war record, and her failure to stand up for working people (not only has she served on the board of Wal-Mart, she voted for the bankruptcy "reform" bill, paid for -- and authored -- by the credit card industry).

Speaking of trying to stop bad people from becoming president -- an admittedly quixotic endeavor -- I just saw an excellent documentary called "Giuliani Time." Like most political documentaries it drags on a bit, but the film is illuminating and even shocking, even for someone like me who lived in New York City during that horrible era.