The Nation

When McCain Attacks

John McCain is renowned for his supposedly thick skin and deft handling of adversity. Who knew a 21-year-old student singer from Nutley, New Jersey, could pierce that veneer?

As the undergraduate keynote speaker at the New School's graduation ceremony, Jean Sara Rohe had planned to talk about her love of music and the need for "social responsibility in a time of war." But realizing she would be speaking right before McCain, she tore up her prepared remarks at 2 am the night before to directly address McCain's support for the Iraq war, visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and fidelity to George W. Bush. According to her diary at Huffington Post, she saved the new text as "mccain speech subversive.doc."

Meeting McCain in the green room before the ceremony "he didn't even make eye contact when we shook hands," Rohe recalls. "So I figured I didn't owe him anything."

As we chronicled on Friday, Rohe's speech was daring, eloquent and brave. She gave voice to students whose opinions, at their own graduation, were not consulted, and whose views are no longer represented by presidential candidate McCain.

"Had he been speaking at something other than our graduation, or had he spoken about almost anything other than his life and his position on the Iraq War and Darfur it might have been OK," Rohe later wrote. "But what did he expect? Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination at the New School is like trying to catch fish in a swimming pool. It was just totally out of place."

After the address, McCain and his aides were at their most vindictive. "I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can't listen to the views of others," a pompous McCain told the New York Times. Later, in a comment on Huffington Post, his chief of staff Mark Salter called Rohe "an idiot."

"It took no courage to do what you did," Salter wrote. "It was an act of vanity and nothing more." The graduating class deserved a strong rebuke for its "comical self-importance."

George W. Bush smeared McCain in 2000. Now McCain is returning the favor to college students.

The so-called maverick Senator is so busy cozying up to the right, he can't even take a little heat from the left.

Iraq Uncensored

The Bush administration has censored photographs of the wounded, body bags, and flag-draped coffins. Imagine its fears over large numbers of Americans viewing Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill's new documentary, Baghdad ER.

Premiering Sunday on HBO, with an encore scheduled for Memorial Day, Baghdad ER examines the 86th Combat Support Hospital which the filmmakers chronicled for two months. One nurse, Specialist Saidet Lanier, describes life at the field hospital this way: "This is hard-core, raw, uncut trauma. Day after day, every day."

Initially, military officials were enthusiastic about the heroic portrayal of this medical staff which has – along with other trauma teams – somehow managed the highest survival rate for wounded soldiers during any war at a stunning 90 percent.

But the Pentagon's enthusiasm has soured. Many suspect it is for the simple reason that the truth will further erode the already radically diminished support for this war. Because despite the fact that Baghdad ER is widely hailed as a non-partisan tribute to both soldiers and medical personnel, as HBO president Sheila Evans told the New York Times, "Anything showing the grim realities of war is, in a sense, antiwar."

The Pentagon hasn't questioned the accuracy or authenticity of the film. Pentagon spokesman Paul Boyce told the Washington Post, "We believe [it] is a very thorough representation of the professionalism of the military medical community, and reflects the ethos of our soldiers." And yet, after initially saying 300 military officials would attend the premier in Washington, DC, only about 40 showed up and none were high-raking officers.

One mother of a soldier whose death is captured on film said of this project, "I am positive about this film. It needs to be shown. I want the world to know this is a reality. War is graphic, war is raw, war hurts."

And that is exactly the problem the current administration has with it. And too much of the media has been too compliant night after night. Where are the raw and real images of the wounded, the maimed, the dead that would appear on our TV screens if we were receiving the real news about the war?

Stephen Colbert recently got at the the truth about what our government really wants us to know: "Knowledge about the current war is bad for you. Watch all the World War II docs you want, but knowing the human toll of the Iraq War causes stress….Protect your health: only watch things that make you feel good about America."

There was a time when people turned to the classic TV show M*A*S*H* to--as John Leonard writes in his New York magazine review of the documentary--"go behind the rhetorical curtain." Baghdad ER takes a step towards accomplishing that for this generation. After all, as Leonard notes, "The more we see what war really looks like--the terror in the eyes that contradicts the bravado in the chatter--the harder the questions we ask about it."

And indeed it is hard and deeply disturbing to see the amputated and discarded limbs, the blood and body parts, the soldiers dying. But it should be. Because the reality is this: over 17,000 American soldiers wounded and over 2,300 killed. Over 400 amputees. And some estimate over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.

In 2004, Nation Institute fellow Chris Hedges wrote for the New York Review of Books of the "empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief….The truth about war comes out, but usually too late."

It's already too late – but the sooner the truth comes out the better.

It's time to face the horrors of war. If we are to evolve to a point where war is truly a last resort, then this is the kind of work that will help us get there. Watch Baghdad ER.

McCain at New School: Honeymoon is Over

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen

"I haven't heard anyone aroused about me speaking at the New School," John McCain said in April, defending his decision to address Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Nobody at all, except for virtually the entire crowd at the New School's Madison Square Garden graduation ceremony in New York City. At the beginning of the event, New School President, and former Senator, Bob Kerrey predicted a raucous affair. "Our founding purpose is proudly liberal," he said. "We began as an act of protest."

The school's tradition of dissent carried on today. Scores of New School students held orange signs, and a few banners, reading "McCain Does Not Speak For Me," and "Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform." What began as mild rumblings of disapproval before McCain's speech soon exploded into boos, catcalls and turned backs.

The spark was provided by undergraduate keynote speaker Jean Sara Rohe, a composed, seemingly innocuous jazz musician and singer. After beginning with a short folk song (true to classic graduation speech form) Rohe quickly tossed aside her prepared remarks to directly address McCain.

"This ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering it was intended to be," Rohe said. "The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. This invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all." The crowd erupted.

"I consider this a time of crisis and I feel compelled to speak," Rohe continued, referencing McCain's speech at Falwell's Liberty University last Saturday.

She paraphrased McCain's words on the folly of youthful stubbornness and ignorance.

"I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost," said Rohe. "And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction." The vast majority of the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

"Well, we're having fun now, aren't we?" Kerrey cracked before introducing McCain.

The Senator spoke in a dull monotone, without his usual charisma or charm. He was noticeably deflated by the crowd's harsh reception towards him. Remarks such as "I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq," were met with loud boos.

"I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."

"Wrongly!" one student boomed from the back. Sitting directly behind us, Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.

As McCain droned on, students became increasingly restless. One cried, "This speech sucks!" Several students walked out early.

Summing up the mood of the day, another shouted, "We're graduating, not voting."

Quotes have been properly updated and corrected.

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.