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Sweet Victory: CPC Gets in Gear

If you don't know much about the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), you should. With 50-plus members, it's the single largest caucus in the House, and according to a study by Chris Bowers of MyDD, by far the most loyal to core Democratic values. 

At a time in which too many Dems have lost their way (read: spine), CPC members--from co-chairs Barbara Lee (CA) and Lynn Woolsey (CA) to outspoken figures like founder (and Senate hopeful) Bernie Sanders (VT), Dennis Kucinich (OH),  Jan Schakowsky (IL), John Conyers (MI), Maurice Hinchey (NY) and Barney Frank (MA)--continue to fight for working Americans, stand against the war, and discuss honorable ways out of Iraq. This week, Lee and Woolsey took a significant step towards strengthening the CPC, hiring grassroots organizer, former AFL-CIO staffer, and Capitol Hill veteran Bill Goold as its first full-time staffer. "There are a growing number of people who are getting involved with politics because they are drawn to the basic principles of fairness and justice that the Progressive Caucus has long represented in Congress," said Lee. "Adding a staff member of Bill's experience will allow the Progressive Caucus to more effectively continue our commitment to these principles."

Goold's arrival should ensure that the CPC builds on its great work to date. Here are some of highlights of the CPC's decade-long struggle for justice (thanks to Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy Studies):

**The Annual Alternative State of the Union Address and the Alternative Budget, done jointly with the Congressional Black Caucus each year.

**The Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2001. This bill would protect workers' rights to a trial for alleged violations of their statutory and constitutional rights.

**Pushing the House Democratic caucus to adopt three key reforms improving unemployment insurance: increasing benefits by 25 percent or $65 per week, whichever is greater; broadening elgibility criteria to include part-time workers; and extending unemployment insurance benefits up to 52 weeks in case of long recessions.

**The "American People's Dividend" of 2001, a progressive alternative to Bush tax cuts when the federal budget was in surplus.

**The Economic Human Rights Bus Tour, in which Caucus members travel across the nation with grassroots organizations highlighting the adverse affects of budget priorities on rural and inner-city populations and people of color.

With Goold on board and several other unfolding plans to ramp up the CPC, expect this list to grow significantly in the coming months.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Isikoff Is Not the Enemy

I respect the work of the liberal media watchdogs of Media Matters. I appreciate that its website has occasionally linked to my personal blog. Max Blumenthal, a staffmember at Media Matters, has written for The Nation and is a fellow blogger of mine (who isn't?) at HuffingtonPost.com.

I am a friend of Michael Isikoff, who has been catching much flak for his 10-sentence Koran-in-a-john Newsweek item (cowritten with John Barry, another Newsweeker I know and like) that led to deadly rioting in Afghanistan.

Thus, I am saddened to see Media Matters piling on Isikoff in a selective manner. The MMers have a right to criticize Isikoff's performance in this episode and to draw whatever conclusions they wish to regarding Isikoff's and Newsweek's reporting practices. But their primary beef is that the mainstream media, while covering the Newsweek controversy, has not focused on Isikoff's "checkered journalistic record." What particularly ticks off the good folks at Media Matters--which was founded by David Brock, the right-wing journalist who defected from the conservative movement--is that Isikoff was a "leading reporter on the so-called 'Clinton scandals' in the 1990s, including the Paula Jones, Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky cases."

Media Matters' critique of Isikoff draws heavily from Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. (Sidney is Max's justifiably proud father.) In that book, Sidney notes, "Isikoff never hesitated in plunging himself excitedly into a wilderness of sex rumors." Using The Clinton Wars as its key source, Media Matter observes, "Isikoff's leading role in reporting sex stories relied heavily on his relationships with [Linda] Tripp and [Lucianne] Goldberg, who provided leads, testimony, and tapes of secretly recorded conversations. However, Tripp's and Goldberg's actions were motivated by their personal interests: specifically, animosity toward Clinton and financial windfall."

I have little desire to paddle about in the muck of those days. At the time, there was much debate on whether reporters should pursue stories on the personal lives of officials and politicians. (And journalists working all sorts of stories--sex-related or not--often have to deal with sources with ulterior motives. I've exposed one or two conservatives via such sources.) I have always had mixed feelings about in-the-bedroom stories. I was the first reporter to confirm the allegation that Representative Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee and a chief foe of Bill Clinton, had been in an extramarital affair decades earlier. But the editors at The Nation chose not to publish that story. Salon had no such reluctance and exposed Hyde's affair without me. When Brock was a journalist of the right he skewered Anita Hill, who had accused Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, as "a little nutty and a little slutty." (No hard feelings. Brock has apologized and made amends for that.) In the 1990s, I also followed up tips that Newt Gingrich, then the House Speaker leading the pro-family values Republicans, was cheating on his wife with a congressional aide. I never was able to confirm the leads and published nothing. But, as we know now, the whispers were true. Would The Nation had published that story? I don't know. But Gail Sheehy in Vanity Fair slyly wrote about the relationship without nailing down the story.

Did Isikoff go too far in his pursuit of Clinton's sexual shenanigans? Media Matters list what it deems to be mistakes committed by Isikoff in that period. Ultimately, the Monica Lewinsky story--which Isikoff was set to break before Matt Drudge, in a way, scooped him--turned out to be all-too true and sordid, while the harassment charge Paula Jones hurled at Clinton (with the help of secret conservative allies) was never proven. Historians and participants can continue to debate the details of all that unpleasantness and the legitimacy of the accompanying journalism.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on triumphalism and the fall-out from the Iraq elections, and the phony and troubling excuses for Bush's bike ride.

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My point is that the MM slam on Isikoff is one-sided. His "checkered" past includes work that liberal media-watchers might consider rather positive. He broke the story of how Alberto Gonzalez, when he was Texas Governor George W. Bush's chief counsel in 1996, connived to get Bush out of a jury duty so that Bush would not have to acknowledge he had once been arrested for drunk driving. (Today Gonzalez is the nation's attorney general.) Isikoff also was a lead debunker of the allegation that Vice President Dick Cheney tossed about before the invasion of Iraq concerning a supposed meeting between Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader, and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. (Isikoff accurately reported that the CIA and FBI had found nothing to this charge.) Last year, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Isikoff unearthed the first Justice Department memos showing that the Bush administration had stripped Geneva Convention protections from the prisoners at Guantanamo. He and Mark Hosenball--who together write Newsweek's "Terror Watch" column--recently disclosed that Haliburton had cut a hush-hush deal in Iran and that former GOP presidential candidate Jack Kemp had been questioned by federal investigators about his ties to a businessman under investigation in the oil-for-food scandal. Last year, they detailed how CBS--in the wake of the Dan Rather fiasco--had censored a 60 Minutes segment on the forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Niger.

At the start of his administration, President George H.W. Bush delivered a major speech on the drug war in which he exclaimed that crack was even being sold across the street from the White House, and he held up a vial of crack that supposedly had been confiscated during this arrest. Isikoff revealed that this arrest had been a setup, that drug agents had lured a dealer to the spot in order to obtain ammo for Bush's speech. In 2000, Isikoff broke the news that the Bush presidential campaign was giving tracking numbers to its fundraisers so the campaign could monitor how much each industry was contributing to Bush.

There's a technical term in journalism for this sort of reporting: good stuff. Isikoff has been around a long time. I'm not going to defend what he did during the Monica madness. (He wrote a book on all that.) Nor am I going to make excuses for what happened with the Koran item. But there is much more to his career than these two chapters. He has produced a good share of standout journalism.

Admittedly I have a bias in favor of a friend. Still, here's a modest suggestion to Media Matters (and I do hope my friends there consider this constructive criticism): don't use this occasion to revive the old battles of the Clinton days; Isikoff is not the enemy. Instead, consider this slice of Elisabeth Bumiller's piece in today'sThe New York Times:

Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

"In the course of any administration," he continued, "you have three or four opportunities, at most, with a high-profile press mistake. And if you're going to make a point - and no White House is ever going to love the way it's covered - you have to highlight those places where there is a screw-up."

So the White House is eagerly waging war on the media. (By the way, as another Media Matters report says, "top U.S. military officials contended that other factors led to the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.") I and other never-forget war skeptics have noted previously that the Bush gang got a lot more wrong than Newsweek did with the story of a Koran in a toilet. The Bushies peddled the phony tale that Iraq posed a WMD threat, and they have not apologized for that or retracted the war. Worse, the White House, the Pentagon, the Republicans in Congress are enthusiastically taking advantage of Newsweek's mistakes to weaken a mainstream media that already does not challenge the administration sufficiently. (After all, where's all the media fuss about the infamous Downing Street memo that provided further evidence Bush misled the public on the way to war?) True, the Newsweek screw-up has handed the administration and its comrades a delicious opportunity. But those who yearn for an assertive and independent media ought to fret more about the ongoing campaign to exploit this matter than Isikoff's past, checkered or otherwise.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington

Norm Coleman is a fool.

Not an ideological nut case, not a partisan whack, not even a useful idiot -- just a plain old-fashioned, drool-on-his-tie fool.

The Minnesota Republican senator who took Paul Wellstone's seat after one of the most disreputable campaigns in American political history has been trying over the past year to make a name for himself by blowing the controversy surrounding the United Nations Oil-for-Food program into something more than the chronicle of corporate abuse that it is. The US media, which thrives on official sound bites, was more than willing to lend credence to Coleman's overblown claims about wrongdoing in the UN program set up in 1996 to permit Iraq -- which was then under strict international sanctions -- to buy food, medicine and humanitarian supplies with the revenues from regulated oil sales. Even as Coleman's claims became more and more fantastic, he faced few challenges from the cowering Democrats in Congress.

But when Coleman started slandering foreign politicians, he exposed the dramatic vulnerability of his claims that the supposed scandal was much more than a blatant example of US corporations taking advantage of their powerful connections in Washington to undermine official US policy, harm the national interest and profit off the suffering of the poor.

The Senate investigation that Coleman sought regarding the Oil for Food program has already revealed that the Bush Administration failed to crack down on widespread abuse of the Oil for Food program by US energy companies, and that US oil purchases accounted for the majority of the kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein's regime in return for sales of inexpensive oil. Indeed, the report concludes, "The United States (government) was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions. On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales."

Instead of forcing the President, his aides and the executives of Bayoil, the Texas oil company that the report shows paid "at least $37 million in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime" -- money that helped the Iraqi dictator solidify his grip on power -- Coleman started to make wild charges about European officials such as British parliamentarian George Galloway.

The problem for Coleman is that Galloway is not a standard-issue American politician -- the kind who has nothing to say and says it poorly. He is a veteran of the rough-and-tumble politics of Glasgow and the equally rough-and-tumble politics of the British Parliament. In other words, Galloway comes from places where voters and politicians do not suffer fools. And anyone who has ever followed British politics knows that George Galloway has beaten every political challenge he has faced -- even those posed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Galloway called Coleman's bluff and flew to Washington for a remarkable appearance before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "I am determined now that I am here, to be not the accused but the accuser," Galloway announced as he stood outside the Capitol Tuesday. "These people are involved in the mother of all smokescreens."

The member of Parliament tore through Coleman's flimsy "evidence," issuing an unequivocal denial that began, "Mr. Chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader, and neither has anyone been on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." He accused Coleman of being "remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice" and pointed out error after error in the report the senator had brandished against him.

For instance, Galloway noted that he had met Saddam twice -- not the "many" times alleged by the report. "As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times that [Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld met him," said the recently re-elected British parliamentarian. "The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns."

For good measure, Galloway used the forum Coleman had foolishly provided to deliver a blistering condemnation of Coleman's war.

"Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies," Galloway informed the fool on Capitol Hill.

"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong, and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

"If the world had listened to [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to [French] President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the antiwar movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth," argued Galloway.

Then the Brit turned the tables on Coleman and steered the committee's attention toward "the real Oil for Food scandal."

"Have a look at the fourteen months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first fourteen months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money but the money of the American taxpayer," Galloway said.

"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where. Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."

(John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift -- a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from throughout American history -- that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappé calls Against the Beast "brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com.)

Annals of Outrage II

In January, I wrote my first Annals of Outrage weblog about the waste, fraud and abuse that the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the US taxpayer. But so much has happened in just the last three months--a cornucopia of corruption stemming, in large part, from the war in Iraq and the growing scandal that is Rumsfeld's Department of Defense--that I felt the time had arrived to do another top ten list of the most serious GAO and Inspector Generals' (IG) reports that have recently become available. It's a bracing series of studies, revealing the ever-widening scandals in this post-9-11, say-and-do-anything political environment. Happy Reading.

1) Halliburton Redux: The revelations seem to never stop when it comes to the Defense Department's favorite corporate client, Halliburton. In April, Henry Waxman released summaries of five reports in which the Defense Contract Audit Agency cited as questionable $212 million that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root spent in Iraq under a no-bid contract. The money given to Halliburton by Defense was part of a $1.69 billion no-bid contract awarded the company. The auditors told the Army that it should withhold some of Halliburton's money. The Army refused. Halliburton continues to do its work and make millions in Iraq.

2) Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq is a "free-fraud zone." That's the description that a bravewhistleblower Frank Willis--who had served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq--called Iraq a few weeks ago. It's hard to know where to begin. The scope of the corruption beyond Halliburton is so widespread and endemic that multiple investigations by the government and non-governmental organizations are underway to see how much the fraud, waste and abuse have cost the US taxpayer. One corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, reported in March that the US had completely mismanaged Iraq's oil revenues, used "faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts," and that we were now potentially facing "the biggest corruption scandal in history."

In addition to all of the problems associated with Halliburton, our reconstruction efforts have also come under fire from IGs and the GAO because US officials failed to provide the proper training and oversight for private security firms doing contract work in Iraq. CACI International Inc., for instance, had an essentially free hand to conduct interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction Stuart Bowen reported as well that US officials have been unable to account for how nearly $100 million slated for Iraqi reconstruction projects had been spent. The IG is now investigating whether anyone in the US-led Development Fund for Iraq committed outright fraud.

3) Bagram Out-of-Control: According to reports written by the Army Criminal Investigation Command that Human Rights Watch obtained last month, the US military committed some of its worst prisoner abuses in Afghanistan. The reports reveal in new, horrifying details the extent to which American soldiers abused Afghan prisoners so severely that two detainees died at the Bagram Control Point where the military was holding them. ("The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," the New York Times reported.)

4) DOD's Fraud: In January, the GAO faulted the Department of Defense as the most-fraud prone agency within the federal government. David Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO, said that DOD's repeated failures to curb waste and other abuses "results in billion of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." The DOD is asleep at the wheel in such areas as mismanaging finances and contracts, giving personnel security clearances, mismanaging military bases and failing to modernize its computer systems. A Defense Department spokeswoman responded to the GAO's findings by saying that "it's a little bit premature at this time for us to have a full response."

5) DOD's Fraud, Part 2: Nowhere, perhaps, has the DOD run into more trouble than in its lax procurement procedures. Boeing has been at the center of this storm. Former Defense Department official and Boeing executive Darleen Druyun went to jail because she did favors for Boeing while working in the procurement office of the Defense Department--and then got a plum job with Boeing as a reward. The government has launched a whopping 48 investigations because of the Druyun scandal, and the Druyun controversy also gave birth to the Procurement Fraud Working Group, a federal task force that investigates procurement fraud in the federal government. With John McCain and other members of Congress criticizing the DOD's procurement practices including its relationship with Boeing, the Army took the step of changing at least one Boeing contract and "the Air Force restructured a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. for C-130J transport planes," the Washington Post reported.

6) TSA's Egregious Spending: That's right. The agency responsible for protecting America's skies has its priorities all wrong. The Inspector General for the Dept. of Homeland Security reported in April that TSA has spent lavishly--to the tune of $500,000--buying artwork and silk plants for a TSA operations center whose mission is monitoring transportation security incidents. It's certainly not the first time that TSA has mismanaged taxpayer dollars. The agency--created by the Administration after the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks--wasted almost $500,000 on creating an office suite for its first leader, hosted a birthday party (for itself) and awards banquet costing another nearly half a million dollars, bought Sub-Zero refrigerators at $3,000 a pop, and spent thousands of dollars over three years to put cable television in employees' offices. TSA employees "ignored federal contracting rules and appeared to conceal their spending," the Washington Post explained, and a different IG report revealed that TSA is still failing to find guns and knives when tests were run at airport security checkpoints.

7) Mercury Politics: Nikki Tinsley, the EPA's Inspector General, disclosed in February that Administration officials had instructed the EPA's staff to set artificially low limits on mercury pollution and then find a way to justify a pre-determined policy. Doing the bidding of coal-burning power plants and other industries, the Administration, Tinsley courageously charged, dismissed scientific evidence and ignored the agency's procedures to reach a policy that allows more mercury into the environment, which has been shown to be especially harmful to children and pregnant women.

8) "The Jungle": In February, the GAO issued a groundbreaking report about the flaws in protecting workers employed by the meat and poultry industries. The GAO found, for instance, that while statistics in the numbers of injuries on the job appear to be declining, the industries might not be reporting these figures accurately, and that working at such plants remains hazardous work. No single federal agency monitors the line speed at the plants and protects workers from getting injured because of the pressures of production. The GAO and the Department of Health and Human Services encountered resistance from the big poultry and meatpacking companies in gaining access to their facilities.

9) DoJ's White-Collar Friends: In March, the GAO discovered that the Justice Department had failed to collect fines and other forms of restitution from white-collar criminals who were high-ranking corporate officials. (They went unnamed in the report because their cases are still pending.) While some of the criminals claimed to be wiped out--saying that they lacked the resources to pay the fines to the federal government--they were still luxuriating in million dollar homes. Some of the criminals had hidden their assets from the government. The Justice Department acted like it didn't care one way or the other. And the GAO also reported that two of the criminals in question traveled overseas while they were on supervised release--adding fuel to the fire that white-collar criminals are living large even as they avoid paying the fines the courts ordered them to pay. Only about seven percent of the $568 million in court-ordered restitution to crime victims has been collected, the GAO reported.

10) Do Tell: Also in February, the GAO reported that the cost of the government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies amounted to nearly $200 million from 1994 to 2003. The costs involved the amount of money needed to recruit and train replacements including translators and other highly skilled troops for the men and women discharged under the Army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Marty Meehan, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, wants to pass legislation that will repeal the policy which forces soldiers out of the Armed Forces and causes the country to lose access to these talented people willing to serve.

In 2000, Bush vowed that he would restore "integrity" to the White House. No surprise, that hasn't happened. But at least these reports show there are federal investigators who--unlike many Administration officials--are willing to do the hard work to promote ethics in government.

Standing Against Big Media

I'm just back from St. Louis, where Free Press staged its second National Conference on Media Reform. Bringing together more than 2,000 of the country's most dedicated and innovative media activists and content producers with dozens of bold-face progressive names for three days of panels, meetings, strategy sessions and parties, the conference showed both the strengths and weaknesses of what now must be called an actual media reform movement.

The most obvious problem was the lack of significant representation of the vibrant non-white media movements in the US. But this conference was better on that front than the last, and the paucity of black and brown faces at the confab made it difficult for attendees and organizers to avoid this elephant in the room.

Other than the composition of the crowd, what most struck me was everyone's seriousness. Not just the panels and seminars but even the conversations in the hallways and bars spoke of fervor and conviction. People really care about creating independent media. The range of innovative projects on display and up for conversation was awesome. I could pen a year's worth of ActNow posts just by highlighting all the great ideas I heard over drinks on my first day in St. Louis.

On my first morning I was lucky to meet Brad deGraf of Media Ventures, who detailed his Books We Like project, which was supported early by Alternet and Chelsea Green publishers.

DeGraf describes the idea as "collective intelligence and activist e-commerce" (and made a good pitch, along with his collaborator Jennifer Nix of CG, for The Nation to come on board). As his site explains, "it is something we (the users) are building together, an open resource on books: which are great, why, on what subjects, in whose opinion." It's also "a way to use online shopping to effect change. BWL collectivizes online book (actually any product at Amazon, Powells, etc.) purchases, maximizes the resulting sales commissions, and pools them to fertilize progressive independent media." Click here to learn more.

Later that day, I met some local St. Louis activists who operate a website called TrueBlueLiberal which seeks to make clear the strong presence of many so-called "blues" living and fighting in the so-called "red" states.

That night, I saw a brilliant presentation by Kim Spencer of LinkTV and Paul Jay, a Canadian visionary intent on creating the world's first global independent news network. Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising. Jay convincingly argued that internet fundraising makes it possible, as he laid out the details of his Independent World Television project. In a few years, IWT could be big. (And LinkTV is already on the air in 25 million homes in America. Click here for info on how to sign up.)

Much later, way past when I thought I'd still be learning things, I heard about microbicides, which could be the most important innovation in reproductive health since the pill. No effective microbicide is yet available to the public but ultimately, an inexpensive gel or cream could be produced which could be used by either men or women to prevent the sexual transmission of STDs, most importantly AIDS. The problem is that the economic self-interest of pharmecutical companies is not served by investing in necessary microbicide R&D. So click here to help support the campaign to press for a massive infusion of government investment to fill this R&D gap.

Apologies to all the many great ideas on display in St. Louis unremarked on here. I will try to get to them. And check out the Free Press site for coverage of the conference and info on how you can get involved in the fight for a more democratic media system.

Insurgents of Labor, Unite!

As I wrote in March, charismatic SEIU leader Andy Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. And while I disagree with some of SEIU's argument about what is to be done, I admire Stern's call for dramatic structural changes, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people. His sense of urgency, even desperation about the future of labor is admirable and welcome.

On Monday, SEIU--along with its insurgent allies, including the Teamsters, Laborers and UNITE HERE --issued an unprecedented joint statement of principles, "Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win." (Click below to find Andy Stern's blog, and then scroll to the end where he encourages you to read the unions' joint proposal.)

Together these unions represent 5.5 million members, and the majority of the major organizing unions in the private sector. (The UFCW was also involved in drafting the statement and will take it to their executive board meeting for endorsement; the proposal is also being discussed with the Carpenters Union.)

The joint plan, Stern is proud to report, has been sent to local unions--just another sign of how savvy SEIU and Stern have been in using the Internet to communicate with the rank and file.

I caught up with Stern in NY on Monday, where he was attending a Personal Democracy Forum conference on blogging and democracy. After doing one of his trademark podcasts, and on his way to meet with the NYT's Steven Greenhouse to lay out the AFL insurgents' latest salvo, Stern quipped, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get the locals to vote on this? Someday."

As veteran labor commentator Jonathan Tasini notes today in his blog, Working Life, "The main political point of this proposal--and the public comments of the insurgent leaders--is to express a no-confidence vote in the Sweeney leadership and turn up the hear for a change in leadership."

Fundamental change is needed, but I still despair of the consequences of a split in the House of Labor --which is under such fierce attack by the most anti-labor Administration in modern history. Can a compromise be found? One that will bring about a revival of the AFL, create a federation that can truly change workers' lives, and address the larger problem of how to revitalize a broader movement for economic democracy and social justice? I hope so.

We'll soon find out when labor gathers in Chicago this July.

Andy Stern's blog: www.unitetowinblog.org/print/2005/5/16/131154/400.

Bill Moyers Fights Back

Bill Moyers is not taking attacks by Bush Administration allies on public broadcasting in general and his journalism in particular sitting down.

"I should put my detractors on notice," declared the veteran journalist who stepped down in January as the host of PBS's NOW With Bill Moyers, who recently turned 70. "They might compel me out of the rocking chair and into the anchor chair."

Moyers closed the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis on Sunday with his first public response to the revelation that White House allies on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have secretly been holding PBS in general -- and his show in particular -- to a partisan litmus test.

"I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House. And that's what (CPB chair) Kenneth Tomlinson has been doing."

Recalling former President Richard Nixon's failed attempt to cut the funding for public broadcasting in the early 1970s, Moyers said, "I always knew that Nixon would be back -- again and again. I just didn't know that this time he would ask to be the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

That was a pointed reference to Tomlinson, a Republican Party stalwart, who contracted with an outside consultant to monitor Moyers's weekly news program for signs of what Tomlinson and his allies perceived to be liberal bias. Moyers ridiculed the initiative first by reading off a long list of conservatives who had appeared on NOW, then by reading a letter from conservative US Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) praising the show, and finally by noting that Tomlinson had paid a former Bush White House aide $10,000 to do the monitoring.

"He spent $10,000 of your money to hire a guy to watch NOW to find out who my guests and stories were, $10,000!" Moyers exclaimed. "Gee, Ken, for $2.50 a week you can pick up a copy of TV Guide on the newsstand. A subscription is even cheaper, and I would have sent you a coupon that can save you up to 62 percent! Or for that matter, Ken, all you had to do was watch the show! You could have made it easier with a double Jim Beam -- your favorite -- mine too! (We had some things in common.) Or you could go online where the listings are posted. Hell, Ken, you could have called me collect and I would have told you who we were having on the show!"

Moyers said he wasn't buying Tomlinson's claim that the results of the monitoring were not being released to protect PBS's image. "Where I come from in Texas, we shovel that stuff every day," said the man who came to Washington as a press aide to former President Lyndon Johnson and was present when the Public Broadcasting Act was written in the 1960s.

Moyers revealed to the crowd of 2,000 media reform activists that he had written Tomlinson on Friday, suggesting that the pair appear on a PBS program to discuss the controversy. He also revealed that he had tried three times to meet with the full CPB board but had been refused. Expressing his sense that the board had "crossed the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out," Moyers said, "I would like to give Mr. Tomlinson the benefit of the doubt, but I can't."

The man who has won thirty Emmy Awards for his hosting of various PBS programs was blunt about his critics. "They've been after me for years now and I am sure they will be stomping on my grave after I'm dead," he said. As the laughter from the crowd of 2,300 media reform activists quieted, however, he added, "I should remind them that one of our boys made it out 2,000 years ago."

Moyers was even blunter about why he thought Tomlinson and other allies of the Administration were so determined to knock his groundbreaking news program off the air and to replace it with more conservative fare such as a weekly roundtable discussion featuring Wall Street Journal editorial page staffers, joking that "I thought public television was supposed to be an alternative to commercial media, not a funder of it." Speaking of the investigative reporting NOW did on everything from the war in Iraq to offshore tax havens and ownership of the media, Moyers said, "Our reporting was giving the radical right fits because it wasn't the party line."

"The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets," he explained. "That's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

The broadcasting giant was greeted with cheers when he declared that "the quality of our media and the quality of our democracy are intertwined." But the loudest applause of the day came in response to his invitation to the crowd to join him in the fight to "take public broadcasting back from threats, from interference."

"It is," Moyers said, "a worthy goal."

Moyers has endorsed a call by Free Press, Common Cause, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Media Access Project for town hall meetings nationwide that would allow Americans to speak directly to PBS station managers and policymakers.

That call came in the context of a broader appeal for media reforms and a fight against manipulation of the news not just by this administration but by all of the forces that would use the media to lull Americans into civic unconsciousness.

"Hear me," Moyers said, "An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight -- ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too."

Click here to read the speech in its entirety.

A video of Bill Moyer's speech is available at http://www.freepress.net/conference/audio05/freepress-closing40515.mov

An audio recording can be downloaded at http://www.freepress.net/conference/audio05/moyers.mp3

(John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press, the national media reform network that organized the National Conference on Media Reform.)

Sweet Victory: Cleaning Up the Cosmetics Industry

Each day, women and girls use an average of twelve personal careproducts, according to a study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Users of these products might assumethat somebody is watching to insure that potentially toxic ingredientsare kept away from intimate contact with their body," Mark Schapirowrote in The Nation in December. "Theywould be wrong."

Thanks to a longstanding loophole, the FDA neither monitors norregulates ingredients used in cosmetics, many of which contain knownor probable carcinogens[http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/report/executive_summary.php].Yet, in the wake of mounting pressure from a coalition of publichealth and environmental groups, the American cosmetics industry isfinally cleaning up its act.

By Mother's Day, 116 personal care product manufacturers had signedthe Compact for Safe Cosmetics--agreeing to meet the standards set by the European Union's "Cosmetics Directive," which bans ingredients that are known or stronglysuspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects. Click here for a full list of companies that have agreed to comply.

"[We are] thrilled about the growing interest in this campaign," says Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund, one of the major groups behind the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, "These companies are setting an important precedent for the cosmetics industry by putting their reputations and their resources on the line to make truly safe cosmetics a reality for consumers."

Unfortunately, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is still waiting on industry giants L'Oréal, Revlon, and Estée Lauder--who have agreed to parts, but not the entirety, of the pledge. We look forward to the day when these and all other cosmetics companies agree to make lethal lipstick a thing of the past.

Ms. Wrong

In her latest column, Ann Coulter honors me by announcing me the winner ofthe Lifetime Achievement Award for Most Wrong Predictions. I proudly acceptthis award for in Coulter's tangled, fictional world right is always wrong,and what liberals say is always wrong even when they are right.

To be more specific, Coulter accuses me of wrongly predicting that invadingIraq would lead to more terrorist retaliation. According to the recent USgovernment report, the number of terrorist attacks has increasedsignificantly since the Iraq war. The overwhelming majority of thoseincidents have been aimed at US personnel in Iraq.

She also says I was wrong when I said that invading would undermine thefight against Al Qaeda. But this is the view of many officials in the BushAdministration itself, including such distinguished departing officials asRichard Clarke. What she did not tell you is that I alsopredicted that the war would cause a spawning of new bin Laden-inspiredgroups, as most terrorist experts readily now confirm.

In addition, she accuses me of wrongly suggesting that the invasion of Iraqwould "possibly unleash those very weapons of mass destruction into thehands of rogue terrorists in Iraq." I and The Nation magazine were always clear inour view that the Bush Administration had not proved its case that Iraqstill possessed weapons of mass destruction. But we did say that if Iraqdid have any such weapons, the greatest danger would be that during thechaos of war they would fall into the hands of renegade forces. And indeeda lot of deadly material and weapons did disappear into the hands of bothinsurgent forces and outside terrorists; many of those weapons have beenused to kill American personnel.

Coulter also accuses me of wrongly predicting that the United States wouldstay in Iraq as a colonial power. My view was that if it did try to stay inIraq indefinitely, it would quickly become viewed as a colonial power andtherefore would encounter increasing resistance--a prediction borne out bothby public opinion polls in Iraq and bloody events on the ground.

Coulter says that I was wrong when I said that elections were not verylikely to produce a secular democracy. Perhaps by Coulter's standards, whatIraq now has is a secular democracy. But perhaps she should wait a littlelonger before giving me credit for being right--I mean wrong--on this one.After all, the new government has yet to draft a constitution and PrimeMinister Ibrahim al-Jaafari still talks about adopting Sharia law.

Finally, she makes some obscure reference to my long-time interest in Russiaand the Soviet Union. Did the planned economy fail because the farmers hadseventy years of bad weather? I can in good conscience say that I never ever madethat prediction. But I did predict that Gorbachev's perestroika was forreal, even as those of Coulter's ilk were predicting it was just anotherSoviet ruse to lull us to sleep, because I believed a new generation ofRussians wanted a better life for their people.

Ms. Right gets it wrong. Again and again.