Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
You may have missed it, but the first week of October was Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week. Was this catchy concept created to raise awareness of people abused by negligence or malpractice who must pursue remedy through the courts?
No. It was created BY the industries who don't want to be sued for wrongdoing or negligence (and who also happen to have the resources to run ads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC) and who would rather mislead the public into believing that "greedy personal injury lawyers" are filing so many "meritless lawsuits" that win "outrageous jury awards" that the legal system has to be fundamentally changed.
This is the fallacious argument behind "tort reform." And don't be confused–it is a fallacious argument. Medical malpractice insurance is a perfect example. The insurance industry says it has to raise rates because it gets sued too much by greedy lawyers. But these charges fall flat in the face of Bush Justice Department figures released this past summer which said that the number of tort cases resolved in US District Courts fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. The truth is that medical malpractice tort costs account for less than two percent of healthcare spending, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Legal awards to patients is simply not where high health insurance costs are coming from. Want to see lower insurance rates? Regulate the industry.
The industry doesn't want to be regulated, of course, and so it has created a smokescreen. Blame victims and their lawyers. This works because so many people hate lawyers and so few people think that they will be victims. But this is a dangerous game for American citizens. What's at stake is nothing less than regular people's access to the courts.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Executive Director of the Drum Major Institute, organized an event in New York late last month to highlight the experience of California in dramatically reducing healthcare costs through regulation. As she says, "This issue has yet to permeate the progressive consciousness, and I'm not sure why. This isn't about defending wealthy trial lawyers, or getting into the minutiae of insurance policy. This is about getting wise to the fact that the insurance industry and the White House have teamed up to boost corporate power at the expense of ordinary people's access to justice."
We better get wise fast, though. Because this is one of many issues in which the Democrats can't be counted on to defend the public, and in which the implications of the decisions made now will have a major impact on our system of justice for the foreseeable future.
"The CIA leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg," Congressman Jerry Nadler told me when I ran into him on the street near our offices on Friday afternoon. He was quick to tell me of a call--led by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Nadler, along with 39 of their House colleagues--for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation to be expanded to examine whether the White House--President, Vice-President, and members of the WH's Iraq War Group--conspired to deliberately deceive Congress into authorizing the war. And, as Nadler reminded me, lying to Congress is a crime under several federal statutes.
This is the first call by members of Congress for an expansion of Fitzgerald's probe, amid mounting evidence that there was a well-orchestrated effort by what former State Department aide Larry Wilkerson dubbed last week, "the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis" to hijack US foreign policy and knowingly mislead the Congress in order to get its support for an unlawful war.
"We are no longer just talking about a Republican culture of corruption and cronyism," Nadler says. "We now have reason to believe that high crimes may have been committed at the highest level, wrongdoing that may have led us to war and imperiled our national security." For more on this important call for the investigation's expansion, click here, and then click here to ask your elected reps to support these calls.
Months ago, we celebrated the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' impressive drive to eliminate toxic ingredients from beauty products. Due to an FDA loophole, which exempts personal care product manufacturers from government oversight, many of the cosmetics on shelves today may contain known or probable carcinogens (see Mark Schapiro's "A Makeover for the Cosmetics Industry.")
But by last Mother's Day, the campaign had successfully encouraged more than a hundred companies to sign a compact banning ingredients that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects from their products.
Recently, the campaign scored an even bigger victory for consumer rights--this one on the legislative front. On October 8th, despite vigorous opposition from the cosmetics and chemical industries, the California Safe Cosmetics Bill was signed into law. The bill--which requires manufacturers to disclose to the California'sDepartment of Health Services any product ingredients linked to cancer, mutations, or birth defects--is the first of its kind in America. After two years of coordinated efforts by the Breast Cancer Fund, Breast Cancer Action and the National Environmental Trust (NET), California residents will finally have the right to know what's behind their beauty products.
According to Stacey Malkan of the Environmental Working Group, the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrance Association (CTFA) fought tooth and nail against the bill, lobbying heavily and shelling out more than $600,000 in a vain attempt to defeat it. "The cosmetics industry opposed this bill as though it were a peasant revolt rather than a right to know bill," said Andy Igrejas, Environmental Health Director of NET. "Now we'll find out what they were so afraid of."
Once the ugly face of the cosmetics industry is revealed, the hope is that companies will finally make the switch to safe ingredients, not only in California but nationwide. A beautiful future indeed!
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 email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Today's edition of the New York Times devoted exactly one sentence (on page A18) to one of the most important news stories of the day. "No Rise in Minimum Wage," the headline read. The nation's minimum wage has, shockingly, been stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997. Yesterday, two proposals--from both Democrats and Republicans--were rejected in the House.
The Democrats' proposal, introduced by Edward Kennedy (MA), called for an increase to $6.25 over an 18-month period. A Republican proposal provided the same $1.10 increase and added various tax incentives for small businesses. Both measures went down in flames as did the hopes of working people coast to coast that they might finally be more fairly compensated for their labor. Moreover, as Kennedy rightly insisted, it's "absolutely unconscionable" that in the same period that Congress has denied a minimum wage increase, lawmakers gave themselves seven pay raises worth $28,000.
Maybe two people I met in Owensboro, Kentucky this past weekend knew who Judith Miller was. And on Sunday, when I left town, the local paper devoted far more space to listing the names and addresses of those filing for bankruptcy in the Owensboro-Daviess County area between September 30 and October 10 than to Miller, her case and her notes. (As the Messenger-Inquirer reported,"with new, tougher bankruptcy laws taking effect this week, the Owensboro region saw a record number of filings in the third quarter.")
I don't head to Kentucky often, but I set off for my third trip to my husband's hometown of Owensboro last Thursday. Once called Yellow Banks (the city's name was changed in 1817 in honor of Colonel Abraham Owen), it's a town of about 54,000 perched high above the Ohio River--with a WPA bridge, the International Bluegrass Music Museum and, possibly, the best BBQ (mutton) joint in America (the "Moonlite"). It's also the birthplace of Johnny Depp, whose photograph hangs in the Owensboro-Daviess Tourist Commission's Hall of Fame. (My husband Stephen Cohen's picture is also hanging there--right between a local diner and a horse who won the Kentucky Derby decades ago. The Hall also has several Nascar drivers, some local basketball players who went on to the NBA, and the actor Tom Ewell of The Seven Year Itch--best known for Marilyn Monroe's white dress. )
Another local boy is Terry Bisson, a true Southern boy turned radical in the '60s, who wrote a fascinating "alternate history" book in 1988 exploring what would have happened if Harriet Tubman had been able to join John Brown, as planned, in the Harper's Ferry raid, leading to a successful slave revolt that could have rippled through the South and led to an African-America led revolution. (Bisson dedicated the book to the Black Liberation Army.)
But this is October 2005 and Bisson moved away years ago. Radicalism in 2005 comes in different forms--like standing up for labor rights in a state, in a country, where labor is under siege. The Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma AFL-CIO chapters were meeting on Saturday in our hotel. And on the grounds of the local courthouse, Owensboro's Central Labor Council put up a black granite "Workers' Memorial" in 2002 with the words: "Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living, For All Those who Died, Earning a Living, Because all Work is Honorable."
One of the county commissioners told me that every year, usually around Labor Day, the Labor Council members and others from around the state gather and read the names of those who died that year. "It's a lot of names, and takes some hours," he tells me. "So many die from driving those trucks."
On Saturday night, our friends Burley and Beverly Phelan--he's the director of tourism for the Owensboro-Daviess County area--took me to the 36th annual Democratic Party Wendell Ford Picnic at the Owensboro Sportscenter. (Meanwhile, Steve and our fourteen year old daughter Nika went off to a local institution--"Goldie's Best Little Opryhouse in Kentucky"--which presents every Friday and Saturday night a country music variety show, featuring professionals and amateur musicians in a "Survival" like contest.) The turnout wasn't bad--maybe because Moonlite Barbecue was catering the event--but Beverly lamented that the local Democratic Party was failing to bring in younger people, while the local Republicans seemed so well organized. She thinks it's because so many local Dems just don't have time or the money to volunteer; the Republicans have both money and time.
Named after retired Senator Wendell Ford, the picnic's keynote speaker this year was state senator Dan Mongiardo, from Hazard in the Eastern (and poorer) part of the state. (Mongiardo nearly beat Jim Bunning, the incumbent Republican, last year--losing by 22,000 votes after the national GOP unleashed a vicious smear campaign against him, implying that because he was single he was gay.) Mongiardo, a dark-eyed, intense man, lashed out at the Bush Administration for rolling back prevailing wages in the Gulf Coast, calling it "modern-day slavery."
I also had a chance to talk briefly with another state representative, Mike Weaver (D-Elizabethtown), who hopes to challenge Republican incumbent Ron Lewis in the state's 2nd District in next year's congressional elections.
Weaver, a Vietnam vet, denounced Bush for misleading the country into a war which had made us less secure. Weaver also helped craft--and pass--a freedom of information style bill that protects the public's right to examine governmental performance. As a result, his legislation has pushed the Associated Press of Kentucky to take on the state's corruption-challenged governor, Ernie Fletcher, demanding that he release the most basic information about the state government's role in Vice-President Cheney's visit to Kentucky. (While Fletcher fights back against the public's right to know, his administration is the focus of a wide-ranging criminal investigation into politically-based hirings in violation of the state merit system law. Eleven current or former aides have been indicted in the probe, and in late August Fletcher announced a pardon of the first nine people indicted--and anyone else who might be charged, not including himself. The day I left, the local paper reported that the lawyer just hired by Fletcher to weed out political bias in Kentucky's hiring process had been a blogger who "routinely praised Republicans and jeered Democrats." "Does he think we're stupid?" asked Jerry Lundergan, Chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party.)
At a small forum on Friday afternoon at the city's Museum of Science and History--this month featuring a Monster Truck exhibit--Steve and I talked about our work. (Later that day, Steve spoke about Russia to the Owensboro World Affairs Council.) What I found were people of all ages--high school students, teachers, retired folks--who defy most of the simplistic antinomies: liberal vs conservative, red state vs blue state, freedom of choice vs family values and so on. You know, the categories that a lot of us use to categorize contemporary American life. I get a sense that there's a hunger for clean government among people who define themselves from all political perspectives, for open and honest political debate, for a media that cares about what matters in people's lives.
Several of the high school kids said they got their news from the Daily Show; surprisingly, very few used the internet to gather news and info. None read blogs; a few of the older people knew of MoveOn. No one read the papers we take as daily staples--the New York Times, the Washington Post or even the Wall Street Journal. In the best hotel in town, you can find the local paper, a few copies of USA Today and, if you're lucky, a vending machine with the Louisville Courier-Journal--which even as a Gannett paper, still does some superb reporting and features a liberal editorial page.
Most of those who came Friday afternoon were fed up with the divisive winner-take-all polarization that seems, to them, to afflict the media and the political establishment. They cared about the responsible use of America's power and worried about how (and when) we'd get out of Iraq. If I had to categorize people I met, they were independents looking for a politics and leaders who would speak to the reality of their lives, their work, their aspirations.
Yes there are Baptist and Methodist and Catholic churches everywhere. And one of the high school kids described the increasing religiosity in the community--how Christian youth groups have started after-school programs with school support. And over the weekend, the local paper featured news of "Elevation 2006"--a local Christian rock festival coming to town in March. And Friday's Messenger-Inquirer published a letter from a local experimental physicist arguing that Intelligent Design is more plausible than evolution. But at Brescia University--Owensboro's Catholic college--I met a professor of theology, a man in his forties, who teaches a course every spring on social justice. He had read The Nation, and when I gave him one of our Nation classroom packets he said he would find it valuable in teaching his students. We talked about Dorothy Day and Michael Harrington and the Maryknoll sisters and liberation theology.
I got home Sunday night, after a few days out of New York, away from the parsing of Miller's testimony and the New York Times's treatment of her, and found a comment on my latest blog, about a Central American film I had highlighted. "Are you this out of touch?," some person named Colmes asks. Why are you "shilling for some Latin American movie when there are real issues right her in the previously good ol' US of A." Colmes then lists Rove and Miller and McLellan and so on.
There are real issues right here in the good ol' US of A. But maybe we need to spend more time paying attention to the record number of bankruptcies being filed in towns like Owensboro, or the workers' lives lost with an end to safety and health regulations, than to Judith Miller and her notes.
When Oscar Torres saw a Venezuelan band perform the song "Casas de carton" ("cardboard houses") in 2001, he knew that he wanted to "write something about the song" that he remembered so well from his childhood days growing up in war-torn and impoverished El Salvador. Soon after, Torres started working on a screenplay that ultimately served as the basis for the film Innocent Voices which will begin playing in 11 US cities on October 14.
The film has received critical acclaim after being released in Latin America and shown at this year's Amnesty International Film Festival. It deserves a wide audience in the United States. Directed by the talented Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki, Innocent Voices tells the story of Torres' embattled youth. The narrative is exquisitely told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy named Chava whose character is based on Torres' boyhood. (Chava, appropriately, is a nickname for "Salvador.") Innocent Voices depicts the horror of war and its impact on children caught in the middle of El Salvador's civil strife in the 1980s.
There are no "good guys" in this conflict (though it's fair to say that the government paramilitary militias are definitely the "worse guys.") The film shows the government's soldiers hunting down and conscripting all 12-year-old boys in the village to serve in the military. But the bullets of the rebel-led Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) kill children just as effectively as the guns of the right-wing government's forces. And then there are the US soldiers who train and arm the government's military and who come across as depraved and without remorse.
Innocent Voices is Mandoki and Torres' reminder that "No child should ever bear arms." As Mandoki recently said in an interview, "Children were born to play." One question that Chava poses to himself at the beginning of the film--as he is being held prisoner by government soldiers--haunts the rest of the film: "Why do they want to kill us if we haven't done anything?"
Much of the film's tension stems from the government's policy of conscripting 12-year-old boys. We see the soldiers arriving at Chava's middle school, shouting out the names of the school's 12-year-olds and rousting them out of their classes. Chava, 11, understands that his turn is next, and that If he is lucky, he has just one year of innocence left, one year before he, too, will be conscripted to fight the government's battle against the peasant rebels of the FMLN.
The soldiers patrol the streets, invade the village's church and menace the children in the village center. As the children stroll along in neatly pressed white school shirts, the soldiers hover in the background with rifles slung over their shoulders. The children could fall prey to the combatants at any moment, and the atmosphere is claustrophobic.
Other scenes reveal the painful ways in which war shortens the lives of every child unlucky enough to be caught up in it. Chava and his friends must climb onto the roofs of their homes to evade detection by soldiers who ransack the village in search of recruits. When Chava and his friends encounter an old classmate by the banks of a river who is now a soldier, they see him transformed into a trained killer who has been instructed in warfare by "gringos" who had served in Vietnam.
Torres and Mandoki have made a film that is both gripping and highly entertaining, interspersing moments of laughter and light and scenes of beauty with the inhumanity of war itself. They pit Chava's childhood, his relationship with his family and his falling in love for the first time against a backdrop of horrific violence. And we see him struggling amid the bloodshed to hold onto his innocence.
Chava flies paper fireflies at night with his friends. He pretends to be a bus driver rumbling through the streets of his village. He smears lipstick on his face to make his screaming younger brother burst into laughter as bullets fly through the family's cardboard home. And Chava sings and dances in the street while serenading his first love. These episodes of what should be a normal childhood make the plight of children in war all the more poignant. It's clear that Chava, like all children, shouldn't be caught in the middle of this or any other armed conflict.
Innocent Voices, however, is more than just the story of how Oscar Torres survived El Salvador's civil war. The movie reminds us that more than 300,000 children are serving in armies in some 40 nations and that hundreds of thousands of children have their childhoods destroyed by wars.
Torres recalled in a recent interview that prior to beginning work on his screenplay, the story of his boyhood was a "story that he always wanted to forget." But, as Torres, Mandoki, and the film's politically astute producer Lawrence Bender understand, Innocent Voices was a story that had to be told. Bender said in an interview that the film combines his passion for film with his political activism. Above all, it shows pictures that we never see on TV or in the movies--"pictures of children" and parents struggling to survive amid war.
Torres' story could be happening "anywhere in the world," Bender said. He hopes that the United Nations and UNICEF will put a spotlight on the issue of recruitment of children as soldiers and that we will be able to "shame countries" that allow children to be conscripted to fight in wars into ending this horrible practice.
Ultimately, Innocent Voices makes us understand that war exacts its most awful toll on the most vulnerable people in any society. It is an antiwar classic.
P.S. Innocent Voices could not only draw attention to the issue of child soldiers, but the film also could help force compliance with the United Nations Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. (It's a mouthful, but it's a crucial document.)
The Protocol entered into force in 2002. It outlaws the use of children under 18 in armed conflict, and it requires its signatories to raise the age of compulsory recruitment and fighting in conflicts to 18, along with other common-sense provisions. While the United States ratified the UN's principal treaty on child soldiers in December 2002, it is, incredibly, one of only two countries, along with Somalia, that has still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Right-wing opponents in the US are afraid that the Convention will cause the US to promote abortion and sex education.) If you want to get active in the campaign to stop the use of child soldiers in war, click here to check out The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, make a donation to its work, and learn more about what steps the world can take to put an end to one of the horrors of our times.
I'm a Tom Frank fan. I think he's a wonderful and passionate writer. But, now a respected political scientist is arguing that the "Great Backlash" Frank chronicled in his last book, in which "conservatives won the heart of America" and created a "dominant political coalition" by convincing Kansans and blue-collar, working-class people to vote against their own economic interests in order to defend traditional cultural values against bicoastal elites "isn't actually happening--at least, not in anything like the way Frank portrays." (Thanks to Doug Henwood--editor of the invaluable Left Business Observer and longtime Nation contributing editor--for turning me on to this new study.)
In a fascinating paper called "What's the Matter With What's the Matter with Kansas?", Princeton professor Larry Bartels uses data from National Election Study (NES) surveys to test Frank's thesis. He examines class-related patterns of issue preferences, partisanship, and voting over the past half-century. Bartels concludes that the white working class hasn't moved right and that "moral values" are not pushing them to vote Republican.
Moreover, for the most part, voters' economic and cultural attitudes are either both liberal or both conservative rather than the bifurcated split Frank sees. Bartels also disproves the argument that there's been a long-term decline in turnout.
Here's a summary of the report's findings if you don't have time to read the full 43 page paper, first presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association this September. You can also click here to listen to Henwood's interview with Bartels.
* Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites--and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era--itself a holdover from the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
* Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The typical views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and '80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters--generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues--have also remained virtually unchanged.
* Do working class "moral values" trump economics in determining voting patterns? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.
* Are religious voters distracted from economic issues? No. For church-goers as for non-church-goers, partisanship and voting behavior are primarily shaped by economic issues, not cultural issues.
Click here to read the full study and let's hope that Democratic Party strategists are doing the same.
In 1999 Cintas Corp, the largest uniformrental provider in the country, signed a contract with Hayward,California to become the officiallaunderer of the city's uniforms. As a condition in the contract,Cintas agreed to comply with Hayward's living wage ordinance. Problemwas, Cintas didn't comply--in fact, for the next four years it paidworkers far less than Hayward's requirement.
It was a long time coming, but Cintas employees have finally gottentheir fair share. On September 23, an Alameda County judge orderedthe uniform giant to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of backwages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn ofNYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scaleenforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a classaction suit."
When workers filed suit against Cintas in 2003, the company backed outof its contract with Hayward and refused to pay the back wages.Cintas, whose headquarters lie in Cincinnati, Ohio, argued thatHawyard's living wage ordinance carried no weight beyond city lines.But judge Steven Brick upheld the living wage law and allowed the caseto proceed, stating "Just as cities have permissibly enactedrequirements that city contractors have an affirmative action plan orprovide equal benefits to employees' domestic partners, the city ofHayward can require that its service contractors pay their employeeswho perform work on a contract with the city to be paid at the ratesset forth in the living wage ordinance."
The verdict not only provides an immediate boost to the plaintiffsbut will also strengthen the resolve of communities in Marin County,Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Dayton, Ohio--all cities who arechallenging Cintas for flouting living wage ordinances. "There are 130living wage laws under the books, but much less enforcement thanthat," says Jason Oringer of UNITEHERE! "Contractors were not paying a hell of a lot of attention theseordinances before this. It's a huge victory for low-wage workers."
In a scathing report issued on September 30, the Government Accountability Office's investigators said the Bush Administration had broken the law by using taxpayer dollars to disseminate "covert propaganda" in the United States.
The case in question involves the buying of favorable news coverage of the White House's education policies in the form of payments to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and the hiring of a PR firm to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party. (The GAO's ruling should lead the mainstream media to broaden its investigation: What other reporters and media outlets are on the government's payroll?)
But this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It's now clear that the Bush Administration represents a broad threat to a free and fair media. The bribing of journalists to report "friendly" news has to be put in the context of a decades-long effort by the right and its corporate allies to undermine journalists' ability to report fairly on power and its abuse--whether through consolidation, cutbacks in news budgets or by attaching the label "liberal bias" to even the most routine forms of news-gathering and reportage.
Up next in the scandals of Bush crony journalism: In early November, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Inspector General is scheduled to release his report on former CPB chair Kenneth Tomlinson's payments to a conservative consultant to rate the political leanings (and loyalties) of PBS guests. IG Kenneth Konz said last month that Tomlinson may have violated internal rules, and that his final report could recommend that Tomlinson be barred from serving as director. (Tomlinson recently stepped down as CPB's Chair, to be replaced by Cheryl Halpern, a former GOP fundraiser and donor.)
At a charged Senate hearing last July, Tomlinson rebuffed questions about the $5 million in taxpayer and viewer-donated resources he'd devoted to a show starring the far-right ideologues of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. As Nation columnist Eric Alterman wrote in September 2004, "Short of turning the broadcast day over to Rush Limbaugh or Richard Mellon Scaife, it's difficult to imagine a more calculated effort to undermine PBS's intended mission of providing alternative programming than this subsidy to a wealthy, conservative corporation to produce yet another right-wing cable chat show." (Kudos to groups like Free Press, Common Cause, FAIR, Media Matters and the Center for Digital Democracy for exposing CPB's pressure on PBS to conform to right-wing editorial perspectives and calling for broad reform and transparency.)
At the same hearing, Democratic Senators Daniel Inouye and Richard Durbin pointedly questioned Tomlinson about using public money to monitor the Moyers program and promote The Journal Editorial Report. At one point, Durbin pointedly asked Tomlinson: "Are you going to provide $5 million for The Nation magazine?"
That question--at a time when Moyers has left NOW, and when the right continues to dominate not only commercial TV but also our public broadcasting outlets--leads me to send an open letter to CPB's board.
While the core issue remains restructuring CPB's role, we know that will take many years--and a Democratic majority in at least one house of Congress. Right now, I urge all who believe in the importance of a vigilant, independent press to click here to e-mail the CPB's Board (or call 202-879-9600 or mail to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 401 Ninth Street, NW Washington, DC 20004-2129) and urge it to live up to the CPB's stated mandate of restoring real balance to PBS's airwaves by taking Durbin up on his suggestion and providing funding to develop a real roster of balanced and hard-hitting programming--spearheaded by a weekly Nation program.
Dear CPB Board,
As you may recall from the testimony in the Senate on July 11, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois inquired as to whether CPB had any immediate plans "to provide $5 million for The Nation magazine." We are writing in the hopes of taking you up on what we think was a fine idea on Senator Durbin's part.
We're serious. With the departure of Bill Moyers from NOW, PBS has no outspoken liberals at all offering commentary. And yet the Wall Street Journal editorial page, owned by the billion-dollar Dow Jones Corporation, receives a $5 million taxpayer subsidy from CPB to offer its editors' opinions on a weekly basis with absolutely no input from the other side. While Now continues to operate, it does so exclusively as a news and interview show, with only half the weekly air-time it previously received.
Because we have frequently heard former CPB Chair Kenneth Tomlinson and others speak of the need to offer "balance" to PBS viewers, we think a show featuring Nation editors, columnists, writers and invited guests would provide just the balance a far-right institution like the Wall Street Journal editorial board invites. Unlike most voices in the mainstream media, The Nation has been consistently skeptical of George W. Bush's foreign policy, his tax cuts, his social agenda, indeed, even his alleged "victory" in the 2000 election. Surely PBS viewers cannot be said to benefit when they hear only one side of the story. And yet since CPB began subsidizing the Wall Street Journal's show, that is all they get.
Many people associated with The Nation are seasoned television performers. We would be happy to work with you and your staff in creating a show that underserved viewers will find interesting, enlightening and entertaining, and will help CPB meet its stated mandate of restoring a much desired sense of "balance" to PBS, so that not only conservative opinions are the ones to which viewers are treated on a weekly basis.
We eagerly await your response.
Katrina vanden Heuvel,
Editor, The Nation
As Jonathan Kozol points out in his new book Shame of the Nation, the promise of Brown v. Board of Education remains unfulfilled. Thanks largely to a spate of Rehnquist Court decisions throughout the 1990s that limited the constitutionality of desegregation plans, policymakers across the country have abandoned efforts to integrate schools. As a result, schools have become rapidly re-segregated: today, Black and Latino students are more isolated from their white counterparts than at any other period since 1968.
Yet several school districts nationwide are tackling the problem of school segregation with socioeconomic integration plans. And the results, particularly in Wake County, North Carolina, have been profoundly positive. Wake County--which includes Raleigh and surrounding suburbs--made headlines last week when the New York Times reported that the performance of black and Latino students has dramatically improved since the implementation of a comprehensive socioeconomic desegregation program. According to the Times, the number of black and Latino students achieving at grade level has doubled in the last decade since the program has been put in place.
The tragic events in New Orleans once again illustrated that the fault lines of race and class are intimately connected in America. Consequently, class-based desegregation plans often have the dual effect of creating both racial and economic diversity in schools. And, as Wake County demonstrates, desegregation plans do more than simply mix students; they are a recipe for results.
"The implementation of these voluntary plans, either by socioeconomic status or race, by school boards is a recognition of many of the gains we achieved in desegregating our schools over a generation ago," says Erica Frankenberg of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.
Right now, the Plessy doctrine of "separate but equal" reigns in American public school policy--of course, the reality is that schools are separate and unequal. Yet, with positive trends emerging from districts implementing desegregation plans, we hope to see a day when integrated schools are not the exception, but the rule.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.