Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The House of Labor and the Future

So, with the heaving sound of an old tree suddenly splitting apart in a storm, the labor movement is finally breaking up.

On Sunday, leaders of four of the country's largest labor unions announced they would boycott this week's AFL-CIO convention, and officials from two of those unions, SEIU and the Teamsters, withdrew from the Federation on Monday.

The five unions now comprising the Change To Win Coalition (CTWC)--along with SEIU, the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers, and UNITE HERE--have formed what amounts to a rival federation--whether they all formally leave the AFL-CIO or not, which now seems likely. These unions' collective 5 million membership represents 40 percent of the AFL-CIO's 13 million total. If the mammoth 2.7 million member National Education Association aligns with the effort, CTWC will hold exactly half of all union members in the United States.

The break is the biggest rift in labor since the 1930s, when the CIO split off from the AFL.

The avowed basis of the break is a fundamental disagreement on strategy, often depicted as a choice by the insurgents of organizing over politics. This is misleading. Many of the unions remaining in the federation are every bit as committed as the CTWC group to organizing new union members. And some CTWC unions, particularly SEIU, are keenly aware of the importance of politics in increasing union membership. The fight is really about consolidation and political focus.

SEIU has argued that the current practice of having several unions competing in single industrial sectors--"15 separate organizations in transportation, 15 in construction, 13 in public employment, nine in manufacturing, and so on"--defeats the scaled effort needed to take on business in today's climate. It wants to compel fewer, bigger, more clearly sectorally-based unions, as in northern Europe. And it has argued that labor must find ways to mobilize support outside itself, chiefly through more engagement in state and local politics.

It is hard to argue with any of these claims, though whether CTWC can realize its promise is an open question. Even unions without competition in their declared industries are showing declines in density, as indeed are the new Coalition's own members. And outside SEIU itself, and UNITE HERE in a few cities, few of CTWC's members show much commitment to the community links and coalition work needed to gain greater influence over state and local politics. In all the shifting of positions over the past seven months, as this "coalition of the willing" has been constructed, the present result sometimes seems less the principled conclusion to a principled debate than the final triumph of testosterone over inertia. The latter is largely produced by the fragmented governing structure of the AFL-CIO, which makes it very difficult to undertake bold initiatives.

But so be it. Labor is now split more or less in half. We can look forward to a long and ugly period of dissension in America's most important single progressive movement, facing a ruthless anti-worker Administration intent on its complete destruction.

I don't think this split was necessary, and still think it would have been best for the state of progressive politics if both sides could have worked out a deal on federation reform and leadership transition. (Why didn't the insurgents run a candidate to contest John Sweeney? Why didn't they try to move an agenda from within?)

But I also recognize that in the areas of greatest need for labor--organizing, and political engagement and programs in the states and cities--more effective work needs to be done.

So, while I believe that solidarity in the face of an onslaught is preferable, I respect those who argue that standing together may not make sense if they aren't standing in the right place. And I appreciate the difficulty of changing a troubled organization from within. So I wish the insurgents luck. This country desperately needs a labor movement that is again "the collection of many that speaks for all," that can provide an organized and intelligent moral center to a majoritarian progressive politics--the folks who brought you the weekend, the eight-hour day, and so much else that makes this country (almost) civilized. I just wish we weren't starting this way in reclaiming that.

The Corruption Machine

At a time when the scale of corruption in Congress has risen to obscene heights, the fight to achieve a clean government has heated up–and the good Senator from Wisconsin, Russell Feingold, is admirably spearheading the campaign to usher in a new era.

Feingold, who with John McCain led the fight for passage of campaign finance reform, understands the importance of this fight better than anyone. So, this month, the tough-minded reformer introduced the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act in the Senate (Martin Meehan has similar legislation pending in the House). Once again, Feingold is doing good service to his nation by pushing into the next frontier of reforming lobbying corruption in Washington.

The bill's key provisions are designed to reduce the power of special interests by forcing lobbyists to file disclosure reports quarterly instead of twice a year, prohibiting lobbyists from taking trips with members of Congress and their staffs, and requiring former members of Congress and some senior executive branch officials to wait two years after leaving government service before working as a lobbyist. And, as Feingold told The Hill, the bill would prohibit "lobbyists from giving gifts to members" or staff and require "members and campaigns to reimburse the owners of corporate jets at the charter rate when they use those planes for their official or political travel."

Such a law--and, sadly, in these political times, its chances of passage aren't great--would arrive just barely in the nick of time. The Center for Public Integrity published a must-read study in April showing that lobbyists have spent almost $13 billion since 1998 seeking to influence federal legislation and federal regulations. "Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them," the Center's executive director, Roberta Baskin, pointed out.

Other findings are equally heart-stopping. More than 2,000 lobbyists in Washington had previously held senior government jobs, and in the past six years, "49 out of the 50 top lobbying firms failed to file one or more required forms." According to other reports that the Center recently put out, some 650 foreign companies are lobbying the federal government on issues important to them, and spent more than an estimated $3 billion to influence decision-making at the federal level in 2004.

On the home front, pharmaceutical companies have made their corporate jets available to the likes of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert--and the entire industry has spent more than $750 million on lobbying since 1998, outpacing every other industry. According to USA Today, Big Pharma has 1,274 lobbyists, "more than two for every member of Congress."

But we need to look beyond the numbers, and understand what happened in 1995 when the GOP launched its infamous K Street Project, to really understand why the corruption has metastasized with such velocity. That was the beginning of the push to put "conservative activist Republicans on K Street," as Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist told journalist Elizabeth Drew--a concerted effort to install ideological comrades-in-arms who could steer money to the GOP, promote conservative causes in Washington and keep Republicans in power for years to come. (To learn more about the K Street Project, read my colleague Ari Berman's good piece.)

By 2003, the Republicans had achieved the goal of seizing control of K Street. That year, the Washington Post reported that the GOP had seized "a significant number of the most influential positions at trade associations and government affairs offices and reap[ed] big financial rewards." The Post added that "several top officials at trade associations and corporate offices said privately that Republicans have created a culture in Washington in which companies fear hiring Democrats for top jobs, even if they are the most qualified."

We know that in recent months, lobbyist Jack Abramoff and House Leader Tom DeLay have grabbed the headlines--Abramoff, in part, because he paid for Tom DeLay's trip to London and Scotland in 2000 and stole millions of dollars in fees from his clients; and DeLay, in part, because he repeatedly violated House ethics rules. In fact, from April 1 to June 30, DeLay accepted almost $800,000 in contributions from corporate lobbies ike the telecommunications and real estate industries--a sure sign that the corruption continues unchecked, as the progressive group The Campaign for America's Future has argued.

But it's equally important to remember that the corruption comes not only from DeLay, Abramoff and cronies but also at virtually every level of the Republican-dominated Congress. The Hill, for example, reported a couple weeks ago that congressional staff have become so brazen that they "actively solicit lunches, drinks and other favors from K Street"--acting as if lobbyists are providing them with "their personal expense account." When one Senate aide ran into a lobbyist at the Capital Grille restaurant, he asked the lobbyist to foot the bill.

"The arrogance that brought Republicans into power is arrogance that will take them out of power, and that's what you see more of on the Hill," a Republican corporate lobbyist told The Hill.

Feingold's legislation is an essential step on the road to clean government. Citizens who care about their country's democracy need to fight for organized people against organized money, fighting for a transparent democracy while exposing the DeLay-Abramoff-K Street triangle for the corrupting force it truly is.

Torture and Lies: Who is Accountable?

Congressman Maurice Hinchey had the crowd of more than 900--packed into New York's Ethical Culture Society's sweltering auditorium this beautiful summer Saturday--on its feet.

Hinchey was the second of three speakers at a Town Hall event this afternoon co-sponsored by The Nation and Democrats.com. (He joined former Congresswoman Liz Holtzman--who was brilliant in laying out the legal process available to hold administration officials responsible for torture at Abu Ghraib, as she wrote about in her recent Nation article--and Air America's Randi Rhodes--who alternately made the crowd laugh and wince with her scathing and funny debunking of Administration spin and lies. Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.Com skillfully moderated.)

"Torture and Lies: Who is Accountable?" was the question. Hinchey, who has represented a largely conservative district in upstate New York since 1993, answered unflinchingly. "Never have I seen such an unlawful Administration, one with such arrogance toward the rule of law. Their activities are criminal."

Hinchey spoke passionately and eloquently about the significance of the Downing Street minutes and the need to hold this President and Administration accountable for taking the country to war on the basis of lies.

"We have a monolithic government in Washington," Hinchey told the hushed crowd. "It is a government whose policies have failed, and made the world much more dangerous and made us less secure...It is the responsibility of Congress to oversee the executive branch and when this Administration lied and deceived us, Congress should have held hearings....Therefore, the election of 2006 is one of the most important in our country's history if we're going to maintain this Democratic republic. We need a new Congress and we need to carry out a full and thorough investigation of the Administration....It is up to each of us, every one of us in this hall today to do everything we can, to mobilize all our resources, our friends, our organizations, to to make sure our democracy stands."

The crowd was on its feet, stomping; there were shouts of "Hinchey for President." Like other political leaders who have shown courage and decency in these last months--I think particularly of John Conyers who launched the Downing St. hearings--Hinchey is someone who gives hope that we will take back our country from a Administration which has defiled our democracy.

This NYC Town Hall was just one of 350 events held today, around the country, on the third anniversary of the Downing Street Memo meeting in London. To learn more about what you can do, click here to check out AfterDowningStreet.org and work to take back the Congress from those who refuse to hold hearings into this criminal administration.

Sweet Victory: Governors Embrace Apollo Alliance

The Apollo Alliance, one of the best progressive ideas of the millennium, gained some important new supporters last week. Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier three--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.

In an open letter to President Bush the six newcomers, joined by Richardson, applauded Apollo's efforts and invited Bush to "lead a bold national project" to achieve its aims. The nine governors are all leaders in state-based efforts at energy efficiency and increased use of renewables, the core twin planks of the Apollo program.

That program calls for a national investment of $300 billion over the course of ten years to build the basic production and distribution infrastructure needed for a cleaner energy economy. Less than the estimated costs of the Iraq war (after just two years), the investment would pay for itself many times over. Direct economic benefits would include annual energy savings and improvements in our trade balance of about $200 billion; the creation of some 3 million permanent new jobs; and an added $1 trillion in GDP over ten years.

Given the enormous opportunities for energy savings in cities and renewable energy production in rural areas, Apollo would distribute savings and jobs to two distressed parts of our population. It would also give a kick to US manufacturing, giving companies a good reason to invest in the surging world market for clean energy products and technology. It makes both environmental and economic sense.

The Apollo program is being taken seriously by investors, as it begins to attract significant venture capital. A leading example is the Green Wave initiative, led by CA-Treasurer and Apollo national advisory board member Phil Angelides. Funded by CALPERS and CALSTERS, the leading public employee pension funds in California, Green Wave is investing close to a billion dollars to upgrade energy efficiency in those funds' real estate holdings as well as in other promising clean technology firms. On the real estate side, the internal rate of annual return is upwards of 15 percent annually, making it an extremely attractive investment for institutional investors with comparable holdings.

Apollo is trying to replicate such investments in other states, seeking money from state or municipal bonds, pension funds, or private individual investors. This latest round of gubernatorial endorsements should help, as well as with the rest of Apollo's ambitious state legislative program. Already, state politicians from both parties are beginning to realize that "good jobs through energy independence," the Apollo mantra, sells well with the public. A recent poll by Yale University's Center for Environmental Law & Policy found that an overwhelming 92 percent of American think our dependence on foreign oil is a problem, with 68 percent rating it a "very serious problem"--by far the highest levels of public concern for any of the environmental issues polled.

Apollo has already gained the endorsement of virtually the entire labor movement (including both warring factions at the AFL-CIO), most major environmental groups, a slew of civil rights and community organizations (both urban and rural), and a growing number of business leaders. Now, with more governors coming on board, it may be reaching a critical mass in tipping state legislation, if not yet federal, toward a clean energy future.

The governors' announcement last week was timed to coincide with the naming of members of the Congressional conference committee charged with reconciling the competing House and Senate energy bills. What's important about the announcement is not just the momentum it shows for Apollo, but who it came from.

As we've often argued in this space (and in the Nation's pages), the states may well decide the future of American progressive politics. Next year, 37 governors will be elected in them. These nine "Apollo governors," many of whom face reelection battles in 2006, have just raised the bar on what qualifies as progressive state leadership on economic development and the environment. More power to them.

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.

Debunking the Spin About Framing

"Whenever the other side has you talking their language, they've got you. That, to me, is what it's about in a nutshell and it's almost that simple." George Carlin in an interview with Tim Russert, when asked why he thought the Democratic Party and John Kerry failed to connect with the voters. (November 23, 2004)


Matt Bai had a cover story in Sunday's New York Times magazine. ("The Framing Wars," July 17, 2005) It's spin about spin. On one level, it's an article about how Democrats now understand the value of "framing"--that language and narrative matter in politics.

It's also a tale about what Dems are doing to contest the well-funded Republican spin machine which has twisted America's political language for decades to deceive the public for its own base purposes. (Over the past few decades, the radical right has engaged in a well-funded program of Orwellian doublespeak, transforming American political discourse to suit its political ends. Think "death tax" or "tax relief" or "personal accounts" or "partial birth abortion.").

On another level, Bai's essay is also a profile of "the father of framing"--George Lakoff. (Others who've toiled long in the "framing" fields sent out e-mails on Sunday, ticked off that Bai made Lakoff out to be the guru of the field, ignoring the serious work of other "framers.")

Bai's piece will be familiar to progressives who've been arguing for years that individual issues must be tied together by some larger (preferably moral) frame that articulates a vision and speaks to the kind of country we want to live in. But Bai does raise some legitimate questions: Is the Dems' problem bigger than a battle of language? Maybe the focus needs to be on the battle of ideas?

My problem is with the article's snarky reductionism; in the end, Bai suggests, the Dem's framing is really all about spin, or weird and wonky linguistic theories. But what about the fact that there is a a real science involved in framing? And isn't there a very real connection between language and ideas. Why not make the point that many Republican ideas are slogans without substance or, as Mark Schmitt points out on Josh Marshall's new site, TPMCafe, "substance that contradicts the slogans, while liberal ideas are more likely to be serious, substantive, meaningful, but lack a slogan." And as Jonathan Chait argues in his New Republic cover story of last week, not only do progressives have plenty of ideas but what the right calls "ideas" is really something very different.

I believe we need a campaign to debunk the Right's language--with conviction and, most important, humor. A few months ago, sick and tired of the Right's verbal gymnastics (spin and deceptions), I set out to do another kind of "framing.": I asked Nation.com readers to suggest satirical definitions of Republican slogans. Believing lies melt away in the face of mockery, I wanted to skewer the GOP with the fine tipped sword of satire. And I wanted to find a way to combine Lakoff with, well, one of the most effective political communicators in America today--Jon Stewart.

The result was a grassroots groundswell of hilarious and illuminating submissions from Americans who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. I've collected the sharpest, funniest, most hard-hitting in The Dictionary of Republicanisms--coming to your local bookstore in late October. (We'll also be featuring selections of the book at TheNation.com.)

Some examples:

Clarify, v. To repeat the same lie over and over again.

Compassionate Conservatism, n. Though shalt not exploit thy neighbor for thyself.

Faith, n. The stubborn belief that God approves of Republican moral values despite the preponderance of textual evidence to the contrary.

Fiscal Conservative, n. A vanishing subspecies of the Republican party

Fox News, n. We distort, you comply.

God, n. The Republican-in-Chief.

Moral Values, n. Do as we say, not as we do.

No Child Left Behind, riff. There are always jobs in the military.

Pro-life, adj. Valuing human life up until birth.

Simplify, v. To cut the taxes of Republican donors.

Voter fraud, n. A significant minority turnout.

Thousands of definitions were entered from all over the country, 44 states in all, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. As would be expected, entries from blue states predominated, especially New York, Massachusetts, and California. But there were some surprises. The state with the most submissions? Texas.

Sweet Victory: Spreading Democracy at Home

Caught up in democracy-spreading adventures abroad, Congress continues to ignore residents who are clamoring for democracy in its own backyard.

The 560,000 citizens of Washington DC--the only geographic region in the country without representation in Congress--are tired of having no voice. "When this country committed troops to Iraq, I had no vote," US House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC's non-voting representative, told the Washington Post, "...the taxes paid to this war, I had no vote."

So last week, Norton and scores of DC voting rights activists came up with a clever solution to get the attention of Congress: they drummed up the support of the international community. As delegates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) converged on Washington for their annual meeting, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/01/AR2005070101959.html">hundreds of protestors urged them to "Free DC."

And on July 5, the final day of the meeting, OSCE delegates from 51 countries overwhelmingly voted on a measure calling for congressional representation in DC. Call it the new "coalition of the willing."

Although the declaration does not carry the weight of the law, voting rights activists believe that the OSCE--an organization that emerged in the Cold War era to pressure communist nations into respecting human rights--could embarrass Congress into action.

"Civil rights activists in the US have often turned to world opinion to highlight domestic injustice when social movements hit a brick wall at home," says Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University. "With conservative Republicans controlling the House, the Senate, the White House and the federal judiciary…shifting the level of discussion to the global context is a shrewd move."

Several options for DC representation have been considered in Congress. One is to allow Washingtonians to vote in Maryland's congressional races; another would give DC its own member of Congress but also add a congressman in Utah (among reddest of all states). Neither of these plans are ideal, and even with the pressure from the OSCE, Raskin notes that "it's critical that the excellent DC Vote [an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to securing full voting representation in Congress for District residents] keep pushing for real equality."

DC resident or not, if you care about delivering democracy at home, check out DC Vote to see how you can get involved.

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.

The Gender Gap

Twenty-five years after the gender gap first appeared as a factor in American politics, it's worth reflecting on whether as some in the GOP said after last November's election the gap has shrunk to the vanishing point.

Let's be clear: The gender gap didn't disappear in 2004, but it diminished significantly. John Kerry narrowly won the women's vote last year when he defeated Bush by a margin of 51 percent to 48 percent. Contrast this to the 2000 presidential election, in which Al Gore ended up with an 11-point margin over Bush among women voters.

Which begs the question: Is the gender gap a thing of the past? The short answer is a resounding "no."

Two recent polls show that women voters are, if anything, turning away from the GOP--and that the Democrats have an opportunity to expand the gender gap and win back those women voters and more in the 2006 mid-term elections and beyond.

The first poll, a Democratic survey that was done by Lake Snell Perry Mermin & Associates Inc. this spring, revealed, as reported in the Washington Post, that "the public's agenda has shifted from homeland security and terrorism to domestic concerns such as jobs and the economy." In 2004, Bush used fear to score points with voters. But, while Karl Rove and Bush are still stoking the fears that Democrats can't be trusted to prevent terrorism, their message is no longer resonating in quite the same way. The London bombings may bring about a short-term shift in women's attitudes, but strong signs suggest that doubts about Bush's security policies are growing.

"Women, if left to their own devices, are going to tend and trend Democratic," the GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway explained to the Washington Post's Brian Faler. "...Women are still congenitally Democratic, and I'm the Republican pollster saying that."

The second survey, "Women at the Center of Political Change," was conducted in May by EMILY's List Women's Monitor. As one of the most comprehensive post-election looks at the attitudes and motivations of female voters, the poll showed that in the past six months alone the GOP has lost a lot of ground with women voters.

Fifty-five percent of women said they believed that the country was heading in the wrong direction--and they held the GOP responsible as the party in power. And just as the Lake poll discovered, women cited as their chief concerns domestic priorities like Social Security and health care.

Republicans have done a lot of overreaching in recent months--from the Terri Schiavo case to fierce talk about gutting reproductive rights and cutting Social Security benefits. And perhaps the key insight that the survey offers is that women voters "overwhelmingly uphold the value of privacy for individuals and families, while rejecting government intrusion on issues involving religion and morality."

Sixty-two percent of women said that "questions of religion and morality should be left up to the individual, and it should not be the role of government to impose any particular religious or moral point of view on the country." And, the survey reveals, "women voters believe that the government has gone too far in dictating personal morality and even those whose own values are conservative are discomforted."

Women have moved away from the Republican Party because they believe that the GOP has overstepped the bounds on the relationship between religion and science. Even women who are uncomfortable with abortion rights feel strongly that the government shouldn't dictate morality and that scientific progress shouldn't be proscribed by religion. Most women believe in science and want the US to remain a leader in technology and innovation. (Think stem cell research.) That explains, then, another one of the survey's findings-- one-third of women who voted for Bush in 2004 won't vote Republican in 2006.

"The Republican drop-off encompasses virtually every demographic subgroup of women," EMILY's List reported, including "key segments of the women's electorate for 2006 and beyond" from social conservatives to non-college educated whites to Catholics. Women voters are dissatisfied with the status quo and want elected leaders to spend more of their time tackling domestic problems.

But if the political terrain is shifting away from the GOP the Democrats have yet to close the deal. The Democratic challenge is to create an agenda that both addresses women's economic concerns and "respects families and care giving to take full advantage of the opportunity that they have been granted."

As the ‘Women's Monitor' survey argues, women want politicians who will demonstrate personal accountability, care about people in need and provide equality of opportunity. According to the poll, Democrats also need to understand that women consider themselves "the arbiter of family values" and the "central caregivers" in their families, not the government.

The next few months could be crucial. The divisions in our electorate are going to come to a head in the fight to confirm a judge to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. The rightwing of the Republican Party will seek its reward for what it did in 2004, and Bush and the embattled Rove could pander to their base by sending up a Scalia clone. The GOP has already alienated many women, but if Bush nominates a right-wing judge to replace O'Connor--one who fails to respect religious differences, families' privacy and ordinary Americans' economic problems-- he could find himself in even bigger trouble with women voters. He might feel the consequences in the 2006 mid-term elections and his party could take a big hit in 2008.


Tribute to Judy MannAs I finished writing, I learned that former Washington Post columnist Judy Mann had died. Mann was a great supporter of womens' rights, an unapolegetic liberal and feminist. She liked to say that her columns were "frequently unpopular and very often at odds with mainstream orthodoxy." In her last one, published in December 2001, Mann expressed regret that "there are so few liberal columnists left in the media and so few women writing serious commentary. I have always felt," she added, " that the media mirror society and that a society in which women are invisible in the media is one in which they are invisible period."

Mann acted on her words--fighting for pay equity and promotion of women in the newsroom. The Post obituary fesses up to the rough time Mann faced at the paper: "When the paper's editors were thinking about cancelling her column, her readers and supporters called and wrote letters on her behalf. When her column moved from its position on the third page of the Metro section to the back of the Style section--first adjacent to the comic strips and later to the bottom of a nearby page--readers noticed, but the paper made no change." According to former Post reporter Claudia Levy, "she was furious, of course, but took it with good public grace."

After retiring, ill with breast cancer, Mann moved to a farm in Shenandoah Valley which she called "Gender Gap."

Here's hoping that The Post will honor Mann's work by promoting more women through its ranks as editors and journalists. As a start, how about putting an unapolegetically liberal and feminist columnist on the Op-Ed page?

More Bush Lies

In his recent Nation web piece, "Profiles in Cowardice," William Greider rightly took aim at Democrats who may be "preparing to take a dive on the issue they have righteously hammered for four years--repeal of the estate tax."

If any more evidence was needed that Dems need to hang tough on this defining issue, they should read David Cay Johnston's stunning, and inexplicably buried New York Times article "Few Wealthy Farmers Owe Estate Taxes, Report Says." (In my edition it was published on page A 30.)

Johnston is America's premier journalist on the inequities of Bush's tax policies. His clear reporting has consistently exposed how the working class is getting screwed by an Administration which gives hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest one percent, while cutting back on health care, education, affordable housing, veterans' needs and programs for everyone else.

Remember back in June 2001, Bush said he'd talked to farmers who told him the estate tax (or in GOP doublespeak, "the death tax") had destroyed their family farms? And you know all those Republican spinners like Grover Norquist and Frank Luntz who prattle on about how the estate tax is destroying family farming? Well, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released last week, they're not telling us the truth. Listen to Neil E. Harl, an economics professor at Iowa State University whose expertise in estate tax planning for famers has made him a household name in the farm belt: The Congressional study, Harl tells Johnston, "adds to the weight of the evidence that this is a myth that has been well-spun."

According to Johnston, the CBO study contradicts assertions that the estate tax burdens family farms. Its findings show that "the number of farms on which estate tax is owed when the owners die has fallen by 82 percent since 2000, to just 300 farms, as Congress has more than doubled the threshold at which the tax applies."

And here's a stunning rebuke to those GOP hypocrites who preach fiscal responsibility while increasing our debt burden for future generations to bear: "All but 27 farmers left enough liquid assets to pay taxes owed, and the CBO hinted that the actual number might be zero." That means we may well be looking at zero farmers affected by an estate tax whose abolition is incessantly justified by the purported threat it represents to the very existence of family farming in America.

More facts, according to Johnston: "The estate tax raised an estimated $23.4 billion last year. Repeal would shift part of the burden of taxes off the fortunes left by the richest one percent of Americans, some of whose fortunes were never taxed, onto the general population." And according to Michael Graetz, a professor of Yale Law School who was a tax policy official in the Bush Administration, repeal would primarily benefit people with large estates held in stocks and other securities---very few farmers among them.

Here's another crucial fact that those who are assaulting the very foundations of our country don't want you to know: "Because of details in the repeal bill," Johnston reports, "it would also force a large majority of farms and small businesses to pay larger tax bills in the future." John Buckley, the chief tax lawyer for the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, told Johnston that he was critical of "farm and small business groups [for] not explaining to their members that the repeal as written would cost them money while primarily benefiting those with vast fortunes.

For those who believe Democrats pay a huge long-term price for failing to serve as credible defenders of the economic interests of ordinary Americans, here is a chance to take a stand. Don't compromise on the estate tax's provisions. Build a moral social contract with those who want a fair shake--the 99 percent of Americans who will get screwed, again, by an Administration that isn't telling the truth to its farmers.

Sweet Victory: NYC Makes Way for Hybrids

Frustrated by exorbitant gas prices, Kwame Corsi, a taxi driver from the Bronx, had been waiting years for the chance to drive a hybrid car. In New York, where 93 percent of the city's cabs are Crown Victorias (large Ford models that guzzle a gallon every twelve miles), drivers like Corsi often pay up to $100 dollars a day on fuel. Up until last week, New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission had refused to grant medallions for hybrid taxis.

Now, thanks to the City Council's unanimous decision to approve the "Clean Air Taxis Act," Corsi will get his wish and New Yorkers will literally breathe easier. New York, which was ranked by the American Lung Association as one of America's most polluted cities in 2004, suffers from the highest asthma mortality rate in the country. But under the new law, which will put hybrids on the street by this fall, the harmful emissions spewed out by New York's fleet of 13,000 cabs will be dramatically reduced. According to the Sierra Club, hybrids are particularly well-suited for New York City, because the greatest difference in emissions from hybrids comes under conditions of slow traffic and idling.

"The New York yellow taxi is an American icon. What better way to showcase a great solution to our air pollution and oil dependence problems?" said Mark Izeman of the NRDC in a press release from the Coalition Advocating for Smart Transportation (CAST), a group that has been at the forefront of the fight for green cabs in New York City.

New York's high profile win is the latest in a string of victories for the "Green Fleets" movement. A few weeks ago, legislators in Charlotte, NC voted to hybridize the city's municipal fleet, and Denver, Seattle, and Madison have also made strides in converting their fleets to green.

As is increasingly the case, cities across the country are making progressive strides in the face of an obstinate administration that refuses to declare its independence from oil. It's time to tell Congress to seriously invest in a clean energy plan. Take action by supporting the Apollo Alliance and clicking here to send a letter to your Senators and Congressmen.

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.

Make Costas King

Maybe we need sportscasters to ask informed, incisive questions of our pundits and politicians? It certainly was refreshing to watch Bob Costas sub for Larry King the night of Bush's Iraq speech. I happened to flick on CNN's premier talk show, expecting the usual vapid questions and platitudinous replies, and found the veteran sportscaster asking some smart and (relatively) tough questions. (Click here to read the transcript.)

Costas: ...There were no weapons of mass destruction. There has been no contact or connection between Iraq and al Qaeda or 9/11 established. Vice President Cheney says the insurgency is in its final throes. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says the insurgency could last a decade or more. Does the the Bush Administration now face a credibility gap?" (Both Time's Jay Carney and Newsweek's Richard Wolffe said yes.)

I sat up and started listening.

Then, Senator Kerry came on.

Costas: In the aftermath of 9/11, did Democrats, yourself included, do a poor job of playing the role of the loyal opposition? Were they too docile and too compliant, and did they fail to ask the skeptical questions and raise the objections they should have in the run-up to war?

Now I was sitting straight up and listening carefully.

Kerry mumbled, "I plead guilty. And I think a lot of people in the party would. But I think a lot of Americans would."

Senator McCain came on.

Costas: You are, no doubt, familiar with what your Senate colleague, Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said recently. But to refresh the memories of our audience, I 'll read it. 'Things are getting worse. The White is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is, we are losing in Iraq.' What say you to that?"

Even the usually unflappable McCain looked a little shaken, as if he missed Larry King's softball questions.

Costas continued: "Senator McCain, I hope this question doesn't seem impertinent, but we often hear that if these terrorists are not confronted in Iraq, they'll be in New York or wherever. What is to stop them from being in New York simultaneously, if they could get here?"

I was rooting for more impertinent, informed questions.

Costas: Are we up against a situation here that maybe we should take a big-picture look at? Iraq isn't really a natural country. It was cobbled together by force after World War I. There are different regional and religious factions. It was always held together by brutal central governments. And might it not naturally go the way of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, where these factions just naturally break off once that central force is removed? ..Are we trying to hold together a country that has no democratic tradition and is not really, in the true sense, a country?

McCain looked like he wanted to throttle Costas.

Costas: Senator McCain, we now find that more than 60 percent of Americans recently polled think that President Bush has no clear plan for victory in Iraq, and now more than fifty percent believe it was a mistake to go there in the first place. What would you say to a mother or father whose son or daughter is being recruited--there is no draft--is being recruited to join the military under these circumstances?

Congressman Christopher Shays (R, CT) came on.

Costas: Congressman Shays, you're aware that Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, recently said: 'Public support in my state is turning.' Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, Republican congressman, is among those who have submitted a bipartisan resolution that would call upon the US to begin troop withdrawals from Iraq no later than 2006. This isn't the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party. These are solid Republicans, and they and their constituents are increasingly concerned about where we're doing here.

By this time, I was ready to launch a bye-bye Larry (King) campaign.

Last month, CNN President Jonathan Klein made Costas a regular substitute anchor for the show. (The odious Nancy "You're Guilty Before You're Innocent" Grace was also named a regular sub.)

Maybe Costas towered that night because of the barrenness of the landscape around him, but he certainly was a refreshing antidote to the info-tainment featured on prime cable talk/ news programs these days. If CNN wants to become a news outlet again, one step would be devise an exit strategy for Larry and install Costas as King.

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