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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

'Indifference Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction'

On Friday, during a special session to provide relief money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Representative Dennis Kucinich delivered a powerful indictment of the Administration's disgraceful priorities and issued a stirring call to rebuild a truly secure America.

"This amount of money is only a fraction of what is needed and everyone here knows it. Let it go forward quickly with heartfelt thanks to those who are helping to save lives with necessary food, water, shelter, medical care and security. Congress must also demand accountability with the appropriations. Because until there are basic changes in the direction of this government, this tragedy will multiply to apocalyptic proportions.

"The Administration yesterday said that no one anticipated the breach of the levees. Did the Administration not see or care about the 2001 FEMA warning about the risk of a devastating hurricane hitting the people of New Orleans? Did it not know or care that civil and army engineers were warning for years about the consequences of failure to strengthen the flood control system?  Was it aware or did it care that the very same Administration which decries the plight of the people today, cut from the budget tens of millions needed for Gulf-area flood control projects?

"Countless lives have been lost throughout the South with a cost of hundreds of billions in ruined homes, businesses and the destruction of an entire physical and social infrastructure. 

"The President said an hour ago that the Gulf Coast looks like it has been obliterated by a weapon. It has. Indifference is a weapon of mass destruction.

"Our indifferent government is in a crisis of legitimacy. If it continues to ignore its basic responsibility for the health and welfare of the American people, will there ever be enough money to clean up after their indifference?

"As our government continues to squander human and monetary resources of this country on the war, people are beginning to ask, 'Isn't it time we began to take care of our own people here at home? Isn't it time we rescued our own citizens? Isn't it time we fed our own people? Isn't it time we sheltered our own people? Isn't it time we provided physical and economic security for our own people?' And isn't it time we stopped the oil companies from profiting from this tragedy?

"We have plenty of work to do here at home. It is time for America to come home and take care of its own people who are drowning in the streets, suffocating in attics, dying from exposure to the elements, oppressed by poverty and illness, wracked with despair and hunger and thirst.

"The time is NOW to bring back to the United States the 78,000 National Guard troops currently deployed overseas into the Gulf Coast region.

"The time is NOW to bring back to the US the equipment which will be needed for search and rescue, for clean up and reclamation.

"The time is NOW for federal resources, including closed Army bases, to be used for temporary shelter for those who have been displaced by the hurricane.

"The time is NOW to plan massive public works, with jobs going to the people of the Gulf Coast states, to build new levees, new roads, bridges, libraries, schools, colleges and universities and to rebuild all public institutions, including hospitals. Medicare ought to be extended to everyone, so every person can get the physical and mental health care they might need as a result of the disaster.

"The time is NOW for the federal government to take seriously the research of scientists who have warned for years about the dangers of changes in the global climate, and to prepare other regions of the country for other possible weather disasters until we change our disastrous energy policies.

"The time is NOW for changes in our energy policy, to end the domination of oil and fossil fuel and to invest heavily in alternative energy, including wind and solar, geothermal and biofuels. 

"As bad as this catastrophe will prove to be, it is in fact only a warning. Our government must change its direction, it must become involved in making America a better place to live, a place where all may survive and thrive. It must get off the path of war and seek the path of peace, peace with the natural environment, peace with other nations, peace with a just economic system."

HELP ACORN Fight for Hurricane Relief for All

At a time when this Administration failed to adequately mobilize to help the largely poor and minority communities of the Gulf Coast, please help ACORN, whose national headquarters are in New Orleans. The dedicated community leaders of Lousiana ACORN have long been at the forefront of efforts to win economic justice. ACORN President Maude Hurd writes: "To our friends and supporters around the country, I ask your help: we need your support to open a temporary national headquarters in Baton Rouge, LA, and, as soon as possible, reopen our offices in New Orleans. As we get up and running, we will work to help secure the housing, community services, and other relief our communities will badly need." So, please consider a contribution to the ACORN Hurricane Recovery and Rebuilding Fund. Tax-deductible checks can be sent to ACORN Institute--Hurricane Recovery and Rebuilding Fund, 739 8th Street SE, Washington, DC, 20003. Or donate online by going to www.acorn.org.

Messing With Mother Nature

(This post was updated on August 31, 2005)

Like all Americans, I was horrified watching pictures of the destruction wrought by the hurricane. And like others who share the name Katrina, I found it eerie hearing and reading my name all over the news. But when Fox started calling the storm Killer Katrina, I prayed some right-wing idiot wouldn't stoop so low as to link me to this human suffering. But wouldn't you know, the biggest dittohead on the block, Rush Limbaugh, is calling the storm Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel. National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who has never seen a bad-joke bandwagon he could resist jumping on with both feet, blogged, "It would be pretty cool if Fox played to caricature and repeatedly referred to the hurricane as Katrina vanden Heuvel." He went on to imagine the lines, "The destruction from Katrina vanden Heuvel is expected to be massive. The poor and disabled are particularly likely to suffer from the effects of Katrina vanden Heuvel."

This is how they show respect for those who are suffering and dying--with lame quips? At least Limbaugh has the excuse that drug abuse tends to stunt emotional development. What Goldberg's problem is nobody has yet discovered. Natural disasters should be above infantile politics. (George W. Bush's decision to send his father and Bill Clinton to organize aid for the tsunami was one of his few international PR successes since 9/11.) It's so easy to take cheap shots. (Did you hear the one about OxyContin's new tag line? "What a Rush!")

We should be asking serious questions about why the Iraq War has led the White House to divert funds from an urgent project to upgrade levees and pumping stations in Louisiana, and why there aren't enough National Guard troops on hand in what is one of the worst natural disasters in US history. It is not a time for personal attacks. Let's empathize with those who are suffering and think about how we can help them.

The Importance of Being Lazy

It's a late August midnight, I'm on vacation, a hurricane named Katrina is heading to Florida--and I'm online. Like some 40 percent of Americans, I have spent half of my time this vacation in (thrice) daily contact with the office. Heck, I've even read the business section of the New York Times on Saturdays and watched Meet the Press on Sundays.

But I did get the hang of climbing out of my superstructured world. I've stared at the ocean for hours. I've slept late, taken a few cat naps (and then worked into the wee hours). I've sharpened my driving skills, and zip around narrow roads with the radio blasting Motown. I learned how to make a wicked martini and cook two new dishes.

As for reading material, I've polished off two novels (and the biography of Thomas Paine for political inspiration). I also brought along a copy of one of my favorite "self-help" books. I first read The Importance of Being Lazy two (long) years ago, and I recommend it to all you Type As who don't know what to do with yourselves on vacation. Read on, enjoy, and get into that hammock before fall descends.



[originally posted online on August 12, 2003]

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING LAZY:In Praise of Play, Leisure and Vacations.By Al Gini.Routledge Books. 182 pp. $22.95 (cloth).

I know how to work hard but not how to play. Take last summer. On my first night of vacation, I went to bed with David Brock's Blinded By the Right. I woke at 3:00 AM filled with guilt that I was not at The Nation, on the barricades, fighting vigilantly against the right-wing forces destroying our country. Like some 40 percent of Americans, I spent most of my time that vacation in (more than) daily contact with the office by e-mail, cell phone and fax.

Another summer is here. It's been a long, arduous yet productive year at the magazine. (Don't get me wrong. I love my job. After all, how many people have work they find meaningful, filled with passion and purpose? But boy, am I tired.)

So, this August, I decided that I needed some justification for playing, dozing, gazing, ambling and goofing off without guilt. And, after some research, I found my guide: The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure and Vacations, by Loyola College philosophy professor and Chicago radio personality Al Gini.

It's an engaging, eclectic, idiosyncratic account of the history of vacations and play--and a reasoned justification of why we need leisure in our lives. In fact, Gini goes even farther, drawing on studies of Americans' vacation habits to show why "doing nothing" is a fundamental human necessity. (Gini relies on the latest academic research as well as interviews, personal anecdotes, the writings of various ancient and contemporary theologians and the well-chosen observations of people like Aristotle, Mark Twain, Thorstein Veblen, Juliet Schor and Arlie Hochschild.)

The book's thesis is both simple and liberating:

Even if we love our jobs and find creativity, success and pleasure in our work, we also crave, desire, and need not to work. No matter what we do to earn a living, we all seek the benefits of leisure, lassitude and inertia...All of us need to play more. All of us need to 'vacate' ourselves from our jobs and the wear and tear of the 'everydayness' of our lives. All of us need to get absorbed in, focused on, something of interest outside of ourselves. All of us need escape, if only for a while, to retain our perspective on who we are and who we don't want to be. All of us need to gain some feeling for, some knowledge of, the differences between distraction and insight, merriment and meaning, entertainment and recreation, laziness and leisure, rest and inertia.

We live in a society, Gini observes, in which modern workers talk about sleeping the same way that hungry people talk about food, and where Americans are now working more than ever before. (Perversely, we allow downtime for maintenance and repair of machinery but not for employees.)

As Joe Robinson, a former adventure-travel magazine editor, says, "Americans' most hazardous work-related illness is vacation deficit disorder or vacation starvation." (Did you know that there is only one other country in the industrialized world, Mexico, with fewer vacation days than America?)

Robinson--entrepreneur and business owner himself--isn't against the work ethic per se. What he's against is the crazed, psychotic overwork ethic. And he's started a crusade for federally required vacation time. After all, why is it that America is the only industrialized nation without a minimum paid-leave law? If President Bush can head to the ranch for a month, why shouldn't the Fair Labor Standards Act be amended so that every American who has worked at a job for at least a year gets three weeks' vacation time annually, at minimum? (For more info or to add your support to Robinson's crusade, click here.

The movement's rallying cry has a familiar echo: "Workers and travelers of America, Unite! We have nothing to lose but our stress!" Can't do much better than that. I'm going to go practice what I preach--take a nap on the porch, lie in the hammock and read a few novels. And, after that, I'm going to try to continue to put leisure time on the political map as an issue that should be near the top of any progressive agenda.

Ground Control to Major George

There is something profoundly disturbing about the fact that the Commander in Chief is in better shape than his Army, that he has time to ride his bike around his ranch for hours while the wheels are coming off the war in Iraq, that he had time to attend fundraisers but not to meet Cindy Sheehan.

Bush's disengagement from reality is reaching the freakish level. In America, Republicans are abandoning his war as they face re-election in '06. Chuck Hagel compared Iraq to Vietnam. More than 60 percent of Americans think the invasion was a mistake, and we are not winning. And now the first Democratic senator, Russell Feingold, has broken ranks and called for a timeline for withdrawal.

In Iraq, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are seriously debating if they really want to be a unified country, whether women will be treated as equal citizens and how much Islamic theocracy to put into the constitution. Outside the Green Zone, the Shiite militias are arming themselves for civil war, while American soldiers are dying at a faster and faster clip.

And yet in Texas, Bush has taken five weeks to cut brush. He mouths the same platitudes about freedom and democracy he was using three years ago. And he cross-trains. The President doesn't just need a plan to get us out of Iraq; he needs an intervention to get him back to planet Earth.

August's Big Pharma Scandals

August may be a slow news month, but not for stories about what's wrong with the drug industry. In just one recent week, the New York Times published three articles that exposed what we're up against with Big Pharma--and the weakness of the agency that's supposed to regulate it.

On August 6, "At Midpoint of Vioxx Trial, Merck Looks Battered" explained how the drug company Merck "appears to be in a deep hole" in its court case in Texas, where it was being sued by the family of a Wal-Mart employee, Robert Ernst. The family charged that Ernst died from an arrhythmia caused by the painkiller Vioxx after taking the medicine for eight months. The coroner who did the autopsy on Ernst told the jury that "Vioxx was probably responsible for Mr. Ernst's death," the Times reported. And the jury agreed this afternoon as it found Merck liable in Ernst's death and awarded his widow a settlement of $253 million.

And this is just the first of more than 4,000 other lawsuits in which the company is being sued over Vioxx in state courts in California, Texas and New Jersey and in US federal court, with liabilities for the company potentially running as high as $30 billion.

The second article ran three days later. "Today's Insider Trading Suspect May Wear a Lab Coat" exposes another problem that has led to our unsafe market for prescription drugs. Doctors and scientists are now joining forces with the big drug companies to promote their products and are increasingly "working as consultants to investors, especially hedge funds," the Times reported.

Most important, though, the SEC is "taking a closer look at whether doctors, participating in criminal trials with drug companies, are accepting money to talk to analysts and investors about the confidential results of a trial." (Another piece in the Times from August 16 reported that "nearly 10 percent of the nation's 700,000 doctors have signed up as consultants" on investment deals. And, according to a Times editorial, doctors make anywhere from $200 to $1,000 an hour on consulting.)

The Seattle Times reported, after completing its own investigation, that it found "at least 26 cases in which doctors have leaked confidential and critical details of their ongoing drug research to Wall Street firms." Doctors who did the leaking were affiliated with top universities like UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania as well as companies like Citigroup, Smith Barney and Wachovia.

That's shameful, but it's not shocking. After all, doctors have gotten dinners, vacations and even thousands of dollars in fees from drug companies to attend "conferences" and "summits," where they are informed of the benefits of the wonder drug du jour. In 2002, one cardiologist told the Washington Post that Merck sent a limo to pick him up, take him to dinner and included a bottle of champagne for kicks.

The third article that I found really disturbing, "FDA Will Not Release Some Data on Heart Devices" (August 6), illustrates why these abuses have become so rampant: The FDA has abandoned its responsibility to oversee and regulate the drug industry.

As the story puts it: "The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it would not release information that it receives annually from the makers of heart devices detailing how often and why products fail." Protecting such data by calling it a corporate "trade secret," the FDA was pulling the plug on the public's right to information.

The Director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, argued in a recent interview that the FDA has become a "formal partner" to drug manufacturers for at least two reasons. First, in 1992, Congress decided that drug companies, not taxpayers, should have to fund the drug review and approval process at the FDA. And so the industry is spending an estimated $350 million this year alone to get its drugs approved, Dr. Wolfe says. Consequently, "Approve now, test later" is the FDA's attitude, Wolfe explained.

The second factor is that Congress has almost totally failed in its responsibility to police the Food and Drug Administration. Committees in Congress used to hold many hearings looking at the FDA's performance, but those days are over. Now, it is up to lone Senators like Chuck Grassley of Iowa to hold the agency's feet to the fire. In a recent floor debate, Grassley said that the agency "is plagued by structural, personnel, cultural and scientific problems." But a lone Senator's voice isn't enough.

In a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, investigative journalist Trudy Lieberman argued that the FDA views the companies it regulates "as clients." That's a fair description. After all, The New England Journal of Medicine reported as early as 2000 that Cox 2 drugs like Vioxx could cause patients to suffer heart attacks, but the FDA refused to force the industry to warn consumers at that time. Similarly, when one safety officer told the FDA's higher-ups that reports had shown that Viagra could lead to the onset of blindness in men, the FDA remained silent. (Thirteen months later, a scientific journal published an article that revealed the problem.)

The FDA also recently rejected the advice of its own advisory panel--which has happened only twice in five decades--that the emergency contraception known as Plan B should be made available to women over the counter. Moreover, the agency failed to warn parents in a timely manner that antidepressants could make kids more likely to commit suicide.

So, what should be done? Dr. Wolfe says that at least four reforms would amount to a good start.

First, he argues that Congress should repeal the 1992 Prescription Drug User Fee Act that "demolished" much of the vigilance that the FDA exerted over the drug industry in previous years. Second, Congress should pass legislation that is being sponsored by senators Dodd and Grassley that will free the Office of Drug Safety from the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (The FDA has been reluctant to admit problems with medicines once drugs have reached the market. By liberating the Office of Drug Safety from the office that handles the review process, Drug Safety would gain independence, and the FDA might finally begin to warn consumers about drugs that turn out to be unsafe after they've gone on the market.)

Third, more generally, the FDA needs to do a better job of enforcing the law, says Wolfe. In 1998 the FDA stopped 157 illegal prescription drug ads, while in 2004 it stopped only twenty-four illegal ads--an 85 percent decrease in the number of FDA enforcement actions.

Finally, Wolfe believes that if Congress increased the number of hearings it held looking into how the FDA is performing, the FDA would face greater scrutiny and be more likely to protect consumers' health, not the drug industry's profits. Here's hoping Wolfe's sensible ideas take hold.

People's Petition for a Way Out of Iraq

A campaign is being launched this week by a host of groups including Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action and others to demand an exit strategy from Iraq. A central part of these efforts is a new petition which lays out a way to get out of Iraq and will be presented to Congress in mid-September.

This comes at what could be a tipping point moment. The country is waking up to the truth that Bush's decisions have led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 1,800 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while making the US, the world and Iraq less secure. A majority of Americans now understand that we were deliberately misled into war; a majority recognize that the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq; and a majority believe that no matter how long US troops remain there, they will not be able to establish a stable, democratic government.

Cindy Sheehan's dignified and defiant stance in Crawford has highlighted the callousness of a President who lacks the compassion to grieve or mourn for those he sent into battle. As E.L. Doctorow wrote last year, "I fault this president for not knowing what death is...He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be."

President Bush should meet with Sheehan. But, even more important, he should listen to the grieving mother, and to the growing number of military families and citizens who are demanding an end to the disastrous occupation of Iraq. Bush should also listen to those who will testify at informal Congressional hearings--now expected on the eve of the September 24 to 26 antiwar demonstrations--designed to explore possible exit strategies. It is anticipated that leading US academics, opposition politicians, civil society activists and Iraqi parliamentarians seeking an end to US occupation will testify.

And for those interested in an honorable and speedy exit strategy, please read, circulate and sign the petition published below. The petition is a response and challenge to the charge that peace and security advocates have no plan. The truth is that Secretary Rumsfeld has no exit strategy--only a "victory strategy." The truth is that the leadership of the Democratic Party has offered no alternative to Bush's policies beyond invading Falluja, adding more American troops, training more Iraqis and providing better body armor. All these policies are failing and will continue to fail. But there is another option: adopting a framework of conflict resolution as the alternative to permanent war and occupation.

Last August, we lived through the filth of the Swift Boat Veterans' mendacious attacks on John Kerry. One year later, America's attention is riveted by the moral protest emanating from Camp Crawford. What was once considered "marginal" is now at the center of our national conversation. Perhaps most significant, a large majority of people in this country agree with Sheehan that some or all US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. If you're one of them, read the petition below and click here to add your name to this growing antiwar effort.

A Petition for an Iraqi Peace Process

"For Mr. Bush, questions about an exit strategy in Iraq have become especially delicate as a crowd of anti-war protestors has expanded at the edge of his ranch, rallying around Cindy Sheehan, the California woman whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004."--New York Times, Aug. 12, 2005.

Like our friend Cindy Sheehan, we are tired of waiting for our troops to come home. We are tired of the bloodshed, tired of tax dollar waste, tired of torture cover-ups, tired of contractor scandals, tired of deceit and fabrication. We are tired of elected officials with profiles in compromise rather than courage.

It is dishonest to admit there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, only to invent new reasons for inflicting mass destruction on that country.

It is dishonorable to fix the facts around the policy.

It is unacceptable to admit that going to war was a mistake, only to claim that the mistake must be perpetuated.

Because we cannot wait for our government to lead, we shall become leaders in ending the war ourselves. We shall propose an exit strategy from Iraq and demand that our government listen and follow. Because we cannot wait for our government to plan for peace, we call on civil society to make our government pay attention.

There are simply no military solutions to this bloodshed. The American military presence, threatening to Iraqi nationalism, religion and culture, is the main cause of the violent response from Iraqis. US policies are pushing Iraq toward civil war, with our government funding and arming Shiites and Kurds against Sunnis. Nearly half of the Iraqi national assembly has called for the "departure of the occupation". The State Department's own internal surveys show that a majority of Iraqis feel less safe in the presence of the American occupying forces. Since the invasion and occupation, the status and safety of women in Iraq have declined precipitously.

Iraqis themselves are calling for the end of occupation. One million recently signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. Initial peace talks among Iraqis are already underway. Our government is deaf to these Iraqi voices for peace.

It is time to shift from a military model to a conflict-resolution model aimed at a peace process and negotiated political settlement.

We propose the following principles as essential to ending the war in Iraq:

First, as a confidence-building measure, the US government must declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil or other resources.

Second, as a further confidence-building measure, the U.S. government must set goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home - in months, not years, beginning with an initial withdrawal of troops by the end of this year.

Third, the US government must request that the United Nations monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation, and organize a peaceful reconstruction effort. The US must accept its obligation to fairly compensate Iraqis for damages, assist Iraqi reconstruction, cease the imposition of privatization schemes, and end the dominance of US contractors in the bidding process.

Fourth, the US government should appoint a peace envoy independent of the occupation authorities to underscore its commitment to an entirely different mission, that of a peace process ending the occupation and returning our soldiers home.

Fifth, the peace envoy should encourage and cooperate in talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement. The settlement must include representation of opposition forces and parties, and power-sharing and the protection of women's rights as core principles of governance and economic and energy development. We believe such an initiative will reduce, though not eliminate, violence by lessening any rationale for Jihadist or sectarian conflict.

We send this message to all Americans in civil society, to our elected officials, and to the global peace movement. We demand that Congressional hearings begin to define an exit strategy now. We demand that members of Congress, reflecting the will of the people, adopt policy and budget initiatives that call for an exit strategy based on the above principles. We demand a peace envoy, peace talks with the opposition, reconstruction, the closure of US bases, and the safe return home of all US troops.

Sweet Victory: Woolsey Says No to Nukes

This past weekend, thousands of activists gathered at Los Alamos and other prominent nuclear facilities across the country to mark the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan. As demonstrators chanted "No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!," President Bush chose to honor the anniversary in another way: by proceeding with his plans to build newer, even more powerful nukes.

Last month, the Senate approved Bush's initial request of $4 million for research on a "robust nuclear earth penetrator" (RNEP)--a bomb that George Monbiot of the UK Guardian writes, has "a yield about 10 times that of the Hiroshima device." For all Bush has done to condemn the global proliferation of WMD, his actions are almost single-handedly destroying the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pact signed by nearly 200 nations.

But Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey--co-chair of the recently revamped Congressional Progressive Caucus--is taking a stand against Bush's hypocrisy. On July 20th, she introduced a resolution calling for the president to fulfill his obligation to the Non-Proliferation Treaty by beginning "verifiable and irreversible reductions in the United States strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems." "There will be no security for America or our world," Woolsey says, "unless we take all steps necessary for nuclear disarmament."

Woolsey's bill is one of several bold new initiatives launched by members of the Progressive Caucus to try to open the suffocating consensus (especially on national security issues) in Congress. Since hiring Bill Goold as the CPC's first full-time staffer, Woolsey and her colleagues have drawn up several strong, sensible resolutions for withdrawal from Iraq and issued a powerful statement of core values in their "Progressive Promise."

Woolsey's H.Res.373 aims to fulfill one of the objectives outlined in the Promise: "To re-build US alliances around the world, restore international respect for American power and influence, and reaffirm our nation's constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations."

At a time in which America's relations with the world continue to be sullied by the politics of Boltonism, voices like Woolsey's are critical. To join the fight against Bush's nuclear nonsense, call your representatives and urge them to support H.Res.373.

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.

Religion and the Left

Last month, Rabbi Michael Lerner--the founding editor of Tikkun magazine--convened a Conference on Spiritual Activism in Berkeley. It was there that he launched a new organization called the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP).

Lerner describes it as "the most significant inter-faith effort" to bring together "religious, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious progressives." Thirteen hundred people--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and "spiritual but not religious people"--turned out for the conference to network and hear talks from Dave Robinson, the Executive Director of Pax Christi USA; Michael Nagler, founder of Berkeley's Peace and Conflict Studies Program; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson.

The Network, Lerner explained in an interview last week, is seeking to transform our nation's institutions and culture by addressing the American people's "spiritual crisis." This crisis, he argues, stems from "an excess of selfishness and materialism" associated with American capitalism, and the fledgling organization wants to change society's bottom line by de-emphasizing "money and power" and reinforcing values like "love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity and behavior, kindness and generosity, non-violence and peace."

NSP's agenda includes proposals to add a constitutional amendment that would require corporations with more than $50 million in annual income to renew their charters every ten years by appearing before a jury of citizens and proving they had behaved in a socially responsible manner; to create a G-8 "Marshall Plan" whereby 5 percent of the richest nations' GDP would be donated to the most impoverished nations to fight poverty and guard against environmental degradation left over by decades of colonialism; and to refocus our nation's educational efforts around values like "caring," rather than "competition."

Critical to Lerner's agenda is to challenge what he calls "religio-phobia" on the left. Perhaps with that in mind, once the conference ended, he sent Tikkun's readers an e-mail blast that urged them to call The Nation and other progressive media outlets, which he said had failed to cover the Berkeley event, showed hostility to the religious left and had (once again) turned their backs on Tikkun and the politics of spirituality.

I traded e-mails with Lerner after receiving that letter. I pointed out that The Nation has, in fact, been committed to the inclusion of spiritual and religious perspectives since the magazine was founded by men (no women, sadly) devoted to a moral politics that sought the abolition of slavery. I reminded Lerner that leading religious left figures have appeared in our pages over the decades. Our civil rights correspondent in the early 1960s, for example, was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1970s and '80s, Penny Lernoux wrote numerous pathbreaking articles relating Christ's teaching to the struggle of Latin America's people for justice in the face of powerful and corrupt elites and military juntas. More recently, in one of the first issues I edited in 1996, Harvey Cox--the eminent Harvard theology professor--argued that "to purge the public square of religion is to cut the roots of the values that nourish our fondest causes."

Just last summer, The Nation ran a cover story about the religious left to remind readers of the historic ties between the religious community and progressives. As our contributing writer Eyal Press argued, "if the emphasis on separating faith and politics alienates religious progressives and dampens their social activism, the left stands to lose a lot--both at the ballot box and in terms of social progress."

And, on a more personal note, I published an interview in this space in February in which the Rev. George Hunsinger--the McCord professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and the coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America--argued that reviving the progressive movement "may well hinge on whether" the liberal left can be more "hospitable to religious people." (He also insisted that we need to reframe the "moral values" debate on issues of torture, pre-emption, unjust war and poverty.)

It's true that many on the left view religion as, at best, an obstacle to enlightenment and reason and, at worst, a source of bigotry and intolerance through the ages. And in these times, when as writer Philip Roth has noted, we are living in "the fourth year of the ministry of George W. Bush," when the separation of church and state is under assault, and with the pervasive influence of a fundamentalist, intolerant religious right, it is even harder for secularists to hear those religious voices that speak of peace, social justice and respectful interdependence.

But these are also times which try men's (and women's) souls, times of defeat and challenge, when even the most hard-core secularists are seeking deeper meaning and spiritual sustenance in their lives. I was struck by a recent correspondence on the Portside listserv--which is hosted by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. A reader, a self-identified Marxist, commenting on a favorable piece about Lerner's new network (by Van Jones, an extraordinary activist and preacher, and director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) urged "Marxists to recognize the reality of human spirituality" as a political force that will underpin the rise of any progressive majority.

I believe that one of the key issues facing the left (and admittedly there are many) is whether all of us--secular, spiritual and religious alike--can treat one another with the humanity, honesty, respect and grace we all need and deserve. We also need to answer this question: Can we unite to challenge the religious right through a new politics of the religious left?

As Lerner wrote me last week, "...the need to overcome the potentially fascistic direction of American politics as the Religious Right and the secular right strengthen their alliance and their hold on American political institutions makes us want to transcend past upsets and focus on how to build the most effective social change movement for the future..."

We've done it before. Religious and secular progressives have a long history of working together, albeit in a dramatically different social and political climate. Almost every major social reform movement in America (and many around the world--think on this tweny-fifth anniversary summer of Solidarity's inception) has been fueled in part by faith.

As Reverend Hunsinger pointed out in his interview with me, the antiwar activists Father Robert Drinan and the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. were both inspirations to peace activists everywhere. In his recent book, A Stone of Hope, the historian David Chappell convincingly likened the civil rights movement to a religious revival, showing how black Southerners inspired by the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament spearheaded the drive to abolish "the sin of segregration." And in the 1980s, progressive religious congregations led the sanctuary movement, which opened up US cities to Latinos who were fleeing Reagan's covert interventions in Central America. They also played an important role in the massive grassroots drive to curtail the nuclear arms race.

Recent examples of religious left activism include the work of the National Council of Churches--last month, it sent President Bush a letter arguing that America's rationale for invading Iraq was "at best a tragic mistake"; it has also taken the lead in fighting for universal healthcare, affordable housing and full employment. There is also the work of Pastors for Peace, which delivers humanitarian aid to the Cuban people and works with the Cuban Council of Churches and other faith-based organizations to normalize ties with Cuba. And don't forget the stalwart American Friends Service Committee, which has been instrumental in establishing sister city programs with municipalities around the world.

Indeed, Van Jones may be on the mark when he argues that "the last time US progressives captured the national debate and transformed politics--people of faith were at the center of the movement, not stuck in its closet."

So, The Nation will be following the work of the Network of Spritual Progressives in the days to come, and we urge our readers to do the same. (The group's next conference will be held in the spring in Washington, DC. Click here for info.)

Just as important, and in what I hope is a spirit of generosity and tolerance, we intend to continue to air our differences in our pages and on our website without losing sight of the critical commonalities that will, let's hope, bring us together around our many shared goals.

Sweet Victory: MM at 25

In an age in which corporate malfeasance abounds, too much of the mainstream media has been unaccountably lax in covering the abuses of big business. Luckily for us--and unluckily for would-be white-collar criminals--one indispensable journal has kept a watchful eye on corporations for the last quarter century.

In 1980, Multinational Monitor was founded by Ralph Nader and a rag-tag band of socially conscious reporters who felt that corporate power was "undergoing a transformation, mutating into something more fundamentally global in scope and profoundly more dangerous." Published nine times a year, the Monitor is not glamorous or immediately recognizable outside of activist and political media circles. But its hard-hitting stories on corporate environmental abuse, health and safety violations, and exploitation of developing nations have long held the feet of executives to the fire.

The Monitor's most widely publicized feature in recent years has been its annual list of the "Top Ten Worst Corporations," compiled by Robert Weissman (who also serves as editor) and Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter. This past year, Coca-Cola, Merck, and--you guessed it--Wal-Mart all made the list, which spread through the blogosphere like wildfire and caused migraines for corporate PR firms.

We're also big fans of the Monitor's bi-monthly Lawrence Summers Memorial Award--named after the loose-lipped Harvard president and former Treasury Secretary, who once suggested that polluting developing nations was a fiscally responsible strategy (among other ridiculous things). A recent recipient was SeaCode: a company, according to the Monitor, "which plans on locating a cruise ship in international waters, just off of the California coast, and out of reach of US labor, employment and immigration law, to house a software development company."

It's no wonder that hundreds of advocacy groups rely on the Monitor's consistently bold investigative reporting. "I think they are the only reliable source of information on global corporations," says John Cavanaugh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies. "It's amazing to me that they're the only magazine that is explicitly devoted to the issue of the excess of corporate power--which is probably the greatest challenge to democracy in the world."

Happy 25th Multinational Monitor. Keep giving ‘em hell.

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.

Leave No God Behind

Days after Bill Frist, the White House's choice for Senate majority leader, turned his back on religious conservatives to support federal funding for stem cell research, President Bush threw his evangelical base a bone. He came out in support of public school science classes giving equal standing to "intelligent design," the belief that life forms are so complex that their creation can't be explained by Darwinian evolutionary theory alone, but rather points to intentional creation, presumably divine.

Was this sequence of events random? Or the design of a higher intelligence, say The Boy Genius, perhaps? Unless special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald investigates, we'll never know.

But what we do know is that when it comes to intelligence and the designing of it, the Bush Administration is not to be trusted. Its "slam dunk" evidence on Iraqi WMD was a concoction of deliberate lies and false hopes. Its democratic designs on the Middle East are bleeding to death in the sands of the Sunni Triangle. And its theory that we fight the terrorists "over there" so they won't attack us "over here" is small comfort to the victims in Madrid and London.

We don't need more God in science. We need more intelligence in the White House. Because the majority of Americans have lost faith in this president.

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