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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Republican Dictionary V

Bankruptcy reform was a handout to the credit card companies, the prescription drug bill was a multibillion-dollar donation to the pharmaceutical industry, the repeal of the death tax was a handout to the Paris Hiltons of the country. Never before in our history have our politician's words been as out of touch with their actions.

This is no accident. While Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff have been sucking the pork out of the barrel, their intellectual lackeys have systematically been creating an entire language of Republican doublespeak. In fact they have gotten so brazen at it, their chief spin doctor, Frank Luntz, went on The Daily Show to demonstrate how it's done.

For the past six months, readers of thenation.com and I have been working to pop the festering boil on our political life with the skewer of satire. We've been building a Republican Dictionary that will be published as a book in the fall. We are almost finished, but we still need a few more funny, sharp, and biting definitions. We need your help, specifically for words like "The Patriot Act," "The War on Drugs," "Airport Security," "The House Ethics Committee," "Tom Delay," "Creationism," "Crusade," "Proliferation," "Blue State," "Red State," "The United Nations," "Zell Miller." (Click here to submit your ideas.)

We will select our favorite submissions for the book, and if yours is included we'll send you a free copy. I thank you for your help in this fight.

WashU Comes Correct

Sweet Victory

In the wake of the sweet victory at Georgetown--the result of a remarkable two-week hunger strike--students across the country sprung into a "Week of Action" for workers' rights. According to the Student Labor Action Project, students from over 250 schools participated in mass actions beginning on March 31st, thebirthday of Cesar Chavez, and ending on April 4th--the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death. But for students at the Washington University of St. Louis, the struggle had just begun.

On that day, fifteen students occupied the admissions office and began a 19-day sit-in. Their demand was that the school's janitors be paid a living wage and their argument hit a familiar key: at a school with a multi-billion dollar endowment, it was unconscionable for university employees to be paid eight dollars an hour. Members of Wash U's Student Worker Alliance began organizing a campaign for fair wages in 2003, and last year--after St. Louis Board of Aldermen established $9.79 per hour with full benefits as the city's living wage--they requested that the university comply with these standards. After repeated rejections, the students opted for direct action.

A week into the sit-in, a dozen protesters upped the ante and began a hunger strike. On the second day of the hunger strike, the national organizing director for the AFL-CIO, Stewart Acuff arrived at the school to show solidarity with the students. "We're talking about young people who are motivated by a clear passion for justice," said Acuff to a crowd at the campus. "In the case of Washington University, it is a remarkably selfless passion."

As the campaign continued, support from influential figures, including former Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards, poured in from throughout the country. By the final days of the sit-in, over 200 faculty members had signed a petition backing the students' demands, and local congregations were staging 24-hour vigils. On April 22nd, the WashU officials finally agreed not only to pay its workers a living wage, but to join the Worker's Rights Consortium, an international monitoring group that protects the rights of workers who make university-themed apparel.

According to the Washington Post, unions are increasingly relying on student movements for support, "not only because universities are vulnerable to moral arguments in ways that businesses often are not, but because they can't be fired." In a time in which only 13 percent of the country's private-sector workforce belongs to a union, student movements like those at WashU and Georgetown are filling a critical void.

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.

Open Letter to Howard Dean

"Now that we're there, we're there and we can't get out," Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean told an audience of nearly 1,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center on April 20th. "The president has created an enormous security problem for the US where none existed before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he's there."

I agree with Dean--a political figure I admire-- that the war in Iraq has put the US in greater danger. But the question facing us today is who will speak for the millions of Americans who believe that continued occupation increases the danger? Who will speak for the millions who believe that the US has gotten bogged down in Iraq? Who will speak out against the (majority of the) Democratic Party's silent consent to the Bush Administration's Iraq war policies? Who will speak out about the wrenching human and economic costs of occupation? Who will speak out in support of a clear and honorable exit strategy? Who will make a clear, unequivocal declaration that the US will not maintain permanent military bases in Iraq?

For those who believe that America needs to change course, Tom Hayden's open letter to Howard Dean appealing to him not to take the antiwar majority of the Democratic Party for granted is an eloquent and important document. Read it, share it.

April 26, 2005

Dear Chairman Dean,

Thank you kindly for your call and your expressed willingness todiscuss the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War. There is growingfrustration at the grass roots towards the party leadership's silent collaborationwith the Bush Administration's policies. Personally, I cannot remember a timein thirty years when I have been more despairing over the party's moraldefault. Let me take this opportunity to explain.

The party's alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repairedafter the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel overIraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of antiwar voters gavetheir time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidentialcampaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate's position on theIraq War. Of the millions spent by "527" committees on voter awareness, nonewas spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.

The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed theUS invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroythat city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority ofFalluja's residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunniabstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.

Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator TedKennedy and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, advocated a timetable for withdrawal.Their concerns were quickly deflated by the party leadership.

Next came the Iraqi elections, in which a majority of Iraqissupported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. ("US IntelligenceSays Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal." New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) AJanuary 2005poll showed that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a"near-term US withdrawal" (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005. The Democrats failed tocapitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdadcalling again for US withdrawal, chanting "No America, No Saddam."(New York Times, April 10, 2005) The Democrats ignored this massive nonviolent protest.

There is evidence that the Bush Administration, along with itsclients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalitioncalling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silenttowards this meddling.

On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared "we don't really have an exitstrategy. We have a victory strategy." (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There wasno Democratic response.

The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics ofour occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. Thenew government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable toprovide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forcesare under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.

A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plusbillion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even fromthe 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least votedagainst the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.

The Democratic Party's present collaboration with the Bush Iraqpolicies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built withantiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vastmajority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrousdecision to vote for Ralph Nader four years before. But the Democrats'pro-war policies threaten to deeply splinter the party once again.

We all supported and celebrated your election as Party chairman,hoping that winds of change would blow away what former president Bill Clintononce called "brain-dead thinking."

But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq requirefurther reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty ofprogressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstreamAmerican voters.

Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the IraqWar is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy,another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of thenationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economicoccupation. Period.

To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, letme say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives fortheir own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the politicalreputations of high officials at the expense of their nation's moral reputation.

At the same time, I understand that there are limitations on what adivided political party can propose, and that there are internal pressuresfrom hawkish Democratic interest groups. I am not suggesting that the Democratic Party has to support  language favoring "out now" or  "isolation." What I am arguing is that theDemocratic Party must end its silent consent to the Bush Administration's IraqWar policies and stand for a negotiated end to the occupation and ourmilitary presence. The Party should seize on Secretary Rumsfeld's recentcomments to argue that the Republicans have never had an "exit strategy" becausethey have always wanted a permanent military outpost in the Middle East,whatever the cost.

The Bush Administration deliberately conceals the numbers of Americandead in the Iraq War. Rather than the 1,500 publicly acknowledged, the realnumber is closer to 2,000 when private contractors are counted.

The Iraq War costs one billion dollars in taxpayer funds every week.In "red" states like Missouri, the taxpayer subsidy for the Iraq Warcould support nearly 200,000 four-year university scholarships.

Military morale is declining swiftly. Prevented by antiwar opinionfrom re-instituting the military draft, the Bush Administration is forced tointensify the pressures on our existing forces. Already forty percentof those troops are drawn from the National Guard or reservists.Recruitment has fallen below its quotas, and 37 military recruiters are among the6,000 soldiers who are AWOL.

President Bush's "coalition of the willing" is steadily weakening,down from 34 countries to approximately twenty. Our international reputation hasbecome that of a torturer, a bully.

The anti-war movement must lead and hopefully, the Democratic Partywill follow. But there is much the Democratic Party can do:

First, stop marginalizing those Democrats who are calling forimmediate withdrawal or a one-year timetable. Encourage public hearings inCongressional districts on the ongoing costs of war and occupation,with comparisons to alternative spending priorities for the one billion dollars per week.

Second, call for peace talks between Iraqi political parties and theIraqi resistance. Hold hearings demand to know why the Bush Administrationis trying to squash any such Iraqi peace initiatives. (Bush Administration officials are hoping the new Iraqi government will "settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar." New York Times, Jan. 19, 2005).

Third, as an incentive to those Iraqi peace initiatives, the US needsto offer to end the occupation and withdraw our troops by a near-termdate. The Bush policy, supported by the Democrats, is to train and arm Iraqisto fight Iraqis--a civil war with fewer American casualties.

Fourth, to further promote peace initiatives, the US needs to specifythat a multi-billion dollar peace dividend will be earmarked for Iraqi-ledreconstruction, not for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, withoutdiscrimination as to Iraqi political allegiances.

Fifth, Democrats could unite behind Senator Rockefellers's persistentcalls for public hearings on responsibility for the torture scandals. IfRepublicans refuse to permit such hearings, Democrats should hold themindependently. "No taxes for torture" is a demand most Democratsshould be able to support. The Democratic Senate unity against the Boltonappointment is a bright but isolated example of how public hearings can keepmedia and public attention focused on the fabricated reasons for going to war.

Instead of such initiatives, the national Democratic Party is eithercommitted to the Iraq War, or to avoiding blame for losing the IraqWar, at the expense of the social programs for which it historically stands.The Democrats' stance on the war cannot be separated from the Democrats'stance on health care, social security, inner city investment, andeducation, all programs gradually being defunded by a war which costs $100 billionyearly, billed to future generations.

This is a familiar pattern for those of us who suffered through theVietnam War. Today it is conventional wisdom among Washington insiders,including even the liberal media, that the Democratic Party must distanceitself from its antiwar past, and must embrace a position of military toughness.

The truth is quite the opposite. What the Democratic Party should distanceitself from is its immoral and self-destructive pro-war positions inthe 1960s which led to unprecedented polarization, the collapse of fundsfor the War on Poverty, a schism in the presidential primaries, and thedestruction of the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Thirty years after our forcedwithdrawal from Vietnam, the US government has stable diplomatic and commercialrelations with its former Communist enemy. The same future is possible in Iraq.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, not to take the anti-war majority ofthis Party for granted. May I suggest that you initiate a seriousreappraisal of how the Democratic Party has become trapped in the illusions which youyourself questioned so cogently when you ran for president. I believethat an immediate commencement of dialogue is necessary to fix thecredibility gap in the Party's position on the Iraq War. Surely if the war was amistake based on a fabrication, there is a better approach than simplybecoming accessories to the perpetrators of the deceit. And surely there is agreater role for Party leadership than permanently squandering the immensegood will, grass roots funding, and new volunteer energy that wasgenerated by your visionary campaign.

TOM HAYDEN

Be Careful What You Pray For

I don't claim to be as good at interpreting the apocalyptic signs of Revelations as the Christian right or the entertainment executives at NBC, but there are portents that The Lord is getting tired of the people who keep using his name in vain. I'll report, you decide:

I. Tom DeLay's sleazy lobbyist pal and tourism operator, Jack Abramoff, is making plea-bargain-sounding remarks that DeLay knew about everything.

II. Dick Cheney's choice for UN ambassador, John Bolton, whose temper is only matched by his moustache, has been left hanging in the wind by the conscience of Republican George Voinovich, an event as miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea.

III. Bill Frist, Harvard MD turned born-again creationist, lost control of his Republican caucus during the Bolton hearing and seems unlikely to regain it for the filibuster nuclear option, making his born-again presidential campaign conversion seem as foolish as it is transparent.

IV. George Bush's umpteenth push for Social Security privatization was undermined by the worst stock market drop since 9/11. Then, his Earth Day speech was scuttled by a freak hailstorm.

Is this the end of days for the Republican majority? I leave that to a higher power to decide. But they should be careful what they pray for.

'Bad Religion, Bad Politics'

I'm writing this on the eve of "Justice Sunday"--a telecast being promoted by evangelical Christian conservatives who charge that Democrats opposing President Bush's judicial nominees are acting "against people of faith."

The Senate Republican's Defender of the Faith, Bill Frist, who supports a "culture of life" but not lively debate, is scheduled to join in this televised show--designed to smear those who have honest differences over policy issues as religious bigots. As the Boston Globe asked in a tough editorial attacking Frist's intolerance: "Will every political difference now open opponents to such accusations? And whose definition of 'faith' is in use here?"

These are scary times. The nation is in the control of extremists who want to merge church and state. A line is crossed when religion demonizes politicians of certain religion--or no religion--and when the church-state separation is breached by people believing that their God is better than another God.

Extremists are attacking an independent judiciary and checks and balances, both fundamental elements of a democracy. Earlier this month, as Max Blumenthal reported for The Nation online, conservative activists and top GOP staffers are likening judges to communists, terrorists, and murderers. One so-called scholar invoked one of Stalin's favorite sayings, "No person, no problem," suggesting this was the preferred way of dealing with out-of-control courts. (By the way, according to the Alliance for Justice, 55 percent of the Circuit Court judges are GOP appointees. Republicans advocating killing Republicans?)

Will we allow Republican mullahs to create a country where religion dictates policy in a democratic country? As Sidney Blumenthal recently wrote in Salon, "The election of 2004 marks the rise of a quasi-clerical party for the first time in the US....Ecclesiastical organizations have become transformed into the sinew and muscle of the Republican party."

With debates raging about issues that mix religion and politics, it's worth paying heed to the words of a scholar who has written eloquently on the relationship between Americans' religious beliefs and political actions.

Princeton Professor of Religion Jeffrey Stout, in "Democracy and Tradition," has some sharp observations about a public political discourse that embraces rather than stigmatizes a variety of religious viewpoints.

In an interview last year, Stout argued that "political officials should refrain from presuming to speak for the whole nation on religious questions. Kings and queens used to make a mockery of religion by presuming to be its caretakers. What most of them really wanted was a kind of religion that would justify their rule while pacifying the populace. Our elected representatives are prone to the same temptations. The religion that our politicians practice in public often smells of sanctimony, manipulation and self-idolatry. Its symbolic gestures make for bad religion and bad politics...Neither will it help to scapegoat secularists, nor to imply that atheists and agnostics, let alone Muslims, are something less than full-fledged citizens.

A country that has preachers, prophets, poets, houses of worship and open air does not need politicians expressing its piety collectively in public places. Individual citizens can be trusted to find their own appropriate ways to express their own religious convictions and train the young in virtue. What the people need from political leaders are the virtues of truthfulness, justice, practical wisdom, courage, vision and a kind of compassion whose effects can actually be discerned in the lives of the poor and the elderly."

Think of these words as Frist and other Republican extremists join evangelical leaders to smear people of good faith. And stand with people of good faith who believe that we need to save our democracy.

Sweet Environmental Victories

In many ways, this Earth Day is a particularly somber occasion. After all, in the past year, we've seen repeated environmental debacles--most notably, the decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to drilling for oil. But, with the determination of environmental activists and state legislatures that refuse to bow down to Bush, there are, as always, reasons for hope. Here are five of our top environmental victories in the last year.

** Clear Skies Initiative Dropped: Thanks to a 9-to-9 vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee, Bush's Orwellian-labeled bill--which would have loosened air pollution restrictions for power plants, factories and refineries--did not advance to the Senate. Without Clear Skies, we'll be much more likely to see, well, clear skies.

** Colorado Passes Renewable Energy Initiative: Colorado's Amendment 37, a precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.

**Cleaner Cars: Clean Car legislation--requiring the reduction of harmful auto emissions--is being adopted in California and seven other states, and is gaining traction in five more states. With Canada adopting a similar program, a third of North America's automobile market will require clean cars. Meanwhile, heavy-hitters on the right, including former CIA head R. James Woolsey and uber-hawk Frank J. Gaffney Jr., have been lobbying congress to implement policies promoting hybrid cars, hoping to cut oil consumption in half by 2025.

**Challenging Mercury: In March, the EPA issued a loophole-laden policy that, in effect, deregulates controls on mercury emissions from power plants. In response, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have implemented stronger controls on mercury--which is linked to nerve damage and birth defects--than the EPA, Meanwhile, nine state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against the agency, arguing that the lax rules jeopardize public health.

**International Victories: Ultimately, there are too many to list, but it's worth starting with the six enviro-activists who won this year's Goldman Prizes, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel.

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.

Bush's iPod: Take Two

After reading that New York Times article about the President's iPod, I couldn't resist putting together a Top Ten playlist for Dubya. So, in my Editor's Cut last week, I nominated songs like Kid Rock's "Pimp of the Nation," Eminem's "Mosh" and REM's, "The End of the World as We Know It." I even suggested that Bush add that old jazz standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

But I knew my list included only a tiny fraction of what this President needed to hear. So, I asked readers for their nominations for the "First iPod." Within minutes, terrific song suggestions were pouring in from across the United States. Many of you nominated Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief;" Green Day's "American Idiot" ("custom-written for Dubya," one reader observed); Black-Eyed Peas, "Where is the Love?;" and Edwin Starr's "War--What is it Good for?" Greats like Frank Zappa (especially, "The Torture Never Stops,"), Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs were also at the top of many lists.

I've compiled a readers' playlist from all your emails, but first I wanted to share a few of the interesting comments that came in from across the country:

* W.D. Dean from Burleson, Texas, says: "Here are a couple of songs from the master of stinging social commentary...Frank Zappa. If Frank were still with us he would be having a field day with the current political climate. Two of his songs that come to mind are 'Dumb All Over,' a catchy little tune about the influence of the religious right in American politics, although it could easily describe the entire Bush Administration as well and 'When the Lie's So Big,' a song describing the Republican Party in general, also written in 1980. These songs were definitely ahead of their time."

*Adam Hasty in Nashville, TN writes: "I humbly suggest 'Vietnow' by Rage Against the Machine. It seems more than fitting given the current situation."

* Jean McIntosh from Lawrence, Kansas writes in: "On behalf of all blue staters who happen to live in red states, I'd like to nominate 'Hound Dog' from the late, great Elvis. Because of W's whining about the 'hard work' of the job which he stole from Al Gore; because of the lies of the so-called liberal media (SCLM) who said anyone who belonged to such a 'distinguished family' couldn't possibly be such a sleazy crook; because of his enthusiasm for hunting which is as great as his incompetence at it; and most of all, because 90 percent of the time, he looks as clueless as a lost dog which has just been hit over the head with a large club. "When they said you were a high class/that was just a lie..you ain't ne'er caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine." And the song's pretty catchy too.

*Donna Hill of Plattburgh, NY nominates Terry Jacks' 'Seasons in the Sun.' "Might make ole George think about the men he is sending to war without harking back to the Vietnam era protest songs. And Madonna's 'Papa Don't Preach' should suit the abstinence policy fairly well."

* David Carlson from Santa Cruz, CA nominated a song due out this summer--James McMurtry's "We Can't Make it Here Anymore." "It's going to be on his new album 'Third World Turnpike' due out this summer, but he has been playing it live and causing a stir in his shows this spring. A critic for the local paper described the song as a 'kind of lament for the wrenching economic changes that have turned places like rural Texas into battlegrounds between opportunistic corporations and people trying to eke out a living.' It describes the various indignities of working class life in almost journalistic detail, but McMurtry also points fingers, at the politicians and CEOs who he sees as victimizers of patriotic, decent Americans."

* "We need to get some Dylan into his iPod, " writes Steve Elworth of Brooklyn, NY. "Otherwise, George W suffers from even more severe cultural illiteracy. 'Masters of War,' 'With God on Our Side.' 'Highway 61 Revisited,' 'Ballad of a Thin Man,' and, of course, 'It's All Right Ma,' because he has to remember that 'sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked.'"

* Paul Blumberg from Bloomington, Indiana writes, "To help Bush balance his budget (impossible with all his tax cuts) we might add 'Pennies from Heaven.' He'll need 'em."

* "I recommend, " writes Julie Bolcer from Brooklyn, "that Mr. Bush listen to XTC's 'Dear God,' and 'We'd Like to Thank you, Herbert Hoover,' from the soundtrack to the musical 'Annie.'"

I'm grateful for all the mail, and based on the more than 300 nominations that came in, here's a new and expanded playlist for George W. If he knew what was good for this country's heart and soul, the President would stop deceiving and denying and start downloading. If he won't, we should--if you have an iPod, create your own "Dubya Playlist."

Hail to the Thief, Radiohead

American Idiot, Green Day

Where is the Love?, Black Eyed Peas

War--What is it Good For?, Edwin Starr

Bu$leaguer, Pearl Jam

Masters of War (and many others, including Idiot Wind and It's All Right Ma), Bob Dylan

White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land (and I Ain't Marching Anymore), Phil Ochs

The Torture Never Stops (and others like When the Lie's So Big), Frank Zappa

Bombs Over Baghdad, Outkast

Nowhere Man (also The Long and Winding Road and The Fool on the Hill), The Beatles

Gimme Some Truth, John Lennon

Papa Don't Preach, Madonna

Hit The Road Jack, Ray Charles

This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie

What's Going On, Marvin Gaye

Bring the Boys Home, Freda Payne

Burning Down the House, Talking Heads

Political Science (and Rednecks), Randy Newman

Asshole from El Paso, Kinky Friedman

I'm Too Dumb for New York City and Too Ugly for LA, Waylon Jennings

What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?, Elvis Costello

Excitable Boy, Warren Zevon

War on War, Wilco

Nobody's Fault But Mine, Led Zeppelin

Everybody's Been Burned, The Byrds

Eve of Destruction, Barry Maguire

And from Richard Myers out of Furlong, PA: "How about 'The End' by The Doors--as in less than four years and counting?"

Here's to that! In the meantime, let's keep adding to George W's iPod. Click here to keep those suggestions coming.

Sweet Victory: Maryland Stands Up To Wal-Mart

With the federal government content to let Wal-Mart run amok,it has been left up to the states to protect workers from the retailbehemoth's excesses. This past Saturday, April 9, Maryland showed America'slargest corporation who's boss.

Maryland's House of Delegates voted 82 to 48 to approve a bill thatwould require all businesses in the state with more than 10,000employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on healthbenefits for workers (or, alternatively, donate the funds to thestate's Medicaid program). Wal-Mart, with its 15,000 employees, is theonly such company that does not already spend 8 percent on health care foremployees--and thus, the direct target of the bill. Spearheaded byMaryland for Health Care, the legislation was supported by a coalition ofover 1,000 organizations representing Maryland's health, business, andcommunity interests.

"We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up...and provideadequate health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles). Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr., who is expected to veto the bill, lashed out atDemocratic legislators. Cowed by Rush Limbaugh's criticisms of themeasure, Ehrlich claimed the bill had made a mockery of Maryland.[Note to Marylanders: when your Governor cares more about Rush'sopinion than yours, you're in trouble. Thankfully though, with a widemajority of the Senate having approved the bill, Ehrlich's vetodoesn't stand a chance.]

Wal-Mart's critics hope that other states will follow Maryland's lead.The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, headed by formerdirector of the Democratic Party's Senatorial Campaign Committee AndyGrossman, plans to distribute copies of Maryland's Fair ShareHealth Care Act to state legislators in all 50 states. Already, sevenstates are considering similar measures.

The surge of anti-Wal-Mart activity has pushed the corporation into PRcrisis mode. On April 6, in its latest attempt to soften its image,Wal-Mart invited over seventy journalists to its corporateheadquarters in Arkansas. And on Tuesday--responding to a newly-formedcoalition of environmental and labor activists--Wal-Mart announced thatit would donate $35 million over the next decade to the National Fishand Wildlife Coalition's preservation efforts.

Don't count on Wal-Mart to become another Ben and Jerry's. But, withcontinued pressure from activists and legislative action from thestates, America's corporations could face a future in which socialresponsibility is no longer optional.

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.

George Bush’s iPod Playlist

Did you see the story the other day about George W's iPod? Seems he's had it since July, when his freewheeling twin daughters gave it to him as a birthday present. Dubya has some 250 songs on it--a paltry number given the 10,000 selections it can hold.

As the New York Times reported, "Mr Bush, as leader of the free world, does not take the time to download the music himself; that task falls to his personal assistant who buys the individual songs and albums." (And you can bet there's no file sharing.) As for an analysis of Dubya's playlist, it's interesting that the president likes artists who don't like him. He has John Fogerty's "Centerfield," which was played at Texas Rangers games when Bush owned the team and is still played at ballparks all over America. However, Bush hasn't gone so far as to include "Fortunate Son"--the anti-Vietnam war song about who has to go to war that Fogerty sang when he fronted Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Remember how that goes: "I ain't no Senator's son...some folks are born with a silver spoon in hand.")

Reading the Times report did evoke one sheepish confession: I share something in common with George W. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" is a top ten fave on my iPod playlist too. Seems the Irish folk-rocker is a Bush favorite going way back.

So, thinking of those thousands of empty slots on Bush's iPod, I'd like to nominate a few new songs for the leader of the free world's playlist. Here's my top ten:

Kid Rock, "Pimp of the Nation"

Eminem, "Mosh"

Beastie Boys, "It Takes Time to Build"

John Mellencamp, "To Washington"

George Thorogood, "I Drink Alone"

The Castaways, "Liar,Liar"

REM, "The End of the World As We Know It"

Steve Earle, "The Revolution Starts Now"

The Clash, "I'm So Bored with the USA"

And that old jazz standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"

I'm sure you readers have lots of better nominations. Please click here to let me know what you think and we'll see what we can do about getting Dubya's IPod some new music.

P.S. Judith Regan Goes West: What was that story about Regan and her new West Coast, Murdoch-financed, multimedia empire/salon doing on the front page of the Gray Lady yesterday? If the New York Times is going to do second-rate versions of New York Observer stories, could they at least drop in a graf about Regan's trsyt with Bernie Kerik down near Ground Zero.

Sweet Victory: Montana Acts Patriotic

Last week, we highlighted state minimum wage increases in Vermont andNew Jersey. This week, once again, we salute states that refuse tomarch lock-step with the Bush Administration's radical agenda.

On Monday, Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn theUSA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not tomention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislaturepassed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Actyet, according to the ACLU. Inan overwhelming bipartisan consensus, Montana's House of Delegatesvoted to approve Senate Joint Resolution 19--which discourages statelaw enforcement agencies from cooperating in investigations thatviolate Montanans' civil liberties--88 to 12. Earlier this year, theresolution passed in the state Senate 40 to 10.

"I've had more mail on this bill than on any other, and it's 100percent positive," said House Member Brady Wiseman (D-Bozeman).Republican Rick Maedje (R-Fortine) said the resolution "protects ourstates' rights and is what true Republicans in every 'red state'should be doing."

SJ-19 also recommends that the state destroy all information gatheredunder the Patriot Act that is not directly related to a criminalinvestigation, and calls on librarians to inform citizens that theirlibrary records are unsafe from federal investigations.

Although the resolution does not carry the weight of the law, itsimpact is already being felt in Washington. On Tuesday, AttorneyGeneral Alberto Gonzales, speaking before the Senate JudiciaryCommittee, agreed to minor modifications of the Patriot Act, and saidhe was "open to suggestions" about additional changes, a notabledeparture from John Ashcroft's hard line stance. And on Wednesday,Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Larry Craig(R-ID) introduced the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE)act.

As several provisions of the Patriot Act are set to "sunset" in December,lawmakers pushing SAFE hope to restore privacy protections and limitabusive tactics such as roving wiretaps and "sneak and peak" searches.SAFE, which was recommended to Congress in Montana's SJ-19, has drawnsupport from organizations ranging from the ACLU to Patriots to Restore Checksand Balances, a national network of conservative groups.

Both Red and Blue America agree: Better SAFE than sorry.

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.

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