Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Needed: Enlightened Business Leaders

When I read last month that James Rowse--the chairman of Veryfine Products Inc., the juice bottling concern, ­had died, I thought of how this man's life embodied a much more enlightened era in the history of American business.

When Kraft purchased Rowse's company in early 2004, Rowse set aside $15 million in proceeds that he then distributed to his company's workers. He ensured that all of Veryfine's 400 employees would keep their jobs, and that those with a minimum of 20 years experience would receive an extra year's pay.

In a recent email, Scott Klinger, co-director of the Responsible Wealth project at United for a Fair Economy in Boston, cited other examples of enlightened business leadership. One of his favorites, he said, is Bob Kierlin, founder and recently retired CEO of Fastenal, an Ohio-based public company.

As Klinger wrote, Kierlin took justifiable pride in the fact "that many other employees made more than he did, but he paid employees' stock options personally out of his founder's stock. Kierlin also eschewed the palatial lifestyle...preferring to drive a few hours to visit customers, stay at budget motels, and, much to the chagrin of many colleagues, share a room with associates."

Rowse and Kierlin are exceptions to the rule. We live in times when morality is disdained in corporate boardrooms. The social compact that rested on the idea that honest labor deserves a living wage has all but disappeared.

The Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress have formed an alliance with rapacious CEOs to foster an anything-goes atmosphere. Labor is devalued, fair play is dishonored and greed and corporate ethics have become synonymous. (Is it any surprise that in the 2004 elections, the largest corporate PACs favored Republicans over Democrats by a ten to one margin?)

It was recently disclosed that pharmaceutical giant Merck established a golden parachute for its 230 senior executives so if the company is bought, managers would be able to walk away with three years in salary and bonuses. And three years after the Enron debacle, business groups are fighting a pitched battle with state employee pension funds against reforms which would make future corporate looting of employee pensions much more difficult.

Part of "the problem," as Klinger sees it, "is the stories that corporate executives tell themselves about their worth, relative to the rest of their colleagues. The ‘star culture' has invaded many large company cultures. Executives are convinced that their work is what creates shareholder value and other employees are commodities to be acquired at the lowest possible cost."

Klinger and Responsible Wealth co-director Mike Lapham "lay responsibility for the growing divide between workers and executives largely at the feet of Congress." Congress has refused "to require stock options to be counted as expenses in corporate earnings reports." It has "allowed lavish executive pay in the hundreds of millions per CEO to be deducted as a ‘reasonable' business expense from companies' taxes."

Meanwhile, Congress hasn't even held a vote to raise the minimum wage--stuck at a mere $5.15 per hour ­since 1996. "Since that time, they've raised their own salaries seven times and doubled the pay of the President," Klinger pointed out.

Moreover, between 1970 and 2001, the top 100 executives' median income increased from 35 times the average worker's salary to 500 times what the average worker makes. In 2003, Bank of America cut 5,000 jobs from its payroll, while its CEO Kenneth Lewis took home $37.9 million.

Things are likely to get worse before they improve. The Bush Administration recently floated a proposal that would cut taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains and give additional tax breaks to big business. At the same time, the White House wants to eliminate federal tax deductions of state and local income taxes and to forbid businesses to deduct the value of health coverage from their tax bills. (Enacting the last change will be "the quickest way to create millions of uninsured people," John Irons, a tax and budget analyst at the Center for American Progress, says.)

Changing the culture of greed and re-establishing a social compact that values work will require serious changes in key policy areas. First, Klinger says, "We need different people on corporate boards. The people responsible for overseeing executive pay are the very same people who themselves are receiving excessive pay."

Second, the SEC should follow through on what it "proposed a year ago, opening up the corporate director election process by allowing shareholders to put forth competitive slates." The idea became "the most commented-on proposal in the history of the SEC, receiving more than 10,000 public comments, over 90 percent of which were in favor. But, "the SEC has yet to issue a final rule because of behind-the-scenes belly-aching from corporate lobbyists," who are threatening to sue the Commission. ("The Soviet Union," Klinger adds, "used to put up one candidate for each elected office and it was thoroughly excoriated for it. Today's corporate elections are no different, and yet we are told this is good governance.")

Third, "the public should no longer subsidize unlimited executive pay." Our laws state that corporations are allowed to "deduct ‘reasonable business expenses,' so let's define what that means," says Klinger. "The Income Equity Act, introduced in the last several sessions of Congress, would allow corporations to deduct for tax purposes corporate pay up to 25 times the pay of the lowest-paid workers. Corporations could continue to pay whatever they wished, but shareholders would have to pay the full cost of huge pay packages."

It's also important, Lapham argues, to understand--and change--the fact that "we live in a winner-takes all society, where individual achievement is honored and concepts like teamwork and community are generally ignored. There is a myth in our society that certain individuals are smarter, more motivated, get up earlier, work harder, take risks…and thereby create wealth all by themselves…We often come across successful individuals saying with a straight face ‘I never got any help from anybody.'"

Such an idea, he says, is absurd. "This attitude discounts the role of society in helping create wealth." It discounts "the role of public education" and "public infrastructure - roads, bridges, airports, etc...What about the role of government in maintaining a legal system and a system of contracts that makes business possible?" If America can form a different answer to the wealth-creation question, it "would lead to radical changes in pay structure, tax policy and health care policy."

It would also go a long way to reclaiming the ideals of hard work and fair play that James Rowse fought to make into reality.

No Shortcut to Power

Have you heard about the sweet victory of the week? The Working Families Party, and other allies in New York State's fight for economic justice, won a six-year campaign to raise the minimum wage.

On December 6, the New York State Senate joined the Assembly to override Governor George Pataki's misguided and mean-spirited veto of the bill, which was originally passed in July. The bill is now law.

On January 1, the state's minimum wage rises to $6.00/hour, and moves in two additional annual steps to $7.15/hour. For full-time workers, it's an increase from $10,700 per year to $14,900. That's still not enough for a family to live on, but it's a good raise by any standard, and roughly one million workers will benefit from the increase.

It's important to note that a majority of Senate Republicans overrode the veto of a Republican Governor to raise wages for poor people. This hasn't happened in decades. (Meanwhile, in Washington, Congress should be held accountable for not even holding a vote on raising the minimum wage since 1996.) And while the Daily News, the Senate Democrats, and the State Assembly all helped build the necessary power base, as the WFP's organizers will tell you, you need an infrastructure for power to be transmitted. There is no substitute for it, and no shortcut to building it.

For the Working Families Party, the victory is confirmation of a winning strategy that all progressives need to recognize in the tough times ahead: choose issues carefully, stay laser-focused on them, organize hard in the key districts, build multi-racial alliances and reach out to new and old constituencies in business, organized religion, on campuses and in immigrant communities. Above all, don't give up. As WFP Executive Director Dan Cantor says, "Hope and love really can defeat fear and anger."

So, kudos to WFP members, leaders, and organizers who had the patience and fortitude to do the day-in, day-out unsexy work of building a competent organization--one that finally produced enough grassroots activity and votes to get poor peoples' voices heard and make real change happen. And click here to find out what you can do to support the Working Families Party--a multiracial, class conscious, sometimes even fun loving organization that did the maximum to raise the minimum.

Bonus Link: Read Peter Drier and Kelly Candeale's recent Nation Online article arguing that engaging in a vigorous fight to raise the minimum wage is not just the right thing to do, it also may be the politically astute move for the Democrats in 2006.

The Kids Are Alright

Music for America (MfA) is Example A of why the future is for the young and MfA-type organizations who are inspired now more than ever to continue to effect positive change. Twenty-one million Americans under the age of 30 cast ballots, 4.6 million of them were new voters. This was the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, and it's an important example of what went right in the campaign.

If only 18, 19 and 20 year olds had been permitted to vote in this election, Kerry would have carried Ohio, Florida and Missouri, defeating Bush by more than 200 electoral votes. MfA supplied a lot of the muscle. It recruited almost 20,000 volunteers, allied with more than 200 bands and helped arrange over 2,000 concerts, which, the group's savvy 25-year old executive director Molly Moon says, reached two million people.

The real story behind MfA's success, however, lies beyond a mere recitation of post-election statistics. Culture and politics were fused together in new ways, as MfA worked to speak to communities through the force of music. Its artists tailored their messages to homegrown audiences and inspired their fans through local appeals. Artists included Caustic Resin--"Boise, Idaho favorites," as Alias Records described them; Cold Duck Complex, from Northampton, Mass., playing "music that makes you think"; and Amersterband, "round pegs in square holes" from the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri, according to MfA's website. MfA's 45,000 members connected with peers through blogs, concerts and other peer-to-peer interactions.

MFA's strength comes from its clarity and willingness to avoid the nonpartisan pitches issued by groups like Rock the Vote. MfA reached out to young voters, as Moon put it, by "talking about how unemployment sucks, or how young people don't like bans on gay marriage, or were screwed out of jobs or benefits and social security, and how they're oppressed by drug laws strengthened through this Republican Administration."

MFA sought out mostly local artists with local constituencies who weren't national celebrities and encouraged them to be partisan, but in their own unique ways. The group refused to shove pre-packaged talking points down band members' throats, and urged artists to find their own voice, their own issues, and their own messages--"to speak to their community in their own way," said Moon. As Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla explained to The Nation's Hillary Frey in a recent online interview, "the crowds know what's going on. They've been very receptive and very warm. The whole atmosphere at each of the shows has been a lot homier than I would have expected. Really encouraging and really cool."

MfA's success was built on its vision for a growing, long-term movement. While it had a laser-like focus on the 2004 election, MfA also started a dialogue among young voters (and potential voters) that might have a lasting impact on the political future of this nation.

Just weeks after the election, MfA is moving full speed ahead. It plans to survey its members to see which issues are most important to them. A few have already surfaced--rising tuition costs, student loan cuts, Republican attempts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, and support for legislation and ballot initiatives that would legalize same-day-voter-registration to increase the youth turnout. Issues like free speech, media consolidation and the drug war also resonate with MfA's politically savvy community.

"[Consolidation] severely damages the public interest by interfering with our ability to receive unbiased information from news outlets, and destroys the ability of artists to create new work…in favor of a controlled, homogenized culture," wrote Mike Connery, a blogger on MfA's website.

MfA's members chafe at decisions by the Federal Communications Commission to chastise musicians like U2, levy fines against networks (like Infinity) and censor talk radio kingpins (Howard Stern). And MfA has linked to drugpolicy.org (part of an alliance to end the war on drugs), which describes the RAVE Act, which holds nightclub owners accountable when patrons use drugs on their premises, as a heavy-handed attack on youth culture in general.

Finally, the 14-to-18-year-old demographic, which Moon calls "a major political force," will be a focal point of MfA's efforts. (The highest birth year in America since 1962 was 1990, Moon has pointed out.) "What's the best way to communicate with 14-year-olds?" Moon asks. Answering that question will help MfA win the fight for the future. Although she admits her group still has to figure out how to appeal to this demographic, MFA--and other groups--understand that this is a critical group for their future.

MfA's fusion of politics and culture has gone a long way to suggest that the conventional notion that musicians (or cultural figures more generally) are out of touch with America's voters is way overstated. When it comes to MfA, the organization's artists never swept in to localities like carpetbaggers, creating a dreaded (and unintended) backlash against Democrats. Drawing a connection between politics and culture, when done with sensitivity to a local, grassroots base and with sufficient sophistication, resources and organizing, can recruit a younger generation that seeks an authenticity and connection being provided by music, rather than a traditional political media message.

Ultimately, MfA proves the point that culture can bring young people together through the power of music, issues, ideas and partisanship--no small achievement.

Republican Dictionary: Part 2

Earlier this month, I wrote about the right's linguistic strategy, which is to use words, which may sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to its base. To counter these semantic tactics, I proposed an idea for how we could debunk and decode the right's veritable Orwellian Code of encrypted language: A Republican Dictionary.

I put together a small list to get the project started and asked readers to send me their own entries. Response has been overwhelming--more than 350 people sent me definitions.

Nation reader Laurence Cumbie even thanked me for "the very first laugh I have had since November 3." The idea, he added, "seems to me to be precisely the type of simplistic but effective antidote we need" to counter the linguistic trickery of the right.

Toward that end, I'm publishing a small sample of the new dictionary entries I've received below. We may even create a small book or extended pamphlet using the most creative examples submitted. Many thanks to those who took the time to write and apologies to those whose ideas we weren't able to include in this post. But watch this space. We're going to continue posting additional entries in the weeks ahead. And please click here to suggest your own contributions.

ACTIVIST JUDGE, n. A judge who attempts to protect the rights of minorities--most especially homosexuals--against the tyranny of the majority. (Amy Mashberg, Austin, Texas)

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, n. New locations to drill for oil and gas. (Peter Scholz, Fort Collins, Colorado)

CIVIL LIBERTIES, n. Unnecessary privileges that you aren't afraid of losing unless you are a God-hating, baby-killing, elitist liberal who loves Saddam Hussein more than your own safety. (Megan Ellis, Bellingham, Washington)

CLIMATE CHANGE, n. Global warming, without that annoying suggestion that something is wrong. (Robert Shanafelt, Statesboro, Georgia)

DEATH TAX, n. A term invented by anti-tax zealots and referring to a tax used to prevent the very wealthy from establishing a dominating aristocracy in this country. (David McNeely, Lutz, Florida)

DEMOCRATIC ALLY, n. Any democracy, monarchy, plutocracy, oligarchy or dictatorship--no matter how ruthless--that verbally supports American diplomatic and economic goals. (L.J. Klass, Concord, New Hampshire)

DEREGULATE, v. To pursue greed and exploitation. (Nathan Taylor, Long Beach, California)

DETAIN, v. Hold in a secret place without recourse to law and treat in any manner one wishes. (Jeannine Bettis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

ECONOMIC PROGRESS, n. 1. Recession; 2. Rising unemployment; 3. Minimum-wage freeze. (Terry McGarry, East Rockaway, New York)

FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE, n. Christian Right Payoff. (Michael Gendelman, Fair Haven, New Jersey)

FAMILY VALUES, n. Oppression of women. (Nancy Matsunaga, Brooklyn, New York)

FOX NEWS, n. White House Press Office. (Donnalyn Murphy, San Francisco, California)

HARD WORK, n. What Republicans say when they can't think of anything better. (Brain McDowell), Durham, North Carolina)

INSURGENT, n. Armed or unarmed, violent or non-violent Iraqi on the receiving end of an American rocket blast or bullet spray, regardless of age, gender or political affiliation. (Joey Flores, Marina del Ray, California)

MODERNIZE, v. To do away with, as in modernizing Social Security, labor laws, etc. (Robert Sean Roarty, Atlanta, Georgia)

OBSTRUCTIONIST, n. Any elected representative who dares to question Republican radicals on the issue of the day. (Terry Levine, Toronto, Ontario)

OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. A society in which Republican donors own the rest of us. (Adrianne Stevens, Seattle, Washington)

PRIVATIZE, v. To steal the resources of the national community and give them to private business. (Susan Dyer, Ottsville, Pennsylvania)

REFORM, v. To eliminate, as in tort reform (to eliminate all lawsuits against businesses and corporations) or Social Security and Medicare reform (to eliminate these programs altogether). (Darren Staley, Millers Creek, North Carolina)

STRICT CONSTRUCTIONIST, n. A judge with extremely conservative beliefs, who interprets laws in a manner that fits his/rarely-her own belief systems, while maintaining that this was the original intent of the law. (Floyd Doney, Athens, Ohio)

SUPPORT THE MILITARY, v. To praise Bush when he sends our young men and women off to die for no reason and without proper body armor. (Marc Goldberg, Vancouver, Washington)

TAX REFORM, n. The shifting of the tax burden from unearned income to earned income, or rather, from the wealthy elite to the working class. (Eric Evans, Gregory, Michigan)

TORT REFORM, n. Corporate immunity and impunity. (Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

UNITER, n. A Leader who brings together his followers by fomenting hatred for anyone who disagrees with him. (Larry Allred, Las Cruces, New Mexico)

Cabinet Alert Status: Red

With Tom Ridge following Colin Powell out the White House revolving door, George Bush has finally completed his purge of Vietnam veterans from the Cabinet. Call it the revenge of the Deferment Generation.

In mourning over this latest "spend more time with my family" loss, Americans in airports across the nation removed their jackets, shoes and cowboy belt buckles. Some even consoled each other with quick frisks and pat-downs.

You can tell I find it hard to know whether to laugh, cry, or shout over his departure. Ridge's Homeland Security Department represented the War on Terrorism in its Dadaist mode: a series of pointless provocations involving color codes, duct tape, suspiciously-timed alerts and endless talk about terrorist "chatter."

But while Ridge made us feel less secure at home, Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow Chicken Hawks actually did make us less secure abroad with a "fight them over there" strategy that has worked all too well. Two years, 150,000 soldiers, and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives later, and we have yet to secure Baghdad's airport road. Each month the number of casualties rises. November was the worst of the entire war.

What was sold as an easy battle in our latest War On An Abstract Concept has become another dreaded "quagmire"--a black hole for American prestige, treasure and blood. This is tragedy replaying itself as farce. And we have the men who avoided service in Vietnam to thank.

Truth and Consequences in Ukraine

A Russian friend once said to me, "You Americans are an odd people. You love our liberals, but you don't like your own liberals." He added, "You should support your local liberals too."


My friend's words came to mind this past week as I watched the extraordinary street protests in Ukraine. Anyone who cares about citizens fighting corrupt regimes can't help but be moved by scenes of thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in Kiev's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting what they believe is a rigged election.

When the Bush Administration rushed to celebrate the protesters' courage and tenacity, I thought--what rank hypocrisy. These same officials have shown no respect for American pro-democracy protesters, and, if they have their way, they'll probably lock their political opponents out of central Washington when Inauguration Day rolls around.

On the hypocrisy meter: Consider how the Ukrainian protesters' charges of election fraud have been treated so seriously by Bush and his team, while they dismiss such charges when they are raised here at home. And how exactly does the Bush Administration--which has said that it cannot accept the results of the Ukrainian presidential election as legitimate "because it does not meet international standards"--explain why those international standards don't apply to the US? What right does this Administration have to lecture Ukraine when Bush came to office in a non-violent coup d'etat in 2000, and when numerous reports document that the 2004 election was marred by GOP voter suppression and intimidation tactics, flawed voting equipment and unexplained discrepancies between exit polls and official results in key swing states?

Then there's the reality that the mass street protests in Ukraine are not as sweet or homegrown as they appear. Although it is virtually unreported in our media, the US has been closely involved in funding and training Ukraine's youth protests, and the united opposition.

As Ian Traynor reports in The Guardian, "...while the gains of the orange-bedecked 'chestnut revolution' are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in Western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries and four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavory regimes...Funded and organized by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, the two big American parties and US non-government organizations...the operation--engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience--is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."

It was even US funding that organized and paid for key exit polls; those gave the opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko an 11-point lead and set the stage for charges of vote fraud.

Nor is it accurate to think that we are watching an unalloyed struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. As Jonathan Steele observes in The Guardian, "Yuschenko, who claims to have won Sunday's election, served as Prime Minister under the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, and some of his backers are also linked to the brutal industrial clans who manipulated Ukraine's post-Soviet privatization." (It is also worth noting, as The Independent reported Sunday, that Yuschenko's wife, a US citizen of Ukrainian descent, worked in the Reagan White House.) Certainly, many Ukrainians seek a less corrupt, more democratic system, but as Steele notes, "to suggest that [Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive."

Yet, this more realistic view of Yuschenko shouldn't diminish the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities. In many ways, as The Guardian's Nick Paton observes, "this protest is no longer about America's or Russia's candidate, but an end to the past 12 years of misrule." The journalists who are breaking with state rules--as well as the thousands who have filled Independence Square--are "for the first time, realizing how they could one day have a government whose main interest is not stealing from state coffers and protecting favored oligarchs, but actually representing the people who elected them. For most people, this is a first taste of real self-determination."

But, for now, we need a media which provides needed historical and political background and context. Since 1991, every election in the former Soviet Union has been tainted by fraud, unfair use of state television and, quite often by direct rigging. Yet, the Bush team has ignored far more egregious examples of voter fraud, as was the case with Azerbaijan's transparently fraudulent election last year.

It may well be that the Ukrainian election was one of the most fairly conducted, with the two candidates ("the two Viktors" as the Russian press refers to them) even engaging in a nationally televised debate several weeks before the election. That doesn't mean vote fraud isn't an issue or that discrepancies shouldn't be challenged but, as Steele points out: "The decision to protest appears to depend mainly on realpolitik and whether the challengers or the incumbent are considered 'pro-Western' or 'pro-market.'"

With the country culturally and geographically divided between the heavily industrialized East, traditionally allied with Russia, and the West, a traditional center of Ukrainian nationalism, there is already talk of secession by leading governors in the Eastern part of the country. (On Sunday, as many as 3,500 officials from 17 regions in Eastern Ukraine voted unanimously to seek autonomy by public referendum if the opposition continues its fight to make Yuschenko president.)

And though there has been no violence yet, the streets remain filled with growing crowds of impassioned protesters, eyeball to eyeball with riot police. In the next few days, the country's Supreme Court is likely to rule on the validity of the election, which will add a new element to the chaotic mix. And calls for a recount--to be overseen by international observers--are being issued by many European leaders. But that too will take time, and patience is running thin.

Perhaps of gravest import is that we're witnessing the worst crisis in US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War--with both sides deeply involved in the election, with each having a candidate, and with each proclaiming the fateful consequences of the election's resolution. (An important footnote: The US--in actions reminiscent of the Cold War--has since 1991 encircled Russia with NATO troops and US bases, from the Baltics to Central Asia. While not condoning Russia's meddling in Ukraine, some media reporting on this historical and geopolitical context might provide necessary insight into the deep anxiety in Moscow about a divided or, perhaps, anti-Russian Ukraine on its borders.)

Depending on the outcome, and let us pray for a peaceful resolution, the consequences may well be profound and far-reaching. Even apart from the possibility of civil violence, the result may be a new European divide between East and West; the end of any meaningful Russian cooperation with the US--remember Putin has been one of Bush's leading European "friends" since the Iraq war began; and if Ukraine is "lost," we may even witness the destabilization of Putin's leadership and Russia itself.

Desperate Republicans

In the pregame highlights for the next two years of Republican one-party rule, rightwing radicals dropped their towels and exposed themselves in all their naked ambition last week. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Tom DeLay's buddies voted to lower their Party's ethical standards to protect their conflict-ridden leader over the objection of moderate stalwarts like Christopher Shay.

Arm-twisted behind his back, Arlen Specter cried "Uncle" and signed a White House loyalty oath before he was allowed to replace Orrin Hatch as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a humiliation unprecedented in the history of our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Two Congressional staffers slipped a provision into the Omnibus spending bill giving two committee chairmen and their assistants access to every American citizen's tax returns.

And in a Pacers vs. Piston-like brawl in the House Republican caucus, Defense Department patsies shot down the unarmed Intelligence Reform Bill, much to the shock and awe of Senate Republicans like Pat Roberts, Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins.

It would seem the only thing worse than being a Democrat these days is being a moderate Republican. One has to wonder: how long will they stand the humiliations, the slights, the powerlessness before they defect like Jim Jeffords?

At this rate, executive producer Karl Rove's TV hit, The Permanent Republican Majority, may be cancelled sooner than anyone previously expected.

Modest Appointments

Bush has appointed Torture Guy to run the American "Justice" Department, his "work wife" to serve as America's top diplomat, and a partisan hatchet man, Porter Goss, to subject the CIA's analysts and covert operatives to loyalty oaths. It is hard to imagine how Bush's appointments could get any worse, but here are five suggestions:

Ahmed Chalabi--Ambassador to Iran. Since he's going to spy for them anyway, it'd be better to keep him inside the tent in Tehran and away from any useful information in either Iraq or the United States. Besides he could be our secret weapon against the Mullahs--as he's proven in Jordan, Iraq, and America, he is a parasite capable of seriously damaging any host nation.

James Dobson--Chief Justice. He turned out the evangelicals for Bush, he expects his "values" agenda to be rewarded or else he will turn on the Republicans, and he doesn't think Alberto Gonzales is sufficiently anti-Roe to deserve the job. Besides he's a big believer in spanking, and someone needs to protect corporal punishment from 8th amendment activist judges.

Dennis Hastert--Middle East Envoy. He certainly has the free time, and he's used to holding an important sounding job without having any real power of his own. His appointment would powerfully signal to Ariel Sharon that we want to go through the motions of a "peace process" without changing the status quo.

Sean Hannity--White House Press Secretary. With Helen Thomas out, and a cowed press corps scrambling for sources back in, there's no reason to soft-shoe the Fourth Estate. After all, the media is the last check on Republican one-party rule. It's best to crush them with someone who's had daily practice at fairly balancing a soft, thoughtful, well-meaning liberal into the dustbin of history.

Richard Perle--Director of NSA. Many are the Republicans who are ethically-challenged (Tom De Lay) and many more who were completely wrong about the Iraq War (Donald Rumsfeld), but very few embody both more completely than Perle. Since second terms inevitably founder in the face of high profile scandals, why not bring him in to serve as a potential scapegoat.

Dean Tells It Like It Is

If you want some straight talk in these days of the Democratic Leadership Council's calls to retreat to a monastery or move to the center, check out Howard Dean's feisty comments about his vision for the Democratic Party and what he thinks went down in this election.

In a speech to students at Northwestern University last week, Dean fired back at the Right; he called Reverend Jerry Falwell a hate-monger, and described Justice Antonin Scalia as "sarcastic and mean-spirited." And in a jab at the conservative Club for Growth's ad attacks on him as a "latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, body-piercing, left-wing freak show" who should head back to Vermont, Dean explained, "I don't drink coffee. I have three cars--all of them are American. " "No part of me is pierced that I'm willing to discuss publicly," he added. "And if you want to see a freak show, go look at the people who wrote that ad..."

Dean ended by calling on the students to run for office. In a playful twist on his now infamous "Dean Scream," he shouted, "You need to run for office--not just in Illinois and Ohio and South Carolina! You need to run for office in Mississippi, and Alabama, and Idaho and Texas and..."

Creeping Creationism

Some days it feels like 1925--when William Jennings Bryan defended the merits of creationism in the Scopes Monkey trial--all over again.

I've written before about how the Right wants to dismantle the achievements of the 20th century--the New Deal, environmentalism, civil rights and civil liberties. But now rightwing social conservatives, our home-grown fundamentalists, are seeking to unravel the scaffolding of science and reason, and this battle deserves attention from humanists of all stripes. One of the most virulent expressions of the rightwing assault on modernity is the war against evolution being waged in America's classrooms and courtrooms, parks and civic institutions.

Slipping creationism into civic discussions picked up steam in the 1990s. That's when Kansas issued new state science guidelines in which "evolution" was replaced with the phrase "change over time," and Illinois made a similar change.

In Oklahoma and Alabama, creationists inserted disclaimers into biology textbooks which cast doubt on evolution. In 1999, school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska tried to modify the teaching of evolution, in some cases trying to have it excised from the state standards.

Now, we're into the 21st century, Bush is in the White House for another four years, and creationists feel emboldened to impose their beliefs on secular America. From schools to parks, creationists are moving aggressively.

The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/26/science 26cany.html?ex=1256529600&en=66af410f8a71ca6f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland"> recently reported that six stores in the Grand Canyon National Park are selling a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View. Its wild theory has no factual basis: God, argues the author, created the Grand Canyon in Noah's flood and the flood was intended to destroy "the wickedness of man."

The issue of whether this book should be on sale in park service stores is under review in the solicitor's office of the US Interior Department. But Interior has been silent for almost a year now, in spite of a scientific consensus that hydrology, over millions of years, caused the Grand Canyon's formation, not God's hand. The government should stand on the side of science.

Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Georgia in 2002, the Board of Education unanimously approved the teaching of creationism in public schools. The decision, promised the school board, would provide students with "a balanced education."

In Ohio, educators and parents are promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools; proponents believe that a higher power created human life. And in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a school board has just revised its science curriculum to permit creationist teachings in local classrooms. (The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," declared Joni Burgin, the school district's superintendent.)

The rightwing assault on the Enlightenment extends well beyond putting creationism on equal footing with evolutionary science. The Bush Administration has truncated stem cell research, promoted abstinence-only sex education, undermined Roe v. Wade and supported federal funding for faith-based institutions. "Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more," Garry Wills recently argued in an op-ed. (Somedays, it seems like it's only a matter of time before two guests on CNN's Crossfire are given equal time and equal weight in George Bush's America to debate the merits of the creationist argument.)

In Texas, just days after the election, the Board of Education approved health textbooks that explicitly defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Two of America's largest academic publishers--Holt, Rinehart and Winston and Glencoe/McGraw-Hill--capitulated to the board by removing from the text all words like "partners" and phrases like "when two people marry" and replacing them with more traditional circumlocutions like "husbands and wives."

"We thought it was a reasonable thing to do," explained a Holt spokesman. (Wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that Texas is the second-largest buyer of textbooks in the country?)

Activists must join with the ACLU, People for the American Way and the National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC) in fighting off attempts to turn the clock back. "We work with other organizations to provide background and supporting information [and] are always available to help find the right person to give testimony" before school boards, said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition.

NCAC organized a coalition of progressive groups that signed a statement opposing censorship in sex education. It was sent to every member of Congress and scores of state legislators. The Coalition also stresses partnerships with local groups, encourages letter-writing campaigns to school boards, text-book publishers and local papers and promotes "stirring the pot" to bring publicity and pressure to bear on this crusade against science and reason.

The ACLU, meanwhile, is working with parents to sue the Cobb County School Board in federal district court. Cobb County put stickers in three biology textbooks that warned: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

The stickers, argues the ACLU, promote the teaching of creationism and violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. "The religious views of some that contradict science cannot dictate curriculum," said ACLU attorney Maggie Garrett. The Supreme Court has already ruled that teaching creationism has no place in science class, but the ACLU is aggressively re-fighting this battle in Georgia for the sake of religious freedom, knowledge and reasoning.

While creationist groups like the Discovery Institute wage war against evolution in states like Texas, local groups like Stand Up For Science composed of Texas scientists, religious leaders and parents have formed to lead the fight against censoring textbooks there. And the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right, has taken on publishers like Holt Rinehart that put stickers in textbooks challenging evolution.

"Rather than stand up for keeping good science standards in textbooks, Holt Rinehart has compromised the education of Texas students," said Samantha Smoot, the Network's executive director, in August 2003.

People of reason must be savvy, and just as tough as the intolerant Right, in defending scientific discovery and the ideal of human progress from the retrogressive forces now rallying behind this White House. With a messianic militarist in the Oval Office, social conservatives are seizing the initiative and assailing the Enlightenment. Time is not on our side.

Syndicate content