Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
Here's a joke which was circulating among Wall Street traders last Friday: "Fewer jobs were created in the US in the entire month of July than the number of people who will be inside Madison Square Garden for the GOP convention at the end of August."
If the latest jobs report, issued monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is any indication--with only 32,000 new jobs added in July, far below the expectations of most analysts--George W. is squarely on track to share the dubious distinction with Herbert Hoover of being the only president in American history to preside over an economy in which jobs have declined.
Bush needs a monthly average of 380,000 new jobs in July, August and September to claim, before the election, that more jobs have been created than lost during his first term. Right now, it doesn't look like he's going to get anywhere near those numbers. Not only was July the worst month for job growth since last December, according to the BLS, but June's jobs report had to be revised down from its original estimate.
Thus, over the last two months, job growth averaged 55,000 per month, way off the growth pace earlier this year, when monthly employment growth averaged 225,000. Moreover, the weak job market continues to place downward pressure on wage growth, which continues to lag behind inflation.
Meanwhile, Bush may brag that many of the jobs created over the past year have been "in high-growth, high-paying industries," but according to USA Today, "jobs in lower-wage industries and regions are growing at a faster pace than higher-wage jobs." As a result, the job growth that has occurred "is less potent for the economy because the majority of new work isn't accompanied by fat paychecks."
This assessment is shared by the mainstream of the economics community. As Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, was quoted today in the New York Times, "Since employment peaked, we've lost many more higher-paying jobs than lower-paying ones. In recovery, we've created more lower-paying jobs than higher-paying ones."
And with the federal budget on track to grow to a record-breaking $445 billion in fiscal year 2004 (last year the Administration projected the 2004 figure to be $307 billion), and the rolls of people without health insurance increasing by 3.7 million, Bush's economic record should be an easy target--and a winning electoral issue for John Kerry.
Originally formed in 1950, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was designed as a "citizen's lobby" to alert the nation to what it saw as the grave menace of Soviet communism. The CPD advocated a "rollback" strategy--a huge military buildup for the purpose of rolling back Communist influence and attaining and maintaining US military supremacy in the world. Bush's preemptive war doctrine has its roots in this "rollback" agenda.
In 1976, the second incarnation of CPD came about when hawks (and hacks) from both parties argued that detente had lulled us into complacency. The group emerged from an organization called Team B, whose aim, according to muckraking columnist Robert Scheer,was to re-evaluate "the [CIA's] own assessment of the Soviet menace, which Team B found too moderate." To the hard-liners, Team B--which was authorized by President Ford and organized by CIA chief George Bush--was a wish fulfilled.
In the eyes of Team B, the CIA was a wobbly organization. (Sound familiar?) Agency experts, it argued, had severely misjudged the Soviets' nuclear capabilities. In 1982, the CPD darkly warned that the US had "become No. 2" to the Soviets in nuclear arms, and "if the United States remains No. 2--US survival would be in jeopardy."
The CPD's ranks were filled with neo-conservative hawks who later occupied high ranking positions in the Reagan Administration. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as Reagan's UN representative, was a prominent member of the committee. One typically outspoken member, William Van Cleave, insisted that nuclear war was winnable.
The CPD consistently hyped the Soviet threat and argued that what counted, above all, was Soviet intent, not capabilities. (Sound familiar?) Its key members were quick to engage in redbaiting--they even criticized Reagan for recognizing the authenticity of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. charged in Foreign Affairs magazine, the CPD had made "extravagant and now abundantly disproven claims that the Soviet Union was overtaking the United States in the arms race." In a recent New York Times editorial, the historian John Patrick Diggins pointed out, "Mr. Reagan was also informed [by Team B] that the Soviet Union was preparing for a possible pre-emptive attack on the United States." That position, said Diggins, was an "alarmist" one.(Sound familiar?)
In recent weeks, the CPD has mounted a third campaign. Reconstituted, the organization ran full-page advertisements last month in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal vowing to "raise a unified voice for a policy of national resolve in the War on Terrorism."
The latest CPD crowd is comprised of discredited hawks and hacks: Fellows from the American Enterprise Institute, and board members or fellows of several other rightwing or neocon think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the former Committee to Liberate Iraq and the National Institute for Public Policy. The majority of members, natch, are associated with policy statements by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose founding members in 1997 included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a good number of others associated with the discredited policies of the Bush Administration.
Indeed, it's fair to say that many of the current Committee members have a shameful record in foreign affairs. Take, for example, Henry Cooper, who directed the Pentagon's failed Strategic Defense Initiative in the Reagan years; Ken Adelman, who predicted that invading Iraq would be a "cakewalk" and Frank Gaffney, who in a February 2003 interview, predicted that after the invasion of Iraq was finished, Americans would witness:
"An outpouring of appreciation for [Iraqis] liberation that will make what we saw in Afghanistan recently pale by comparison. You'll see, moreover, evidence in the files and the bunkers that become available to our military--not only of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs and his future ambitions for their use perhaps and for aggression against his neighbors, but also I would be willing to bet evidence of his past complicity with acts of terror against the west which will further vindicate the course of action that this president is courageously embarked upon."
The Committee, in its third incarnation, has gotten off to a rough start. It's managing director, Peter Hannaford, a former Reagan aide, was forced to resign just a few days after the group's big bang relaunch when the New York Sun reported that his PR firm had once represented the interests of Austria's Freedom Party in Washington DC, while the Austrian neo-fascist, Joerg Haider, was the Freedom Party's leader. (Ironically, Haider paid a visit to Saddam Hussein in 2002 as a show of "solidarity" with the Iraqi dictator.)
Our world is defined by grays, but the CPD sees things in black and white: either you're with us, or out to betray us. The CPD is offering Americans a false foreign policy choice in a 9/11 world: appeasement, or escalation. As one leading member--former CIA director James Woolsey--falsely puts it, the battle against radical Islam is "World War IV."
The CPD honorary chair, Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ, Republican), subscribes to a faith-based foreign policy. (He also spearheaded President Bush's national missile defense program, which most experts believe doesn't work.) The other honorary chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, has now fully broken with his former running mate, Al Gore, and become an open and avid supporter of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.
The CPD, in the end, is eager to replay old battles in a new era. Islamic terrorism is an occasion for this gang to fight again, the more so as the very nebulousness of the enemy opens up the prospect of endless conflict. But the CPD's discredited leaders deserve to be exposed, shunned and refuted as charlatans. They are more than just a blast from the past, but also a danger to America's future, a chief reason why America is bogged down in Iraq with no exit strategy in sight. America is no longer respected in the world, and if the CPD's extremist ideology prevails here at home, America will remain an object of derision and a terrorist target for years to come.
Governor George Pataki's recent veto of the minimum wage bill passed by the New York State Senate was misguided and cruel. His decision sends a clear message: "New York State to working poor: Drop Dead." "The Governor likes to talk about opportunity and rewarding work," said Bertha Lewis, co-chair of the Working Families Party, which led the grassroots fight on the issue, "but with this veto he's shown that he doesn't believe in any of that."
The reasons given by the Pataki Administration for the veto are laughable and often factually wrong. (Go to the WFP website for the facts.) The real reason is politics. As WFP co-chair Dan Cantor points out, "Pataki is playing to the national Republicans and the local Conservatives." After all, "what better way to make yourself known as a tough-guy than to really stick it to low-wage workers. Plus he did it on a day when Kerry's speech, news of the Yankees' new stadium and the MTA fare hike announcement guaranteed it would get relatively little notice. A real profile in cowardice."
Supporters of the minimum wage--a broad coalition ranging from the Catholic Church to business groups to community activists and labor unions--have vowed to fight for an override. A two-thirds majority is needed in both the Senate and Assembly. The bill passed with votes to spare in both, but this will not be easy, especially in the Senate.
Here's the math. 51 senators voted "Yes" last week for the bill. Supporters of the bill need to hold 42 for an override. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who called the veto an "outrageous slap in the face of thousands of hardworking men and women in our state," says he will recommend that the Assembly override when legislators return to Albany on Monday. If there is resistance to an override, the WFP--along with its allies--plans to organize an all-out grassroots campaign to ensure that it happens.
It will take a little time to figure out what's really happening in Albany. But in the short term please send an email or letter TODAY to Majority Leader Bruno urging him to override the veto. Tell him his electoral future just may depend on it. His email: email@example.com. You can also mail or fax him at Sen. Joseph Bruno, 909 LOB, Albany NY 12247 or fax: 518-455-2448.
I sometimes fantasize about being reincarnated as a swing voter in Ohio. After all, the entire convention was designed to seduce about 11 voters in that great state. In Boston, pundits, DNC types and others all seemed to gauge the effectiveness of the day's events through the prism of what someone in a battleground state might have thought. At one of the endless chat 'n'chews on Wednesday, a key member of the DNC Finance Committee told me that after Barack Obama's "a star is born" speech, she had called all her relatives who live in battleground states to get their take on how it had played. She was relieved (and ecstatic) to report that they had loved it.
She didn't need to call relatives after Kerry's speech. Thursday night, MSNBC turned to a small group of Ohio swing voters for their reactions. GOP pollster Frank Luntz--who dons a bipartisan hat as a MSNBC consultant--had equipped these swingers with meters to gauge their views on the speeches' key riffs. Seems that Michael Moore and the swing voters of Ohio may be linked at the hip when it comes to their view of the Saudi royal family. Luntz sheepishly reported that Kerry's attack on Bush's energy policy ("I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation--not the Saudi royal family.") was the group's fave passage of the night. It was "just off the charts" on the vote-o-meter.
Buchanan Voting for Kerry?
Pat Buchanan is by no means your on-the-reservation Republican, but it was striking to hear him say Thursday night on MSNBC's After Hours: "If I did not know this man or his past record, and heard only this speech tonight, I could easily vote for him." Buchanan went on to alert viewers that veterans were being organized to challenge Kerry's version of his war record. "Look forward to the Guns of August."
The Thrust of Kerry's Speech
I liked much of Kerry's speech--what he said about energy independence and healthcare as a right and using money now going to prisons to fund Head Start and Early Start. But I was turned off by his opening line: "My name is John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." As he saluted, I thought of how our politics and policies are already too militarized. I can hear people telling me--come on, lighten up; after all. it's just a convention speech. But in the quest to take back defense and national security, could Dems lose their way? Is militarism the centerpiece of the Democrats' vision for the future? As Tikkun editor Michael Lerner wrote in an astute Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal: "If militarism and toughness are all that either party can offer the country as a vision for the future....many voters may simply not be inspired to vote at all."
Inside the Fleet Center this week, few speakers have engaged the fierce antiwar views of the vast majority of delegates.
Instead, activists and delegates flocked to panels and forums around Boston in order to debate and discuss the war, the occupation and what is to be done. On Wednesday afternoon, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation co-sponsored a debate on "Iraq, The US and the World." Agreed: the debacle in Iraq has left America more isolated, more reviled and less safe. Panelists included Dennis Kucinich, who will work hard to elect Kerry, while continuing to speak out in support of the withdrawal of our troops and ending the occupation. Gary Hart, talked about the themes of his new book. He also welcomed a special guest. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Minister, who courageously resigned on the eve of war to protest Tony Blair's decision, was in Boston for the convention. Referring to Cook's resignation, Hart lamented that in the old days "When people disagreed with policy, they used to resign in protest. What's happened to that tradition," he asked the crowd of some 400 people. ("Run, Robin, Run," people shouted in reply." ) Ambassador Joe Wilson --after listening to Kucinich talk of making nonviolence an organizing principle--asked if it was "okay to harbor just a bit of violence against a certain journalist?" (He was talking about Robert Novak, for those who've been living under a rock these last months.)
Barbara Lee, diminutive in stature, statuesque in her commitment to the Constitution and peace, laid out an alternative progressive foreign policy. She talked of how she had introduced House Resolution 141 to repeal preemptive war doctrine. (It has 40 co-sponsors), and House Resolution 3919, which states that no US tax dollars can be authorized to overthrow a democratically elected government. Look at Haiti, Lee said. "And we need a rational policy toward Cuba. Let us end the embargo against Cuba," she said to rousing applause from the crowd of some 400 people.
Tom Andrews of the Win Without War Coalition and Gayle Smith, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, also participated in the forum.
Like all such panels, time was running out when I stepped up to the podium. What follows below is a longer version of my hastily abbreviated remarks.
July 28, 2004, The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts
One reason The Nation (magazine) is thriving is because somuch of the media failed the American people in the run up to war. It failed to ask the tough questions. Robin cook's presence here reminds me of that press conference on the eve of war, when journalists acted more like courtiers at the court of King George than members of a free press. And we welcome Robin Cook to our shores, in these perilous times, and we will conscript him in our fight to oust this President, who on a good day acts like a secular monarch, and on rough days he acts like he's channeling god.
What is the single most important thing that we as Americans can do to advance a more just and secure world? Defeat George W. Bush and send him packing, back to the ranch in crawford. But it's not enough to defeat Bush. That is the first and crucial step.
Everyone in this room knows that after Kerry is elected there is much work ahead to build a compelling and democratic alternative national security policy that affirms the best of our values--including respect for the truth and international law.
This election is a referendum on an Administration that has led usinto the greatest foreign policy failure in us history. It is areferendum on an adminstration that has squandered America'scredibility while pursuing a faithbased foreign policy when it comes to evidence, and a messianic militarist one when it comes to action. Bush and his neocon accomplices have rolled back decades of bispartisan tradition with their preemptive war doctrine. Theirs is not a conservative foreign policy; it is a radical and reckless one. While hijacking our foreign policy, Bush and his people have violated the most essential trust in a democracy and taken Americans into an illegal and unecessary war based on manipulated intelligence, repetitions of baseless claims and the persistent use of fear.
But what is hopeful, as we meet this afternoon, is that a majority of Americans now believe that the war was a mistake. A majority ofAmericans have turned against the war. And they have done so withprecious little leadership from our politicians.
A majority of Americans understand that the war has made America less safe, not more secure. That it has made us more isolated, reviled and hated than at any time in our history. That is a view shared by awide range of establishment sources--from the british inst forstrategic studies, which concluded in a recent study that the warhas led to accelerated recruitment in Al Qaeda; to anonymous, theCIA counterterrorist analyst, who put it plainly, " the war has beena christmas gift to Osama bin Laden." Then there are theestablishment dissenters. The leading diplomats and militaryofficials who worked in reagan and Bush one Administration whorecently issued a powerful statement indicting this admin fordamaging our national security.
A majority of Americans believe the war was a mistake because:
--20,000 US troops have had their tours of duty extended.Redeployment has been met with widespread anger among militaryfamilies and active-duty personnel.
--A majority of US troops report low morale. The military isstretched thin, seriously thin. There is talk of reviving the draft.
**Consider the mounting costs in blood and money.
* More than 900 US troops have died since Bush declared "the end ofmajor combat" in his infamous "mission accomplished' speech in may2003. Another ugly landmark was passed early this week--the 10,000wounded mark. Imagine--over 10,000 wounded Americans in a war ourmilitary and political leadership now say may last years. The coststo the Iraqi people have also been tragic. Over 11,000 Iraqicivilians have died in conflict so far--many of them children.
* The United States has already spent some $126 billion on the war,costing every American family about $3400 each. As the camp for am'sfuture has pointed out, this admin has socked it to hardworkingfamilies on two fronts--Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave ahuge break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and thenwhen he went to war, Bush asked the same working and middle classfamilies who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict.Meanwhile contract cronies masquerading as companies like halliburtonare making a killing in Iraq after receiving no bid contracts fromthe federal government.
*For the $152 billion Congress has allocated for the war, the UnitedStates could have provided healthcare for 27 million Americans--or we could have spent the $151 million on food for half the hungrypeople in the world for two years; plus a comprehensive global aidsprogram plus clean water for all in the developing world; pluschildhood immunizations for every child in the developing world; orwe could have committed to helping the middle east create the 100million jobs it will need over next 15 years just to keep up with theyouthful populations--thus addressing the root causes of instabilityin this turbulent world. America could once again become a source ofhope and use its power in constructive, intelligent ways.
The work of building a clear, credible and compelling alternative tothe messianic militaristic policies of the Bush Administration.Is the tough and critical job of those who opposed this senselesswar, those citizens' groups and movements and media who have foughtfor years for a more democratic and enlightened foreign policy ...Itis those people, groups who gave Kerry and the party the energy andbackbone in the months before we arrived here in boston. And when weelect Kerry President we're not going away.
For us, peace is not off message. It is the message.
We will work for a Kerry victory because it will mean a necessaryrepudiation of those who have hijacked our security and foreignpolicy. But we have no illusions about a Kerry presidency. As we havelearned from hard trial and error, progressives must gear up to holda democratic Administration accountable and be perpared to fightpitched battles to forward progressive reforms whether in economicpolicy or security policy. But Kerry in the white house will enableprogressives to go from defense to offense. And though Kerry waswrong to vote to give Bush the authority to make war in Iraq, and hehas failed to call for an end to the us occupation, he challengesBush's preemptive war doctrine and promises a foreign policy thatwill be tempered by alliances, international cooperation and the ruleof law. He offers Americans an Administration that will be able torevive America's influence as a source of hope not fear andresentment and enlist its allies, and more willing to address thebroader threats to us security--from catastrophic climate change tothe trade in loose nukes.
But the central issue of our political and historical moment is anend to the occupation of Iraq. If it isn't ended, it will bleed bothour forces, as well as the Iraqi people--and our country ofresources for our own domestic reconstruction.
The Bush Administration bears heavy responsibility for the fact thatthe options in Iraq today are bad, worse and much worse. We cannoteasily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken, but a fundamentalcourse correction is urgently needed. Slogans about "staying thecourse" are a prescription for inflaming the region while polarizingthe us and undermining us global leadership. America needs a roadmapout of Iraq, one that as senator byrd has said, "is orderly andastute, else more of our men and women in uniform will follow thefate of tennyson's doomed light brigade." It is time to change course--not stay the course.
The costs of continuing the occupation outweigh the risks of aphased and responsible withdrawal.
The occupation, like other occupations throughout history, hasgenerated instability and violence and a growing popular resistancethat cannot be defeated militarily. The longer the us militarypresence lasts, the more likely it is that the Iraqi resistance willintensify. Even leading us generals admit this cannot be wonmilitarily.
Occupation and its abuses are creating new recruiting tools forterrorists in the region; while we neglect hotbeds of terroristactivity along the pakistan-afghan border. It will trap the us andthe un in a spiral of unending violence, as the standoffs in Fallujahand Najaf have demonstrated.
*Yes, arguably withdrawal may leave Iraq a failed state or lead tosome form of civil war. But an extended American occupation may onlyresult in an intensified guerrilla war and attract everydisillusioned muslim fanatic to Iraq to fight the American infidel,which would produce the same or even worse result. A well-coordinatedwithdrawal is more likely to deprive these extremists of a pretextand a context for future attacks. Egyptian President Mubarak warnedthat a us invasion would create "a hundred bin Ladens" and the longerwe stay , the more such extremism will be fostered. It is our respectfor the will of the Iraqi people that will deprive islamic radicalsof their greatest rallying cry. On balance, staying the course willonly doom more Americans and Iraqis to die for a dubious cause atcosts we can ill afford.
And, tragically, if Kerry stays the course, it may well destroy anyof the hopes he has of revitalizing our nation domestically.
To call for a coherent exit strategy is not to abandon Iraq or itspeople. There are still many things that the us can do. Continuedeconomic assistance is one. Another is to help the un andinternational organizations assist in the transition to a newpolitical order. But all combat operations should cease and then, ona fixed and announced timetable, us forces should withdraw in asorderly, responsible way as is possible from the country. In short,the us working with others, should give Iraqis their best chance tosucceed in their own efforts to create their own future. No permanentus bases, no meddling with their legal codes to put fix in for usmultinationals, no shameless war profiteering by halliburton.
I believe that each additional day that American troops continue tofight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the originalmistake--costing more lives, pulverizing the society, contributing tothe spiral of violence and animus toward the us, and reducing, notfostering, any chances for a better future for the country.
There are important lessons for an alternative security policy in thetragedy of the reckless strategic crusade in Iraq:
1/ we have seen the limits of American military power to achieve anyreasonable political goals, certainly not at an acceptable cost. AsNation columnist jonathan schell has masterfully demonstrated in hislatest book, the war system has reached a point that using war asprimary goal to resolve differences does as much harm to those thatemploy force as it does to those on the receiving end. It is justcommon sense to acknowledge that most of today's internationalsecurity threats are not susceptible to military solution or willprovoke local resistance that is far more potent than are Americancapabilities. We desperately need a new definition of security in avulnerable and interconected world. Overwhelming military power isill suited to dealing with the central challenges we face: statelessterrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history,the spread of WMD. Insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in theformer Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and hunger afflicting africa, thedegradation of our common environment, transnational crime, and aglobal economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.
As we work to end the occupation, let us also fight for a moreconstructive and intelligent use of American power.Let us unshackleour imaginations.
In this context, imagine an Administration which would use America's power to:
*lead a global campaign to meet the un's milennium goal of halvingworld poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeingevery child primary education by 2015.
*Strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties thatcurb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and internationaldemilitarization.
*End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development ofalternative energy sources--and commit to the campaign for America's"Apollo Project" on energy indpependence.
*Build up the capacities of the united nations to prevent and contain conflict.
*Ratify the scores of treaties the us has subverted these last twoyears--from Kyoto to the international criminal court, to theanti-ballistic missile treaty.
Or consider these positive steps an enlightened adminsitration might take:
1/ Declare that it will hold Israel accountable to international lawand to un security council resolutuions, and that it will movequickly to a UN quartet-sponsored summit to bring about a finalsettlement with the taba maps as the starting point of finalnegotiations.
2/ Establish, with the European Union and major Asian developednations, a job creation and development fund aimed at creating 100million jobs in the greater Middle East by the year 2020. Thedevelopment fund woulf finance a combination of public investmentprojects, smaller regional funds for small business and homedevelopment, and public education. Arab oil-producing countrieswould be asked to match Americans, european and japanesecontributions.
3/ Move quickly to a non-conditional detente policy with Iran andannounce that it will support un talks aimed at creating anon-nuclear weapons zone in the Middle East.
4/ Announce that it will support with money and expertise a new UNdepartment of state-building for overseeing failed states and forassuming responsibility for afghanistan and Iraq.
None of us here today wish to complicate--or oppose--the campaignof senator John Kerry. We must defeat Bush. But those of us, themillions who rallied to oppose this war, must stand for what webelieve and become an independent factor/force that will fight inthese coming months for an end to an occupation that is the result ofa mistaken war.
Did you know that, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, nine out of ten delegates gathered in Boston think the US should not have gone to war in Iraq and say the gains from the war were not worth the loss of American lives...Only seven percent say "the US did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq," while eighty-six percent say the US should "have stayed out."
This is the first presidential convention that has an official "Blogger Boulevard." And there's lots of excitement about the blogging phenomenon. After all, today there are at least two million people who have started one of these online journals. According to Technorati, a website that tracks what blogs are talking about, the number of new blogs is increasing at a rate of 12,000 a day. Yes, it's true that about one third of these sites don't last--people get bored with their own musings--but the other two thirds are still going at a steady pace. And according to surveys, something like one to fifteen million people say they spend some of their time on the internet reading other people's blogs. If I'm not mistaken, that gives the blogosphere at least as much impact as the cumulative subscription base of all the alternative newsweeklies in America.
How will bloggers affect the coverage of this convention? No one knows. But one of the most popular bloggers sounds a cautionary note. Arriving in Boston, Joshua Micah Marshall blogged in Talkingpointsmemo: "I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem--mainly not producers but primarily or usually secondary consumers--like small field mice, ferrets, or bats...I've always thought of this as just a vehicle for writing--a mix of reporting and opinion journalism, done in a format that allows a maximum degree of flexibility, not bound by limitations of space--the need to write long or short--or any of the confining genre requirements that define conventional journalism. The whole thing is mystifying to me."
Blog Note:Don't miss numerous Nation weblogs this week from Boston. Click here to read them all.
Howard Dean on the Convention Floor
Howard Dean on the convention floor, looking subdued when pressed about Nader: "The base will not forgive Ralph...after getting on the ballot in Oregon with help of anti-gay rightwing forces, Ralph appears to be not just like another politician but worse than some he's attacking."
To strains of "You're Still The One," Senator Edward Kennedy exited stage left, surrounded by family--heading to a tribute at Boston Symphony Hall. "The only thing we have to fear," he told the cheering crowd, "is four more years of George Bush....We will retire Cheney to an undisclosed location."
Across the river, earlier in this afternoon, Michael Moore nearly caused a riot when some 3,000 people descended on the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge for a confab with America's hottest film-maker. Earlier that day, some Bush spokesman had called Moore "the leader of the hate and vitriol celebrity." Two thousand people were turned away by the organizers--the Campaign for America's Future--but they soon gathered on a side street outside the hotel, awaiting Moore's arrival later that afternoon.
Inside the hall, Moore enthralled the crowd with tales of Dale Earnhardt Jr, tirades against the corporate media, jabs at Disney and its honcho Michael Eisner, advice for John Kerry and a warning to Ralph Nader.
Check out these riffs:
* "The true patriots are those who think it's important to ask tough questions. The villain of my film is George W. but the unstated villains are the national media. My film outs them as shills for the Bush Administration, as people who were cheerleaders for the Bush Administration, as journalists who fell asleep on the job. We the people need you in the media to ask the tough questions. Don't be afraid of being called un-American. It'spro-American to ask the tough questions."
* "Whether they use labels or not, most Americans in their heart are either liberal or progressive. It's only a minority who hate. The people running this country are not patriots, they're hatriots."
* "I predict that we'll see the largest percentage of people voting in our lifetime. It's cool now to talk about politics."
* "Dale Earnhardt Jr took his crew to see Fahrenheit 9-11 to prepare for a big race and then he said all of America should see this movie. Hope Bush wasn't eating pretzels watching that race."
* "Here's my plea to John Kerry and the Democrats. You will not win this election by being wimpy, weak, by failing to stand up for your convictions. Only way this is going to happen is if you stand up for what you believe, stand for a liberal/progressive agenda. If you move to the right you'll encourage millions to stay home."
* A word about Ralph (hisses in the hall)..."Yes, Republicans do love Ralph. Just came from Michigan and Ralph gathered fifty thousand signatures--forty-three of those gathered by Michigan Republicans...Ralph, you already did your job. The Democratic party of 2004 is not the Democratic Party of 2000. They got it. Howard Dean carried on and so did Dennis Kucinich...they helped push Dems to liberal/progressive side. Even the Al Gore of 2004 is not the Al Gore of 2000. My appeal to the Nader voters and Green voters...you have a different job to do this year. What you are doing is so misguided, so uncool. I wouldn't have Dems spend any time attacking Nader. They should be giving those people reasons to vote for Kerry."
Just as I thought they were going to start playing Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen's oldie "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive (Mister in-Between)" in the convention hall, former President Jimmy Carter came out swinging. God bless him. Seems that Carter--party statesman, nearly 80 years old--didn't have to run the gauntlet of DNC apparatchiks screening speeches for any harsh anti-Bush rhetoric. Carter spoke forthrightly, deploring the fact that the "Middle East is ablaze," and blasting Bush's extremism, deceit and exploitation of American's fears.
As America's 39th President, rightly insisted, "the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians." That is until 43. (Click here to read the full text of Carter's remarks.)
As convention time approached, I asked one of America's most prominent historians, Eric Foner, for some political history about Boston and Massachusetts. Foner, a valued member of The Nation's editorial board and an award-winning author, is a Professor of History at Columbia University, and former President of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. His textbook, Give me Liberty: An American History will be published later this year.
Host for the very first time to a national convention, Boston is a perfect place to reflect on this country's alternative tradition of visionary thinking. It is a city, according to Foner, which illuminates "how the rights and freedoms of all Americans have, again and again in our history, been strengthened and expanded by the struggles of dissenters, and those excluded from the full benefits of the society, to create liberty as they understood it."
Take Roger Williams--the founder of the idea of religious freedom in America, driven out of Puritan Massachusetts for daring to challenge the entrenched orthodoxy. Foner says, "Williams insisted that religious liberty rests on the separation of church and state. He rejected the idea that any one leader or one people had a monopoly on religious truth or enjoyed the special favor of God, and insisted that merging church and state corrupted both politics (by leading rulers to think they were infallible) and religion (by making it the subject of political rivalries)."
Boston was also the cradle of the abolitionist movement, several of whose leaders helped found The Nation in 1865. Their example, Foner says, shows "how a small, couragous band of men and women challenged the most deeply entrenched economic interest in America, insisting that human rights took precedence over the rights of property and that economic activity must be held to a higher standard than more profit and efficiency."
Massachusetts was also one center of the early labor movement, including the legendary female factory workers at Lowell, just outside of Boston, who, Foner observes, "insisted that a modicum of economic autonomy and economic security is essential to freedom--an idea that has found expression at numerous moments in American history including Franklin Roosevelt's Freedom from Want (one of the Four Freedoms)--an idea that has dropped out of our political discourse--and down to those who today insist that economic globalization must be accompanied by labor and environmental safeguards.
And Massachusetts has always been a major center of the women's movement, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, which not only demanded for women the same rights in the public arena as men--the vote, education, economic opportunity, etc--but expanded the idea of freedom and of individual rights into the most intimate realms of life, insisting that the right to control one's own person is the foundation of personal independence (a right that Republicans are today working hard to rescind)."
During this convention week, many actions and gatherings will be devoted to calling for an end to the occupation in Iraq. Boston is the ideal city for such debates because, as Foner reminds, "it has a long tradition of patriotic opposition to unjust wars and to the violations of civil liberties that often accompany wars. Massachusetts was a center of opposition to the Mexican War (Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes to support a government that invaded a neighboring country). Every war in US history, with the exception of World War II, has been the subject of strong opposition and internal debate. And the right to criticize the government in wartime, and to retain constitutional protection of civil liberties, is another major strand of patriotic dissent. I'd cite the opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both of which made it illegal to criticize the federal government, and the recent Supreme Court decisions rebuking the Bush Administration for seeking to abrogate the basic civil liberties of Americans accused of crimes as the latest in a long tradition of instence that the constitution is not suspended even in times of crisis."
And as this Administration attempts to rollback the social and democratic achievements of the 20th century, Boston--home to Senator Edward Kennedy, Congressman Jim McGovern and the late Congressman Joe Moakley, among many others--powerfully reminds us of the victories of 20th-century social liberalism, of using the government to promote greater equality and to aid the weak and disadvantaged. This is a winning legacy which Kerry would do well to evoke and emulate.
After all, as Foner points out, "It is important to note that this tradition, which originated in the Progressive era, and reached its flowering under FDR and LBJ, was originally bipartisan, but that Republican Progressivism has fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by a dog-eat-dog view of society and an alliance with the privileged rather than ordinary Americans."
Watch this space all week for DNC-related posts.
This past week, the New York State Senate took the historic and long overdue step of passing a bill to raise our state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 an hour. This is a tremendous victory for the more than one million workers who will directly benefit from this increase if it is signed by Governor Pataki. At a time when low-wage jobs are failing to keep pace with price increases, it could literally mean the difference for many families. It's also a victory for the Working Families Party's hard work and the effective grassroots organizing the coalition has been doing for the last six years.
Labor unions, Democrats--even the Roman Catholic Church--joined with the Working Families Party in the fight for fairness and equity. The Daily News also earned kudos for publishing seven editorials in the last five months urging a raise in the minimum wage, and assigning reporter Heidi Evans to do a dozen related stories, including a front-page feature on what's it's like to live on $206 each week. And last week, the campaign won support from a powerful, if unexpected, quarter when the Partnership for New York City, one of the city's leading business groups, urged the State Senate to pass the bill. (The Democrat-controlled State Assembly passed a bill last March.) The business group noted that at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns only $10,712 a year, which is below the federal poverty level.
Moreover, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute effectively counters claims that raising the minimum wage will hurt small employers. It found that in the 12 states with minimum wages higher than $5.15 an hour, employment levels did not, in fact, decrease as the minimum wage was increased.
But, as Senator Eric Schneiderman (D, Manhattan) , the Deputy Minority Leader and a longtime supporter of the WFP, points out, even with the wage hike's sound economics, it took sustained political pressure, and the threat of possible electoral defeat, to ultimately force Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to drop his traditional opposition to the Assembly proposal.
"The Republican leadership of the Senate allowed this bill to pass this year because they are afraid they will lose seats in the election this fall in districts where the minimum wage increase is popular and where voters have been educated and organized on the issue of raising the minimum wage," Schneiderman said." It is the sad reality that bills don't pass the Senate because they make sense as public policy, or because passing them is the right thing to do. They pass when the Majority Leader sees that the voters may vote out one or more of his members if an issue isn't addressed, and therefore threaten his position as Majority Leader."
That is why it is so important to continue to support the WFP. Launched in 1998, this feisty coalition of community organizations, unions and individuals, has recruited and backed progressive candidates, run local and statewide issue campaigns and used the leverage of the ballot line to hold candidates and elected officials accountable on issues of concern to working-class, middle-class and poor people. Its unapologetic focus on economic justice, its savvy grassroots organizing and ability to give working people an effective voice in the political debate is needed now more than ever. As Jack Newfield put it in an opinion piece for the New York Sun, "Never before has a political party made such an impact on statewide public policy."
Or think of it this way: the WFP's hard work just helped put about a million dollars an hour into the pockets of the working poor. Click here to help the WFP continue its work and click here to add your name to the WFP's petition to New York Governor George Pataki asking him to sign the new minimum wage bill into law.