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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Reader's Mailbag: Good News

My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies. Some of my favorites are published below.

We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination. I'll be publishing more reader responses in the weeks ahead.

Reader Replies

Bruce Bennett,Sausalito, CA

As a former EPA librarian who was kicked out of my position because I had the temerity to criticize Bush on global warmimg I would like to mention two recent votes in Congress. One was to deny drilling and "exploration" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for at least a year. The Bushies want to exploit this wilderness and will continue to represent their oil business backers but the vote demonstrated that they will have an uphill time of it. The second was the vote to deny funds for the Forest Service to build logging roads in the Tongass National Forest of Alaska. I was once fortunate to live in Juneau and Sitka, AK and I can tell you from personal experience how glorious that region is. I was delighted to hear of the vote because the three "representatives" of Alaska in Congress are shills for the forest products industry. Despite their best efforts to clearcut these great forests the other members of Congress saw it otherwise.

Tom Lowe, El Sobrante CA

The Canadian Election is good news for the US. On Monday Canadian voters held back a neo-republican Conservative Party, which as recently as last weekend seemed able to gain control of Parliment; and, in the view of most post election comments, made a left leaning coatition the way to run the country. We Yanks should be so lucky in November!

Lyn Wall, Houston, Texas

I'd like to nominate Air America Radio as great political news. I stream it over the internet all day because I can't get it in Houston, and I'm not alone. It has helped me find other sources and like-minded people and confirmed my sense that something is terrribly wrong with mainstream media.

Richard J. Bourgeois, Ishpeming, MI

This is in response to your "Good Things in Bad Times" article. Today, in Marquette, Michigan, a small town of 25,000 in upper michigan, a small peace and justice group (fourteen adults and three children) marched for the first time (anywhere) in the July Fourth parade. The theme of the parade was "land of the free and home of the brave". Two peace group marchers carried the local homemade peace and justice banner showing pine trees, water and a peace dove, other marchers carried two US flags, and three blue and white peace flags, and all marchers wore colored lettered signs in front and back such as--"peace is patriotic , dissent is patriotic, bring the troops home, no blood for oil, war is not the answer, money for jobs and education not war." The march was over one half a mile and mostly applause and approval was heard. Although the peace marchers did not expect to win first place in the parade competition, they hoped that by marching and standing up for peace and free speech that they truly can promote "good things" (peace and justice) in bad times. Hopefully this is happening thoughout the USA.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Louisville, KY

Another sign of political good news. People of faith are refusing to let the Religious Right claim a monopoly on faith and spirituality, consigning the rest of us to the "secular left." Faithful America, for instance, is a new organization of left-of-center Christians (and smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims) which has only been around a month, but has already gathered 100,000 members and aired a commercial on Al-Jazeera TV apologizing for the Abu-Ghraib tortures. Click here for information on the group

Anonymous, Brick, NJ

The best news I heard this week was the head of the Southern Baptist church denouncing the Bush-Cheney campaign letter calling for his churches to send the campaign church member lists, share contact information for at least one other conservative church and to throw Bushie parties high and low, on campaign deadline, no less. And this relatively resounding denounciation came from the man who INVITED Bush to speak at the Southern Baptist national convention (which I thought was an abuse of principles of church/state separation). He was lured to the fire and he got burned. I could have told him, don't go dancing with the devil.

Margaret Montgomery, New York, NY

According to a front page New York Times article on July 5 by William L. Hamilton, 71 Bantu refugees from Somalia are living out "Hard-Won American Dreams" in Tucson, as "part of the most ambitious relocation of political refugees by the United States in recent history." Through the support of the International Rescue Committee in Tuscon and local business, educational, and social services, these determined Bantu families have overcome the traumas of their past: tribal warfare, low-caste status, denial of education, years in refugee camps, and sudden relocation to our Southwest. In light of the current desperate situation in the Sudan, it is heartening to remember that the West can and does take action every day to save lives, alleviate suffering, and help a 15-year-old Somalian toward his dreams of becoming a doctor.

Anselmo Liano, Miami Springs, Fl

Don't forget the unsuccessful attempt by Bush's Department of Labor to rewrite the overtime rules in such a manner that it would have denied overtime compensation to millions who need it the most: America's besieged middle class. Luckily Congress stopped this piece of legislation crafted by Bush's crony capitalist buddies.

Alice Bentley, San Francisco, CA

When Dick Cheney was at a Yankees baseball game, his picture was put up on the big screen while the song, "God Bless America" was being sung during the 7th inning stretch...he was soundly booedand his picture was removed right away. Also, my granddaughter recently attended a minor league baseball game in Altoona PA where his image was also booed.

Shari Schartman-Walczak, State College, PA

Thanks for your great article on the "good news." Here's one more item regarding stem cell research: The Chicago Sun-Times reported on July 5 that "Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican supporter of embryonic stem cell research, said Sunday there is wide support in the Senate to ease the Bush Administration's restrictive policy."

David Hazen, Eugene, OR

Sales of the automotive monstrosity, the Hummer H2, have fallen twenty-four per cent in the first four months of this year. I can think of no better index of an improving planet.

The Dems and Iraq

Recently in this space I asked Nation readers to join a grassroots campaign organized by supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich to let the Democratic Party Platform Committee know that millions of loyal Democrats are seeking a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. And today, at the end of the committee's meeting in Miami, the Democratic Party adopted an amendment to its national platform declaring its intention to reduce US military presence in Iraq and to push for a greater role for NATO and other nations. Click here to read more about this modest victory.

My Response to the Platform Committee

My Response to the Platform CommitteeBy Tom Hayden

Dear Madame Chair and Members,

I write as a supporter of Senator John Kerry, a former member of the Democratic Platform Committee, a former California legislator, the author of books on inner cities and global poverty, and as a longtime activist in peace and social justice movements.

Please do not take us for granted. We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party's current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans.

Political progressives HARDLY command a unified, organized bloc of voters or supporters. We live in a new political age in which there are vast millions of floating, unaffiliated independent and progressive voters. They may vote for the Democrats, for the Greens, or not at all. Their level of volunteering to make phone calls, register voters, stand frozen with billboards on freeway overpasses, etcetera, depends on whether they feel the Party is addressing what they truly care about.

The candidate and the Party establishment already are risking voter disillusionment with transparent vagaries on Iraq. I for one am glad to see the retreat from previous Democratic talk of sending more troops to stabilize that haunted country. I would prefer, of course, to see the party stand for a retreat from occupation itself. I would wish the platform to declare:

It was a mistake for President Bush to invade Iraq. One thousand Americans and countless Iraqis may have died for his mistake by this November.  Americans are spending hundreds of billions to reconstruct what American bombs have destroyed when we could be hiring youth the same age as our soldiers to rebuild our neglected cities. We are imposing pro-corporate tax and privatization policies on Iraq which have never been embraced here.

The concern of all Americans should be whether the Bush Administration and its hand-picked government truly intend to allow democratic elections this next January, or defer democratic sovereignty for Iraqis until the US-led coalition prevails militarily over the insurgency. If security must be imposed by force before the balloting begins, there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. We do not require Iraqis to stop shopping or watching television before they vote, nor should we expect all them to become non-violent as a condition of going to the polls.

We cannot easily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken. But we believe that the American occupation and the absence of democracy are the causes of the insurgency, and that delaying or suspending the democratic process will only deepen the pattern of violence.  We support a broader international coalition and funding to repair and stabilize what we can in Iraq, but we are not ideological Crusaders bent on building a military outpost to protect a free-trade zone in Baghdad.  Our core mission must be to complete the current partial transition to sovereignty with democratic elections followed by an American military withdrawal.

Since an anti-war approach is ruled out by the party's pollsters, strategists, and ideologues, there is likely to be a drift towards either disillusionment or protest campaigns among large numbers of voters now on the edge. It becomes crucial, therefore, to appeal to those voters with something in which they can have a stake beyond the demise of George Bush. The excellent language on alternatives to Middle Eastern oil is an example.

But a more immediate approach should be to strengthen the platform language on fair trade. The current language is perhaps minimally acceptable, but feels like an extracted tooth. The platform can extol so-called "free trade" to our contributors' delight, but the fact is that our free trade agreements have to be followed up immediately with fairness provisions that are enforceable. The present language may placate interested insiders but should be tested as well as rhetoric on the stump in places like Ohio, where I predict they will turn audiences looking for red meat into glazed zombies. There is no language blaming Bush, nor the corporate interests who are circumventing labor standards and environmental protection. Perhaps calling them "Benedict Arnolds" was over the top (who said that?), but even word "sweatshop" is missing from the platform. Don't we want to accuse Republicans of being soft on sweatshops? Or would the word shock and offend those Democrats and economists who still claim that workplaces violating labor standards and paying a dollar a day are a "step up the ladder" for billions of the poor.

It is a tragedy that a party whose modern tradition was founded in the Thirties on the banning of sweatshop conditions among American workers cannot today say the word when those same miserable conditions have reappeared in our new Gilded Age.

So my second platform recommendation is this: dare to include language denouncing sweatshops and the trade rules that enshrine them.  

Finally, a plea for a more balanced position on domestic "law and order". As a result of the war on gangs and drugs, America now has 25 percent of the world's total population of inmates, over two million on any given day. We spend more on prisons than colleges, more on punitive criminal justice systems than on prevention and rehabilitation programs. Just as the platform's foreign policy plank says war is an option of last resort, so too should police and prisons - hopefully not like Abu Ghraib - be a last resort in juvenile justice programming. Instead the platform links terrorism and domestic gangs in the same sentence, promises to "crack down on gang violence" as if we haven't for twenty years, and offers neither a word or a dollar on behalf of prevention or intervention. The section is embarrassing, since most Americans are far beyond the Democratic Party in supporting prevention initiatives.

So my third platform recommendation is to reconsider the deadly language about cracking down on those inner city youth. Say something like this: the Democratic Party believes in a balanced approach to combating violence and hopelessness among so many of our nation's young people. It is not enough to dispatch more police - we must flood the inner cities with job possibilities better than dealing drugs. It is not enough for such a rich country to lock up more of its citizens than virtually any other. We must and will deter violence crime. But we must be equally tough on creating jobs and hope wherever a lethal despair has taken hold.

Thank you for your consideration. See you in Boston!

Tell Them What You Think

With just a few days to go before the Democratic Party's Platform Committee convenes in Miami on July 9th and 10th, supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich are gearing up to give the committee a political earful.

Readers of The Nation should join them in signing a petition demanding that the Party's platform acknowledge that millions of loyal Democrats seek a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. (Click here to sign on.) Hundreds of Kucinich campaigners and political allies will also push hard to strengthen the platform language on healthcare and fair trade.

I think it's shameful that the current 16,000-word document fails to even acknowledge existing divisions among Democrats on future policy toward Iraq. How can Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the platform drafting committee, say that the party is not divided about whether to stay the course? Does she read the polls? The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, people who call themselves Democrats say our troops should "leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable" rather than "stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy." And what about the several state Democratic parties which have called on the national party to support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq? In the Senate, Robert Byrd has been an eloquent advocate of an exit strategy, one that is "orderly and astute, else more of our men and women will follow the fate of Tennyson's doomed light brigade." Representative Jim McDermott and much of the Congressional Black Caucus have also called for a clear and coherent roadmap for US withdrawal.

And, in a strategically-savvy Open Letter to the Platform Committee, Tom Hayden--former member of the committee and a former California legislator, writes: "We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party's current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans." (Click here for the full text of the letter.)

Let's hope that the platform folks listen to Hayden's good advice. It points the way to way to winning the election. Wouldn't the Democratic Party be a stronger--even a more unified--party if it acknowledged its differences? Disagreement will not weaken the urgency millions feel about defeating George Bush in November. And, besides, pretending that differences don't exist won't make it so. Honest debate could be an electoral asset for the Democrats, particularly since it's something these incompetents in the White House seem incapable of allowing.There might even be a rallying cry in this--how about "Honesty in Differences, Unity in Beating Bush."

Right now, it's critical that Platform Committee Chairwoman Stephanie TubbsJones hear from as many good Democratic voices as possible. Click here for contact info and tell her ASAP that it's important that she and the Committee listen to the concerns and values of many Democratic voters.

Good Things in Bad Times

It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around, and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. You must feel, as I do--some mornings it's hard to get out of bed and read the papers or watch TV. But in these past weeks, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate.

1/ The historic decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturning last year's dangerous FCC decision promoting even more extreme media consolidation was a victory for our democracy, culture and communities. The decision was a stinging rebuke to the FCC's stunning disregard for public participation in the rule-making process and for the importance of true media diversity. It gives all of us another chance to work for real media reform.

2/ The decision by a federal court to allow a class-action suit, on behalf of 1.6 million women employees of Wal-Mart, is a victory for labor and human rights. It is by far the largest workplace-bias lawsuit in US history and deals another well-deserved blow to Wal-Mart's efforts to portray itself as a good employer.

3/ The Supreme Court's decisions regarding enemy combatants was a resounding rejection of the Administration's claim that it is above the law in the "war" on terror. The decisions were all the more important given the history of judicial deference to the executive in times of war, and the fact that this same Court installed Bush in the White House --and is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. As our legal correspondent David Cole observed, the Supremes have "now formally reminded the Administration, it's President Bush not King George."

4/ It is now virtually certain that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for an open US Senate seat in Illinois, will be the third African-American to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction.

5/ Bush's credibility crisis is growing. The latest New York Times/CBS poll says that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake. And every poll shows the right track-wrong track indicator--the so-called Dow Jones of politics--moving against George W. Around 20 percent more Americans think the country is on the wrong track than those who think it's on the right one.

6/ According to the Wall Street Journal, "...the American left is seeing signs of political revival." Among other signs, the Journal reported that The Nation's circulation has grown to 160,000, exceeding the subscriber base of longstanding conservative stalwart National Review.

7/ At its late June convention, the http://www.thenation.com/thebeat/index.mhtml?bid=1&pid=1515 "> Green Party refused to back Ralph Nader in his run for the White House--a move that reduces his chance of being a factor in this November's election.

8/ This past weekend, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was the top grossing film in America. It's also already become, in less than one week, the most popular documentary film of all-time.

9/ Presbyterians select pro-gay leader: A peace activist who supports the inclusion of gays in the ministry was recently elected to lead the Presbyterian Church USA for the next two years. Rick Ufford-Chase, 40, has spent 18 years working on the Mexico border as a Presbyterian mission worker. He and his wife are also active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which sends groups to areas like Iraq and the West Bank.

10/ Conservatives are repudiating Bush. Take the lead item from syndicated gossip columnist Liz Smith on June 29: "The very conservative columnist Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel is advising his readers to 'Vote for a Man, Not a Puppet.' Charley says if we vote for President Bush's re-election, we'll really be voting for 'the architects of war--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of that cabal of neoconservative ideologues and their corporate backers.' (Why did he leave John Ashcroft off this list?) Reese now sees George Bush, the man he joyfully voted for in 2000, as an 'empty suit who is manipulated by the people in his administration.' Reese adds this damning phrase: 'Bush has the most dangerously simplistic view of the world of any president in my memory.'"

Bonus item: Al Gore has become a fiery populist oppositionist.

NOTE: We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to nominate your favorite piece of political good news. We'll be publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.

Exposing O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly spinning the news? Shocked? Probably not. But if you needed more evidence of how O'Reilly misleads his viewers on a network that (laughingly) bills itself as "fair and balanced," click here to see what happened to David Cole, a prominent Georgetown University Law professor and The Nation's legal correspondent, when he appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last week. (O'Reilly, by the way, told Cole that he would "never ever" be on his show again. "I wasn't sure to take that as a threat or a promise," Cole says.) Seems like the master of spin just can't stand being exposed for what he is.

The Costs of Bush's War

The Bush Administration, in a stealthy move designed to minimize anticipated insurgent attacks, yesterday handed "sovereignty" to Iraq's interim government two days before it had been scheduled to do so on June 30th.

The premature hand-off--or what might be called a sovereignty scam--means that the Bush Team's PR offensive is certain to kick into high gear in the coming weeks. (When Bush learned that Paul Bremer had formally relinquished his authority to the Iraqi government, he added an Orwellian touch to a hand-written note that his national security advisor Condi Rice had just sent him. His note said: "Let Freedom Reign!")

Now more than at any time since Bush invaded Iraq, journalists need to give Americans a clear assessment of the mounting costs of this war. This is a great opportunity for the media to redeem itself for malpractice in the run-up to war when, as Washington Post ombudsperson Michael Getler wrote this month in a tough rebuke to his own paper---and the larger media world, "...the press, as a whole, did not do a very good job in challenging administration claims...Too many public events in which alternative views were expressed...were either missed, underreported or poorly displayed."

The costs are now detailed in a devastating report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF). It is an extraordinary compilation of the mounting human, economic, environmental, security and other costs of this war of choice.

In human terms, seven hundred US servicemen and women have died since Bush declared "the end of major combat" in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, while more than 5,000 soldiers have been wounded since the war began. Many of them, as Michael Moore documents in his provocative new film Fahrenheit 911, have lost arms and legs.The cost to the Iraqi people has also been tragic. Up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict so far--many of them children whose only crime was to be caught living in the middle of a war zone.

In financial terms, the costs to the American taxpayer are massive. The US has already spent $126 billion on the war, costing every American family approximately $3,400 each. As the Campaign for America's Future recently pointed out, this Administration has socked it to hard-working families on two fronts: Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave a huge tax break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and then when he went to war, he asked the same working-and middle-class families who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict. Meanwhile, companies like Halliburton are making a mint in Iraq after receiving no-bid contracts from the federal government.

A new report by Christian Aid--a non-profit group that seeks solutions to poverty--makes clear who has been the real beneficiaries of the invasion and occupation. It shows that "a majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects have been awarded to US companies, which charge up to ten times more than Iraqi firms." (Also check out Naomi Klein's recent Nation column detailing how during the run-up to this "handover" the US occupation powers have been "unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people.")

By the end of 2004, according to the IPS/FPIP report, Bush will have spent approximately $151 billion to wage his crusade in Iraq. That money could have paid for 23 million housing vouchers for poor and working-class Americans, and given America's elementary school children three million new teachers. It could have provided healthcare for 27 million uninsured Americans and allowed 20 million more children to enter the Head Start program.

Floridians alone will have to shell out almost $8 billion to pay for W's war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Bush Team is providing Florida only half that amount for initiatives in such vital areas as education, environmental protection and community block grants in a state where nineteen percent of the children currently live below the poverty line.

If there is any good news, it is that Americans are at long last recognizing that this President is untrustworthy and dishonest. Today, the latest New York Times/CBS poll was released showing that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake.

More and more Americans are understanding that the country is paying a very high price for this war and occupation and that this "war" president hoodwinked both Congress and the people.

Nader, Cobb and the Greens

Sanity prevailed at the Green Party Convention this weekend as its members rejected the entreaties of Ralph Nader's running mate Peter Camejo to vote for "no nominee." The Greens rank-and-file instead nominated Texas attorney David Cobb as its candidate for president Saturday, rebuffing Nader's efforts to secure the party's formal endorsement and likely access to the ballot in key states like Wisconsin and California.

Though no fan of John Kerry, Cobb's strategy for "smart growth" for the Green Party calls for him to aggressively campaign for votes only in safe states while advising party members to essentially vote for Kerry in the ten or so states he considers the battlegrounds which will decide this November's presidential election. This Green candidate understands that Kerry is an imperfect candidate; but he is sane enough to make the clear distinction between imperfection and a candidate like George Bush who, as he says, "is a genuine threat to the planet."

Cobb's strategy jibes with a new grassroots campaign that launched just days before the Green Convention in Milwaukee. "Greens for Kerry" urges former Nader voters and Greens in swing states to unite to defeat Bush by voting for the Democrat's candidate.

"While we acknowledge some policy disagreements with Kerry," the founding statement of Greens for Kerry reads, "we believe that the threat posed by another four years of George Bush endangers our country, the world and many of the gains that progressive and grassroots movements have achieved over the past century, including women's rights, environmental protection, social justice, minority rights, and many more. What's worse, if a Nader or Green Party run helps Bush win a second term, the Green Party itself will suffer, which we certainly don't want to happen."

The campaign, launched by registered Green Party member and former Nader campaign volunteer Sarah Newman, has set a goal of gathering a minimum of 10,000 signatures on its website pledging support for Kerry in battleground states. (Click here for info.)

On related fronts, recent attempts to stop Nader included the Arizona Democratic Party's effort to block him from getting on the state ballot, and the Congressional Black Caucus uniformly and heatedly asking him to withdraw from the race rather than take votes away from Kerry. (Nader testily rejected their request.)

Perhaps the most extreme suggestion could be found in last week's "Boondocks"-- Aaron McGruder's brilliant comic strip. "We Must Stop Ralph Nader," Mr. Dubois tells Huey. "We must do everything in our power to band together as freedom-loving liberals and stop this man." But kidnapping? Check out last week's strip for the details.

Tom DeLay's Amoral Code

Is it any surprise that the publication of Clinton's memoir My Life has revived the vitriolic bleating from those on the right who just can't seem to stop salivating over blue dresses and beret-wearing interns ?

But if these self-appointed morality police were truly committed to upholding ethics and promoting values in government, they would begin challenging the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is hands down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.

"The Hammer"--DeLay got that nickname because he runs the US House of Representatives with an iron fist--has allegedly bribed his GOP colleagues to win their votes for legislation that he desperately wanted to pass in the House. He's engaged in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors, and violated campaign finance laws in Texas during the 2002 state house election contests. Now, after a seven-year truce in the US House that discouraged members from filing ethics charges against one another, Rep. Chris Bell has gone to the ethics committee and filed a 187-page bombshell charging that DeLay engaged in extortion, money-laundering and other abuses of power.

Just this week, the ethics committee said that Bell had met the criteria for filing a complaint, and it will now spend at least the next forty-five days reviewing the charges that DeLay violated the house's ethics rules. Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He received a riproaring (standing) ovation from the Democratic Caucus this week, winning a tacit endorsement from colleagues in his ongoing battle to hold DeLay accountable.

Bell, who lost his seat in Texas after DeLay rammed through his undemocratic statewide redistricting plan designed to help Republicans hold on to power there, has taken a bold stand. But kudos must also be given to the courageous folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington who have been filing complaints against DeLay and shining a spotlight on his transgressions for many months now. CREW bills itself as a non-partisan watchdog group established to use litigation to help ordinary people against unscrupulous government officials. "Of course, we should have high standards for government leaders," CREW's mission statement notes, "but the greatest danger to democracy is posed not by the personal peccadilloes of government leaders, but rather, public policy unduly influenced by special interests." Although it has adopted the model of legal advocacy developed by right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch and the Rutherford Institute, CREW has no political ideology, and in recent years it has stood alongside a bevy of brave souls, from columnist Paul Krugman to Democratic officials in the Texas legislature, who have opposed DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and criticized the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.

Thanks to Bell's complaint and CREW's persistence, Americans now have in their hands a vivid picture of corruption and ethical rule-breaking that belies the notion that this Administration and its Republican Congressional allies do anything more than simply pay lip service to upholding ethics and morality in the seats of federal power. For starters, the Democratic District Attorney in Travis County, Texas has convened a grand jury to investigate charges that "the Hammer" used his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise millions in corporate campaign contributions and then spent some of this money on polling, fundraising and get-out-the-vote activities in violation of Texas law, which says that corporate contributions can be used only for general administrative purposes.

DeLay is also charged in Bell's complaint with extracting campaign contributions from an electric utility in Kansas called Westar Energy. DeLay, it's alleged, agreed to insert provisions into an energy bill that would save Westar billions of dollars. One e-mail that has subsequently come to light reveals that Westar's executives thought that they were buying a "seat at the table" when they donated money to groups with links to the Majority Leader.

Then there's DeLay's role in corralling votes on behalf of the GOP's sham Medicare prescription drug legislation, a legislative low point that occurred in the long night of Republican arm-twisting last November. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said that unnamed House Republican leaders threatened to work against Smith's son (who was running for Nick's seat) unless Smith voted for the legislation. Robert Novak reported in his column that Smith was also told that "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." While Smith later recanted these allegations, his charges have the ring of truth, and they are in keeping with DeLay's thuggish tactics of forcing even his own Republican colleagues to submit to the Republican leadership's will on closely fought legislative matters.

DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance--a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior--are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around.... It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.

Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.

Lessons of the NBA

One of the big sports stories of the year was the Detroit Pistons' amazing upset of the formidable LA Lakers in the NBA championship series. Paul Richards, veteran Democratic Party activist and onetime member of the Montana House of Representatives, thinks the Pistons' win has lessons for his party in this November's battle.

What I Learned From the NBA Finals
(Detroit Pistons 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers)

* That ordinary guys who get in shape, hustle and persevere can win

* That blue collar workers playing pristine ball can upset spoiled rich prima donnas

* That reality can outshine glitter, despite all the PR to the contrary

* That dynasties can fail and storied empires fall

* That radical restructuring can occur at a moment's notice

* That hard work, courage and initiative can create windows of opportunity

* That if we play cohesively as a team and contest every single possession, we can dominate

* That, given the above, domestic regime change is inevitable

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