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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Lost in Space

So, we're destroying our own way of life on earth but Bush wants to establish a permanent base on the moon as a prelude to sending humans to Mars?

Isn't this just another sign, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reports in Ron Suskind's new book, The Price of Loyalty, that we have a space cadet as President? And don't these neocons have enough bases ringing the earth? Or is their desire for world domination so unquenchable that they're using this new initiative, as some believe, as a stealth program to speed up the militarization of space? And, not to be too visionless, but at a time of record budget deficits and massive tax cuts for the rich, where's the money going to come from for these adventures in outer space?

While the New York Times reports that Bush's space initiative "would allow the president to be portrayed as an inspirational leader whose vision goes beyond terrorism and tax cuts," it seems more wasteful indulgence than "inspirational" when our own planet is in such danger. Just last week, more evidence (if it was needed) came in a major scientific report showing that more than a million species will become extinct over the next fifty years as a result of global warming. Other recent studies show that the planet's rainforests are disappearing at a rate of one acre per minute.

And, just the other day, in the prestigious journal Science, the British government's chief scientific adviser launched a withering attack on the Bush Administration for failing to tackle global warming. "In my view," he warned, "climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than terrorism."

Bush may think it's good politics to invoke the image of John Kennedy, challenging the nation to send a man to the moon. But these are times that call for a different kind of Apollo Project--on earth, not in space. We desperately need to harness the best scientific R&D in a crash effort to achieve energy independence from fossil fuels and to address the devastating impact of global warming.

For one terrific proposal, check out the Apollo Alliance, a new coalition of unions, environmental groups, consumer advocates and socially responsible businesses, whose bold program would advance energy efficiency and promote renewable energy, drive investment in new technology and public infrastructure and offer real stimulus to our flagging economy through long-term job creation. (Click here for info.)

In 1989, Mr. Bush's father proposed that America begin "the permanent settlement of space." If this President vowed to send all the neocons on a mission to colonize some distant planet, I just might reconsider my opposition to space exploration. But, short of that, let's put earthly needs first.   

Keep FDR on the Dime!

Have you heard about the attempt to replace Franklin Roosevelt with Ronald Reagan on our dime? Some 89 conservative co-sponsors of the "Ronald Reagan Dime Act" say that anger over CBS's docudrama about the Reagans pushed them to introduce the bill. Liberal congressman Jim McGovern (D, MA) is countering with a bill to keep FDR on the coin. (Fortunately, he has gathered 106 co-sponsors so far.)

McGovern argues that changing the dime is the wrong way to honor Reagan (who already has National Airport named after him, a major federal building in Washington and schools, roads and bridges around the country). He also points out that FDR's face is on the dime because of a specific and special connection to the coin. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes, which funded the research that resulted in the polio vaccine which ended the scourge of the 20th century. (The disability community, it's worth noting, is outraged by this conservative gambit and plans to fight hard if the Republicans schedule the bill for the floor.)

The fact that the high priest of anti-tax activism, Grover Norquist, is involved in this fight--as chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project--imbues the coin toss with a distinct ideological flavor. After all, Norquist once said that he wanted "to shrink government in half to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub." Roosevelt, on the other hand, believed government could be a force for good. McGovern argues that Norquist and his fellow traveling conservatives are using this fight as part of their battle plan to diminish, dismantle, and eventually drown Roosevelt's New Deal legacy in its entirety. (Co-sponsors of the Reagan dime bill include the top pitbulls of the GOP, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom Delay, House Whip Roy Blunt and Rules Committee Chair David Dreier.)

But Norquist, Delay and their ilk may have met their match in a surprising adversary: Nancy Reagan. Her recent statement opposing the renaming effort may hopefully squash the bill's momentum. She is right to speak out--after all, unlike some of these rabid conservatives she retains a historical memory of her husband's four votes for FDR--Reagan often cited as the inspiration of his public life and the greatest president of the 20th century. She may also remember that it was Reagan who made possible the FDR Memorial in Washington.

But, as of now, Mrs. Reagan's statement hasn't discouraged the true believers who continue to push for the Reagan dime. According to one close observer of the fight, they are now arguing that Mrs. Reagan's comments show just how classy she is--that is, it would be untoward for her to publicly support replacing FDR on the dime, so it's up to others to take the lead in the fight. Even more preposterously, some of the bill's co-sponsors argue that when President Reagan was shot, the bullet was "flattened to the size of a dime," which is why it's appropriate to change the dime, rather than, say, the penny or the nickel.

Reagan's death is likely to let loose an enormous effort to rename everything, perhaps including the country, but, for now, let's keep Roosevelt's image on the dime and fight the dismantling of what's left of the New Deal.

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To Take Action:

1) Let your elected reps know that you expect them to sign on to the McGovern bill. Click here for contact info for your legislators.

2) Send letters to the editor of your local paper and make calls to your local talk-radio program showing support for keeping FDR on the dime. Click here for contact info for media in your area.

War's Collateral Damage

In his year-end news conference, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan lamented that so much of the year had been devoted to Iraq at the expense of other global problems like poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. "Let's get our priorities right in 2004," Annan said before opening the floor to questions. The New York Times reported that twenty four questions were asked--all but three were about Iraq.

Saving My Mind

As the New Year approaches, I've started making my list of resolutions. Work for democratic regime change at home. Build a more peaceful and just world. Make it to all of my daughter's basketball games. For the sake of my sanity, I vow to break my e-mail addiction and build some boundaries between my work and personal life. And to stave off memory loss, I vow to stop multitasking.

Yes, multitasking. According to a growing body of scientific research, juggling three or four tasks at once as I do too often can actually scramble your brain and lead to short-term memory loss. And chronic, intense multitasking has been shown to induce a stress response--an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form new memory. Other warning signs for inveterate multitaskers--and ones I've experienced--include changes in the ability to concentrate and gaps in attentiveness.

So, in this new year without multitasking, I resolve to take up mental aerobics--or active memory training. It seems that scientists have discovered that training and stimulation may tone and firm the brain just as the nautilus equipment at the gym does the abs. The concept is catching on. UCLA offers a five-week memory training course; the Memory Training Institute in Connecticut teaches mnemonic devices and other recall tricks. And at Florida Atlantic University, there's a class that includes "brain games," checkers, bridge, computational puzzles and even flash cards for adults.

Premised on a "use it or lose it" theory, mental aerobics build on research that suggests stimulating your mind actually causes the rewiring of the brain, even the sprouting new synapses. Of course there are simpler ways to help halt memory decline--getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, reducing stress and eating a diet rich in antioxidants such as berries and vitamins A and E. But if I think I'm going to get more sleep or cut back on stress, while editing a political weekly in 2004, then I'm really losing my mind!

The Take-No-Prisoners Congress

If you haven't been following the take-no-prisoners approach of the Congressional Republican leadership--ramming through Medicare legislation by threatening reluctant GOP colleagues, barring Democrats from conference committees, keeping roll call open for almost three hours (breaking with the usual fifteen minutes)--Senator Chuck Hagel's (R, Neb) recent remarks convey some sense of the damage being done to our parliamentary system by the rightwing thugs currently running Congress.

"It's almost anything goes," said Senator Hagel, far from a liberal voice, in criticizing his own party's leadership. "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."

Representative Nick Smith (R, Mich), who is retiring next year and hopes his son will succeed him, is one of those feeling the heat. Smith--a feisty, independent six-term conservative Congressman--says that the arm-twisting during the Medicare vote was the strongest he has experienced in his twenty-seven years in politics.

The day after the bill squeaked through the House by a vote of 220 to 215, Smith wrote a column for a Michigan newspaper (the Lenawee Connection) detailing the Republican House Leadership's use of what he called "bribes and special deals" to eke out the margin of victory. In a subsequent interview with a Michigan radio station, Smith spoke about being pressured by the "leadership" and said "they" had offered "$100,000 plus" for his son's upcoming campaign before threatening that "some of us are going to work to make sure your son doesn't get to Congress" unless Smith relented and supported the Medicare bill. (Smith voted against the legislation.)

In the last weeks, Smith has declined to specify who allegedly offered the bribes and made the threats, though Representative Gil Gutknecht (R. Minn) recalls Smith saying it was "people from the leadership" who had offered the money. Gutknecht assumed it was someone who controlled a "large leadership PAC, who can raise a few hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers."

What is not in dispute--even eight members of the Republican Study Committee (a group of fiscally conservative House lawmakers) agree--is that Smith was pressured in unprecedented ways by a House leadership willing to do whatever was needed to pass the bill.

The Democratic National Committee (and two independent groups that work on ethics issues) have requested a Justice Department investigation into whether the pressure on Smith was not just run-of-the-mill Capitol Hill horse-trading but a violation of federal anti-bribery law. Surprise, surprise--so far, the Justice Department says no decision has been made as to whether to investigate.

If our system worked, and there was some measure of accountability, we'd have a rigorous inquiry into who did what when and key members of the House Republican leadership would resign if Smith's allegations were proven true. The real danger is that if we don't change the way our Congress is being run, it may well be, as Rep. Barney Frank (D, Mass) said after the roll call for the Medicare vote was manipulated by the Republican leadership, "the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it."

Parallel O'Reilly Factor

I agreed to go on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show recently to discuss progressive responses to Bush. I'm always ambivalent about participating in Fox talk shows. As one Nation reader said in a letter lamenting my appearance on the program: "It seems both demeaning to your stature as an actual reporter of fact-based news as well as lending undeserved credibility to the show."

But I also feel compelled to take opportunities to speak to an "unconverted" audience. Click here for the transcript of the program, but also read below for what I was hoping would be possible when I said yes to the booker.

December 1, 2003 (Parallel O'Reilly Factor)**

O'REILLY: All right, Ms. Vanden Heuvel, is this strategy on the left going to succeed?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I hope it does, because if it does, America will be a safer, healthier, better educated, more secure society. Progressives are uniting, thanks to Bush.

O'REILLY: Well, I agree with your last point. Your magazine's up fifty percent, right?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The Nation's circulation is up fifty percent...

O'REILLY: Then why are only twenty percent of Americans liberals?

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's a meaningless statistic. Twenty percent of Americans identify with a label in some poll. The vast majority of people share core liberal values. Reproductive choice. Public education. Healthcare and Social Security without the profit motive. An internationalist foreign policy. Fair wages and fair taxation.

O'REILLY: The polls show that President Bush's approval rating is well over fifty percent.

VANDEN HEUVEL: So what? An approval rating isn't a blanket endorsement of his policies. Those numbers crash and burn when people learn about specifics.

O'REILLY: So you're saying the American people are stupid.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Just the opposite. They're misinformed, and in some cases deceived. I think there should be a marketplace of ideas in this country that reflects a much fuller range of political opinion that we currently see.

O'REILLY: And there is. Look, you've got NPR, you've got FOX News, you've got CNN, you've got the New York Times, you've got every point of view expressed.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I disagree. Something like the New York Times is basically liberal on social issues. But where's the serious discussion of a living wage in this country? Of universal health insurance? Of the fact that the Iraq war violated international law? These are the nuts-and-bolts progressive issues, but you won't hear them in the so-called elite liberal media. Much of the media is elitist because it usually serves corporate interests or follows the official line. And whatever you think of NPR and PBS, they're no match for it, not only because they too depend increasingly on corporate money to survive.

O'REILLY: But you have the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, bashing Bush, saying if we elect a Democrat, all the problems are going to be solved, just like they were under eight years of Mr. Clinton. All the problems were solved, yes.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You're equating the left with the Democratic Party. The Nation was very critical of both Clinton and Gore. We need to reassert the core progressive values that most Americans see as perfectly reasonable, may of which were not ones upheld by Clinton. This is what the Democrats need to do if they want to start winning elections again. But progressives also need to build independent political capacity, inject some passion and principle into our politics. Hell, one out of two eligible voters don't even vote.**The above conversation never happened--and it's unlikely to on Fox TV.

Neoconning us Again?

More inside the Beltway spinning at work: Libya's coming clean on WMD is solely the product of Bush's war in Iraq. That's what the Bush Administration wants us to believe. And the Beltway paper of record seems awfully accepting of the Administration's spin. In Sunday's Post, Dana Milbank writes, "It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine."

Richard Perle scurried to tell Milbank, "It's always been at the heart of the Bush doctrine that a more robust policy would permit us to elicit greater cooperation from adversaries than we'd had in the past when we acquiesced. With the capture of Saddam, the sense that momentum may be with us is very important."

In the Beltway narrative, there's no room for how Libya's decision to permit UN weapons inspectors in confirms that the US can achieve its strategic international goals using tools other than military force--for example, diplomatic, political and economic pressure. Nor is there room for all the work and time numerous European nations have invested in engaging Libya over the last five years. Or of the hard work of the UN Security Council in negotiating a settlement of the Lockerbie case, a resolution which may have had more to do with Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi's desire to reenter the international mainstream than any other single factor.

Nor is there any discussion of why the Administration supports the role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in disarming Libya whereas it was so dismissive of the IAEA's work in Iraq. And, how many understand that--as Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Adminstration National Security Council staff member reveals--"Within months after September 11th, we had the Libyans, the Syrians and the Iranians all coming to us saying what can we do [to better relations]? We didn't really engage any of them because we decided to do Iraq. We really squandered two years of capital that will make it harder to apply this model to the hard cases like Iran and Syria."

Libya's agreement to disarm under the watch of international inspectors is a welcome development but it is not as dramatic a turnaround as Bush & Co want us to believe. According to Joseph Cirincone, an arms specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "It's part of a trend that has been underway for ten years--of reforms and trying to reintegrate with Europe, mainly for business reasons."

Let's not allow the Administration to neocon us into believing that Libya's decision is the sole result of Bush's war in Iraq. Instead, let's use Libya's example to call for inspections and reductions of WMD in all countries around the world, including here in the US.

Dean Takes on Big Media

Howard Dean is making the message of the media reform movement part of his campaign--not just calling for overturning the FCC rules but also calling for breaking up existing media conglomerates.

Listen to the front-running candidate on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews on December 1:

Matthews: There are so many things that have been deregulated. Is that a wrong trend and would you reverse it?

Dean: I would reverse it in some areas. First of all, eleven companies in this country control ninety percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch on their television. That's wrong. We need to have a wide variety of opinions in every community. We don't have that because of Michael Powell and what George Bush has tried to do the FCC.

Matthews: As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?...How about large media enterprises?

Dean: The answer to that is yes. I would say there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.

Matthews: So what are you going to do about it? You're going to be President of the United States, what are you going to do?

Dean: What I'm going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.

Matthews: Are you going to break up the giant media enterprises in this country?

Dean: Yes, we're going to break up giant media enterprises. That doesn't mean we're going to break up all of GE. What we're going to say is that media enterprises can't be as big as they are today...To the extent of even having two or three or four outlets in a single community, that kind of information control is not compatible with democracy.

****

Breaking up media conglomerates is a campaign that millions of Americans--of all political stripes--are embracing. Perhaps the most hopeful example of this is a growing media democracy movement--working to reclaim the airwaves for citizens. Even mainstream media is waking up to the issue. Recently, Lou Dobbs of CNN announced the results of his online poll about media conglomerates. According to his survey, ninety-six percent of those polled said that big media conglomerates should be broken up. Only four percent were happy with them. Maybe this democratic revolution will be televised after all.

Congress--Do No Harm!

Here's what I Sent to The Hill--the DC weekly newspaper--when they asked me to contribute recently to their Punditspeak feature. Their question of the week:

What Should Be the Top Priority for Congress in the Second Session?

Top priority? Get out of town? If not---Do no harm.

Don't adopt more tax cuts that increase inequality and deficits.

Don't adopt an energy bill that lards more subsidies on industry and increases dependence on foreign oil.

Don't adopt an ominibus spending bill that furthers media consolidation, and allows the Administration to deprive millions of workers of overtime pay.

If there was chance of a positive agenda--undo the harm already done:

Pass a requirement that Medicare negotiate best price for drugs for seniors (reversing prescription drug benefit bill).

Pass a requirement limiting media consolidation (reversing FCC/omnibus bill).

Reverse labor department regulations stripping workers of overtime.

Down at the Mall

Looking for serious sweatshop alternatives? Check out NoSweatShop.com, the new virtual union mall.

Claiming to be "the first and only mall in the world where you can't find one stitch that was made in a sweatshop," the venture, created by No Sweat Apparel, received the blessings of a quirky coalition of co-sponsors, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Reverend Billy, minister of "The Church of Stop Shopping" and Musicians Against Sweatshops.

As of now, the mall has five tenants, offering everything from jeans and yoga pants to scarves and button-down oxfords. Powell's Bookstore, whose workers are represented by ILWU, sells books, posters and CDs.

"Our goal was to create a one-stop shop for progressive consumers," says mall promoter and No Sweat CEO Adam Neiman. "We wanted a meaningful standard, something that people could have absolute confidence in...We are hearing from a lot of designers looking at creating no sweat lines of handbags, children's clothing, sneakers; all wanting to know where to find acceptable sources. If we have strong holiday sales there will be a lot more outlets here in '04."

While most stores at the mall to date stock only "made in USA", Neiman's outfit, No Sweat Apparel, also carries Canadian union made goods and is working hard to market products from the handful of decent union shops in the developing world. "We think that the only viable response to globalization is to globalize the labor movement" Neiman says.

This holiday season, you can help say no to sweatshops with just a few keystrokes. As NoSweatShop says on its homepage: "When you vote with a dollar it always gets counted."

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