Alerts, announcements and information from The Nation.
In response to accusations fromWake Up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart denies funding the far-right Center for Union Facts (CUF), whose creepy and misleading anti-union ads you may have seen in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post. A press release from CUF amusingly registers some distress over the company's denials; acknowledging that Wal-Mart isn't funding the group, CUF spokeswoman Sarah Longwell says, "Come to think of it, why aren't they?" CUF is now calling upon Wal-Mart to remedy this oversight.
Wal-Mart would be wise to give this organization a wide berth. In addition to the newspaper ads, the group maintains a website, clearly aimed at union members and undecided workers, dedicated to smearing the labor movement. Of course, there are plenty of bad things to say about unions and their leadership, many of them true; the Center is certainly not hallucinating the race and sex discrimination, corruption and lack of democracy within many of these organizations. But the website, and the ads, dishonestly imply that because unions have failings, workers would be better off with no representation at all. What CUF doesn't mention is that workers who belong to unions enjoy higher wages, better benefits, and often, despite the "pale, male and stale" leadership -- a characterization first used by Andy Stern, more recently deployed in a CUF ad -- less race and sex discrimination on the job.
CUF urges readers to decertify their unions. But if CUF were really a campaign for democracy, justice and the interests of workers, unionfacts.com would instead encourage people to fight for better unions, by getting more involved in their own, ousting bad leaders by running against them in elections, and joining Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Members for Democracyor any number of other reform-minded groups within the labor movement. Or by subscribing to Labor Notes, a newsletter which has been crusading for union democracy and greater rank-and-file participation for years. But despite CUF's slick rhetoric, democracy is not what its business and right-wing funders have in mind.
Which brings us to a serious question. If not Wal-Mart, then who is funding CUF? According to the website, the campaign is supported by "foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public." When I asked for further clarification, CUF's Sarah Longwell demurred, explaining the group's "policy not to offer specific information on any of our supporters" -- not a very transparent policy for a group claiming dedication to "showing Americans the truth" and professing not to be "part of a political effort" but "about education." If anyone has any idea who CUF's sugar daddies are, let me know. I would enjoy inflicting some pain and grief upon them, and I know I'm not alone in this.
I don't profess to be an expert on constitutional law. But it doesn't take a genius to note that the outrage coming from both parties over the FBI's raid of Rep. William Jefferson's office has less to do with principle and more to do with self-preservation. At a time when corruption probes are intensifying on Capitol Hill, no one wants his or her office to be the next one searched.
The one person who seems to get this is Barney Frank, the eccentric 13-term Democrat from Massachusetts who's regarded as one of the smartest, and funniest, members of the House. Frank first broke with his colleagues over the raid during a one minute speech on the House floor on May 25.
"What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress," Frank said.
Last night, he sharpened that message on the always-superb MSNBC show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann. As Frank told guest host Brian Unger, "There's more irony here than in the collected works of George Bernard Shaw."
Here you have a Republican Congress which has been enthusiastic about the disregard of any kind of reasonable strength on law enforcement for almost everybody in the country, and now they overreact when it‘s a member of Congress.
To put it very tersely, they have generally, the Republicans in particular, approved of warrantless intrusions into the privacy of average citizens. That is, they‘ve said it‘s OK to go in and get into what people read in the libraries or what they‘ve said on the phone without a warrant.
Here, a warrant issued. So we ought to be very clear, this is not a unilateral executive decision to do it. A judge issued a warrant. And I must say, having seen the evidence, I don‘t know what the ultimate answer is, guilt or innocence, and that‘s to be decided later, if, in fact, there‘s a trial. And there hasn‘t even been an indictment.
But it does seem to me that based on what we saw, there was sufficient basis for a warrant. This was not an imprudently granted warrant. And the notion that we would object when a search is conducted of one of our officers pursuant to a warrant, when people don‘t conduct when there are searches without warrants of average citizens, yes, that‘s pretty ironic.
It's been 25 years since the first diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS, and as world leaders gather at the UN to assess the state of the epidemic, people will be taking to the streets to demand action. Don't let the overly optimistic article in today's New York Times fool you, the epidemic is still very much a crisis. If you're in the area, take your lunch hour to call for universal access to treatment, more funding for HIV/AIDS and an end to ideologically driven campaigns against condoms, sex workers and IV drug users.
I'll post more on the march later, but hope to see you there.
RALLY AND MARCH at the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS)
On Wednesday, May 31, demand that the leaders of rich countries and the most affected countries listen to people most directly affected by HIV and fulfill their commitments to fighting AIDS.
12:30pm: Gather at Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza(47th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves)
1 pm: Rally with Emcees Rosie Perez and Amos Hough
2:00pm: March stopping at the UN missions of Uganda, India, Nigeria and the U.S.
Speakers at the rally and march will include:Vineeta Gupta (India) - Stop HIV/AIDS in India Initiative; Sipho Mthathi (South Africa) - Treatment Action Campaign; Violetta Ross (Bolivia) - Bolivian Network of People Living with AIDS; Waheedah Shabazz (U.S.) - ACT UP Philadelphia; Raminta Stuikyte (Central/Eastern Europe) - Harm Reduction Network; Beatrice Were (Uganda) - ActionAid.
Having lost all positive reasons for the Iraq War, the Bush administration and its allies have fallen back on the last argument of a failing policy: We can't afford to lose in Iraq. But as the stories about U.S. troops executing innocent Iraqi children emerge other questions come to mind: What if we have already failed? What if our continued presence only makes the situation worse not better?
According to recent reports, what's happening in Iraq is worse than a civil war; it's sectarian cleansing. And not only are American troops training the soldiers who are executing innocent civilians, but they are actually participating. They were given an impossible mission and this is the result.
And for what? The Iraqi Parliament can't decide who should run the Defense or Interior ministries but they want to spend $50 million to buy themselves armored cars.
Bush claims the only mistakes he can think of were rhetorical, but this whole war was a mistake. It's time to stop asking our young men and women to continue to die for a mistake.
Just over a week ago, Rep. John Murtha stated that a military investigation will confirm that over a dozen Iraqi civilians were murdered in Haditha by U.S.Marines.
Today, a New York Times cover story reveals far worse: the military report finds that 24 Iraqi civilians were "killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours…." Murder charges are a possible outcome.
The victims include women and children killed in two houses, as well as 5 men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint.
A separate military investigation is determining whether a deliberate cover-up led to initial false reports that the victims were killed by a makeshift bomb or caught in the crossfire between marines and insurgents.
Congressional, military, and Pentagon officials all spoke under the condition of anonymity.
John Sifton of Human Rights Watch put it plainly, "Here we have two dozen civilians being killed--apparently intentionally. This isn't a gray area. This is a massacre."
According to the Times, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, flew to Iraq to lecture the troops on adhering to the Geneva Conventions and rules of engagement.
But why would the troops respect the rules of engagement when the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense are hell-bent on reserving the right to torture? When the Attorney General refers to the Geneva Conventions as "quaint"? When the Administration recklessly asserts that it can do whatever it wants to do so long as--in its opinion--it is acting to protect the American people?
What we see unfolding before our eyes, sadly, is exactly what Nation Institute Fellow Chris Hedges writes happens all too often in war: "One of the frustrating things for those of us who have spent so much time in war zones is to come back and see how those who are guiltiest – those who pushed the country into war, who told the lies that perpetuated the war – are never held accountable. And those who suffer the most, those who endure the trauma and have to live with the memories for the rest of their lives, are blamed unjustly."
The New York Times called those allegedly involved in the killings "a small number of marines." But just because those who sit-on high didn't pull the trigger, it doesn't make them any less guilty. In fact, they aren't the ones facing the unfathomable stress of war made worse by their own poor planning and poor allocation of resources.
They just sit in judgment of the soldiers who will end up paying the price for it. And tell the families of slain Iraqis that we are bettering their lives.
This week the UN will hold a high level meeting on AIDS to review what -- if any -- progress has been made since the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) in 2001. I'll be writing more about UNGASS +5 in the days to come, but advance reports are not promising.
Heading the U.S. delegation will be First Lady Laura Bush, who's been making the rounds in Africa lately on behalf of her husband's controversial AIDS plan (PEPFAR). Joining her will be first twin Barbs, who's apparently taking a break from partying hard at Bungalow 8 with socialite Fabian Basabe to pursue her secondary interest: global AIDS. Yes, post-Yale, post-campaign, post-hangover, Barbs has been working with Baylor College of Medicine's International Pediatrics AIDS Initiative. Her volunteer work last year at a clinic in Cape Town was so shrouded in mystery that newspapers could only report at the time, "Bush daughter is said to volunteer" in South Africa. And lest Barbs get bored, she's dragging along party pal Maggie Betts (daughter of Bush "pioneer" Roland Betts); both are official members of the 47-person delegation. Thankfully, Jenna is nowhere in sight.
The ideological heavy-lifting, however, will be executed by stalwart Christian conservatives. As Esther Kaplan reports, the U.S. delegation includes abstinence pusher Anita Smith (Co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS), Melissa Pardue (a former policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who promotes abstinence-only education) and Baptist minister Herb Lusk (who advises Bush on faith-based community development). (Kaplan also notes a spike in Uganda's HIV infection rate, which has doubled over the past two years as it implemented Bush's prevention plan.)
None of this bodes well for UNGASS +5. While much will be decided in the days to come, according to Naina Dhingra, Director of Public Policy for Advocates for Youth, "the U.S. is sending a signal that it is not taking the meeting as seriously as it should by putting a non-political person at the head of the delegation and by filling it with people with no experience in HIV/AIDS or who don't agree with the goals of the 2001 UNGASS declaration."
Normally, I am a "bleeding heart" when it comes to long prison terms,but an appropriate sentence for the Enron boys might be six trillion years. Kenneth Lay with hismillion-dollar smile and Jeffrey Skilling with the cold, confident eyesof a viper made their company into the symbol and showpiece for aglorious era. It was the hyper-modern and market-efficient "neweconomy," in which the concept of wealth falling out of the sky becamebriefly hip and widely believed in respectable circles.
Enron led the way. Lay and Skilling showed us how it's done. And whenEnron fell, the great national delusion turned to catastrophe.Unwitting investors lost $6 trillion overall. Millions of innocentbystanders lost much more in terms of their lives. So let Skilling andLay now serve as symbol for the shame of modern American capitalism.Let these guys do the time for all those others, the corporate titansand financial con men, who got away.
Justice sometimes proceeds in strange ways. I am opposed to publichangings and other forms of scapegoating, but perhaps this time we needa spectacular ritual sacrifice to amplify the point made by that swift,sure conviction in Texas. These men in the good suits arecriminals--criminals!--who must be made to set an example forall ambitious people who toil in business and finance.
These two thugs looted pension funds and destroyed the personal savingsof families. They stole money from the rest of us, not to mention fromgovernment and other non-glamorous business enterprises. They riggedenergy markets to drive up prices and bilk defenseless consumers (anold-fashioned swindle borrowed from nineteenth-century robber baronsand newly decriminalized by deregulation). They swallowed viable,productive companies and wrecked them, especially wrecking thelivelihoods of their employees. And, worst of all, they were best palswith politicians and political leaders as well as the most prestigiousnames in banking and finance--connections the Mafia would die for!
Sorry, am I shouting? My exuberance over this verdict is amixture of joyous fulfillment and lingering doubts about the impact.Since the meltdown of the stock market in 2001 and the avalanche ofscandalous revelations that followed from hundreds of corporations, Ihave thought the political system and the financial system and even thepublic at large did not sufficiently get the message. The pervasive rotin American capitalism is much deeper than acknowledged. The variousforms of fraud by which millions of people are separated from theirmoney continue in practice, often blessed by law itself.
Still flourishing, likewise, are the leading Wall Streetfirms--Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase, to name a few--thatshowed Lay and Skilling how to do the fancy financial footwork,converting "debt" into "revenue," so that stock analysts could toutEnron's rising "profit". This was fraud too, but nobody from the bankswent to prison (they paid millions, even billions, for no-guiltsettlements with government and injured investors). Message to America:Don't rob the Seven Eleven with a six-gun. Rob the general public withpen and computer.
Congress, meanwhile, claimed to "toughen" financial laws, but they didnot get reform halfway done. Now the Chamber of Commerce and otherfront groups are back in Washington insisting that the rather mildreform measures be scrapped too. They may very well succeed, if thepublic is not aroused. The media can take care of that. They will bedescribing this verdict as "an end of the era."
Wrong again. Thet era of corporate corruption, financial swindling and blue-sky illusions is not over. The players are merely paused, waiting for the marks to re-enter the casino. Perhaps Kenny Boy's conviction will remind people that the game is still fixed and those guys in good suits are the dealers.
As John wrote a few days back, William Jefferson was one of the worst Democrats in the House even before he started hiding bribes in the freezer. Now he's a drag on his party and a disgrace to his district--which happens to represent much of storm-ravaged New Orleans.
Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi rightly asked Jefferson to resign from his seat on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson refused, writing: "I will not give up a committee assignment that is so vital to New Orleans at this crucial time for any uncertain political strategy."
What an absurd defense. If Jefferson cared about adequately representing the residents of New Orleans, he wouldn't have taken bribes to enrich himself and crooked politicians in Nigeria. As the government's case against him intensifies, how can he possibly represent his constituents effectively? Isn't helping to rebuild New Orleans enough of a full time job?
As John Maginnis, editor of the Louisiana Political Fax Weekly, told the Washington Post: "It's not a very good reflection on the state to have your congressman accused of taking bribes at the same time Louisianans are trying to get money out of the federal government."
Now, more than ever, New Orleans deserves better.
Best performance on American Idol's finale: Prince--preening, prancing and dancing.
Most astounding fact: 63.4 million votes were cast for the two finalists. Show host Ryan Seacrest boasted this was "more than any president in the history of our country has received. "
One blogger semi-facetiously suggested that maybe we should just cast votes in the next Presidential election via cell phone and text messaging. (And what, have the NSA do the vote count?) Idol's "elections" are already the focus of charges of fraud and voting manipulation. (In 2004, after millions of potential voters weren't able to register their choices in the final round when regional phone systems were swamped by the number of calls, Broadcasting & Cable magazine called the Idol voting system "about as reliable as Florida's in the 2000 Presidential election.")
This year--with suspicion more muted--Alabama's very own Taylor Hicks won. (Thereby confirming Judge Simon Cowell's prediction and ensuring that Cowell will become even more delightfully insufferable next year. ) Hicks--who the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes likens to Captain Kangaroo--fervently thanked his "Soul Patrol" supporters who rooted for him. His victory, which kept up the South's winning streak on the show, has already inspired a wave of blogs like the one I read last night, " Aladamnabama has all the kick ass people in it. This just helps prove it."
Just what we need. Pop/rock culture Southern triumphalism.
Last night it was worth sitting through a cheesy celebration of high powered karaoke and corporate plugs to watch the grand talent assembled on stage to sing along with the Idols--Mary J. Blige. Toni Braxton. Al Jarreau. Live. Meatloaf. Burt Bacharach. Dionne Warwick. And, of course, Prince was in the building.
At least Bill Frist will have something to fall back on when that presidential run doesn't pan out: operating on gorillas.
Just look at these cute pictures. Wearing safari-themed scrubs, the robotic Frist almost seems lovable. "Gorillas, people, men," Frist tells the Washington Post while operating on the 350-pound Kuja. "You look at the people here, a symphonic flow of people pitching in. It's the oneness of humanity."
He sounds like a new age James Dobson. It almost makes one forget about Terri Schiavo. At least this time when Frist gave a diagnosis, he examined the patient.
"Frist lifted Kuja's huge, leathery black hand," writes Laura Blumenfeld. "Williams, the dentist, said, 'Take him with you to the Senate, so when Biden or Kennedy mouth off, you can turn him loose.'"
"'He's on my side,'" Frist said, stroking Kuja's fur."
Better a gorilla than the American people.