Alerts, announcements and information from The Nation.
This week Wal-Mart announced a gift of half a million dollars to help protect 28,000 acres of forest in Idaho and Washington, as part of the company's ongoing Acres for America program, run in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The first thing to be said about this move -- and, more broadly, Wal-Mart's involvement in Acres for America -- is, of course, that it's good for the forests, and shows that by relentlessly criticizing a company, activists can force it to do some decent things. However, I couldn't help recalling a recent conversation with Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, author of The Home-Town Advantage.
When I asked Mitchell, some months back, what she thought of Wal-Mart's environment-friendly gestures,she said that the best thing for the planet would be for Wal-Mart to stop building new stores. Noting that the company was adding millions of square feet of new retail space, most of which would be built on cheap land outside of town centers, necessitating millions of additional car trips for consumers, Mitchell compared the company's simultaneous environmentalism to "the person who buys a car that is 25 percent more fuel efficient and then drives it twice as much, and expects us to applaud."
Speaking of driving, I noticed an interesting little "public service announcement" on walmartfacts.com, the website set up by the company to diffuse progressive criticism. Gas prices and global warming got you down? Don't even think about getting out of that car; just motor on over to Wal-Mart and get your tire pressure checked.
This seems to be the environmental non-solution du jour. (Though, actually, there's a plethora of competitors: how about those Starbucks ads empowering us to buy more efficient lightbulbs?) Just yesterday, former Wal-Mart director Hillary Clinton attempted to steal Al Gore's thunder on global warming with a breathtakingly unimpressive energy speech. (Gore's global warming movie opens in New York tonight.) Like Wal-Mart, Hillary urges us to take action against global warming by checking those tires. Pathetic.
Note to Alberto Gonzales: there is a reason it's the FIRST Amendment. Nevertheless, on Sunday the attorney general played the ever-reliable ace up the administration's sleeve to throw even freedom of the press into question.
Gonzales stated on ABC's This Week, "… it can't be that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity."
When in doubt, scare the bejeezus out of the American people.
The only way to beat the bad guys is to [fill in the blank]… torture… engage in domestic spying… use black sites… and now, perhaps, prosecute journalists who uncover the truth about the Bush administration's programs that are laying waste to our constitutional rights and freedoms. By this logic, what can't the executive branch do?
Gonzales commented on going after reporters who publish leaked classified information, "There are some statutes on the books which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility…. We have an obligation to enforce those laws."
Seems the entire administration was taught to read by George Bush.
The statute Gonzales obliquely alludes to is the 1917 Espionage Act. James Goodale, one of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the nation, writes that in order to indict journalists under this law, "[It] would require activating a relic from the Espionage Act…. The law is meant to prevent the publication of how the U.S. breaks codes…. It is so broad, in fact, it is probably unconstitutional. For this reason and others, the NSA or CIA has never used it against the press."
But the Bush Administration has other ideas, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman recently pointed out: "As its poll numbers fall, the Bush Administration is ratcheting up its war against the media to hide its massive failure to defend the nation's security and uphold the laws of its Constitution." An added absurdity is that, "… Administration officials decide which classified information they, personally, are entitled to leak and which information they can try to suppress, even to the point of threatening jail."
So, when the administration wants to leak the name of a covert CIA operative to the press, that's fine and dandy. And if it wants to prosecute reporters who are exposing dangerous abuses of power– nothing troubling about that either.
The bottom line is this: to the Bush administration, our rights and freedoms are a matter of convenience subject to their review. And they simply don't want the press meddling in their affairs. But if we are to preserve our rights and liberties, then meddle we must.
Today's New York Times features a scary full page ad. The bold type headline, over large photos of Reverends Falwell and Robertson and James Dobson, reads: "Meet America's Most Influential Stem Cell Scientists." The ad is sponsored by DEFCON--a new and valuable online grassroots movement designed to combat the religious right 's threat to American democracy.
This campaign is needed now more than ever. Our health is being held hostage by an extremist minority. It's been a year since the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act was passed by the House. Since then, it's been blocked in the US Senate-- held hostage by political opportunists like Majority Leader Frist, who seem to care more for their political health than that of millions of American children and families. Polls show overwhelming support for stem-cell research.
Even more important, at a time when our Constitution is under daily assault, it's worth remembering that we elect leaders to put their hand on a Bible and swear to uphold the constitution--not the other way around.
As DEFCON'S ad starkly tells us: "Not since the Dark Ages have religious zealots held such dangerous power over scientific research."
It's time to end this immoral and unhealthy obstructionism. Go to DEFCON's site and tell Frist and these religious extremists like Falwell and Dobson what you think.
Joe Lieberman's year just keeps getting worse.
After he emerged as just about the only member of Congress -- Democrat or Republican -- who is enthusiastically on board for the Bush administration's hellride in Iraq, local Democratic party groups in Connecticut began passing resolutions criticizing the Democratic senator's pro-war stance.
Lieberman and his aides said the grassroots Dems were just letting off steam.
Then, the senator attracted an able Democratic primary challenger in the person of progressive businessman Ned Lamont.
Lieberman's organization said Lamont would never get on the ballot.
Then, at the state Democratic convention over the weekend, Lamont got more than twice as many votes as he needed to secure a ballot position.
Lieberman backers noted that their man got the most votes at the convention and said the inside-the-party revolt would not translate into trouble in the August 8 Democratic primary.
Now, Democracy for America, the organization formed from the base of Howard Dean's 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination -- which, notably, did a lot better than Lieberman's presidential quest of that year -- has given a strong endorsement to Lamont's challenge.
"Ned Lamont has been loud and clear about America's position in Iraq and world affairs, one of the most important concerns for voters," says Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America, and the brother of the man who now heads the Democratic National Committee. "Senator Lieberman has been a broken record supporting broken policies."
While the Democracy for America endorsement will help with fund raising and volunteers, it certainly isn't going to give Lamont everything he needs to win a primary. By every measure, the challenger still faces an uphill race in a state where Lieberman has been a central figure in the Democratic Party for four decades.
But the senator is feeling the heat. On Monday, he dropped out of the MoveOn.org web primary, in which members of the group are being asked to express their preference in the race -- as they did early in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nod. No one doubted that he was seeking to avoid another setback.
Nor does anyone doubt that the man the Democrats nominated for vice president in 2000, and who looked at the start of the year like a sure bet for reelection, is going to have to fight to be the party's nominee for his own seat in 2006.
If John McCain becomes President, his current chief of staff, Mark Salter, will be one of the most important figures in the new White House. The two have authored three books together. They are best friends.
So when Salter calls the student keynote speaker at McCain's commencement address "an idiot," it reflects directly on McCain.
The outburst provides a simple truth about a Senator who can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of the media. McCain, despite all the hype about his character and the totality of his life experiences, doesn't handle criticism well. His temper tantrums are legendary on Capitol Hill. The Arizona Republic, his hometown newspaper, once labeled his outbursts "volcanic." So too are the deep grudges he holds against his enemies.
As McCain faces growing resistance in his second bid for the Presidency, something other than the "straight talk" side of has begun to reappear. Jean Rohe, the courageous New School student, was correct when she responded that Salter, as McCain's proxy, was trying to "hurt my feelings and frighten me into silence."
"I don't believe that anything I've written to the public so far has been quite as nasty to Senator McCain as Mr. Salter was to me," Rohe continued in her latest Huffington Post diary. "On the contrary, I think that my writing clearly reflected my values, which is to say, never was I rude to the Senator nor did I show any disrespect. In fact, I think my compassion was made clear. To pick on me in such a bullying and sarcastic way is a clear admission on Mr. Salter's part that his fear is far deeper than any I might have felt when sticking up for myself."
Tarring college students hardly befits a leading Senator or his top aide. The post-New School outburst raises serious questions about whether we want this man's finger on the nuclear trigger.
You Heard It Here First
This morning on WNYC, host Brian Lehrer and guest Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, were chatting about Wal-Mart's entry into the organic food market (stay tuned for a Nation feature on this subject in our upcoming special Food Issue). As people often do when discussing Wal-Mart, Lehrer and Fishman segued into the subject of the company's crummy health insurance, and the burden it places on taxpayers, who end up footing the bill when Wal-Mart workers have to turn to the public dole for health care. (According to the retailer's own statistics, 46% of the children of Wal-Mart workers are on Medicaid, or uninsured.) Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, the national groups now attempting to reform the company, are working in states and towns all over to pass Fair Share Health Care laws, to compel Wal-Mart to insure its employees more generously. But, Lehrer suggested, and Fishman concurred, wouldn't it be great if Wal-Mart used its immense lobbying muscle to agitate for national health care?
According to an excellent article, in the June Atlantic Monthly, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which funds Wal-Mart Watch, is hoping to force Wal-Mart to do just that. The company could neutralize a lot of progressive criticism this way, and if we did get a single-payer plan out of the ensuing fracas, we'd all be better off. I have made this very point on this very website, as well as, more than a year ago, in the aforementioned Nation/Economist debate on Wal-Mart, which was moderated by Brian Lehrer. But the point is not just to toot our own horn (well, perhaps a passing, staccato toot); rather, that it's delightful that this idea is catching on.
After all, let's be realistic: the Fair Share for Health Care campaign is a fine way to make the point that health benefits ought to be taken out of competition, but it isn't going to solve the dire problem of spiraling health care costs in America. Given that Wal-Mart has no intention of complying with the new laws, and will mount legal challenges to each and every one, Fair Share makes more sense when viewed as a means to an end, and that end should be national health insurance. In recent speeches, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has said that the cost of health care in America is a larger problem demanding more leadership from "government." Let's see how far he's willing to go.
Let's see, too, how far labor will go. In his new book, Solidarity for Sale, Robert Fitch argues that unions haven't made serious efforts to organize for national health insurance; indeed, they have often opposed it, for a combination of self-interested and ideological reasons. (This goes way back: Samuel Gompers argued that national health insurance had sapped the "virility" of British workers.) If we are to have meaningful health care reform, that attitude needs to change. Pressuring Wal-Mart is a good place to start.
In related news, Target has just announced that it intends "Wal-Mart-like" changes to its own health care plan, and may eliminate traditional health insurance for employees. This underscores the urgent need for single-payer healthcare, and the need for continued pressure on Wal-Mart, the industry leader that sets the standards for its fellow retailers.
John McCain is renowned for his supposedly thick skin and deft handling of adversity. Who knew a 21-year-old student singer from Nutley, New Jersey, could pierce that veneer?
As the undergraduate keynote speaker at the New School's graduation ceremony, Jean Sara Rohe had planned to talk about her love of music and the need for "social responsibility in a time of war." But realizing she would be speaking right before McCain, she tore up her prepared remarks at 2 am the night before to directly address McCain's support for the Iraq war, visit to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and fidelity to George W. Bush. According to her diary at Huffington Post, she saved the new text as "mccain speech subversive.doc."
Meeting McCain in the green room before the ceremony "he didn't even make eye contact when we shook hands," Rohe recalls. "So I figured I didn't owe him anything."
As we chronicled on Friday, Rohe's speech was daring, eloquent and brave. She gave voice to students whose opinions, at their own graduation, were not consulted, and whose views are no longer represented by presidential candidate McCain.
"Had he been speaking at something other than our graduation, or had he spoken about almost anything other than his life and his position on the Iraq War and Darfur it might have been OK," Rohe later wrote. "But what did he expect? Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination at the New School is like trying to catch fish in a swimming pool. It was just totally out of place."
After the address, McCain and his aides were at their most vindictive. "I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can't listen to the views of others," a pompous McCain told the New York Times. Later, in a comment on Huffington Post, his chief of staff Mark Salter called Rohe "an idiot."
"It took no courage to do what you did," Salter wrote. "It was an act of vanity and nothing more." The graduating class deserved a strong rebuke for its "comical self-importance."
George W. Bush smeared McCain in 2000. Now McCain is returning the favor to college students.
The so-called maverick Senator is so busy cozying up to the right, he can't even take a little heat from the left.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen
Nobody at all, except for virtually the entire crowd at the New School's Madison Square Garden graduation ceremony in New York City. At the beginning of the event, New School President, and former Senator, Bob Kerrey predicted a raucous affair. "Our founding purpose is proudly liberal," he said. "We began as an act of protest."
The school's tradition of dissent carried on today. Scores of New School students held orange signs, and a few banners, reading "McCain Does Not Speak For Me," and "Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform." What began as mild rumblings of disapproval before McCain's speech soon exploded into boos, catcalls and turned backs.
The spark was provided by undergraduate keynote speaker Jean Sara Rohe, a composed, seemingly innocuous jazz musician and singer. After beginning with a short folk song (true to classic graduation speech form) Rohe quickly tossed aside her prepared remarks to directly address McCain.
"This ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering it was intended to be," Rohe said. "The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. This invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all." The crowd erupted.
"I consider this a time of crisis and I feel compelled to speak," Rohe continued, referencing McCain's speech at Falwell's Liberty University last Saturday.
She paraphrased McCain's words on the folly of youthful stubbornness and ignorance.
"I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost," said Rohe. "And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction." The vast majority of the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
"Well, we're having fun now, aren't we?" Kerrey cracked before introducing McCain.
The Senator spoke in a dull monotone, without his usual charisma or charm. He was noticeably deflated by the crowd's harsh reception towards him. Remarks such as "I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq," were met with loud boos.
"I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."
"Wrongly!" one student boomed from the back. Sitting directly behind us, Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.
As McCain droned on, students became increasingly restless. One cried, "This speech sucks!" Several students walked out early.
Summing up the mood of the day, another shouted, "We're graduating, not voting."
Quotes have been properly updated and corrected.
The fast food industry is taking a few knocks lately. Eric Schlosser, author of the phenomenally successful Fast Food Nation, has just published a kid's book, Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. A feature film version of Fast Food Nation -- slightly fictionalized, and directed by the splendid Richard Linklater -- will hit theaters this fall. Troubled that Schlosser's work is reaching a wider audience, the industry, joined by right-wing groups concerned about "anti-business" messages, is spending a lot of time and money trying to rebut his claims, according to an illuminating report in the Wall Street Journal.
Just as exciting, throughout this spring, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been pressuring McDonald's to improve pay and conditions for the workers picking its tomatoes. The CIW represents the Florida farmworkers that organized the four-year Taco Bell boycott, which, through the organizing efforts of workers and consumers --especially students -- nationwide, compelled the Bell's parent company, Yum Brands to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes, the paltry amount needed to ensure the tomato pickers a living wage. The CIW is also trying targetting Chipotle, which has a "Food WIth Integrity" marketing shtick -- er, sorry, I meant "mission statement " -- to expand that definition of "integrity" beyond humane treatment of animals and healthy production of vegetables to fair conditions for the workers who harvest the produce. (You'd think they could commit to treating fellow humans at least as well as animals.) Chipotle is a personal favorite of mine; I love the food, so I hope the company will sit up and take notice. CIW has a polite-but-firm letter you can send to the very rich guys who run these fast-food chains. (This is the sort of action that can accomplish something, unlike, say, not shopping at Target because you heard that the company was just as bad as Wal-Mart, which is the sort of individualistic quest for moral purity in shopping that drives me crazy.) This farmworkers' group is one of the more effective labor organizations in the US today, winning victories despite representing some of the most marginalized workers in our economy. The CIW not only draws bad publicity to companies, but marshals consumer outrage to bring about change -- not easy to do.
The Republicans are waging a desperate campaign of Rovian proportions to maintain their one-party reign in Congress. Fear, as we have seen time and again, is their most powerful weapon and they have caricatured Rep. John Conyers as a worst possible outcome of a Democratic victory.
As they fill the airwaves with claims of Conyers run amok--conducting immediate impeachment hearings--their clear aim is to manipulate Americans so they will remain in a perpetual state of fear. "So terrified," New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recently and powerfully observed, "that they will not object to the steady erosion of their rights and liberties." But central to defense of this nation is defense of its constitutional values, not just its physical security.
With that in mind, it is clear that the real threat today comes from President Bush and his administration. In blatant violation of established law, and centuries-old precedent, they have wiretapped American citizens; imprisoned citizens without warrants,charges or means of redress; ignored clear Congressional legislative intent; disabled Congressional oversight of their actions; and suppressed dissent and public-minded disclosure within the executive branch itself. This abuse and overreach of Presidential power directly challenges the "checks and balances" at the core of our constitutional design.
Even true conservatives now get it. A new Cato Institute study details how the President has weakened the constitutional order, and documents a pattern of "a ceaseless push for power, unchecked by either the Courts or Congress" on issues ranging from war powers, habeas corpus, and federalism to free speech and unwarranted surveillance.
Maybe Rove and his wrecking crew need to blanket the airwaves denouncing true conservatives?
In the meantime, to understand the real John Conyers read his op-ed in the Washington Post from Thursday. Here you will find a responsible, powerful, and constitutionally grounded voice which is all too rare in our leaders today.