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Debating Downwind in Nevada

Tonight in Las Vegas--a town best known for slots, boxing, andspectacle--the Democratic presidential hopefuls gather for one ofthe final pre-primary debates.

The Democratic Party moved the Nevada caucus up on the 2008 electioncalendar--third after Iowa and New Hampshire--to allow for a greaterrange of regional diversity in early voting than in the past. (SouthCarolina was also awarded an early primary spot). One issue that won'tbe debated in Iowa or New Hampshire but will loom large in the SilverState is Yucca Mountain.

Watch for each candidate to oppose Yucca Mountain and thedisastrous plan to ship our nation's nuclear waste thousands of miles byroad and rail to be buried in an area with a record of earthquakeactivity.

Lurking behind those two words is an important living nuclearhistoryin the state which deserves attention. Between 1951 and 1992, 928above-ground and below-ground nuclear tests were conducted at the NevadaTestSite, just miles from where the candidates will be debating in LasVegas. Initially, the public was assured "there is no danger" and urgedto "participate in a moment of history"by watching the tests.

But, in fact, people downwind of the tests--downwinders--continue to sufferand die from the lethal fallout they were exposedto. Exposed,a new play by downwinder Mary Dickson, examines the Utah playwright'sown struggle with thyroid cancer and her sister's death from lupus atthe age of 46. It uses transcripts of hearings to explore similarexperiences of other victims who became sick, and lost friends and lovedones. The government denied any link to radiation. The play spansfifty years, and downwinders keep "cancer charts" chronicling theafflictions of their neighbors. It also addresses the BushAdministration's proposed Divine Strakein 2007--a subnuclear test blast--and the downwinders' organizingefforts that helped to defeat it. The play ends with the reading of thenames of downwinders who have died, and new names are added after eachshow.

We cannot forget this living history. As Dickson told me,"Understanding the full extent of that reckless human experiment shouldinform any decision on both the development of new nuclear weapons andthe illusory promise of nuclear power. Without that understanding,politicians will be too easily swayed to consider mini nukes and bunkerbusters as strategically viable weapons in the 'war on terror'--just asthey will too readily embrace nuclear power as a solution to globalwarming. The development of any new nuclear weapons inevitably opens thedoor to resumed testing in Nevada and leads to the destabilizingproliferation of nukes--both of which are a disastrous course that onlyput us more at risk. Nuclear power is an illusory solution to climatechange--one propagated by the nuclear industry, which still cannotanswer the vexing question of what to do with the dangerous waste itgenerates. Until the waste can be addressed, nuclear power is neither aviable nor a responsible option."

This living history is nowhere to be found at the Las Vegas'taxpayer-funded Atomic Testing Museum. The exhibits excise the storiesof nuclear testing victims--instead celebrating nuclear weapons as "safe, patriotic and just plain fun." As the New York Times wrote, "the history of testing, as told [in the museum], is largely the history of its justification."

That living history, as told by Dickson, should inform votersin this election as the Bush Administration and its allies (and too manyDemocrats) look to create a new generation of usable nuclear weapons.It should inform us as Big Nuclear ignores the "serious issuesof nuclear plant safety, security against sabotage and terrorist attackand waste disposal" in promoting new plants. And it should inspireparticipation in renewed anti-nuclear activism as the nuclear industry lobbies for new subsidies for itsself-proclaimed "nuclear renaissance."

Bridge Ladies Slammed for Anti-Bush Sign

"WE DID NOT VOTE FOR BUSH." Those words were handwritten on the back of a menu by the US women's bridge team and held aloft during the award ceremony at the world team championships in Shanghai last month. The team had just won the tournament, destroying Germany in the final, and were making what they thought was a small political statement. It wasn't a particularly radical message (who else didn't vote for Bush?), and it was made spontaneously, in a moment of international goodwill and humor.

As today's NYT chronicles, the United States Bridge Federation was not amused. Its president, Jan Martel, and executive board are pushing for tough sanctions against the entire team--a one-year suspension, plus a one-year probation, 200 hours of bridge-related community service and a formal apology. Bridge Federation lawyer Alan Falk threatened team members with "greater sanction" if they reject the Federation's offer. Team members have been accused by other players of "treason" and "sedition," according to the NYT. On message boards they've been compared to the Dixie Chicks and Tommie Smith and John Carlos--US sprinters who raised a fist in salute to Black Power at the 1968 Olympics and were subsequently ejected from the games.

This is not your grandmother's card game! I've dabbled in the world of bridge myself, and as anyone who's played a tournament can tell you--bridge is ruthless. Little old ladies, so sweet pre-game, will mercilessly ruff you up once the cards are dealt. But what are the folks at the Bridge Federation thinking? The game's logic is punitive (you get spanked for bidding too high), but the game itself should not be--particularly on matters of free speech. Nothing makes the game look more backwards, small-minded and elitist than punishing a championship team for using their moment of glory to send a political message well within the mainstream of American society. What's next? Banning certain t-shirts? Buttons? Maybe bridge should only be played in uniform?

But take heart, the fabulous ladies at the center of this controversy aren't ready to make nice, and I'm glad they're putting up a fight. All across this country the common but courageous dissent of citizens is being censored and attacked. Anti-war vets calling for withdrawal from Iraq were banned from a parade in Long Beach, CA. High school students in Chicago are threatened with expulsion for staging a peaceful anti-war protest. More than a dozen anti-war protesters, fittingly wearing gags over their mouths, were arrested outside of Boston's city hall.

And the list goes on. As individual incidents, each provoke a momentary pang of sympathy, a head nod, maybe an exasperated email to your bridge buddies. But taken as a whole, I suspect it adds up to a more disturbing picture--of a nation that went quietly mad, except for a few who spoke up and were ostracized for it; of a country where politics became so estranged from everyday life, that the ordinary expression of it was called treason.

If you're mad as hell and want to support the US women's bridge team--email Jan Martel (President, United States Bridge Federation) at janmartel@comcast.net and the board at board@usbf.org. Left-leaning, free-speech loving bridge players are especially encouraged!

State Department Auditor: Blackwater-Connected, Mean

There are so many accusations directed at State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard for preventing inspections of State Department mismanagement in Iraq, it can get confusing. But two things became clear after today's House Committee Hearing on Oversight and Government Reform:

1. Howard Krongard's brother Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard is, irrefutably, on Blackwater's Advisory Board.

2. Howard Krongard is a pain in the ass to work for.

We know the first because Krongard told the committee he called his brother to ask him about it during a break in the hearing. It's a good thing Buzzy picked up the phone, because the dispute between the Inspector General and committee members was getting strange.

During his under-oath testimony Krongard called allegations his brother advises Blackwater an "ugly rumor." The matter was then seemingly dropped until Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings questioned Krongard and referenced two e-mails Blackwater CEO Erik Prince sent to Krongard's brother. One invited him to join the advisory board and the second provided an itinerary for the board's meeting yesterday in Virginia.

Then California Democrat Diane Watson said the committee staff had called the hotel and found that, indeed, Buzzy had checked in as a guest.

Howard Krongard reasoned at the time that, "He might be at the hotel to tell them he's not joining the advisory board." Though, in fact, he was there as part of a strategic planning session for Blackwater. My bad, said Howard Krongard. "I am not not my brothers keeper."

The botched sibling communications aside, the bigger issue may be Krongard's failed interactions with State Department colleagues. Whistleblowers who worked with Krongard have called him an "embarrassment to the community" and "an affront to our profession."

A report by the Republican staff committee disputes Krongard's obstruction of investigations but confirms he had "an extraordinarily abusive management style."

Krongard himself doesn't really contest this.

"I know I was being too hard; I know I was expecting too much," he admitted but added that as a "teammate in sports" and "partner in private partnerships" there "wasn't a personal affront when you tried to change what someone is doing or correct it."

Oh, and the actual accusations against Krongard brought by Committee Chair Henry Waxman: They include stonewalling an investigation into construction of the Bagdhad embassy, not cooperating with a Justice Department criminal probe into Blackwater arms smuggling, not scrutinizing fraud in rewarding DynCorp contracts, and failing to audit the State Department's financial statements. The people blowing the whistle are several of Krongard's former direct underlings at State, including the Deputy Inspector General.

So if Waxman and the Democrats are right and these allegations are largely true, Krongard's State Department oversight is a major, major scandal. And if the Republicans are closer to the truth, Krongard was such a nightmarish boss that his employees go behind his back to tell elaborate lies. At least his brother seems to be doing well.

New Girl Order

In the autumn issue of the City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz eulogizes the rise of a new international role model:

"Yes: Carrie Bradshaw is alive and well and living in Warsaw. Well, not just Warsaw. Conceived and raised in the United States, Carrie may still see New York as a spiritual home. But today you can find her in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you'll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships. Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat."

And why is this a good thing? Because it points to a "New Girl Order" where, one, women are getting married and having kids later in their lives. Two, this is because "today's aspiring middle-class women are gearing up to be part of the paid labor market for most of their adult lives; unlike their ancestral singles, they're looking for careers, not jobs." And three, their leaving home to live in big cities to do so, which in turn implies greater economic and personal freedom.

And what are they doing with all this new-found autonomy: shopping, of course.

"With no children or parents to support, and with serious financial hardship a bedtime story told by aging grandparents, SYFs have ignited what The Economist calls the 'Bridget Jones economy'--named, of course, after the book and movie heroine who is perhaps the most famous SYF of all. Bridget Jonesers, the magazine says, spend their disposable income 'on whatever is fashionable, frivolous, and fun,' manufactured by a bevy of new companies that cater to young women. In 2000, Marian Salzman--then the president of the London-based Intelligence Factory, an arm of Young & Rubicam--said that by the 1990s, 'women living alone had come to comprise the strongest consumer bloc in much the same way that yuppies did in the 1980s.'"

The trends that Hymowitz are real. There's no doubt that globalization is changing the lives of middle class women everywhere. Call centers in India, for example, offer young Indian women who work there -- often sharing apartments in cities like Bangalore etc. -- unprecedented indpendence from familial and societal restraints.

But the only downside of this new order that the author seems to consider is plummeting fertility rates in many countries. "[T]he New Girl Order has given birth to a worrying ambivalence toward domestic life and the men who would help create it," More worrying for most feminists is that this is exactly the kind of "liberation" that better serves the corporate bottom-line than a woman's well-being. Running up ridiculous bills to maintain a vapid lifestyle is hardly a strong foundation for an independent life, with or without husbands or kids.

New Bill Could Stall Big Media

In 2003, an unprecedented groundswell of popular opposition killed then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell's efforts to eliminate rules that limit the ability of media conglomerates to monopolize the media.

But, once again, media-industry lobbyists and their allies on the FCC are working to revise the rules on media ownership to allow a single corporation to own most, if not all, of the newspapers, radio and TV stations and Internet news and entertainment sites in your town. Kevin Martin is the current FCC Chairman and he's trying to sneak through a massive giveaway to Big Media before the Bush administration leaves office.

When Michael Powell tried this before he was beaten back by a democratic upsurge of grassroots' organizing on both the left and right. So now Martin is trying to make an end-run around democracy by pushing through a rule change he claims is "modest" but which was immediately challenged in a statement by the two Democrats on the FCC, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, as anything but insignificant.

"This is not to my mind a modest proposal," Copps said. "It is gift-wrapped to look like a modest proposal. It strikes me as immodest and opens the floodgates to a lot of deals." This may be why, as my colleague John Nichols wrote recently, Martin "is doing everything he can to prevent public input that would challenge his rush to have the commission radically rewrite media ownership rules before Christmas."

Watch this new YouTube video to see why the stakes are so high.

Martin has a voting majority on the five member panel but a few weeks ago his plan leaked out, the media and the blogosphere picked up the story and numerous protests were ignited. The media reform group, Free Press, with which The Nation has a tight relationship and which was a linchpin of the successful opposition to the FCC's attempted in 2003, began feverishly organizing around the issue.

And they listened...Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) recently introduced groundbreaking, bipartisan legislation that would force the FCC to give the public a real voice in this process, and would make the agency address the dismal state of female and minority ownership before changing any rules to unleash more media concentration.

Tell your Senator to join the bandwagon and co-sponsor the Media Ownership Act of 2007. It's also useful to write the FCC and help spread the word on this critical campaign.

Barney Frank: Clinton "Best Equipped" to Advance Gay Rights

Both openly-gay members of Congress have now endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The New York senator secured the support of Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin congresswoman who is the only out lesbian in the House, months ago. And this week Clinton gained the enthusiastic endorsement of House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, the only out gay man currently serving in the chamber.

Frank specifically hailed Clinton's support for gay and lesbian rights in announcing his decision to back the woman who current leads in national polling on the Democratic race and who is the front-runner in most early caucus and primary states.

The Massachusetts Democrat said that he is "convinced that Hillary Clinton is the candidate best equipped to pass laws that will treat all Americans with dignity, fairness and equality no matter who they are or who they love."

That comment came as part of a particularly warm embrace of Clinton by Frank, who has traditionally been one of the party's most determined and effective campaigners among liberals in Massachusetts and other states.

"I have from the beginning of this campaign believed that Hillary Clinton was the candidate best qualified to serve as president," the congressman explained. "I am convinced that once elected, the qualities she will bring to the job -- commitment, intellect and political skills -- will make her an extremely effective leader in our effort to reverse the badly flawed course on which George Bush and past Republican Congresses have set this country."

Frank's sister, veteran Democratic party leader Ann Lewis, is a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign. He has been a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

When Baldwin endorsed Clinton last summer, she cited her longstanding friendship with the senator as well as a shared commitment to health care reform. In addition, the Wisconsinite described Clinton as "strong and vocal" in her support of ending employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Baldwin acknowledged at the time, however, that she and Clinton do not see eye to eye on the issue of same-sex marriage. The New York senator supports domestic partnership initiatives and civil unions, but has opposed moves that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

"It's not my position," Baldwin said of Clinton's stance. "I support full marriage equality. We will voice encouragement for (Clinton) to be open to changing her opinion."

Clinton's chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, share the front-runners opposition to same-sex marriage.

In contrast, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a longtime colleague of Frank and Baldwin in the House who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nod, has been an outspoken backer of marriage equality for many years. Says Kucinich, "This is really a question of whether you really believe in equality. When you understand what real equality is, you understand that people who love each other must have the opportunity to be able to express that in a way that's meaningful."

Right-to-Lifers Endorse Thompson -- Cynically

The most cynical group currently operating on the American political stage, the National Right to Life Committee has endorsed the most cynical man to seek the presidency in recent memory, Fred Thompson, for the Republican nomination.

It is a perfect match, although not one that can be said to have been "made in Heaven." After all, what brings the National Right to Life Committee and Fred Thompson together is the fact that both the interest group and the candidate have sold their souls to the highest bidder.

National Right to Life gave its blessing to Thompson despite the fact that he has been open during the course of the current campaign about the fact that he does not support what has historically been the highest stated priority of the organization: enactment of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Thompson's an advocate for leaving the issue to the states, which would create a patchwork quilt model where some parts of the country would respect the right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies while others would not. That's a dramatically more liberal stance than had been traditionally tolerated by anti-abortion activists, and that is supported by a number of Thompson's fellow contenders for the 2008 Republican nod.

This begs the question: Why Thompson?

It is true that the National Right to Life Committee was not going to endorse former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who historically has been every bit as pro-choice as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. It is equally true that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while he may now oppose abortion, used to be an even more articulate advocate for the pro-choice position than Giuliani or Clinton. And is surely true that, while Arizona Senator John McCain may have a 100-percent record of opposing abortion, has had his fights with the group over campaign-finance issues and electoral tactics.

But why didn't National Right to Life endorse former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a rising star in the Republican race who has been a consistent social conservative and who is actually running stronger than Thompson in a number of early primary and caucus states? After all, while Thompson rejects the constitutional amendment, Huckabee declares at the top of his campaign website: "I support and have always supported passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life. My convictions regarding the sanctity of life have always been clear and consistent, without equivocation or wavering. I believe that Roe v. Wade should be over-turned."

There is an answer, but it has nothing to do with the abortion debate.

The National Right to Life Committee is no longer best known in Washington as a social-issue group. Rather, the committee is best known as an organization that is in the forefront of opposing campaign finance reform and other moves that might limit the its ability and the ability of organizations like it to use corporate special-interest money for political purposes -- and, of course, to maintain lavish offices in the tonier sections of Washington.

With aggressive lobbying on Capitol Hill, lawsuits at the federal and state levels and grassroots organizing around the country to oppose campaign finance reforms, the National Right to Life Committee has made itself the primary defender of corporate influence in politics.

As such, Mike Huckabee was unacceptable as a contender for the National Right to Life Committee endorsement.

Huckabee is a social conservative, but he's an economic populist. A relatively honest player who is sincere in his beliefs, the former governor of Arkansas argues that it is impossible to talk about "family values" without addressing the threat to American families posed by economic and trade policies that leave working people entirely at the mercy of multinational corporations.

While he's no Ralph Nader, Huckabee's arguments on behalf of corporate responsibility have earned him some surprising support. For instance, the Machinists union has endorsed his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

But it has also earned Huckabee some powerful enemies. The corporation-linked Club for Growth has been attacking the one Republican candidate who might reasonably be described as Reaganesque.

In contrast, Fred Thompson is taking no hits from business-linked interests.

While Thompson may have had lobbying ties to Planned Parenthood, which advocates for abortion rights and in some regions actually provides access to the procedure, the former senator from Tennessee is a 100 percenter when it comes to serving the interests of major corporations. And that's what concerns National Right to Life these days. The group is part of a Washington-based alliance to advance corporate interests by using social-issue appeals to convince working-class voters to oppose their economic interests.

Thus, Fred Thompson got the National Right to Life endorsement instead of the more consistently socially-conservative Mike Huckabee because Thompson is the more consistently pro-corporate candidate.

Jonathan Demme on The Other Politician He'd Like to Film

Last month, the Washington Post ran an interview with Oscar winning Director Jonathan Demme. The subject: His documentary, "Jimmy Carter Man from Plains." The Nation has long believed that Carter is the best ex-President this nation has had in the 20th century. If you're sane, why wouldn't you value and celebrate people who redeeem themselves with moral *and common sense* acts and ideas after they leave official power.

So, when Demme--who had the wise and good taste to spend some tough time on the road with "an ex-president {who} moves so much faster than" the rock and rollers he worked with (think Talking Heads in "Stop Making Sense" and Neil Young in "Heart of Gold") --was asked if there were any other politicians he'd think would make a good documentary subject, who knew he'd give the name of one of my all-time favorite politicians? Maurice Hinchey!

Hinchey is one of the congresspeople you may never have heard of. (He representsNew York's 22nd CD, which spans eight counties including the Hudson Valley.) He's why I still have faith in the institution of Congress and the Democratic Party to do some good/ (usually if pushed and challenged..) As Demme put it, Hinchey is "this incredibly decent, well-informed, energetic American elected official. He's a plain talker. We search vainly for anybody who speaks plainly in the Democratic Party."

Hinchey is just that --a plain and straight talker. He is also one of the few in the party who make up what the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone (and, later, Governor Howard Dean) used to describe as "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." We need to retrieve and work with such people because, in the absence of radical reforms (which I also support) we need to work with the world as it is, with determined idealism and grounded realism, and Hinchey and his colleagues' work (check out the Progressive Caucus, the largest and certainly the most inspiring caucus in this House) will determine whether we end this disastrous war, avert a catastoprophic strike on Iran, connect with the daily struggle of working people in this country and find a real 21st century remedy for the environmental crisis confronting us.

It takes a Jonathan Demme to see in a Maurice Hinchey-- 68 -year old Navy veteran, and a passionate progressive who speaks fearlessly in defense of the constitution and a free and independent media-- a boon to a wise filmmaker in search of a narrative.

Muted Victory for Ehren Watada

This country sets aside two days to honor military service. On Veterans Day we celebrate the living; on Memorial Day we remember the dead.

I'd like to propose a third national holiday: Active Duty day. A day to celebrate those who refuse to leave their conscience at home. A day to cherish those who elevate this nation's morals by refusing to participate in illegal acts.

Leading this year's Active Conscience-on-Duty Day parade should be First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

"To me," Watada told a court earlier this year, leading soldiers into battle in Iraq "means to participate in a war that I believe to be illegal."

Last Thursday a civilian judge handed Watada a victory against those in the military who would like to see him silenced, convicted and locked up.

In June 2006, Watada gained international attention when he publicly denounced the Iraq war as an illegal occupation and then refused to deploy with his Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade.

This February, his court-martial ended in a mistrial, after which his attorneys claimed that Fifth Amendment constitutional protections protected him from a second round in court.

On November 8, Judge Benjamin Settle agreed: "The same Fifth Amendment protections are in place for military service members as are afforded to civilians ... . To hold otherwise would ignore the many sacrifices that American soldiers have made throughout history to protect these sacred rights," he wrote.

In issuing a preliminary injunction, the Judge concluded that "it is likely" that Watada will succeed in his claims that a second court-martial would violate constitutional protections against being tried twice for the same crimes.

But Army officials aren't giving up. In a statement, they said they will file briefs in U.S. District Court to try to prevent the injunction from becoming permanent.

Now is the time for all moral men and women in uniform to stand up -- not just behind Lt. Watada, but at his side. So far, not one other officer has followed in the lieutenant's footsteps.

According to the Army more than 10,000 soldiers have deserted since the Iraq invasion started. Every year, the number of deserters has gone up. Official statistics say 3,196 went AWOL last year, compared to 2,543 the year before. Based on the calls they received, groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War put the real numbers at ten times that.

Desert if you must, but better yet, come out. Activate your Conscience on Duty and I bet I won't be the only one to hoot and holler and organize a parade.

For more on Lt.Watada's case go to Thank you Lt. Ehren Watada.