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The Kids Are Alright

How many young people turn away from low-paying but vital professions because they can't earn enough to pay back their student loans? How many potential social workers, public interest lawyers, investigative journalists, environmentalists, teachers and artists are we losing?

Nicholas von Hoffman asked these questions in an important Nation online article condemning the recent Congressional decision to raise the interest on student loans. (Click here to ask your elected reps to resist the GOP effort to pull funding for low-interest student loans.)

As von Hoffman writes, "There is social control in loading young people up with financial obligations. Burdened with debt and desperate to have and keep a job, there is no way they can take a wild year off and certainly no time for protesting, organizing or causing the kind of social and political trouble young people cause from time to time."

Fortunately, despite the best efforts of their government, students are indeed protesting, organizing and causing trouble. Don't buy into the nonsense you hear regularly about the lack on consciousness on the part of today's students. The fact is that students today are, on the whole, far more active, organized and sophisticated politically than earlier generations.

Noam Chomsky makes the point that there are far more progressive student groups and organizations now than ever before, and I've heard Tom Hayden remind people that most students in his day did not support SDS and march against the war. Although there is a profound disconnect between the issues of the day and what interests most students, that's the case for most of society and, if anything, it's less true on college campuses. From pro-choice protesting, to antiwar organizing, to living wage and fair trade campaigning, to electoral and media activism, to actions against sweatshop labor, for immigrant rights and for the environment, students today are involved in an unprecedented range of progressive political work.

Take a group like Students for a New American Politics (SNAP PAC). SNAP, a federal PAC, provides stipends for students who couldn't otherwise afford the low salaries to work as full-time grassroots organizers on progressive Congressional campaigns for 10 to 12 weeks during the upcoming summer of 2006. A student conceived and run organization, SNAP brings the energy and enthusiasm needed to promote democratic participation in the Democratic Party, if that's still possible, and to strengthen the progressive voice in Washington. (Click here to help SNAP support a grassroots organizer this summer.)

For a look at some other great organizing happening on campuses nationwide, check out a list of Sites We Like on The Nation's new StudentNation web page. Compiled by my colleague Habiba Alcindor, this collection celebrates the breadth of student activism today with sites like DownHill Battle, a non-profit organization working to build a fairer music industry and support participatory culture; the Campus Kitchens Projects, a student-led initiative that coordinates food donations, prepares and delivers meals to social service agencies, and teaches food preparation and culinary skills to unemployed and underemployed men and women; Campus Antiwar Network, the primary national grassroots alliance of students opposing the occupation of Iraq and military recruitment in schools; Campus Book Swap, a free service designed to help students circumvent the rip-off textbook publishing industry by buying, selling and swapping used books and Student Debt Alert and The Garnished Life, which both document the problems and responses to the increasingly widespread student debt crisis.

The issue of student debt seems so resonant that we've launched a StudentNation reader forum, asking people if they think they've paid too much for their student loans, and, if so, how that has affected their life choices. Read the comments and tell us your story. The conversation is still going strong.


Events Note
Speaking of student politics, this year marks the 45th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, and the document's author, Tom Hayden, will be talking about its continued relevance in a free public conversation with RadioNation's Laura Flanders this Thursday, March 30, at 6:30 at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan.

Clueless on Immigration

The largest mobilization in the history of--and in favor of--immigrants stretched for a mind-boggling twenty-six blocks through downtown Los Angeles Saturday, bringing somewhere between a half-million and a million people into the streets.

Politicians, police and even organizers of the pro-immigrant rally were amazed by the massive turnout--five to ten times bigger than the still-talked-about 1994 rally against Prop 187--and surely the biggest political demonstration in LA history.

Labor, religious and civil rights groups worked for months to put this event together, but no one expected such a massive outpouring. "We're just blown away," one union organizer told The Nation. "This thing just snowballed on its own and became humongous."

The LA demonstration and rally is one of a series of nationwide events timed to coincide with the historic Senate debate on comprehensive immigration reform. The big urban demos are being called in the name of repudiating draconian anti-immigrant legislation passed by the House last December. While that measure has little chance of becoming law, the Senate on Monday is scheduled to take up the issue of a guest-worker program that would provide hundreds of thousands of migrants with a legal channel to come to the United States. The Senate is also looking at proposals that would legalize the 12 million undocumented already lving here.

A dozen years ago, when anti-immigrant forces pushed through Prop 187 in California, it provoked a Latino backlash that has created an ongoing disaster for the state GOP.

Are we on the verge of seeing the same thing now on a national scale? While Democrats and liberals have spent oodles of time this year debating everything from Downing Street to impeachment and censure, they have been mostly AWOL on the immigration issue--one that has now brought a million people into the streets in just the last week.

I've a longer analysis of Saturday's march on my blog.

Looking at the eye-popping pictures in Saturday's LA Times you have to ask yourself if either of the two parties are going to fully "get" this issue. Here's someone who does.

Argentina: 30 Years After the Deluge

To paraphrase that great line from Bogie: I remember the night of March 24, 1976 like yesterday. My wife was wearing blue. The Argentine military was in gray.

Exactly thirty years ago this weekend, the Argentine military seized power and installed a regime whose dimensions of barbarity overshadowed those of all other Latin American dictatorships: 30,000 dead or disappeared; massive torture; the stealing, bartering and selling of the children of the victims.

Living in Buenos Aires at the time,I had a front row seat to this sad spectacle as well as my own terrifying brush with the death squads. I recount those experiences here.

I was a lucky foreigner who survived. The relatives and friends of those who didn't are still seeking justice three decades later.

Among the unaccountable, of course, is one Dr.Henry Kissinger. No sooner had the regime been installed did Kissinger do everything possible to lend American support. That story is well told by Randy Paul over at Beautiful Horizons.

There are profound lessons still to be excavated from experiences like those of Argentina and Chile; namely an appreciation for democracy. And the need to unconditionally defend it from demagogues and dictators of both the Right and the Left.

Affirmative Action for Men, Part Deux

Remember when opponents of affirmative action argued that it hurt blacks' self-esteem because they'd never know if they had succeededon their merit? According to this theory, first-rate students whowould have been accepted anyway are stigmatized by being lumpedtogether in the public mind with students accepted only because oftheir race, and this is stressful and anxiety-producing all around.Much better not to take race into account, and let excellence be theonly criterion.

I wonder how those champions of meritocracy feel about gender-based college preferences for men. Yesterday, Dean of AdmissionsJennifer Britz confessed on the New York Times op-ed page thatKenyon College accepts inferior men over better qualified womensimply because they are men, raising the obvious question : Whatabout the self-esteem of these poor boys? Surely some of them wouldhave gotten into Kenyon without the genital advantage, but how can agiven Kenyon male know it was his brains and not his penis that wonhim a coveted thick envelope? Thanks to Dean Britz's candor, thevalue of a woman's Kenyon degree has soared--a girl must be reallysomething to have made the cut--and that of a man's degree hasplummeted. He went to that college that takes the dumb guys!

If I was a man at Kenyon, I'd be thinking about transferring. Iwouldn't want people to think I needed a boost just because I wasmale. And I wouldn't want to wonder if maybe I DID need a boost. Imight even feel guilty that I had deprived a better candidate--youknow, one of those brilliant poetry-writing future-vaccine-discovering change-the-world-for-the better girls Dean Britzdescribes rejecting. I might have to go to a slightly less-selectivecollege, but that would be okay: I would have my self-esteem!

Bush Tries to Backtrack

Every once in a while a politician stumbles into telling the truth. Even George W. Bush. Unwittingly, of course.

At his Tuesday press conference, Bush dropped one of the biggest bombshells of his presidency: American troops would not leave Iraq on his watch. Not in 2006 or 2008. Let John McCain or Hillary Clinton make that call. Bush's plan for victory amounts to: someone else clean up my mess. If Bush were a five-year-old, he'd undoubtedly receive a spanking.

His "plan" is the inverse of Colin Powell's famous Pottery Barn rule. Bush broke Iraq, never acknowledged owning it and now refuses to fix it.

The White House quickly tried to spin their own spin. The President's counselor, Dan Bartlett, said Bush's comment had been "over-interpreted." White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush never said what he said. Troops will come home, McClellan insisted, just not all of them. And don't you dare ask when, pesky media. It's your fault we're talking about this in the first place.

 

I think some of the coverage also seemed to leave the impression with readers or viewers that the President was saying that there will be large or significant numbers of troops in Iraq after he leaves office, and that's not what the question was. The question was will there be zero -- when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq. So he was referring to that specific question.

 

I'm sure that explanation will satisfy the 61 percent of Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war. CNN's John Roberts rightly told Bartlett: "You've given Democrats a real opening here."

If only they would take it. Sure, Harry Reid called Bush "dangerously incompetent." And Ted Kennedy noted that "the patience of the American people is wearing thin." No surprise there. But most of the party's leaders, including virtually all of the prospective nominees for the '08 nomination, stuck to silence.

MSNBC right-winger Joe Scarborough, of all people, nicely summarized the current debate: "When it comes to getting out of Iraq, Republicans may be clueless, but Democrats are spineless."

Affirmative Action for White Men, Chap. 4,651

It isn't often that someone owns up to flagrant sex discrimination inthe op-ed page of the New York Times, so I suppose we should begrateful to Kenyon College dean of admissions Jennifer Britz for herhonesty. In "To All the Girls I've Rejected" she admits what manyparents of girls suspect: Boys have an edge in college admissions.In order to preserve "gender balance" and avoid the dreaded "tippingpoint" of 60 percent female enrollment, which supposedly makes acampus less appealing to applicants of both sexes, Kenyon puts thethumb on the scale for boys. The villain? Why feminism, of course:"We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster: theproblem is, so many of them believed us that the standards foradmission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for womenthan men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women'sliberation movement?" Right: if only more parents had discouragedtheir daughters' aspirations, Ms Britz wouldn't have to reject themnow. Why not: if only more boys worked a little harder in high schoolthey'd deserve a place at Kenyon?

At Kenyon, more girls apply, so more are rejected--not becausethey aren't brilliant , but because they are girls. Let me put thatanother way: inferior boys are accepted, because they are boys."Gender balance" looks a lot like a quota system to me, the sort ofextra-credit-for-testicles that the Supreme Court has specificallyoutlawed for public universities. If Kenyon was a public college,Britz would be on her way to court right now. Anyone for a lawsuit?

Britz asks "What are the consequences of young men discoveringthat even if they do less, they have more options?" How about: thoseyoung men will do less than ever, because why put down that Game Boywhen Kenyon College will take you anyway? then, armed with their not-quite-deserved diplomas, they get jobs they don't quite deserve, andpromotions they don't quite deserve either. Exactly the sort ofthing that opponents of affirmative action claim happens to blackswho benefit from affirmative action. Except, oh I forgot, the boys ofKenyon (and other colleges that favor males in admissions--and Ijust hope to God that Wesleyan, where my daughter is a freshman,isn't one of them) aren't black! They haven't been the victims ofcenturies of discrimination continuing up to the present moment,didn't grow up in segregated neighborhoods, go to overcrowded under-resourced schools without extracurriculars or AP courses or maybeeven science labs, and have families who couldn't afford mathtutors, SAT Prep classes, and maybe even a hired consultant to helpthem write a killer application essay. They're middle-class whiteboys! Whew.

Giving Americans a Raise

This article, originally published in the April 10, 2006 issue of The Nation, was co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for more than eight and a half years. If Congress fails to pass an increase by December of this year, it will be the longest stretch of stinginess in American history. The states are sick of waiting.

In the past sixteen months, eleven states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wage. In February Rhode Island's legislature overwhelmingly voted to pass HB6718, hiking the state's minimum to $7.40 by the start of 2007. Governor Donald Carcieri had threatened to veto the bill, but, facing tremendous opposition, he dropped his effort and signed it into law. And in March Michigan's Republican-dominated Senate unanimously approved a measure that would increase the state's minimum by 44 percent over the next two years. Michigan, which had stalled at the federal standard for the past nine years, will have one of the most generous minimums in the country, $7.40, by July 2008.

Michigan's wage hike "came out of nowhere," according to Senate Democratic leader Bob Emerson of Flint. Republican leaders acted quickly in response to a rapidly moving ballot drive that sought to add an amendment to Michigan's Constitution requiring the state's minimum to rise annually with the rate of inflation. Signatures for the ballot measure were pouring in, and a recent poll showed that 80 percent of Michiganders favored a higher minimum.

"These victories are the latest in what's shaping up to be a minimum-wage revolution in the states," says Jen Kern, director of ACORN's Living Wage Resource Center.

Thanks to legal assistance from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, economic guidance from the Economic Policy Institute and grassroots efforts from organizations like ACORN, the National Council of Churches and hundreds of community groups, wage hikes in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and North Carolina also seem likely in the near future. Meanwhile, ballot initiatives for minimum-wage increases in 2006 could emerge in as many as ten other states. An initiative is already on the ballot in Nevada, and states including Arizona, Ohio and Montana are in the midst of collecting signatures.

Across the nation there is massive support for raising the federal minimum wage; according to a recent Pew poll, 86 percent of Americans favor an increase. Even if Congress continues to ignore the popular will, the battle for a higher minimum wage rages on in the states.

Didn't This Call for Withdrawal From Iraq Merit Attention?

Here's an interesting issue for the "liberal media" to ponder:

In January, 2004, when the Des Moines Register made an unexpected endorsement of John Edwards as the best presidential pick for participants in Iowa's Democratic Caucuses, it was national news. The Register, an extremely influential newspaper because of its wide circulation in a relatively small state, shook up the Democratic dance card. The Register's editors found themselves being interviewed on national television and radio programs, as political writers for daily newspapers across the country stumbled over themselves to assess the significance of this particularly influential newspaper's endorsement of a still relatively unknown senator. As it turned out, the attention to the endorsement was merited, as Edwards himself acknowledged that his strong second place finish in the caucuses owed much to the boost he got from one of Middle America's most historically powerful and respected publications.

So what would happen if the same newspaper were to come out this year with a strong editorial calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? And what if that editorial represented a reversal of the newspaper's previous "stay-the-course position?

Would that be news? Would national media outlets that are supposedly trying to ascertain the changing sentiments of the nation with regard to the war, and that are already busy charting the 2008 presidential competition in Iowa, take notice of an important development in a bellweather state? Might it be considered significant that a large daily newspaper with a national reputation has joined what Editor & Publisher magazine's Greg Mitchell -- who has for two years been noting the lack of serious discussion about ending the war on the nation's editorial pages -- refers to as "the very thin ranks of those proposing an exit strategy"?

The answer, lamentably, is "no."

We know because the Register did endorse a withdrawal timetable in a major editorial published Sunday, March 19, in which the newspaper's editors argued: "The old notion of an open-ended commitment to 'stay the course' no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy. A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war."

Yet, with the better part of a week gone by, the Register's wise words have barely been noted outside Iowa -- not even by the political reporters who keep every farmer in the state on speed dial in anticipation of the next round of presidential caucuses. (Google "Iowa presidential caucuses" and "200*" and you'll find several hundred articles just from the past few weeks.)

The point here is not to suggest that one Iowa newspaper's shift in stance on the war should dominate the national news. The point is to ask: Why no attention at all?

Why has the same mass media that provides 27/7 coverage of President Bush's latest repetitions of worn arguments for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq displayed no significant interest in the fact that the Register had broken ranks with the lockstep of major American dailies on what is supposed to be a volatile and divisive issue?

Here's one answer: Perhaps, despite all the whining from the White House and its many broadcast, print and digital echo chambers about how the "mainstream media" is too tough on the President and his war, most major news outlets that have taken positions tend to be skeptical but still officially supportive adherents of the president's approach -- as opposed to advocates for the sort of withdrawal timetable that has been advanced by Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, and that polls suggest the majority of Americans favor. (A recent Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed favor withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.)

By endorsing a withdrawal timetable, the Des Moines Register -- the largest-circulation newspaper in one of the most closely watched political environments in the country -- distinguished itself from the vast majority of American daily publications. It also gave voice to popular sentiments that are still too rarely voiced in the major media of the land.

It should have been news. That it was not is one more indictment of the television networks and vast majority of major newspapers of a country where the discourse is far too narrow, and where the term "liberal media" is not merely inaccurate but comic.

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Here is the Des Moines Register editorial, "Timetable to Leave Iraq," which appeared March 19, 2006:

The time has come for President Bush to do what he has resolutely insisted he would never do: Set a timetable to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The old notion of an open-ended commitment to "stay the course" no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy.

A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war.

What was originally thought to be a conflict involving a few insurgents trying to drive out American forces has morphed into something else. The insurgency is no longer about the American occupation. Iraqis are slaughtering Iraqis in a vicious cycle of suicide-bomb atrocities and revenge assassinations.

It¹s a harsh thing to say, but if Sunni and Shiite Iraqis insist on killing one another, let it be without American troops standing in the crossfire.

The United States has no vital interest in taking sides. It does, along with the rest of the world, have an interest in having a peaceful Iraq, but it is increasingly apparent that imposing harmony in a land of centuries-old tribal, religious and ethnic blood feuds is beyond the capacity of 130,000 U.S. troops, no matter how superb their performance and how great their courage.

The U.S. invasion produced chaos and unleashed ancient hatreds, as experts on the Middle East warned it would. President Bush chose not to listen, preferring to believe his own fairy-tale vision of happy Iraqis welcoming Americans. Now, in the words of the nursery rhyme, all the king¹s horses and all the king's men can't put Iraq back together again.

Only the Iraqis themselves can halt the madness.

The last hope for averting all-out civil war and the possible breakup of Iraq is if a national unity government can be established, but members of the ethnically divided parliament have been unable to form such a government. An announcement by the United States that our troops will pull out might help focus the minds of the Baghdad politicians. It would force them to stare into the abyss of a full-blown ethnic civil war with no American troops around to keep the country in one piece.

Once they're on notice of an American departure, Iraqi elected leaders and insurgents alike will have a powerful incentive to reach an accommodation.

Withdrawing U.S. troops does not mean abandoning the region. American diplomats should continue encouraging the formation of a unity government during a phased withdrawal, and the United States should remain obligated to help rebuild the country if order returns. Regardless of what happens, American air power should guarantee the security and autonomy of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have achieved relative stability in their region and have been staunch friends.

The United States should maintain forces nearby and stand ready to confront any terrorist regime that might emerge in some part of Iraq. The international force must be maintained in Afghanistan, too, to prevent the return of the Taliban and keep up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

But the military occupation of Iraq has achieved all it can. It's time to redeploy the troops, keeping in mind that the original mission has long since been achieved. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threaten America, and a dictator has been deposed. A democratically elected parliament is in place.

Whatever happens from here must be left up to the Iraqis themselves.

Handing Over the Forests

I'm sure you many of have heard about President Bush's proposal to sell off national forest land to raise money for the federal budget. The plan, which requires Congressional approval, would list 309,421 acres for sale in more than 30 states. (Click here for a state-by-state list.)

Most of the Forest Service tracts are small, isolated parcels adjacent to private or state land. Successful bidders would develop, or possibly log, these lands, taking them out of the public domain forever. How the parcels were picked remains a mystery. Regional forest officials say the sales list was cobbled together over the past month and generally tried to exclude scenic lands that shelter threatened and endangered species. However, during the selection process, the list was not widely distributed, even within the Forest Service agency itself.

The Wilderness Society has usefully detailed a number of the plots that would go up for sale. Click here to see what would be lost. The potential financial gains on this stupid idea are so far outweighed by the social and environmental loss the privatization would represent that even numerous Republican heavyweights have parted with their president on this issue. The idea reminds Sen. Lamar Alexander "of selling off the 'back 40' to pay the rent. It's short-term thinking." For Sen. Elizabeth Dole, it's "not a wise investment." And Republican governor of Missouri Matt Blunt thundered that "Missouri's natural resources are not a commodity. They are intended to be enjoyed by all, not to be sacrificed to fill holes in the federal budget." Holes, he might have added, that can be filed in innumerable other ways--starting with rolling back tax cuts for the rich who don't need them in the slightest.

So let's try to crash this GOP bake sale. It's critical to make sure that our fellow citizens know that Bush is looking to sell-off so many acres with a flimsy rationale to cover his privatization scheme. Click here to find contact info for your local newspaper and ask them to take an editorial stand on the issue. Then click here and let your elected reps know that you expect them to oppose Bush's bill when it comes up for a vote in the next couple of months.

After that, check out what our friends at Environmental Action have done to help us win this fight--they've launched an innovative online photo rally, using Flickr, with the goal of collecting 1,000 photos from citizens nationwide showcasing the very places that are at risk. It's very powerful to be able to see the spots that the GOP wants to turn into strip malls, luxury housing and who knows what else. The album will be delivered to every Member of Congress when it's complete. It might help turn the tide. And it's very cool to look at.