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Grace Paley, 1922-2007

I am so sad that Grace Paley has died. She was a great writer --every word as pungent as pumpernickel-- with a great subject, the daily lives of women in jewish-immigrant-bohemian-left New York. In her short stories yiddishkeit meets radicalism meets Greenwich Village meets Malamud/Roth/ Leonard Michaels/ maybe even the Isaac Bashevis Singer of "A Friend of Kafka" --except that none of those writers, Singer every once in a while excepted, was particularly interested in what was going on with women.

I knew Grace a bit and surely there was never a kinder, more self-effacing writer of her stature in the history of the world. Sometimes she reminded me of James Merrill's remark that Elizabeth Bishop engaged in an "instinctive, modest, life-long impersonation of an ordinary woman." In the early l990s Grace put me up in her house in Vermont when I was snowed in after giving a talk at Dartmouth. We sat at her dining table and talked about children -- my daughter, her grandson, the inner-city kids who'd spent summers at the house decades before. We also talked, rather improbably, about agriculture -- her husband, Bob Nichols, had taken up the cause of local dairy farmers who were being squeezed by big producers. For all her warmth and unpretension, Grace had her share of reserve, or perhaps I was too shy. And so I did not ask any of the questions that flitted through my mind-- about writing, politics, the left, feminism, her life, life. I spent my one evening in her house talking about children and cows.

Grace was a tireless activist. Sometimes, I thought, too tireless. I used to see her at small demonstrations around town in the l980s, and wish someone would chain her to her desk -- lots of people can march, I would think to myself ( not that lots of people were doing so) but only Grace can write like Grace. She would have been horrified by such an elitist thought, I know--to her, the movement was life. She often said she liked to be out in the streets. And maybe her writing was as original, compressed, fresh and energetic as it was because it had to fight for attention with stopping the war(s), liberating women, bringing creative writing into the public schools, working for that elusive future where it's the defense department, and not the daycare center, that has to hold a bake sale.

How far away that world seems now -- her Greenwich Village, a warren of walkups inhabited by troublemakers, poets and single mothers (sometimes all three in one person) has become a millionaire's paradise cum NYU dorm. The aunts and uncles who quarreled over Stalin and Trotsky are dead. As for politics, Nation asssociate editor Richard Kim reminded me that Grace signed a group letter attacking an article I wrote for the magazine way back in 1993, in which I challenged her friend Sara Ruddick's influential book, "Maternal Thinking," which argued that bringing up children , by its very nature, connected mothers with peace and progressive politics. I guess I won that argument. But if I'd lost it, we'd be living in a better world. My books are all boxed up at the moment, so I can't quote from her wonderful stories. But here's a poem I've had up for years on my bulletin board:

The Poet's Occasional Alternative

I was going to write a poem 

I made a pie instead     it took

about the same amount of time 

of course the pie was a final

draft     a poem would have had some

distance to go     days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking

tumbling audience among small

trucks and a fire engine on 

the kitchen floor 

everybody will like this pie

it will have apples and cranberries

dried apricots in it     many friends

will say     why in the world did you 

make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable

sadness I decided to

settle this morning for a re-

sponsive eatership     I do not

want to wait a week     a year     a

generation for the right

consumer to come along

***

Under the wit and humor and brio, the "unreportable sadness." Isn't that always the way?

Iraq: "Worst Day Since Vietnam" for Hawaii

The death of 14 army soldiers in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq on August 23 included ten stationed in Hawaii, making that Hawaii's "worst day . . . since the Vietnam War" – that's what the Honolulu Advertiser declared in a page one banner headline and story.

Like much of America, I'm on vacation in late August. For me, it's Hanalei on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where my plan was to snorkel a different North Shore beach every day, stop for a shave ice afterwards, eat local fish, and stay far away from the news. But the Iraq war is inescapable, even in this idyllic escape. At the Big Save in Hanalei, past the taro fields, there's a big display of Spam and another of cheap flip-flops, but the newspaper headline about the "Worst Day" was hard to miss.

The Vietnam-Iraq parallel is a familiar one in debates among pundits and politicians over the war's rationale and future, but the explicit comparison of daily battlefield deaths in Iraq and Vietnam in a local newspaper appears to be something new.

The ten killed near Kirkuk had been part of a 7,000 soldier unit from the army's Schofield Barracks, north of Pearl Harbor, deployed in Tikrit and Mosul. Their mission, originally scheduled for one year, has been extended to 15 months. The Thursday deaths bring the total to 39 soldiers from the Hawaiian unit killed on this deployment, plus an additional 13 killed on a 2004 deployment.

Despite the millions of tourists who come to Hawaii annually, the islands in many ways are a like a series of small towns, and the death of fourteen soldiers on one day left the state "stunned," according to the Advertiser. The paper devoted two full inside pages to the news, in addition to most of the front page and editorial page.

The obvious question is: why? What purpose did these deaths serve? The Advertiser's editorial didn't raise that question – instead it urged that readers "comprehend the number of lives lost." But the editorial cartoon, drawn by Dick Adair of the Advertiser, couldn't have been clearer: George Bush says "Remember what happened when we pulled out of Vietnam. . . " and next to him a combat soldier drawn in Bill Mauldin style says "Then why did we go into Iraq?"

The second day came the news that the soldiers killed in the Blackhawk helicopter crash died not as a result of enemy fire rather because of a "tail rotor malfunction."

The Advertiser also reported that "promotions were handed out posthumously for several of the 14 soldiers who died."

The stories of the dead men filled a page in the Advertiser headlined "Grief and Questions." Captain Nathan C. Hubbard, 21, died in the Blackhawk crash three years after a roadside bomb killed his older brother Jared, 22, near Falujah. The family has one other son, Jason, 33, who is also deployed in Iraq. He told his wife he will be flying back home for good, with his brother's body, under army rules that prevent parents from losing all their children in war.

Spc. Michael A. Hook, originally from Altoona Pa. would have turned 26 on the day his body was scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. "He'll be home on his birthday," his stepmother told reporters.

Captain Joshua S. Harmon, 20, grewup in Mentor, Ohio. A family friend told reporters "Josh joined the service with the intent to be a career soldier," but "after one deployment in Iraq, he realized the limitations that gave him. He told us he was frustrated. He became a medic to take care of people, but he would see injured non-soldiers as they made their way down alleys in a hot zone and they couldn't stop. That was very frustrating for him. That's when he decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. . . . The military is shrouded in macho this and macho that, but Josh cared about people – whether they were Iraqis or Americans. The whole mess frustrated him."

GOP Attacks John Warner for Failing to Echo George Bush

Here is how things work today at the top levels of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.

One of the Republican party's most prominent senators, a former Secretary of the Navy and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returns from Iraq with his assessment of the circumstance on the ground. That assessment is based on conversations with military commanders and intelligence personnel who seek him out as one of the truest friends the U.S. military has in Congress, as well as on his own experience as one of the savviest observers of international affairs in Washington.

On the same day, a magazine editor who has consistently been wrong about Iraq, has no formal or serious contact with military commanders on the ground and is broadly considered to be so biased with regard to developments in the region that his judgment cannot be trusted, pipes up with his latest theory about why the occupation is going great.

Which of the two statements does the Republican National Committee use all of its considerable communications resources to highlight: that of the party's respected senior senator or that of the discredited magazine editor?

For the ideological zombies running the RNC these days, the answer is easy: Go with the guy who always gets Iraq wrong.

And so the RNC did. On the day that U.S. Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, suggested that the crisis on the ground in Iraq is so severe that the Bush White House must send a dramatic message by announcing the withdrawal of at least five thousand soldiers -- as part of a long-term strategy to extract U.S. troops from a distant and dysfunctional quagmire -- the RNC was busy promoting an interview in which William Kristol challenged Warner's view.

Never mind that Kristol, the former aide to Vice President Dan Quayle who now edits Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard magazine, rendered himself internationally ridiculous with his completely off-the-mark assessments of Middle East dynamics before and after the occupation of Iraq began. Never mind that Kristol remains firmly in the "don't-bother-me-with-the-facts" camp as regards the war. Never mind that Kristol's own recent trip to Iraq was undertaken not with the purpose of finding out what is actually going on but with the point of "proving" that President Bush's "surge" strategy is working.

It is Kristol's criticism of John Warner that the RNC characterizes as the big "news" of the day.

Claiming that Warner's statements after completing a fact-finding mission to Iraq were not "based on serious military analysis," Kristol asserted to NBC's Matt Lauer that, "Things are going better enough that we should sustain the current strategy, which is working."

For the record, Warner, who is generally seen as the Republican senator with the best sources of information within the military, says that it is time to begin an "orderly and carefully planned withdrawal."

Warner believes that only by doing so will Bush "send a sharp and clear message" to the Iraqis about the need for them to step up to the responsibility of managing their country.

"I can think of no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th [of September] that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he's decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of armed forces," says Warner. "I say to the president respectfully, 'Pick whatever number you wish.' ... Say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That's the first step."

The Republican National Committee is not representing Republicans these days. It is representing the worst elements within the Bush White House, as shamelessly as the Democratic National Committee represented the Clinton White House when the former president was getting key trade and economic issues wrong a decade ago. Perhaps we can expect no more of the party committee of a sitting president. But what a sad circumstance it is when the Republican National Committee leads the attack on a senior Republican senator whose patriotism calls him to speak truth in a time of tragic misdirection by a inept and soon-to-be-former Republican president.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Warner Buys Bush Time

Senator John Warner's call yesterday for an "orderly and carefully planned withdrawal" from Iraq is being read in Washington as yet another devastating blow to President Bush's Iraq policy. Certainly Warner's latest statement, coming just a few weeks before the much-awaited "progress report" from General David Petraeus, is not good news for the President. But it's not entirely bad, either.

Warner did not call for a timetable to end the war. He did not push for US troops to leave in a reasonable amount of time, such as a year. He only asked President Bush to begin a "symbolic" pullout of 5,000 troops by Christmas.

It's worth remembering that the US had 130,000 troops in Iraq last fall before adding 30,000 more in the "surge." So withdrawing 5,000 troops doesn't even come close to getting the US back to pre-surge levels. If Bush followed Warner's advice, he could brag about having a plan to end the war while doing nothing of the sort--like Nixon did in Vietnam. You can imagine this White House, Nixonian in so many ways, drawing up such a head fake as we speak.

By this point in time, Warner should know that President Bush is likely incapable of ending the war he started, especially if given wide latitude on how and when to do so. If Warner was serious about getting our troops out of harm's way, he'd make his symbolic withdrawal number far more concrete.

Stop Fox's Fear-Mongering

With Iraq reaching previously unimaginable levels of violence, with the US military stretched to the breaking point and with America's international reputation in tatters, it's remarkable that any sane person could argue for a preemptive US attack against Iran. But there do seem to be some in government and the media calling for this course of action.

Last month, The Guardian reported that the balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favor of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months. Dick Cheney--no surprise!--is said to be strongly in favor of an attack while Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates are resisting him. More recently, ex-CIA agent Robert Baer writing in Time magazine argued that an attack could be imminent.

You'd think that complete failure in Iraq would give even the neo-cons pause here but the drumbeat has now been taken up by Fox News, which, as an important new video by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films shows, has been using jingoistic programming to push the nation into an attack. Unproven allegations detailing Iran's supposed rapid nuclear arms build-up (sound familiar?) are juxtaposed with military "experts" making the case for war without the nuisance of having to debate voices opposed to a military strike.

Watch the video below:

Then, pass it on and join your name to almost 40,000 other Americans on a letter to Fox's fellow networks asking them not to follow Fox down the road to war.

Bush Versus I.F. Stone... and Eisenhower

Something tells me that President Bush did not write the speech he gave today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. For one thing, it was relatively coherent. For another thing, it was steeped in historical references that, while taken out of context and run through the ideological wringer of the neo-conservative spin machine, displayed a historical breadth not frequently associated with the most intellectually-disengaged president since Andrew Johnson.

But the one section of the speech that made me absolutely certain that Bush had nothing to do with its preparation was its attack on journalist I.F. Stone.

Comparing the current quagmire in Iraq with the Korean conflict of more than half a century ago -- as part of a new P.R. campaign designed to build support for maintaining a long-term U.S. military presence in the Middle East, and to cynically portray himself as principled wartime leader -- Bush told the veterans, "After the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in 1950, President Harry Truman came to the defense of the South -- and found himself attacked from all sides. From the left, I.F. Stone wrote a book suggesting that the South Koreans were the real aggressors and that we had entered the war on a false pretext. From the right, Republicans vacillated. Initially, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate endorsed Harry Truman's action, saying, 'I welcome the indication of a more definite policy' -- he went on to say, 'I strongly hope that having adopted it, the President may maintain it intact,' then later said 'it was a mistake originally to go into Korea because it meant a land war.'"

Anyone who seriously believes that George Bush is familiar with the writings of I.F. Stone and the long and complicated history of how the U.S. military found itself encamped on the Korean Peninsula will surely be among that dwindling percentage of Americans that is convinced weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

For the record, the book by Stone to which Bush referred today, The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times, was a provocative text written during the course of the Korean conflict. It featured a dramatically broader critique of Truman's approach to the war than the one Bush mentioned Tuesday; in addition to what would eventually be recognized as groundbreaking exposes of military misdeeds, it referenced a wide variety of concerns expressed by prominent figures on the left and right of the American political spectrum at the time. While reasonable people might debate Stone's interpretations of specific details regarding U.S. foreign policy -- and even friendly critics have suggested he was too easily swayed by Soviet criticisms of South Korea's motivations and actions at the war's beginning -- the veteran journalist was hardly staking out radical turf when he asserted that the U.S. dispatched troops to Korea under dubious circumstances.

As Robin Andersen, a professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University who authored an exceptional book, A Century of Media, a Century of War, has noted, "There exists today little collective memory of the Korean War, a conflict in which Gen. Douglas MacArthur extended centralized control over the press, denied access and instituted blanket censorship. Reports that did come out of Korea were awash in jingoism. I.F. Stone was often a lone voice of reason."

Battling General Douglas MacArthur's extreme censorship of war news, Stone exposed the horrors of the Korean conflict, particularly the killing of innocent civilians with napalm with what the journalist -- who would eventually receive a prestigious George Polk Award for his investigative work -- appropriately described as "a complete indifference to noncombatants."

The man who would become something of a journalistic icon for his reporting on U.S. wrongdoing in Vietnam and elsewhere as the editor of I.F. Stone's Weekly was especially concerned about how the his country got into what would come to be referred to as "Truman's War."

It bothered Stone that the Korean war was, like the current conflict in Iraq, entered into without a proper declaration of war by Congress.

As Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett -- an old-right Republican who was Warren's father -- explained, "Truman entered that war by his own act."

Instead of going to Congress and asking for a formal declaration of war, the president gamed the system by claiming that U.S. participation in the United Nations required him to send American boys to again die in Asia not five years after World War II had finished. As Buffett explained, "On June 25, 1950, the U.N. Security Council demanded a cease-fire and called on members to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution. Nothing was said about entering the conflict…. But at 12 o'clock noon, on June 27, President Truman ordered United States air and sea units to give the Korean Government troops cover and support. That order put our military forces into the Korean civil war on the side of the South Koreans. At 10:45 that evening, 11 hours later, the Security Council requested members of the U. N. to supply the Republic of Korea with sufficient military assistance to repel invasion."

So it was that Buffett determined that, "Truman entered that war by his own act, and not because of a United Nations decision."

Like Stone, Buffett argued, based on the classified Congressional testimony of Admiral Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, the third director of the post-WWII U.S. Central Intelligence Group (CIG), and the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, that South Korea had initiated the shooting war in Korea. History would raise serious questions about this assessment, but it would never challenge the fundamental wisdom of those who argued that Truman was wrong to send U.S. troops to die in an undeclared and unfocused war -- and that Truman misguided approach would negatively influence the presidents who followed him.

Stone, Buffett and others on the left and right believed more in the Constitution's system of checks and balances than in partisan games or ideological positioning. They wanted wars declared. They wanted Congress to share with the president responsibility for directing foreign policy, especially when it involved military endeavors abroad. And they wanted a an honest discourse about where the U.S. committed its troops -- and why. Denouncing the Truman doctrine -- which Bush seemed to be reasserting with his VFW speech -- Buffett said, "Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home."

As the Korean conflict degenerated into the disaster that it became, Stone and Buffett found allies -- on the right, on the left, and ultimately in the political middle.

"My conclusion," wrote Ohio Senator Robert Taft as he prepared a campaign for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, "is that in the case of Korea, where a war was already under way, we had no right to send troops to a nation, with whom we had no treaty, to defend it against attack by another nation, no matter how unprincipled that aggression might be, unless the whole matter was submitted to Congress and a declaration of war or some other direct authority obtained."

Taft did not become the GOP nominee. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe and a decidely more moderate political figure, was given the task. Eisenhower ran on a promise that he would go to Korea personally with the purpose of ending what had become an extremely unpopular war.

Eisenhower did just that, traveling to Korea before he was even sworn in as president. By the following summer, with his support and encouragement, a rough peace was achieved. Unfortunately, more than half a century later, the U.S. continues to spend billions of dollars annually to maintain a massive military presence in the region.

Bush did not criticize Eisenhower in his speech to the VFW, presumably because he is no more familiar with the 34th president than he is with I.F. Stone. But if he does actually develop an interest in the period of history he referenced today, the current president might be intrigued by two of his predecessor's statements from the era.

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. ... War settles nothing," explained the old military man.

Eisenhower rejected the argument that keeping up the fight in Korea was necessary to protecting America, and he counseled that a permanent commitment to fighting abroad would -- as his fellow Republican Howard Buffett had earlier suggested -- cost America dearly.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," Eisenhower declared in the spring of 1953, as he was dialing down the Korea conflict. "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [...] This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Cheney Opts for Monarchy

Dick Cheney has left little doubt about the branch of government he would prefer to serve in: the monarchy. Unfortunately, as a citizen of a republic that rejected the divine right of kings 231 years ago this summer, Cheney finds himself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to select from one of the three branches of government established by the American Constitution.

Like many people who cannot get what they really want, Cheney is having a hard time making a second choice.

Responding this week to a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena seeking documents regarding the role played by the vice president and his aides in establishing and maintaining an illegal program of warrantless spying on the phone conversations of Americans, Cheney's lawyers made the "case" -- if it the word can be employed so loosely -- that the vice president does not have to comply.

Why? Because, they argued, Cheney is not a member of the executive branch of the federal government.

As the vice president's lawyers did when arguing that Cheney did not need to comply with an executive order requiring that his office maintain records of its use of classified information, the vice president's defense team is again asserting the bizarre claim that he is a hybrid official who serves in both the executive and legislative branches of government.

When details of that earlier claim surfaced, Cheney was the subject of international ridicule. As the most powerful vice president in American history -- a man who is, for all intents and purposes, the definitional player in the setting of U.S. foreign policy and an essential player is setting the domestic agenda -- Cheney is more wholly a member of the executive branch than any vice president in American history. While he performs some largely ceremonial duties as the president of the Senate -- president over the chamber a grand total of two times during the first Bush-Cheney term -- there is no question whatsoever that his primary work is that of an executive branch member.

This is as the drafters of the Constitution intended. The responsibilities of the vice president are, for the most part, outlined in the sections of the Constitution establishing the executive branch. More significantly, the vice president is specifically designated as an official who can be impeached by the House and tried for high crimes and misdemeanors by the Senate.

As members of Congress cannot be impeached, any doubt about the proper place of the Office of the Vice President in the federal firmament is settled by those sections of the Constitution that define how and when a holder of the office might be removed.

To argue otherwise would be absurd.

Of course, Cheney and his lawyers are nothing if not absurd.

So it is that Cheney's counsel, Shannen W. Coffin, has informed Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy that "the issuance of the subpoena to this office was procedurally irregular," on the grounds that the Judiciary Committee had only approved the issuance of the summonses to the Executive Office of the President and the Justice Department.

Translation: The subpoena doesn't cover Cheney, so he and his aides doesn't have to comply. In effect, said Leahy, Cheney is claiming to be part of "some kind of fourth branch of government."

"Well," explains Leahy, "that's wrong."

This is not merely the view of the Democratic senator from Vermont.

Even the Bush White House -- which maintains a website that identifies the vice president as a member of the Executive Office of the President-- disagrees with the interpretation of the law proffered by Cheney's lawyers.

So, too, does the United States Code and 220 years of historical precedent, which Leahy illustrated by circulating a 1978 executive order that identified the Office of the Vice President as existing, by definition, within the Executive Office of the President.

Apparently, Leahy noted with regard to Coffin and the rest of Cheney's rapidly-expanding legal team, "these are people that don't look at the law very often."

But they may have to take a crash course soon. The Judiciary Committee chair says that, "The time is up. The time is up. We've waited long enough."

"Right now," explained Leahy, "there's no question that they are in contempt of the valid order of the Congress."

If that circumstance does not change by the time the Senate returns from its August break, the Judiciary Committee chair said he would bring before the committee the question of ask the full Senate to formally hold Cheney in contempt.

With his bizarre claim that he heads his own branch of government, Cheney has indicated that he holds the Senate in contempt. It is long past time for the legislative chamber that is primarily responsible for checking and balancing executive excess to reciprocate.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The REAL Hot 100

Do you know a smart, savvy young woman doing great work without receiving the recognition and resources she deserves? Well, then nominate her for this year's REAL hot 100. The project is now taking nominations as Ann recently announced on Feministing.com. If no one springs immediately to mind, check last year's list for inspiration. (The deadline is October 15.)

The REAL Hot 100 is a list of young women who are actively trying to make the world a better place. Founded in 2005 by a group of activists associated with Feministing to combat the lack of positive, strong images of young women in the media, the list recognizes and celebrates young women who are breaking barriers, fighting stereotypes, and making an impact in their communities and the nation--"not because of their physical beauty, but because of the beautiful way in which they look at the world." Last year's winners included a Protestant minister from Iowa, an aerospace engineer from Florida, a violin virtuoso from Tennessee, a burlesque performer in NYC, and a public-interest lawyer from DC.

Click here for more info, here to nominate a young woman you know and here if you want to make a tax-deductible donation to maintain and expand the project.

Challenging the Limits?

The Economist's cover last week asked, "Is America Turning Left?" The magazine's answer--a grudging yes. "...The American people seem to be reacting to conservative overreach by turning left. More want universal health insurance; more distrust force as a way to bring about peace; more like greenery; ever more dislike intolerance on social issues." (Sounds like a common sense program to me; after all, what passes for "left" in American politics is quite moderate by historical standards.) The cover story is catching up to a real and marked progressive shift in Americans' views.

Meanwhile, the forward march of conservatism has come to a screeching halt. Karl Rove, the architect of that never-to-be-had permanent GOP majority, leaves a White House, a party and a movement in shambles. A disastrous war, metastasizing corruption and cronyism, an incompetent and inhumane response to Katrina--no wonder even Republicans believe that Democrats are likely to sweep in '08, winning the White House and increasing their majority margin in both Houses. Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (Ill.), one of a slew of GOP House members retiring this year, was quoted last week in the New York Times lamenting, " I think our party's chances for winning the majority back next time are pretty bleak at the moment." Another GOP congressman Ralph Regula, hinted that he won't seek reelection; one of his main reasons--his bellwether state of Ohio was "moving towards more of a blue state."

Underlying that shift, in Ohio and in many other parts of the country, is greater support for the social safety net, more concern over income inequality, and a growing belief that military strength may not be the best way to secure peace. (Check out recent surveys by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.) But even while there is more fertile terrain for a progressive politics, there are also real limits to the political debate as it's playing out in the Presidential campaign. If those limits aren't actively, intelligently and passionately challenged by the emerging progressive movement--NGOs and activists, thinkers and think-tankers, labor and netroots, and magazines and citizens--we risk losing a critical opening. It is crucial that we use these next months to challenge candidates (and the Democratic Party leadership) to think more boldly and dissent more creatively from a failed conservative consensus of the last quarter century.

Yes, Democratic candidates are sounding more like Populists. They are talking about income inequality, discussing plans for universal healthcare, fair trade, energy independence and, of course, the burning issue of how to end the war. (Meanwhile, GOP candidates discuss the most effective ways to torture and who can sound most mean-spiritedly nativistic.)

Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined. No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale. No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program. No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy. No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure. Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality? Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation? Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits? Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures? And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009. Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs? Affordable housing? A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties? Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?

It may be that the limits of the current debate are tough to break through in a Presidential election cycle. But for those who care about building a more just, fair and democratic society, for those who care about seizing the moment to build a real progressive politics, isn't it time to make sure that ideas and policies commensurate with the staggering challenges and burdens of these times are raised and debated? That's just what The Nation will be doing in this campaign year --and beyond. And look for a book out this Spring that I am co-editing with Robert Borosage, Co-Director of the Campaign for America's Future and Nation contributing editor. It will explore the failures of the conservative era, challenge the limits of the current debate and lay out bold ideas for these times.