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The Nation

Gonzales on Steroids

When the former chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft says that Alberto Gonzales' subpoenaing of reporters is "… the most reckless abuse of power I have seen in years," it should make us all snap to attention.

This isn't exactly coming from a standard-bearer for the civil libertarians.

And yet, Mark Corallo, whose public relations firm currently represents Karl Rove (also striking that the top Presidential advisor should now need a PR agent), made this and similar statements in an interview with the New York Times and in an affidavit filed on behalf of two San Francisco Chronicle reporters.

Gonzales subpoenaed the reporters last month in order to force them to reveal their sources on--I kid you not--steroid use in baseball.

Mr Corallo offered this take on the action, "You just don't ride roughshod over the rights of reporters to gather information from confidential sources."

And if you didn't think this administration was waging war on the press before, here are the facts as presented by James Goodale in a recent article for The New York Law Journal:

• The Chronicle reporters face jail time for not revealing sources on the baseball story
• Gonzales is considering an indictment of the New York Times
• The FBI is reportedly tapping reporters phones
• The FBI is seeking 20 year-old classified documents from the estate of Jack Anderson
• The government is attempting to circumvent the First Amendment through an 89 year-old law, The Espionage Act

As Goodale writes, "It is hard to believe it is coincidental."

Because it isn't. Gonzales intends to shut up reporters by any means necessary. So much so that even conservatives like Corallo are finally speaking out.

Raising Their Wages Could Save Your Life

There's been a media frenzy lately on the shortage of nurses in this country. It's justified; this is a serious public health problem. If you've ever been hospitalized, you've probably noticed that nurses work harder and are often more involved in your care and more knowledgeable than doctors. Seven years ago my father fell into a coma after getting a bone marrow transplant in a fancy research hospital. The doctors gave up on him, and told us we should pull the plug "when we felt ready"; luckily we didn't feel ready, because an enterprising nurse fiddled with the machines a bit, and saved his life. (We still don't know exactly what she did!) Now his health is excellent. He rides his bike every day, enjoys his grandchildren, writes poetry and just retired from his day job. If that nurse hadn't been there --or had been too busy and over-worked to pay attention to him --he'd probably be dead.

Our federal law-makers, in their wisdom, have devised a cheap solution to the nursing shortage: import nurses from other countries. There are serious drawbacks to this strategy. For one, the problem is global. Some of the countries exporting nurses to the U.S. -- India, for example -- are themselves experiencing a nursing shortage. Luring nurses here is just going to worsen the problem for those countries, weakening already-fragile Third World health infrastructures. Secondly, importing new workers won't improve the work conditions in the health care industry. If nurses aren't treated with the respect they deserve, the hard-working, talented folks from India will eventually burn out, too. A study released in March by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) found that increasing nurses' pay was "the most direct way" to solve the nursing shortage. IWPR also found that unionization helped to raise the nurses wages, and to improve nurse/patient ratios. Granted, the study was funded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which organizes health care workers, but I've found IWPR reports to be rigorous regardless of funding.

Another clear solution is to improve education opportunities for young working-class women. Reporting an article on vocational education in New York City in the late 1990s, I met girls who were training to be beauticians because they'd dreamed of becoming nurses, but the nursing classes had been cut. As beauticians, they'll be lucky to earn salaries above the poverty line, and will likely take home less than a third of what they'd make as nurses. I love getting my nails done as much as the next person, but we do need nurses more than we need manicurists.

On another note, thanks very much to the reader who points out that the Center for Selective Facts is run by Rick Berman, who heads the Employment Policy Institute, a right-wing group that seeks to keep the minimum wage low (not to be confused, with the Economic Policy Institute, a lefty think tank advocating quite opposite strategies). I was aware of this connection but should have included it in my post. I don't think we can say for certain that the funders for the two groups are the same, though -- Berman is a consultant and lobbyist, so he could be serving any number of masters -- but our reader is right to suspect a close fraternal relationship.

Dixie Chicks are No. 1

Cultural conservatives, who have been busy of late trying to claim that the rebellious songs of The Who are other rock groups are really right-wing anthems, have misread America's tastes in a major way when it comes to the Dixie Chicks.

Conservative politicians, pundits and political writers -- from Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston to Media Research Council president L. Brent Bozell and bloggers by the dozen -- couldn't wait to trash Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison for releasing a new album that refused to make nice with President Bush and the thought police who screech "shut up and sing" every time a musician expresses an opinion.

The Dixie Chicks have for the past three years taken more hits than any other musicians because, ten days before Bush ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Maines told a cheering crowd at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire theater: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

For the "crime" of prematurely voicing a sentiment that is now close to universal in the US--with more than two-thirds of Americans expressing disapproval of Bush--the Dixie Chicks were hit with a full-frontal assault by right-wing media. Talk radio and television labeled them the Ditzy Chicks and their popular songs suddenly were yanked from country-music playlists. Boycotts were announced.

The word "traitor" was tossed around as if Maines and her mates had been conspiring with Osama bin Laden -- as opposed to expressing appropriate concern about a president who was about to take actions that would significantly increase the appeal of al-Qaeda internationally. Bush even weighed in, declaring that, "I ... don't really care what the Dixie Chicks said." That was mild compared with the nightly blisterings from Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

It was clear that a neoconservative blood oath had been sworn against the most successful female group not just in the history of country music, but of all musical genres--having sold more than 30 million albums and CDs prior at the time the assault began.

Conservatives may not keep all their promises, but they kept this one. With the approach of the late May release date for Taking The Long Way, the group's first album since Maines spoke up in London, the trashing began. At an Academy of Country Music awards ceremony in March, singer Reba McEntire read a scripted line about how she could host the event because, "[If] the Dixie Chicks can sing with their foot in their mouth, then I can do anything!" Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of the right-wing ranters picked up the chorus and, by the time of the CDs finally hit the stores the official line was that the Chicks were finished as major stars. Country fans would abandon them. Country radio would not play unapologetic tracks such as the single "Not Ready to Make Nice." Congressman Kingston --who, it should be said, maintains the most entertaining offical blog of anyone in Washington--used his "Jack's Blog" to muse that Maines and her compatriots made a big mistake when they started talking politics.

Er, maybe not...

Taking the Long Way has shot to Number 1 on Billboard's country music chart and the overall Billboard 200 chart. In its first full week of availability, the latest release from the Dixie Chicks sold 526, 000 units. That's a way better entry into the charts than the latest release from Toby Keith, the country star who has been lionized by conservatives for his bombastic songs and his rhetoric cheapshots at the Chicks. Keith's White Trash With Money mustered sales of 330,000 in its first week.

Indeed, Taking the Long Way had the second-best first-week sales of any album on the country charts this year.

In the autobiographical single that references the controversy, "Not Ready to Make Nice," Maines in unapologetic. "I'm not ready to make nice," she sings. "I'm not ready to back down."

The Dixie Chicks answer the cultural conservatives on "Not Ready to Make Nice," when Maines sings that she: "Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should." America is echoing that sentiment, rejecting the right's "shut-up-and-sing" assault with a warm embrace of an album that has them singing and speaking up.

Occupation Unhinged

The US occupation of Iraq is spiraling out of control.

Just when it seems like America couldn't be any more unpopular in Iraq, and around the world, comes the word Haditha. A horrific massacre, and an even more despicable cover-up.

The new Iraqi ambassador to the US, Samir Al-Sumaidaie, claims Marines killed his cousin, a second year engineering university student, in a separate incident in Haditha, his hometown. "I believe he was killed intentionally," Al-Sumaidaie told CNN on Sunday. "I believe that he was killed unnecessarily. And unfortunately, the investigations that took place after that sort of took a different course and concluded that there was no unlawful killing."

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that US troops shot to death a pregnant woman rushing to the hospital to give birth.

The US Army long ago lost control of Iraq's security. Now it's losing a grip on its own soldiers, who are exhausted and demoralized by everything they've seen. According to a study at the Army's own Walter Reed Hospital, nearly twenty percent of soldiers returning from Iraq screened positive for potential mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress syndrome. In a break with past policy, some of these troops are being sent back into combat.

Haditha probably would've remained a secret, to Americans at least, if it wasn't for the repeated warnings of Rep. John Murtha, who's been called a coward, a traitor and worse by right-wing chickenhawks. This week Senator Barbara Boxer joined Murtha's call for a swift redeployment of troops out of Iraq.

We've been told over and over by mindless pundits that the next six months will be "make or break" in Iraq. If ever there was a question of whether the US occupation was doing more harm than good, this week provided a heartbreaking answer. Iraq is brutally broken, and the US is incapable of handling the repairs.

In the next six months, it's time to give Iraq back to the Iraqis.

'The Republic's Most Valuable Subversive'

It seemed right that John Kenneth Galbraith had the last word at his memorial service.

"My father's last book was devoted to the destructiveness of war, the unimaginable cruelty of war" Peter Galbraith told the 1000 friends, colleagues, family members who gathered in Harvard University's Memorial Church on a warm Wednesday afternoon to remember the life of a great public intellectual, economist, thinker who was also a man of generous heart and exceptionally independent mind and spirit. "'War remains the decisive human failure," Galbraith wrote. As his biographer Richard Parker said, "He knew when to fight and what he would fight for, but hated war and the men who sought or encouraged it, whether in Vietnam forty years ago or the middle East today."

He was a man who despised how the military-industrial complex had so terribly skewed America's priorities. Words he wrote for John F. Kennedy's first Inaugural address, at a time when Cold War orthodoxies rode high, resonate today. "We must never negotiate out of fear, but we must never fear to negotiate."

It was a gathering rich in imagery and recollection, with a modicum of sadness. "In another age, " Senator Edward Kennedy said of Galbraith " He would have been a Founding Father." Former Senator and Presidential candidate George McGovern described him as the tallest economist in the world--physically, morally, intellectually. His son Jamie, also an economist, remembered that he and his father ( "my mentor, my coach, my critic and my friend") were always on the same side of history-in 1968, 1972, up until today, He described his father as having "the thinking man's suspicion that the emperor had no clothes." And "in an age of naked emperors, " Jamie observed, "there's a use for that."

The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. sent words which were read by his son Stephen--he was in New York recovering from an illness. He described his closest friend as "the Republic's most valuable subversive." Pointing out their 13 inch height difference, Arthur argued playfully that being the tallest economist in the world, at 6'8", reinforced Galbraith's boldness with which he confronted the status quo. "Salvation," Schlesinger said, " lies in the subversion of conventional wisdom."

Galbraith's brilliant deployment of irony, satire, laughter--one of his favorite phrases, repeated by several speakers was "Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue"--reconnected academic economics with human and social reality.

Longtime friend Gloria Steinem, who offered an exquisitely humane tribute, said, "I believe he was the only person I know kept honest by ego." She spoke of her belief that his generosity of spirit, his love of good conversation showed in his work." His public and private selves were never dissonant."

Galbraith's whiplash wit never faltered, but in the Bush years -- as he grew discouraged by the lethal failures of American leadership--Galbraith told friends that developments made him think thoughts he had never thought himself capable of thinking. "I asked such as? ," Schlesinger remembered. "I begin to long for Reagan," Galbraith replied.

The former President of Harvard Derek Bok described Galbraith's quiet acts of kindnesses--a side not often seen amidst the glitter and celebrity of his life. He assigned some of his royalties to the economics department, he asked to retire at age 65 to pave the way for young professors, he and his wife Kitty housed an undergraduate student each year. Bok recalled a letter Galbraith had sent him in the early 1970s, in which he predicted (accurately) that the university would face tough financial times. (He reviewed the university's stock portfolio.) Galbraith asked that he no receive further salary increases. "You may laugh," Bok said as laughter erupted in the church, "but I assure you that letter has never been duplicated since."

There was talk of the books which changed not only the way the country viewed itself, and gave new phrases to the language ("conventional wisdom," private opulence and public squalor," the bland leading the bland"), and there were also amusing anecdotes about Galbraith's celebrity. Bok recounted a story Former Harvard Dean Henry Rosovsky told him many years ago. Rosovsky had stopped at a garage in Hoboken where the local mechanic asked him, "what do you do?" "I teach at Harvard, "Rosovsky replied. "Do you know Professor Galbraith?" asked the mechanic.

In these times when staged foodfights pass for debate, Galbraith's life is a model of how a man can take sides--with intelligence, passion, and wit--while eschewing mean and and petty partisanship.The ecumenical nature of Galbraith's friendships was clear as conservative intellectual William Buckley Jr. delivered a spirited and warmly acerbic tribute to his old friend. (In the local bookstore in Gstaad, Switzerland, where they both went skiing, they would do battle to get their books the best spot in the shop's window.)

"Denounce the Iraq war and your influence as a conservative will soar, " Buckley remembered Galbraith advising him. (Steinem remembered that on one of her last visits to see Galbraith, he announced almost gleefully: "There's still time for Buckley's redemption.")

With Harvard's ex-President Larry Summers sitting in the front pews, Steinem spoke of Galbraith's support--in word and deed--of women economists. He always challenged "the conventional wisdom that women aren't good at math."

In many eyes, Galbraith was America's Great Liberal Economist. But, surprisingly,only George McGovern spoke explicitly of Galbraith's contribution to the creed of liberalism, "the most creative and most uplifting spirit in the American political tradition, though now assailed." (In these times, McGovern added mordantly, "I'd settle for some old fashioned conservatism.")

Instead it was Galbraith's exceptional and reasoned independence that so many spoke of. "To the very end," Parker said, "he was never a synecdoche of a time gone by--but of immense relevance today, a figure or exceptional and independent mind and spirit, a skeptic always of power and privilege." As Richard Parker observed, " I believe that ...what Ken most wanted us to learn... and lived in his life in testimony to it: that we must use--and sometimes oppose--power in order that power not use us."

Galbraith's role as Ambassador to India was remembered by many--but it was the Indian economist Amartya Sen who spoke eloquently of how his longtime colleague and friend "captured the hearts and minds of Indians." Over the years, Sen recounted, many Indians lamented the hostility between the US and India, and spoke of how Americans didn't understand their country. However, Sen noted, they would always add, "with the exception of John Kenneth Galbraith." The Nobel-Prize winning economist's tribute was a polite rebuke to those (economists and others) who never forgave Galbraith for being too readable. Some fifty years ago, Sen said, "I remember reading this captivating book [American Capitalism] in one gulp in a Calcutta coffee house, while a student at the university there, and I had a determination to seek out the wisdom from this John Kenneth Galbraith wherever he might be."

One of the final tributes of the afternoon came from Senator Kennedy, who spoke on behalf of his brothers and his family. "If there were any justice in the world," Kennedy said, "he'd have won the Nobel Prize."

"There might not have been a New Frontier without him."

Kennedy recalled how Galbraith, while Ambassador, routinely bypassed the traditional State Department route when sending missives to the White House. "Going through the State Department," he liked to say, " is like making love through a mattress."

"His words and wisdom resonate today, even as the gap between private opulence and public squalor continues to widen under our misguided leadership." With voice cracking, Kennedy ended, "We love you Ken. We miss you very much."

Before Galbraith's son Peter gave his father the last words, he took a moment to reflect on his father's kindness, the lives he changed through his generosity of spirit and humanity.

Although he was "discouraged by developments in America in these last 25 years," Peter said, "there is a Galbraithian legacy..." Scores of people have worked to make America a less bigoted country, a more just country, and though "we do not have the Good Society my father wanted, he helped bring us closer to one."

A video of the Memorial Service will be available online in June.

In honor of Galbraith's memory, donations may be sent to: Economists for Peace and Security, P.O, Box 5000, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504

McCain Dumps Duke's GOP Successor

There's some ugly trouble for Republicans out here in Southern California. Just days before the June 6 special election to replace jailed former Congressman Duke Cunningham, Senator John McCain has dumped the GOP candidate trying to succeed him.

McCain was slated to host a fundraising event on Wednesday for Brian Bilbray, the Republican candidate in the San Diego-area 50th Congressional District, left vacant after The Duke was hauled off to jail for accepting bribes.

But at the last minute, McCain pulled out citing differences with Bilbray over the immigration issue. Bilbray has dissed McCain's immigration reform proposals as an unacceptable "amnesty." Bilbray's Democratic opponent by the way, Francine Busby, supports McCain's plan.

"Senator McCain has canceled his appearance on behalf of Brian Bilbray to avoid distracting from the overall message of the Bilbray campaign," Craig Goldman, executive director of McCain's political action committee, said in a statement.

Right. McCain, who is a possible 2008 presidential contender, might also just want to keep his distance from the whole Duke stench. Latest polls show Bilbray in a very and unpredictable race. McCain's withdrawl can't be considered much of a boost, can it?

Former Bush AIDS Czar Slams US Policies

Five years ago Scott Evertz headed the US delegation to UNGASS where 189 member countries signed the historic Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. In the glacial bureaucracy of the UN, that declaration was fairly progressive. It committed governments to specific targets for AIDS treatment, embraced comprehensive HIV prevention efforts and spoke openly of condoms, gender equality and vulnerable populations. But today the world is only incrementally closer to universal access to treatment by 2010 -- one of the major goals to emerge from UNGASS in 2001. And the US and its unlikely family values allies in the Middle East are working behind the scenes of UNGASS +5 to roll back even those commitments.

According to Evertz and AIDS activists privy to draft declarations, Islamic countries and the US have diluted references to condoms, replaced "evidence-based" prevention measures with "evidence-informed" measures and struck references to vulnerable populations [men who have sex with men, IV drug users and commercial sex workers].

As the lead US negotiator at the original UNGASS, Evertz is speaking out. "Even in 2001 there were many sticky issues, one of which was that my government didn't want to talk about vulnerable populations, people at risk for HIV. So even then my government found a willing audience and receptive friend in some of the Islamic states that are on our terrorist list. I find that appalling, and we're doing it again," Evertz said at a press conference this morning.

Appointed by Bush as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in 2001, Evertz is no radical; he's not even a Democrat. A clean-cut, former President of the Wisconsin State Log Cabin Republicans, Evertz was recommended by then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson with whom he had worked with on faith-based social services. But apparently, the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence and fidelity has turned his stomach. When asked if U.S. AIDS policy has been hijacked by the far right, Evertz replied, "I'm not entirely sure, but they are certainly on the plane." "If the tax payers knew how ideology and politics are driving the U.S. response to AIDS, they'd be alarmed," Evertz added.

Now a private citizen, Evertz says he "appreciates not having to be an apologist for some of those [Bush administration] policies."

The Center for Selective Facts

In response to accusations fromWake Up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart denies funding the far-right Center for Union Facts (CUF), whose creepy and misleading anti-union ads you may have seen in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post. A press release from CUF amusingly registers some distress over the company's denials; acknowledging that Wal-Mart isn't funding the group, CUF spokeswoman Sarah Longwell says, "Come to think of it, why aren't they?" CUF is now calling upon Wal-Mart to remedy this oversight.

Wal-Mart would be wise to give this organization a wide berth. In addition to the newspaper ads, the group maintains a website, clearly aimed at union members and undecided workers, dedicated to smearing the labor movement. Of course, there are plenty of bad things to say about unions and their leadership, many of them true; the Center is certainly not hallucinating the race and sex discrimination, corruption and lack of democracy within many of these organizations. But the website, and the ads, dishonestly imply that because unions have failings, workers would be better off with no representation at all. What CUF doesn't mention is that workers who belong to unions enjoy higher wages, better benefits, and often, despite the "pale, male and stale" leadership -- a characterization first used by Andy Stern, more recently deployed in a CUF ad -- less race and sex discrimination on the job.

CUF urges readers to decertify their unions. But if CUF were really a campaign for democracy, justice and the interests of workers, unionfacts.com would instead encourage people to fight for better unions, by getting more involved in their own, ousting bad leaders by running against them in elections, and joining Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Members for Democracyor any number of other reform-minded groups within the labor movement. Or by subscribing to Labor Notes, a newsletter which has been crusading for union democracy and greater rank-and-file participation for years. But despite CUF's slick rhetoric, democracy is not what its business and right-wing funders have in mind.

Which brings us to a serious question. If not Wal-Mart, then who is funding CUF? According to the website, the campaign is supported by "foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public." When I asked for further clarification, CUF's Sarah Longwell demurred, explaining the group's "policy not to offer specific information on any of our supporters" -- not a very transparent policy for a group claiming dedication to "showing Americans the truth" and professing not to be "part of a political effort" but "about education." If anyone has any idea who CUF's sugar daddies are, let me know. I would enjoy inflicting some pain and grief upon them, and I know I'm not alone in this.

Constitutional Contrarianism

I don't profess to be an expert on constitutional law. But it doesn't take a genius to note that the outrage coming from both parties over the FBI's raid of Rep. William Jefferson's office has less to do with principle and more to do with self-preservation. At a time when corruption probes are intensifying on Capitol Hill, no one wants his or her office to be the next one searched.

The one person who seems to get this is Barney Frank, the eccentric 13-term Democrat from Massachusetts who's regarded as one of the smartest, and funniest, members of the House. Frank first broke with his colleagues over the raid during a one minute speech on the House floor on May 25.

"What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress," Frank said.

Last night, he sharpened that message on the always-superb MSNBC show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann. As Frank told guest host Brian Unger, "There's more irony here than in the collected works of George Bernard Shaw."

Here you have a Republican Congress which has been enthusiastic about the disregard of any kind of reasonable strength on law enforcement for almost everybody in the country, and now they overreact when it‘s a member of Congress.

To put it very tersely, they have generally, the Republicans in particular, approved of warrantless intrusions into the privacy of average citizens. That is, they‘ve said it‘s OK to go in and get into what people read in the libraries or what they‘ve said on the phone without a warrant.

Here, a warrant issued. So we ought to be very clear, this is not a unilateral executive decision to do it. A judge issued a warrant. And I must say, having seen the evidence, I don‘t know what the ultimate answer is, guilt or innocence, and that‘s to be decided later, if, in fact, there‘s a trial. And there hasn‘t even been an indictment.

But it does seem to me that based on what we saw, there was sufficient basis for a warrant. This was not an imprudently granted warrant. And the notion that we would object when a search is conducted of one of our officers pursuant to a warrant, when people don‘t conduct when there are searches without warrants of average citizens, yes, that‘s pretty ironic.