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The Nation

Step It Up

A new global warming report issued on April 5 by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth's future: hundreds of millions of people short of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, billions of people in Asia at risk from flooding; millions of species sentenced to extinction; rampant disease.

Despite its grim vision, the report was quickly criticized by many scientists surveyed by the Los Angeles Times, who said its findings were watered down by governments seeking to deflect calls for immediate action. Even in diluted form, the report paints a bleak picture, noting that the early signs of warming are already apparent.

The report is the second of four scheduled to be issued this year by the UN, which assembled more than 2,500 scientists worldwide to give their best predictions of the consequences of a few degrees' increase in global temperature. The 1,572-page document was endorsed by officials from more than 120 countries, including the United States. The first report, released in February, said global warming was irreversible but could be moderated by large-scale societal changes.

On Saturday, April 14, at more than 1,300 simultaneous events coast to coast, Americans of different hues and views will call for such large-scale changes by imploring Congress to enact immediate cuts in carbon emissions and pledge an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The true expression of a viral grassroots movement, organized online through word of mouth, email outreach and the Internet community, Step it Up! is the largest day of citizen action focusing on global warming in our nation's history and the largest environmental protest of any kind since Earth Day 1970.

Conceived by writer Bill McKibben and six recent graduates of Middlebury College, the initiative has been embraced by environmental organizations, religious networks, campus groups and individuals from virtually all walks of life. The Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation have all committed real efforts to organizing Step It Up! rallies. Student groups have been particularly enthusiastic, led by Energy Action, the PIRGs and the Campus Climate Challenge campaign, which has thrown its organizational weight and energy behind Step It Up!, as well as the evangelical student movement, which has also embraced the cause.

As McKibben writes in an open letter on the Step It Up! website, "The enormous participation in today's movement is a wake-up call to legislators from across the country. Their constituents are urgently demanding that America get on the path towards reducing carbon emissions before it is too late."

Along with lots of marches, rallies and concerts, some of the activities this Saturday will creatively highlight the dangers and losses of a rapidly warming earth. There'll be ski mountaineers in Wyoming descending the shrinking Dinwoody Glacier; hikers ascending Oregon's threatened Mt. Hood; scuba divers underwater photographing the endangered coral reefs off Key West; rock climbers hanging banners from Seneca Rocks in West Virginia; gardeners planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers in the Shartel median at 33rd Street and Shartel Avenue in Oklahoma City; demonstrators painting a blue line through downtown Seattle to illustrate how far the rising seas could penetrate; activists on the levees in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and Vermonters hauling sap from a maple sugar tree that is producing much earlier than it ever has before.

Join your voice to this growing chorus of people determined to save their planet. Click here to find an April 14 event near you, help spread the word or sign up to organize an event yourself. And watch the Step it Up! YouTube video below for tips on how to make your action as successful as possible.

No More Imus

Black people have a great sense of humor about themselves. I don't just say this because I happen to be black but because there's ample evidence to support this. For instance, arguably the most celebrated black comedians (Richard Pryor, Chris Rock come to mind) have been self-deprecating when it comes to the subject of race. Yet there was nothing remotely funny, incisive or somewhat excusable about radio personality Don Imus' remark about the black players on Rutgers' women's basketball team.

For those of you not in the know, he referred to them as "nappy headed ho's". This is not the first foray into racially insensitive rhetoric from Mr. Imus. He's also notoriously referred to respected black PBS anchorwoman Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady" and has been known to regularly use the epithet "ragheads" when referring to Arabs. Yet unlike his similarly politically incorrect, but I'd argue more entertaining counterpart Howard Stern, Imus has somehow managed to gain some semblance of mainstream political acceptance.

Left-wing politicians like John Edwards and John Kerry have enthusiastically appeared on his show and while they've never, as far as I know, gone so far as to endorse Mr. Imus' views--by appearing on his program they've more or less implied that they aren't offended enough by them to not be his guest. He even headlined a White House correspondents' dinner in 1996, although he promptly bombed after making off-color jokes about the First Lady.

It was reported today that Imus is going to now take part in what is becoming the official ritual of the repenting racist white man--an appearance on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show. Apparently the mainstream media has decided that Rev. Sharpton and his radio show are the mouthpiece for all of Black America and that an apology on said program is the best way to mend fences with African Americans.

I prefer the Rev. Jesse Jackson's reaction to this incident. He is going to organize major protests against Imus and the stations like MSNBC and CBS Radio that broadcast him. The chances that Imus will be removed the air are slim to none. The incident will only increase his ratings in a medium that has become more and more about creating outrage than actually informing or enlightening people. But I'd rather draw a line in the sand then play this phony forced apology route anymore. So-called progressives should not only boycott listening to Mr. Imus' show, they should stop appearing on it as well.

The Media's Ideological View of Pelosi's Trip

As Glenn Greenwald rightly points out in a recent post from his Unclaimed Territory blog, media coverage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Syria can fairly be labeled "hysteria-driven."

Taking its cues from those who should be totally discredited, and set out to pasture for misleading us into this disastrous war, major media outlets like Meet the Press, (April 8) CNN and The Washington Post ("Pratfall in Damascus," April 5) have lambasted Pelosi for her "irresponsible" trip and for her "incompetence"--instead of suggesting that maybe we have a sane political leader who, at long last, understands that we need to maintain dialogue even with those we see as our enemies or "foes."

It's to be expected that the rightwing Noise Machine would snap into action--its chieftains Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh baying, scraping and bowing to give a platform to the discredited Vice-President--who had the staggering chutzpah to chide Pelosi for her "bad behavior" in making the trip. (Don't ignore the sexism in that remark--or in much of the media coverage.) Those who would listen to a man who condoned torture accusing Speaker Pelosi of bad behavior are disgraceful mouthpieces for the Bush Administration's vilification campaigns.

But what's perhaps more discouraging and dangerous is to witness what we mistakenly call the mainstream media working overtime to discredit Pelosi--depicting her as a failure, something of a joke, and out of touch with the proverbial "mainstream" which this media wrongly claims to speak for.

Where were the clear reports that Pelosi was simply following up on the Iraq Study Group report's recommendations that the US open a diplomatic initiative towards Syria? The Bushies have refused to heed the report. Instead the Administration continues, destructively, with its foreign policy of name-calling, bellligerence and scorn for diplomacy. The Speaker--along with her bipartisan group--is to be commended for exploring alternatives to this Administration's disastrous approach to US policy in the Middle East.

What's staggering, as Greenwald points out in his post--and as The Nation week to week, and other sane media watchdogs keep telling us--is just how out of touch and trivial our mainstream media is when it comes to reporting on the substantive scandals and abuses of our time.

Pigs in Space

Is there a more perfect symbol of the excesses of global capitalism than Charles Simonyi's 13-day joyride into outer space? Simonyi, a Hungarian-American software programmer who made his fortune at Xerox and Microsoft before launching his own start-up, paid $20 million to be escorted to the Kazakh steppes, packed into a Russian Soyuz rocket and blasted towards the international space station. En route, he'll enjoy a meal of roasted quail, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier and rice pudding with candied fruit -- all carefully selected by his girlfriend, Martha Stewart. (Martha, whatever happened to astronaut ice cream and Tang?) No word yet on the threadcount of his sheets or if there's 24-hour concierge service in orbit.

The whole saga is Dickens for the new millennium, but without the other half. So it's up to us scolds at The Nation to point out the obvious. Simonyi might have spent his money fighting AIDS, or building housing for Hurricane Katrina survivors, or providing clean water to developing nations, or mosquito netting and medicine for malaria patients, or musical instruments for needy, photogenic, musically-gifted inner city school children or...well, depressingly, the list goes on and on. But picking on the follies of the rich is easy, and in this case, not particularly fun. Just think of the carbon footprint a Soyuz rocket leaves!

But the next time the bards of capitalism sing the praises of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and the outstanding generosity of the mega-rich in the age of extreme wealth (and extreme poverty), I'll trot out Charles Simonyi's space odyssey as counter-example.

Indeed, Simonyi's spending habits are a window into how the world's wealthiest citizens consume and contribute. Worth about $1 billion, Simonyi's no Scrooge McDuck. He's endowed a chair at Oxford and funded the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In 2003, Simonyi finished 23rd in the Slate 60, the annual ranking of largest American charitable contributions, when he gave $47 million to start the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. But for each act of noblesse oblige, there's an extravagance. In Simonyi's case, not only is he the 5th space tourist ever, he also owns the world's 39th largest yacht, which is so big that one could, as Power and Motoryacht Magazine tell us, "easily mistake her for a military vessel."

Simonyi's 2003 donation represents less than 5 percent of his net worth. According to Gregg Easterbrook's survey of billionaire philanthropy, this puts Simonyi well behind Buffett, who donated the vast majority of his fortune, and Bill Gates, who's given away about 1/3 of his. But Simonyi fares better in comparison to most billionaires, who on average contribute slightly more than 1 percent of their net worth. As Easterbrook points out, that rate is only marginally better than Americans as a whole, who annually give away about 0.5 percent of their net worth. And it pales in comparison to the 78 percent that Andrew Carnegie gave away in his lifetime.

As the philosopher Peter Singer pointed out in an article for the New York Times, if the rich and superrich gave away at morally responsible and entirely reasonable rates (say, 33 percent of earnings for those in the top .01 percent and sliding downward), wealthy Americans could generate $808 billion annually for global development -- six times more than what the UN estimates it needs to meet its Millennium Development Goals and 16 times more than the shortfall between what's needed and what donor nations currently contribute.

But that might mean giving up duck confit in outer space.

Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?

I try to never write off press releases but I got a fax that shocked me this morning. A new report from the National Priorities Project shows that almost 40 cents of every tax dollar that will be paid this year will be spent on past and present military projects!

I knew government spending was out of whack but not this dramatically. This allocation is in contrast to the three-quarters of one penny per dollar spent on diplomacy, economic development assistance and locking down loose nuclear materials and the hundredth of a penny spent on renewable energy and conservation! What spending areas come after the military? Healthcare at twenty-one cents on the dollar and interest on the US debt at nineteen cents per dollar--another proud legacy of the Bush agenda.

Read the NPP's new report, Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?, for more info. NPP is also the leading source for accurate information on the actual costs of the Iraq war, offering breakdowns of the cost by state and Congressional district. So check their Iraq material out. Then, visit the NPP Action Center to vent some of the outrage you're likely feeling at the obscene costs of Bush's Iraq venture.

By George, Diplomacy Works!

The 15 British sailors and marines who were held for the better part of two weeks by the Iranians should thank their lucky stars that they were under the command of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as opposed to President George Bush.

Blair believes in diplomacy. And he and his aides employed it ably to secure the safe release of the sailors and marines with a minimum of trouble.

Bush makes a point of rejecting diplomacy. He condemns those who would dare even to speak with the Syrians or Iranians – most recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose meetings with officials in Syria happened to coincide with Syrian moves to encourage the release of the British sailors.

Bush, a foreign policy incompetent who in thick of preparations for his Iraq War was still trying to figure out the differences between Shiites and Sunnis, probably does not understand that, in addition to Pelosi, other U.S. officials were helping the Brits behind the scenes. No one seriously suggests that it was a coincidence that, as the Brits were being released, the U.S. was quietly agreeing to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit five Iranians seized by U.S. forces in Iraq in January under disputed circumstances.

Indeed, while Bush and his dwindling circle of apologists will try and suggest that diplomacy had nothing to do with the release of the Brits, Bruce Riedel, a former Middle East expert for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council who now works with the Brookings Institution, a former CIA specialist on the Middle East, says, "There's certainly a circumstantial case that the Iranians, at least, have some assurances that the five Revolutionary Guards in Baghdad are going to be treated in a different way than they have."

Asked if the Iranians had been given assurances that the men in U.S. custody would be treated differently, Riedel said, "I think it's self-evident that there is at least an understanding..."

"An understanding?" You mean like what comes after behind-the-scenes negotiations? You mean like what you get when countries that disagree with one another try to sort out those disagreements without resorting to violence?

You mean like, gads, the byproduct of engaging in diplomacy?

Perish the thought, at least from George Bush's mind.

In the end, it's a good thing that Bush is out of the loop. He can rant and rave about how Iran and Syria should be isolated, while others – including Blair and the still-functioning remains of the U.S. State Department – efficiently deal with the challenges and the opportunities presented by the real world.

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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 President's Global War of Terror

On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White House Rose Garden, the President responded to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.

That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler," which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or ‘finding' as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising if the group doing the encouraging and advising weren't the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long, sordid record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been reporting since 2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime, heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)

The President also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizure… is indefensible by the Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British sailors, who were dramatically freed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on his sudden release, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.

And don't forget the botched Bush administration attempt to capture two high Iranian security officials and the actual kidnapping of five Iranian diplomats-cum-Revolutionary-Guards in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan over two months ago--they disappeared into the black hole of an American prison system in Iraq that now holds perhaps 17,000 Iraqis (as well as those Iranians) and is still growing. As Juan Cole has pointed out, most such acts, and the rhetoric that goes with them, represent so many favors to "an unpopular and isolated Iranian government attempting to rally support and strengthen itself."

In addition, just this week, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its battle group left San Diego for the Persian Gulf. Two carrier battle groups are already there, promising an almost unprecedented show of strength. As the ship left port, US military officials explained the mission of the carriers in the Gulf this way: They are intended to demonstrate US "resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the region."

And stability in the region, it seems, means promoting instability in Iran by any means possible. So, the President's Global War on Terror also turns out to be the Global War of Terror. Noam Chomsky recently put the matter this way, when thinking of U.S. attitudes toward Iranian influence in Iraq.

"It is useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?"

The rule is simple enough on this one-way planet of ours: If they do it, it's "terror," if we do it, it's foreign policy, its America's "strategic interest."

Conservatives for the Constitution

Just imagine if one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination endorsed this radical agenda:

• End the use of military commissions to prosecute crimes.

• Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture.

• Prohibit the detention of American citizens as enemy combatants without proof.

• Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien combatants.

• End National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping.

• Empower Congress to challenge presidential signing statements.

• Bar executive use of the state secret privilege to deny justice.

• Prohibit the President from collaborating with foreign governments to kidnap, detain of torture persons abroad.

• Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without threat of persecution.

• Prohibit of the labeling of groups or individuals in the U.S. as global terrorists based on secret evidence.

Of course, it is difficult to conceive of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or even the somewhat more Constitutionally-courageous John Edwards going to such extremes.

They are, above all, cautious candidates. They don't want to be accused of getting too serious about maintaining the basic underpinnings of the Republic.

Only the nuttiest of radicals who ask that candidates for president would ask that candidates for nation's top job to start talking about the notion that the lawless presidency of George W. Bush has created a Constitutional crisis.

So what left-wing cabal is promoting the above assault on the executives excesses of the Bush administration?

The group that's advancing this so-called "American Freedom Agenda" is chaired by Bruce Fein, a former Nixon administration aide who served as deputy attorney general under President Reagan and who helped to formulate some of the serious -- pre-blue dress -- arguments for impeaching Bill Clinton. Fein is joined by former Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr, veteran conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie and David Keene, the former aide to Bob Dole who for many years has served as chairman of the American Conservative Union.

What gives? How come conservatives are taking the lead in the fight to restore basic Constitutional protections?

"The most conservative principles of the Constitution have been repeatedly violated in the last several years," says Fein. "[The] Founding Fathers engrafted a system of checks and review of one branch by another -- a system of due process safeguards against injustice that is likely to occur because of prejudice and fear. And those checks and balances have eroded enormously over the last several years, particularly since 9/11."

Viguerie is even blunter, suggesting that "a constitutional crisis... has developed to alarming proportion under President George W. Bush."

Rejecting the suggestion that conservatives must remain silent because Bush is supposedly one of their own, Viguerie says, "Conservatives must not fail to oppose the massive expansion of presidential powers out of fear they will be aid and comfort to the Left. Concern about one branch of government acquiring excessive power should not be the providence of liberals, moderates, or conservatives. It must be the concern of all Americans who value liberty…"

Barr echoes that view, arguing that, "[We]" cannot sit by and wait thirty years for court decisions. We cannot wait until another four-year election cycle is concluded to have the Bill of Rights restored and defended."

The American Freedom Agenda campaign is the vehicle that these conservatives have established, with a self-described twofold mission: "the enactment of a cluster of statutes that would restore the Constitution's checks and balances as enshrined by the Founding Fathers; and, making the subject a staple of political campaigns and of foremost concern to Members of Congress and to voters and educators. Especially since 9/11, the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power, and has repeatedly claimed that the President is the law. The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling, reminiscent of the kingly abuses that provoked the Declaration of Independence."

The agenda was launched two weeks ago. So far, one candidate has expressed support it: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who explains that: "[They] say that the executive branch is always hungry. That's why it's up to the people, up to the congress to reign in the power of the executive branch."

Paul's right to sign on. The question now is whether any Democratic presidential contenders will join him in doing so.

The restoration of the Constitution's system of checks and balances ought not be a project of the left or right. It ought to be something that every presidential candidate can endorse. And, for Democrats, the American Freedom Agenda initiative creates a perfect opportunity to do the right thing with "political cover." After all, if Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards were to express support for the restoring the system of checks and balances and undoing the damage done to the Constitution during the Bush years, they tell the Democratic strategists who constantly counsel ideological caution: "Don't worry, I'm not taking any risks. I'm just making like the conservatives."

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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.'"

Abstinence Takes a Blow

It's been a frigid winter for the abstinence-only crowd. Back in October the GAO slammed the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for funding two abstinence-only programs without reviewing their "education materials for scientific accuracy" or even requiring grantees "to review their own materials for scientific accuracy." Then last week the Institute of Medicine (IOM) attacked abstinence-until-marriage earmarks in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as ideologically driven barriers that jeopardize "the vitally important end of saving lives." The nation's editorial pages echoed IOM's findings. And this Monday, Wade Horn, director of ACF and architect of Bush's abstinence-only and marriage promotion policies, abruptly resigned -- much to the dismay of the family-values crowd.

Add to this mix the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine endorsed by the CDC and Republican governors alike but opposed by abstinence-only fanatics, and it's clear that support for abstinence-only education is more precarious now than at any other point in the Bush administration. With Democrats in control of Congress, there's hope that funding for comprehensive sex education (such as the REAL Act and the PATHWAY Act, both sponsored by Barbara Lee (D) and Chris Shays (R)) might get a fair shake.

But don't count your condoms just yet. As Scott Swenson reports over at RH Reality Check, federally-funded abstinence groups have pooled together their resources and created the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). And they've hired Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the pitbulls behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" ads, as their PR flacks. NAEA promises "proactive 'rapid response'" to "negative attacks" on abstinence education, a campaign to "promote positive national media exposure" and the mobilization of "local abstinence organizations" in "key congressional districts."

What does this all mean? Well, if CRC's track record is any indication, expect vicious, targeted campaigns against vulnerable Democrats and moderate Republicans who vote to cap or eliminate funding for abstinence-only programs. Expect bogus op-eds questioning the integrity of groups like the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association, both of whom support comprehensive sex education. And expect media campaigns touting the values of abstinence-only education and offering up the abstinence lobby's manipulated data.

And yes, as Swenson points out, all of this will be paid for, at least in part, by your tax-payer dollars.