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Women's Rights are Human Rights, Iranian Edition

Via Feministing comes awful news from Iran. For participating in a banned rally for women's rights in June,2006, twenty-four year old Delaram Ali has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ten lashes. The demonstrators--around 100 women and a number of men -- were peacefully protesting flagrantly biassed Sharia-based laws, including those governing divorce, inheritance and the courts, in which a woman's testimony is worth half of a man's. Police violently attacked the rally and arrested 70 demonstrators; Ali is the seventh to be convicted. Her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, offers a defiantly hopeful interpretation of this cruel and unjust verdict: "The women's movement is expanding and this worries the government."

More details hereand here.

Killing the Money Primary

July 4th's Washington Post featured a front-page story about how campaign contributors heavily favored Democrats in the three-month period that ended last weekend, giving three dollars to the party's leading contenders for every two dollars they gave to the top Republican candidates.

Barack Obama was the big money primary winner--with 285,000 total contributors since January, exceeding the combined number of donors to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain.

While I think it's fascinating that Obama has had such success in raising money from small donors on the Internet--and see glimmers of democratization in how those small-$ donors are challenging the primacy of political finance's big guns of politics--I still question why the mainstream media seems to privilege the money primary at the expense of the ideas primary.

So what is to be done? On the money front, the New York Times counsels resuscitating matching public funds --"the once-popular tax assisted alternative that has been allowed to wither in recent years because of Congress's fixation on the power of private campaign money." But there is another alternative. Clean Money, Clean Elections--with legislation supporting this major and viable reform advancing now in both the Senate and the House. In the Senate, the Durbin-Specter Fair Elections Now Act (S 1285) and in the House, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act of 2007 (HR 1614) both have impressive co-sponsors. On the House side, of the 40 co-sponsors, many are in significant leadership positions.

But it's not only inside the beltway. According to Public Campaign, which has been working for ten years to change the way America funds elections, the movement, outside of Washington, continues to grow. As Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign's longtime and tenacious President puts it, there's a vibrant and growing citizen-centered movement out there that reflects America's diverse communities. From the AFL-CIO, to the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the NAACP --all have joined forces in support of Clean Money, Clean Elections and the legislation advancing it. MoveOn.org is also wholeheartedly behind the effort to enact reforms that have worked well in Arizona and Maine to the Congress.

What's hopeful, though not reflected in the breathless coverage of the candidates' fundraising totals, is that seven daily mainstream newspapers--including the Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and the St.-Louis Post Dispatch--have specifically endorsed congressional public financing legislation. Moreover, the race at the local and state level to take out private money in favor of clean money is moving full force ahead.

Next time you read about the money primary, take a breath and go to publicampaign.org and find an alternative which will give ordinary people and voters a chance to have their voices and ideas listened to.

Cheney on the Defensive

Dick Cheney has been a destructive force on the checks and balances of American government for more than six years. He has subverted long-standing processes, procedures, protocols and laws to lead us into the tragedy in Iraq, and is now seeking to do the same with Iran. (Both countries, mind you, that he did business with while CEO of Halliburton.)

As the Washington Post's recent four-part series on the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president showed, Cheney has usurped his Cabinet colleagues to make himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy; secretly steered the Bush administration's most important environmental decisions and purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive Congress by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq.

That's why there's a growing national movement to support H. Res 333, the articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney. The bill is already endorsed by 14 members of Congress--Yvette Clarke, William Lacy, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Jesse Jackson Jr., Hank Johnson, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey and Albert Wynn.

In the blogosphere, as Ari Melber recently reported in The Notion, leading bloggers like those at Daily Kos have launched a targeted campaign to specifically lobby Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee to put impeachment back on the table. And earlier this week, MoveOn.org launched an unprecedented petition calling on Congress to impeach Cheney if he defies congressional subpoenas issued to investigate the Bush administration's purge of prosecutors at the Justice Department.

You can sign the petition calling for the bill's passage here; watch a new video (below) by Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films for the case for why Cheney deserves immediate impeachment; check out impeachcheney.org for info on the impeachment campaign and read John Nichols's book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press), for the back-story of a vindictive, inflexible ideologue who gained tremendous power in the current administration.

A Clinton Spy Scandal?

When news of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program became public, Senator Hillary Clinton called the eavesdropping "strange" and "far-fetched." In a fundraising email she went on to blast "a secret program that spies on Americans!"

Now her chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, may have a spying problem of his own.

A lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee of Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, alleges that when the employee left the firm and started a rival consulting business, workers at PSB hacked into his BlackBerry and illegally monitored his email. The lawsuit, filed in mid-June and reported by the AP on Wednesday, claims that Penn approved of the surveillance.

The backstory is a complicated one. Penn originally sued his former partner Mike Berland and Mitchell Markel in Manhattan court for allegedly violating a non-compete clause with PSB. In response, Markel filed a countersuit detailing the supposed improper email monitoring.

As of now, it's impossible to know who to believe. Penn, through an attorney, has denied any wrongdoing. But it should be noted that Penn sued a former close colleague of his, pollster Peter Brodnitz--who's worked for Tim Kaine and Harold Ford Jr--when Brodnitz left PSB in 2004. And his firm threatened legal action when former employees started a "PSB survivors" message board documenting what they perceived as personally abusive and unethical behavior in the workplace.

So the latest suit and countersuit, while juicy and contentious, is not surprising. To be continued.

Weird Religion, Anglican Edition

According to two senior Church of England bishops, recent terrible floods in the UK are expressions of God's wrath at excess consumption -- or possibly excess gayfriendliness. "We have a responsibility in this and God is exposing us to the truth of what we have done," the Rt. Rev .James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, told The Telegraph .

"We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused." said the Rt. Rev. Graham Dow, bishop of Carlisle. "The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God's judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance." According to the Telegraph, Dow " expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with ‘environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate.'"

Now just hold on a minute here. God left thousands of innocent Britons homeless-- to say nothing of other recent flood victims from Texas to Pakistan -- to make a point about something those people had nothing to do with? A point no one, except a handful of clergymen, seemed to get? If God is powerful enough to cause floods, why isn't he powerful enough to target his smitings to, say, the annual meeting of Exxon shareholders or Friends of the Incandescent Light Bulb? Surely God is aware that environmental catastrophes hit the most vulnerable hardest. The CEOs and superconsumers in their 4000-square-foot mansions have insurance, to say nothing of Hummers in which to make a quick escape to their condo in the city.

As for the gay thing, if a human being somehow managed to flood whole neighborhoods, destroying the lives of multitudes, and when asked why replied that he was furious, just furious, at growing tolerance for homosexuality, we would think he was insane. And he would be.

So maybe God exists, but is clinically mad. That would explain just about everything.

Creating a Foundation

Co-written by Emily Greenhouse

For the last few years students have been steadily debunking the old saw that young people are politically apathetic. Young people might not be nearly as engaged with Iraq and the widening gap between rich and poor as some older folks might like. But, then, neither are the majority of Americans in any age group.

Overall, students are actually far more focused on ending the war and taking part in the electoral system than many of their generational counterparts. A new national student group offers yet another example of students pouring their energy into something other than parties or resumes. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), a for-youth by-youth organization aims to increase electoral participation among young voters by making the system more accessible and by striving to underscore the importance of voting on their lives.

SAVE has mustered support from several former politicians, and is already planning for a Congressional hearing this month in which a panel of ten students will testify before Congress detailing voting problems in the 2004 and 2006 elections. One student will speak on behalf of undergraduates at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio -- the swing state who many believe wound up costing John Kerry the 2004 election – who waited in line to vote for as long as ten hours.

The group is now seeking to start chapters on college campuses across the country, where members can supplement traditional efforts to ‘get-out-the-vote' with its student-led outreach and emphasis on civic engagement through civic education for young people. After-school tutoring programs, public issues forums, and coalition-building with politically-engaged organizations on campus are all part of the group's mission. Under the guidance of founding board member Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP's Washington Bureau, the group also plans to launch a minority awareness campaign to highlight voter discrimination, obstacles to full voting rights and ways to combat these efforts at disenfranchisement.

SAVE is also trying to launch its own youth poll worker program, in which young people will be able to take charge of elections as administrators and monitors on Election Day--the average age of poll workers at the last national election was 72!--as well as an ambitious website which it envisions functioning in partnership with FaceBook and YouTube as the ultimate forum for young people to discuss electoral issues with message boards, surveys, polls, quizzes, contests and electoral tools and resources.

"By arming young people with the knowledge to navigate the political process via a commitment to dialogue, issues awareness, and interaction with local government," SAVE's mission statement states, "we hope to create a foundation for life-long participation in the democratic system."

Click here if you want to help SAVE build this foundation.

Tom Paine's 4th of July Advice for Congress

The Fourth of July ought surely, and above all else, to be a celebration of Tom Paine's resolve.

As the American colonies moved tentatively toward the fateful declaration of independence in those middle years of the 177Os, it was Paine who urged them to embrace the revolutionary spirit of that enlightened age and to get on with the cutting of the colonial bond.

"The cause of America," Paine wrote," is in great measure the cause of all mankind."

The very future of freedom depended on it.

Yes, of course, the pursuit of liberty was frightening -- especially when its pursuit was sure to inspire the mad wrath of King George III. "[But]" like all other steps which we have already passed over," Paine suggested to the colonials, "[Affronting the king and his empire] will in a little time become familiar and agreeable: and until an independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with thoughts of its necessity."

Confronting a tyrannical ruler named George is always difficult.

But necessity of it remains constant across our history.

Just as there were many 18th-century Americans who knew that King George and his aristocratic circle had to be seen off but feared the demands of the endeavor, so there are many 21st-century Americans who know that the madness of a president named George and his prince regent, Dick Cheney, must be ended. Yet, they avoid the inevitable demands of the impeachment power conjured by the founders of the Republic and intended for application in moments such as this.

Now that Cheney has attempted to declare himself as no longer bound by the requirements of the executive branch of the federal government established in the Constitution, even as he remains unwilling to submit himself to those of the legislative branch, more than a little evidence suggests that he has assumed the mantle of a monarch.

Certainly the description fits the vice president. Did not Paine anticipate Cheney when he wrote: "Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions."

And did Paine not anticipate Cheney's foreign policies -- and no one can mistake that the neoconservative craziness of this administration is an invention far more of the vice president than of the untraveled and unconcerned occupant of the Oval Office -- when he wrote of monarchical governments for which, "War is their trade, plunder and revenue their objects. While such governments continue, peace has not the absolute security of a day."

So it is, on this day when we celebrate a declaration inspired, outlined and prodded by Paine, that it is more than appropriate to celebrate the courage of those currently in positions of authority who have stepped up to hold this administration to account by embracing the cause of impeachment -- beginning with Cheney.

It is an honor roll not so very different from that of the 56 who finally made the declaration Paine encouraged. It begins with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the sponsor of articles of impeachment against the vice president and now extends to include nine cosponsors: New York's Yvette Clarke, Missouri's Bill Clay, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, Georgia's Hank Johnson, California's Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, Illinois's Jan Schakowsky and Maryland's Al Wynn. In the wake of the latest revelations regarding Cheney's lawlessness, and President Bush's commutation of the 30-month prison sentence for Cheney's former chief-of-staff, the list is expanding rapidly. California Congressman Bob Filner and Virginia's Jim Moran say they plan to sign on as cosponsors. They are expected to be joined by Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who declared after the president commuted "Scooter" Libby's sentence that, "The Executive Branch should be held responsible for its illegalities."

Joining it the list as well will be Washington's Jim McDermott, who says, "For months I have believed that impeachment was a dire course of action. Over these same months, I have seen the vice president repeatedly drive our nation into increasingly dire situations, in Iraq, in Iran, and within our own country as he tramples over the Constitution like it is a doormat... Since the president permits this flagrant disregard for the Constitution, it is up to the Congress to act and defend the American people."

The honor roll is not complete. There are many other members of the House, including Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, who are haunted by thoughts of the necessity of holding this administration to account, but who have failed so far to act.

Paine would tell them, as he did the members of the first American Congress on the eve of a distant 4th of July that, "We have it in our power to begin the world anew."

What is required, only, is the courage to act as common sense demands.

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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.'"

Five for the Fourth

As my boss and Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in Editor's Cut, The Nation's "definition of patriotism is fighting to make sure your country lives up to its highest ideals." In that spirit, here are five measures worth supporting on this Fourth of July. All would help us form a more perfect union.

1. Health Care for All

More than 47 million Americans are now living without health coverage, and even if you have health coverage you've still got a great chance of getting screwed, as anyone who's seen Michael Moore's Sicko knows. Representative John Conyers's United States National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) would create a single-payer healthcare system by expanding Medicare to every resident. Pledge your support and get involved to help pass HR 676.

2. End Torture, not Habeas Corpus

Presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd has made defending our Constitution a focus of his campaign with the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007, S. 576. The bill addresses the egregious wrongs of last year's Military Commissions Act. It would restore habeas corpus--the right of any person held in US custody to appear before a court to determine whether imprisonment is lawful. It would require that the United States live up to its Geneva Convention obligations on torture. And it would hold any government official accountable for torture and abuse--whether in an interrogation room or handing down orders from on high. Contact your representatives and ask them to co-sponsor Dodd's bill or the House version (HR 1415). You might also ask Dodd's fellow-presidential candidates--Senators Clinton and Obama – why they haven't signed on yet.

3. Voting Representation for DC

The House of Representatives passed legislation that would give approximately 600,000 Washingtonians a voting representative in Congress for the first time. Now, the Senate has the opportunity to help finish the job by passing the DC House Voting Rights Act (S. 1257). Contact your Senator and urge support for this critical legislation.

4. The Right to Organize

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would strengthen workers' freedom to organize by requiring employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing representation. It would also create stronger penalties for management violations of the right to organize when workers seek to form a union. The House approved EFCA, but the legislation couldn't get past Senate Republicans who--as Ari Berman recently posted--have the Senate "in a state of permanent filibuster." So today, help elect a Democratic Senate that is filibuster-proof, and a Democratic President who won't veto this legislation if it does get passed. As Senator Sherrod Brown said of the EFCA effort, "We will keep coming back, year after year after year."

5. Save Internet Radio

Internet radio has become a tremendously popular source of news and views plus music. In just the last year the online radio audience increased from 45 million to 72 million listeners each month. The founding fathers couldn't have anticipated the wonders of the electronic world. But I think it's safe to say that the democratic free-for-all of internet radio would have met with their approval as a crucial part of the fourth estate that Jefferson held was critical to a functioning democracy. Unfortunately, the future of Internet radio is in doubt as royalty rates for webcasters have been drastically increased by a recent ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board. The only hope is that sufficient grassroots pressure can be applied in support of the Internet Radio Equality Act, recently introduced by the unlikely duo of Senators Ron Wyden and Sam Brownback. The bill would put internet radio on par with satellite radio and undo a prohibitive $500 per channel royalty fee. Please implore your senators and reps to co-sponsor and vote in favor of the Internet Radio Equality Act (HR 2060) and ask your friends to join the coalition to save internet radio.


Bonus Video:
Watch Bruce Springsteen sing what he calls the "greatest song ever written about America"--Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land.

The Most Patriotic Act of All

The Nation has always marched to a different drummer, opposing US involvement in the Spanish-American War and World War I and the Vietnam War, while giving all-out support to the US effort in World War II. Former Nation editor Ernest Gruening of Alaska was one of only two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to the Vietnam debacle.

As a result, we've been called--among other things--un-American and unpatriotic throughout the 142 years The Nation has been around and publishing. After all, going back to our founding by abolitionists, through the movement for labor rights in the 20s and 30s, and the movement for civil rights in the 60s, those who fought to achieve the American dream of equal rights for all were scorned, ridiculed and deemed disloyal.

Our definition of patriotism is fighting to make sure your country lives up to its highest ideals--which is one reason the magazine published a special issue on patriotism for its 125th anniversary in July 1991. It came during the aftermath of the First Gulf War, when many of that war's opponents were being slapped with the "unpatriotic" label. The anniversary issue was a reflection of our love of country and it gave voice to the rich and diverse panoply of ideas about what patriotism means, has meant, and will mean.

In the lead editorial, the eminent political thinker John Schaar described the issue and its contributors: "This patriotism is rooted in the love of one's own land and people, love too of the best ideals of one's own culture and tradition…This patriotism too has deep roots and long continuity in our history. Its voice is often temporarily shouted down…but it has never been stilled…We should not be surprised if this voice is often heard lamenting or rebuking the country's failures to live up to its own best ideals, which have always been the ideals of the fullest possible freedom and the most nearly equal justice for all…There are about as many kinds of patriots and patriotism [in this issue] as there are writers. And that is exactly as it should be. For the chief worry about the thing called patriotism is that one or another group is always trying to grab the term, put a parochial meaning on it and impose that meaning as the only legitimate one, silencing and excluding others, denying them a place at the table."

Here are some creative and keen insights on patriotism from other contributors in that issue:

William Sloane Coffin: "… But if uncritical lovers of their country are the most dangerous of patriots, loveless critics are hardly the best. If you love the good you have to hate evil, else you're sentimental; but if you hate evil more than you love the good, you're a good hater. Surely the best patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover's quarrel with their country…. Beyond saluting the flag, let us pledge allegiance ‘to the earth, and to the flora, fauna and human life that it supports; one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water, liberty, justice and peace for all.'"

Molly Ivins: "I believe patriotism is best expressed in our works, not our parades. We are the heirs of the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever been given. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident….' It is the constant struggle to protect and enlarge that legacy, to make sure that it applies to all citizens, that patriotism lies…. Vote, write, speak, work, march, sue, organize, fight, struggle--whatever it takes to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Ran across one of our good [legislators] at the end of the last session…. He said he felt like a country dog in the city. ‘If I run they bite my ass, if I hold still, they fuck me.' Calling all country dogs: It's a helluva fight."

Jesse Jackson: "… Those who have fought for the highest and best principles of our country, the true patriots, have been vilified and crucified. The true patriots invariably disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and are persecuted in their lifetimes even as their accomplishments are applauded after their deaths…."

Mario Cuomo: "The term ‘patriotism' seems to be raised most often in the context of military action and at times has been used as a test of support for our country's military activities. But I understand it to include a respect for contrasting viewpoints, an acceptance of dissent, a tolerance--and even a welcoming--of the clashing diversity of voices that is uniquely American…. A proper patriotism would recognize that there are no absolutes when it comes to solving our social and international problems, except the standard by which we must judge all goals--our willingness to help one another, and to help others."

Natalie Merchant: "Patriotism asks that we embrace a unified America, yet no simple vision of America can accommodate its diversity.... The heritage we retain and the characteristics of the one we adopt intermingle; we are defining and becoming American…. There is one tradition in America I am proud to inherit. It is our first freedom and the truest expression of our Americanism: the ability to dissent without fear. It is our right to utter the words, ‘I disagree.' We must feel at liberty to speak those words to our neighbors, our clergy, our educators, our news media, our lawmakers and, above all, to the one among us we elect President."

Other contributors to the patriotism included Floyd Abrams, Sue Coe, Slavenka Drakulic, Martin Duberman, Howard Fast, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Vivian Gornick, David Halberstam, Hendrick Hertzberg, Margot Kidder, Erwin Knoll, Ring Lardner Jr., Colman McCarthy, Mary McGrory, Katha Pollitt, Calvin Trillin and Gore Vidal.

Sixteen years later, on this Fourth of July, our nation is so very far from fulfilling the promise articulated by these great patriots. That's why The Nation continues to publish and struggle to make this a better place--to repair and renew that which has been shredded: our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution… always informed by what the eminent historian Eric Foner wrote in the days after 9/11, "At times of crisis, the most patriotic act of all is the unyielding defense of civil liberties, the right to dissent and equality before the law for all Americans."