The Nation

Car Seat Hazards

Car seats are admittedly a parochial concern. And, although I have two small kids at home, car seats are something I haven't had to think about as much as most parents because we're lucky enough to not own a car (and to live in one of the few areas of America in which lack of car ownership isn't a crippling hindrance.)

Still, I couldn't help noticing the headline in an email I recently received from the terrific enviro mag Grist. It seems that car seats have now joined the list of potential dangers to your children. Apparently, crash tests aren't the only way to prove the safety of a car seat. A Michigan-based environmental group, The Ecology Center, released a study this week indicating that chemicals such as chlorine, bromine and lead - which have been linked to cancer, as well as liver, thyroid and developmental problems in children and lab animals - could be leaching from seats, endangering the health of young children.

The center, which tested 62 different car seats, obviously isn't advocating driving with your kids on the lap Britney Spears-style. "Car seats save lives. It's absolutely essential that parents put their children in them while driving," says the group's Jeff Gearhart, but "some car seats are safer than others when it comes to chemical composition."

The Ecology Center suggests the Graco SnugRide Emerson or EvenFlo Discovery Churchill as the two safest seats to buy. The most dangerous: The Combi Centre EX Mango and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Toffee infant seats; Britax Marathon Platinum convertible seats; and Graco's TurboBooster Emily and TurboBooster SafeSeat booster seats.

Click here to check out a database listing the results for all car seats. And if you own one of the chairs that is a candidate for leaching, the report suggests parking out of direct sunlight, opening car windows, cleaning regularly, and limiting junior's time in the seat as ways to decrease the chances of ingesting chemical.

Taken together with the fact that the number one cause of death for infants and children in the US is automobile accidents, I suggest simply driving less.

The (Air) Power of Withdrawal

In a recent inside-the-fold round-up of the previous day's mayhem in Iraq, David S. Cloud, writing for my hometown paper, devoted 729 words to an account of American casualties from IEDs ("Six American soldiers and their interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad..."), Iraqi Army, police, insurgent, and civilian casualties, and various bombers -- all of whom were on the ground: suicide bombers, car bombers, truck bombers. Nine words in the report were devoted to the American air war: "American troops killed eight suspected insurgents on Sunday, the military said -- six in an airstrike near Garma, in Anbar Province, and two southwest of Baghdad." We have no further information on that air strike in Garma; no idea what kind of aircraft struck, or with what weaponry, or how those in the air were so certain that those dead on the ground were "suspected insurgents," or who exactly suspected them of being insurgents. The equivalent Washington Post round-up did not even mention that the operation involved an air strike.

This has been fairly typical of the last few years of minimalist to nonexistent mainstream media coverage of the air war in Iraq, based almost singularly on similarly minimalist military press handouts or statements. We do, however, know something about an air strike, also "in the Garma area," last December in which the U.S. military announced that it had "destroyed a foreign fighter safe house in a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, killing five insurgents, two women and a child." Local residents later claimed to an Iraqi journalist that the strike had actually "killed nine members of the same family -- three women, three girls and three boys -- and wounding a man." Air power, for all its "precision," remains a remarkably indiscriminate form of warfare, though headlines like this one from the BBC, are seldom seen here: "US attack ‘kills Iraqi children.'"

We also know from a recent report that the ill-covered operations of the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan have nonetheless significantly degraded American equipment, in the air as on the ground. According to the Air Combat Command's Gen. Ronald Keys, U.S. planes and helicopters are wearing down (and out) from conducting so many missions "in harsh environments." For instance, the general tell us that the A-10 -- a plane used regularly because "its cannon is particularly effective in strafing" -- is increasingly likely to have "cracked wings."

Keep in mind that, however poorly covered these last years, air power has long been the American way of war. After all, it was no mistake that the Iraq war began with a pure show of air power meant to "shock and awe" not just Iraqis but the world. And yet, in recent years in Iraq, the only "bombers" we hear about are of the suicide car or truck variety. This is strange indeed, because nothing should have stopped American journalists from visiting our air bases in the region, from spending time with pilots, or from simply looking up at the evidently crowded skies over their hotels.

The only good mainstream report on American air power in Iraq in this period has been Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece, "Up in the Air," in December 2005 -- significantly enough, by a journalist who had never set foot in Iraq. He reminded us then of something forgotten for several decades -- that President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan to withdraw all American "ground troops" (but not tens of thousands of U.S. advisors) from South Vietnam also involved a massive ratcheting upward of the American air war. Hersh reported that, in late 2005, George W. Bush's Iraqification formula ("Our strategy is straightforward: As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down…") was but a Vietnamization plan in sheep's clothing. As he wrote at the time: "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."

In recent months, as the revived Taliban has surged in Afghanistan and U.S. as well as NATO troops have proven in short supply, this is just what has happened. Air power has increasingly been called upon; civilian casualties have been spiking; and Afghans have been growing ever more upset and oppositional. Iraq will undoubtedly be next. There is, as Nick Turse indicates below, already evidence that the use of air power is "surging" in that country.

Here, then, is a post-surge formula to keep in mind: "Withdrawal" equals an increase in air power (as long as the commitment to withdraw isn't a total one). This is no less true of the "withdrawal" plans of the major Democratic presidential candidates and the Democratic congressional mainstream as it is of any administration planning for future draw-downs. All of these plans are largely confined to withdrawing or redeploying American "combat brigades," which add up to only something like half of all American forces in Iraq. None of this will necessarily lessen the American war there. As Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Hersh, it may only "change the mix of the forces doing the fighting." A partial withdrawal is actually likely, at least for a time, to increase the destructive brutality of the war on the American side.

Since 2004, my website, Tomdispatch.com, has, from a distance, been following as carefully as possible what can be known about the American air war in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Tomdispatch regular Nick Turse has been heroically on the job of late. His latest piece (which also appears in abbreviated form in the latest issue of the Nation Magazine) is, I believe, the best assessment of the air war that can, at present, be found in our media world.

Dodd YouTubes Clinton, Obama on War Funding

Chris Dodd is YouTubing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama again, and this time it's serious. Indeed, the Connecticut senator is leaving no space for the Democratic presidential frontrunners to continue dancing around the rapidly-developing debate over just how serious Democrats are about forcing President Bush to bring troops home from Iraq.

Take a look:

Dodd, the Connecticut senator who is a long-shot contender for the party's nod in 2008, used a YouTube video earlier this month to highlight his support for Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 120 days. That forced the frontrunners in the race, New York Senator Clinton and Illinois Senator Obama, who had been wavering on the issue, to join 27 other Democrats who voted to advance Feingold's exit strategy.

Now, with the Senate poised to vote on a "blank check" supplemental spending bill that will give President Bush more money than he has asked for to maintain the occupation – with no timeline for withdrawal and only inconsequential "benchmarks" attached -- Dodd is promising to oppose the measure.

Speaking in his new campaign video of his support for extracting troops from Iraq on a rapid timeline, Dodd argues: "We need clarity. We need bold decisions here. It's time that we say that we are going to complete that redeployment process within the year. And I'm urging my colleagues and others who are running for president to join me in this move. We need to send a very clear message that the time to redeploy begins now and ends within the year. Not an open-ended check. Not a blank check. Not a half-policy when it comes to Iraq. It's not easy to say that, but it's important we do the right thing. I think the right thing is to vote against the supplemental."

With the aggressive release of the video – Dodd aides were busy alerting political reporters to its release Wednesday evening – the senator is throwing down the gauntlet.

At a time when MoveOn.org is telling its members, "This is a key test vote on whether your representative is serious about ending the war," Dodd is making it the essential test for Clinton and Obama, both of whom refused on Wednesday to say how they would vote. (The fourth Democratic senator who is seeking the presidency, Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, will vote "yes" – confirming once more that he may be running for Secretary of State in a future Democratic administration but he is certainly not making a serious bid for the votes of the overwhelming majority of Democrats who want to end Bush's war.)

This does not necessarily mean that, if Clinton and Obama agree to give Bush the money he needs to continue surging U.S. troops deeper into the quagmire, early primary and caucus voters will turn to the Connecticut senator as their champion. The most likely beneficiary is still former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, a top-tier candidate who says, "The so-called compromise under discussion in Congress that would give the president another blank check to continue his failed war is a serious mistake. Full funding is full funding, no matter what you call it. Every member of Congress who wants to support our troops and end the war should oppose this proposal." And there is plenty of competition from other anti-war candidates, including Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who will be leading the charge against the measure in the House.

But Dodd is again playing a critical role in this campaign – that of the senior senator who is saying "no" to the president and forcing the hand of senators who might otherwise give Bush what he wants. No matter how the voting goes on the supplemental spending bill, grassroots Democrats who oppose the war ought to appreciate that it is Dodd who is leading in the Senate, not Clinton or Obama.


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.'"

You Have The Power!

It feels like everything and nothing is occurring on the Hill these days.

Democrats in Congress are caving on Iraq, compromising on trade, backtracking on ethics reform and pushing for an immigration bill that nobody likes.

Governing with a razor-thin majority ain't easy. And Democrats have done a robust and effective job at oversight, as promised. But they still lack either the backbone or the discipline to take real risks and fight the status quo.

It was fascinating to hear Nancy Pelosi hint that she will vote against her own House's latest Iraq funding bill. Could you imagine Tom DeLay acquiescing like that? Not to suggest that DeLay is a model for governance, but he would've pushed to get what he wanted--and only scheduled a vote once he did.

Ditto on immigration. Immigrant rights groups like the bill that passed the Senate last year, under Republican rule, better than the accord struck last week.

Even popular and straightforward measures, like raising the minimum wage, have been stalled for months.

Yesterday House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released a five-month progress report, trumpeting Democratic successes. It was an odd bit of timing.

Loyal to the White House, Not the Rule of Law

Regent University School of Law graduate Monica Goodling, whose meteoric rise to the highest levels of the Department of Justice puther in a position to aid and abet a program of politicizingprosecutions by US Attorneys, opened her testimony before the HouseJudiciary Committee Wednesday by invoking her Fifth Amendment right torefuse to make statements that might incriminate her. Committee ChairJohn Conyers, D-Michigan, then delivered to Goodling a grant ofimmunity that allowed her to do something that is rare indeed for Bushadministration true believers: Tell the truth, the whole truth andnothing but the truth.

Goodling was right to be concerned about incriminating herself. Underquestioning from Democratic committee members, the former politicalcommissar for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedly admitted to"crossing the line" that separates legal and illegal activities byfederal officials. In so doing she offered another powerful insightinto the way in which the Bush administration, to which Goodling saysshe was unquestioningly loyal, has replaced the rule of law withpolitical calculations.

Whether Goodling met the "truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth"mandate remains open to question. Like her former boss, she sufferedfrom convenient memory loss at times regarding critical questions. ButGoodling's "I don't recalls" came far less frequently than those ofGonzales. And she was willing to take a good deal more responsibilityfor what went awry in the Department of Justice than has the man whoremains, tenuously, in charge of the agency.

Goodling opened her testimony with a declaration that she had "nodesire" to speak negatively about those she worked with in the Bushadministration. She then proceeded to point fingers of blame atmembers of what she described as her DOJ "family," including those whohad revealed details of her role in the scandal over the hiring andfiring of US Attorneys for political reasons.

Goodling went on to:

• confirm that former DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson had compiled alist of US Attorneys who would be fired -- apparently for beinginsufficiently partisan in their inquiries and prosecutions -- and thatGonzales had been aware of the list and involved in meetings about it,

• place White House political czar Karl Rove in a room where thefirings were discussed,

• acknowledge that, as early as 2OO5, there was talk about forcingUS Attorneys out to make way for White House favorites and

• explain how US Attorneys were "rewarded" for helping to promoteand defend the Patriot Act, at a time when that law was under attack asan assault on basic liberties.

The former White House liaison for the DOJ told the committee she neverattended meetings with top White House aides involving the areas forwhich she was responsible. At several turns, Goodling portrayed herselfas a strangely disconnected and powerless underling who was left out ofmeetings, told to stay in the shadows, sent away from importantsessions in taxis and otherwise neglected, dismissed and overlooked.Yes, she may have had the title of Director of Public Affairs, but,"no," Goodling told the committee, she was "not a decision-maker."Rather, she at one point presented herself as a sort of departmentalcheerleader who would send out e-mails to political appointees asking"Hey, who wants to go up to the White House...?"

But the woman who earned her law degree from a school that teachescourses on how lawyers in positions of authority can use their power toidentify and punish "sins," confirmed the crisis in the Bushadministration's Justice Department, and the manner in which sheperpetuated it.

"I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking politicalquestions of applicants for career positions, and may have takeninappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions,"Goodling told the committee early in her testimony. She said she made"snap judgments" to block qualified applicants because they wereDemocrats or "liberal." Only under intense questioning from committee members LindaSanchez, D-California, and Jerry Nadler, D-New York, did she offer thedetails and perspective that made it clear her so-called "mistakes"were part of a deliberate and ongoing pattern of politicization of thehiring process at the nation's chief law-enforcement agency.

Goodling, a former opposition researcher for the Republican NationalCommittee, explicitly admitted to applying political and ideologicallitmus tests when interviewing applicants for key federal positions.

Even when Republican committee members attempted to diminish thesignificance of her admissions -- or, in the case of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, to repeatedly interrupt legitimate lines of questioning -- Goodling continued to acknowledge that she had "crossed lines" of right and wrong.

Later, Goodling said that, despite invoking the Fifth, she did notbelieve she had violated any laws. In fact, the Hatch Act and a host ofother civil service laws and federal rules make it clear that theaggressive politicization of federal agencies is illegal. Underquestioning from Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, Goodling admitted asmuch -- albeit, grudgingly.

Noting that the former Justice Department aide has acknowledged makingpersonnel decisions based on political considerations, Scott asked, "Doyou believe that it was legal or illegal for you to take thosepolitical considerations into account?"

Goodling stumbled several times before admitting, "The best I can sayis that I know I took political considerations into account."

"Do you believe they were illegal or legal?" asked Scott.

"I don't believe I intended to commit a crime," she answered,confirming that Regent University graduates are indeed trained to speakin a lawyerly manner.

Scott pressed: "Did you break the law? Is it against the law to takethose considerations into account?"

"I believe I crossed the lines," Goodling replied, "but I didn't meanto."

By "crossed the lines," Scott asked, did she mean that she had violatedfederal civil service laws?

Goodling responded: "I crossed the line of the civil service rules."

Scott clarified that those "rules" are, in fact, "laws."

The congressman got to the point of the inquiry into US Attorneyhiring and firing issues when he said that it appeared that in AlbertoGonzales' Department of Justice "the culture of loyalty to theadministration was more important than loyalty to the rule of law."

Nothing in Monica Goodling's testimony contradicted that impression.----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' latest book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. Reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Deathbed Czars

As a group of self-posturing macho men not afraid of a little torture, the Republicans do seem to have a habit of trying to take advantage of people when they are literally on their sick beds. Newt Gingrich handed his first wife the divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer. Tom Delay and Bill Frist sought, and fortunately failed, to score political points over Terri Schiavo. And now we've learned that Alberto Gonzales made a hospital call to get warrantless wiretaps OK'd.

In riveting Senate testimony worthy of a spy thriller, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described how then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card raced to a hospital in March 2004 to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve what he, Comey, and FBI Director Robert Miller considered to be an illegal, unconstitutional power grab by the Bush administration. In a rare profile in courage, all three threatened to resign, forcing President Bush to order changes in the program.

"I was very angry," Comey testified. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man."

So whom did the White House pick to replace Ashcroft after he had defied Bush? Why Alberto Gonzales, of course.

Big Brother is alive and well.

George Packer Replies

Earlier this month, I argued that pro-war journalists and pundits had escaped real accountability for their support of the disastrous war and occupation in Iraq. I opened by expressing surprise that George Packer in his elegant "Talk of the Town" piece on George Tenet's new memoirs could indict the Bush Administration for coming "close to perfecting the art of unaccountability" without including a critical inventory of his own and other pro-war journalists' accountability. Just the other day, I received an e-mail reply from Packer--someone who's written over the years for this magazine, though not on Iraq. I thought it worth sharing--and with George's permission, I post it here.

Dear Katrina--

I only just read your blog post on my comment about accountability.I appreciated your kind words about it, but I also wanted to answeryour point that I haven't held myself accountable on Iraq. This isuntrue. When I wrote "The Assassins' Gate," well after it was clearthat the Iraq war had gone badly wrong, I let readers know that Ihad supported the war despite many misgivings and much ambivalence--something they would not otherwise have known, since I never wrotea word in support before the war. I "outed" myself when it wasn'tnecessary or in my interest, because I thought I owed it to myreaders. This turned out to be a P.R. mistake, since I'm nowroutinely lumped with all the liberal hawk pundits who cheered onthe march to war. There's nothing I can do to correct thatmisimpression, but I can ask other writers of good will not torepeat it. Since the beginning of the war, I've gone to Iraq againand again to find out what is happening there, and I don't think anhonest reader could say that my reports have been easy on pro-warideas, including my own. What I've written has given war critics agreat deal of ammunition against war supporters, and they have usedit. I've written many times, including in "The Assassins' Gate,"that the war turned out to be a disaster and an epic mistake. Ifall of this isn't holding myself accountable, then your idea ofaccountability is narrower than mine.


Not a "Compromise," It's a Blank Check

The question is not whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flinched in their negotiations with the Bush administration over the continuation of the Iraq occupation.

They did. Despite some happy talk about benchmarks that have been attached to the Iraq supplemental spending bill that is expected to be considered by Congress this week, the willingness of Pelosi and Reid to advance a measure that does not include a withdrawal timeline allows Bush to conduct the war as he chooses for much if not all of the remainder of his presidency. This failure to abide by the will of the people who elected Democrats to end the war will haunt Pelosi, Reid and their party -- not to mention the United States and the battered shell that is Iraq.

This "compromise" legislation is such an embarrassing example of what happens when raw politics overwhelms principle -- and political common sense -- that House Democrats have divided the $12O billion measure into two sections. That will allow Republicans and sold-out Democrats to vote for the president's Iraq funding, while anti-war Democrats and their handful of Republican allies can vote "no." Then both Democratic camps can vote separately for the second section -- including a federal minimum-wage increase and more than $8 billion in funding for domestic programs -- while Republicans oppose this section.

Presuming that both parts pass the House, they will then be sent to the Senate as a single bill for members of that chamber to accept or reject. The end result of this confusing set of legislative maneuvers will be twofold: Lots of House members will be able to avoid accountability for their votes, while Bush will get his blank check.Even Pelosi says she'll vote against the Iraq funding section of the House bill because it lacks "a goal or a timetable" for extracting U.S. troops from the conflict. But, no matter how she votes, Pelosi will have facilitated a process that gives the president more war funding than he had initially requested

But the real story now is not the refusal of the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to hold steady in the face of the president's cynical claim that refusing him a blank check to maintain his war through the end of his presidency somehow threatens U.S. troops. That has happened and no matter what games are played with voting procedures, the reality is that the Democratic leadership has failed to lead at the most critical juncture.

The question that remains to be answered is a frustrating but significant one: How many Democrats and responsible Republicans will refuse to accept this ugly political calculus?

What we know is that there will be opposition. MoveOn.org, which provided critical cover for the Democratic leadership during earlier fights on the supplemental and related matters, is now urging all Democrats to vote "no" on the war funding -- and it is threatening in-district ad campaigns against Democrats and Republicans who back the measure.

The most genuinely anti-war members will not need any encouragement to reject the deal.

Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has led the fight to get Congress to use the power of the purse to bring the troops home, immediately announced that he would not follow Reid into the abyss of surrender to a White House that is getting everything that it wants.

"Under the president's Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President's open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war," says Feingold. "I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history."

Anticipating the cynical gamesmanship of the debate that will play out this week, the Wisconsin Democrat says, "There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq."

Feingold is, of course, right. But how many senators will join him in voting "no"? That question is especially significant for the four Senate Democrats who are seeking their party's presidential nomination: New York's Hillary Clinton, Illinois' Barack Obama, Delaware's Joe Biden and Connecticut's Chris Dodd. Dodd says he is "disappointed" by the abandonment of the timeline demand; if he presses the point as he did on another recent war-related vote, he could force the hands of the other candidates. If either Clinton or Obama do go ahead and vote for the legislation, and certainly if both of them do so, they will create a huge opening for former North Carolina John Edwards, who has staked out the clearest anti-war position of the front runners for the nomination. But this is about more than just Democratic presidential politics: A number of Senate Republicans who are up for reelection next year -- including Maine's Susan Collins, Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Oregon's Gordon Smith -- may well be casting the most important votes of their political careers.

Collins, Coleman and Smith have tried to straddle the war debate. If they vote to give George Bush another blank check, however, they will have removed any doubt regarding how serious they are about ending the war -- as will their colleagues on both sides of the aisle.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Stanford Students Expect "Moral Integrity" from Prez

This morning, eleven Stanford University students began occupying the lobby of their president's office demanding humane conditions for the workers who make clothes and hats bearing their school logo. Specifically, the student activists are asking President John Hennessy to take a constructive role in fighting sweatshops by joining the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) by the end of today (if you're reading this on the East Coast, note that he still has a few hours). The WRC was founded by students and labor rights seven years ago as an alternative to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a far more industry-influenced monitoring group; the WRC, which has 169 collegiate members, has succeeded in improving conditions for some workers, and many observers agree that the competition has improved the FLA. "We know President Hennessy has the moral integrity to take this step," said Bethany Woolman, a sophomore who was occupying the presidential lobby. "But we know he needs the support of students to do it."

A rally of about 100 students assembled outside the building to support the sit-in, addressed by a woman who'd worked in a sweatshop in Saipan (a U.S. territory where garment industry abuses are egregious). The Stanford students also want their university to sign onto the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a system devised by the WRC for better protecting garment workers' rights, and enforcing universities' existing codes of conduct. As wonky as it sounds, the DSP's practical approach has caught fire among students. Last week, the University of Washington avoided a sit-in by signing on to the DSP. I recently reported on sit-ins over this issue at University of Southern California and the University of Michigan.

This is the Stanford's second sit-in over labor rights this spring; in April, students went on a hunger strike demanding that Stanford's living wage policy cover more campus workers. The administration met most of their demands but has been remarkably unresponsive on the sweatshop issue. Might last year's $105 million donation to the Stanford Business School by Nike CEO Phil Knight be complicating Hennessy's decision just a wee bit? (Nike is a major manufacturer of collegiate apparel and Knight is a dogged opponent of anti-sweatshop reformers.) It wouldn't be the first time that Knight-ly generosity has informed university policy; seven years ago, the University of Oregon backed out of the WRC after threats from big donor Phil. Stanford's administration hasn't called me back yet, but when they do, I'll let you know what they have to say about this. Meanwhile, a few cops have joined the party and are expected to arrest the students in a couple hours.