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French election: Le Pen contained

I'm still in northern France. Today, French voters particiapted in record high numbers in the first round of the presidential elections. The Gaullist Party's Nicolas Sarkozy got around 30% and the Socialists' Segolene Royal got 25.2%. The voters also delivered a sharp rebuff to the far-right, anti-immigrant candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, giving him only 11.5%.

That means that Sarko and Sego will go to the second round run-off on May 6. Five years ago, Le Pen shocked much of the French intelligentsia by beating the Socialist candidate (Lionel Jospin) into second place, and thus got into the run-off ballot against Chirac a couple of weeks later.

Lille is in a traditionally leftwing part of the country; and many leftists here were shocked in 2002 that even this district had put Le Pen top of the ballot. This time, in the "département" of which Lille is a part, Le Pen got some 14.7%, Sarko got 29.7%, and Sego got 23.0%.

There were twelve candidates on yesterday's ballot. Apart from those three, the other "big" one was the centrist Francois Bayrou, who got 18.3% of the national vote.

In the run-off, the outcome will depend to some extent which way Bayrou's supporters will turn. The other eight candidates are nearly all from the left. On the French TF-1 television this evening, I saw a Communist Party Senator saying clearly that their party will call for its supporters to come behind Segolene; and I imagine most other leftists will do that. Many of Le Pen's people can be expected to support Sarkozy.

Sarkozy has made quite a break with some of the stiff nationalism the Gaullists have traditionally held to; and he's been seen as far more pro-US than most Gaullists have been in the part. To a certain extent he's had to run away from his pro-US sentiments during the election so far. But he is definitely seen as eager to start dismantling some key aspects of the French "social contract" and shifting the country to what is described here as "the Anglo-Saxon model" of social-service dismantlement.

In the last few days of the campaign, Sarko also started talking quite openly about the importance of his Christian beliefs and the fact that France should be less militantly secularist than it has been for the past 125 years.

Is this a "George Allen" dodge? Like Allen, Sarko is someone with immigrant (and Jewish) heritage who may perhaps be waving all this Christian business around in order to assuage suspicions he might be too "Jewish" for some of the Gaullist base?

If Sarko needs some pork chitlins to start handing out on campaign stops I'm sure George A. would be happy to send some along. Heck, the guy is even without a job. Maybe he could bring 'em over to France for you himself?

Yesterday I was riding Lille's fabulous metro system, which extends around 20 miles or so north to some other old industrial towns with long leftwing traditions. We went to the former municipal swimming baths in Roubaix, which has been turned into a really beautiful art museum. ("La Piscine.") But they've kept in place many of the finely wrought art deco furnishings of the public baths: a monument to the longheld ideals of the common good...

On the way there I overheard some Afro-French women seated in front of me talking about whether they would bother to go and vote. From the way they were talking, it seemed the main issue for them was whether they would go to vote against Sarko, rather than voting for Sego or anyone else. I gather that's been quite a common phenomenon.

Anyway, the next round will be a hard fight. Sego hasn't really projected herself yet as having distinctive ideas. But she's run a competent campaign. And at least the outcome so far indicates that (1) the left is not dead in France, as was feared immediately after 2002, and (2) Le Pen-ism can be countered and put back in its box.

A Race Worth Watching for France's Presidency

French voters have set up a race worth watching for one of the highest-profile presidencies on the planet. A pair of relatively young and dynamic candidates, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, led Sunday's first-round voting and will face one another in a May 6 run-off vote that is expected to draw an extremely high turnout.

Sarkozy goes into the run-off race ahead. But serious observers of the French political landscape caution against counting Royal, whose slow-starting campaign surged in the final days before Sunday's vote, out in a clash of ideological and personal contrasts.

Though Sarkozy is a good deal more liberal than many American Democrats, he is by European standards a man of the right. And Royal, the first woman to make it into a second-round race for the French presidency, is anything but a radical.

But their contest will be a classic fight between the right and left in a country that remains the counterpoint to the United States on a host of foreign-policy issues -- not least the future of the Middle East, where the French government of outgoing conservative President Jacques Chirac has led international opposition to the military adventurism of the Bush's administration.

While he has the grudging support of Chirac, Sarkozy is far more rhetorically friendly to the U.S. than most prominent French politicians. Speaking last year at the French Embassy in Washington, he offered the reassurance that, "You Americans were struck in the heart on September 11, 2001, and never understood our opposition to the intervention in Iraq. Some of you, to call a spade a spade, even felt it as a form of betrayal."

Royal, while hardly anti-American, does call "a spade a spade" when speaking of the world's least popular leader.

Addressing 15,000 supporters in Toulouse last week, Royal declared, "We will not go down on our knees before George Bush."

Ultimately, however, the French race will be decided on domestic issues -- with Sarkozy and Royal battling for the votes of centrists torn between the conservative's promise of corporation-friendly free-market economic reforms and the Socialist's promise that "human values will triumph."

There is no question that U.S. media owes Americans serious coverage of a critical contest for the presidency of this country's oldest international ally -- indeed, the country that has a history of caring enough about the U.S. to tell its leaders when they are wrong.

But that attention ought not be limited to the specifics of the Sarkozy-Royal competition.

In America, where turnout even for intense presidential elections is exceptionally low by international standards, and where there is a growing restlessness about the claustrophobic impact of archaic state election systems and the Electoral College on our democracy, there is something to be learned from the French process.

By holding elections on a two-stage schedule, France avoids many of the pitfalls of the American system. France has its Ross Perots, Ralph Naders and Pat Buchanans, and they run for the presidency. Indeed, they are given a far fairer share of attention by the media than they get in the United States. As such, the boundaries of French politics are broader, the messages of campaigns more adventurous and exciting. Perhaps that is why turnout Sunday was 85 percent.

Rarely do ideologically or personally extreme candidates make it through the first round. And, when they do, they are obliterated in the second round, as was nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002. That creates a politics that, at its best, emphasizes both the power of ideas and the importance of coalition building.

The French system, with its two candidate run-off, assures that presidents are elected with a majority of the vote -- unlike Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, when Perot's independent candidacies pulled enough votes to prevent anyone from gaining a majority, and George Bush in 2000, when Nader's Green candidacy secured enough support in key states to be portrayed as warping the Electoral College result against the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore. [In fairness, the Supreme Court did more to warp the result, when it stopped the Florida recount. But in France, the fight never would have gotten to the Bush-friendly court.]

The point here is not to suggest that the French system is necessarily better in every sense than the American system. Rather, the point is that there are other ways to elect presidents -- and that Americans, as ponder reforms at home, might learn a little from the country that, with its support of our revolution against British colonialism, midwifed the United States into being.

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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.'"

Vermont Votes to Impeach

The Vermont Senate voted 16-9 Friday morning to urge the state's congressional delegation to introduce and support articles of impeachment against President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Dozens of communities across the country -- including forty towns in Vermont -- have urged that Congress begin the process of impeaching and removing Bush and Cheney. But this is the first time that a state legislative chamber has done made the call.

The move, which is the latest win for Vermont's large and active impeachment movement, puts pressure on freshman Democratic Congressman Peter Welch.

Welch has met with impeachment backers, but has been cautious about challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's declaration that impeachment is "off the table."

The overwhelming vote in the Senate will make it harder for Welch to dodge the issue, especially since the measure was introduced by the Democratic leader of the Senate, Peter Shumlin, along with state Senator Jeanette White.

Shumlin and White both represent the Windham County region, where the impeachment-from-below movement was initiated more than a year ago by Newfane town selectman Dan DeWalt. DeWalt says activists will continue to push for an impeachment vote in the state House -- and, of course, the U.S. House.

For now, however, they can celebrate the fact that their state is officially on record as seeking impeachment, in the form of the Senate resolution that declares: "[Bush and Cheney] have exercised the duties of their respective offices with respect to both domestic and foreign affairs in ways that raise serious questions of constitutionality, statutory legality, and abuse of public trust."

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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.'"

GOP to Gonzales: Care For Some Hemlock?

The reviews are in: The Bush White House pronounces the president "pleased" with his solicitor's response to the rabble.

It is a discreet pleasure.

While the president may be satisfied with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the response of just about everyone else -- including some of the nation's most conservative Republicans -- was anything but positive.

The online report on the testimony at the site of the National Review, America's leading conservative magazine, was headlined: "Alberto Gonzales strikes out."

The report declared the Attorney General's testimony about his role in the U.S. Attorneys scandal to have been "disastrous."

"Judging by his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, there are three questions about the U.S. attorneys mess that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants answered: What did I know? When did I know it? And why did I fire those U.S. attorneys?" observed writer Byron York, no liberal he. "As the day dragged on, it became clear -- painfully clear to anyone who supports Gonzales -- that the attorney general didn't know the answers."

For the record, Gonzales hit what many believe to have been a record for "don't recalling" by a Cabinet member appearing before an oversight hearing: 64. And that does not count the dozens of "do-not-remember" and "can't-quite-recollect" variations.

But Gonzales will be worrying less about National Review than about Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. Sure, Democrats were tough on Gonzales, but many of the roughest critiques came from the Attorney General's partisan "allies."

The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, greeted Gonzales Thursday by suggesting that the Attorney General's account of his "limited" involvement in the firing of U.S. Attorneys who appear to have rejected White House political czar Karl Rove's demand that they politicize prosecutions was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

After the hearing, Specter said, "I think your credibility has been significantly impaired because of the panorama of responses you have made..."

Specter, a veteran prosecutor, said Gonzales' testimony had raised significant questions about his "ability to manage the department has been severely undercut by the way he has handled these resignations."

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, perhaps the most conservative member of the panel, was not left with any questions.

"The best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Coburn told Gonzales.

The Oklahoman rejected the Attorney General's suggestion that he was "taking responsibility" for the mess at the Department of Justice as empty talk. "[There] has to be consequences to accepting responsibility," the senator lectured.

Why the rabid response from senators who by the old rules of George Bush's Washington were supposed to be defending a Republican president's Attorney General?

Gonzales brought it upon himself.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, another veteran prosecutor, said he was "taken aback" by Gonzales' claim that he could not recall a November 2006 meeting at which he joined top Justice Department aides in a discussion of the firings of the U.S. attorneys. "To say he had no recollection whatsoever of that meeting, I have to think about that," said Sessions.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Gonzales during the hearing Thursday: "Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch. I think it's clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House and, you know, we made up reasons to fire them."

Graham did not actually offer Gonzales hemlock. But he did take the embattled Attorney General through a painful thought process.

Noting that Gonzales said the decision to fire the U.S. Attorneys "just came down to these were not the right people at the right time," the senator looked the Attorney General in the eyes and asked: "If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?"

Call it the Gonzales standard. And, now that the Senate has heard from the Attorney General, applying it has led to the bipartisan conclusion that Alberto Gonzales is the wrong man at the wrong time.

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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 Progressive Gap

Senator Bernie Sanders is frustrated. He believes there is a gap between the American people who are increasingly embracing progressive values and what's going on in Congress.

"The American people are way, way ahead on matters of the economy, war, global warming," he says, over coffee with a small group of reporters.

He points to recent CBS and Gallop polls showing that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the way George Bush is handling the economy; a margin of over two-to-one believe that "money should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people"; and even with the horribly phrased question, "Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich?" – 49 percent believe the government should, and only 47 percent believe it should not!

Yet despite the reality of the American people – who are struggling with job losses or work that doesn't pay the bills much less "luxuries" like education and health care – Sanders says that every day you hear Republicans on the Senate floor saying, "Thank God the economy is booming." And, we would add, too many Democrats refuse to confront this issue head on with real action.

Consider Sanders' National Priorities Act (which Sanders now refers to as the "New American Priorities Act") to "expand the middle class, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and lower the poverty rate." It achieves this largely through rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of American taxpayers. That's hardly "heavy taxes on the rich" and is supported by a plurality of Americans. And yet the bill currently has zero co-sponsors. Why? Are too many Democrats living with a fear leftover from the days when the right-wing extremists like DeLay, Hastert, and Frist were controlling the debate?

What really frustrates Sanders is that there are so many opportunities to address the real concerns of Americans and create jobs, improve the environment, create a more just society.

"Take global warming," he says. "There is nothing Congress could do that would be ahead of the American people on that. This is a moment when Americans understand that we need to radically transform our system, and we can create jobs while we do it."

Sanders points to opportunities for solar, wind energy, and electric cars that we aren't supporting. He cites California as a state that subsidizes installation of wind turbines by up to 50 percent. (Meanwhile, President Bush cut funds for a "weatherization" program to help low-income people make their homes energy efficient).

"America can become a leader on alternative energy as it ends it's dependency on fossil fuels, combats global warming – and, by the way, reduces your electric bill too," Sanders says.

Finally, Sanders is eager for Democrats to take on the issue of defense spending. "Are we really going to defeat Al-Qaeda with a missile defense system? Battleships and submarines? A staggering nuclear arsenal?" Democrats must have the courage to confront the "soft on terrorism" label by debating the most effective ways to combat terrorism. (An angry and saddened Sanders noted that despite a $600 billion defense budget the Bush Administration sent the troops to Iraq ill-equipped.)

Another obstacle to reforming the defense budget is the pressure representatives feel as the manufacturing base continues to hemorrhage jobs. (Vermont has lost 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last five years). Defense bills mean jobs for constituents. Again, Sanders points to the job creation opportunities of a new energy industry – labor intensive jobs as well as research and development positions.

When you listen to Sanders you know that he gets it. He understands the pocketbook concerns of Americans. And he understands the gap that exists between where the people want America to be, and where Inside-the-Beltway folks are currently willing to go.

With reporting from Capitol Hill by Gregory Kaufmann, a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.

The I-Don't-Recall Man

Many of you may not have had the time to tune into the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, as a public service, here's just the nub of what you need to know about his morning appearance, as taken down by your trusty scribe. Think of it as a little 3-minute primer for a busy world on the state of (in)Justice (Department of…) in America:

Gonzales' introductory statement: "I shoulda been more precise… My misstatements were my mistakes, no one else's… I have been extremely forthcoming with information… not the actions of someone with something to hide…"

Responses to Committee Chairman Sen. Leahy (D-VT.): "I can only recall… I don't recall… I did not know… it appears… I was not responsible for… I have no recollection… Again, Senator, I was not responsible for compiling that… I don't recall a specific mention… It appears… as I recall… I don't recall Senator Dominici ever…That rationale was not in my mind, as I recall… Senator, that's an answer that I have to get back to you… Senator, I'd like to give you that information, but…"

Responses to Sen. Specter (R-PA.): "Senator, I don't want to quarrel with you… Based on what I thought, what I understood was going on… I believed that was ongoing… I don't recall… What I recall is… I don't recall whether Mr. Mercer presented me the numbers… Senator, I have no recollection about that, but I presume that that is true… Senator, I do recall having a conversation with Mr. Rove… Senator, you're talking about a series of events that occurred over possibly 700 days… putting it in context, Senator, I would say that my involvement was limited… Senator, of course, in hindsight…"

Reponses to Sen. Kennedy (D-MA.): "I think that's a fair question, Senator… I was not the person in the Department who had the most information… Since then, I have gone back and looked at the documents available to Congress… I'm not aware that anyone… I believe that I had a good process… Senator, I did not review the document… Senator, I think it's a good question… I don't recall in connection to this review process Mr. Sampson was involved in… I don't recall everyone who was there… Senator, there may have been other discussions…"

Responses to Sen. Brownback (R-KS.): "I do not recall what I knew about… I just don't recall the reason… It appears there were concerns about… Now, in hindsight… I'm not aware of any new facts here… She's the other person, quite candidly, Senator, that I don't recall… I myself was confused, quite frankly, when I testified… Generally, I recall…"

Responses to interjection by Chairman Leahy: "Sir, I don't recall sending a follow-up quite frankly. I don't know if it was a mistake or misstatement in my testimony… "

Responses to Sen. Kohl (D-WI.): "Senator, I was never aware… Senator, again, this is a process that was ongoing that I didn't have transparency into… With all due respect Senator… he's the person who has the answers… Senator, I'll go back and see if there is something that I can do… We've done great things!..."

Senator Feinstein (D-CA.): "Senator, I don't recall specifically the genesis of the idea… I don't have any recollection about the mechanics of the legislative process… As I recall, his updates were brief… as Mr. Sampson gave me updates, I don't recall… I accept full responsibility… Senator, I don't recall making the decision that day… I don't recall exactly when I made the decision… Senator, I don't recall knowing whether… Senator, I don't know that…"

Great Britain headed for 'Velvet divorce'?

On May 3, the voters of Scotland are headed to the polls to vote for the third Scottish Parliament since that body was created in 1999. There is apparently a pretty strong chance of a Scottish Nationalist Party victory there. The SNP's manifesto calls-- in reasonably argued terms-- for Scotland's independence from the Union it has maintained with England for exactly 300 years now.

The newly emerged "Scottish question" is impacting London politics in some very significant ways. Only one of these is the newly emerging possibility that the Holyrood (Scottish) Parliament might move towards secession. Another is the fact that the Labour Party's anointed successor to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, who has loyally stood in line for years to wait for his turn as party and national leader, is now seen by many English people as far "too Scottish".

Until very recently being seen as Scottish would have been viewed by most English people either as a plus or as something fairly netural. But now, suddenly, a surge in anti-Scottishness among many English people suddenly has Brown's chances of winning the intra-party succession vote thrown into a serious degree of doubt.

Plus, Scotland has been a strong Labor stronghold since the birth of the Labour party. So an SNP victory there would signal a broad repudiation among many traditionally pro-Labour Scots of the Labour Party as Tony Blair has (re-)fashioned it... And then, an SNP-led secession from the Union would give the Tory Party a much stronger chance to recapture Westminster at the next election. (Indeed, it might hasten that election considerably.)

So the "Scottish Question" is big. The respected Scottish commentator Iain MacWhirter has argued for some months now that it may be time for a 'Velvet Divorce', similar to the one that in 1993 allowed the Czech Republic and Slovakia each to go very peaceably along its respective way.

The SNP's manifesto is worth reading in some detail. Here what it says on p.7:

    Scotland can be more successful. Looking around at home and at our near neighbours abroad, more and more Scots believe this too. Independence is the natural state for nations like our own.

Scotland has the people, the talent and potential to become one of the big success stories of the 21st century. We can match the success of independent Norway – according to the UN the best place in the world to live. We can do as well as independent Ireland, now the fourth most prosperous nation on the planet.

With independence Scotland will be free to flourish and grow. We can give our nation a competitive edge.

... Together we can build a more prosperous nation, a Scotland that is a force for good, a voice for peace in our world.

Free to bring Scottish troops home from Iraq.

Free to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland's shores.

Free to invest our oil wealth in a fund for future generations...

Note that reference to "our oil wealth"... With the vast majority of the North Sea oil that is currently controlled by London lying in what-- under any divorce-- would be Scotland's economic exploitation zone, that line in the manifesto is presumably sending shivers down the spine of economic planners in London. (Note, too, those to "bring[ing] Scottish troops home from Iraq" and "remov[ing] nuclear weapons from Scotland's shores." Those ideas also seem to be very popular in Scotland these days.)

How ironic would that be-- if, while government ministers in Washington and London argue about what final shape Iraq's governance structure should take, one significant fallout from Blair's decision to join W's war-venture in Iraq should turn out to be the dissolution of Britain's own 300-year-old Act of Union?

There are other reasons for many English people to worry about Scottish secession, too. One is that, without a concept of a shared "Britishness" to rely on, the question as to what it is that actually constitutes "Englishness" seems fairly hard to fathom.

I write this as someone who grow up in southern England, with Scottish, English, and Welsh forebears all proudly acknowledged as such within the family. And a high proportion of my "English" friends have similarly mixed ancestries.

But here's another thing on this vexed question of Englishness. I also grew up Anglican-- which, in terms of religious affiliation was in the England of the 1950s and 1960s a sort of an unthinking default option. Back then, if you were a Catholic, or a Jew, or a non-conformist (i.e., a member of a non-Anglican Protestant denomination), then you knew who you were and what you were supposed to believe.

If you were Anglican, you never even really questioned who you were; and you certainly were never required to believe anything in particular.

In this regard, the idea of "Englishness" feels to me like a sort of ethnic-affiliation 'default option.' It's what you are if you're British but you're are also not Scottish or Welsh or Irish.

I note that George Orwell, back in the day, had a similar problem figuring out what it was that constituted 'Englishness' for him. In one of his writings, it really came down to knowing how to make a proper, English-style pot of tea. And yes, that was an important task we had to master to get our Brownie Girl Guide badges back in the England of the 1950s...

MacWhiter has done some great writing many aspects of the Scottishness question. In this recent article, he wrote, fairly mildly:

    Most Scots seem to favour, not separation, but extending the powers of the Scottish parliament. They want a parliament that looks and behaves less like a Labour local council and more like national champion.

Inexplicably, Labour have decided to reject any significant alteration or enhancement of Holyrood's powers...

And here, he wrote about the anti-Scottishism expressed by many English writers:

    When commentators talk of the Scottish "raj", "whingeing Jocks", etc, they can indulge in identity politics without fear of being accused of supporting the BNP [the fascistic British National Party]. During last summer's footie wars, The Observer ran the front-page headline: "Brown under fresh pressure over Scottish roots". If Brown had been black the story would never have been printed.

This ethnic hostility is rife on the internet. It is an opportunity for English people to get it off their chests, to rant at the non-English, and to celebrate their own values. For one problem about criticising multiculturalism, and calling for a return to British values, is deciding what those values are. George Orwell's warm beer, cricket and spinsters on bicycles usually figure on the inventory of Britishness. But these are essentially English, rather than Scottish, values. It is not easy to have a Scottish "cricket test".

Now, I'm not for a second denying that Scots aren't guilty of this kind of communal hostility themselves. There is far too much anti-English feeling in Scotland which is excused as banter, but is - in its own way - racist. That's not the point.

This identity crisis may be one factor behind the withdrawal of English support for the union, and it is having a blow-back in Scotland. It may be that English nationalism is becoming a more important dynamic of constitutional change than Scottish nationalism. That like the Czech Republic before the velvet divorce from Slovakia, the momentum for dissolution is coming from the senior partner in the union...

So anyway, the May 3 Scottish election: Definitely one to watch.

(Cross-posted on Just World News.)

The Kids are Alright (Part 2)

Who says students are apathetic and narcissistic?

At Stanford University, twelve student members of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition have been staging a hunger strike for the last five days to protest the lack of a living wage for the school's contract employees. About a dozen people have been on a hunger strike, first camping out in White Plaza and then outside of Hennessy's office. The student group is "challenging Stanford to be the model employer that (it is) claiming to be," group spokesperson Shamala Gallagher told the Stanford Daily.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance celebrated a major victory last week when McDonald's announced a landmark agreement to work together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve the wages and working conditions of Florida farmworkers. After two years of escalating pressure by the Alliance, McDonald's has agreed to pay one penny more per pound to workers harvesting tomatoes for McDonald's; to a stronger code of conduct based on the principle of worker participation, and to a collaborative effort to develop a third-party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating workers' complaints of abuse.

At Rutgers University, on April 23th, the Fifth Annual Tent State University will kick off with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a panel discussion on the new economics of higher education. TSU is an international student movement that originated at Rutgers in 2003 as a response to budget cuts. For the past two years, the overarching message of TSU, has been, "Education not War." This year, the Rutgers TSU is calling for the implementation of a voting position on the Board of Governors representing students, the creation of a dedicated tax on legal and accounting fees that would help fund higher education, the full-funding of higher education, and the passage of the Dream Act nationally, which would allow for young undocumented immigrants that were raised and educated in the United States to qualify for the same in-state tuition that is available to their peers.

At the University of Iowa, IowaPIRG students hosted a global warming panel with State Senator Joe Bolckom last week. Over 70 students attended the event and engaged Senator Bolckom on his plans to fight global warming in the state.

This is a miniscule sampling of the great political work many students are doing today. Watch this space for more examples in the coming days and use the comments field below to update us on other instances of student activism.

Gonzales Recognizes The Issue: Political Prosecutions

Give Attorney General Alberto Gonzales credit. To a far greater extent than many in Washington have even now come to recognize, he acknowledged in an opening statement prepared for his appearance today before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the scandal swirling around him involves a lot more than the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.

Of course, the acknowledgment came in the form of another self-serving denial of any wrongdoing by the embattled Attorney General. "I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain," Gonzales claimed. "I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason."

But that reference to concerns about whether decisions were being made at the Department of Justice for "partisan political gain" goes to the very heart of what the U.S. Attorneys scandal is all about. And there can be little question that, while it surely was not his intent, Gonzales in the course of his torturously vague testimony confirmed the worst fears about the politicization of decisions made by his department regarding who should serve as federal prosecutors and what they should be prosecuting.

The Attorney General prepared for weeks in hopes that his appearance before the Judiciary Committee would restore at least a measure of confidence in his management of the Department of Justice. But he did not succeed. Little in his testimony appeared to inspire confidence among Democratic or Republican senators -- even a Gonzales ally, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn today told the Attorney General that his handling of issues raised by the current controversy was "deplorable" -- and it should not inspire confidence among Americans who have good reason to suspect that the Bush administration used federal prosecutors to advance electoral and policy agendas.

While Gonzales told the Senate he had "never sought to mislead" the Congress and the American people, he essentially admitted that he had failed to provide full or accurate information to the Congress and the American people. "To be sure," he said, "I should have been more precise in discussing this matter."

The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, compared the "never sought to mislead" and "should have been more precise" lines and then suggested that the Attorney General was continuing a pattern of "not being candid."

Specter hit the nail on the head. After all those weeks of preparation, Gonzales came before the Senate with a repertoire of vague and self-serving statements in which the touchstones were "I have no recollection...," "I have no memory..," "I don't recall...," "I can't say..." and "I'll have to get back to you..."

It was a pathetic performance, especially when Gonzales struggled to respond to the detailing by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer of instances where his testimony today conflicted both with statements by his top aides and with the record of the Attorney General's own actions.

And, yet, today's testimony was revealing -- at times, devastatingly so.

While Gonzales attempted in his initial statement before the committee to distance himself from the politicized process that led to the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys, Specter quickly established that the Attorney General's description of his "limited" role in the firing process was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

Under questioning from Specter, Gonzales admitted: "I had knowledge that there was a process going on."

Specter asked: "Were you involved in it?"

Gonzales finally admitted, "I was involved in it."

What was this process in which Gonzales involved himself? By all appearances, an effort to pressure U.S. Attorneys to do respond to the election-season demands of the Bush White House and Republican politicos.

Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, asked about why New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was targeted for removal from office. "I heard concerns raised by Mr. [Karl] Rove," acknowledged the Attorney General, referring to the White House political czar who was monitoring with increasing concern the progress of Republican campaigns in the fall of 2006 in New Mexico and elsewhere.

Who else? "Senator Domenici," replied Gonzales, referring to the New Mexico Republican senator who has been accused of pressuring Iglesias to bring prosecutions against Democrats in that state prior to the 2006 election.

And who else? "The president."

Gonzales confirmed that he had discussed pressuring U.S. Attorneys to bring so-called "voter fraud" cases -- despite the fact that there was little evidence of a problem -- with President Bush on October 11, 2006, barely three weeks before voters would go to the polls to decide congressional and state elections.

If one statement is remembered from the hearing today, it ought to be Gonzales' response to an inquiry about whether he felt pressure to politicize decisions about U.S. Attorneys and their prosecutions: "I now understand that there was a conversation between myself and the president."

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