Conservatives used to have all the fun. Many years ago, right-wingers managed to use one-liners and political spoofs to skewer liberals as out of touch with mainstream American values. A good example was Ronald Reagan, who once defined a hippy as "a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah." In 1965, William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, actually interviewed himself at the National Press Club about why he was running for Mayor of New York. ("To breed a little fear in the political nabobs who believe they can fool all the people all the time," Buckley said.)
Those days, thank God, are finally dead. Currently, progressives are busily bridging the humor-and satire-gaps that once separated liberals from Rush Limbaugh and his countless imitators. Comedy, one of the biggest weapons in the progressive arsenal, is once again (remember Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Second City) being used to effectively get the liberal message out in fresh, irreverent ways.
According to a January Pew Research Center survey, 20 percent of those under 30 receive their political news from places like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Since late-night comedy, more often than not, skewers the right, the young are hearing a brief against President George W. Bush, and watching these shows not-too-subtly support causes like gay rights, reproductive freedom, alternative energy sources and Internet privacy. Bill Maher, star of HBO's Real Time, for example, lambasts Bush for refusing to send troops to Haiti "unless they start doing something there that is really dangerous, like letting gays marry."
Most promising is that Maher, Al Franken and others like Michael Moore and the Texas populist Jim Hightower are using humor to expose conservatives for what they truly are--mean-spirited, hyperbolic, and hypocritical. (Remember how in Bowling for Columbine, Moore lampooned NRA gun nuts at a pro-gun speech by Charlton Heston in Denver, the NRA's president, just 10 days after the Columbine shootings.)
And the level of liberal comedy activity is rising quickly. On March 31, Air America, a progressive radio network, will launch a new 24-hour radio program in three cities, including New York, with hosts ranging from comedian Al Franken ("The O'Franken Factor") and Janeane Garafola to rap artist Chuck D., Nation author Laura Flandersand former Daily Show writer and co-creator Lizz Winstead.
Will Air America have the appeal to go toe-to-toe in the ratings war with the right's radio heavyweights? The moment seems right, what with an election that has galvanized progressives in ways not seen for decades and with an audience that is terribly under-served.
Meanwhile, the Daily Show's Stewart consistently skewers President Bush for misleading Americans about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the 2000 election debacle--"Indecision 2000." Columnist Molly Ivins --Texas's La Pasionaria of intellect and humor--describes Bush as a "shrub" and "another li'l upper-class white boy out trying to prove he's tough." Franken, in his brilliant anti-conservative primer Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, exposes Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter as bullies and frauds.
And, on the grassroots front, a slew of activist groups--two good examples are the Radical Cheerleaders and Billionaires for Bush--are using humor and savvy political messages to bring progressive values to the media's attention. Finally, on the off-Broadway stage at New York's Public Theater, an antiwar satire, written and directed by Academy-award winning actor Tim Robbins, is drawing big crowds nightly for its skewering of White House war planners.
The beauty of all this liberal satire is that progressives, armed with a new bully pulpit, make conservatives seem musty, mean and out of touch. Meantime, Franken & Co. are flat-out funny, deftly promoting progressive values in populist language that seems targeted to win hearts and minds. Let the Franken reign begin!
Last Friday, the Bush Administration was busy pumping up hopes that the war on terrorism was about to yield a victory: the capture along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan of the reputed No. 2 man in Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. As it turned out, Dr Ayman Al-Zawahri was probably not among the militants holed up in the heavily fortified compounds that were assaulted by Pakistani troops and their US advisors.
But, by most measures, the prospective capture of what Administration aides described as "a high-value target" was treated as a very big deal by the Bush White House. At the same time, Administration aides were busy trying to hold together the coalition of the sort-of willing that was cobbled together to support the invasion of Iraq. With Spain's new prime minister declaring the occupation "a disaster" and threatening to withdraw that country's troops from Iraq, and with Poland's president telling European reporters that his country was "misled" about the nature of the threat posed by Iraq, the Administration has its hands full. And, of course, top administration aides were already scrambling to counter charges by Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism aide, whose new book reveals that prior to 9/11 the Bush team ignored "repeated warnings" about the threat posed by Al Qaeda.
Surely, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a key player on all the fronts that were in play, had a very long list of responsibilities. No time for diversions on Friday, right? Wrong.
Rice took time out of the middle of the day to address a secretive gathering that included global media mogul Rupert Murdoch and top executives from television networks, newspapers and other media properties owned by Murdoch's News Corp. conglomerate. Rice spoke at some length via satellite to Murdoch and his cronies, who had gathered at the posh Ritz Carlton Hotel in Cancun Mexico, according to reports published in the British press.
The Guardian newspaper, which sent a reporter to Cancun, revealed that Rice was asked to address the group by executives of the Murdoch-controlled Fox broadcast and cable networks in the US. The Fox "family" includes, of course, the Fox News cable channel, which the Guardian correctly describes as "hugely supportive of President George Bush."
"Although she is not there in person, the presence of Ms. Rice underlines the importance of Rupert Murdoch's news operations to the Bush administration, which may face growing criticism that it led the country into war on false pretences ahead of November's presidential election," the Guardian account of the Cancun gathering explained.
In addition to Fox, Murdoch controls the Bush-friendly Weekly Standard magazine and New York Post newspaper, as well as 35 local television stations and the 20th Century Fox movie studio. Thanks to Bush Administration appointees to the Federal Communications Commission, Murdoch's reach is rapidly expanding in the US. In December, the FCC approved News Corp.'s $6.6-billion takeover of DirecTV, the country's leading satellite television firm.
That decision made Murdoch the only media executive with satellite, cable and broadcast assets in the US.
In other words, Rupert Murdoch is a very powerful player in the media – and, because of his willingness to turn his properties into mouthpieces for the administration, in the politics of the United States. So it should probably not come as any surprise that, like the politicians in any number of countries where Murdoch has come to dominate the discourse, Bush Administration officials answer Rupert's call – even when they are supposedly preoccupied with national security concerns.
Rice's willingness to brief Fox executives is especially intriguing in light of the fact that she continues to refuse to brief the bipartisan panel that is investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is expected to hear this week from Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his predecessor, Madeleine Albright; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his predecessor, William Cohen; and President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger. But Rice has rejected invitations to testify in public.
So it seems that, when the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States calls, the Bush Administration's national security is not available. But when Rupert Murdoch calls, well, how could Condoleezza Rice refuse?
Local media is reporting that hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters poured into streets around the globe on Saturday's one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of US-led troops.
From Sydney to Tokyo, Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, protesters condemned US Iraqi policy and the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emption. Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through Rome, in the biggest single protest. In London, two activists evaded security to climb the historic Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a banner reading "Time for Truth," as approximately 25,000 demonstrators streamed through central London, many carrying "Wanted" posters bearing the faces of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main war ally. In Germany, several thousand people took part in demonstrations in about 70 cities and towns across the country. Some 3,000 people turned out in Sydney, chanting "end the occupation, troops out" and carrying an effigy of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch war supporter. About 10,000 protesters marched in Athens, Greece, and an estimated 120,000 took part in peace protests across Japan.
Read Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's report from Moscow's antiwar march; Samuel Lowenberg's dispatch from Madrid's rally and Maria Margaronis's Letter from London.You can also check the United for Peace website for updates on continuing antiwar activism in the US, including this Wednesday's "National Iraq Call-in Day."
Uncle Sam hovered over the small crowd of 200 protesters gathered in Moscow today to mark the first anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The papier mache puppet--with dollar signs for eyes, a red white and blue top hat and cigar stuffed in his mouth--was held tightly by two young women wearing bandanas and Che buttons as a gaggle of photographers snapped away.
The demo--organized by an eclectic alliance of groups, including the Russian Communist Party youth offshoot, the Radical Socialist Party, Trotskyists, anarchists, Punk Rockers Against Putin, and the Globalization Institute--was one of many taking place across Russia. The marchers--most in their early twenties--were there to protest all forms of occupation and several of the speakers roused the crowd, despite a primitive sound system, by drawing a link between the US occupation of Iraq, Russia's occupation of Chechnya and Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. For many of these groups, the war in Chechnya is a cancer on their country's soul and without ending that war, they do not believe democracy in Russia is possible.
There were even chants of "Intifada, Intifada." Many called for "Vova"--as Vladimir Putin is nicknamed--to step down. "Down with this War President," the crowd chanted. Many spoke hopefully of the Socialist party's victory in Spain. "Let us take an example from the Spanish people and oust this war government." "Che unites, Putin divides," one protester said. Other placards at the demo said: "No war for Oil!" and "Capitalism Kills, Death to Capitalism!" The only English language sign read simply: "No War!"
Most of the kids out protesting were born during the perestroika years and have come to their leftism out of choice not necessity. ("We know our Marx far better than the older generation, which was forced to read him in school," one young woman told me.) When it came to style, the crowd looked like it would have at home at any protest march in the West: bandanas covered mouths, black ski masks were in vogue (as much to protect against Moscow's subzero temperatures as a political statement), Eminem t-shirts and Che buttons were worn and protest flags were flown. The few babushkas present--elderly Russian women who told me they hadn't received their pensions for months--were handing out Communist party pamphlets.
As the rally wound down, there was a roar from the last speaker--"Let us stomp out imperialist aggression!" Several protesters then gathered around Uncle Sam and began to tear apart the papier mache puppet. A young guy wearing an Arnold Schwarznegger/Terminator shirt began to stomp on Uncle Sam's top hat. "Let us march to the US Embassy," someone shouted through the megaphone. "Yankee, Go Home," chanted a half dozen people. The last speaker then thanked the militia for their help in ensuring that the rally proceeded in an orderly way.
Correction:Thanks to Dr. Ross Worthington, who alerted me to a mistake in my recent weblog looking at how the idea of single-payer healthcare was catching on among businessmen and members of the medical profession. I should have wrote that "sixty-four percent of Massachusetts doctors recently endorsed a national single-payer system," rather than sixty-four percent of doctors nationally. Click here to read the full article.
Barack Obama's victory in the hard-fought Democratic primary for an open US Senate seat from Illinois has instantaneously made him a political star. CNN analysts were calling the civil rights lawyer-turned-legislator "the man to watch in Illinois" and "the country's hottest Senate candidate." The New York Times and The Washington Post are weighing in with glowing reports. US Senator Jon Corzine, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is ecstatic about having a smart, articulate and politically-savvy candidate who looks to be well positioned to pick up the seat of retiring Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald. Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe was even more ecstatic about the prospect that Obama, the child of Kenyan and American parents, would give the party a fresh young African-American leader to feature at its national convention in Boston.
For backers of Howard Dean's failed presidential campaign, however, the Obama win offers something else: a bittersweet reminder of what might have been. There was a great deal about the Obama campaign that mirrored the most interesting and impressive aspects of the Dean candidacy. Obama made early and effective use of the internet and drew supporters together using Meet Ups. He built an enthusiastic network of supporters that included college students, suburban liberals and veteran progressive activists in Chicago. Like Dean, Obama was an early and outspoken critic of the Bush administration's scheming to invade Iraq, he criticized the Patriot Act and he promised to "act like a Democrat" if elected. While most of organized labor endorsed another, "safer" candidate, Obama secured the support of the Service Employees International Union, a growing union that frequently flexes its political muscles in Democratic primaries and that also backed Dean. U.S. Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, both Dean backers, campaigned hard for Obama.
So what went right for Obama, who on Tuesday won a landslide victory over a field of better-financed and at least initially better-known Democratic contenders? How did he fight his way from the back of the pack to the front of a multi-candidate field and then, unlike Dean, stay there through election day? While it is important to be remember that national and state campaigns are dramatically different, it is fair to say that Obama did three things that Dean didn't:
1.) Obama deliberately avoided peaking too soon. He started at the rear of the pack. As the candidate himself said, "I think it's fair to say that the conventional wisdom was we could not win. We didn't have enough money. We didn't have enough organization. There was no way that a skinny guy from the South Side (of Chicago) with a funny name like Barack Obama could win a statewide race." Obama and his media strategist, David Axelrod, intentionally kept expectations low. Where the Dean campaign spent a fortune in mid-2003 to win the media attention that would rocket him to frontrunner status, the Obama campaign kept its powder dry. "It was our plan to finish hard, when people were paying attention," explained Axelrod. "One of the great disciplines of the campaign was not to spend money early and waste those resources." Thus, while Obama was outspent 6-1 by one of his foes, millionaire Blair Hull, he was able to hold his own in the "air wars" at the close of the campaign."
2.) When the competition intensified, Obama kept his cool. Like U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who won a 1992 Democratic primary after two better-known and better-financed opponents went wildly negative on one another, Obama presented himself as a calm, attractive alternative to foes whose flaws became increasingly evident at the frenzied finish of the campaign. Even as polls began to identify him as the frontrunner in late February, he campaigned as the nice-guy underdog and he kept on message. Unlike Dean, Obama gave the media few if any gaffes to highlight. In this sense, he was more like another of this year's Democratic presidential contenders, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. That's no coincidence. Obama's chief strategist, Axelrod, played a similar role with the Edwards campaign.
3.) To the very end, Obama focused on his base in Chicago's vote-rich African-American neighborhoods. Obama represents a neighborhood with a substantial African-American population in the state Senate, and he ran an unsuccessful but high-profile Democratic primary for a congressional seat in 2000. And he earned the active support of key political players in the African-American community, such as Jackson and U.S. Representative Danny Davis. Obama's other appeal was to white liberals, a point emphasized by commercials that featured testimonials from Schakowsky and the daughter of former U.S. Senator Paul Simon. Where the Dean campaign stretched itself thin trying to secure a big win early on, Obama's campaign remained focused on African-American and liberal wards where he could maximize his vote. He ended up winning as much as 90 percent of the vote in some Chicago precincts. Obama won close to 500,000 votes in Chicago's Cook County, beating his closest competitor by an almost 4-1 margin. Comparisons were made between Obama's strategy and that of the late Harold Washington, who was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983 at the head of a rainbow coalition of African-American and white liberal voters. While Danny Davis, a close ally of Washington, was cautious about the precise comparison, he did say that Obama "reenergized the base" and created "more energy than I've seen since Harold Washington."
Two other notes are worth making in aftermath of the Illinois voting:
* For Democrats, who are becoming cautiously optimistic about their prospects in the fight for control of the Senate, the Obama win is very good news. That's because he came through the primary reasonably unscathed, and because the excitement about his candidacy will make fund-raising easier in a tight year. Obama will face a tough race against millionaire Republican Jack Ryan, who will campaign as a "compassionate conservative." But if Obama continues to run smart, he's got a good chance of picking up a currently Republican Senate seat in a state that is likely to trend Democratic this fall. If Democrats gain the Illinois seat and the Colorado seat that Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell is vacating, they will at least be in the fight, although they are still up against the difficult reality that five southern seats currently held by Democrats are open. The interesting new development is that polls in Pennsylvania show Republican Senator Arlen Specter is facing a tougher-than-expected challenge from conservative U.S. Representative Pat Toomey in that state's April 27 Republican primary. If Specter loses in April, the Democratic candidate, U.S. Representative Joe Hoeffel, could well win in November.
* No one paid much attention to the Illinois presidential primary, which John Kerry won with more than 72 percent of the vote and 141 delegates -- giving him more than enough delegate support to attain the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July. The only candidate who came close to competing with Kerry in Illinois was a candidate who had withdrawn from the race: John Edwards, who took just under 11 percent of the vote and appears to have secured two delegates. Even with a maximized African-American turnout, Al Sharpton ran miserably. In the first Democratic presidential primary after Sharpton endorsed John Kerry but said he would continue his campaign in order to help shape the direction of the party, the New Yorker ran behind Kerry, Edwards and two other contenders who have folded their campaigns: former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who withdrew from the race two months ago, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who withdrew last month. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, the only other candidate who says he is still in the running, finished even further behind.
History provides plenty of examples of Democratic challengers who have remained in the running for the party's presidential nomination even after it is beyond their grasp. They have done so to raise issues, to influence the direction of the party and to position themselves for future political endeavors. In some cases -- Ted Kennedy in 1980, Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, and Jerry Brown in 1992 -- the challengers have won primaries, secured delegates and achieved what, at the least, could be described as moral victories. Sharpton and Kucinich are falling far short of the mark set by those previous contenders. When a challenger who is actually campaigning runs behind candidates who have left the race, it is hard to argue that he is having any influence on the frontrunner -- let alone on the direction of the party.
On the heels of yesterday's car-bomb attack against a central Baghdad hotel, Iraqi insurgents launched more deadly attacks today in advance of the first anniversary of the US invasion of the country, leaving at least eight Iraqi civilians dead in several incidents and eight US soldiers wounded in a mortar attack in the restive city of Fallujah.
Meanwhile, around the world in Washington, DC, a group of antiwar activists, veterans and military family members leaned into two microphones this morning on a stage in the park across from the White House and called out the names of American soldiers who have been killed in Iraq.
This reading, part of a demonstration that was more memorial service than street protest, was one of hundreds of antiwar events scheduled across the globe leading up to Saturday's one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.In the United States, the antiwar coalition United for Peace is calling for a massive march in New York City along with dozens of local and regional demonstrations nationwide, including a major protest in Fayetteville, NC, the home of Fort Bragg.
In Manhattan, the permitted march and rally will assemble at noon on Madison Avenue stretching north from 23rd Street. Click here for downloadable posters, leaflets and flyers, here for transportation info and here to donate to United for Peace.
San Francisco is also expecting a sizable contingent of marchers to gather near the 18th and Church St. corner of Dolores Park at 11:00am under the banner of immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, repeal of the Patriot Act and a repudiation of the preemptive doctrine of foreign policy. Click here for info on what's planned in SF.
Or check out UFP's regularly-updated calendar for info on the dozens of other rallies scheduled in places like Anchorage, Alaska; Jacksonville, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas; Phoenix, Arizona; Honolulu, Hawaii; New Haven, Connecticut and Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.
A coalition of groups, including UFP, is also sponsoring "National Iraq Call-in Day" next Wednesday, March 24. Encourage people to call their elected reps in Washington and politely ask them to make every effort to ensure that the June 30 transfer of power be transparent and inclusive and to make sure that any un-elected government not be allowed to make laws that will bind future representative bodies. Click here for contact info for your elected reps (if you're in the US.)
For months now I have been contemplating a grand project: chronicling every misleading statement George W. Bush and his crew uttered before the war about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the supposed operational connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. I covered much of this in my book The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. But there was only so much room I could devote to the task; I had to reserve space for Bush's untruthful remarks about tax cuts, global warming, missile defense, homeland security, the energy bill, Enron and many other topics. Sadly, I was forced to highlight only the most illustrative examples of Bush's pre- and postwar dis- and misinformation. In the months since my book was published, I have often come across various Bush administration assertions about Iraq that have made me exclaim, "Shoot, I wish I had this one earlier."
Several Democratic members of Congress, including Senators Carl Levin and Ted Kennedy, have recently assembled decent compilations. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put out a report in January that presented a good sampling of the best--or worst--of the administration's false remarks about Iraq's WMD and the al Qaeda-Iraq relationship. But the prize goes to Representative Henry Waxman.
He just released a report that identifies 237 specific misleading statements made by Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 125 separate public appearances. There's even an on-line database. (Click on the link above to reach the website.) Want to peruse the whoppers about Iraq's supposed biological weapons? Plug "biological weapons" into the search feature, and up pops 91 examples of Bush officials claiming there were bioweapons in Iraq. The evidence to date, of course, indicates they were wrong. And there is indisputable evidence that Bush and his underlings were mistaken not because the intelligence was off but because they exaggerated or ignored the available intelligence. One example: in an October 2002 speech, Bush said Iraq had a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. But according to the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the intelligence community had not reached such a conclusion, and CIA director George Tenet said a few weeks ago that the intelligence analysts had possessed "no specific information" on bioweapons stockpiles.
What's your favorite prewar untruth from the Bush gang? When Cheney in August 2002 said there was "no doubt" that Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction "to use...against us"? When Bush in May 2003 said "we found the weapons of mass destruction"? (Bush was referring to two tractor-trailers discovered in northern Iraq. From the start, analysts questioned the administration's claim that these were mobile biological weapons factories. And Tenet has noted the jury is still out on the tractor-trailers. It seems more probable they were designed to produce hydrogen for weather balloons.) These unforgettable lines--at least they ought to be unforgettable--are among the Waxman's Top 237.
Is the Waxman list complete? Not entirely. Comments made by Ari Fleischer, Paul Wolfowitz and other significant administration figures are not included in the database. (Are there bandwidth limitations?) And I could not find one of my favorites: Rumsfeld on September 13, 2002, exclaiming, "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons....We all know that. A trained ape knows that." (I guess it depends on whether that trained ape was trained to misread and hype intelligence reports.) But Waxman and his staff deserve credit for rounding up and archiving many of the false and disingenuous assertions Bush and his gang used to grease the way to war.
If the commission Bush begrudgingly appointed to study the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs is going to investigate whether Bush abused the intelligence, this website would be of tremendous value to it. As of now, though, it seems that the commissioners--all chosen by Bush--will duck that mission and that Waxman's site will not be on their computer browser's list of favorites. But Waxman's report practically makes it unnecessary for the commissioners to worry if Bush falsely characterized the prewar intelligence. After all, why bother bother investigating a question with such an obvious answer?
My March 2 weblog, "Let's End the Duopoly," laying out proposals for democratic reforms of our electoral system generated a number of valuable reader letters. Click here to read the weblog and see below to read five good letters.
Wade Dygert, Coopersburg, PA
Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Let's End the Two-Party Duopoly" is right on the money. Electoral reform, meaning proportional representation and instant runoff voting, is the most critical issue in American politics today. Liberals should stop wasting their time demonizing Nader, and channel that energy into pushing for electoral reform. And The Nation should be leading the way.
Instead of writing cover stories telling Nader not to run, I would want to review Steven Hill's "Fixing Elections." Not only does it point out the flaws in America's electoral system, it also provides solutions. A good online resource is www.fairvote.org, the website for the Center for Voting and Democracy, in which Steven Hill is involved, by the way.
PLEASE write about proportional representation in your magazine...most people are unaware of the options we have in how we turn votes into seats, and The Nation is the perfect place to educate people on the matter.
Thank you for your time.
Paul Klinkman, Providence, RI
Congratulations on your "duopoly" editorial. I wish that you had mentioned Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Cambridge City Council has had Proportional Representation for 63 years running. I observe that a permanently corruption-resistant city council has been a boon to Cambridge's homeowners. Cambridge has a top rating of AAA from Moody's Investor Service and outrageous property values. In similar cities with no protection from machine politics, even in cities with great colleges, homeowners often have crushing city mortgages hanging over the value of their homes which any judge can order them or their children to pay off.
I'm sorry to appeal to people's individual financial interests, but some conservatives can see nothing else. Either we stop the crooks from owning City Hall or we get cleaned out time after time, people. This same truth applies equally to our state legislatures and to Congress.
Proportional Representation disappeared from two dozen American cities because it allowed black people to become city council members, and it also allowed people who didn't hate communists enough to become city council members. Was this ever a sane reason to spit on and ignore a successful crime-fighting tool?
For generations, small groups of citizens have struggled to rid their cities, states and nation of all candidate corruption and all machine politics permanently. Proportional representation has been a successful set of government-changing experiments which our forefathers fought to implement. I'm ashamed that so many of us ignore the learning that our ancestors won with their vision and perseverance. Did some forgotton Galileo really lose this fight and die with our knowledge? Can we name any other type of learning in all of history that has been so forgotten and yet so needed?
Sean Hill, Vancouver, Canada
In response to Katrina vanden Heuvel's recent article "Let's End the Two-Party Duopoly": I couldn't agree more that electoral reform needs to have a more prominent place on the US political platter. But Ms. vanden Heuvel's comment that "Nader's perceived role as a spoiler is likely to attract far more attention than the valuable issues he raises" is outright myth propagation. Comments like these highlight an endemic lack of belief in the validity of merit and democracy towards determining political leadership and direction.
Electoral reform begins when each of us decides to show more confidence and less apathy towards the multitude of outcomes made possible by a self-determined electorate.
In Canada, we recognize that it's not really about whether we or our political opponents win. What matters is whether the country wins, and it's the pressure generated by a range of choices which keeps our leaders in line.
Running an election strategy as "anybody but Bush" is a with us or against us proposition. The Dems are looking for the sure win but instead they're betting the bank on the next roll. You might luck out. But you're more likely to end up with some wishy-washy, opportunistic, fly-by-night who turns things upside-down and has the electorate calling for a Bush return in 2008.
Now is the time to be expanding and encouraging choices, all choices. Neither Nader, nor anybody else, right or left should be discouraged from offering themselves for the future of their country.
If we're all really that cynical then we don't deserve a better world.
Keith Schilhab, Rollinsville CO
Re Katrina vanden Heuvel's piece on Ending the Two Party Duopoly: I read this article with much interest, as it has become increasingly clear over the last 20 years or so that our "representative" government no longer lives up to its name. Instant runoff voting, proportional representation, fusion voting are all terrific ideas and deserve a hard look.
However, in the case of politics it seems obvious to me that money is indeed the root of all electoral evils (as Ms. vanden Heuvel writes: "Big money politics give disproportionate influence to the wealthy, and blocks the candidacies of those without access to money...") Admittedly, reducing the cost of getting elected in this country will not be an easy one, and I do not have all the answers here. However, we can all agree that it is ideas and not the size of one's wallet that should count in elections.
With that in mind then I would propose either strictly re-regulating the current networks to provide free and equal time to all "qualified" candidates. Or, banning all campaign/party advertising from national TV/Radio and establishing government owned and financed radio/TV stations whose only purpose is to run equal and free political adverts. All commercial advertising in either case would be made illegal. In addition, strict money limits would be placed on a party's or campaigns fund raising. Four of five million dollars perhaps.
Yes, this idea is not complete and there are difficulties. What does it mean to be qualified? How do we re-define political speech within the context of the first amendment?
However, the stakes are far too high not to take up this question. The public is supposed to own the airwaves. They no longer serve us, and the FCC seems more like a prostitute with one customer: the broadcasters. Political speech is NOT free when the guy with the fattest wallet can dominate the conversation. Our politics has degenerated horribly within the last 20 years. I am much afraid that if something is not done, no matter how draconian it might appear at onset, then in another few years this country will be unrecognizable.
Tracy Winter, aol.com
Good piece by Katrina Vanden Huevel. I would add to her "Toolkit" for repairing our democracy not just publicly-financed election campaigns, and a few more PBS stations, but also the banning of partisan campaign commercials from the airwaves in lieu of more inclusive and comprehensive debates, thus effectively removing the biggest (and dirtiest) money concern from the electoral process, and allowing it to become more affordale for new parties. Despite the predictable-but-innaccurate howls of protest over "free speech" that will surely ensue from the media giants, it is entirely possible within the original parameters of the media's charge to provide "Public Service" in return for the incredibly powerful use of OUR airwaves since the advent of TV. Frequent and extensive debates on the issues should satisfy anyone with a first amendment ax to grind. Why should the despicable Media Moguls who have already trashed responsible journalism, be allowed to go on enriching themselves at the expense of our Democracy?
As a recent Washington Post business article reported (an article that should have been on the Post's front page!), manufacturers are quietly embracing the concept of universal healthcare. While the major papers have been virtually MIA on this issue, Kirstin Downey, a Post staff writer, admirably called attention to how rising costs are roiling the debate over healthcare reform. Sen. Kerry and leading Democrats should pay close attention to this trend. It could be a very helpful issue in a close election.
Downey reports that employers saw their healthcare costs rise 12 percent last year, on the heels of a 16 percent increase in 2002. Such dramatic increases have damaged manufacturing in America, prompted labor strikes, and encouraged corporations to ship jobs overseas.
Back in 1994, Jack Smith, a former CEO of General Motors, went on record as "personally favor[ing] the Canadian system." Smith, an anomaly ten years ago, today looks like the weatherman who knew which way the wind was blowing. The volume and intensity of anguished, bitter public complaints by business executives about the costs and burdens of health care has grown to major proportions.
In one of the more exciting if little-noticed developments for progressives, a coalition is beginning to emerge that includes not just CEOs but also America's doctors and unionized workers. Executives from the Big Three automakers, upset over insanely high healthcare costs, recently sent the Canadian government a letter urging Canada to keep its single-payer system so GM, DaimlerChrysler and Ford could hold operating expenses down.
And why not? After all, in 2003, GM spent $4.5 billion on health care for its US-based employees and retirees, at a cost of $1,200 per car, according to a GM spokesman. "If we cannot get our arms around this [healthcare] issue as a nation, our manufacturing base and many of our other businesses are in danger," warned Ford's Vice Chairman Allan Gilmour.
The nation's supermarket chains, for their part, facing stiff competition from non-union rivals including Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, have a healthcare crisis on their hands. In 1999, Giant and Safeway paid $112 million in medical costs for employees in the Washington, DC region; by 2003, they were spending $180 million on healthcare subsidies. These rising costs, and the chains' efforts to slash workers' subsidies, recently prompted 70,000 California grocery workers to go on strike. Desperately looking for ways to stay competitive, the supermarket chains could find their salvation in a single-payer system. (Workers too would benefit tremendously, receiving guaranteed access to healthcare at affordable prices regardless of their employment status.)
Ditto for other corporations. William Rainville, CEO of Kadant Inc., a papermaking manufacturer, recently told the Washington Post that healthcare costs make operating in the US nearly unsustainable. Kadant says it will spend $6,500 on health care in 2004 for each of its American employees. But, the single-payer system in Canada is so inexpensive that Kadant is considering moving all its operations north of the border.
Labor unions, meanwhile, have good reason to support a single-payer system. The average worker saw out-of-pocket healthcare spending climb from $1,890 in 2000 to $2,790 in 2003; a 48 percent jump, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, the percentage of employers that fully subsidized health care for employees' families dropped from 27 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2003.
According to a Harvard Medical School survey, 64 percent of Massachusetts doctors recently endorsed a national single-payer system. Frustrated by the costs and cumbersome paperwork, doctors said they would gladly cut fees if it would eliminate those pesky piles of insurance claims forms.
"Most doctors are fed up with the health care system," explains Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, an author and a leading reformer. "It's not just the paperwork and insurance hassles, but knowing that many of our patients can't afford to fill the prescriptions we write for them. And millions of people who are uninsured avoid care altogether until they're desperately ill."
A single-payer healthcare system will also save jobs, increase profit margins and attack the mushrooming problem of outsourcing jobs to India, China and other nations boasting cheap labor markets. In addition, by enacting a single-payer system, the US will significantly reduce health care administrative costs, saving an estimated $286 billion annually. That's enough to cover over 43 million uninsured Americans, create a real, universal prescription drug benefit, retrain laid-off employees, and strengthen preventative care.
America's conservative critics like to portray Canada's single-payer healthcare as socialistic, inefficient, and second-rate. A vast majority of Canadians, however, give consistently high marks to their single-payer system. Moreover, the Canadians, on average, live two years longer than us. (If that's not an endorsement for single-payer reform, I don't know what is.) If the politicians and media refuse to lead the fight for universal health care, then enlightened CEOs and doctors, perhaps, will.
Why is it that liberals are so afraid to take their own side in an argument?
"Look, labels are so silly in American politics," Senator Kerry replied evasively when asked during the New York debate, "Are you a liberal?" I agree that labels are too simplistic. But why allow the L-word to be defined--and turned into a negative--by thugs at the Republican National Committee who don't know their own history? Isn't it time, after more than twenty years of conservative ascendancy, for liberals to take the offensive, stop biting their tongues and declare forcefully--I'm a liberal and proud of it!
So, next time you're asked, Senator, why not stand firm (you're already tall) and tell Americans, crisply, sharply and with conviction, how liberal values have shaped the greatness of this country. It won't lose you the election. It might just help you win it.
I'm sure you don't need this, but here's a short list of some of the great triumphs of 20th century liberalism--all vigorously opposed by conservatives at the time: Women's suffrage; Social Security; unemployment compensation; the minimum wage; child labor laws; Head Start, food stamps; Medicare; federal housing laws barring discrimination; the Voting Rights Act; the Civil Rights Act; anti-pollution statutes, guaranteed student loan programs and the forty-hour work week.
Senator, these victories made America a more just and open society. These programs embody the civilizing and mainstream values of the past decades and they show how liberals have repeatedly fought for ordinary Americans. A fighting liberal would take on rightwing extremists who are determined to rollback the hard-earned rights and liberties of the 20th century. Why not stand on liberalism's proud heritage? It sure beats running away from a winning legacy.