The Nation

Identity Crisis

The question of party identity takes on weird new relevance now thatJoe Lieberman is cross-dressing in Connecticut. Defeated once as aDemocrat, tiresome Joe is now running again as an independent. Only hesays he's still a loyal Dem at heart. How can we know he's not lying?

Karl Rove and the Republicans appear to think otherwise. They arepouring serious money into Lieberman's campaign and dumping a classicRepublican smear job on Ned Lamont, the legit Democrat. Ned, remember,beat Joe fair and square in the party primary.

But Joe agrees with Karl that Ned is a threat to the Republic becauseLamont thinks Bush's war in Iraq is a bloody catastrophe--as do nearlytwo-thirds of the American public.

Something about this odd drama doesn't pass the smell test. I suspectKarl and Joe have made a deal. A back-scratching understanding, youmight say.

Karl says to Senator Joe: We will help you beat Ned in the generalelection and you will agree to cross over and sign up with theRepublicans--if we need your vote to retain our majority in the Senate.

Joe says: It's a deal--but only if my fellow Democrats make a sincereeffort to support Ned and defeat me. Otherwise, if the Dems go limp andsell out Ned, I have to stay loyal.

Karl: Fair enough. How do we make the terms of the deal clear toeveryone without announcing it?

Joe: You very publically dump the no-name Republican candidate in the race. I startattacking the patriotism of anti-war Democrats like Bernie Sanders,who's running for senator in Vermont. We both cut up Ned Lamont withthe same vicious slurs--portraying him as a fellow traveler for alQaeda.

Karl: Excellent. I have a hit group called Vets for Freedom, who willstart tossing the mud.

Joe: My Democratic pals will understand completely. This is the kind ofbipartisan civility I've always sought in politics.

Okay, I cannot prove any of the above. But it is at least clear thatthe devious and undependable Lieberman has devised a very nasty dilemmafor his erstwhile friends in the Democratic minority. Most of them havedeclared their support for the party nominee, Ned Lamont, and at leastsome of them seem sincere. That demonstrates the party establishment'srespect for the new energies that Lamont's anti-war supporters arebringing to the party.

But Joe's flagrant turncoat routine effectively warns the partyregulars to back off--or else.

His suggested logic goes like this: the Dems will win the Connecticutsenate seat by doing nothing from the national level, since it's eithergoing to be Lamont or Lieberman. But if the party establishmentprovokes Joe by putting real heft behind Lamont's campaign, then itrisks losing the seat. If Joe wins with the heavy support provided byBush and Republicans, he may feel compelled to walk out.

Some Democrats--I hear this second-hand--are flirting with this "golimp" strategy. Others are arguing intensely that the party has nooption except to put all of its weight behind the party nominee and, ineffect, make damn sure Ned wins. Above all, they have to demonstratetheir commitment to Lamont followers, those new rank-and-file forceswho harbor deep skepticism about the party's timid leadership.

If Democrats fail to demonstrate their genuineness, they may very wellcreate a much more serious problem for the party down the road. ALieberman victory, regardless of how it occurs, would encourage therebels and insurgents from within the party to skip party primaries asbogus events and run their challenge candidates in the generalelections--just like wayward Joe.

These rebel challengers might not win, but they could rally enoughdissenting voters to bring down a lot of incumbent Dems. Joe tossedparty identity out the window; why shouldn't they?

This would be a far bloodier path to reinvigorating the Democraticparty--bringing it down in order to rebuild it--but some reformagitators have noticed that it works. Fratricidal bloodletting was howthe Republican Right got its groove and gained its power over the otherparty.

Iraq > World War II

The war in Iraq has lasted three days longer than US involvement in World War II.

Germany declared war on the US on December, 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor. The US announced victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. That's one thousand, two hundred and forty-four days.

We've been in Iraq one thousand, two hundred and forty-seven days---and still the Administration has no exit strategy, no plan for victory and no clue what it is doing. In case you'd forgotten, George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" aboard an aircraft carrier over three years ago.

"In the battle of Iraq," Bush said, "The United States and our allies have prevailed."

Perhaps that pronouncement was a little premature. Twelve hundred and four days later, our troops are still paying the price.

The Dictionary of Republicanisms: One Year Later

Almost a year ago, NationBooks published The Dictionary of Republicanisms, a book that set out to deconstruct Republicans' Orwellian attempts to manipulate the language for their political purposes. It contained hundreds of definitions submitted by readers of the nation.com, like death tax, faith-based, and leave no child behind.

But what difference does a year make?

We've seen George W. Bush's poll numbers plummet as the disasters continue to unfold in New Orleans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We've seen the Abramoff corruption scandal engulf House Republicans, leading to early retirements for Duke Cunningham, Robert Ney, and Tom DeLay. We've seen a parade of books detailing the staggering incompetence of Republican policies--many of them written by Republicans! And yet, they are still at it.

As Hendrik Hertzberg recently pointed out, George W. Bush continues to insult the Democratic Party by calling it the "Democrat" Party, something Joe McCarthy liked to do. Ken Mehlman just went on Meet the Press to tell us the new Republican political slogan for the war in Iraq is no longer "stay the course" but rather "adapting to win." He still wants to categorize the Democratic position as "cut and run." It must have tested well. Perhaps Republican pollster Frank Luntz will tell us in his soon-to-be published book, Words That Work. I'm still waiting for an explanation of "Islamofascism."

Clearly the fight over language continues. Here at the Nation we are working on an update to The Dictionary of Republicanisms. And we are accepting submissions. Click here if you want to send us one. If we receive enough, we will publish them in an expanded edition of the book--or a long article.

To help get you started here are some new terms that need definitions:

Democrat Party
Adapting to win
Joe Lieberman
The al Qaeda candidate
French fries
French diplomacy
Birth pangs of a new Middle East

In the NSA Case, a Judge Says No to King George

In ruling on Thursday that the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and must be halted, U.S. district Judge Anna Diggs Taylor slammed the White House on several critical fronts.

For months, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration aides have been defending--even championing--what they call the "terrorist surveillance program," under which the National Security Agency can intercept communications that involve an American citizen or resident without a warrant if one party to the communication is overseas and suspected of being linked to anti-American terrorists). They have maintained that the president has the authority as commander in chief to authorize such surveillance. Though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) generally forbids wiretapping without warrants, the White House has contended that Bush is not bound by the limitations of that law. This claim--arising from the Bush administration's view of expansive (even supreme) presidential power--set up a constitutional clash. And in the first round of the legal battle, Judge Taylor has knocked out the White House argument.

In her decision, she accused the administration of dishonestly arguing that the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and others (including journalists, researchers and lawyers) against the NSA wiretapping should be dismissed because it would expose state secrets:

It is undisputed that Defendants have publicly admitted to the following: (1) the TSP [Terrorist Surveillance Program] exists; (2) it operates without warrants; (3) it targets communications where one party to the communication is outside the United States, and the government has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda. As the Government has on many occasions confirmed the veracity of these allegations, the state secrets privilege does not apply to this information.

She added:

Defendants assert that they cannot defend this case without the exposure of state secrets. This court disagrees. The Bush Administration has repeatedly told the general public that there is a valid basis in law for the TSP. Further, Defendants have contended that the President has the authority under the AUMF [legislation authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq] and the Constitution to authorize the continued use of the TSP. Defendants [the Bush administration] have supported these arguments without revealing or relying on any classified information. Indeed, the court has reviewed the classified information and is of the opinion that this information is not necessary to any viable defense to the TSP....Consequently, the court finds Defendants' argument that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information to be disingenuous and without merit.

In other words, Bush cannot hide behind an it's-classified defense. (Taylor did say that the administration could do so in a related matter--the data-mining of phone records by the NSA. That's because not enough information has been publicly released about this covert program.)

The judge reserved her sharpest words for slicing and dicing the administration's contention that Bush had the authority to ignore FISA and, in essence, act outside (or above) that law. And she cited a favorite Supreme Court case of conservatives to make this point: Clinton v. Jones. In that case, the justices ruled that Clinton could be sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones. Taylor wrote:

It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another. It is within the court's duty to ensure that power is never "condense[d]...into a single branch of government." Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 536 (2004) (plurality opinion). We must always be mindful that "[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law." Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997). "It remains one of the most vital functions of this Court to police with care the separation of the governing powers....When structure fails, liberty is always in peril." Public Citizen v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 468 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

Though pundits, partisans and legislators have debated the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program, Taylor rendered a clear verdict:

The wiretapping program here in litigation...has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and...in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Bush, as president, she added, has no extraconstitutional powers:

The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well....In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained.

She noted:

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of theCongress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all "inherent powers" must derive from that Constitution.

Once again, a court has told Bush that he is not all-powerful. He cannot create military tribunals on his own. He cannot detain American citizens as enemy combatants without affording them some elements of due process. Taylor's decision will probably be appealed by the Bush administration, and the case will wind its way toward the Supreme Court. But this decision reaffirms--and puts into practice--the bedrock principle that a president's power does not trump the workings of a republican government, even when it comes to war. Weeks before he took office in 2001, Bush quipped, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Democracy, though, is not easy. And a commander in chief has to abide by the rules, as various courts have now ruled. The administration's King George approach to governance has taken another blow. But it's royally unlikely this president is going to accept the decision and give up his claim to the throne.

It is Time to Censure a Lawless President

When Russ Feingold first argued that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program was in clear violation of federal law and the spirit of the Constitution, and that the Senate must censure the president for his wrongdoing, the maverick senator was condemned by the White House, ridiculed by Republicans and given the cold shoulder by most Democrats.

But, now, the Wisconsin Democrat who in March proposed that the Senate censure Bush for flagrantly disregarding the law has a federal judge on his side. And the question becomes: When will Democratic and Republican members of the Senate join Feingold in demanding that the administration be held to account for its assaults on basic liberties and the rule of law?

Ruling on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who expressed concern that the National Security Agency's spying initiative had made it difficult for them to develop and maintain legitimate international contacts and professional relationships, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit determined Thuesday that the warrantless wiretapping scheme is unconstitutional and ordered its immediate halt.

Holding that the spying program that was authorized and defended by President Bush violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, Taylor wrote in a 43-page opinion that: "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution."

The decision by Judge Taylor offers vindication for Feingold, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, who has argued since the NSA wiretapping was exposed last year that the president had dramatically overstepped his powers in authorizing the program.

"Today's district court ruling is a strong rebuke of this administration's illegal wiretapping program," Feingold said on Thursday. "The President must return to the Constitution and follow the statutes passed by Congress. We all want our government to monitor suspected terrorists, but there is no reason for it to break the law to do so. The administration went too far with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Today's federal court decision is an important step toward checking the President's power grab."

The key words in that statement are "an important step." The ruling by Judge Taylor, while significant, does not mark the end of this fight.

This administration will continue to battle judicial efforts to require the president to follow the law.

Ultimately, the job of demanding accountability will fall to the Senate.

At this point, Feingold has only a handful of Senate allies. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and California Democrat Barbara Boxer have been with the Wisconsinite since he proposed censure in March. In May, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry signed on. But most Democrats, including New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, have refused to embrace the proposal.

With the courts stepping in, the time for Democrats and responsible Republicans to step up is now. A failure by senators to respect their duty to check and balance a lawless president makes those disengaged legislators as much a part of the problem as an abusive executive.

The Results Are In...

My earlier post on Fair Trade coffee drew plenty of responses. Some readers were eager for guidance on tasty Fair Trade blends, and encouraged me to keep looking. Others provided tips of their own. All these suggestions were included in The Notion's Fair Trade Coffee Tasting Extravaganza, which was held on Sunday at the lovely Camaje restaurant, on Macdougal Street in Manhattan.

Our panel consisted of four tasters: Julia Azzarello, a chef and cooking teacher at Camaje, whose resume includes stints at the distinguished New York restaurants Chanterelle and Allison on Dominick Street; myself; Daniel Gross, former Starbucks barista who was fired for union-organizing efforts; Helen Hurwitz, a Brooklyn-based reference librarian and bec fin. Doug Henwood, Nation contributing editor and publisher of the Left Business Observer, handled the tasting logistics and compiled the results (and is co-author of this Notion report).

All coffees were freshly ground and identically brewed in a French press for four minutes, and presented with only letter codes, without milk or sugar. They were graded for body, acidity, and balance on a 1-3 scale, and for overall quality on a 1-5 scale (with 5 being the best). All the companies whose coffees we tested sell exclusively fair trade, and most of the coffees we tried were also organic.

The rankings, and some comments.

Gorilla Yirgacheffe 4.25Broad consensus that this was the best of all ten coffees tasted. Rich & deep, with nutty, spicy, and chocolatey notes. Gorilla is Brooklyn-roasted, with an appealing logo, and the company also runs a lively cafe in Park Slope (at 5th Ave. and Park).

CounterCulture Yirgacheffe Ambessa 3.75A close second (clearly, Yirgacheffe from any vendor has something going -- it's a tiny town in Ethiopia with climate conditions that are uniquely coffee-friendly). Also rich & deep, though not quite as much so as the Gorilla; winey, velvety, nutty, "a very nice cup of joe." Counter Culture is based in Durham, North Carolina; the company also has a shade-grown line, for those of us who worry about the birds.

Equiterra, from The Fair Trade Coffee Company 3.56Some internal dissent on the panel despite the high overall score. Fans found it refreshing and fruity; detractors, chalky, and slightly muddy. Shows just how subjective coffee-tasting can be! Equiterra is a blend of Indonesian, Central American and East African beans, roasted inGarwood, New Jersey.

Dean's Beans Oromia 3.50Well-balanced, complex, bold, with a good mouth-feel. One taster found it reminiscent of Guinness. Dean'sis a company worthy of notice not only for fine coffee, but for paying the farmers above the fair trade price.

Gorilla Nicaragua Segovia 3.50One taster found it homey; another said it had no life. Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

Equal Exchange Black Silk Espresso 3.25Spicy, cinnamon-y, chocolatey. Equal Exchangeis the oldest and largest fair trade company in the U.S., and also sells tea and chocolate.

Vermont Coffee Company Cafe Alta Gracia 2.63Earthy - perhaps too much so; muddy, bitter even. The beans are from the Dominican Republic, roasted in Vermont. (In another illustration of the wild subjectivity of coffee tasting, the reader who recommended this coffee thought it was the best "in the world.")

Vermont Coffee Company Decaf 2.25Mellow and bright were the kind words; others found it lacking in flavor, and one taster was put in mind of bile. Luckily, Roastmaster Paul Ralston doesn't want you to buy it unless you live in Vermont; he didn't entirely approve of our nationwide taste test because "readers should find a local roaster to support." (In fact, we did liked the Brooklyn coffee much better.)

CounterCulture Nicaragua decaf 2.25Has more body than the Vermont decaf, but opinions differed on the taste: some found it citrusy and spicy, but one thought it vomit-like. Makers of specialty coffee -- and caffeine avoiders -- always insist that decaf is just as good as real coffee, but it ain't necessarily so.

No CO2, from Dean's Beans 1.88Despite its high-minded intentions - this Peruvian coffee is produced with no net ozone emissions> - it was the stinker of the lot. Grades ranged from mediocre to awful; tasting notes included words like "metallic," "soapy," and "burnt toast."

While the devastating rout of No CO2 confirmed what we knew from our sad Cloudforest encounter -- that political sincerity alone does not a decent cup of coffee make -- we did learn that there is plenty of fine Fair Trade coffee out there. So if you've been holding out on this innovative, socially conscious sector because you don't think it will taste good, you're fresh out of excuses. We intend this report not as the last word on Fair Trade coffee, but as an incitement to your own explorations.

Snakes on a Plane

Even though I'm terrified of flying and only do so equipped with an Ipod, yogic breathing exercises and Xanax, I can't wait to see Snakes on a Plane this weekend. For those of you in a total culture vacuum, this highly-anticipated action/horror flick stars Samuel L. Jackson and 500+ would-be terrorist snakes on board, yup, a plane. Violence, swearing, hissing, writhing, tongue-flicking and CGI effects ensue -- at least according to previews and media buzz. At one point, Samuel L. Jackson reportedly exclaims, "That's it! I have had it with these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane!"

Forget the internet hype and anticipatory spoofs (Snakes in Ukraine, Snakes who Missed the Plane, Sharks on a Rollercoaster, Snakes on John McCain), I'm pegging Snakes on a Plane as the political satire of the year. Seriously.

As Bill Greider points out in his last post, the suspiciously timed announcement of a thwarted plot ("suggestive of al-Qaeda") to blow-up "multiple commercial aircraft" plays into Bush's "fear and smear" campaign. "So, once again in the run-up to a national election, we are visited with alarming news. A monstrous plot, red alert, high drama playing on all channels and extreme measures taken to tighten security," he writes. Beyond the coordinated spin of US and British officials and the now-discredited suggestion that the attack was imminent (in fact, scheduled for today, August 16), this latest "victory" in the "war on terror" has all the markings of a mass-mediated panic.

As in all great horror plots, the mundane has been transformed into the terrifying; the line between the two blurred. Is it lipstick or liquid explosive? Is your High Wycombe neighbor a 2nd-generation Pakistani-Brit or an "al-Qaeda inspired" Jihadist? The list of banned items grows longer, so do lines at security checkpoints. Mothers taste-test bottled breastmilk in front of airport screeners. Women ditch full bottles of Chanel No. 5 into garbage bins (talk about horrifying!). Diabetics abandon their insulin. And those damned colored alerts -- Yellow! Red! Orange! Red! -- continue to flash meaninglessly across our TV screens.

All of this commotion sows confusion. And since we can't tell the difference between a bomb and a balm, we might as well trust our government to do so for us. (Though apparently, airport screeners equipped with X-ray machines can't distinguish between an ordinary Nike sneaker and plastic explosives either.) So high-pitched is this hysteria that, just this morning, a passenger's claustrophobic incident on board a Boeing 767 instigated a military fighter jet escort and emergency diversion to Logan International Airport in Boston. And the "matches, screwdriver, Vaseline and two notes referring to al-Qaeda" that CNN excitedly reported were in this poor woman's possession? They don't exist, never did. According to a Transportation Security Administration spokesman, "there is no nexus to terrorism with this event" -- a surreal quote quite on its own.

When reality gets this crazy, an absurd movie like Snakes on a Plane might just be a welcome antidote. I can already imagine the reality-informed sequels: Shampoo on a Plane (radical gay hair-stylists, armed with gossip, curl relaxer and Tresemmé, hijack a flight to Miami but are foiled by Samuel L. Jackson and his extremely kinky afro) and Baby Formula on a Plane (fanatic breastmilk advocates force-feed Enfamil to terrified passengers, causing Samuel L. Jackson to shout, "I have had it with this motherf---ing infant formula on this motherf---ing plane!")

Alright, clowning aside, let me just suggest that comic horror films like Snakes on a Plane and the mass-mediated, transatlantic spectacle of this past week are two sides of the same coin. The former inspires laughs and thrills; the latter instills fear and acquiescence. But both appeal to the shop-worn conventions of the mass disaster, and both, in their way, are pleasurable. In his brilliant essay "The Mass Public and the Mass Subject," social theorist Michael Warner argues that airplane crashes -- rather than more frequent and more deadly car crashes -- fascinate because they cause injury to a mass body to which we identify and aspire. "Disaster is popular, as it were, because it is a way of making mass subjectivity available," he writes. It's this tendency, to become a mass public through scenes of real and imagined disaster, that the Bush administration and the docile press corps exploit, for political gain (as Greider suggests) or merely for the sake of audience share. But we don't have to look, or if we do, we can laugh. So turn off the tube and go see Snakes on a Plane.

This is What Democracy Looks Like?

Scroll down to read a letter of response from Steve Paulus, General Manager of NY1.

"Celebrity is no substitute for an honest and vigorous debate on a matter as fundamentally important as war."

That is what antiwar Senate candidate, Jonathan Tasini, told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert last May in describing his rationale for making a Democratic Party primary run against incumbent-Goliath, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Tasini has since qualified for the ballot with 40,000 signatures – far surpassing the required 15,000 – and he is polling at a surprising 13 percent (or, perhaps not so surprising, if one considers the outrage over Iraq.) But, despite Tasini's strong run, the voters of New York might not get that vigorous debate after all.

Cable news station, NY1 – owned by Time-Warner – declared that Tasini cannot participate in its televised debate series because he hasn't raised the arbitrarily required $500,000. Tasini nearly triples the 5 percent polling requirement but he doesn't have the cash flow NY1 is looking for to legitimize his candidacy.

Now there's democracy in action for you: only the wealthy or those who raise enough money are welcome in this contest of ideas – no matter how critical the moment in our nation's history and no matter how many voters pledge their support.

As the New York Post (whose owner Rupert Murdoch held a July fundraiser for Senator Clinton) points out, "Traditionally, the test of seriousness in a statewide candidate in New York is successful completion of the grueling ballot-access process. It ain't easy, to put it mildly - but Tasini has made that grade."

The Post editorial goes on to argue that "70 percent of New York Democrats consider Iraq to be a major Election Day issue." Don't the citizens of New York deserve to hear a range of views now that so many have expressed support for Tasini's candidacy?

Consider some of these differences on critical issues -- as outlined by the Peace Action Voter Guide (you can guess where the two candidates stand): Opposes the presence of permanent US bases in Iraq; Opposes a military invasion of Iran; Supports cutting outmoded items from the Pentagon budget to fund urgent domestic needs; Supports the US National Missile Defense Program; Opposes a time-lined withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, beginning in 2006; Supports a prohibition on US arms sales and military training to governments that the State Department deems human rights abusers. And there's more.

It's time to take on our downsized politics of excluded alternatives. Click here to contact NY1 and demand that it act in the public interest and allow this debate. It's the right thing for the New York Senate race, and it's the right thing for our democracy.

Letter of response from Steve Paulus, General Manager of NY1.


I read your blog and feel compelled to write you in response. First off, let me categorically state that NY1 has not disqualified Jonathan Tasini from any debate because there is no debate. Hillary Clinton will not agree to a debate with anyone so there is no debate to be held. We have featured Mr. Tasini in several stories and he has been a guest on "Inside City Hall." We are planning to invite him back at least once more before the primary. We have a nightly political program that airs in Albany, Rochester and Syracuse and have had Mr. Tasini appear before and we are planning on bringing him back again as well.

Now, regarding the financial criteria for participating in our series of debates. I would hope that you would agree that we have the right and probably need to set some sort of criteria for participation. In the 2005 Mayoral Campaign, the NYC Campaign Finance Board set a financial threshold of $50,000 in order to participate in their debates. To run for Mayor you need to buy television time in one market. To run a statewide campaign you need to buy television time in seven Nielsen markets. Multiply the $50,000 by seven and you get $350,000, a total the Tasini campaign hasn't come close to raising.

Regarding Mr. Tasini's financial statusalthough he has gotten enough signatures and is polling at about 13 percent, he has still raised less than $150,000. That is not enough to run a statewide campaignfor example, he doesn't have any kind of organization outside of NYC (no field offices anywhere in the State). We originally set the $500,000 criteria this way. There are 5.5 million registered democrats in NYS. If one tenth of them (ONE out of TEN registered Democrats) sent him $1 he would have raised $550,000.

NY1 has given more coverage to Mr. Tasini's campaign than ANY other television station. We are seen across NYS so he has gotten enormous exposure from his appearances on NY1. It isn't fair to blame NY1 for "disqualifying" a candidate when we are the only organization putting the resources into holding these kinds of debates. When an editorial in the NY Post chides NY1 I have to ask what about Fox 5 and the Post? Both are owned by News Corporation. Can't THEY make the effort to hold a debate in this race. If you Nexis or Google the NY Post and Tasini, they have mentioned him TWICE since his campaign began.

We've taken a lot of heat, we believe unfairly, and I hope that the facts make some sense and that you correct some of the misstatements in the Editor's Cut? We are getting a lot of emails from around the country and their basic premise is incorrect.

Thank you, Steve Paulus General Manager, NY1

California Dreamin'

What will happen to me if I get sick or injured and can't pay my bills?

On the domestic front, that's a key question on voters' minds as the November elections approach. A poll of working women, released on August 8 by the AFL-CIO, indicated that concern about access to quality medical coverage was rated the top issue by 97 percent of respondents, outpolling the income gap between women and men for the first time. MoveOn members, asked to vote on issues that they believe should define a "new positive agenda" ranked healthcare for all persons at the top of the list.

In California, one of the country's largest states and a decisive election-year battleground, the growing momentum behind healthcare reform is pushing two sharply different approaches into public view.

The first, a proposal for universal healthcare coverage, is presented in Senate Bill 840, authored by Southern California's State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-23). SB 840 would provide universal, comprehensive healthcare insurance to Californians while protecting consumers' ability to choose their own doctors. Under the SB 840 model, consumers and businesses would pay an income or payroll-based premium for a "solid, comprehensive plan" that includes medical, dental, vision, prescription drug, hospitalization and emergency coverage. Medical care provision would remain as the mix of private and not-for-profit business that it is now. SB 840 would also mandate that California use its purchasing power to negotiate bulk rates for prescription drugs and medical equipment. (The administrative costs for medical care in California would drop below 5 percent of total costs, compared to the whopping 25 to 30 percent currently being spent.)

On the other side, on June 16, Sandra Shewry, Governor Schwarzenegger's Director of the Department of Health Services hosted a meeting of journalists to discuss the possibility of "Massachusetts-style health reform" in California. As it turned out, uninvited healthcare experts and advocates showed up, as well, to deliver an early warning: Massachusetts' so-called universal healthcare plan is already bad news for the people of Massachusetts and would be a disaster for California.

The heart of the Massachusetts plan is this: every resident of Massachusetts must have health insurance by July 1, 2007 or pay a fine--but costs of health insurance and medical care itself are not controlled, nor are there adequate standards for what health insurance is supposed to cover. Big insurance wins; consumers lose.

The Massachusetts plan offers subsidies for the very poor--as it should, and allows those who can afford it to buy insurance pre-tax--but this plan squeezes middle class people who don't qualify for subsidies and can't afford to buy insurance pre-tax. The plan subsidizes people who earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level. But a typical group policy in Massachusetts costs about $4,500 annually for an individual and more than $11,000 for family coverage. Many families and business would be forced to choose between complying with the law and other vital necessities. Young and healthy people might be able to buy low premium plans, but even these are now typically considered affordable only to people whose income is greater than 499 percent of the poverty level. Furthermore, such high-deductible, low-coverage plans often don't offer even adequate coverage.

The sort of plans available to middle-class consumers--those with deductibles that run into the thousands of dollars--mean that most consumers would wind up footing the bill for most of their own yearly healthcare in addition to the premiums that such a law would force them to pay. If such consumers found themselves truly needing extensive coverage--if they get hit by a car or contract a serious illness--they may find out that their cut-rate plan will leave them in terrible financial trouble. (About half of all bankruptcies sustained in the United States today are the result of medical expenses incurred by people who had health insurance they thought they could trust). Middle class consumers will not be able to choose the doctors they most trust but will be forced to decide among the doctors whose services are covered by the plan they can afford.

The sad joke is that plans like this are being marketed as ‘consumer driven.' Healthcare consumers (that is to say, everybody) please take note: any so-called ‘consumer-driven' health plan is really an anti-consumer hit and run. California State Senator Sheila Kuehl is offering a real alternative. Her bold legislative initiative would bring truly affordable healthcare to all.

SB 840 has already been passed by the California State Senate and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It will likely be up for a floor vote by the Assembly later this week or next Monday. Ask your California friends to support this bill--and to contact their Assembly representatives to vote "yes' on SB 840. And urge your own state legislators to put forth similarly bold proposals.