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Would You Like a (Grande) Pink Slip With That Latte?

Sometimes I almost want to like Starbucks, purveyor of expensive yet soothingly foamy hot drinks. The company buys some Fair Trade coffee (though not nearly enough). Employees get health insurance even if they only work 20 hours a week. And while it's always horrible when a Starbucks displaces a neighborhood coffee shop with more character, and roots in the community, I've also seen Starbucks in strip malls, on highways and many other places that never had a coffee shop before. A coffee shop is, after all, a civilized spot for people of all ages to gather, talk, read and hang out with one another, and if Starbucks creates more such spaces, that's a good thing. Best of all, as a friend put it, for many of us, Starbucks is not a coffee shop at all, but "an infrastructure of free bathrooms throughout New York City."

Sadly, however, like so many companies that make "social responsibility" a part of their brand identity -- Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foodsand even Philadelphia's vaunted White Dog Cafe -- Starbucks is adamantly anti-union. Daniel Gross found that out the hard way. This weekend, Gross was fired, fellow employees say, after trying for three years to organize his fellow workers at 17th and Broadway, in Manhattan. Gross is the fourth union activist to be fired from the company this year. The workers will continue trying to organize with the IWW (yes, the Wobblies live!) and have some suggestions on how you can help support their campaign, including boycotting Starbucks until it changes its union-busting ways. Students should consider joining the Justice from Bean to Cup campaign, to pressure Starbucks to reinstates the fired union activists, as well as make a more meaningful commitment to Fair Trade coffee.

Speaking of the latter, I've had some complaints from people who didn't read my Fair Trade coffee post carefully and thought I was dismissing all Fair Trade coffee. Duh, of course not. I was serious when I wrote that I'm convening a tasting panel, and am confident we'll have some tasty findings to report. Relax, people: identifying the good stuff can only help, not hurt, the Fair Trade movement by giving the consumer a little more information.

Mad Mel: Beyond Hezbollah

Last week, while hooked to an IV of air-conditioning, web surfing and TV news, I came to a startling conclusion. Mel Gibson is in league with Hezbollah, and the future of Mideast peace hinges upon the total eradication of his cinematic oeuvre. He must never be allowed to eat lunch at Spago again.

Before you tune me out, let me explain. It all started on a dark Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) when Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee (yes, a Jew) pulled Gibson over for speeding. From the very first moment that TMZ.com broke the story, I knew we were onto something far more momentous than just another of Mel's nights of ladies, liquor and Jew-bashing. According to the deep throats at TMZ, higher-ups at the LAPD feared that public disclosure of Gibson's comments would incite a lot of "Jewish hatred" and ordered the police report "doctored" and "sanitized" because the current situation in Israel was "way too inflammatory." Caution or cover-up?

Exposed to the bright lights of Hollywood, Mel's remarks were roundly condemned by Tinsel Town elite. But it was Ari Emanuel, talent agent, brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for HBO's Entourage, who first connected Gibson's words with the week's second most important story, the conflict in Lebanon. In an article for Huffington Post, "The Bottom Line on Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Remarks," Emanuel wrote "at a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements." He was echoed by Hollywood big-wigs like Sony Pictures Chairwoman Amy Pascal who said, "It's incredibly disappointing that somebody of his stature would speak out that way, especially at this sensitive time." But Emanuel and Pascal only scratched the surface of Mel's diabolical plot. What would happen in Lebanon if Hollywood allowed Gibson to get away with his "tragically inflammatory statements"? Enquiring minds want to know.

Luckily, HuffPo's Queen Arianna uncovered the connections. Declaring the "Gibson affair" Hollywood's "defining moment," she concluded that Mel Gibson and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah are "psychological soul mates." "Gibson's no-longer-deniable brand of bigotry," she wrote "continues to fuel much of the strife and suffering in the world today." Huffington seems to think that world peace is just one Netflix boycott of Braveheart away. "In the same way that ordinary Muslims need to separate themselves from the blood-drenched ideology of Hezbollah, Hollywood needs to separate itself from the odious racism of Gibson." You hear that residents of Qana? Tired of Israeli bombs and Hezbollah terrorist tactics, just change the channel.

Her blog-mate Bill Maher exposes even more. It's not just Gibson who's in cahoots with Nasrallah, it's all of us. As Maher watches "so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would," he comes to the conclusion that "the world IS Mel Gibson." "Most of the time," Maher says, "the anti-Semitism [sic] is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there's been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out." So there you have it. If you're worried that you too might be a closet anti-Semite, then mind the lunar cycle, lay off the Jack Daniels and for heaven's sake, don't criticize Israeli foreign policy.

But wait, there's another figure in this shadiest of conspiracies. According to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, "the world is having a Mel Gibson moment." By "the world" Cohen does not just mean the tendency of "the world" to "blame Israel alone for the carnage in Lebanon" (as Gibson blames the Jews for "all the wars in the world") or even the prevailing "anti-Israel zeitgeist" that Gibson "put his finger to." Cohen is referring to the granddaddy of all conspirators -- the UN and its mastermind, Kofi Annan. Yes, according to Cohen, "before Gibson there was Kofi Annan." Cohen stops shorts of accusing Annan of anti-Semitism, but he does find some commonalities between the UN Secretary General and the star of What Women Want: "a rush to judgment, an impatience, an anger and a general vexation that, at best, is worrisome." In Cohen's troubled mind, when Kofi Annan prematurely claimed that Israel deliberately targeted UN observers in an airstrike on southern Lebanon (killing four of them), he was "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment."

I think Cohen is on to something. Who knows what other international fiascos can be explained by this new syndrome? When George Bush molested German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a recent G8 confab, was he too "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment"?

Now, I'm normally averse to conspiracy theories, but all these reputable folks got me thinking -- maybe Mel Gibson plays a far bigger role in geopolitics than any of us had previously thought? For example, during his drunken diatribe, Mel Gibson revealed that he "owns Malibu." Could the city of Malibu, like Syria and Iran, be funding Hezbollah? Could this be the nefarious purpose behind those mysterious "Team Aniston" baby-Ts worn by so many a Malibu mom? What about all that Aramaic spoken and subtitled in Passion of the Christ? Do any of us really understand reconstructed Aramaic? How do we know that the whole movie wasn't a set of coded instructions intended for Muqtada al-Sadr? And don't even get me started on what a repeat viewing of Lethal Weapon 4 revealed!

But then, I got thinking even some more, and well, I'm no Mideast scholar or Entertainment Tonight reporter, but it seems to me that, though Mel Gibson and Hezbollah both hate the Jews, they do so for totally different reasons. As far as I can tell, Gibson hates Jews because they killed Christ, because they "started all the wars in the world," because they "run Hollywood," and because they have the audacity to pull him over for doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone in his Lexus LS 430 with a .12 blood-alcohol level. These are not, as far as I know, the concerns that preoccupy Hezbollah, Hamas or even the Palestinian National Authority.

Alright, in all seriousness, what is the link between Hezbollah, Kofi Annan, Israel and Mel Gibson? Allow me to suggest another global conspiracy called "culture." As a fellow critic said to me, "Americans only understand the cult of celebrity, so they transpose everything into the key of Hollywood." So here we are, trapped in this meta-Mel moment. The press relentlessly dissects every minute detail of Mel Gibson's evening, from his choice of liquor to his glassy-eyed mugshot. Reporters feverishly pursue the roots of Gibson's anti-Semitism (his father, right-wing Catholicism, Holocaust denialism, Australian white supremacy). Through Mel Gibson's vehicle, we ponder such universal questions as: What responsibilities come with fame? What is the nature of forgiveness? What are the limits of rehabilitation?

All the while, the conflict in Lebanon rages on. And it is not just that this foray into Gibson's psyche provides a distraction from violence and suffering, but that the forced synergy between the two transforms the very field of meaning in which we might place Israel's offensive and Hezbollah's militancy. Gone are Israel's forty-year occupation of Palestinian lands, the dispute over Sheba farms, the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah as political and social movements, the mutual capture and detention of military prisoners, the possibility of war crimes, the asymmetry of power, the suffering and ambivalence of civilians on both sides. What is left when the pundit class finishes forcing the Mideast conflict through the Hollywood machine is simply this: the eternal, omnipresent meta-narrative of Jewish suffering. As Rick Salutin of The Globe and Mail writes, the Mel Gibson incident "reinforced a sense that an ancient, ineradicable hatred of Jews lurks behind the current strife." I would add that the Gibson flap also reinforced the idea (see Maher and Cohen) that to criticize Israel is to engage in anti-Semitism, to join Gibson in his irrational, primordial hatred of Jews.

It seems to me that there was a brief moment --when the bombing of Lebanon began, when the images of Lebanese children in body bags flickered across TV news -- that the American public might finally grasp the extent to which Lebanese and Palestinian Arabs have suffered as result of Israel's policies. That moment is now gone -- in no small measure due to the fallout from the Mel Gibson crisis. But I don't blame Mel; I blame the delusional, infotainment-centered press corps. Wake me up when September comes.

The Other Lamont

The Nation's been going since 1865.

But, if it hadn't been for Hammond Lamont, great-great uncle ofConnecticut Democratic senatorial hopeful Ned Lamont, we might be telling adifferent story.

When Nation Editor Wendell Phillips Garrison was ready to retire in 1906, after "41 years of unrelaxed application" in the weekly's service, he wanted to let The Nation die because he could think of nobody "fit to carry on who would respect it and its traditions." Whereupon Oswald Garrison Villard, then a regular writer for the magazine, who later became its owner and editor in 1918, suggested that he consider Hammond Lamont. (Hammond had done newspaper work in Seattle and Albany, and was managing editor of the Evening Post.) After some reflection, Garrison changed his mind and asked Lamont to become The Nation's third editor. As one report had it, Lamont was no firebrand --one report characterized him as a "noble, kindly, conservative gentleman," But he understood The Nation's role, its traditions and kept the magazine alive {Sadly, he died just three years later, during what had been expected to be a minor operation on his jaw.}

This week, The Nation--along with thousands of others acrossthis country --is poised to celebrate Ned Lamont's victory over longtime incumbent JoeLieberman. But there'll also be celebration of another Lamont --one whokept America's oldest weekly alive and kicking so we could mark thisgood day.

Desperate Measures

Joe Lieberman, down in the polls and desperate as Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary approaches, tried on Sunday to remake himself as something he has not been for a very long time: A true-blue Democrat who respects dissent in his own party and the country as a whole.

Accusing his anti-war primary challenger, Ned Lamont, of waging "a distortion campaign against me," the Bush administration's favorite Democratic senator grumbled, "Now I understand that many Democrats in Connecticut disagree with me and are very angry about the war. I don't think there is anything I can say to change your mind about whether we should have gone to war or when we should bring the troops home, and at this point I'm not going to insult you by trying. What I will say is this: I not only respect your right to disagree or question the President, I value it. I was part of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, so I don't need to be lectured by Ned Lamont about the place of dissent in our democracy."

With the primary just two days away, the senator professed to be shocked, shocked by suggestions that he might be something less than a diehard Democrat.

"The more I have talked to voters in these closing days, the more I am concerned they have been shortchanged in this campaign," said Lieberman. "Instead of hearing an honest debate about the issues that really matter to people, they have been overwhelmed with bogus charges about my Democratic credentials. Instead of having an honest discussion about your future, we're getting negative politics at its worst."

The new Democratic Joe Lieberman is a far cry from the Joe Lieberman who has spent the past four years as the pet Democrat of the conservative Fox News combine -- grinning, nodding and chirping his approval as conservative commentator Sean Hannity has trashed war critics and accused Democrats who challenge the Bush White House of something akin to treason.

Consider this sample from the transcipt of a February 10, 2006, appearance by Lieberman on Hannity's radio program:

HANNITY: I agree with you, and Senator, this is why I am very appreciative of the positions you've taken in the war on terror in the last number of years. And I know you've taken a lot of political heat from it from within your party. You've heard of Howard Dean's comments about you, for crying out loud.

LIEBERMAN: (Laughter)

HANNITY: I mean he could barely come out and support you. And, you know, Karl Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview, and he said, it doesn't make them unpatriotic, but it makes them wrong.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah.

HANNITY: He believes, profoundly consistently wrong. And I think the latest example of this is, we can kill members of Al Qaeda, but we've got Democrats up in arms over the idea that if Al Qaeda calls into the United States from an outside country, that, boy, we'd better get a court order to listen to them. It's absurd to me.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah...

In the course of the same program last winter, Hannity offered to campaign for Lieberman, telling the neoconservative senator: "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election, I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

Lieberman responded by thanking Hannity and telling the Fox personality: "You're a great guy. It would just be fun to be with you."

Perhaps even more amusing than the sudden sympathy for Democrats and dissenters displayed by Lieberman in his pre-primary speech was his newfound anger over the stolen election of 2000.

"I am the only Democrat in America to run against George Bush in a national election twice," said Lieberman, referencing his 2000 Democratic campaign for the vice presidency and his miserable 2004 run for the party's presidential nod. "I even beat him and Dick Cheney once, if all the votes had been counted."

The senator's right, of course. Al Gore would have become the president, and Lieberman the vice president, if all the votes in Florida had been counted in December, 2000, with an eye toward producing a result that reflected the sentiments of the electorate. But what Lieberman failed to mention on Sunday was that he has, for years, been Joey-on-the-spot when George W. Bush has needed an election ally.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Lieberman parted company with his running mate to tell the Wall Street Journal that Gore's populist rhetoric wasn't sincere. Don't take Gore seriously, Lieberman promised, Democrats could be counted on to deliver for corporate America.

During the Florida recount fight of that year, Lieberman told Democrats to back off their challenges to Republican efforts to count votes that were cast late or illegally.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, after Democrats had overwhelmingly rejected Lieberman's candidacy for their party's nomination, the senator traveled to the battleground state of Florida three weeks before the election and told a predominantly Jewish crowd in Delray Beach that criticism of Bush's Middle East policies were "unjustified." "We are dealing with a president who's had a record of strong, consistent support for Israel," Lieberman argued. "You can't say otherwise."

It is not surprising that Joe Lieberman waited until the end of this summer's Connecticut primary campaign to complain about "bogus charges about my Democratic credentials." He's hoping that no one has time to check out the charges before election day. If they do, they will find that there is nothing "bogus" about the Lamont campaign's detailing of Lieberman's penchant for carrying water for Bush and the neoconservatives.

Joe Lieberman is hoping that Connecticut Democrats won't recall his record when the vote on Tuesday.

If they do, he's as doomed as the polls suggest.

Three Cheers for Harry

The familiar hallmark of Republican politics is what I call "roll-call slander." The party of Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, pioneered the use of ridiculous legislative roll calls to put incumbent Democrats on the spot--recorded votes that can be used against them in the next election. The purpose is not to enact legislation but to generate demagogic fodder for Republican challengers.

Did you know your senator voted in favor of burning the American flag? Well, he did. Here is the Senate roll-call to prove it. Elect me and I promise to stand by our flag.

Sometimes, this works or makes Dems scurry for cover. More often, it simply revs up the GOP troops, like waving a piece of bloody meat before a pack of hungry dogs. The technique turns representative democracy into a cheap cartoon.

This week in the Senate, the Republican strategists reached a new nadir of cynicism with their proposal to raise the minimum wage for the working poor in the same bill that slashes the estate tax for billionaires.

How cute is that? Republicans loathe the minimum wage, of course, but they figured this could sucker a handful of wobbly Democrats into going along with them on gutting the estate tax. Or else face the wrath of their constituents. The GOP tricksters failed by four votes.

I say, hurrah for Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader. Democrats hung together and blocked this ugly maneuver-–a rare moment of solidarity when some of them were seriously tempted to defect. Republicans might try again in the fall, but they are running out of gimmicks.

The GOP is fearful this fall's elections will seriously weaken its House and Senate majorities, so this might be their last chance to crumple the estate tax. The party has collected hundreds of millions in contributions from the small number of very, very rich families obsessed with repeal. A handful of Dems wanted to vote for them too. They will probably be targeted in the fall campaign but with this twist: Did you know your senator voted against poor people?

The cloakroom politics surrounding this issue was intense, but minority leader Reid was the stand-up guy. We don't know what he said privately. Presumably, nobody's arm was broken. But Harry Reid kept the wannabe stray cats in line. How refreshing. A party leader who stands and fights, who warns wayward colleagues they better not sell out.

DeLay, Coulter, Kristol Defend Lieberman

The polls show Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is falling far behind anti-war challenger Ned Lamont as the state's August 8 Democratic primary approaches.

But it's not all bad news for the embattled senator. At least Tom DeLay's rooting for him.

The former House majority leader from Texas is a Republican who may not agree with the Bush White House's favorite Democrat on every issue but who thinks the Senator is right-on when it comes to foreign policy.

"[Lieberman's] very good on the war," DeLay said during an interview this week on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program.

With the Connecticut primary, in which Iraq War-enthusiast Lieberman trails war-critic Lamont by 13 points in the latest poll, just days away, the incumbent's neoconservative allies are rushing to his defense.

Lieberman's latest campaign contribution list features a $500 donation from Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, a publication so Pravda-like in its cheerleading for the Iraq imbroglio – and for an attack on Iran -- that Vice President Dick Cheney has stacks of each new edition delivered to the White House for distribution to the staff.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter's defending Lieberman, as well, going on at some length during an interview with Fox's Neal Cavuto to explain how much she admires the senator and suggesting that, instead of fighting for the Democratic nomination in Connecticut, Lieberman ought to switch parties. "I think he should come all the way and become a Republican," argues Coulter, who says of Lieberman and the GOP: "at least he'd fit in with the party."

Even though it comes from Coulter, that's not entirely crazy talk. In February of this year, Connecticut Republican Congressman Chris Shays told editors of the Stamford Advocate newspaper that he would be voting for Lieberman this year and urged other Republicans to do the same. The Hartford Courant reported on February 28 that "GOP officials have discussed cross-endorsing Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman this fall."

The Courant story, which broke before a cross-endorsement deal could be brokered, squelched it for the time being. "One GOP operative who was aware of the discussions said premature public disclosure of the possible cross-endorsement probably would kill the idea. That seems to be case," the paper observed last winter.

But with Lamont pulling ahead in the polls, and with the Lieberman's backers circulating petitions to run him as an independent if he loses the Democratic nod, some Connecticut Republicans have again been discussing the prospect that a defeated Lieberman might find a new political home on the GOP line. The campaign of the endorsed Republican candidate for the Connecticut Senate seat, former legislator Alan Schlesinger, has been rocked by charges that he may have a serious gambling problem. Connecticut's Republican Governor Jodi Rell suggested in July that Schlesinger might want to consider quitting the race. Schlesinger stayed in for the time being. But all bets could be off if Lieberman – a Senate supporter the Bush White House does not want to lose -- suddenly becomes available.

Women's Health Crisis

If the Bush administration had any sense of commitment to the protection of endangered species it might consider adding "science" to its list. After thwarting stem cell research and muzzling global warming scientists (how are you enjoying the latest heat wave, Mr. Bush, and the fact that the first six months of this year were the warmest ever recored in the US?), right-wing ideology trumping sound science is currently found in the effort to hold women's health hostage.

Forty-five countries and nine states have approved Plan B emergency contraceptive – "the morning after pill" – for over-the-counter sale, while the Food and Drug Administration has avoided making a decision for three years running. Now, as acting-FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach enters his confirmation hearing this week, he is promising to end the delay caused by – according to his predecessor, Dr. Lester Crawford – "unique regulatory issues."

But Democratic Senators such as Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray are rightfully threatening to block the confirmation until a decision on Plan B is actually made, not simply promised. After a written assurance from the Bush Administration that there would be action on Plan B – during Crawford's confirmation hearing –it turned out that the promise wasn't worth the paper it was written on.

"Americans want the Bush administration's political appointees at the FDA to stop blocking a decision on whether to make Plan B available over-the-counter," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "Dr. von Eschenbach must prove that this action is genuine and not just a political ploy intended to pave the way for his confirmation."

And the Plan B fight isn't the only development showing us in no uncertain terms that Americans need to protect women's health from those who are working overtime to impose their ideological beliefs on all Americans.

Last month in Jackson, Mississippi, Operation Save America held a weeklong siege of the last abortion clinic in the state. "A gauntlet" of demonstrators – up to one hundred – harassed patients and held up "photos of aborted fetuses blown up to the size of 4 year olds." They also went to the homes and neighbors of clinic workers to speak out against the "baby killers." At the Capitol building, they demonstrated against Islam, homosexuality, abortion and compared Jackson to Nazi Germany.

And in the state legislature – as in State Houses across the nation – antiabortion bills are part of this shameful attack on women's privacy and health. According to Salon, Mississippi requires "women seeking abortions [to] sign informed consent forms certifying that they've been told about the risks of abortion, including ‘danger to subsequent pregnancies, breast cancer, and infertility.' Thus doctors in Mississippi are legally required to mislead their patients." Add to that Bush-buddy Governor Haley Barbour's official "week of prayer regarding the sanctity of human life" before the Roe v. Wade anniversary… and a nearly passed abortion ban… and a clear picture emerges of the right-wing crackdown against women and public health.

There is a signal being sent from the Bush administration to its political appointees and to its right-wing allies and zealots: women's health is not in the hands of women and their doctors. The extremists who have already hijacked our foreign policy, eroded our civil liberties, and attempted to strangle the progress of science, must be stopped.

Poll: Lamont Leads Lieberman by 13 Points

I was doing a radio interview this morning on the Connecticut Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate -- roughly the 50th in recent days -- with Jay Marvin, whose show on KKZN-AM in the Boulder-Denver market is one of the smartest progressive talk radio programs in the country.

Jay doesn't pull punches. He asked straight up: "Is Ned Lamont going to beat Joe Lieberman?"

I thought for a second and answered: "Yes, I think Lamont's going to pull this thing off."

It was the first time I had dared suggest, on tape and without the usual qualifications, that a pro-war Democratic U.S. senator could lose his own party's primary to a candidate running on a progressive anti-war platform. To be honest, I am still a little uncomfortable making predictions about this race, as the politics of Connecticut Democratic primaries are complex and prone to unexpected shifts.

But the latest survey from Connecticut suggests that Lamont may well be pulling away in this contest. A new Quinnipiac University Poll of 890 Democrats taken July 25-31 has Lamont at 54 percent to 41 percent for Lieberman, the three-term incumbent whose support for the Bush administration's war in Iraq has put him at odds with grassroots Democrats.

According to poll director Douglas Schwartz: "Despite visits from former President Bill Clinton and other big-name Democrats, Lieberman has not been able to stem the tide to Lamont."

That's certainly the sense I've gotten on my visits to the state, as I've talked to Democratic voters who are furious with Lieberman's neoconservatism and increasingly enthused about Lamont.

The prospect that the challenger might not merely win but win with by sizable margin is more important in this race than most.

Lieberman is planning to mount an independent run for the seat if he loses the primary. How far Lieberman can get as an independent will be decided by organizations such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters -- which have backed the incumbent because of his reasonably sound domestic record -- and traditional Democratic donors. If the Democratic party's 2000 vice presidential nominee is beaten badly in a homestate primary, it will be harder for him to get interest groups and big givers to stay with him as he mounts a sore-loser campaign in the fall.

Of course, the first task for Lamont is still to win -- and, if he does, it will be a remarkable accomplishment considering the fact that the challenger was a virtual unknown six months ago. But if the first task is accomplished, then the question that will arise is: Did Lamont win by a decisive enough margin to get Lieberman to accept defeat in August rather than November?

Even a few weeks ago, a discussion about the size of Lamont's margin would have seemed surreal. But this race has moved to a point where that discussion is becoming realistic -- and consequential as regards the course of the fall campaign.

Beyond Petitions

It's 93 degrees outside my apartment window -- positively Nordic (it was 100 yesterday). This week, after years of resisting -- because of the expense, and the environmental impact -- my husband and I finally bought a living room air conditioner. It sure feels nice. But it's disturbing that because of global warming, we had to buy something that may contribute to... global warming.

Summer in New York City is always unbearable for at least a couple weeks, but this year is hell. Like all bad weather, this heat has hit some people much harder than others: a blackout left folks in Queens without power for almost two weeks, while the air conditioner from the H&M store near Penn Station wastefully cools the sidewalk, a seductive ploy to invite customers inside. Heat waves have always been a possible hazard of spending the summer in this city, so we don't know for sure what's causing this one, but no serious scientists dispute that global warming is taking place, and that we should make serious changes in our greenhouse gas emissions in order to ease up on this poor old planet and at least minimize the damage.

Last year, a friend (a longtime, deeply committed social justice activist) confessed that since he'd be dead before any serious fallout from global warming -- meaning, I suppose, before Manhattanites are up to our ankles in water -- he wasn't motivated to take any action on the issue. That's quite understandable, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.

Even some environmentalists aren't much help. I read in today's New York Times that people are objecting to a plan to use the water power of Manhattan's East River as a source of alternative energy because it might hurt the fish. I'm sorry, if I'm a fish in the East River, my life already sucks -- it's really, really polluted in there. Energy innovation is badly needed, and environmentalists, of all people, should be playing a more constructive role. It's like Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, and all those Cape Cod liberals mobilizing against the wind turbines -- fearing they would mar the view of the Bay. Honestly, being a populist right-wing talk show host and making fun of the liberal elite must be such easy money.

But over the past year, after Hurricane Katrina, and this apocalyptically hot summer, more people are feeling personally affected by climate change -- and wondering what they can do.

I was wondering myself, so I signed a petitionthe other day from the League of Conservation Voters. I'm sorry to report that I then got a follow-up email from them, a communication so foolish I'm embarrassed even to have it in my inbox. It exhorts me to send an email to Bush telling him to see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." "Maybe he'd finally see the light!" the League gushes. Are they kidding?

Call me cynical, but sending an email to Bush telling him to see a movie made by his arch-rival in a bitterly contested election didn't seem very promising. Luckily, I do know some people who have better ideas. I'd recommend the great brains at EcoEquity, an amazing website, full of essays lucidly explaining the science of the problem, its social justice dimensions, and exploring real policy solutions (like emissions trading) in a serious, nuanced way. (Great view of debates within the climate justice movement, too.) Another acquaintance, Liz Galst, has a blogoffering practical solutions to global warming. I like the way she combines political action -- like telling Congress to support the Safe Climate Act-- with intriguing ways you can take more personal responsibility in daily life (her tips go far beyond the usual feel-goodery-- she even recommends, for drivers, an ecologically-conscious alternative to evil Triple-A). Finally, my friend Meg Daly, a writer and editor in San Francisco (where temperatures also reached the 90s this week -- and when does that ever happen?), has also started a blog on this subject, written in an accessibly intimate, personal tone, offering reflections, resources, and small actions. (Meg is going to be posting much more over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.) Given the scary subject, there's an admirable dearth of despair on these sites. I haven't, sadly, seen much visible, in-person collective action on climate change. But it's hard to imagine marching on Washington right now -- it's much too hot!