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WashU Comes Correct

Sweet Victory

In the wake of the sweet victory at Georgetown--the result of a remarkable two-week hunger strike--students across the country sprung into a "Week of Action" for workers' rights. According to the Student Labor Action Project, students from over 250 schools participated in mass actions beginning on March 31st, thebirthday of Cesar Chavez, and ending on April 4th--the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death. But for students at the Washington University of St. Louis, the struggle had just begun.

On that day, fifteen students occupied the admissions office and began a 19-day sit-in. Their demand was that the school's janitors be paid a living wage and their argument hit a familiar key: at a school with a multi-billion dollar endowment, it was unconscionable for university employees to be paid eight dollars an hour. Members of Wash U's Student Worker Alliance began organizing a campaign for fair wages in 2003, and last year--after St. Louis Board of Aldermen established $9.79 per hour with full benefits as the city's living wage--they requested that the university comply with these standards. After repeated rejections, the students opted for direct action.

A week into the sit-in, a dozen protesters upped the ante and began a hunger strike. On the second day of the hunger strike, the national organizing director for the AFL-CIO, Stewart Acuff arrived at the school to show solidarity with the students. "We're talking about young people who are motivated by a clear passion for justice," said Acuff to a crowd at the campus. "In the case of Washington University, it is a remarkably selfless passion."

As the campaign continued, support from influential figures, including former Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards, poured in from throughout the country. By the final days of the sit-in, over 200 faculty members had signed a petition backing the students' demands, and local congregations were staging 24-hour vigils. On April 22nd, the WashU officials finally agreed not only to pay its workers a living wage, but to join the Worker's Rights Consortium, an international monitoring group that protects the rights of workers who make university-themed apparel.

According to the Washington Post, unions are increasingly relying on student movements for support, "not only because universities are vulnerable to moral arguments in ways that businesses often are not, but because they can't be fired." In a time in which only 13 percent of the country's private-sector workforce belongs to a union, student movements like those at WashU and Georgetown are filling a critical void.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Bush's Press Conference

There was not much news in George W. Bush's fourth primetime press conference. He acknowledged he could do nothing much about the high price of gas except to plead with the Saudis and other oil producers to boost production. He predictably called on Congress to pass an energy bill that would lead to more drilling and an expansion of nuclear power. While paying lip service to conservation, he only referred to developing technology that would save energy; he did not mention changing consumption patterns.

On Social Security, Bush stuck with privatized accounts, but he also advocated--in the only substantial news of the evening--means-testing cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits, raising the prospect of real cuts for a majority of future beneficiaries. He tried to sugarcoat this hard-to-swallow news two way. First, he vowed that future recipients will receive benefits equal or greater to those being handed out today. But that was spin, for this carefully constructed explanation ignored the need to boost benefits to keep pace with inflation. Equal benefits would mean reduced benefits in real terms. Second, he suggested those who opt for a private account would end up making enough to compensate for the cuts, but polls show that a majority of Americans do not buy this argument. It may make policy sense--though not political sense--to turn Social Security into an outright welfare program: benefits for those who need them, less or none for the well-off. But Bush's vague proposal won't sell on Capital Hill or beyond. How many Republicans are eager to snatch benefits from middle- or high-income Americans? Minutes after Bush finished, Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, was asked whether he would support a sliding scale for cost of living increases in Social Security benefits, and he said, "I don't think that's the route we ought to be going."

So with the two free throws Bush had before the questioning began, he failed to score. And during the course of the hour-long press conference, he misled the public on several key facts.

In discussing Social Security, Bush once more said that come 2041 the program will be "bankrupt." That makes it sound as if there will be no money available for retirees. At that point in time--or, according to estimates produced by the Congressional Budget Office, in 2051--the program will be able to give retirees 70 percent of the scheduled benefits. That's a problem, but it's not bankruptcy. Bush also repeated another false factoid about Social Security, claiming that "every year we wait" to reform Social Security it costs an additional $600 billion. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and others--including the American Academy of Actuaries-- have pointed out, this is a phony number. The actuaries noted that when members of the public hear such a figure they are likely to "be misled into believing that the program's financial situation is deteriorating and the cost of restoring actuarial balance is increasing, even if this is not the case."

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the ammo the Democrats should fire at Bolton, DeLay's recent troubles, Seymour Hersh's claim there is "no hope for Iraq," the lame questions newspaper editors tossed at Bush, and the latest on the banned-in Arkansas controversy.

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Talking about energy, Bush pushed for drilling in the Alaska wilderness, and he used an untrue argument that proponents of drilling have been tossing around for years. He said that the wilderness area encompasses 19 million acres, yet the drilling would only affect 2000 acres. Sounds like a drop in the bucket. But this 2000-acre figure was discredited long ago, for it only covers the area on which equipment touches the ground. It does not include, for example, all the land that would be used for pipelines and roads. By this method of measurement, a car takes up only several square inches of space--the area where the rubber hits the road.

Overall, the the press conference was not a grand performance--for either Bush or the reporters. The questions were not that sharp. And Bush was usually able to pull the rip cord for his same-old rhetoric. Asked about the controversial practice of renditions--under which terrorist suspects are sent by the CIA to other countries where torture may be conducted--he said, "We operate under the law," and he asserted, "We're going to do everything we can to protect us." One reporter simply wondered what Bush's view of the economy is at the moment. In response, Bush discussed the hardship imposed on small business by high gas prices. What about the National Education Association's lawsuit against the No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation is working, he insisted. North Korea and nuclear weapons? We're working through the six-party talks, he responded. John Bolton? A fine fellow who "isn't afraid to speak his mind." No one asked him to defend Tom DeLay or the administration's fantasy budget numbers.

On Iraq, Bush didn't deviate from his happy-talk approach: "I believe we're making really good progress." He declined to address the fact that insurgent attacks have returned to the high levels of last year. And he has yet to acknowledge in public that various military experts say that the insurgency can continue for years (perhaps decades) and that it could also take several years to train an Iraqi security force. When might US troops be withdrawn? As soon, he said, as Iraqis are "able to fight." Asked about the rise in the number of terrorist attacks worldwide last year--statistics that the State Department refused to release--Bush ran for cover, repeating his index-card rhetoric that it is necessary to fight terrorists abroad so they do not have to be confronted at home. It was a non sequitur. He refused--yet again--to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin for taking antidemocratic steps, noting that both he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently had good chats with "Vladimir" about democracy. He refused to denounce Russia's decision to supply Iran with highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear power plant. He noted that "Vladimir is trying to help" Iran with its power needs and that Russia would collect the uranium after it was used. "I appreciate that gesture," he added. How understanding.

Perhaps the most interesting exchange came after NBC's David Gregory asked Bush to comment on the remark of a social conservative who said that the Democrats' filibustering of Bush's judicial nominees was an "attack against people of faith." Did Bush agree with that? Bush first replied that he believed that those who oppose his nominees do so because they "don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I'm nominating." But when Gregory pressed him about that particular remark, Bush said, "I don't agree with it." Was this a purposeful slap in the face of the James Dobson crowd? Chris Matthews breathlessly asked later. Probably not. But, no doubt, the White House was already figuring out what wet-kiss to plant on the social conservatives to make up for this moment.

With this press conference, Bush likely did little to boost his record-low approval ratings. And he did not do much to help his crusade to remake Social Security. He might have even shot himself in the foot--all while reporters looked on and rarely forced him into any difficult moments. Perhaps next time--if Bush ever schedules another primetime Q&A with the press--White House reporters can just ask Bush to talk for an hour about whatever is in the newspaper that day and see what happens.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

Open Letter to Howard Dean

"Now that we're there, we're there and we can't get out," Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean told an audience of nearly 1,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center on April 20th. "The president has created an enormous security problem for the US where none existed before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he's there."

I agree with Dean--a political figure I admire-- that the war in Iraq has put the US in greater danger. But the question facing us today is who will speak for the millions of Americans who believe that continued occupation increases the danger? Who will speak for the millions who believe that the US has gotten bogged down in Iraq? Who will speak out against the (majority of the) Democratic Party's silent consent to the Bush Administration's Iraq war policies? Who will speak out about the wrenching human and economic costs of occupation? Who will speak out in support of a clear and honorable exit strategy? Who will make a clear, unequivocal declaration that the US will not maintain permanent military bases in Iraq?

For those who believe that America needs to change course, Tom Hayden's open letter to Howard Dean appealing to him not to take the antiwar majority of the Democratic Party for granted is an eloquent and important document. Read it, share it.

April 26, 2005

Dear Chairman Dean,

Thank you kindly for your call and your expressed willingness todiscuss the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War. There is growingfrustration at the grass roots towards the party leadership's silent collaborationwith the Bush Administration's policies. Personally, I cannot remember a timein thirty years when I have been more despairing over the party's moraldefault. Let me take this opportunity to explain.

The party's alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repairedafter the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel overIraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of antiwar voters gavetheir time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidentialcampaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate's position on theIraq War. Of the millions spent by "527" committees on voter awareness, nonewas spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.

The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed theUS invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroythat city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority ofFalluja's residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunniabstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.

Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator TedKennedy and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, advocated a timetable for withdrawal.Their concerns were quickly deflated by the party leadership.

Next came the Iraqi elections, in which a majority of Iraqissupported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. ("US IntelligenceSays Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal." New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) AJanuary 2005poll showed that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a"near-term US withdrawal" (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005. The Democrats failed tocapitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdadcalling again for US withdrawal, chanting "No America, No Saddam."(New York Times, April 10, 2005) The Democrats ignored this massive nonviolent protest.

There is evidence that the Bush Administration, along with itsclients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalitioncalling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silenttowards this meddling.

On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared "we don't really have an exitstrategy. We have a victory strategy." (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There wasno Democratic response.

The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics ofour occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. Thenew government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable toprovide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forcesare under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.

A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plusbillion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even fromthe 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least votedagainst the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.

The Democratic Party's present collaboration with the Bush Iraqpolicies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built withantiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vastmajority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrousdecision to vote for Ralph Nader four years before. But the Democrats'pro-war policies threaten to deeply splinter the party once again.

We all supported and celebrated your election as Party chairman,hoping that winds of change would blow away what former president Bill Clintononce called "brain-dead thinking."

But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq requirefurther reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty ofprogressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstreamAmerican voters.

Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the IraqWar is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy,another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of thenationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economicoccupation. Period.

To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, letme say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives fortheir own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the politicalreputations of high officials at the expense of their nation's moral reputation.

At the same time, I understand that there are limitations on what adivided political party can propose, and that there are internal pressuresfrom hawkish Democratic interest groups. I am not suggesting that the Democratic Party has to support  language favoring "out now" or  "isolation." What I am arguing is that theDemocratic Party must end its silent consent to the Bush Administration's IraqWar policies and stand for a negotiated end to the occupation and ourmilitary presence. The Party should seize on Secretary Rumsfeld's recentcomments to argue that the Republicans have never had an "exit strategy" becausethey have always wanted a permanent military outpost in the Middle East,whatever the cost.

The Bush Administration deliberately conceals the numbers of Americandead in the Iraq War. Rather than the 1,500 publicly acknowledged, the realnumber is closer to 2,000 when private contractors are counted.

The Iraq War costs one billion dollars in taxpayer funds every week.In "red" states like Missouri, the taxpayer subsidy for the Iraq Warcould support nearly 200,000 four-year university scholarships.

Military morale is declining swiftly. Prevented by antiwar opinionfrom re-instituting the military draft, the Bush Administration is forced tointensify the pressures on our existing forces. Already forty percentof those troops are drawn from the National Guard or reservists.Recruitment has fallen below its quotas, and 37 military recruiters are among the6,000 soldiers who are AWOL.

President Bush's "coalition of the willing" is steadily weakening,down from 34 countries to approximately twenty. Our international reputation hasbecome that of a torturer, a bully.

The anti-war movement must lead and hopefully, the Democratic Partywill follow. But there is much the Democratic Party can do:

First, stop marginalizing those Democrats who are calling forimmediate withdrawal or a one-year timetable. Encourage public hearings inCongressional districts on the ongoing costs of war and occupation,with comparisons to alternative spending priorities for the one billion dollars per week.

Second, call for peace talks between Iraqi political parties and theIraqi resistance. Hold hearings demand to know why the Bush Administrationis trying to squash any such Iraqi peace initiatives. (Bush Administration officials are hoping the new Iraqi government will "settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar." New York Times, Jan. 19, 2005).

Third, as an incentive to those Iraqi peace initiatives, the US needsto offer to end the occupation and withdraw our troops by a near-termdate. The Bush policy, supported by the Democrats, is to train and arm Iraqisto fight Iraqis--a civil war with fewer American casualties.

Fourth, to further promote peace initiatives, the US needs to specifythat a multi-billion dollar peace dividend will be earmarked for Iraqi-ledreconstruction, not for the Halliburtons and Bechtels, withoutdiscrimination as to Iraqi political allegiances.

Fifth, Democrats could unite behind Senator Rockefellers's persistentcalls for public hearings on responsibility for the torture scandals. IfRepublicans refuse to permit such hearings, Democrats should hold themindependently. "No taxes for torture" is a demand most Democratsshould be able to support. The Democratic Senate unity against the Boltonappointment is a bright but isolated example of how public hearings can keepmedia and public attention focused on the fabricated reasons for going to war.

Instead of such initiatives, the national Democratic Party is eithercommitted to the Iraq War, or to avoiding blame for losing the IraqWar, at the expense of the social programs for which it historically stands.The Democrats' stance on the war cannot be separated from the Democrats'stance on health care, social security, inner city investment, andeducation, all programs gradually being defunded by a war which costs $100 billionyearly, billed to future generations.

This is a familiar pattern for those of us who suffered through theVietnam War. Today it is conventional wisdom among Washington insiders,including even the liberal media, that the Democratic Party must distanceitself from its antiwar past, and must embrace a position of military toughness.

The truth is quite the opposite. What the Democratic Party should distanceitself from is its immoral and self-destructive pro-war positions inthe 1960s which led to unprecedented polarization, the collapse of fundsfor the War on Poverty, a schism in the presidential primaries, and thedestruction of the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Thirty years after our forcedwithdrawal from Vietnam, the US government has stable diplomatic and commercialrelations with its former Communist enemy. The same future is possible in Iraq.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, not to take the anti-war majority ofthis Party for granted. May I suggest that you initiate a seriousreappraisal of how the Democratic Party has become trapped in the illusions which youyourself questioned so cogently when you ran for president. I believethat an immediate commencement of dialogue is necessary to fix thecredibility gap in the Party's position on the Iraq War. Surely if the war was amistake based on a fabrication, there is a better approach than simplybecoming accessories to the perpetrators of the deceit. And surely there is agreater role for Party leadership than permanently squandering the immensegood will, grass roots funding, and new volunteer energy that wasgenerated by your visionary campaign.

TOM HAYDEN

Be Careful What You Pray For

I don't claim to be as good at interpreting the apocalyptic signs of Revelations as the Christian right or the entertainment executives at NBC, but there are portents that The Lord is getting tired of the people who keep using his name in vain. I'll report, you decide:

I. Tom DeLay's sleazy lobbyist pal and tourism operator, Jack Abramoff, is making plea-bargain-sounding remarks that DeLay knew about everything.

II. Dick Cheney's choice for UN ambassador, John Bolton, whose temper is only matched by his moustache, has been left hanging in the wind by the conscience of Republican George Voinovich, an event as miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea.

III. Bill Frist, Harvard MD turned born-again creationist, lost control of his Republican caucus during the Bolton hearing and seems unlikely to regain it for the filibuster nuclear option, making his born-again presidential campaign conversion seem as foolish as it is transparent.

IV. George Bush's umpteenth push for Social Security privatization was undermined by the worst stock market drop since 9/11. Then, his Earth Day speech was scuttled by a freak hailstorm.

Is this the end of days for the Republican majority? I leave that to a higher power to decide. But they should be careful what they pray for.

Fight for the Filibuster

Never underestimate the determination of Washington Democrats to try and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Just as it was reported Tuesday that Americans strongly support the Democratic campaign to preserve the judicial filibuster -- and with it their ability of responsible senators to prevent the most rabid extremists from joining the federal bench -- so it was also reported that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was seeking a compromise on what ought to be a matter of principle. The compromise that Reid was advancing would have seen Republicans back off their push for a "nuclear option" to shut down filibusters in return for Democratic acquiescence to the GOP's demand that some of the White House's most objectionable judicial nominations be allowed to advance.

The good news is that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, rejected the compromise. Frist, who is desperate to get in bed with the religious right in order to promote his 2008 presidential campaign, recognized that his political ambitions would be thwarted if he was seen to be compromising with the demonized Democrats. He also heard the message loud and clear from the White House, where political (and now domestic policy) czar Karl Rove indicated in an interview with USA Today that there is no taste for deal making on judicial nominees.

Forced out his compromising position by the Republican right, Reid can now scramble back to the high ground, where the vast majority of Americans stand. Amazingly, considering the minority leader's missteps of the past few days, Reid and his fellow Democrats might yet win the fight to preserve the system of checks and balances that the founders of the republic established. But no one should forget that, at precisely the wrong moment, Reid wanted to surrender rather than fight. Nor should anyone miss the point here: Reid is not a bad man. He simply suffers from a bad condition: insideritis.

Reid has spent so much time inside the Capitol, and so little time in America, that he does not trust his own rhetoric. Even though he is absolutely right when he says that Frist and the religious right are attempting to force legally-inept judicial activists into positions where they do not belong, Reid succumbed to fears that the American people might not be with him on the question of whether the rule of law ought to prevail in America.

Reid's failure of faith was misguided. As it turns out, the American people overwhelmingly oppose changing the rules of the Senate to make it easier for the Republican majority in that chamber to confirm Bush's court nominees. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans disapprove of Frist's "nuclear option" by a 66-26 margin. While eight in 10 Democrats opposed the move to undermine one of the essential elements of the Senate's traditional "advice and consent" role, as did seven in 10 independents, the most interesting numbers were those from members of Frist's own party. Almost half of the Republicans who were surveyed said they opposed the majority leader's scheming to make it harder for Democratic senators to prevent final action on the president's most inept and ideologically-extreme judicial nominees.

Those numbers add up to a clear conclusion: Instead of seeking a compromise, Reid and the other Democrats should be going for a win. And the way to do so is by reaching out to the rational Republicans in the Senate. Two Republicans, John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, have indicated that they will side with the Democrats on any vote to eliminate the judicial filibuster. Another Republican, moderate Olympia Snowe of Maine, has said she has "deep concerns about this approach.," and Maine's other Republican senator, Susan Collins , is expected by many to join Snowe in voting with the Democrats.

That means that, to block the "nuclear option," Reid needs just two more Republicans. (Opponents must secure 51 votes in favor of maintaining the right to filibuster, as a 50-50 tie would be broken by Vice President Dick Cheney, who favors going nuclear.) Are there two more Republicans who might be convinced? Conservatives think so. Their blogs are buzzing with concern that John Warner of Virginian, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, among others, might vote reject Frist's "tyranny of the majority" strategy.

Far from being a time for compromise, this is a time for fighting -- not just to score partisan points, nor even to represent the clear will of the American people, but to preserve the system of legislative checks and balances that is so essential to the American experiment.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Nat'l Media Reform Conference

Media reform still might not seem the sexiest topic but the people at Free Press have figured out to make the process fun. Hosts of what, by all accounts, was a fantastic and inspiring conference/party in Madison, Wisconsin in November of 2003, Free Press is pulling out all the stops for its second confab in St. Louis from May 13th to 15th.

Close to 2,000 attendees are expected to join an illustrious roster of lefty luminaries including Nation publisher Victor Navasky as well as Naomi Klein, John Nichols, Robert McChesney, Patti Smith, Al Franken, Jim Hightower, Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, David Brock, George Lakoff, Robert Greenwald, Jenny Toomey, and many others for what will be the country's largest media conference.

There'll be panels, plenaries, speeches, book signings, workshops, music, readings and parties, all designed to further the critical goal of media reform in the US. Click here to see a full schedule of events. If you act quickly, you can still reserve a hotel room at a special conference rate. So take this opportunity to participate in America's foremost media reform event--and remind friends and colleagues to do the same.

And, if you can't make it to St. Louis, please consider supporting the work of Free Press, the sponsors of this conference and of a huge array of media reform efforts taking place across America. Click here for membership information and click here for info on how you can get actively involved in the campaign for media reform.

Long Live the Estate Tax!

This past April 13, the House voted 272 to 162 to permanently repeal the estate tax. The Senate will soon make the final decision about the tax, which was introduced in 1916 by reformers who believed that unlimited concentration of wealth and power was threatening the very principle of democracy. Before it's too late, please click here to ask your Senators to stand up to the bullying of the Republican leadership by preserving a fair and just estate tax.

'Bad Religion, Bad Politics'

I'm writing this on the eve of "Justice Sunday"--a telecast being promoted by evangelical Christian conservatives who charge that Democrats opposing President Bush's judicial nominees are acting "against people of faith."

The Senate Republican's Defender of the Faith, Bill Frist, who supports a "culture of life" but not lively debate, is scheduled to join in this televised show--designed to smear those who have honest differences over policy issues as religious bigots. As the Boston Globe asked in a tough editorial attacking Frist's intolerance: "Will every political difference now open opponents to such accusations? And whose definition of 'faith' is in use here?"

These are scary times. The nation is in the control of extremists who want to merge church and state. A line is crossed when religion demonizes politicians of certain religion--or no religion--and when the church-state separation is breached by people believing that their God is better than another God.

Extremists are attacking an independent judiciary and checks and balances, both fundamental elements of a democracy. Earlier this month, as Max Blumenthal reported for The Nation online, conservative activists and top GOP staffers are likening judges to communists, terrorists, and murderers. One so-called scholar invoked one of Stalin's favorite sayings, "No person, no problem," suggesting this was the preferred way of dealing with out-of-control courts. (By the way, according to the Alliance for Justice, 55 percent of the Circuit Court judges are GOP appointees. Republicans advocating killing Republicans?)

Will we allow Republican mullahs to create a country where religion dictates policy in a democratic country? As Sidney Blumenthal recently wrote in Salon, "The election of 2004 marks the rise of a quasi-clerical party for the first time in the US....Ecclesiastical organizations have become transformed into the sinew and muscle of the Republican party."

With debates raging about issues that mix religion and politics, it's worth paying heed to the words of a scholar who has written eloquently on the relationship between Americans' religious beliefs and political actions.

Princeton Professor of Religion Jeffrey Stout, in "Democracy and Tradition," has some sharp observations about a public political discourse that embraces rather than stigmatizes a variety of religious viewpoints.

In an interview last year, Stout argued that "political officials should refrain from presuming to speak for the whole nation on religious questions. Kings and queens used to make a mockery of religion by presuming to be its caretakers. What most of them really wanted was a kind of religion that would justify their rule while pacifying the populace. Our elected representatives are prone to the same temptations. The religion that our politicians practice in public often smells of sanctimony, manipulation and self-idolatry. Its symbolic gestures make for bad religion and bad politics...Neither will it help to scapegoat secularists, nor to imply that atheists and agnostics, let alone Muslims, are something less than full-fledged citizens.

A country that has preachers, prophets, poets, houses of worship and open air does not need politicians expressing its piety collectively in public places. Individual citizens can be trusted to find their own appropriate ways to express their own religious convictions and train the young in virtue. What the people need from political leaders are the virtues of truthfulness, justice, practical wisdom, courage, vision and a kind of compassion whose effects can actually be discerned in the lives of the poor and the elderly."

Think of these words as Frist and other Republican extremists join evangelical leaders to smear people of good faith. And stand with people of good faith who believe that we need to save our democracy.

Sweet Environmental Victories

In many ways, this Earth Day is a particularly somber occasion. After all, in the past year, we've seen repeated environmental debacles--most notably, the decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to drilling for oil. But, with the determination of environmental activists and state legislatures that refuse to bow down to Bush, there are, as always, reasons for hope. Here are five of our top environmental victories in the last year.

** Clear Skies Initiative Dropped: Thanks to a 9-to-9 vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee, Bush's Orwellian-labeled bill--which would have loosened air pollution restrictions for power plants, factories and refineries--did not advance to the Senate. Without Clear Skies, we'll be much more likely to see, well, clear skies.

** Colorado Passes Renewable Energy Initiative: Colorado's Amendment 37, a precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.

**Cleaner Cars: Clean Car legislation--requiring the reduction of harmful auto emissions--is being adopted in California and seven other states, and is gaining traction in five more states. With Canada adopting a similar program, a third of North America's automobile market will require clean cars. Meanwhile, heavy-hitters on the right, including former CIA head R. James Woolsey and uber-hawk Frank J. Gaffney Jr., have been lobbying congress to implement policies promoting hybrid cars, hoping to cut oil consumption in half by 2025.

**Challenging Mercury: In March, the EPA issued a loophole-laden policy that, in effect, deregulates controls on mercury emissions from power plants. In response, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have implemented stronger controls on mercury--which is linked to nerve damage and birth defects--than the EPA, Meanwhile, nine state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against the agency, arguing that the lax rules jeopardize public health.

**International Victories: Ultimately, there are too many to list, but it's worth starting with the six enviro-activists who won this year's Goldman Prizes, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

A Democratic Dishonor Roll

April 13, 2005, was a dark day for Democrats. As House Republicans gleefully passed legislation to repeal the estate tax permanently, 42 Democrats--about one-fifth of the party's caucus in the House--went along for the limo ride. It's true that 160 Democrats did vote against this unjustifiable tax break for the wealthiest of Americans. (Only one GOPer said nay to it.) But the three-and-a-half dozen Democrats who sided with Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay gave ammo to Republicans and their conservative allies in the punditry who were now able to claim the repeal was a bipartisan action that had drawn significant Democratic support. Once again, the Democrats botched an opportunity to signal clearly that there is a sharp difference between Ds and Rs and that the Republicans care more about millionaires than middle- and low-income Americans while Dems do not.

There was no good policy reason for a Democrat to vote to kill the estate tax outright. (Perhaps some of the 42 felt that opposing the estate tax repeal would bring upon them a barrage of ads claiming they support the "death tax.") Under existing law, the estate tax is scheduled to decrease gradually over the next four years and is then repealed totally in 2010 before returning in full force in 2011. The Republicans came up with this nutty schedule several years ago to keep the cost of their tax cuts within agreed upon budget limits. And they wanted to make Bush's tax cuts look less expensive than they were. But that was obviously a ruse at the time. The GOPers were not interested in truly being fiscally responsible. And this repeal will add, according to the Tax Policy Center, $270 billion to the national debt in the next decade. It also will only benefit a very small number of taxpayers--perhaps about 30,000. This is a sop for the super-rich. Estates smaller than $1.5 million (or $3 million a couple) are now exempt from the tax. And when the House Democrats offered to raise the exemption to $3.5 million--which would exempt all but the top .3 percent of estates--the Republicans said no. They wanted the deepest-pocketed Americans--that is, the heirs of these people--to have more in their pockets.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the ammo the Democrats should fire at Bolton, DeLay's recent troubles, Seymour Hersh's claim there is "no hope for Iraq," the lame questions newspaper editors tossed at Bush, and the latest on the banned-in Arkansas controversy.

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Bush and the Republicans have tossed out phony arguments to grease the way for killing the estate tax. In particular, they have resorted to three-hankies rhetoric in claiming the estate tax causes the sons and daughters of family farmers to sell their farms once their folks pass on. In 2001, when this debate began, the American Farm Bureau could not identify a single farm that had been lost due to the estate tax. And as the Tax Policy Center notes, "In fact, few small farms and businesses appear to be subject to the estate tax, although many families may undergo costly planning to avoid it." Repealing the estate tax is only about making sure the kids of rich people end up wealthier. And if this GOP campaign to comfort the comfortable succeeds, there will be much more pressure to cut the federal budget and chop away at programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans. This was a vote in favor of class warfare--that is, warfare against those Americans with less.

Which brings us to the Dishonor Roll. Here are the 42 Democrats who collaborated with the GOP's relieve-the-rich effort. Do with this information what you will.

Bud Cramer (AL-5)
Marion Berry (AR-1)
Mike Ross (AR-4)
Sam Farr, (CA-17)
Dennis Cardoza (CA-18)
Jim Costa (CA-20)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-47)
Bob Filner (CA-51)
John Salazar (CO-3)
Sanford Bishop (GA-2)
John Barrow (GA-12)
David Scott (GA-13)
Melissa Bean (IL-8)
Jerry Costello (IL-12)
Leonard Boswell (IA-3)
Ben Chandler (KY-6)
William Jefferson (LA-2)
Charlie Melancon (LA-3)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
Albert Wynn (MD-4)
Collin Peterson (MN-7)
William Clay (MO-1)
Ike Skelton (MO-4)
Shelley Berkley (NV-1)
Steve Israel (NY-2)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4)
Edolphus Towns (NY-10)
G.K. Butterfield (NC-1)
Mike McIntyre (NC-7)
Tim Ryan (OH-17)
Dan Boren (OK-2)
Darlene Hooley (OR-5)
Lincoln Davis (TN-4)
Bart Gordon (TN-6)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Chet Edwards (TX-17)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Jim Matheson (UT-2)
Rick Boucher (VA-9)
Rick Larsen (WA-2)
Nick Rahall (WV-3)

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.