The Nation

Sweet Ideas

Behind each sweet victory, there is usually a sweet idea.

So it is heartening to see that The Roosevelt Institution, the nation's first student think tank, has been channeling its focus on just that: crafting ideas to improve the world.

"One year ago, representatives of progressive college students across America came together at the Roosevelt Policy Expo in DC and at the FDR Home in Hyde Park, NY, to discuss the most pressing issues facing our generation," says the description on the organizations web site. "After setting ourselves three challenges, we returned back to our college and university campuses and performed a year's worth of public policy research … As the year came to a close, we selected the best 25 ideas that we wanted to bring to the public policy discussion."

Last Friday, at the Institution's Policy Expo, the fruits of these efforts were presented in the form of published reports, which include 25 ideas each on three pressing issues: access to higher education, working families in America, and the energy crises.

"The idea was to try and connect students to the policy making process," said Nathaniel Loewentheil the incoming executive director of the Roosevelt Institute. "According to Loewentheil, the idea behind the Policy Expo was to have the students serve as the panelists, while it was the lawmakers who made up much of the audience. "Rather than have students listen to adults on panels, we wanted it the other way around. It was a big success," he said. The Roosevelt Institution plans to do the same project each year, with different issues.

The ideas vary in size and scope. Some entail modest and simple reforms such as Jay Cole's idea that literature about the college application process be given to anyone who applies for a driver's license. Others are quite bold such as Stephen Durham's proposal for free, universal higher education to all Americans using the 1944 GI Bill as a model.

But most importantly, they all have the potential to spark much-needed discussions over these important policy matters, and the project succeeds in giving young people -- and their fresh ideas -- a chance to be heard.

This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to nationvictories@gmail.com.

Powell: Engage Hamas

The Bush Administration, in advance of a much-hyped Middle East conference in September, continues to push a "West Bank first" strategy in the occupied territories that confines Gaza to a Hamas-led wasteland.

That plan now has at least one high-profile American critic: Colin Powell.

"I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking to account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community," Powell said today.

That point, so often missed by American and Israeli policymakers, should be self-evident. But Powell went further, describing how US policy actually empowered Hamas. "They won an election that we insisted upon having," Powell said. "And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet… or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."

This is what democracy looks like...

Community, Conference Calls & Our Postal Rate Campaign

Yesterday afternoon I had one of the most moving experiences in my time here as editor. It was on a conference call with readers and friends committed to helping The Nation deal with the "Great Postal Crisis of 2007."

Let me backtrack for a moment. In these last weeks, the response from thousands of people to our plea for help as we face this crisis has been nothing short of astonishing. When we turned to our loyal readers and friends, we expected your contributions to help just a little to pay the $500,000 increase in our annual postage bill. (NOTE: This blog was updated May 22, 2008, to correct an error. I originally referred to our $500,000 postage bill.) But your overwhelming response has humbled us--and it has also emboldened us in our fight to overcome this corporate-driven, Time-Warner drafted, unfair and anti-democratic rate increase.

On Wednesday afternoon, Teresa Stack, John Nichols, Bob McChesney and I "met" with 100 of you on an hour-long conference call--to discuss our thoughts and plans, hear your questions and ideas, and thank you in person. There was a powerful sense of community--of allies and supporters who understand how important it is to invest in a strong, free, independent and truth-telling media. The questions that poured in were savvy, on-target and revealed how informed all of you are about the threat facing small, independent media. Your calls flooded in from across the country--from Illinois and Florida, to California and North Carolina. (There was even a call from Nova Scotia.) A caller from Northern Georgia identified herself as "a member of an oppressed minority" --a liberal in one of the reddest of red states. "Keep sending us courage," she implored. "Tell us what to do. Not everyone wants more Time-Warner!"

McChesney outlined our legislative strategy--explaining that we hope by the Fall to have draft legislation around which we will mobilize a massive grassroots campaign. He spoke of his cautious optimism--"we can win this" with the right allies in Congress and organized people overtaking organized money. But, we also leveled with our friends and readers on the call, explaining that we will undoubtedly face a difficult transition in this next year or more--a period when it will be crucial to have the resources and stability to mount an effective challenge to overturn these rates and rules and to counter the power of high priced lobbyists and corporate power.

Teresa spoke of the coalition she has worked to put together--a transpartisan group of about two dozen political and cultural magazines, of the left and the right, religious and secular, (National Review, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Mother Jones, Commonweal, The Progressive, Christian Science Monitor, American Prospect). She laid out how these small publications are working together to mobilize our combined readership to petition congress and the postal authorities, to get mainstream media coverage on this issue, and to work with the public interest group Free Press for legislative relief for this class of magazines.

John Nichols spoke of the importance of a vibrant print press--as one way to maintain connectedness in atomized times. One caller told us that his copy of The Nation never ever goes in the trash; instead, it is passed around from friend to friend, family member to member, neighbor to neighbor.

We spoke of the investment in quality journalism the Nation makes, week in and week out--Jeremy Scahill's investigative reporting on "Blackwater" and the blight of 21st century contractor/ mercenaries; we spoke of the importance of Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian's eight month investigation on "The Other War" Military Veterans Speak on the Record About Attacks on Iraqi Civilians"; and the impact of Joshua Kors' cover story about how the Army is discharging maimed vets with misdiagnosed "personality disorders" in order to deny them disability compensation. (On July 25th, the House Veteran Affairs Committee is holding hearings --sparked by Kors' Nation investigation. And the musician Dave Matthews has launched a massive petition drive inspired by Kor's reporting.) One caller concurred with McChesney's point that most of the original material online and most of the articles that bloggers are blogging about come from ink on paper.

At times, the call had the feel of a spirited seminar on postal policy and how it formed the underpinning of a vibrant democracy. McChesney, for example, spoke of how this radical restructuring that small publications are now facing could end up silencing the rich and diverse voices those Founding Fathers intended to foster when they created the national postal system. The names of Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson came up throughout the call! And at moments, McChesney and Nichols, co-founders of the invaluable Free Press media reform group, were so eloquent and passionate in their comments about the importance of fighting and overturning this rate increase that I will forever think of them as the Tom Paine and Paul Revere of the media & democracy movement.

This call was a first for us. We were unsure how the technology would work. We worried about all sorts of glitches--that we'd lose your calls or miss your comments. We wanted to make sure that we answered your questions, addressed your concerns and communicated the urgency and political and democratic significance of this issue. Miraculously, all went smoothly.

Yesterday, we took an important first step in building the community to fight this unfair increase. It was also a moving experience for all of us--a chance to step away from the hard slog of putting out a weekly magazine and listen to readers and friends express their dedication and affection for the magazine. It didn't hurt that all of the concerns and suggestions and support were so smart, helpful and welcome! We asked for feedback at the end of the call--and meant it. We've already received many emails. (Click here if you'd like to add your support and be involved in future calls.)

(Let me give you a snippet from one of the emails that poured in after our call--this one from Miriam Thompson of North Carolina: "Thank you for your excellent presentations on the corporate context of the struggle and thank you for taking my call. I have been a Nation reader forever....love all of your work...In the meantime, I will spread the word about the call and connect it to the efforts of big corporations in North Carolina (including Time Warner) to restrict broadband access by independent media stations. Of course these corporations have done nothing to increase access to rural areas. But we will help connect the dots: cable and postal. And I will contact my Congress member and make sure he is one of the FIRST sponsors of the legislation you are pursuing.)

I'm a great believer in what the great Chicago radio host and small "d" democrat Studs Terkel likes to say: Action engenders hope. In that spirit, the call yesterday was the first act in building a pro-democracy movement to ensure that free and independent media not only survives but thrives at a moment when it is needed more than ever.

Marbury vs. Jordan

New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury is in the midst of a 37-city tour to promote his Starbury line of shoes and clothing for Steve and Barry's. The sneakers cost just $14.95 a pair and are designed as an alternative to far higher priced kicks endorsed by celebrity athletes and made by Nike, Reebok, Adidas and other companies. (The concept is similar to recent fashion lines launched by actress Sarah Jessica Parker and renowned designer Isaac Mizrahi, who offer cheap-chic clothing for about $20.)

Marbury has said his venture is driven by memories of growing up in Brooklyn and not being able to afford the latest shoes. He says his motivation was also rooted in discussions he had with Knicks coach Isaiah Thomas about the civil rights movement and Marbury's eventual legacy.

Hoping that his discount sneaker idea will become popular, Marbury has gone as far to prove his point as playing in his own sneakers in all his NBA games last season. The idea of $15 quality shoes has been an idea of Marbury's for a long time according to the New York Knicks point guard. In fact he was the first one to approach Steve & Barry's with the idea. The company had previously been popular for university and college retailing. The shoes are manufactured in China but there is a third party involved to prevent sweatshop conditions.

Making huge profits off sweatshop labor has never been a concern for most of basketball's stars, especially its largest global icon, the now-retired Michael Jordan, who has rebuffed repeated efforts by activists to take a stand against unfair working conditions among the workers producing his branded products.

Most basketball players steer clear of criticizing Jordan but Marbury is clearly trailblazing a unique path and he blasted the mega-superstar in a blog he's keeping while on his current promotional tour:

"After that we bounced through Charlotte. We stopped off at one of my favorite places to eat, Cracker Barrel. We met a nice lady named Lisa who worked there and told us the story of how she had promised her son she would buy him a pair of $175 Jordans even though she didn't want to. But he never had any brand name shoes. So she did it. She wrote Michael Jordan a letter saying it was unfair that a lot of children wouldn't be able to afford them and they shouldn't need Jordans to feel accepted.

She said they sent her a b.s. email back but that was it. I want Michael Jordan to get down with the movement and come out with a Star Jordan sneaker for the people. Let's see what happens."

Don't hold your breath there but click here if you want to buy a pair of Starbury's.

And check this video of Marbury introducing the shoe to his intended market.

Bush to Children: Drop Dead

On so-called philosophical grounds, President Bush opposes health care for children. A bipartisan group of Senators want to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $60 billion over five years, covering 3.3 million additional low-income children. Bush will only except half of that, saying "when you expand eligibility...you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government."

So the President is for children's healthcare--as long as we don't spend too much on it and private insurance companies reap the benefits. Anything less will prompt a White House veto.

That came as news to conservative Republicans Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, cosponsors of the Senate's bill. "It's disappointing, even a little unbelievable, to hear talk about Administration officials wanting a veto of a legislative proposal they haven't even seen yet," Hatch and Grassley said on July 12th. In a follow-up release yesterday, they called the President's proposal a "non-starter."

[UPDATE: The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-4 today to reauthorize and expand SCHIP, in defiance of Bush.]

This is what Bush's presidency has been reduced to: vetoing legislation to help poor children.

SCHIP is not the only successful government program Bush opposes. "I believe government cannot provide affordable health care," he said yesterday. I guess he forgot Medicare and Medicaid.

Should Mothers Work Fulltime?

Oh dear, the bell's been rung on another round of the Mommy Wars. According to a new Pew survey, more Americans think mothers shouldn't work full time, and more mothers think that working part-time would be ideal. And without noticing that this "increase" falls within the statistical margin of error and might not exist at all, the news media have raced in bravely to explain that this means something about the future of a) children, b) feminism, c) America, d), the workplace, or e) all of the above.

I've written about the Mommy Wars and the opt-out myth elsewhere. (Feel free to click over there for some serious media critique.) Meanwhile, here are a few things to think about that I haven't seen written about.

--What do the kids think? This survey was all about adults' beliefs, guilts, and cultural attitudes, not about what the kids want from their parents. The social scientists who do ask the kids find that young adults who grew up in dual-earner households also want their own children to grow up with two working parents. However, those who grew up with full-time, stay-at-home mothers are evenly divided. Could it be that having nothing to do but hover over your kids isn't necessarily good for you or for them? (Check out NYU Professor Kathleen Gerson's research here.)

--The black women surveyed were far more likely than white women to believe that mothers should work full time. Now, here's an interesting coincidence: according to social scientists, there's a great deal of bias against black mothers who stay home--and a great deal of bias against white mothers who work. (I got this from an interview with Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management researcher Amy Cuddy; her results haven't yet been published.) Society thinks it's good if black moms work and white moms stay home ... and so do those women themselves. Could it be that the Pew survey is measuring guilt and cultural pressure, instead of beliefs about what's best for the families involved?

--Part-time dreams are just that: dreams. Workplaces more and more force workers into either/or choices: you can support your family financially, or you can spend time with your family, but not both. Moms are pushed off the job, and dads are pushed to work more. That's loony. Surely it would be better for kids if they could see both mom and dad at home, rather than turning one into a full-time nursemaid and the other into an absentee checkbook.

As a result, the dirty little secret in hiring is that if you post a part-time job, you'll get a slew of overqualified applicants: women who've taken a long maternity leave (say, a year or two or three) and are desperate to re-enter the job market. Part-time jobs are for mothers today what teaching and nursing and being secretaries were for all women 40 years ago: a ghetto for the brilliant woman who's not permitted to follow in her chosen career.

4. Our national anti-discrimination agency, the EEOC, recently issued new guidelines saying that it's illegal to discriminate based on family responsibilities. Check them out. If you feel yourself being sidelined because sometimes you need to take care of someone--your kids, a sick spouse, an ailing parent--you probably don't want to ruin your life by suing, but you should at least know your rights.

Republican Hypocrite Caucus Keeps George Bush's War Going

A night of debate about the war in Iraq yielded two results:

1. Limited progress on getting an honest up-or-down vote on whether to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on a schedule that might finish before the end of George Bush's presidency.

2. Confirmation that many Senate Republicans who delight in holding press conferences to talk about what's wrong with Bush's war are, in fact, the primary facilitators of that war's continuation.

The cloture vote on whether to allow consideration of an amendment to begin withdrawing troops needed the support of 60 senators.

Only 52 senators voted to get serious about establishing an exit strategy by opening debate on a proposal from Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days on a time line that would be completed by April, 2008.

The good news, as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold noted, is that "a majority of the Senate backed binding legislation with a firm end date to redeploy our troops from Iraq. This shows how far we've come since August 2005 when I became the first Senator to propose a deadline to bring the mistake in Iraq to an end."

The bad news, as Feingold added, is that, "Although a number of Republicans have finally acknowledged that the President's Iraq policy is a failure, their filibuster of the Levin-Reed amendment shows they are still failing to back up their words with action."

The split in the Senate was not precisely along party lines, although there was no mystery about which party was challenging the president and which was doing his bidding.

Voting for cloture were 47 Democrats, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and four Republicans: Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Oregon's Gordon Smith and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Hagel, Smith and Snowe had committed to vote "yes," while Collins had been a possible "yes" vote.

Voting against cloture were 45 Republicans, Connecticut Democrat/Independent Joe Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of cloture who voted "no" in order to retain the ability under Senate rules to raise the issue anew.

What is notable is that a number of Republican senators who have earned headlines in recent weeks as war critics -- or, at least skeptics -- voted with the Bush White House to maintain the war: Minnesota's Norm Coleman, New Mexico's Pete Domenici, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, Indiana's Richard Lugar, New Hampshire's John Sununu. Ohio's George Voinovich and Virginia's John Warner.

If those Republican senators had backed cloture, Reid could then have shifted his vote to reach a total of 60.

Reid's decision to keep the Senate in session all night yielded a measure of clarity. It also drew significant media attention, which highlighted the fact that Democrats and a handful of responsible Republicans are serious about bringing the troops home, while the vast majority of Republicans -- including many who have raised objections to the Bush administration's approach -- are unwilling to make a genuine break with the White House.

Reid and the Democrats ought not be satisfied. They have only begun a process of introducing realism to the debate. One long night is not enough. There will need to be a lot of long nights before Republican senators who have been playing both sides are forced to make a choice between the demands of the administration and those of the great mass of Americans who want withdrawal.

Reid, who has only recently recognize the need to highlight the abuses of the cloture process of Senate Republican leaders, will need to press the issue again -- and again.

But he can't do it alone. And the fight can't just play out in Washington.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, the national campaign by the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org Political Action, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, USAction, Win Without War, Vote Vets, the Campaign for America's Future, Working Assets and other groups, is organizing to "keep the heat on" senators -- especially those both-sides-of-the-mouth Republicans.

That's critical.

"With their decision to filibuster, the Republicans have prevented the Senate from voting to bring the open-ended mission in Iraq to an end, and have once again ignored the calls of the American people," said Feingold.

The Americans Against Escalation in Iraq coalition will be working hard this summer to get Americans to turn up the volume on those calls, and the filibuster fight has provided citizens with all the information they need to target them.


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

Sleepless in the Senate

Matthew Blake reports from Capitol Hill:

Full disclosure: this humble reporter left the Capitol at 1 am but continued watching on C-Span until 2:30 am before nodding off. The Senate never slept.

Though it was done through the medium of a partly absurd, often tedious "all-night" debate, Democratic politicians have finally seemed to convey what they can and cannot do to stop George Bush's disastrous Iraq War policy.

Last night Democratic Senators talked and talked on an empty Senate floor--and to a Senate park packed with anti-war advocates--about how the chamber must vote now to begin bringing troops home. Not in September when Army General David Petraeus releases a progress report on the "surge" and not in 2009 when a new President assumes office. But antiwar Senators stressed again and again that troop withdrawals cannot happen unless 60 Senators vote to end debate on an amendment that says troops must start leaving Iraq in 120 days.

"We're going to read tomorrow that the Senate voted down the Levin-Reed amendment," co-sponsor Carl Levin of Michigan told a crowd of hundreds of anti-war advocates last night. "No they didn't--they voted to filibuster."

Indeed, the Senate just minutes ago failed to clear the Levin-Reed amendment by a vote of 52 yeas to 47 nays.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who orchestrated the Senate session, had pinned the hopes on ending the war on Senate Republicans like Virginia's John Warner and New Mexico's Pete Domenici, who have spoken out against the war but did vote to end debate on the amendment. For their part, moderate Senate Republicans seem focused on both waiting until September and endorsing the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group Report, which they dismissed not so long ago. "There is a careful sequence of events between now and September," Warner said when he spoke on the Senate floor last night.

While Republicans emphasized careful deliberation and held up copies of the Iraq Study Group Report, some Democrats seemed to have found a new sense of urgency. Patty Murray of Washington state told a story of a soldier she spoke with who just returned from Iraq. "He told me every time I heard somebody contentedly sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant, I just wanted to say 'Wake up!' and that's what we're saying Republican Senators now tonight. And we're staying up all night to tell them that."

Back on the Senate floor, Democrats stood by "Let Us Vote" posters and other visuals that emphasized how Iraq has distracted America from its biggest security threats. Louisiana's Mary Landrieu used additional visuals such as a most wanted poster of Osama Bin Laden with the headline "Priority Number One." Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke beside a poster stating, "The Iraq effect: War has increased terrorismseven-fold."

Much of the curiosity surrounding the event centered on Senators staying up all-night and sleeping on cots. Capitol Hill workers complained about having to bring up dozens of boxes of Chick Filet sandwiches to the Senators.

But, however tangential and monotonous, each Senator spoke about Iraq and national security. A motion to close debate on the amendment failed by eight votes today. But at least Democrats have hammered home exactly where Congress stands on getting out of Iraq. "I don't think spending one night on the Senate debating Iraq is too much to ask," Landrieu said.

Subpoena Watch: Tenth Time’s a Charm

Nine times the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Bush Administration for the legal justification of its warrantless (and illegal) domestic spying program. Nine times. To no avail. In the end of June, in a bipartisan 13-3 vote, the committee asked a tenth time – and it issued subpoenas to the President, Vice President, Department of Justice, and National Security Council to put an end to the stonewalling.

Today at 2 PM is the deadline to comply with the request. (There is an unconfirmed rumor of an extension, but nothing definitive.) Few will be holding their breath. As Committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy wrote in his cover letter with the subpoenas, "Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."

Indeed the materials requested have nothing to do with the operational details--nothing to make the administration cry "state secrets" privilege--simply the legal rationale behind the program.

If the Administration once again chooses the stonewalling route, the Senate Judiciary Committee should move to hold those individuals in contempt of Congress, just as the House Judiciary Committee is expected to do with regard to Harriet Miers. (Miers was ordered by President Bush not to appear before a committee investigating politicized federal investigations and prosecutions.) As he's done several times before when confronted with the White House's blatant disregard for the checks and balances at the core of our constitutional design, Judiciary Chair John Conyers cut to the heart of the issue, asking, "Are Congressional subpoenas to be honored or are they optional?"

This moment is an important one as small-d democrats look to repair our democracy and defend the constitution. As the ACLU writes in a message to President Bush and Vice President Cheney: "All the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know is your legal rationale for spying on Americans without warrants."

Tell the President and Vice President you expect them to comply with these subpoenas and the rule of law. And if they don't do it, demand that your Senators move to hold them in contempt of Congress.