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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Go Christine!

I was never wild about the Band of Brothers idea, as Ari notes, and not just because it is such a male (and white) bunch of tired and dreary no-idea candidates. It's a gimmick. A militaristic gimmick. It says Daddy's back and he hates those commie pinko peaceniks just as much as you, patriotic red-blooded red-state America! What's next, Band of Preachers?

Tammy Duckworth is a great human-interest story, but that's not a reason to support her candidacy. Running her is an act of considerable cynicism-- but it seems to be working. Ari, I'm guessing you'd barely heard of her before a few weeks ago, and you're practically ready to support her. The centrist mantra is working it's magic: Already you're having trouble telling the difference between the candidate who walks the walk and has grassroots support, and the candidate who is basically a photo-op. Who says Duckworth is the more electable of the two, besides the pols who recruited her to run?

Duckworth wants to stay in Iraq, she's allied with the more conservative wing of the party, and she seems to have very little substantive to say about most issues. She' s trying to push out of the way a candidate who has a lot of support, more local roots, who ran an incredible race last time, and who has much better politics. I would trust Cegelis a thousand times over Duckworth to take progressive stands once elected, including on women's rights and abortion rights. Duckworth told the Washington Post she thinks abortion shouldn't be a federal issue. That's not exactly a ringing defense of abortion rights, since unfortunately it IS a federal issue.

If it's all the same to you whether the US stays in Iraq or not, if you think women candidates are fungible and it makes no difference that one has been part of progressive politics in the district for years while the other was trying to get into active combat because (according to the WashPost) she thought flying helicopters was cool, by all means, support Duckworth.

Victor Navasky is Dangerous

Larry Summers resigned. Alan Dershowitz called it an "academic coup d'etat" engineered by the "radical, hard-left element" at Harvard. He worried the PC-cops would end academic freedom and raised the specter of '60s, European-style student uprisings. But Sam pointed out that if the Crimson take to the barricades, it would be in defense of the administration, and I didn't even know Harvard had a radical, hard-left element!

Confused and seeking guidance, I bought David Horowitz's The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. It's $27.95 that will go to frontpagemag.com, but I couldn't resist. After I got over my disappointment at not making the cut -- alright, so I'm not exactly a professor yet, but I'm the kind of guy who picks up People's "Fifty Most Beautiful" issue and wonders how come the editors lost my headshot again -- I thumbed through the volume and here's the good news. The Nation is well represented. We got Stanley Aronowitz (CUNY), David Cole (Georgetown), Juan Cole (Michigan), Michael Eric Dyson (UPenn), Richard Falk (Princeton), Eric Foner (Columbia), Tom Hayden (Occidental), Robert McChesney (Illinois), and last but not least, the deadly Victor Navasky (Columbia). Vic's main assault seems to be disseminating "The Nation's far-left agendas throughout the American education system." There's also something in there about Vic and "other apologists for Communism" being complicit in the deaths of 100 million innocent people, but Horowitz glosses right over it to get to the pernicious RadioNation offense now airing on "forty college radio stations"! Yikes!

(I wish I could report that Victor had in fact colonized the minds of undergrads everywhere, but alas, when I tell students I used to work at The Nation the response I usually get is: "Oh really, which one?")

I can't figure out why mad law professor Patricia Williams didn't make the grade, but don't worry women are well represented on the Horowitz honor roll: Lisa Anderson (Columbia), bell hooks (CUNY), Mari Matsuda (Georgetown), Eve Sedgwick (CUNY), Bernardine Dohrn (Northwestern), Angela Davis (UC Santa Cruz) and Kathleen Cleaver (Emory) among others.

Anyway, Harvard doesn't have a single academic on Horowitz's list. Nonetheless, using the Summer's presidency as a case study and methodological "yardstick," Horowitz concludes that there are 25,000-30,000 radical professors at American universities who teach over 3 million students a year. Getting rid of these folks is Horowitz's version of "academic freedom," and he's launched a raft of bills and conferences through Students for Academic Freedom.

Between Horowitz's campaign and Dershowitz's vision of purges driven by the "radical, hard-left," the bodycount in the academy could get pretty high. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep my head down, don't say anything controversial, political or interesting, I'll land a tenure-track job. Then I can finally kick back and enjoy my "academic freedom."

 

Band of Brothers Revisited

Shortly after Katha raised complaints about the largely male composition of the Band of Brothers--the veterans running for Congress as Dems in 2006--the Washington Post ran a front page story on Tammy Duckworth, a 37-year-old soldier who lost both legs while serving in Iraq and is now running for an open Congressional seat in suburban Chicago long held by Rep. Henry Hyde.

It's an amazing, remarkable story. Unfortunately, the politics of the race complicates things. In 2004, Democrat Christine Cegelis, a businesswoman and single mother, unexpectedly took 44 percent of the vote against Hyde with virtually no establishment support, becoming a favorite of grassroots groups like Howard Dean's Democracy for America (DFA). Cegelis planned to run again, but Illinois politicians Rahm Emanuel, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama recruited Tammy Duckworth, who became an instant media favorite. Now two women are vying to replace an old white man.

Both Duckworth and Cegelis opposed the Iraq war, but Cegelis wants a timetable for withdrawing US troops while Duckworth believes they should stay. Both say they strongly support abortion rights and have lined up union backing. Duckworth is favored by the DCCC and Emily's List. Cegelis has won endorsements from DFA and Progressive Democrats of America. Though Cegelis has more political experience, she's the outsider in the race.

Cegelis certainly seems the more progressive of the two. But Duckworth has the more compelling narrative in a red district that is turning blue. So I'm torn. Cockburn has already weighed in. Katha, who would you pick?

California Death Penalty Melt-Down

It's getting rather macabre up in San Quentin's death chamber. For two nights in a row convicted killer Michael Morales was scheduled to die by lethal injection. Two times he didn't.

His Monday night date with death was postponed at the last moment when two anesthesiologists walked out, stating ethical concerns. They could not in good conscience, they said, carry out their task of monitoring the execution because they didn't trust the integrity of the lethal dosage system. They feared that Morales might not die quickly and painlessly and that it would fall upon them to re-awaken the prisoner and prepare him for a second jolt.

After Monday night's snafu, Morales was re-scheduled to be killed late Tuesday night. California state officials then proposed he be executed with a massive dose of just sodium pentathol, a drug that causes death in 30 to 45 minutes instead of the usual 11 minutes it takes when a three-chemical load is used.

Matters got further complicated when, two hours before Tuesday's execution, a Federal judge imposed new conditions to ward off a botched and painful procedure. He ordered that a licensed medical professional would have to directly inject the barbiturate into Morales' vein.

But then the state attorney general's office halted the whole grim show when it said that this was not a recognized medical procedure and no medical professional would be ordered to comply.

Bottom line: Morales' execution has been put off at least until May when a two-day court hearing is scheduled. What a moment this would be for a vigorous anti-death penalty movement to surge upward in California. But this is an election year and political courage is running as short as compassion.

 

Revisionist History

Francis Fukuyama's 1992 book The End of History was arguably the most influential post-Cold War neoconservative tract. But for some time Fukuyama's been uneasy with his fellow neocons, mostly because of the Iraq war. In a big New York Times Magazine article this week, Fukuyama makes the break once and for all:

 

Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

 

The neocons over-reliance on military power, egotistical brand of American exceptionalism and go-it-alone bravado are all contributing factors Fukuyama cites. His essay brings to mind Ronald Reagan's famous rejoinder:

 

I didn't leave the Democratic Party. It left me.

 

But as our colleague David Corn notes, Fukuyama should've known what he was getting into. He did, after all, sign a letter from the Project for a New American Century a week after 9/11 advocating for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein:

 

It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism. The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a "safe zone" in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means.

 

A little history can be a dangerous thing.

Juan Cole, the UN and Iraq

Juan Cole's invaluable blog is of special interest today. Cole calls for the United Nations to set a clear timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq. He says it is an important opportunity for the peace movement, as the third anniversary of the war approaches.

In certain ways, Cole's plan accords with what The Nation has laid out in our many editorials, in these last few years, calling for US withdrawal and an end to the occupation. We've always believed that the Iraq situation should be internationalized, and that the United Nations could play a key role in helping Iraq, as Cole writes, "through the coming years of instability and help shepherd it to independence from the US and UK." In addition, as he notes, this "would help strengthen international, multilateral organizations generally and contribute to an institutionalization of international law."

As Cole puts it, and we would agree: "Bush invaded Iraq, in part, in order to destroy the United Nations. Forcing him to bring it into Iraq would be a blow against American unilateralism and rightwing American aggression for decades to come."

Cheney Stayed At Uncle Tom's House

Newsweek reported an interesting tidbit about Cheney's stay at the exclusive 50,000 acre preserve known as the Armstrong Ranch. It seems that the Vice-President's lodgings were in a guest quarters called "Uncle Tom's House."

A house named for a member of the Armstrong family?

I look forward to more reporting on the names of other guest houses on the vast property which Newsweek describes as "'Gosford Park' with a twang."

Carter: Don't Punish the Palestinians

The yahoo crowd that runs U.S. foreign policy has been struggling to figure out how to get to the right of Israeli's Likud Party when it comes to countering the decision of the Palestinian people to give the political wing of Hamas an opportunity to form a government. But the new Bush doctrine of punishing people for casting their ballots for political parties that are not approved by the commissars in Washington does not sit well with the American president who actually forged significant progress toward peace in the Middle East -- and who understands the region better in his sleep than a wide-awake Dick Cheney before he's had that beer with lunch.

Jimmy Carter has been making the rounds of the television talk shows with an urgent message about what a mistake it would be to punish the Palestinian people for choosing a government that is not to the liking of Israeli or American politicians.

Carter, who led the team from the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute that observed last month's Palestinian elections, made his case well in an opinion piece headlined "Don't Punish the Palestinians," which first appeared Monday in the Washington Post.

Noting that the outlines of the Palestinian government are still taking shape, Carter argued that, "During this time of fluidity in the formation of the new government, it is important that Israel and the United States play positive roles. Any tacit or formal collusion between the two powers to disrupt the process by punishing the Palestinian people could be counterproductive and have devastating consequences."

"Unfortunately," Carter added, "these steps are already underway and are well known throughout the Palestinian territories and the world. Israel moved yesterday to withhold funds (about $50 million per month) that the Palestinians earn from customs and tax revenue. Perhaps a greater aggravation by the Israelis is their decision to hinder movement of elected Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members through any of more than a hundred Israeli checkpoints around and throughout the Palestinian territories. This will present significant obstacles to a government's functioning effectively."

And it is not just Israel that is taking the wrong course.

"Knowing that Hamas would inherit a bankrupt government, U.S. officials have announced that all funding for the new government will be withheld, including what is needed to pay salaries for schoolteachers, nurses, social workers, police and maintenance personnel," noted Carter "So far they have not agreed to bypass the Hamas-led government and let humanitarian funds be channeled to Palestinians through United Nations agencies responsible for refugees, health and other human services."

The former president offers a dose of realism when he concludes that: "This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow purpose (of limiting the ability of the new government to function), but the likely results will be to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate their policies."

Don't hold your breath waiting for the Bush-Cheney administration to do the right thing. But it would be encouraging if Carter's Democratic Party, the supposed opposition force in American politics, would embrace the wisdom of a former president whose commitment to easing tensions on the planet earned him the Nobel Peace Prize that will ever elude the current occupants of the White House. Unfortunately, most Democrats in Congress are, in all-too-predictable fashion, echoing an administration line that is as dangerous as it is foolhardy.

Cheney Again

Jane Mayer's got a whopping-good piece in the latest New Yorker detailing the frustrated crusade of one Alberto J. Mora to stop the institutionalization of torture by Bush administration officials.

No cappuccino-sippin' liberal, Mora – the son of Hungarian and Cuban refugees-- was the Navy's chief legal advisor. He's also an honest and humane patriot who was disgusted and alarmed – long before anyone heard of Abu Grhraib -- by the way the U.S. military was treating its prisoners.

Much to his credit, and elevating him far above the moral gnomes who generally populate the upper echelons of the administration, Mora drew no distinction between plain cruel and sadistic treatment of prisoners and outright torture. On this subject, he wasn't willing to split hairs (or for that matter to break shinbones, smash jaws or cause organ failure).

Unfortunately his prolonged effort to reel in his own Pentagon ran smack dab into – yes you guessed it--other legal advisors in the administration who were more loyal to Dick Cheney than to constitutional and international law.The long and short of it, is that Mora was straight-out lied to by the administration. While he was being told that policy was being re-shaped to accommodate his protests against abuse, the administration was secretly authorizing the use of torture.Make sure you read Mayer's entire story. It will leave you numb.

A Report From The Frontlines Of American Poverty

In these last couple days, I've been blogging about the shameful fact that America's minimum wage hasn't risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. That means millions of Americans cannot meet their bills even working 2-3 jobs.

If you want to read a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking article about the human face of growing poverty in this rich country, read Paul Harris's dispatch in The Guardian. Harris reports from the hills of Kentucky, Detroit's streets, the Deep South of Louisiana and the heartland of Oklahoma. What he finds is not the failure of the poor, but the failure of our system.

The next time some morally obtuse politician starts talking YOYO language--"You're On Your Own"--or preaches the need to take personal responsibility and pulls out that bootstrap stuff, make them read this article. It is a stark reminder that, as Harris reports, "even families with two working parents are often one slice of good luck--a medical bill or a factory closure--away from disaster."

These are times when the gap between the haves and have-nots in America has widened, when 37 million of our fellow citizens live in poverty (that's 12.7% of population--the highest percentage in the developed world), and each year more are added to the poverty rolls. (Under Bush, an additional 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line.)

Yet, poverty is, for all essential purposes, off the radar of America's political landscape. Maybe it's because there are too many outrages to wake up to every morning? Maybe it's because the poor have no lobbyists and don't have the money to make campaign donations?

During the 2004 elections, as The Guardian article reminds, John Edwards raised poverty to a presidential-level conversation for the first time in forty years. And even then, he had to mute his passion and words once he became the vice-presidential candidate. So it's heartening that Edwards, in these last months, has retrieved his focus and passion and launched a campaign to "eradicate poverty in America." (For more, check out Bob Moser's fine Nation profile) He's created a think tank at the University of North Carolina, The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity," designed to tackle the nation's deep and abiding economic and racial inequities, and taken his antipoverty crusade to more than thirty states.

Edwards isn't alone. There are movements which continue to work hard, with too little support or attention; there are also less prominent political figures. But what we need is a critical mass of elected representatives, at all levels. Make this issue a campaign. Don't just talk the talk, but really work to fulfill the oft-proclaimed promise of America as a land of opportunity for all. Begin by fighting tooth and nail to increase the minimum wage. Shame on those who refuse to pass it. And then let's support the successful living wage movement, and the anti-poverty movements and coalitions working in our communities and nation-wide.

These are just a few things that could be done. I am sure others have better ideas and a clearer understanding of political strategy. What is clear is that addressing the deep and growing poverty in this nation may be the greatest moral-values issue of our time.

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