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The Nation

When Thanksgiving Proclamations Mattered

Presidential proclamations are of dubious distinction in these days of permanent campaigning by the president and his hyper-politicized staff. What were once the solemn pronouncements of the executive have become little more than super-charged press releases.

George Bush issued more than 100 proclamations in the first ten months of the year, including one honoring National Safe Boating Week and another for Dutch-American Friendship Day. There was one recognizing National Homeownership Month, which conveniently preceded the mortgage crisis that has raised the prospect of as many as two million America families losing their domiciles. There was, as well, a National Consumer Protection Week proclamation, which probably should have outlined steps Americans should take to protect themselves from the dangerous food products and toys that are the byproducts of the administration's exceptionally ambitious trade agenda and exceptionally lax regulatory policies. There was a Constitution Day proclamation, which did not that we know of include a "signing statement" outlining the sections of the document the president would refuse to uphold during the remainder of the year. And perhaps most amusingly coming from the titular leader of an administration that is angling to expand its perpetual "war on terror" to include an imbroglio in Iran was Bush's "Prayer for Peace" proclamation of May 15.

Today, of course, the White House adds to the year's already long list of presidential pronouncements a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Bush has so devalued the official announcements of the White House that it becomes easy to imagine that they were never of consequence.

History reminds, however, that the cure circumstance is, like so much about the Bush presidency, a relatively new and certainly unwelcome variation on the American theme.

In the not-too-distant past, presidential proclamations were rarer and more meaningful statements, prepared by executives who intended them to be read and considered by Americans.

It was not at all uncommon for the nation's greatest leaders to issue only one proclamation annually.

That was the case in 1789, George Washington's first year in the White House, when he circulated only his Thanksgiving proclamation.

Similarly, in the last full year of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt issued just a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Roosevelt used his annual Thanksgiving proclamations as teaching documents. In his last statement to the nation, he encouraged Americans to think in broader terms, to recognize the need to put aside racial and religious prejudices in order to unite the nation in difficult times.

"Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved," wrote Roosevelt in that 1944 proclamation.

A year later, in a proclamation that celebrated the end of the war while mourning the death of Roosevelt, President Harry Truman used the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1945 to declare, "Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world."

This was a radical sentiment at a time when many of the United States remained segregated along the racial lines dictated by the southern segregationists. And it anticipated Truman's embrace of civil rights in the years that followed, an embrace that would extend and expand upon the noblest impulses of the New Deal era.

That was not the only radical message in Truman's proclamation, which spoke as well of a desire to use the United Nations to "make permanent" the peace that had finally arrived and to "cherish freedom above riches."

Nostalgia is a mixed blessing. The past that saw the rise of the civil rights movement also saw the necessity of such a movement. But on this Thanksgiving we can, perhaps, be permitted a measure of nostalgia for the days when presidential proclamations had meaning and when they were issued by executives who had the authority -- and the desire -- to guide the American people toward the better angels of our nature.

Our Not-So-Friendly Skies

While there are extraordinarily important issues to reckon with--endingthis catastrophic war and devising a sane national security policy,providing universal health care, and repairing the gutted socialcompact--fixing our air travel system may be one of the most potentpolitical issues of our time.

An outdated air traffic control system, flight routes from the 1950's,and air traffic controllers retiring more quickly than they can bereplaced while the Bush Administration plays hardball on a new contractand imposes work rules-- these are just some of the issues that have led to the airline "industry post[ing] its worston-time performance since it began collecting comparable statistics in1995."

Roughly 25 percent of domestic flights run late. And now--with 27 million passengers expected to travel over Thanksgivingand the public taking matters into its own hands with the air passenger billof rights movement--President Bush has attempted to "solve" the problem with a little sleight-of-hand and a PR effort.

To much fanfare, Bush has opened up restricted military airspace offof the East Coast to create a "Thanksgiving express lane for congested traffic."

But the Bush Administration fails to mention that opening up militaryairspace is already routine. According to the Washington Post, "Sucharrangements are not new. The FAA coordinates daily with the DefenseDepartment and seeks same-day clearance to use military airspace if, forexample, weather conditions are better in the military's part of thesky."

Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate TravelExecutives, told the New York Times Bush's move is like "putting aBand-Aid on a broken arm." And airline industry forecaster, MichaelBoyd, said, "What's all this rah-rah about the holiday season? What'schanged? We're just going to stagger on the way we've been doing forthe past year, vulnerable to any glitch in the system, vulnerable to anyweather issues."

After the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis I wrote about how our eroding public infrastructure demanded a real public investment agenda (just as I had called for when the levees broke in New Orleans). The antiquated air traffic system is a key partof that agenda. Now the alarms are ringing loudly on that front. Sowhat can be done?

Experts agree that a new satellite-based navigation system is needed to "allow planes to abandon the highway maps and fly freely since a computerized system can check for conflicting flight paths." Accordingto Boyd, airlines are currently limited to using approximately 3 percentof the sky. But that system--called NextGen for Next Generation AirTransportation System--is expected to cost up to $22 billion (less than two months in Iraq and Afghanistan) and won't be ready until 2025. Who's going to pay for it?

What is happening in the air is a microcosm of what's happening on theground with the hedge funders. When it comes to the air traffic control system, private jet owners "incur 16 percent of the costs but pay only 3 percent." And just as hedge funders sent their lobbyists to Congress to defeat the effort for a saner tax system, so too are these tourists in corporate jets fighting to hang on to their unjust privilege of using the skies on the cheap.

But even once the navigation system is built, the runways available forarrivals and departures are still limited, and airlines areover-scheduling. A source in the FAA says that airlines will have toeither cut back the number of flights, use larger airplanes instead ofsmaller commuter flights, or serve more regional airports (whichcustomers are often reluctant to use). Raising landing fees might beone way to move in that direction. According to the New York Times, aBoeing 737 landing in Kennedy pays only about $800--"often far lessthat the price of a single full-fare ticket." (Three-fourths of thechronic delays nationwide are linked to delays at Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy.) As for corporate jets, at most airports they don't pay any landing fee at all, according to the FAA source.

And then there is the labor issue. Recent near midair collisionshave highlighted the staffing shortages and fatigue of our air trafficcontrollers, who have been working without a contract since September2006 under imposed work rules - including lower wages and longer hours -leading many to retire early, and more quickly than they can bereplaced. New hires are therefore often assigned to major metropolitan airports instead of being trained slowly in less trafficked areas. Jeff Richards, president of theNational Air Traffic Controllers Association (NACTA) at the Chicago Center, told the New York Times he has "long been worried about staffing levels and increased workloads." According to Richards, "These minor infractions are really the calling card of a much bigger problem." And Patrick Forrey, president of NACTA told NPR, "We haven't had any major accidents. Well, all the signs are leadingup to the fact that we're going to."

Meanwhile, passengers have grown increasingly frustrated and travelhorror stories are commonplace. Kate Hanni, a California real estate agent who was stranded for eight hours on a runway last December, founded the Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights that now has 21,000 members.

Among its proposals are: allowing passengers to get off of the planeafter it has been on the tarmac for longer than three hours; refundtickets at 150 percent for bumped passengers or passengers delayed bycancellations or postponements over 12 hours; provide food, water,sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention during delayslasting longer than three hours. Good legislation is pending in the House and Senate though the Bush Administration has offered no support.

"The Administration has still not commented on the passenger bill ofrights legislation that is currently in Congress...." Hanni recentlysaid.

"This would finally guarantee basic rights to the 27 millionpassengers who are expected to fly in the coming days. Opening uplittle-used military air lanes in the northeast is like adding a lane toan exit ramp on I-95 north of Miami.... The fact is that the airlinesmust be compelled to overhaul their scheduling practices, and providetravelers with basic human necessities...."

This issue is waiting to be seized by a political leader who will linkit to our decaying infrastructure and the desperate need for publicinvestment. Let's hope that we don't wait for the next disaster beforetaking significant steps towards safety and sanity in our skies.

Norman Mailer R.I.P.

      Last month I was privileged to be part of Georgetown University's day-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, his autobiographical-historical-novelistic account of the l967 March on the Pentagon.  Mailer was in the hospital and unable to attend as he'd planned -- but it was still a fascinating day.   My favorite moment was  when  the delightful and erudite  Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who wrote his thesis on Mailer, explained that in the 1960s and 70s Mailer failed to grasp the reductive nature of television --  he would go on a talk show ,utter a complex thought, and then find that the only part that was quoted was an inflammatory soundbite, like "all women should be kept in cages." Ah, yes, context.  I'll bet it made all the difference! My second favorite moment  came after my bit on the literary panel,--in which yes, as the only woman I did feel compelled to mention Mailer's  rather staggering misogyny-- when various older gentlemen in the audience leapt to their feet to assure me that his violent hostility to women was just a phase . Their wives had met Mailer in the late  l970s and found him very nice.  My third favorite moment was when, after the showing of Richard Fountain's  l971 documentary about mailer --  the  product of the very film crew that Mailer reveals, halfway through the book, is following him about as he makes one weird speech after another, sometimes in strange voices-- a  Georgetown student told the panel on stage that she and her  activist friends always tried to present their political points  in a sober, respectful way, and she  found the 1960s, and Norman Mailer in particular, entirely bewildering: Was everybody just crazy back then?  

It probably astonishes you to hear that I'm not a charter member of the Norman Mailer Society, but I  enjoyed Armies of The Night.  One of the great things about books, especially when they are of a previous generation, is that you don't have to swallow them whole -- you can  take what you want and leave the rest.  If you are a writer yourself, you might even see a signpost in what strikes you as mostly a swamp.  Take, for example Mailer's  third-person depiction of himself  as a major jerk ,obnox and social climber-- "the Novelist"  worries endlessly about what to wear to the big march ,  about his literary status  and whether Robert Lowell  respects him; he pisses on a restroom floor because he's too drunk to find the toilet in the dark, gives an incoherent ranting speech that it turns out nobody could hear, spends a lot of mental energy wondering how to schedule his arrest at the Pentagon so that he can be back in New York in time for a glamorous  party, and gets so tied up in egomaniacal knots that when he finally bunks down in jail for the night, in stead of having a historic prison-memoir moment he is unable to address a word to the reputed young genius in the next bed -- Noam Chomsky.  It's all pretty funny.  But who is telling you this story that reflects so poorly on "the Novelist's" claims to moral seriousness,  political commitment, and fitness for the leadership position he longs to hold? Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer the narrator knows perfectly well --at least in Armies of the Night he does -- what an anxious, obsessive, narcissistic, fantastical, insecure, over-the-top, ridiculous person " Norman Mailer" is.  The writer sees what the character doesn't see. The expression of that double consciousness is  a masterpiece of style.    Still, there is that little problem of misogyny. I wish  The Nation's considerable coverage of his life had given that more than a passing wave.  What a failure of imagination and humanity there is in his ravings about the evils of birth control and women's liberation, his cult of  hatred and  domination and violence, his fatuous pronouncements about what women should be (goddesses,whores,  mothers of as many children as a man could stuff into them), ), his pronouncements of doom on a culture that let them get out of their cage .   I remember  him speaking at a PEN meeting in the l990s about  the damage women would do to the Democratic Party if they exercised power within it.  That made about as much sense as his famous essay in "Advertisements for Myself," (l959)  in which, having  insulted every famous male writer of his day from Bellow to Baldwin, he wrote . ''I doubt if there will be a really exciting woman writer until the first whore becomes a call girl and tells her tale.''  

The obits don't make much of this but it should be said straight out: Mailer did a lot of harm in his life.  He stabbed his  second wife, Adele Morales, and it wasn't some larger-than-life zany antic they both had a good laugh over later: he nearly killed her.  Psychologically, a recent New York times story suggested,  she never recovered. He helped  get the  writer and murderer Jack Abbott out of  prison ,  and immediately plunged this  unbalanced man who had spent over half his life behind bars   into the heady world of literary celebrity; within days Abbott had killed a waiter he imagined was dissing him.   Several obits have humorously recounted how Mailer assaulted on the street a sailor he thought called his dog gay, but the near murder of Morales, and the actual murder of Richie Adan by Mailer's protege, show that his infatuation with machismo was not just a literary joke, much less endearing protective covering for his inner nice-Brooklyn-boy-who-loved-his-mother.

What can a woman writer take from Mailer? Not much of his content, and certainly not his career advice. But what about style? The boldness, the risk of failure, the willingness to be big and raw and to work the language hard. To let yourself not look good and make readers admire you anyway through sheer virtuosity. Style, I thought after my day with the Mailerites, is everything, content almost nothing. True? I'm not sure, but for Mailer's sake let's hope so.

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Scott McClellan = John Dean?

Scott McClellan's admission that he unintentionally made false statements denying the involvement of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the Bush-Cheney administration's plot to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson, along with his revelation that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were among those who provided him with the misinformation, sets the former White House press secretary as John Dean to George Bush's Richard Nixon.

It was Dean willingness to reveal the details of what described as "a cancer" on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account.

Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.

The only question is whether the current Congress is up to the task of holding the 43rd president to account.

What McClellan has revealed, in a section from an upcoming book on his tenure in the Bush-Cheney White House, is a stunning indictment of the president and the vice president. The former press secretary is confirming that Bush and Cheney not only knew that Rove, the administration's political czar, and Libby, who served as Cheney's top aide, were involved in the scheme to attack Wilson's credibility -- by outing the former ambassador's wife, Valerie Plame, as a Central Intelligence Agency analyst -- but that the president and vice president actively engaged in efforts to prevent the truth from coming out.

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby," writes McClellan in an excerpt from his book, What Happened, which is to be published next April by Public Affairs.

"There was one problem," the long-time Bush aide continues. "It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."

Much has been made about the fact that outing Plame as a CIA operative was a felony, since knowingly revealing the identity of an intelligence asset is illegal. And much will be made about the fact that McClellan's statement links Bush and Cheney to the cover-up of illegal activities and the obstruction of justice, acts that are themselves felonies.

But it is important to recognize that a bigger issue is at stake. If the president and vice president knowingly participated in a scheme to attack a critic of their administration -- Wilson had revealed that the White House had been informed that arguments Bush and Cheney used for attacking Iraq were ungrounded -- they have committed a distinct sort of offense that the House Judiciary Committee has already determined to be grounds for impeachment.

In the summer of 1974, Democrats and Republicans on the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend the impeachment of President Richard Nixon for having "repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies."

That second article of impeachment against Nixon detailed the president's involvement in schemes to use the power of his position to attack political critics and then to cover up for those attacks.

The current chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, voted for the impeachment of Nixon on those grounds.

Conyers and his colleagues need to recognize that, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's aversion to presidential accountability, McClellan's statement demands the sort of inquiry and action that Dean's statements regarding Nixon demanded three decades ago.

As former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree notes with regard to Bush, "The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame's name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn't fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth."

Pingree, a savvy government watchdog who is bidding for an open House seat representing her native Maine, argues that the Judiciary Committee must subpoena McClellan as part of a renewed investigation of the Wilson case.

She is right about that.

She is right, as well, when she concludes that, if what McClellan says is true "it will call into question the legitimacy of the entire administration. And we may see a changing of the guard at the White House sooner than expected."

That changing of the guard -- via the Constitutional process of impeachment and trial for their various and sundry high crimes and misdemeanor -- is long overdue.

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John Nichols is the author of 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.'"

What Would Jesus Buy?

There is one thing the Church of Stop Shopping's Reverend Billy wants you to buy this season: a ticket to his new movie, "What Would Jesus Buy." Make that purchase now and you'll add anti-media-monopoly oomph to your personal buying-power.

Writes the Reverend: "Every one of you who make it to the movies today dramatically increases the chance we can take the Stop Shopping message to Tulsa, to Long Island, to Cheney, Washington."

What Would Jesus Buy (WWJB) which opened this weekend in limited release, is a loving celebration of Reverend Billy's anti-Shopocalypse crusade. "We want people to buy less and give more," says Billy, (aka performance artist, Bill Talen.) With his wife and co-conspirator, Savitri Durkee and their 40-person Stop Shopping gospel choir, Talen's been preaching against commercialism since before "malling" became a frightening verb. The film, directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) follows Billy and his church-mates as they travel the country on a pre-Christmas anti-shopping tour.

Singing to the angels of anti-acquisition, they ride the escalators at the Mall of America. Facing down their demons, they're tormented in the trinket-store. When the bio-diesel in the tour-bus freezes, Billy gets down on his knees for forgiveness as he pumps the evil oil. ("Hallelujah Brother" he hails the truckers from the floor-court floor.)

The reverend's ordination my be community (not church) bestowed but his following is real enough. The Church of Stop Shopping is sanctified by a feisty, fun-loving and spiritually hungry anti-consumerist congregational rabble based in the East Village of New York. Billy's protests have cost him prison time. He's exorcised cash-registers at Starbucks (for the sin of killing the family coffee shop.) He's preached to protect public space from developers. He's married the un-marry-able and crucified the devil (Mickey Mouse) on a portable cross in Disney-Time Square.

As with a Stop-Shopping performance, so too, the movie's tone is comedic. But there are moments that speak to the heart, as when, exhausted after another seemingly fruitless wail against Wal-Mart, Durkee sighs:

"I just want what we do to have some impact on someone soon." That spoke to my longing, and I bet yours.

Now, whether they like it or not, the Church of Stop Shopping is taking on cinema's corporate consolidators. As producer Spurlock told the audience opening night in New York, Wal-Mart has a 50 percent corner on the nationwide DVD market. That makes WWJB, a distributor's nightmare. So Spurlock et al are on a grass-roots marketing mission to break into the market through force of sales. If opening grosses are impressive enough, the movie will be playing on screens around the country in time for the Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

It USED to be Friday. This year, the tech-chain CompUSA will start the post-Thanksgiving shop-a-looza while the turkeys are still raw. (They'll hold an online only sale starting at 12.01 Thanksgiving morning.) The chain, and others like them, say they aren't trampling on the give-thanks holiday by reminding us of what we lack. They're just offering "another option" for starved, deal-hungry consumers," CompUSA spokesperson Jessica Nunez told the New York Times.

What do we need? Change-a-lujah! There's no better time for the humanity-hungry human to go to the movies and pray with the not-just-a prankster preacher for save-our-souls radical change.

For theaters, dates and locations check www.revbilly.com.

Hurricane Katrina Blows Apart New Orleans Politics

For almost a quarter century, New Orleans government reflected the racial makeup of the city. As such, the city council had an African-American majority.

Not anymore.

Anyone looking for evidence of the extent of the racial reconfiguration that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 got it over the weekend. Run-off elections on Saturday reversed much of the political progress made by African-Americans in the decades since the civil rights movement opened avenues of advancement for people of color in the southern city.

For the first time since 1985, the New Orleans City Council has a white majority.

Both of the at-large seats on the council -- which are elected by voters from throughout the city -- are now held by whites. That last time that happened was in 1978.

In a citywide race for an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judgeship that had been held by an African-American for many years, a white candidate won.

Special elections for open state legislative seats representing the city's Uptown and Central City neighborhoods, which had for many years elected African-American representatives, were won by white candidates.

To be sure, many cities see individual positions shift back and forth from election to election between candidates of different races.

But the pattern of white contenders defeating and replacing African-American candidates in New Orleans was unmistakable on Saturday. In contest after contest, whites politicians defeated African-American competitors who in the past would have been likely winners.

There is no mystery about what has happened. For the first time in decades, it appears that predominantly white precincts are casting more ballots in New Orleans than predominantly African-American precincts. Officially, the voter rolls still show a black majority. But the rolls have not yet been purged of the names of Katrina's victims. The names that will eventually be removed are, for the most part, expected to be those of African Americans.

Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson suggests that the vast majority of the more than 100,000 voters are on the rolls but are no longer living in New Orleans -- either because they died in the aftermath of the storm or because they were displaced by it -- are people of color.

"Katrina rearranged the political deck in New Orleans," Silas Lee, the Xavier University pollster and sociologist who is an expert on New Orleans and Louisiana voting patterns, told the Times Picayune newspaper after Saturday's election. "Symbolically what it shows is that we have a realignment politically, and that advances made by African-American elected officials and the African-American political structure over the last 30 years... right now are in neutral or being lost."

Did it have to be this way? Of course not. The federal government's agonizingly slow response to the crisis created by Hurricane Katrina was disproportionately devastating for African-American residents of the city's poorest neighborhoods. They were initially left to suffer and die. Then, vast numbers of the survivors were sent far from New Orleans and encouraged to settle elsewhere. House Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Illinois, suggested immediately after the storm that much of New Orleans "could be bulldozed." While he was roundly criticized for that statement, and the attitude underpinning it, the reality is that many of the city's oldest and most-politically engaged African-American neighborhoods have been bulldozed -- or simply abandoned -- while white neighborhoods that took less damage have been rapidly rebuilt.

These patterns have dramatically altered the electoral politics of a city that had been in the forefront of African-American political strength and advancement since the 1960s. The change was rapid and radical, but it is only now coming into something akin to full perspective. An initial mayoral race following the storm saw a significant amount of absentee voting, but Saturday's run-off voting was more reflective of the new political reality of New Orleans.

And it is not just the political reality of New Orleans that is changing.

Louisiana was, before Katrina hit, one of the most politically competitive states in the south. Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton actually won the state in 1992 and 1996, as did Jimmy Carter before him. Democrats elected senators and governors in competitive statewide races as recently as 2002 and 2003. In the last round of elections for state posts prior to Katrina, Democrats won six of seven races; this year, they won two of the seven. Even accepting that outgoing Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco was almost as uninspired in her response to Katrina as was George Bush, it cannot be reasonably argued that the partisan realignment of the state was a normal or natural political development.

Before Katrina hit, Democrats frequently prevailed in Louisiana because the party had a large, historically-active and well-organized base of support among African-American voters in New Orleans. That base was blown apart by Hurricane Katrina, as Saturday's election results confirm. And the politics of New Orleans, Louisiana and the United States changed, thanks to a storm and to the way in which a Republican administration in Washington responded to it.

Meet The Press and Leave it to the Girls.

Whether to be cheered or downcast? That's the question. TV wasn't born a male preserve, it's just grown up that way.

I was thinking about that this weekend as I watched NBC celebrate Meet the Press. MTP is the longest, continuously-running program on US television. At the end of this Sunday's show, a list of past hosts sped by. The first was Martha Rountree, the show's first host, and needless to say, last female anchor.

Curious, I dug around a little. Rountree, it turns out, not only anchored the first broadcasts (starting in 1947) but came up with the format in the very early days of TV. The format -- a panel of people asking questions of a guest -- was her idea.

Is it the anchor that makes the program, or the format that fuels the show? In our star-system of celebration, TV anchors usually soak up the credit, but over a long-run like MTP's, anchors come and go: it's the format that endures. MTP's came from Rountree. On radio, she hosted a program, "Leave it to the Girls," in which a panel of celebrity women fired questions at a guy. For Meet the Press (which she also hosted on radio before moving to TV,) Rountree and producer Lawrence Spivak, replaced the women with a panel of journalists.

And I do mean replaced.... A few years ago, The White House Project published a report called "Who's Talking," which highlighted the lack of women guests on the Sunday morning talk shows. At the time, women comprised only 14 percent of guests -- 0 percent of anchors. More recently, Media Matters conducted a survey which found that on average, men outnumber women on Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday by a 4-to-1 ratio. Of them all, Meet the Press shows the least diversity of all. The NBC program is, as Media Matters put it, "the most male."

It's always sobering to realize that women weren't born excluded. In this case, indeed, MTP was of-woman born. You'd never know it now.

 

Fighting Poverty in CT

At 37 years of age, Deborah Glover says she had lived a middle-class life and never knew poverty. That all changed when she had a car accident, and as a single mother with three kids she could no longer afford to make ends meet.

"I'd never lived in poverty before that time," she told an audience of 300 at the recent Connecticut Association for Community Action's (CAFCA) annual conference, Ending Child Poverty: Investing in Our Future. "I had ignored poverty all together."

When she was advised to go to a shelter to get the help she needed, she responded, "What the hell is a shelter?"

But Glover did go. And she received treatment for a substance abuse problem she had developed as a result of the daily pain she suffered from the car wreck. She also received mental health services, through which she obtained part-time work, and said that was where her recovery started. She learned that even with these challenges she could work again, could own a home, could further her education.

"It was very difficult, living at the poverty level. And even though it didn't last long it seemed like forever," she said.

Glover now owns her own house and works in the shelter where she once dreaded going. She said most clients just need people to listen to them. "We need these programs," she said. "We need these programs to help people be aware, to get the higher learning that they need, to get their health…. A lot of people that are in crisis don't understand what we as able people can do."

Glover was on a panel of four women – three of whom now work to eradicate poverty – who talked about their way out of poverty. She and the other panelists broke down the barriers between what Mark Greenberg, Executive Director of the Poverty Task Force at the Center for American Progress (CAP), described in his keynote address as "an ‘us' and ‘them' attitude towards poverty. ‘Them' being people living in poverty, and ‘us' being unaffected by it. If we move from ‘them' to ‘us' it would be transformative for our country." With 55 percent of the nation now looking for the government to "do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people," certainly this kind of transformation would be an important step towards changing the way we battle poverty.

Connecticut is a key state in an emerging anti-poverty movement. It passed landmark legislation in 2004 that mandated a 50 percent reduction in child poverty by 2014, and it has served as a model for similar efforts in Vermont, Minnesota, and Delaware. But the state has made little movement towards its goal. In fact, the child poverty rate has risen from 10.1 percent to 10.7 percent since 2004 – nationwide, 4.9 million more people are living in poverty than in 2000, including 1.2 million more children. Connecticut is the second richest state in the richest nation in the world, and advocates are frustrated with what they see as a lack of political will – a point activists across the nation would second in describing the conditions in their respective states and at the federal level.

The federal poverty level is an unjustifiably flawed measure – $20,614 in income for a family of four. If one measures poverty as the ability to actually pay for basic needs in a state – an income two to three times the federal poverty level is needed and the child poverty rate in Connecticut jumps to 1 in 4 kids. "Over 206,000 Connecticut kids live in low-income or poor households," said Juliet Manalan, Government and Public Relations staffer for CAFCA. And Mark Winne, former director of Hartford Food System wrote in the Washington Post that 275,000 Connecticut residents are hungry or "food insecure."

One reason Connecticut has failed to make the progress advocates hoped is because Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell maneuvered to kill the state Earned Income Tax Credit (a refundable tax credit that supplements the earnings of low- and moderate-income workers) for the second year in a row. State Representative Mary Mushinsky, who introduced the legislation mandating the 50 percent child poverty reduction, said she had been counting on EITC passage to get the state 60 percent of the way towards its goal. State Senator Jonathan Harris, Chair of the Human Services Committee, vowed at the conference to bring the EITC back next session. Harris is also focused on adult literacy, saying that if parents can't navigate the system – read, write, and communicate – kids won't have the parent-advocates they need.

But Gwen Eaddy-Samuel said when she was living on $62 per week she wasn't thinking about getting her education, or getting her kids into pre-school, she was "living in the moment and just trying to survive…. As much as you're trying to get to [point] B… A and C are calling you today," she said.

Only when Eaddy-Samuel got involved with the Community Renewal Team Head Start program, and learned about empowerment and being more involved in her child's life, "something inside me started clicking." She began to talk to people about the domestic violence that she had grown up with and realized that she "wasn't in this alone." She had been taught during her childhood that "what goes on in the home, stays in the home, you keep it to yourself." And now she found herself with an abusive boyfriend whom she stayed with – partly because they had three kids and she didn't want people to think of her as the stereotypical single mother.

But even though Head Start made her feel like part of an important community, and led her to get out of a violent relationship and broaden her outlook on her life, Eaddy-Samuel ran into a problem that was repeatedly discussed at the Connecticut conference. When she looked for help obtaining other basic services she was led in many different directions. "Oh my God, you pick up the phone and you dial one number. And they tell you to call somewhere else, and then another place. And you're using the pre-paid phone card 'cause your phone was shut off, or you're using your neighbor's phone. And then you finally drive to the YMCA where you're supposed to get such and such… and it turns out it's not at the Y, it's at so-and-so agency. A lot of times people just give up."

Eaddy-Samuel learned to do her own research, asking herself, "How can I get my needs met? How bad do I want [the services]? I wanted it very bad because I wanted to be free."

As she was able to find help and better cope with her circumstances, Eaddy-Samuel was eventually able to go back to school and graduated last year with a BA in Human Services. She has taken the LSATs and plans to attend law school ("If I don't know my rights anyone can tell me anything," she says.) Meanwhile, she works for a group called Connecticut Parent Power that focuses on organizing parents to advocate for their children's needs. And now that she's on the other end – providing services to those in crisis – she sees a whole other set of problems with addressing poverty. She commented in a recent phone interview, "Yes, we've had cuts in services and needed staff in the state. And it's inexcusable with the wealth and resources in this state. And, yes, everyone's overworked. But we've also got turf wars, and too many egos, and some duplicating, overlapping, competing services. A person in crisis shouldn't have to deal with that on top of everything else…. If nothing else, just treat each person as a human being." As she told the audience at the conference, "We have 2,055 days to meet our goal of reducing child poverty by 50 percent. This is a community, legislative, cohesive effort on all our parts. I see my link in the chain, I hope each one of you see your link in the chain as well."

It's clear that even for the committed advocates attending this conference – including politicians, agency workers, foundation leaders, labor representatives, faith-based groups, and business people – the obstacles to forming the kind of chain Eaddy-Samuel describes are formidable. Professor Fred Cartensen, Director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, says it took three years just to convince the state that it needed a state data center that linked to the US Census Bureau (for five years, it was the only state in the country that didn't do so), even though it was impossible to have practical conversations about poverty issues without the data.

Cartensen said that now state officials are beginning to see that "the trend lines in the state are not encouraging": over the next 25 years, elderly population is expected to increase by 70 percent; K-12 population decrease by 80,000; working-age population decrease by 40,000; college graduates in the workforce decline by 10 percent; and the population of lower-income minority people will rise in the "core cities." Cartensen said that these outcomes can be improved – it's once again a matter of political will. He listed investments in: affordable housing ("instability of housing is one of the most debilitating aspects of lower-income kids' school performance… when a child changes schools, one-half a year of progress is lost on average"); childcare ("it improves every indicator – high school performance, college, marriage, employment"); healthcare – especially Connecticut's S-CHIP program ("healthy people work all day, and kids can learn and focus. It's not a cost, it's an investment – clearly all economics support it"); and the community college system ("All of the panelists who spoke on their rise from poverty called on the community college system, yet North Carolina spends three times greater per capita on its system than Connecticut").

Other key ideas discussed at the conference included job-training for lower-income people to help rebuild the infrastructure; supporting candidates for office who understand poverty and will make it a key issue; helping the faith community expand from benevolent services such as soup kitchens to a more transformative mode; and continuing to press the economic case for fighting child poverty.

"The idea that we don't have the fiscal capacity for these smart investments is nonsense," Cartensen said. "And if people don't want to do it to be nice, tell them to look at the investments and the rate of return."

Greenberg agreed. "Besides the moral case against poverty, there's a strong economic case – when children grow up in persistent poverty, it diminishes their life chances, and it hurts our economy as a whole." Indeed Economist Harry Holzer estimates the cost of sustained childhood poverty as approximately $500 billion dollars per year – about 4 percent of GDP – roughly evenly divided between lowered productivity, increased health care costs, and increased crime-related costs. Holzer took a conservative approach, examining a set of variables that are readily quantifiable. Even a Republican scholar testifying before Congress called Holzer's study "superb."

One area where Connecticut has had some success – success now threatened by the Bush administration's war on government-assisted children's healthcare – is with its State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), Husky B. Currently, the federal government funds sixty cents on the dollar, and the program allows Connecticut to subsidize healthcare for children up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line ($51,510 per year for a family of three). These are working families who don't receive healthcare from employers and can't afford to buy it themselves, and who are an accident or illness away from poverty. The Republican cuts would lead to kids losing healthcare and families turning to emergency rooms, thus raising healthcare costs for the public in the long run.

"Increased numbers of people without health insurance mean more families struggling to meet their basic needs with reduced resources," Jane McNichol, Executive Director of the Legal Assistance Resource Center, recently said. "We need to focus on these issues at the national and state level to make progress for working families."

At the national level, only one top-tier presidential candidate – John Edwards – has made fighting poverty a key campaign issue. Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future , told the Chicago Tribune: "Sen. Edwards was very gutsy to do what he's done. Certainly he's done it against the conventional wisdom of nearly all Democratic strategists. Political consultants will tell you that poor people don't vote and middle-class people, when they're feeling squeezed, aren't generous."

Peter Edleman, co-chair of the CAP Poverty Task Force, said, "There's a rising concern in the country about inequality. There's concern about giveaways to the really wealthy, and there's concern about economic insecurity. The poverty issue is embedded in that." Edelman sees affordable health care, universal pre-K, and other issues that impact the middle-class as having an important anti-poverty impact as well.

Advocates are frustrated with the lack of attention the media pays to persistent and growing poverty. As Manalan said, "The realities are that the effects of child poverty are enormous. It harms how children develop, it harms their chances of academic success, of finding a job that pays a living wage and of supporting their families. We can point to a myriad of social ills related to unchecked poverty, and ultimately, the insecurity in our state's economic future brought about by the lack of a skilled workforce that can support business. So, given the sheer scope of these issues, it's unconscionable how infrequently child poverty is in the news…. When we pitch stories or issue press releases often times we are met with a sense of fatigue, ‘we've seen this already' type of response."

But the fact is we will continue to see it, and see it, and see it… until we finally realize that – as Greenberg said – this isn't about them, it's about us. Between 1964-73 poverty fell by 42 percent. Between 1993-2000 it fell by 25 percent. Since then, it has been on the rise and creeping up towards a middle-class whose real wages are stagnant (or declining) while the cost of living is on the rise. The tragedy is that we have the resources to change course and we know what works. What continues to be lacking – as we currently see with the S-CHIP battle and the presidential campaign – is political will.

This article was co-authored by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.

Condoleezza Rice's Middle East Photo-Op

The American-sponsored Middle East peace conference (or meeting or get-together) expected to be held in Annapolis , Maryland later this month has more to do with providing Secretary of State Condoleezza a much-needed photo op to repair her tarnished legacy than creating the groundwork for a just and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Besides the need to repair her legacy, Rice urgently needs to buy Arab support for the Administration's war in Iraq and its escalating threats against Iran. As a result, after years of scorning Arab-Israeli diplomacy, Rice has become such a freqent visitor to the region that she given birth to a new verb in Israeli government circles: 'lecondel." According to the New York Times, the verb --based on Ms. Rice's first name-- means " to come and go for meetings that produce few results."

But Rice has produced results. Disastrous ones. Responsibility for this war and occupation lies with her as much as anybody in the Bush Administration. She was perhaps the worst national security adviser in the office's history, as Slate's Fred Kaplan recently argued. (And she's had some tough competition.) And as a former security realist turned messianic "democratizer," Rice has squandered both democracy and realism in our engagement with the world. As Kaplan put it well, " Rice remains one of the architects of a fantasy foreign policy, and her record as secretary of state gives little hope that she'll be able to reverse that verdict in the administration's final months."