Quantcast

The Nation

Sweet Victory: MM at 25

In an age in which corporate malfeasance abounds, too much of the mainstream media has been unaccountably lax in covering the abuses of big business. Luckily for us--and unluckily for would-be white-collar criminals--one indispensable journal has kept a watchful eye on corporations for the last quarter century.

In 1980, Multinational Monitor was founded by Ralph Nader and a rag-tag band of socially conscious reporters who felt that corporate power was "undergoing a transformation, mutating into something more fundamentally global in scope and profoundly more dangerous." Published nine times a year, the Monitor is not glamorous or immediately recognizable outside of activist and political media circles. But its hard-hitting stories on corporate environmental abuse, health and safety violations, and exploitation of developing nations have long held the feet of executives to the fire.

The Monitor's most widely publicized feature in recent years has been its annual list of the "Top Ten Worst Corporations," compiled by Robert Weissman (who also serves as editor) and Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter. This past year, Coca-Cola, Merck, and--you guessed it--Wal-Mart all made the list, which spread through the blogosphere like wildfire and caused migraines for corporate PR firms.

We're also big fans of the Monitor's bi-monthly Lawrence Summers Memorial Award--named after the loose-lipped Harvard president and former Treasury Secretary, who once suggested that polluting developing nations was a fiscally responsible strategy (among other ridiculous things). A recent recipient was SeaCode: a company, according to the Monitor, "which plans on locating a cruise ship in international waters, just off of the California coast, and out of reach of US labor, employment and immigration law, to house a software development company."

It's no wonder that hundreds of advocacy groups rely on the Monitor's consistently bold investigative reporting. "I think they are the only reliable source of information on global corporations," says John Cavanaugh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies. "It's amazing to me that they're the only magazine that is explicitly devoted to the issue of the excess of corporate power--which is probably the greatest challenge to democracy in the world."

Happy 25th Multinational Monitor. Keep giving ‘em hell.

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

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

Cheney's Deadly 'Last Throes'

Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that Americans would be "greeted as liberators," has in recent weeks been peddling a new line of spin.

If Cheney was not in charge of U.S. foreign policy, he could be dismissed as a ranting lunatic. But, because of his title, and because the former Secretary of Defense is the dominant player in the Bush administration when it comes to military policy, Cheney has to be taken seriously -- as seriously, that is, as his bizarro worldview permits.

Unfortunately, the primary reason to take Cheney seriously is the fact that Americans and Iraqis are dying because of the policies he has promoted. And, of course, because those same policies are emptying the U.S. Treasury into the quagmire that is Iraq.

So it is appropriate to try and hold Cheney accountable.

And it is not difficult to do so.

Here is what Cheney said during a June 20, 2005, interview on CNN's Larry King Live:

Hailing what he described as "major progress" in Iraq, Cheney said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Here is what the Associated Press reported from Iraq on August 3, 2005, less than two months after Cheney asserted that the insurgency was fading away:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Fourteen U.S. Marines and a civilianinterpreter were killed Wednesday in western Iraq, theU.S. command said.

The Marines, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2ndMarine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force(Forward), were killed in action early Wednesday whentheir vehicle was hit by an improvised explosivedevice, the military said. One Marine was also woundedin the attack.

The Associated Press report goes on to note that:

The latest losses come on the heels of the deaths ofseven U.S. Marines in combat two days ago in thevolatile Euphrates Valley of western Iraq. TheAmerican deaths come as the Bush administration istalking about handing more security responsibility tothe Iraqis and drawing down forces next year.

At least 39 American service members have been killedin Iraq since July 24 - all but two in combat. Inaddition, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that sincethe beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis - abouthalf of them civilians - had been killed ininsurgency-related incidents.

It looks as if the last throes that Cheney was discussing with Larry King have turned out to be death throes for the young American men and women who are serving in Iraq, as well as for the Iraqi people.

Any attempt to address Cheney's rhetorical excesses brings to mind the words of a young veteran from another misguided and unnecessary war.

"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" young John Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Cheney has come up with a contemporary answer for that question.How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

For Cheney, that's simple: Just keep telling the young men and women who are marching to their deaths that they will be greeted as liberators and that the enemy is so weak that it is in its "last throes."

In other words, just keep spinning a slurry of fantasy and lies into U.S. policy.

*****************************************************************

John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, was published by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com*****************************************************************

Leave No God Behind

Days after Bill Frist, the White House's choice for Senate majority leader, turned his back on religious conservatives to support federal funding for stem cell research, President Bush threw his evangelical base a bone. He came out in support of public school science classes giving equal standing to "intelligent design," the belief that life forms are so complex that their creation can't be explained by Darwinian evolutionary theory alone, but rather points to intentional creation, presumably divine.

Was this sequence of events random? Or the design of a higher intelligence, say The Boy Genius, perhaps? Unless special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald investigates, we'll never know.

But what we do know is that when it comes to intelligence and the designing of it, the Bush Administration is not to be trusted. Its "slam dunk" evidence on Iraqi WMD was a concoction of deliberate lies and false hopes. Its democratic designs on the Middle East are bleeding to death in the sands of the Sunni Triangle. And its theory that we fight the terrorists "over there" so they won't attack us "over here" is small comfort to the victims in Madrid and London.

We don't need more God in science. We need more intelligence in the White House. Because the majority of Americans have lost faith in this president.

Call the President an "SOB," Win Votes

"Two months ago, the special election race in the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches across seven southern Ohio counties, was expected to be a low-key affair, a near-automatic win for whichever republican candidate emerged from the June 14 GOP primary," the local newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, noted on Tuesday. "After all, the previous congressman, Republican Rob Portman, routinely won the district with more than 70 percent of the vote."

In fact, Portman, who was plucked from the southern-Ohio district by President Bush to serve as the US Trade Representative, won all of his seven campaigns for the seat with more than 72 percent of the vote. The district had been so radically gerrymandered by Republican governors and legislators that it was all-but-unimaginable that a Democrat could ever be competitive there.

But, in Tuesday night, Democrat Paul Hackett almost did just that. Hackett's near-win came after a remarkable campaign in which he blunted Republican efforts to exploit national security issues and provided food for thought for Democrats as they prepare for 2006 Congressional races nationwide.

Republican Jean Schmidt, a feverish foe of reproductive rights who used her links to religious right activists to beat more mainstream Republicans and secure the party's nomination for the open seat, was leading Hackett, a smart, telegenic Iraq War veteran who criticized the Bush administration for leading the country into the war and then mishandling it, by an unexpectedly thin margin of just 3,573 votes. Unofficial returns gave Schmidt 59,095 votes (51.7 percent) to 55,091 votes (48.3 percent) for Hackett.

Remarkably, in a district that favored George W. Bush over John Kerry by almost a 2-1 margin in 2004, Hackett won four of seven counties and only narrowly lost the most populous county, Hamilton. Only an overwhelming vote for Schmidt from her home county, Clermont, secured the district for the Republican.

Hackett might well have pulled the ultimate upset had he not been "swiftboated" by Republican operatives and right-wing talk radio hosts in the final days of the campaign. Even nationally-syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh devoted time to attacking Hackett's military record, patriotism and sincerity.

Despite the battering from right-wing media, and despite being overwhelmingly outspent, Hackett achieved the best Democratic showing in the region since the Watergate election of 1974. Indeed, on Wednesday morning, the Enquirer referred to the Democrat's showing as "nothing short of astounding."

This was not a simple Democratic surge. Hackett, a lawyer and former local elected official who entered the race at the last minute, proved to be a masterful candidate. But that does not mean that there are no lessons to be learned from this near upset.For one thing, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean's "50 state strategy" -- which argues that Democrats should compete hard in contests that had previously been ceded to the Democrats -- makes a lot of sense when the opposition party can find smart, edgy candidates who are willing to break political rules.Hackett was just such a candidate.

The Marine Reserve major who volunteered to serve in Iraq did not hesitate to trumpet his military, but he was also blunt about his feelings regarding the commander-in-chief. Calling the president the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans, Hackett said of Bush during the campaign: "I've said that I don't like the son-of-a-bitch that lives in the White House but I'd put my life on the line for him."

In a sense, that's exactly what Hackett did, re-enlisting in the Marines in 2004 and then serving in the high-profile fight for the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.In a pre-election interview with USA Today shortly before the election, Hackett rebuked Bush for his swaggering 2003 declaration regarding the Iraqi insurgents that: "There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on."

"That's the most incredibly stupid comment I've ever heard a president of the United States make," Hackett told the interviewer. "He cheered on the enemy."Hackett also referred to Republican supporters of the war who had not served in the military as "chickenhawks."

Serious Democratic candidates have rarely been so blunt regarding the president's shoot-from-the-lip management style. But Hackett's willingness to take Bush on, as well as his own compelling story, played well in the special-election contest.No, not well enough to win.

But certainly well enough to position Hackett for a run against Schmidt in 2006 -- and certainly enough to encourage other Democratic contenders to take the gloves off. It is true that not every challenger will have the military credentials that Hackett brought to the Ohio contest. It should be noted, however, that a number of veterans are expected to run for the House in 2006 as Democrats, including another Marine, David Ashe, who came close to winning an open Virginia seat in 2004.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Readers of The Nation online are used to hearing about Wal-Mart. In fact, it tends to be one of those subjects that we can't do enough on. We've been strongly supportive of efforts to pressure the world's wealthiest company to raise wages and alter business practices that are significantly increasing low-wage dead-end, benefit-less jobs. We've organized a public debate, shown on CSPAN and streamed on the web, against The Economist magazine about Wal-Mart. We've even started a regular Nation web feature called Wal-Mart Nation by Liza Featherstone.

So we're very excited about the potential of Robert Greenwald's new documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, to pump up the volume on what's wrong with the retail giant and why.

The film looks to be a powerful, emotional and entertaining way to help trigger change in the way the company conducts business in the US and across the globe. The only way the film can have an impact, though, is if lots of people help spread the word. The best way is by hosting your own screening of the movie. Click here if you're interested in learning more about the possibilities of staging an event yourself. (Just pick a day that is likely to be most convenient. You won't be bound to it! Don't worry about the details yet--Greenwald's office will be in touch with you as November draws closer.) And click here to check out the film trailer.

There are three other ways you can help:

Not sure you want to host an event? No problem. But reserve your spot at a screening, and make sure you're given first priority at getting into one near you this November. Click here to RSVP.

Always wanted to get into showbiz? Here's your chance! Sign up to be a Field Producer for the Wal-Mart movie. FP's do a variety of things. Click here for info.

The last way to help is simply by emailing this post to your friends, family, co-workers...anyone who you know who might want to be part of this exciting grassroots network dedicated to exposing the truth about Wal-Mart's causes and effects.

With your support, we can help give the movie a citizens' premiere that will blow the lid off traditional film distribution, and fuel the national debate raging about the high cost of Wal-Mart's "low prices."

Bonus Link: Another new anti-Wal-Mart action is being launched by American Rights at Work. The group's new website spotlights the retail giant's unfair practices in the workplace while also providing a platform for activists to communicate and coordinate their opposition to the company's anti-union behavior. There's also a nationwide petition to which you can add your name.

Finally, click here to peruse a comprehensive collection of "Wal-Mart Watchdogs and Activists."

The Bolton Embarrassment

When the United States sought to be a true world leader, as opposed to a petulant global bully, this country's seat at the United Nations was occupied by great men and women. Consider just some of the amazing figures who have served as U.S. ambassadors to the international body: former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, former civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman Andrew Young, academics and public intellectuals Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jean Kirkpatrick, Madeine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, former State Department aide and New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson, former Missouri Senator John Danforth.

These ambassdors came from different parties and from different ideological backgrounds, they had different styles and different goals, but they had one thing in common: They served with the broad support of official Washington and the American people. When they spoke, they spoke for America. And they did so in a tradition of U.S. regard for the mission of the UN, which was perhaps best expressed by an American who served for three decades as a key player in the world council, Ralph Bunche. "The United Nations," said Bunche, "is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world."

To make that hope real, U.S. ambassadors had to be both strong and pragmatic advocates for the best interests of their own country and visionaries who recognized that all United Nations member states merited at least a measure of diplomatic regard. As Adlai Stevenson, who capped a brilliant career in American politics by representing his country at the UN during some of the hottest years of the Cold War, explained, "The whole basis of the United Nations is the right of all nations--great or small--to have weight, to have a vote, to be attended to, to be a part of the twentieth century."

Needless to say, John Bolton has never expressed any sentiment regarding international affairs or the United Nations so well or wisely as Stevenson. Bolton is a hack politician, a career retainer of the Bush family who is famous for nothing so much as his disrespect for the diplomacy and international cooperation in general, and for the United Nations in particular.

So creepy has been Bolton's partisanship -- he was a prime player in moves to shut down the recount of Florida votes following the disputed 2000 presidential election -- and so crude has been his behavior that thoughtful Republicans such as Ohio Senator George Voinovich determined that the nominee would not be an appropriate representative of the United States.But President Bush has forced Bolton on the U.S. and the UN, making a recess appointment that places his controversial nominee in the same position once occupied by Lodge, Stevenson and Moynihan.

Bolton will serve differently than his predecessors. For one thing, he is neither the intellectual nor the emotional equal of those who came before him. For another, he will be seen as a representative only of the Bush White House -- not of the United States or its people.

At a time when the United States should be a full and active participant in the United Nations, it will instead be marginalized force -- an embarrassed land represented by one its most embarrassing sons.

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been a leading advocate for bipartisan approaches to foreign policy, spoke well for America -- and for this country's shattered tradition of respect for the UN -- when he said on the day of the recess appointment: "Mr. Bolton is fundamentally unsuited for the job, and his record reveals a truly disturbing intolerance of dissent. Mr. Bolton did not win the support of a majority of members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate refused to make a final decision on this nomination pending review of documents that the Administration declined to provide in blatant disregard for the Senate's constitutional rights and responsibilities. But despite all of the warning signs and all of the red flags, the President has taken this extraordinary step to send a polarizing figure with tattered credibility to represent us at the United Nations. At a time when we need to be doing our very best to mend frayed relationships, encourage real burden-sharing, and nurture a rock-solid international coalition to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the American people deserve better than John Bolton."

-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Cox in the Henhouse

Even his supporters acknowledged that former U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox was a controversial nominee to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. A former corporate lawyer who had collected millions of dollars from business interests, wealthy CEOS and some of the country's most prominent stock-market manipulators during eight campaigns for the House, Cox arrived with precisely the wrong resume for the head of an agency that is supposed to regulate the corporate sector and Wall Street. As such, his nomination represented a presidential poke in the eye to workers seeking protection of their pensions, small investors worried about being defrauded and consumers.

Of course, conservative Republicans in the Senate were enthused about Cox's nomination. After all, the California Republican was a key player on the supply-side economic team, someone who had in the House sponsored legislation designed to make it harder for shareholders to sue corporations that engage in scandalous practices. He has, as well, been one of the Congress's most ardent defenders of "creative bookkeeping" by the nation's top corporations -- supporting schemes such as the one that allowed corporations that pay employees with stock options to avoid reporting those payments as expenses against their bottom lines.

But how could responsible Republican, Democratic and independent members of the Senate ever approve an SEC nominee who, when he was a securities lawyer in the 1980s, worked for First Pension Corp., a company that was accused by the government of bilking investors, that was sued by the SEC for fraudulent activity and that saw its founder plead guilty to charges of felony wrongdoing? How could any member of the Senate who was not completely in the pocket of the securities industry vote for a nominee who the watchdog group Public Citizen described as "a defender of corporate interests whose legislative record indicates he would not protect investors if he were confirmed"?

The answer to that question is: without so much a blink of the eye.

The Cox nomination sailed through the Senate Banking Committee in late July after the nominee promised to be "vigilant."

Then, as the Senate raced to finish business before the August recess, Cox was approved by a voice vote to take charge of what is supposed to one of the nation's premier regulatory agencies.

No one, not one Democrat, not one maverick Republican, not one honest conservative who cared enough about capitalism to stand up for small investors, bothered to ask for the recorded vote that might have at least told the fox he was being watched as he entered the henhouse.

If the United States had a Senate that actually took its advice and consent duties seriously, or if, and of course this is a very big "if," the country actually had an opposition party, a serious debate over the Cox nomination would have provided a golden opportunity to discuss the influence of money on not just politics but policy.

In the 70-year history of the SEC, Cox is the first member of Congress to be nominated to head the regulatory agency.As such, he is the first SEC chair who will find himself in the position of regulating companies that donated substantial amounts of money to his campaigns.

How substantial?

In 2004, Cox easily defeated a Democratic challenger, John L. Graham, who raised a sum total of $40 dollars for his campaign.Cox raised $1,120,427 and spent $1,038,914. The Republican collected $461,968 from business-linked political action committees for the campaign. Donors from the financial-services and insurance industries were the most generous to Cox, writing checks for a hefty $180,025. Lawyers and lobbyists, many of them tied to the financial-services industry, chipped in another $79,094.

That's a lot of money to take from folks who Cox now promises to vigilantly monitor and regulate. But the 2004 reports only give a small indication of the extent to which Cox relied on industries that are regulated by the SEC to finance his campaigns. During the course of his Congressional career, the new SEC chair collected $1,256,891 from the financial services and insurance industries -- with $632,289 coming from political action committees and $624,602 from individual donors. Cox got another $439,350 from lawyers and lobbyists.

The donors got what they paid for. According to Public Citizen, "On major legislation of interest to investors in recent years – the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and retirement investment protection matters – Cox cast only one vote out of 22 – 4.5 percent (of all votes cast) – in support of investors."

That should have caused the Senate pause.

Instead, Cox was approved without debate and without a recorded vote.

In a statement opposing the Cox nomination, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said, "The United States cannot afford to have an SEC chairman who doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the SEC be headed by someone who will look out for the average investor."

Claybrook was, of course, correct. But the way in which the Cox nomination was so casually approved points to an even more important observation: The United States cannot afford to have a Senate that doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the Senate be made up of members who will look out for the average investor.

At this point, the Senate is suffering from a severe, make that complete, shortage of such members.

Anti-Sweet Victory: The Week From Hell

This was supposed to be a Sweet Victory post. That's the weekly feature Sam Graham-Felsen and I started last fall. In those grim days after the election, we believed that one antidote to the political darkness was to shed some light on progressive wins--from legislative and electoral victories to successful organizing efforts, protests and boycotts, to the launching of promising new organizations or initiatives. We hoped these stories would serve not only as a source of information but as inspiration.

We plan to continue tracking these victories. And we hope you Nation readers will continue to send us tips about what you think we should be covering. (Click here to send suggestions.) But I have to confess that it was really tough to come up with a sweet victory in this last week of July 2005.

As a friend from DC wrote me late last night: "So this is the week from hell: the AFL-CIO splits, the DLC unveils Hillary as head of its American Dream new ideas committee (god forbid), to be followed by confirmation of Christopher Cox to head the SEC without a fight, passage of a big oil energy bill with massive giveaways to industry, including Halliburton, passage of CAFTA, with 15 Dems on board. Bush declares triumph; hailed as effective. Country takes it in ear. No wonder breathing the air here in DC is officially bad for your health....And as Congress heads to recess, both parties show what they are. Rs are disciplined and utterly corrupt, willing to hijack democracy for their own agenda, and wrongheaded. And Ds still in disarray, divided with too little fight in them."

Infuriating, depressing, yes. But though it's probably healthy to mourn a bit, it's also more important then ever to keep organizing and agitating in the days and weeks ahead. In that spirit, we'll keep highlighting big and small--but always sweet--victories worth celebrating.

Bush Meets Mick (Jagger)

A couple of months ago, with the help of terrific song suggestions from Nation readers, I put together a playlist for Dubya's iPod. Radiohead's Hail to the Thief, Green Day's American Idiot, Kid Rock's Pimp of the Nation, and REM's The End of the World, As We Know It, all made the Top Ten. Masters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Frank Zappa (especially his The Torture Never Stops) were also at the top of many readers' lists.

The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, made it to the top fifty. Now, it seems, the band may be gunning for the top slot with its new single. Britain's New Musical Express reported last week that the next Stones album, slated for release this September, will include a track critical of the Bush gang's foreign policy. Sweet Neo-Con, according to the weekly, "is believed to be an attack on the politics of George Bush and the Republican Administraton." Virgin Records has been telling people the song has "a political message about moralism in the White House."

Jagger giving Dubya morality lessons. I like it. Sympathy for the Devil.