Is America better off now than it was a year ago? I'm sure everyone has a quick answer, but the Drum Major Institute's Year in Review provides you with the hard facts, evidence, and analysis to back it up.
From changes in rules governing overtime to the proposed gutting of the Community Reinvestment Act, the DMI Review offers a scathing indictment of the national Administration.
In fact, with top-level support for the outsourcing of jobs and federal inaction on the skyrocketing costs of health care and higher education, this Administration showed a staggering disinterest in reversing the squeeze on America's middle class, content to allow our nation to be divided into those with vast wealth and then everyone else.
At the same time, the Year in Review highlights the success of local organizations and policymakers from both parties to expand access to affordable prescription drugs, stall the steady encroachment of big-box mega-stores into middle-class communities, raise the minimum wage, and provide entry for immigrant children to attain a higher education--all of which the President would not do.
The DMI 2004 Year in Review also offers its take on the best and worst in public policy, a recap of the 2004 national election (how divided are we, really?), a 2004 Injustice Index (the real state of the union, by the numbers), report recommendations, a highlight of efforts on the frontlines in five states (from California's struggle against Wal-Mart to Washington, DC's struggle for taxation with representation), and more. Click here to download and circulate the full report.
Just weeks after the election, President Bush nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to be the next Attorney General of the United States.
Given his role in numerous Bush Administration attacks on civil and human rights as White House chief counsel, his selection is being met with widespread opposition. More than two dozen civil rights and human rights groups have raised what they call "serious concerns" about the nominee, largely over his efforts to support the White House in its attempts to override the Geneva Conventions on torture. (The groups include Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First, Global Rights and Human Rights Watch.)
The Senate confirmation hearings on Gonzales are approaching, and though people have been expecting a relatively easy confirmation, you never know how things turn, and his hearings are an opportune time to raise concern about the direction in which he intends to lead the Justice Department.
So contact your elected reps and urge them to question Gonzales thoroughly on his troubling history before putting his confirmation to a vote.
Click here to send a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, who are expected to lead the Judiciary Committee through the hearings, click here to read and circulate David Cole's Nation editorial on why Gonzales is the wrong choice, and check out the People for the American Way's excellent site for related resources.
The crowd at the Democratic Party's annual dinner in western Wisconsin's Vernon County was large, loud and longing for a little partisan passion.
Far from feeling beat down by the November presidential election result, the more than 100 rural Democrats who gathered in small city of Viroqua this week were ready to fight against the war in Iraq, against economic policies that favor big business over working people and family farmers and against the warping of the public discourse by a media that is more concerned about Scott Peterson's conviction than the future of Social Security.
Unfortunately, they couldn't find many reflections of their grassroots passion in the current leadership of the Democratic Party. The sense that the time had come for a fresh face was palpable.
When I met with the Vernon County activists – most of whom were Democrats but some of whom were interested Greens and independents – their response to my suggestion that the county needs a real opposition party was immediate and enthusiastic.
These rural Democrats even had a suggestion for the who should lead that opposition. And it wasn't Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. When I was describing what a serious opposition party would stand for at this moment in history--starting with an absolute rejection of the war in Iraq and empire building and going on to a passionate defense of civil liberties and a willingness to stand up to multinational corporations--a bearded fellow in the crowd shouted, "We've got someone who can do it--the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act: Russ Feingold."
The crowd cheered.
And they aren't alone. While it might be predictable that Wisconsin Democrats would be excited by the prospect of their just-reelected senator seeking the presidency, the buzz about a possible Feingold for President campaign in 2008 is growing nationally.
Hotline, the online bible of inside-the-beltway political junkies, just featured a commentary in which the editors suggested that Wisconsin's junior senator – who has been outspoken in his criticism not just of the Patriot Act but of the war in Iraq and the corporate free-trade agenda -- could be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Noting that, against serious opposition, Feingold ran more than 140,000 votes ahead of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Wisconsin, a source told Hotline, "He just accomplished an impressive victory in a heartland swing state in a year that wasn't so kind to (Democrats)." The source went on to suggest that Feingold "will be looked at as a new voice for the party as it moves forward."
Over at www.mydd.com, a popular Democratic website, political writer Chris Bowers observes, "Feingold is in an odd position. Even though he has won three terms in the US Senate, he actually is still known as a "reformer" and an "outsider," due in no small part to the constant repetition of the "McCain-Feingold" legislation in the national media. Because of this reputation, among all Democratic Senators, except perhaps (newly-elected Illinois Sen. Barack) Obama, I think he would be the best bet to capture the non-ideological reformers that I believe are a key to future Democratic success."
The interest in a Feingold candidacy has even sparked the development of a "Russ Feingold for President" Internet forum.
So will Feingold run? The man is not without ambition. He thought about seeking the presidency in 2004, but backed off before the contest really got started.
As the jockeying begins for 2008--and, make no mistake, the jockeying has begun--it is a safe bet that Feingold will again ponder a run. And with the unsolicited support that he's getting from his home state and elsewhere, he might well be inspired this time to do more than just explore a candidacy.
Gary Webb is dead.
He was the journalist who wrote a famous--or infamous--1996 series for the San Jose Mercury News that maintained a CIA-supported drug ring based in Los Angeles had triggered the crack epidemic of the 1980s. On Friday, the 49-year-old Webb, who won a Pulitzer Prize for other work, apparently shot himself. His "Dark Alliances" articles spurred outrage and controversy. Leaders of the African-American community demanded investigations. Mainstream newspapers--including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times--questioned his findings. And nearly a year after the pieces appeared, the Mercury News published a criticism of the series; Webb was demoted and soon left the newspaper. Two years later, he published a book based on the series.
Webb's tale is a sad one. He was on to something but botched part of how he handled it. He then was blasted and ostracized. He was wrong on some important details but he was, in a way, closer to the truth than many of his establishment media critics who neglected the story of the real CIA-contra-cocaine connection. In 1998, a CIA inspector general's report acknowledged that the CIA had indeed worked with suspected drugrunners while supporting the contras. A Senator named John Kerry had investigated these links years earlier, and the media had mostly ignored his findings. After Webb published his articles, the media spent more time crushing Webb than pursuing the full story. It is only because of Webb's work--as flawed as it was--that the CIA IG inquiry happened. So, then, it is only because of Webb that US citizens have confirmation from the CIA that it partnered up with suspected drug traffickers in the just-say-no years and that the Reagan Administration, consumed with a desire to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, allied itself with drug thugs.
As the news of Webb's death circulated across the Internet, some of his fans took the opportunity to demand that I issue a posthumous apology to him. Why? Because I had been critical of his series and book. But my criticism was different from that of the mainstream press. I maintained he had overstated the case and had not proven his more cinematic allegations. But I also credited him for forcing the issue and prodding the CIA to come clean. No one at the Times (New York or Los Angeles) or the Post managed to do that. And though there were problems with Webb's work, it is a pity that he was so brutally hounded.
His death is a dark end to a dark story.
For those of you who want more details on Webb, below I have posted some of my previous comments on him and his "Dark Alliance" work.
An excerpt from Gary Webb's 'Dark Alliance' Ignored by Dailies
By Cory Zurowski
August 20, 1998
...Scant coverage of stories showing links between CIA-backed jungle patriots and drug trafficking is old news, says David Corn, The Nation editor and New York Press columnist who reviewed "Dark Alliance" for the Washington Post and said the book "has flaws," but also called it "an important piece of recent history."
"Over 10 years ago, [AP reporters] Bob Parry and Brian Barger did a bunch of stories about the government and Contra drug dealers," says Corn. "[Senator] John Kerri's subcommittee that came out a few years later also had evidence connecting the Contras and drugs. In both instances, it was treated as too unbelievable to be mainstream by the Washington press corp. They took and printed what the government wanted and didn't think there was any basis to look anymore into the subject.
"I assume the alternative press is covering this because they're doing their jobs. They're looking into subjects the mainstream media has ignored or hasn't caught onto yet ... If the Washington Post or New York Times had done their job back in the '80s, we wouldn't be talking about this now."
When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on the possibility Senator Joe Lieberman will take over the Department of Homeland Security and The New Republic's new loyalty test for "decent" liberals.
From The Washington Post, August 8, 1998
Following a Trail of Powder
By David Corn
Reviewed: Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, by Gary Webb, Seven Stories, 548 pages, $24.95
In the 1980s, the CIA-backed contra rebels in Central America hobnobbed with drug-dealers, and the Agency and the Reagan administration, obsessed with ousting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, looked the other way. This is absolutely undeniable. In this past March, Frederick Hitz, then the inspector general of the CIA, testified publicly to Congress that the CIA did not "cut off relationships with individuals supporting the contra program who [were] alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking." Yet his startling admission received practically no notice from official Washington and the national media, which instead were consumed with details (real and imagined) of L'Affaire Monica.
But when the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 ran a three-part series exposing links between contra associates and the Los Angeles crack trade in the 1980s, the major media did pay attention; they assaulted the articles written by reporter Gary Webb. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times each ran pieces critical of Webb's work. The Webb stories were hard to ignore, for they had ignited a firestorm. On black talk radio, hosts and callers decried a supposed conspiracy in which the CIA midwifed the birth of the crack industry. On Capital Hill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for investigation. The Mercury News web site, on which the series had been posted, received millions of hits. Webb had begat a national media event.
It had all begun in the summer of 1995, when Webb received a tip from the girlfriend of a drug dealer. Her honey was being tried, and a chief government witness against him was Danilo Blandon, a Nicaraguan who managed his own cocaine ring in California. In court proceedings, Blandon had claimed he had gotten into the coke business to raise money for the contras. Webb started investigating. He soon had evidence that Blandon and his partner Norwin Meneses -- a prominent contra supporter in California with an extensive criminal past in Nicaragua -- had supplied cocaine to "Freeway" Ricky Ross, a pioneering crack kingpin.
The lead paragraph in the Webb series was a shocker: A Bay Area drug ring had "funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency." Webb noted that the contras were in league with "Uzi-toting 'gangstas' of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles" and that the drug dealers "met with CIA agents" while raising money for the contras via drug sales. The articles implied that Blandon was directly wired to the CIA and that Blandon and Meneses had been protected from prosecution because of their usefulness to the CIA.
Webb had a helluva story. But he botched parts of it. He produced little evidence that the Blandon-Meneses ring raised "millions" for the contras or that Blandon was linked to Langley. Consequently, newspapers that had neglected the contra-drug story in the 1980s now devoted much space to debunking Webb. Eventually, the editor of the Mercury News ran a column widely seen as a retraction, and Webb left the paper.
But Webb had committed a highly useful act. He had kicked open an old trunk and discovered it full of worms -- real worms, ugly and nasty. He kept on investigating and produced a book that reflects the positives and negatives of the original series. In Dark Alliance, he fleshes out the drug operations of Blandon and Meneses, and he provides more evidence of their close association to the contras. (Meneses, for example, paid for early contra support events in California.) Webb also places this ring alongside other well-substantiated examples of contra-drug connections: a Honduran general convicted of selling cocaine to finance a murder plot who was supported by Oliver North and other Reagan officials; drug dealers winning U.S. government contracts to supply the contras; the National Security Council plotting with Manuel Noriega, the drugged-up strongman of Panama; the CIA interfering with a major drug prosecution that could reveal contra drug-dealing and embarrass the agency.
Webb reminds us that the Reagan-approved contra program attracted lowlifes and thugs the way manure draws flies. He guides the reader through a netherworld of dope-dealers, gunrunners, and freelance security consultants, which on occasion overlapped with the U.S. government. He entertainingly details the honor, dishonor and deals among thieves. (Sometimes the book reads like a hard-to-follow Russian novel, with a large cast of characters in a series of intricate episodes.) All in all, it's a disgraceful picture -- one that should permanently taint the happy-face hues of the Reagan years.
Again Webb has trouble chasing the money and fails to thoroughly document how much dirty cash Blandon and Meneses steered to the contras. Was it as little as $80,000 or so, as CIA investigators claim Blandon told them? Or was it millions that were instrumental to the survival of the contras, as Webb implies but does not prove? Was Blandon's drug business originally set up as a cash-for-contras enterprise, as Webb depicts it? That's what Blandon has asserted. But there is evidence, as Webb notes, that Blandon may have been a drug entrepreneur years before he hooked up with Meneses. If so, that would cast doubt on his I-did-it-for-the-contras tale and make that claim sound more like an after-the-fact justification.
There are other problems with Webb's account. His threshold of proof is on the low side. In one instance, he passes on -- seemingly with a straight face -- the allegations of a drug dealer who claimed Vice President George Bush met with (and posed for a photo with) Colombian dealers to craft an agreement under which the traffickers could smuggle coke into America if they supplied weapons to the contras. And Webb is indiscriminating in his use of the term "CIA agent," making it appear as if Blandon and Meneses were dealing with James Bond-like officials of the CIA, when actually their contacts were Nicaraguan contras on the Agency payroll.
This may seem like hairsplitting. But it's important when evaluating the CIA's culpability. Webb demonstrates that the Agency collaborated with contras and contra supporters suspected of smuggling narcotics. But were Blandon and Meneses in cahoots with the Agency? The evidence only shows they were part of a dark community with which the CIA was merrily doing business. Another fuzzy point in the story is how Blandon and Meneses both ended up on the government payroll as snitches. Webb strongly hints this was due to their contra work.
But, again, the picture is too murky to come to any firm conclusions other than there was something funny about the government's relationship to this pair.
The book has flaws, but Webb deserves credit for pursuing an important piece of recent history and forcing the CIA and the Justice Department to investigate the contra-drug connection. Alas, the Justice Department has been sitting on its report for months. The CIA released one volume that maintained the Agency was not connected to Blandon and Meneses. But the report confirmed there had been a symbiotic relationship between drug dealers and the contras and that the CIA had ignored that. A second volume -- one with a broader view of the contra-drug mess -- is now being suppressed by the Agency.
With this book, Webb advances his newspaper series and supplies more muck to make a decent citizen cringe. While exploring this covert territory, Webb took a few wrong turns. But he succeeded in pushing a sleazy piece of the CIA's past into public light. The gang at Langley is still resisting coming clean, and these unholy alliances remain in the dark.
By David Corn
June 5, 2000
A few weeks ago, the House intelligence committee released a 44-page report that declared the CIA had nothing to do with the rise of crack in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Why did the Agency need to be exonerated of such malfeasance? Because a controversial 1996 San Jose Mercury News series by reporter Gary Webb exposed a group of California-based Nicaraguan drug-dealers who in the 1980s had supported the Nicaraguan contra rebels battling the leftist Sandinista regime. The contras, of course, had been a pet project of President Ronald Reagan and the covert cowboys he put in charge at the CIA. The headlines on the Mercury News pieces suggested that this particular band of contra backers shared responsibility for triggering the crack wave that wreaked havoc on inner-city communities across the nation. "America's crack plague has roots in Nicaragua war," read the day-one headline. "Shadowy origins of 'crack' epidemic," read the next day's. "Role of CIA-linked agents a well-protected secret until now." Thousands rushed to read the stories on the newspaper's website. The phonelines at black radio talk shows lit up. Members of Congress, particularly those in the Congressional Black Caucus, demanded answers from the CIA. (Even today, the CIA says that its recruitment of African-Americans suffers because of these stories.) The CIA director at the time, John Deutch, felt obligated to attend a town meeting in Watts to deny the charges.
And what passes for investigation in Washington began. The CIA's inspector general examined the allegations of the "Dark Alliance" series. The Justice Department did the same. Not surprisingly, the CIA's own gumshoes -- and those of Justice -- pronounced the CIA not guilty of complicity in the crack explosion. Webb's series had its problems. He had unearthed a good tale of contra drug involvement, but he had not uncovered a definite link between the Agency and these dealers, and his suggestion that this one drug outfit was instrumental to the birth of crack epidemic was far-fetched. Now, the House intelligence committee, nearly four years later, has seconded the verdicts of the CIA and the Justice Department: "The committee found no evidence to support the allegations that CIA agents or assets associated with the contra movement were involved in the supply or sale of drugs in the Los Angeles area."
But the case is not closed -- that is, it should not be closed. The spies' overseers in the House -- the people who keep an eye on the CIA for the rest of us -- also confirmed, in a quiet fashion, the real dirty secret of the CIA: that during the contra war, the Agency worked hand-in-cloak with persons it had reason to believe were smuggling drugs. In a report released in late 1998, the CIA inspector general acknowledged that the Agency, obsessed with its contra mission, had on a number of occasions collaborated with suspected drug-runners. This should have been a scandal in itself. The report provided the details of several examples. It also noted that the "CIA did not inform Congress of all allegations or information it received indicating that Contra-related organizations or individuals were involved in drug trafficking." Put more bluntly: the CIA had covered up the contra-drug connection. A CIA official who served in Central America told the inspector general, "Yes there [was] derogatory stuff [on the contras] ... but we were going to play with these guys." Webb had gotten near this truth. In the middle of the just-say-no Reagan years, a federal agency had indeed struck a "dark alliance" -- not the one Webb had depicted, but one as disturbing. This revelation, though, received scant media attention; most news coverage echoed the CIA's self-exoneration regarding the crack charges.
The House intelligence committee investigation repeats the pattern. The bulk of the report is directed at disputing the crack allegations. But toward the end there is understated recognition that scandalous CIA activity did happen: "As described in Volume II of the CIA IG report, under various circumstances, the CIA made use of or maintained relationships with a number of individuals associated with the Contras or the Contra-supply effort about whom the CIA had knowledge of information or allegations indicating the individuals had been involved in drug trafficking."
Now why does the House intelligence committee have nothing else to say on this front? It preferred flogging Webb one more time to examining the real skulduggery. Moreover, the committee interviewed several senior CIA managers, and these people insisted they could only recall only one single report of contra-related drug-dealing. But with the CIA inspector general having determined there had been many such instances, it's plausible (make that, likely) that these CIA officials did not speak truthfully to the committee. Did the committee's report address this contradiction and the possibility CIA officials had once again withheld information from Congress? Not at all. And the House's report registered barely a blip in the national news media.
When the CIA released the IG report that acknowledged the contra program had been tainted by drugs, Frederick Hitz, then the inspector general, said the study was merely a start: "This is grist for more work, if anyone wants to do it." A year and a half has passed since then, and it is clear that no one in government has the desire to pursue this topic. The House intelligence committee is positioned to do so. But it is more concerned with bolstering the CIA than in providing an independent and thorough look at this ugly piece of recent history. Al Gore could raise the issue -- as a reminder of what happened the last time Republicans controlled the CIA -- but then he would have to explain why his administration has shown no inclination to hold the Agency accountable. George W. Bush is hardly able to complain about lackadaisical oversight of the CIA. When the spies were hobnobbing with suspected drug runners, they were doing so to implement the pro-contra policies of the Reagan-Bush White House. (And the CIA headquarters is now named after George the Elder, who was a CIA director in the 1970s.) It's in no one's interest in Washington to make a stink. The CIA is permitted to slither off. This is not a cover-up; it's a look-away. Reagan and Bush's CIA made common cause with suspected drug thugs and ... no big deal. Nevertheless, it will be worth keeping this nasty episode in mind, for when the ailing Reagan expires, the media hoopla will overflow with praise of the Old Man. Yet nothing that happened in Bill Clinton's Oval Office was as untoward as what went on in Reagan's CIA.
When I read last month that James Rowse--the chairman of Veryfine Products Inc., the juice bottling concern, had died, I thought of how this man's life embodied a much more enlightened era in the history of American business.
When Kraft purchased Rowse's company in early 2004, Rowse set aside $15 million in proceeds that he then distributed to his company's workers. He ensured that all of Veryfine's 400 employees would keep their jobs, and that those with a minimum of 20 years experience would receive an extra year's pay.
In a recent email, Scott Klinger, co-director of the Responsible Wealth project at United for a Fair Economy in Boston, cited other examples of enlightened business leadership. One of his favorites, he said, is Bob Kierlin, founder and recently retired CEO of Fastenal, an Ohio-based public company.
As Klinger wrote, Kierlin took justifiable pride in the fact "that many other employees made more than he did, but he paid employees' stock options personally out of his founder's stock. Kierlin also eschewed the palatial lifestyle...preferring to drive a few hours to visit customers, stay at budget motels, and, much to the chagrin of many colleagues, share a room with associates."
Rowse and Kierlin are exceptions to the rule. We live in times when morality is disdained in corporate boardrooms. The social compact that rested on the idea that honest labor deserves a living wage has all but disappeared.
The Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress have formed an alliance with rapacious CEOs to foster an anything-goes atmosphere. Labor is devalued, fair play is dishonored and greed and corporate ethics have become synonymous. (Is it any surprise that in the 2004 elections, the largest corporate PACs favored Republicans over Democrats by a ten to one margin?)
It was recently disclosed that pharmaceutical giant Merck established a golden parachute for its 230 senior executives so if the company is bought, managers would be able to walk away with three years in salary and bonuses. And three years after the Enron debacle, business groups are fighting a pitched battle with state employee pension funds against reforms which would make future corporate looting of employee pensions much more difficult.
Part of "the problem," as Klinger sees it, "is the stories that corporate executives tell themselves about their worth, relative to the rest of their colleagues. The ‘star culture' has invaded many large company cultures. Executives are convinced that their work is what creates shareholder value and other employees are commodities to be acquired at the lowest possible cost."
Klinger and Responsible Wealth co-director Mike Lapham "lay responsibility for the growing divide between workers and executives largely at the feet of Congress." Congress has refused "to require stock options to be counted as expenses in corporate earnings reports." It has "allowed lavish executive pay in the hundreds of millions per CEO to be deducted as a ‘reasonable' business expense from companies' taxes."
Meanwhile, Congress hasn't even held a vote to raise the minimum wage--stuck at a mere $5.15 per hour since 1996. "Since that time, they've raised their own salaries seven times and doubled the pay of the President," Klinger pointed out.
Moreover, between 1970 and 2001, the top 100 executives' median income increased from 35 times the average worker's salary to 500 times what the average worker makes. In 2003, Bank of America cut 5,000 jobs from its payroll, while its CEO Kenneth Lewis took home $37.9 million.
Things are likely to get worse before they improve. The Bush Administration recently floated a proposal that would cut taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains and give additional tax breaks to big business. At the same time, the White House wants to eliminate federal tax deductions of state and local income taxes and to forbid businesses to deduct the value of health coverage from their tax bills. (Enacting the last change will be "the quickest way to create millions of uninsured people," John Irons, a tax and budget analyst at the Center for American Progress, says.)
Changing the culture of greed and re-establishing a social compact that values work will require serious changes in key policy areas. First, Klinger says, "We need different people on corporate boards. The people responsible for overseeing executive pay are the very same people who themselves are receiving excessive pay."
Second, the SEC should follow through on what it "proposed a year ago, opening up the corporate director election process by allowing shareholders to put forth competitive slates." The idea became "the most commented-on proposal in the history of the SEC, receiving more than 10,000 public comments, over 90 percent of which were in favor. But, "the SEC has yet to issue a final rule because of behind-the-scenes belly-aching from corporate lobbyists," who are threatening to sue the Commission. ("The Soviet Union," Klinger adds, "used to put up one candidate for each elected office and it was thoroughly excoriated for it. Today's corporate elections are no different, and yet we are told this is good governance.")
Third, "the public should no longer subsidize unlimited executive pay." Our laws state that corporations are allowed to "deduct ‘reasonable business expenses,' so let's define what that means," says Klinger. "The Income Equity Act, introduced in the last several sessions of Congress, would allow corporations to deduct for tax purposes corporate pay up to 25 times the pay of the lowest-paid workers. Corporations could continue to pay whatever they wished, but shareholders would have to pay the full cost of huge pay packages."
It's also important, Lapham argues, to understand--and change--the fact that "we live in a winner-takes all society, where individual achievement is honored and concepts like teamwork and community are generally ignored. There is a myth in our society that certain individuals are smarter, more motivated, get up earlier, work harder, take risks…and thereby create wealth all by themselves…We often come across successful individuals saying with a straight face ‘I never got any help from anybody.'"
Such an idea, he says, is absurd. "This attitude discounts the role of society in helping create wealth." It discounts "the role of public education" and "public infrastructure - roads, bridges, airports, etc...What about the role of government in maintaining a legal system and a system of contracts that makes business possible?" If America can form a different answer to the wealth-creation question, it "would lead to radical changes in pay structure, tax policy and health care policy."
It would also go a long way to reclaiming the ideals of hard work and fair play that James Rowse fought to make into reality.
Michael Moore's provocative, election-season documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has been nominated by the People's Choice Awards as the American public's "Favorite Film of the Year." The five nominees for best film--also, Spiderman 2, The Incredibles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Shrek 2--were chosen from a poll of thousands of Americans in mid-to-late November. This year marks the first time ever that a doc has been nominated in the category.
The People's Choice Awards are considered, among all the awards shows, to be the one which most accurately reflects mainstream public opinion in the United States, so it would be a big deal--at least on the culture front--for an avowedly left-wing film to win the contest. It would also help continue to establish political documentaries as commercially-viable products, which makes it much easier for small, independent films to find funding sources and distribution outlets.
And, in an age of ever-increasing media conglomeration, independent film is now filing a more vital niche than ever with films like Morgan Spurlock's SuperSize Me, Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation and Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's The Take sparking, connecting with and contributing to grassroots movements for change.
As Moore says in an open letter asking the public to participate in the online voting which will determine the winner, the fact that a film about "Iraq, Bush, terror and fear" continues to resonate throughout the country shows that "the election has not altered or made irrelevant, unfortunately, a single one of these issues."
So click here to cast your ballot today. Voting continues only through this coming Monday, December 13, at 3:00pm EST, so send an email to your friends and encourage them to vote too. The winners will accept their awards live on CBS on January 9.
On December 6, the New York State Senate joined the Assembly to override Governor George Pataki's misguided and mean-spirited veto of the bill, which was originally passed in July. The bill is now law.
On January 1, the state's minimum wage rises to $6.00/hour, and moves in two additional annual steps to $7.15/hour. For full-time workers, it's an increase from $10,700 per year to $14,900. That's still not enough for a family to live on, but it's a good raise by any standard, and roughly one million workers will benefit from the increase.
It's important to note that a majority of Senate Republicans overrode the veto of a Republican Governor to raise wages for poor people. This hasn't happened in decades. (Meanwhile, in Washington, Congress should be held accountable for not even holding a vote on raising the minimum wage since 1996.) And while the Daily News, the Senate Democrats, and the State Assembly all helped build the necessary power base, as the WFP's organizers will tell you, you need an infrastructure for power to be transmitted. There is no substitute for it, and no shortcut to building it.
For the Working Families Party, the victory is confirmation of a winning strategy that all progressives need to recognize in the tough times ahead: choose issues carefully, stay laser-focused on them, organize hard in the key districts, build multi-racial alliances and reach out to new and old constituencies in business, organized religion, on campuses and in immigrant communities. Above all, don't give up. As WFP Executive Director Dan Cantor says, "Hope and love really can defeat fear and anger."
So, kudos to WFP members, leaders, and organizers who had the patience and fortitude to do the day-in, day-out unsexy work of building a competent organization--one that finally produced enough grassroots activity and votes to get poor peoples' voices heard and make real change happen. And click here to find out what you can do to support the Working Families Party--a multiracial, class conscious, sometimes even fun loving organization that did the maximum to raise the minimum.
Bonus Link: Read Peter Drier and Kelly Candeale's recent Nation Online article arguing that engaging in a vigorous fight to raise the minimum wage is not just the right thing to do, it also may be the politically astute move for the Democrats in 2006.
As US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, chaired Tuesday's hearing on irregularities in the presidential voting in Ohio on November 2, the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned that the session must be more than merely an opportunity to "vent."
"We cannot vent and then have Congress not act. If these reports are not investigated, we have all wasted our time," the two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination declared. "This cannot simply be an academic venting session. Take this struggle to the streets and legitimize it there, as they did in Selma."
Jackson is right. There is no question that the voting and ballot counting processes in Ohio--and a number of other states--were deeply flawed. Those flaws are well outlined in the letter that Conyers and eleven other Democratic representatives sent earlier this month to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. (Click here to read the letter and other recent communications from Conyers to state and federal officials regarding the electoral troubles in Ohio.)
The letter, as well as testimony at today's hearing in Washington, makes a convincing case for continuing the examination of the mess that Blackwell, a Bush partisan, and his team made of the voting in Ohio on November 2. Necessarily, that examination must include the full recount requested by Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb and others.
But it is important to recognize that the sort of election problems that were discussed at Tuesday's hearing are not isolated to Ohio--just as the problems that came to light during the Florida recount fight of 2000 were not isolated to the Sunshine State.
The United States lacks a coherent and consistent set of standards for registering to vote, voting, counting ballots or recounting them. Thus, every election cycle brings new instances of disenfranchisement and doubts about the validity of the process.
On the eve of the Conyers hearing, the new group Progressive Democrats of America released a well-reasoned list of electoral reforms which can and should become central to the activism of everyone who is dissatisfied with the process--and the result--of the November 2 election. PDA argues that America needs:
* A Constitutional amendment confirming the right to vote.
* A required paper record for all electronic and electronically tabulated voting systems.
* Same-day registration for all Americans.
* The creation of unified federal standards for national elections.
* Meaningful equal protection of voting rights by such means as equal voting systems, equal numbers of machines, and equal time to vote.
* An end to partisan oversight of the electoral process.
* Extended voting periods to allow all voters a meaningful opportunity to vote.
* Instant Run-off Voting and Proportional Representation.
* Publicly financed elections for federal offices.
That's a long list. And the best place to begin is with the basics: guaranteeing the right to vote.
During the Supreme Court deliberations in 2000 on the Bush v. Gore case that ultimately determined the occupant of the White House, Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way to establish that the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, has set out to rectify that glaring omission by proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would cure a lot of what ails our political process.
Here's the text of the amendment
SECTION 1. All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.
SECTION 2. Each State shall administer public elections in the State in accordance with election performance standards established by the Congress. The Congress shall reconsider such election performance standards at least once every four years to determine if higher standards should be established to reflect improvements in methods and practices regarding the administration of elections.
SECTION 3. Each State shall provide any eligible voter the opportunity to register and vote on the day of any public election.
SECTION 4. Each State and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall establish and abide by rules for appointing its respective number of Electors. Such rules shall provide for the appointment of Electors on the day designated by the Congress for holding an election for President and Vice President and shall ensure that each Elector votes for the candidate for President and Vice President who received a majority of the popular vote in the State or District.
The right-to-vote amendment is not all the reform that is needed. But if the goal of is to prevent future electoral fiascos--like Florida, Ohio or elsewhere--it is a vehicle for getting started. After all, who, aside from Antonin Scalia, would argue against the right to vote.
In a historic effort to hold US officials accountable for acts of torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and four Iraqi citizens recently filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany against high ranking United States officials over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq. The four Iraqis all allege abuse at the hands of US troops, including severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation, hooding and sexual abuse.
The German Prosecutor is considering the case under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows suspected war criminals to be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located. "German law in this area is leading the world," Peter Weiss, vice president of the New York-based CCR, a human rights group, said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. "We file these cases here because there is simply no other place to go," he added. "It is clear that the US government is not willing to open an investigation into these allegations against these officials."
The Prosecutor has wide discretion in deciding how far to go with an investigation. CCR asks supporters of these legal proceedings to let his office know that people around the world support this effort. Click here to add your voice to the international campaign.
CCR receives no government or corporate funding. The organization's ability to employ creative new strategies in the fight to preserve and advance civil and human rights can only continue with the financial support of the progressive community. Click here for info on what sorts of programs contributions help fund and click here to make a donation. You can also join CCR's mailing list to keep up on the progress of the Abu Ghraib complaint and other progressive legal campaigns.
Democrats are talking a lot these days about how to reconnect with rural voters. It's an important conversation, as much about the decline in the party's fortunes can be traced to the fact that people who live on farms and in small towns, who not that many years ago were about evenly divided in their partisan loyalties, provided President Bush and the Republican Party with overwhelming support in 2004.
Unfortunately, most of the talk involves tortured discussions about how to tip-toe around issues such as gay rights and gun control.
Such discussions miss the point of the party's problem in small-town America completely. Gays and guns are only big issues in rural regions because Democrats have done a lousy job of distinguishing themselves on the big-ticket economic issues -- trade policy, protection of family farmers, rural development -- that define whether rural Americans can maintain their livelihoods and lifestyles.
Most national Democrats -- and let's start this list with the name "John Kerry" -- evidence little or no understanding of the fundamental economic concerns facing rural regions. That lack of awareness often leads them to miss opportunities to challenge the wrongheaded agenda of corporate agribusiness and the industry's allies in Washington.
One of the biggest mistakes that Democrats made in the first days of the Bush administration was to support the nomination of Ann Venemen to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Venemen, with her close ties to agribusiness and the biotech industry, was precisely the wrong choice. An unyielding supporter of free-trade initiatives, and an unquestioning backer of even the most controversial schemes to genetically modify crops, Venemen was a dream-come-true pick for multinational food-processing corporations, chemical companies and big agribusiness interests. But for working farmers and the residents of rural regions and small towns, she was a nightmare selection.
Unfortunately, Senate Democrats quickly got on board to back the Venemen nomination, which sailed through the confirmation process with little challenge.
Now, after a four-year tenure that confirmed all the worst fears of her critics, Venemen is leaving the Department of Agriculture for what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative return to the agribusiness and biotech sinecures she occupied before her sojourn in Washington. And the president has again selected a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture who is unacceptable.
Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns, who the president has named to replace Venemen, has a troubling track record of taking the side of agribusiness over that of working farmers. To wit:
* Johanns has been a wild-eyed advocate for free-trade initiatives, particularly the granting of permanent most-favored nation trading status to China. In less than a decade, as the free-trade agenda has been implemented, America's traditional advantage in agricultural trade has dropped by 61.6 percent. "This is a man-made catastrophe, an economic disaster," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen says of the current free-trade regimen. "Through conscious policy we are outsourcing food production."
* Johanns was an aggressive supporter of the 2002 farm bill, which continued the misguided practice of directing substantial portions of U.S. farm-support spending into the treasuries of the largest agribusiness conglomerates and factory-farm operations. "This farm bill continues to tap taxpayers' hard earned money to keep the farm economy limping along while the giant food processors and exporters reap cheap commodities to expand their control of the world's food supply," says George Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition.
* As governor, Johanns initiated what Nebraska farm advocates saw as an attempt to gut I-300, the state's 23-year-old ban on corporations owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in the state. Johanns's push for a review of I-300 drew harsh criticism from family-farm advocates last year. "There seems to be no useful purpose in modifying Initiative 300 unless the purpose is to subject Initiative 300 to legal attack," argued Robert Broom, an attorney who successfully defended I-300 from constitutional challenge in federal trials. Under heavy pressure from rural voters, Nebraska legislators declined to give Johanns the authority to establish a task force that many expected to attack I-300.
Could Democrats block Bush's nomination of Johanns to serve as Secretary of Agriculture? It's not likely in a Senate where Republicans will hold a solid 55-45 majority. But opening a debate over the Johanns nomination would begin to establish that there are differences between the two parties when it comes to protecting the interests of rural America.
Making clear those distinctions will be critical if Democrats want to alter the color scheme on those blue state/red state maps of the United States. Right now, the maps are mostly Republican red. They will only show more Democratic blue if Democrats recognize that one of their most famous partisans, William Jennings Bryan, was right when he urged the party to take up the cause of rural America.
"Ah, my friends," Bryan told the Democratic National Convention of 1896, " we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose -- the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds -- out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead -- these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak."
If Democrats want to improve their fortunes in the elections of 2006 and 2008, they should learn to speak once more for the interests of rural Americans. And the best place to start doing so is by challenging the pro-free trade, pro-corporate agribusiness policies of Mike Johanns -- and by speaking, bluntly, about the threat those policies pose to working farmers and rural America.