The Nation

Next on Jena at the New York Times?

In response to those who've written to ask whether I read Louisiana District Attorney, Reed Walters' op-ed in the New York Times. Yes I did! And I asked Alan Bean about it today on the RadioNation program that will air Sunday on Air America and across the country this week.

Bean, of the Friends of Justice, says that contrary to Walters' assertions, there is sufficient stand alone legislation on the books in Louisiana to have covered the noose-hanging incident. I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the there were plenty of ways the local authorities could have responded to the noose-hanging, short of bringing criminal charges, that would nonetheless have sent a clear message about where the campus stood on racial equality.

Jena High needed to suspend the noose-hangers for a long enough period to make an impact (not just a couple of days. ) In addition, the principal could have convened a community meeting, held a public event, hosted a teach-in on lynching. You name it. Anything that sent a strong message to the parents, the school body and the public: this community will not tolerate hate-speech or hateful acts. Says Bean: "The principal needed to say clearly: there's no such thing as a color line on campus, no such thing as a black or a white tree." Handled firmly back in September '06, the whole incident need never have left the auspices of the school. No one needed to have gone to court; no one should ever have been beaten up.

The key facts that Walters skims over in the Times, have to do with what he, specifically, did instead, namely dismiss the incident as a harmless prank, then threaten the black families and students who protested. According to everything I've heard, that's what led to a tit for tat series of assaults in which the white students' behavior was treated more leniently than the blacks'.

Walters' paints a stark picture of the attack on Justin Barker. "How can you call that a brawl" my correspondents have shrieked. What's missing from Walters' version however are the details. Barker wasn't a random target, says James Rucker, of ColorofChange "It adds a lot of flesh to the bones of the story to know who'd played what role in the incidents leading up to the December attack."

None of these kids should have been left to fight it out -- not in the streets, in the school yard or any place else. Nor should the Times, after ignoring the case for all these months, be permitted to give the DA responsible for the mess, the first and last word on the op-ed page. How about an op-ed from Alan Bean next?


Join Amnesty International's call for a Justice Department investigation.

Sign Color of Change's petition drive.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of RadionNation and the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (2007, The Penguin Press.)

Giving Back Clinton-Style

Presidents, prime ministers, CEOs and religious leaders packed the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on Thursday, Bill Clinton's third annual gathering to solve the "world's most pressing challenges." Organizers touted a wide range of "commitments" made by attendees, from over $4 billion in underwriting for renewable energy from Standard Chartered Bank, to a $5 million donation for New Orleans housing by Brad Pitt. CGI announced it has elicited over 600 such commitments in its first two years. President Clinton likes to remind attendees that they will not be invited back if they don't achieve their pledges.

For a gathering of the global elite, the conference is remarkably open and transparent. The panels and plenary speeches are available by webcast, the conference has an official blog, and the halls are dotted with credentialed bloggers. This afternoon, I've seen Matt Stoller, Dave Johnson, DailyKos diarist nyceve, Jessica Valenti and The Atlantic's blogger Matt Yglesias. The conference is also encouraging regular citizens to make their own commitments at a new grassroots portal, MyCommitment.org.

CGI has always been scheduled to piggyback on the U.N. General Assembly meetings, ensuring that plenty of international elites are available to drop by the mid-town Sheraton. But this year, the conference is clearly a draw all by itself, especially among business leaders. Companies that made new commitments this week include Merck, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Dow and Google, which will cosponsor a $300 million award-program designed to motivate innovation to address CGI's four priorities. "We're delighted to make this long-term commitment in the areas of education, energy and climate change, poverty alleviation and global health," explained Peter Diamandis, who joined Clinton on stage to announce the project today, along with Google's Larry Page and Arianna Huffington. It's backed by the X-Prize Foundation, the non-profit that spent millions to incentivize the (odd) ambition of civilian space travel.

In a sense, though, providing capital to motivate good deeds perfectly embodies Clinton's vision. He built CGI to convene an unusual arena where the rich and powerful are not judged solely by their wealth and power, but by their commitment to solving intractable global problems. Then Clinton tries to cajole, inspire and reward any attendee willing to give back.

UPDATE: If you're hungry for more CGI stats, here's an excerpt of President Clinton's remarks today:

By the end of 2007, 34 million people will be targeted for treatment by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease Control's rapid-impact packages, which can control these deadly diseases for just 50 cents per person per year.


More than a quarter of a million HIV-infected individuals have gottencomprehensive HIV care, more than 130,000 have initiated AIDS treatment with anti-retroviral therapy just as a result of Columbia's commitment to expand its international center for AIDS care and treatment. $124,550,000 has been devoted to produce fortified foods to fight malnutrionin developing countries. 1.2 million patients through Chad, Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have received emergency and primary care, including mental health services, throughout the International Medical Services in conflict-affected regions commitment.

Around the world, 8.8 million patients are receiving primary and emergency care. 850,000 children under 5 were reached in 25 countries with life-saving services. 40,000 women received maternal health services as a result of CGIcommitments. More than 120,000 infants have been vaccinated against Roto-virus, as a result of Merck's commitment to provide free doses of roto-tech to every infant born in Nicaragua through 2009.

Over 270,000 micro-finance institutions have been provided with funding. As I said yesterday, permitting access to finance for about 3 million micro-entrepreneurs. As a result 11, 260,000 are expected to get increased access to sustainable incomes. More than 1,500 students in the United States and the Middle East joined in dialogue forums to address differences of faith, culture and nationality, to overcome stereotypes and animosity. Tens of thousands engaged in activities to lobby, raise awareness, and fundraise to stop the mass atrocities in Darfur.

And interestingly enough, to this point, more than 60% of all commitments have been made, not by individual NGOs, individual philanthropists, individual business people, but through new partnerships, through people who met here, and decided to work together. That's the best indicator I have of what kinds of things that are going on here that would not have happened but for this meeting.

Democrats: 18 Year Olds Can Fight But Not Drink

One of the thornier issues in American politics is rarely, if ever, discussed at the level of presidential contention.

In many states across the country -- including the "Live Free or Die" state of New Hampshire -- there is genuine disdain for the federal government policy that requires states to set the minimum age for purchasing and consuming alcohol at 21.

By threatening to withhold highway funds, the feds have forced states that historically have set the drinking age at 18 -- respecting the fact that if a young man or woman can be trusted to defend the nation as a member of the military, can be held responsible for his or her debts and can marry and have children, that individual should be trusted to buy a beer and drink it responsibly.

During Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate at Dartmouth, a question from a New Hampshire voter put the drinking-age question on the table.

Would any of the candidates favor ending the practice of using federal highway funds to strongarm states into setting higher drinking ages -- on the theory that it is wrong to "trust (18 year olds) to make life and death decisions in the military" but not to drink responsibly?

Delaware Senator Joe Biden called the idea "counterproductive." Translation: "No."

No one applauded.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd replied, "I agree with Joe," and then somehow veered into a discussion of smoking.

Again, no applause.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson proposed a "dual approach," which sounded good but ended up as another "No."

No applause.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards also indicated that they were in the camp that says an American can die for his or her country but not sip a cocktail.

No applause.

Finally, two candidates, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, answered "Yes."

Gravel said, "Anyone who will fight and die for this country should be able to drink."


Kucinich said, "Of course they should be able to drink at age 18, and they should be able to vote at age 16."

Applause and a few laughs.

Chances are that few votes will turn on the question of 18-year-old drinking.

But, it should be noted that, in addition to military service, marriage and money, 18 years olds are also trusted with the franchise. And the illogical response of most of the leading candidates may yet drive us all to drink.

Gravel and Kucinich got it right. If you can be trusted to fight and die, and vote, for your country, you can be trusted to buy a beer.

The Monks Rebel

Updated on September 27

The situation in Myanmar (formerly Burma) continues to worsen with reports of escalating efforts by the government to violently repress ongoing nonviolent demonstrations. The protests, sparked by steep increases in fuel costs, are being led by Buddhist monks who have called for a reduction in commodity prices, the release of political prisoners, and national reconciliation. (Now that the government has decimated Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, the monks are the only organized force strong enough to challenge the junta.)

Accurate information is difficult to come by since there are few journalists currently operating inside the country. But there have been media reports of at least eight people killed, widespread use of tear gas against demonstrators, hundreds of arrests and beatings and the detention of at least 300 monks who have been active in the growing anti-government protests over the last month.

Watch this very rough video uploaded to YouTube this morning by an anonymous protester for a sense of what's going on.

Reports are also emerging of growing defiance in the face of the junta's counter-attack as tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and pro-democracy activists continue to take to the streets. As Kyi May Kaung writes at Foreign Policy in Focus, journalists estimate the number of protesting monks countrywide to be 500,000, which equals the number of soldiers in the junta's standing army. The mass demonstrations are the largest in the country since 1998, when thousands were killed as security forces employed lethal force against massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

Since then the Myanmar junta's human rights record has been deplorable. Amnesty International, which has done more work on the country than any other international organization, has documented the cases of at least 1,160 political prisoners who are being held in deteriorating prison conditions. Child soldiers and forced labor continue to be used. The use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are common, especially during interrogation and pre-trial detention.

So, yes, Myanmar is ripe for revolt and the brave monks leading the opposition seem determined to not let this current moment pass. The world community has been unanimous in its criticism of the crackdown with the EU and President Bush calling for tougher sanctions against the Myanmar government. But sanctions have been in place for years and it's unclear how this latest round of international condemnation will force the SLORC's hand.

So grassroots solidarity efforts are more important than ever. You can take action now to prevent more violence by the military government. Send a message today asking the UN Security Council to oppose this violent crackdown and do everything in its power to prevent further bloodshed. Amnesty International is also organizing a series of demonstrations outside Burmese embassies and high-profile public locations calling for the Myanmar authorities to respect the right to peaceful protest. Check its website for info, see the Voices for Burma blog for on-going reporting on the protests as well as activist ideas and watch this space for more info on how you can help.

More Skinny on Fat Cells

Here are two more interesting articles on the bane of our collective existence: body weight. First up is this New York magazine article, titled "The Scientist and the Stairmaster," which makes the provocative argument that there is very little correlation between weight loss and exercise. That's exceptionally bad news for someone who is pregnant, and required to gain at least 25 pounds.

The article is adapted from a new book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease" by Gary Taubes, who writes:

"This is not to say that there aren't excellent reasons to be physically active, as these reports invariably point out. We might just enjoy exercise. We may increase our overall fitness; we may live longer, perhaps by reducing our risk of heart disease or diabetes; we'll probably feel better about ourselves. (Of course, this may be purely a cultural phenomenon. It's hard to imagine that the French, for instance, would improve their self-esteem by spending more time at the gym.) But there's no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it."

Next is a new ad campaign by the Italian label Nolita. It features a severely anorexic actress posing naked, accompanied by the slogan, "No Anorexia." French actress Isabelle Caro weighs a little over 68 pounds, and looks simply hideous, at least to the untutored eye, though Italian medical experts claim the ad will actually encourage young girls to look more like Caro. I find that hard to believe, but take a look and decide for yourself.

Strike Over

The UAW's national strike against General Motors came to a quick end at 4 a.m. today, with the announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached. Though most details of the agreement are not yet available, it does include a provision for the creation of a VEBA health care trust. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has assured his membership and the New York Times that the deal "will absolutely protect their jobs and keep jobs from being reduced." But he has not provided specific information on the job security guarantees the union was seeking when it walked out Monday morning.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the deal also includes an attrition program to clear out current workers whose positions will be re-classified as "non-core" and their wages reduced, while implementing a two-tier wage scale and benefits packages for new hires.

If this is the case, and pending any further details that emerge on the agreement, the UAW leadership would appear to have acquiesced on GM's two most significant demands--the VEBA trust and the two-tier wage plan--and will now have to see if it can sell its membership on a disappointing contract that is sure to enflame dissidents within the union who have already been critical of the way Gettelfinger has handled negotiations.

Assuming the contract is ratified, expect Ford and Chrysler to quickly follow suit with their own health care liabilities; and the UAW's already diminished position in the domestic auto industry to be rendered even more irrelevant after effectively selling out future auto workers for the sake of the current membership.


State Dept: Corruption in Iraq is Classified

Corruption in the Iraqi government--it's classified information. So says the State Department.

In preparation for a September 27 hearing on corruption within the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Representative Henry Waxman, who chairs the House government oversight and reform committee, sent a request--and then a subpoeana--to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for documents and witnesses. He wanted the State Department to turn over various documents, including a copy of a secret report prepared by the Baghdad embassy that details rampant corruption within the Iraqi government. He also demanded that the State Department make available to his investigators three officials in the department's Office of Accountability and Transparency who have worked on the issue of Iraqi corruption. [UPDATE: The hearing has been postponed until October 4.]

The State Department refused to turn over the documents and said no to the interview requests. Then it slightly changed its tune. Joel Starr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, notified Waxman that his committee could interview the State Department officials, but anything they had to say about corruption within the Iraqi government would be classified--meaning Waxman could not disclose that information to the public.

How can information about criminal waste and fraud in another government be considered a state secret in the United States?

On September 25, an irritated Waxman fired off a letter to Rice, detailing his exchange with her department:

The State Department is taking the position that investigators for the Committee may speak with these individuals, but the investigators may not ask them questions that could embarrass the Maliki government unless the Committee agrees to refrain from any public discussion of their answers. State Department officials explained that any information about corruption within the Maliki government must be treated as classified because public discussions could undermine U.S. relations with the Maliki government.

This absurd position was confirmed in an e-mail sent to Committee staff....In the e-mail, the State Department provided a description of the "redlines" that its employees may not cross in unclassified interviews scheduled....According to the State Department, the following information is now classified:

Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons;

Statements/allegations concerning actions by specific individuals, such as the Prime Minister or other GOI [Government of Iraq] officials, or regarding investigations of such officials.

The scope of this prohibition is breathtaking. On its face, it means that unless the Committee agrees to keep the information secret from the public, the Committee cannot obtain information from officials in the Office of Accountability and Transparency, about whether there is corruption within the Iraqi ministries, how extensive the corruption is, or whether the corruption is funding the insurgency and undermining public confidence in the Iraqi government. The Committee also cannot obtain information about whether Mr. Maliki himself has been involved in corruption or has intervened to block corruption investigations of Iraqi officials close to Mr. Maliki.

There is already plenty of information on the public record about corruption within the Maliki government. I first disclosed that secret embassy report in this column. And former Iraqi Judge Radhi al-Radhi, whom Maliki forced out as chief of Iraq's lead anticorruption agency, has said in an exclusive interview with me that Maliki thwarted many of his anticorruption investigations and that the Maliki administration is so rife with corruption it ought to be scrapped. Radhi also pointed out that corruption within the Iraqi government has produced funding for insurgents.

The State Department--which has abandoned Radhi, whom it once supported--is trying to prevent Radhi's charges from receiving wider notice. It obviously does not want its own records and officials to be used publicly to confirm his claims. (Radhi will be a featured witness at the Waxman committee's hearings.)

In his letter to Rice, Waxman complained that when his staff conducted a phone interview with Vincent Foulk, one of the Office of Accountability and Transparency officials, Foulk was not permitted by other State Department officials on the call to say whether there is extensive corruption in Iraq, whether Maliki and other Iraqi ministers have blocked corruption probes, and what impact corruption within the Iraqi government is having on U.S. efforts. Foulk told Waxman's staff that he had never previously heard of a State Department official being prevented from talking about corruption in Iraq.

During this interview, Waxman's staffers read Foulk a statement Rice had made in October 2006 praising Maliki for taking action against corruption. Foulk was asked if he agreed with Rice's remarks. Foulk replied he could not answer the question because his opinion is classified information. In his letter to Rice, Waxman griped, "Your position seems to be that positive information about the Maliki government may be disseminated publicly, but any criticism of the government must be treated as a national security secret...If there is widespread corruption within the Maliki government, this is information that both Congress and the public are entitled to know."

The Bush administration apparently believes otherwise. It's holding on to documents; the State Department retroactively classified the embassy report on corruption. It has essentially imposed a gag order on State Department officials knowledgeable about corruption in Iraq. In doing so, it has stretched--and possibly abused--its power to classify information. Why go to such lengths? Because George W. Bush's Iraq policy--at least for the moment--depends on the Maliki government. But if that government is thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional, Bush's policy doesn't make sense. And that's the real secret the Bush administration wants to keep.

Battle in Aurora

Aurora, Illinois has become ground zero in the fight for women's access to reproductive health care.

Last Thursday a federal judge denied Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction that would have allowed its new clinic in Aurora to open as scheduled. The city of Aurora has refused to allow the new facility to begin operating until it completes an investigation into how the clinic obtained building permits. The refusal came after hundreds of anti-abortion activists rallied outside the facility and crowded into city hall meetings to oppose the clinic.

Ann Friedman offers the most succinct and accurate summary of events I've found in an excellent piece at the American Prospect Online:

"Hoping to avert the kinds of protests that kept other new abortion clinics from opening (like when a contractor backed out of building a new Planned Parenthood facility in Austin in 2003), Planned Parenthood applied for the building permits under the name of a subsidiary, Gemini Office Development LLC. They disclosed to the planning and zoning board that the building would be occupied by a medical office, but did not specify it would be an abortion provider.

After anti-choice activists discovered that the new medical office building in Aurora was to be a reproductive health clinic, they sounded a clarion call to keep the facility from opening. Under pressure from the anti-choice movement, the city denied Planned Parenthood's occupancy permit. And yesterday, a judge declined to grant a temporary occupancy permit, meaning the new clinic (which was supposed to open on Tuesday) will remain shuttered. At the hearing, the Aurora city attorney argued that this is about land use and permit regulations -- not about restricting abortion access. Planned Parenthood lawyers responded, 'We wouldn't be here if this was a foot care clinic.'"

The ruling has forced Planned Parenthood to cancel thirteen appointments that were scheduled for today. "Although the case is still open, today's decision prevents access to important health care services that the new clinic would offer including sexually transmitted disease treatment, breast cancer screening, and abortion care," said Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

Check out this video to hear why many residents of Aurora are desperate for the clinic.

After watching go to the PP Aurora site for ideas on other actions to take:

** Sign a petition affirming the clinic's right to open and operate.
**Donate your time, email volunteer@ppca.org for more information.
**E-mail the Aurora City Council
**E-mail a Letter to the Editor
**Request a "This Family Supports Planned Parenthood" yard sign
**Make a donation to support Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is also asking people to call Aurora's Mayor and City Council to insist that they allow Planned Parenthood to serve the women of Aurora by opening the clinic.

Mayor Tom Weisner's office: (630) 844-3612
Aurora City Council: (630) 844-3619
Aurora City Hall: (630)264-4636

What's happening in Aurora today is not an isolated situation. It's part of a continuing war on women's access to abortion services across our country. Planned Parenthood is on the battlefield organizing the counter-attack and it needs all the support it can get.

Heritage Goes Hollywood

On Wednesday the conservative Heritage Foundation took a short break from opposing the state children's health insurance program to ponder the tired conservative complaint that liberals control Hollywood. Steve Finefrock, founder of an outfit called the Hollywood Conservative Forum, and a screenwriter whose credits include Department of Homeland Security films, dramatized this right-wing tragedy to about a dozen concerned conservatives.

"All of life is a three-act structure," Finefrock informed them. In that spirit, his speech's first act brought back the age-old lament that "Hollywood is in the grip of PC liberals."

"If you're a conservative [in the movie business]," Finefrock said. "they block your career." He didn't say who "they" are. Finefrock estimated that more than one-third of Hollywood is conservative but like Communists in the McCarthy era they are afraid to speak out. Radical-turned-Republican David Horowitz has made a lucrative career out of this sort of moaning.

Finefrock's second act optimistically pointed out that conservatives have had success storming other cultural battlefields. In recent years, he said, "we've penetrated six areas liberals have dominated for years: journals of opinion, think tanks, campaigns on college campuses, books and publishing, broadcast news and commentary, and blogs. Hollywood is the seventh seal that needs to be broken."Finerock explained this was indeed an intentional reference to, "a famous Ingmar Bergman film all the intellectuals love."

But how to penetrate? That is the question (this is an intentional reference to a famous play that all the intellectuals love). The crowd eagerly anticipated Finefrock's third act.

But the screenwriter hadn't figured out an ending. "Nobody knows what works," he said. "It's like drilling for oil--you don't know when you're going to hit a gusher." It turns out Finefrock is awaiting someone else to lead conservatives into the promised land.

"We just need leadership," Finefrock said. "We need a Moses; we need a Godfather." Too bad Fred Thompson is busy running for president.