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The Nation

January 29, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

John McCain won a personal victory in Florida Tuesday night.

But he still has not won the Republican ideological battle that will continue through Super Tuesday and perhaps deep into February and March.

After the bitterest Republican race since the 2000 South Carolina contest he lost to George W. Bush, McCain prevailed in the Florida Republican primary--and with it the frontrunner status that just six months ago seemed unachievable for the campaign of a maverick who has never been trusted by the party's base.

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John Nichols
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January 29, 2008
Katrina vanden Heuvel

"We must ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves," President Bush declared during his final State of the Union address. He then segued into a call to ban human cloning. He didn't talk about dignity in terms of ravaged pensions, working longer hours for lower wages, and the loss of healthcare and other benefits. He didn't talk about dignity in terms of the rise in poverty – 37 million Americans, one in eight citizens now living below the poverty line in the wealthiest nation in the world. And he certainly didn't talk about dignity when it comes to migrant workers in Immokalee, Florida where – as Senator Bernie Sanders told me just days before Bush's SOTU – "the norm is a disaster, and the extreme is slavery."

These farmworkers pick the tomatoes many Americans eat at McDonald's, Taco Bell, Burger King and other fast food chains. They are paid 45 cents for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes. It's grueling work, as Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser noted recently in a New York Times op-ed: "During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes." For that two tons the worker can expect about $50, and annual wages of $10,000-$14,000. Wages have been stagnant for more than two decades. Two weeks ago, six people were indicted on slavery charges for beating workers, chaining and locking them inside U-haul trucks, and threatening physical harm if the workers left their jobs. This is far from a rare occurrence, as the Miami Herald wrote, "… farm crew slavery stories and the brutal exploitation of undocumented workers have long since lost their shock value in Florida."

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – a community-based worker organization – has "exposed a half-dozen slavery cases" that helped trigger the freeing of more than 1,000 workers, and also advocated for better wages, living conditions, respect from the industry, and an end to indentured servitude. CIW recently scored critical victories in negotiating a penny-per-pound surcharge – so workers would now receive about 77 cents per 32-pound bucket – with McDonald's and Yum! Brands (owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC). The corporations – not the tomato growers – would pay the 40 percent salary increase. Astonishingly, Burger King has refused to go along with the deal (tell Burger King to pony up)– it would cost them less than $300,000 annually and the corporation took in $2.23 billion in revenues in 2007. Not to mention three private equity firms control most of Burger King's stock, including Goldman Sachs. In 2006 Goldman Sachs' top 12 execs took home bonuses exceeding $200 million – "more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year," according to Schlosser.) Even more outrageous is the response of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, representing 90 percent of the state's growers. The group has said it will fine any member $100,000 for accepting the extra penny per pound for worker wages.

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January 29, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Florida is where the national political ambitions of New York mayors go to die.

Rudy Giuliani will learn that lesson tonight if he finishes fourth -- as could happen -- in a Florida Republican presidential primary on which he has gambled his political future.

"We win in Florida, we're going everywhere else," the former New York mayor told crowds in the Sunshine state on the eve of a primary contest that polls say is now between Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. "Florida is going to lead the way."

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John Nichols
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January 29, 2008
Laura Flanders
Laura Flanders

If Barack Obama's South Carolina win was a "black" thing, it's awfully strange how it's going down in Butte. US towns don't come much whiter or more hope-resistant than this battered old Montana mining town. And yet organizers here resonate with his call, not because they think he'll change things here, but because they believe the movement he's inspiring will help them do that work.

It was mid-morning Sunday when I finally flipped open my laptop to watch Obama's South Carolina victory speech. The only other soul in the faded foyer of the once-grand Finlen Hotel was Debbie, the receptionist. Obama's words drew blue-eyed Debbie over. What do you think? I asked. Looking at the crowd, her smile revealed more than a few missing teeth. "That looks like everybody," she said. "That's good."

The Finlen is a lonely place; a 1920s relic perched on a snow-swept slope between stone-cold, closed Victorian banks and bars and the country's biggest toxic Super Fund site. Butte was once the copper capital of the world (and the most unionized town in the US) but the swag and smut of the 1880s is long gone and Butte's as broken now as the bones of its best-known 20th century export - Evel Knievel. And even he is dead.

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The Notion
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January 28, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

The Constitution requires that presidents "from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

Tradition has made the annual State of the Union address the primary public venue for such reporting.

As such, the State of the Union address is officially a big deal. And it is always accorded an appropriate measure of attention by the television networks, members of Congress (unless, like John McCain, they are bidding to replace the president) and the American people. But some State of the Union addresses are more equal than others.When George Bush addressed Congress in 2005, he did so as the most powerful man on the planet: the reelected commander of a warrior nation that was controlled down to the very roots of its executive, legislative and judicial branches by the president's partisan allies. Even if it was obvious to any serious observer that severe second-term rot had already begun to set in, Bush boldly renewed America's acquaintance with all the bad ideas – neo-conservative military adventuring and free trade abroad, deficit spending and related flights of fiscal fantasy at home – of his tenure.

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John Nichols
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January 28, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Hillary Clinton has decided to rewrite the rules of the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Like other candidates, she pledged not to campaign in Florida after the state jumped ahead on the schedule of caucuses and primaries set by the Democratic National Committee. She had to make that pledge if she hoped to compete in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, as Iowa and New Hampshire zealously guard their starting status on the political calendar.

But Iowa and New Hampshire are history and, after a landslide loss in South Carolina on Saturday, Clinton needs a win.

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John Nichols
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January 27, 2008
Ari Melber
Ari Melber

President Bush is now daring Congress to defy his demand for more unchecked power to spy on Americans without warrants, vowing to veto temporary surveillance legislation and politicize his last State of the Union address for an attack on Democrats. Last week, Democratic leaders were considering a bill to grant a one-month extension of the administration's spying powers, a "compromise" tilted in Bush's favor, but Republican tactics have finally tried the patience of Majority Leader Harry Reid. He had been managing floor votes to advance the Republican bill and squash opposition from the majority of Democrats within his caucus, but that may change this week.

"The White House threat to veto a short extension of the Protect America Act is shamefully irresponsible," says Reid, who also derided Bush's new threat as simply "posturing" for the State of the Union. Reid added that if any terror-related problems were caused by legislative delays, "the blame will clearly and unequivocally fall where it belongs: on President Bush and his allies in Congress."

That's tough talk. It has not been matched by action yet, and unfortunately it does not add up anyway. While most Congressional Democrats have begun confronting Bush's unconstitutional demands, a few leaders like Reid and Intelligence Chair Jay Rockefeller are actually the ones pushing the Bush spying bill. That's the problem with Reid's new complaint.

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The Notion
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January 26, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

It is time to pull Bill Clinton off the campaign trail he never should have gotten on.

Yes, the former president is still a "rock star" in Democratic circles. Yes, he still has rhetorical and strategic skills that may play a role in the future campaigns.

But the results from Saturday's South Carolina primary confirm that Bill Clinton is doing the presidential prospects of his wife a good deal more harm than good.

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John Nichols
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January 25, 2008
TomDispatch

On January 30-31, 1968, the Tet holiday, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF, known to Americans as "the Vietcong") struck at five of the country's six largest cities, 34 provincial capitals, 64 district capitals, and numerous military bases. NLF sappers even briefly captured part of the heavily fortified American embassy compound in the center of the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon.

Vietnamese government troops allied to the Americans were badly bloodied and American casualties were high. Fighting continued in parts of Saigon for three weeks and in Hue, the old imperial capital, for almost a month until, as with Fallujah in Iraq in November 2004, most of its buildings were destroyed. To retake major urban areas, air power was called in. In perhaps the most infamous phrase of the Vietnam War, an anonymous U.S. major said of the retaking of Ben Tre, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."

In a wave of TV images of unexpected carnage, all this broke over the American people, who had been assured that "progress" was being made, that, as American commander General William Westmoreland put it, "We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view." (Sound familiar?)

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The Notion
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