A STARK COMPARISON: Suppose the chairmanship of a key committee in the House went, via the seniority system, to a senior Republican with a rock-solid conservative voting record and a reputation for getting major legislation passed. Suppose this Congressman was also an unapologetic brawler on behalf of conservative causes–so much so that he had wrangled aggressively and sometimes controversially with liberal Democrats. Republicans would, of course, embrace their new champion and dismiss criticism of him as cheap shots from the opposition. That’s because the GOP is all about advancing its agenda, not merely managing the status quo.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of House Democrats. After New York Congressman Charles Rangel stepped aside for an ethics inquiry, the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee was expected to go to California Congressman Pete Stark, a nineteen-term progressive stalwart with a record of shaping and passing legislation that reformed tax policy, established the COBRA health continuation benefit for displaced workers and expanded access to Medicare and Medicaid. There was an immediate outcry from the right, which recalled that Stark has directed blistering barbs at Republican colleagues, who he argued were unconcerned about the poor, and at former President George W. Bush, who he argued was unconcerned about the death and destruction in Iraq. The horror! Democrats scrambled to replace Stark with a more cautious player, Michigan’s Sander Levin, as the Californian gracefully announced he would remain as chair of the subcommittee on health. Heaven forbid that the Democratic Party would place a boisterous battler for economic and social justice, peace and equality in one of Washington’s most powerful positions. JOHN NICHOLS
NO HEROES: In early February The Nation called attention to a brewing scandal in Ukraine. Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, the dioxin-pockmarked hero of the Orange Revolution, decided to grant a highly controversial Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, "Hero of Ukraine" status, a state honor. It was one of the last decisions the deeply unpopular leader made during his disastrous five-year term. By honoring an ultranationalist whose forces ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Jews and Poles, Yushchenko poisoned relations with neigh- boring Poland and Russia; caused outrage among international Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as among Ukrainian Jews; and most ominous, ripped open nascent tensions between dominant ethnic Ukrainians and the large Russian-speaking minority, which has long feared the rise of ethnic Ukrainian chauvinism.
Then in late February, on the same day that Ukraine inaugurated a new president, Viktor Yanukovych, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the honor for Bandera. The resolution was put forward by Poland–which had been the main supporter of the Orange Revolution and Yushchenko, and is now its leading critic.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for Americans to make sense of these events–we’re still stuck in the narrative circa 2004, when the Orange Revolution was wrongly portrayed by the media as a triumph of American values over the forces of Kremlin imperialism. The result is that Washington remains silent, paralyzed by its unwillingness to admit its mistakes, while the leading print media continue to get it all wrong. A belated New York Times article on the Bandera controversy–"’Hero of Ukraine’ Splits Nation, Inside and Out"–frames the controversy as nothing more than Russian bullying led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who "predictably lashed out" at an innocent expression of "individuality." Not a single Polish or Jewish representative is quoted, and their grievances are mentioned almost in passing. It was even worse at the Washington Post, whose editorial on February 9 came to the bizarre conclusion that the Orange Revolution was the big winner in Ukraine’s elections, and Russia the big loser–as if it were still 2004 and this was all just a proxy cold war battle between America and Russia.
And still the United States is officially silent about the episode: requests for comments from the vice president’s office, the State Department and Congress members with a history of support for Orange Revolution leaders went unanswered. Add Ukraine to America’s depressingly long list of foreign policy failures. MARK AMES
PAYING FOR PEACE: Service has been a keynote of President Obama’s rhetoric since his campaign, and yet one of America’s oldest service organizations continues to struggle. The Peace Corps, which celebrated its forty-ninth anniversary in early March, is experiencing an influx of applicants coupled with a stagnation of resources. Last year more than 15,000 people applied to the corps, marking an 18 percent increase from the year before. Despite this, the corps had the financial resources to place only 4,000 hopefuls, for a total of 7,700 accepted volunteers in the field. In conjunction, more than a dozen new countries have requested programs and many active programs have requested extra volunteers.
During his campaign, Obama pledged to double the number of active volunteers in the Peace Corps by its fiftieth anniversary. He requested $446 million in the 2011 budget for the corps. While this represents an increase from last year, it falls far short of what will be needed if Obama is to keep his promise. More than fifty volunteers from MorePeaceCorps, a national legislative outreach campaign, descended on Washington recently to lobby for more robust funding. Their goal was to encourage members of Congress to sign a letter to the state and foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, which is responsible for the Peace Corps’s budget. The House letter, written by five returned Peace Corps volunteers–Representatives Mike Honda, Tom Petri, Steve Driehaus, Sam Farr and John Garamendi–requests $465 million. A letter in the Senate, from Peace Corps alum Chris Dodd, requests an increase without a specific dollar value. Last year, a similar House letter with ninety-seven signatures (the most of any letter in the 111th Congress to any appropriations subcommittee) enjoyed bipartisan support. This year’s letter will be open for signatures until mid-March, and advocates hope it can surpass previous successes. LAUREN NORTH