After Senator

Max Baucus

kicked the public option to the curb, it was starting to look like Congressional Democrats would blow this fall’s healthcare fight. Then

Alan Grayson

, a freshman Congressman from Orlando, started landing punches. On September 29 Grayson announced on the House floor that the Republican healthcare plan is this: “Don’t get sick; and if you do get sick, die quickly.” When the GOP’s inevitable clamor for an apology arose, Grayson, who hails from a swing district, responded: “I would like to apologize…. I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”

So shaken by the prospect of a Democrat taking the healthcare debate seriously enough to try to win it, Republican operatives screeched that Grayson had “come un- hinged.” In fact, Grayson–a Harvard Law grad who worked as an assistant to conservative icon

Robert Bork

and Supreme Court Justices

Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Antonin Scalia

before establishing himself as a top trial lawyer–had set a trap for the GOP. He had used the controversy to focus attention on a study revealing that 44,000 Americans die annually because they lack health insurance. While he acknowledged that the holocaust reference went over the top, Grayson kept taunting “knuckle-dragging Neanderthal” Republicans. And they kept responding in a manner that earned the Congressman air time to detail the real cost of saying no to healthcare reform.   JOHN NICHOLS


The latest issue of

Joint Force Quarterly

, a military journal reviewed and published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contained a seven-page critique of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT). The study’s author, an Air Force colonel, argues that DADT has been “costly both in personnel and treasure” and that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly “will not impact combat effectiveness.”

The article is another sign that momentum is behind gay-rights advocates as they move toward a debate on the policy in Congress. In the House, the bill to repeal DADT has 176 co-sponsors, and Armed Services Committee chair

Ike Skelton

has agreed to a hearing at the beginning of next year. A Senate bill could be introduced in the next few weeks. It’s there that Congressman

Barney Frank

, a leading critic of DADT, expects a filibuster. “It will have a majority,” says Frank, but “the question is whether it will get to sixty.”

The House bill’s lead sponsor, Iraq War veteran

Patrick Murphy

, told The Nation, “This is a policy that’s un-American and needs to be changed.” During the campaign, Obama made just such a promise, but he has been criticized by gay-rights advocates for moving too slowly. Frank says that building support among ex-military service members for repealing the policy will be crucial. In particular, he cites the endorsement of retired Gen.

Colin Powell

, who helped draft the policy some sixteen years ago.

“Clearly things have moved,” Frank said. “I think we’ve had the votes in Congress for some time, but we didn’t have a president ready to sign it.”   NATHANIEL HERZ


Going against the European grain, Greece has voted

George Papandreou

‘s center-left


party into power in a landslide. Promising a new political culture, an end to cronyism and a 3 billion euro stimulus package, the president of the

Socialist International

has at last won the job that was once held by his father and grandfather. But despite being to the manor born, Papandreou is neither a lightweight nor a populist demagogue in the style of his father, Andreas. Mild-mannered and thoughtful, he is a new Papandreou for the age of Obama: an American-born, European social democrat with a green conscience and a cosmopolitan worldview.

His victory is not a sign that Europe is leaning left. It is a local phenomenon, the product of Greece’s recent political history. PaSoK lost power to the conservative

New Democracy

in 2004 after eleven years in office, during which it became a byword for paybacks and corruption. New Democracy’s

Kostas Karamanlis

(also the scion of a political dynasty) took over with a promise to clean out the Augean stables. But New Democracy’s corruption made PaSoK’s scandals look like minor peccadilloes. Overpriced government bonds were sold to state pension funds; cabinet ministers dreamed up lucrative property scams with abbots from Mount Athos. On Karamanlis’s watch, vast tracts of the country went up in flames, literally–and the fire service, weakened by political interference, did too little much too late. For a few days last December, violence in Athens gripped the world’s TV cameras. The shooting of a 15-year-old boy by a trigger-happy policeman seemed to sum up the state’s indifference to a whole generation.

It will be a Sisyphean task to root out the corruption bred by decades of patronage politics, foster a culture of citizenship and sell Greece’s quick-profit entrepreneurs on sustainable development. Vested interests, old behavior patterns, inertia and plain greed will rub the glow off the election promises the way they always do. But Papandreou’s promises are at least the right ones. For this diaspora Greek, the relief is almost thrilling.   MARIA MARGARONIS


As a candidate,

Barack Obama

heartily endorsed the

Free Flow of Information Act

, which establishes a federal law shielding reporters from having to divulge confidential sources in court. It wasn’t a radical act; the measure mirrors “shield laws” already on the books in thirty-six states. But it was necessary, as a 2003 court ruling attacked the principle that reporters who expose wrongdoing can cite the First Amendment in order to protect sources.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is trying to gut the shield law legislation, proposing a rewrite that would give judges exceptionally broad authority to demand the names of sources for stories involving national security. The administration also wants to give judges latitude to require revelations of the names of sources in civil cases, a shift that would stifle corporate whistleblowers. The

Society of Professional Journalists

says the changes would “render useless” the shield law. Even more unsettling is the notion that a former constitutional law professor’s machinations could permanently undermine the First Amendment’s freedom of the press and speech protections.   JOHN NICHOLS