Not everyone is in love with the White House Kitchen Garden.

Michelle Obama

‘s offense? She went organic. The

Mid America CropLife Association

(MACA), which flacks for agribusiness giants

Dow AgroSciences


DuPont Crop Protection



, doesn’t want the first lady getting people thinking they can grow safe, healthy, chemical-free food in their backyards. “Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents,” MACA complained to the White House. “The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family’s year-round food needs.”

While the fertilizer peddlers say the White House garden’s organic status causes them to “shudder,” Detroit-area gardener

Colleen Vanderlinden

counters: “Organic gardening has reached a level of…popularity that it so wholeheartedly deserves. The First Lady taking the step of putting in an organic garden at what is not only the White House, but the people’s house, rings not of some empty symbolic gesture, but of a sign that the tides are turning.” That is what really makes the chemical companies shudder.


Every year, American banks make billions of dollars in overdraft fees. In 2006 these individually small amounts netted $17.5 billion for the industry, and as the economy tanks, banks are expecting the bonanza to increase.

Banks automatically enroll their customers in overdraft loan programs, frequently without the option of declining. Once enrolled, the bank will cover the amount of a check even if your account is empty. The overdraft fees can reach $39 per check and are commonly incurred on multiple transactions simultaneously because of “high-to-low clearing”: the largest check is cleared first, bouncing any smaller checks that happen to clear the same day. With the use of debit cards, transactions can remain pending for days before clearing, greatly increasing the likelihood of such an unfortunate coincidence. As a result, the average overdraft is $17 while the average fee charged is $34.

Presented as a slap on the wrist for the occasional mistake, overdraft fees are actually a form of usury–small, extremely high-interest loans that target the underemployed and working poor. They are rarely a one- time occurrence. According to the

Center for Responsible Lending

(CRL), 75 percent of overdraft fees can be attributed to “chronic borrowers,” people whose finances compel them to treat this as short-term credit. CRL and

Americans for Fairness in Lending

are campaigning for the

Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act

, which was reintroduced in Congress by

Carolyn Maloney

on March 12. If the act passes, banks would no longer be able to automatically enroll customers in these programs, and the manipulative practice of high-to-low clearing would no longer be legal.   R.H. LOSSIN



George W. Bush

‘s lawyers claimed that the Geneva Conventions should be dismissed as “quaint” and “obsolete” and that the president could order torture abroad and warrantless wiretapping at home, Yale Law School dean

Harold Koh

and Indiana University law professor

Dawn Johnsen

were prominent among their critics. President

Barack Obama

has now nominated Koh and Johnsen to key posts–legal adviser to the State Department and head of the Office of Legal Counsel, respectively–to help restore respect for the rule of law. Yet conservatives have mounted campaigns to oppose the nominations.

What are they afraid of? Koh and Johnsen are the antithesis of

John Yoo


David Addington

, the lawyers who claimed almost monarchical power for Bush, but that should be a reason for celebration. Koh and Johnsen are skeptical about claims of unchecked authority, either by the president vis-à-vis the other branches or by the United States on the world stage. Some bloggers label such views “radical,” but they are only as radical as the Constitution’s framers, who feared the aggrandizement of presidential power and committed the new nation to respect for international law.

Some have charged that Koh would place international law above the Constitution. But that is a canard. He readily acknowledges the pre-eminence of constitutional law. He has argued that it is sometimes appropriate, when interpreting our Constitution, to look to international and foreign law for guidance– a view shared by the majority of the Supreme Court. The truly radical view is the one that lies behind those criticizing Koh and Johnsen, which claims that when it comes to the “war on terror,” the president can ignore not only international law, but our own system of checks and balances.   DAVID COLE


Some things change; others, it seems, may not. From 1982 to 1985, the Soviet government repeatedly denied

Stephen F. Cohen

–then a Nation columnist (“Sovieticus”) and now a New York University professor and Nation contributing editor–a visa to enter the country. The government’s complaints against Cohen included his associations with dissidents and survivors of Stalin’s gulag and his “falsifying of Soviet history.”

A quarter of a century later, Russian President

Dmitri Medvedev

bestowed on Cohen the highest state honor given to foreigners, the

Order of Friendship

, “for his large contribution to strengthening Russian-American cooperation.” (Other recent American recipients include

Donald Kendall

, co-founder and former CEO of PepsiCo, and

James H. Billington

, the Librarian of Congress.) The award was presented to Cohen in Moscow on March 19 by Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

. Cohen expressed his deep gratitude for the honor and agreed with Lavrov that there have been “positive signs” in US-Russian relations since the Obama administration took office. On the other hand, Cohen observed, his own contri- bution to improved relations has clearly been far from adequate, referring to the “new cold war” that has unfolded since the 1990s and that he’s described in his recent Nation articles.


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American Spirit

cigarettes and the organization


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