US Diary: some good things happened this year
1. Ten Good Things about Another Bad Year -- by Medea Benjamin
As we close this year, a year in which we were pummeled by the Iraq war, attacks on our civil rights and Mother Nature’s fury of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, there is no shortage of reasons to feel bruised and beaten. But to start the new year with a healthy determination to keep on fighting, we need to reflect on the good things that happened. And there are plenty.
One continent alone - South America - could provide more than ten examples of wonderful progressive victories, but I’ll just list some of the highlights.
1. Hugo Chavez has shown how an oil-rich nation can use the country’s wealth to provide education, health care and small business opportunities for its people — and we here in the US have discovered an oil company we can feel good about buying gas from: Venezuela’s CITGO.
2. Bolivians have, for the first time in their history, elected an indigenous president, Evo Morales. The former llama farmer and coca grower has fought against “free trade” and the privatization of his nation’s resources, and has brought new hope to indigenous people throughout the continent.
3. Anti-war activists—who once represented a much-maligned minority—now represent the majority of Americans who agree that the war in Iraq was a mistake and the troops should come home as soon as possible. And with Cindy Sheehan and Cong. Jack Murtha, we finally had spokespeople the mainstream media listened to!
4. In an historic blow to the Bush administration’s five-year attempt to destroy the Kyoto Protocol, the climate summit in Montreal ended with even stronger measures to combat global warming. At home, nearly 200 cities are taking their own Kyoto-type actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
5. The Senate ended the year with a spurt of defiance, refusing to permanently extend the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, blocking the Republican maneuver to attach Arctic oil drilling to a defense spending bill, and passing John McCain’s anti-torture amendment.
6. Despite a concerted offensive to lift the president’s sagging public support, George Bush’s approval ratings are still below 50%, his economic agenda (from the privatization of social security to the repeal of the estate tax) has unraveled, key cronies from Lewis Libby to Tom DeLay have fallen from grace, and 2006 might just put impeachment back into the congressional lexicon.
7. Labor, community activists and women’s groups have mounted a spirited campaign against the behemoth of behemoths, Walmart. And a California jury awarded $172 million to thousands of employees at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who were denied such basic rights as lunch breaks, with 40 similar lawsuits pending in other states.
8. With the wild swings in gas prices, SUV sales have plummeted (Ford Explorer down 52%, Chevrolet Suburban down 46%), the sale of hybrids has doubled, and the US House of Representatives actually held a forum on the “peak oil theory”.
9. In a great win for farmworkers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers forced the fast food giant Taco Bell to raise the price for picking tomatoes (nearly doubling many workers' salaries) and now they’re ready to take on an even bigger bully: McDonald's.
10. The global movement for peace and justice proved it was alive and kicking: witness Argentina during the Free Trade Agreement meetings, Hong Kong around the World Trade Organization ministerial, and the ongoing rallies against the war. The steady growth of the fair trade movement also shows that we are not just protesting, but we’re also building a more sustainable economy.
Let’s make 2006 the year we broke the right wing tide, refused to give pro-war, free trade Democrats a free ride, and built a “people’s movement” with some muscle to it. We might just get some lessons from our southern neighbors. If Mexico City's progressive mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador becomes Mexico’s next president, Latin America’s revolutionary fervor will be smack up against the Texas border. Que viva el poder popular en 2006!
(Medea Benjamin ( email@example.com ) is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace.)
2. From The Nation: A Year of Sweet Victories -- by Katrina vanden Heuvel
In the dark days after the election of 2004, the mainstream media was touting the making of a permanent rightward shift, and the progressive community was deeply deflated. It was difficult, in those times, to maintain a sense of hope--as corruption, war, lies and injustices large and small loomed all around, and outrage about the Right's assault on our democracy threatened to overwhelm us.
A year later, the dark and menacing clouds that hovered over The Nation 's November 2, 2004 cover ("Four More Years") seem to be slowly lifting. Millions of us are organizing, agitating, mobilizing--and there are many hard-fought victories to celebrate.The attempt to destroy Social Security has been successfully blocked, the movement for withdrawal has captured the majority of the public's support, the mainstream media is slowly rousing from its slumbers, the White House's surveillance state is being revealed, there is talk of impeachment in the air, Vice President for Torture Cheney suffered a stinging rebuke when John McCain's torture ban passed, the GOP is mired in corruption and cronyism ( "Jack Abramoff seems to have the whole party on his payroll,"Katha Pollitt writes in her end of year review for The Nation), and scores of local, statewide, and national victories have been won. Here are some of my favorite "sweet victories" of '05--to savor as we head into 2006.
Portland, Oregon becomes the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections.
Connecticut passes the strongest campaign finance reform bill in the country, banning contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. Additionally, the legislation creates a publicly funded election system encompassing all statewide races, including House and Senate seats (also a first).
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Maine becomes the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education.
Residents of Topeka, Kansas rejected Fred "Got Hates Fags" Phelps' attempt to overturn the city's ordinance banning discrimination of gays in municipal hiring. And in the city council primary, Phelps' granddaughter and fellow anti-gay activist, Jael Phelps, lost big to Topeka's first and only openly gay council member, Tiffany Muller.
Massachusetts General Hospital announced the creation of the Disparities Solution Center--the first institution specifically dedicated to bridging the racial gap in health care service.
Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to thousands of Iowans, reversing an unjust state law that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for anyone convicted of a felony. Reform was badly needed in Iowa, where, despite the state's two percent black population, 25 percent of those affected by the disenfranchisement law were African-American--the highest percentage in the country. In March, Nebraska also overturned its lifetime disenfranchisement law for convicted felons, and currently only four states--Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia--continue to uphold this absurdly punitive law.
Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn the USA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not to mention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislature passed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Act yet.
Environment and Health
California's Safe Cosmetics Bill is signed into law. The bill--which requires manufacturers to disclose to the California's Department of Health Services any product ingredients linked to cancer, mutations, or birth defects--is the first of its kind in America.
Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier three--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Apollo Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.
Colorado passes the Renewable Energy Initiative. A precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, the bill requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.
New York City agrees to issue taxi medallions for hybrid cars, the latest in a string of victories for the "Green Fleets" movement. Earlier, legislators in Charlotte, NC voted to hybridize the city's municipal fleet, and Denver, Seattle, and Madison have also made strides in converting their fleets to green.
Labor and Economic Rights
Vermont, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin vote to raise state minimum wages. Meanwhile, the national minimum wage has remained stagnant for nine years, the second longest period in U.S. history.
In California, an Alameda County judge ordered uniform giant Cintas to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of back wages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scale enforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a class action suit."
Students at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Washington University of St. Louis stage protests and convince administrators to provide a living wage for university employees.
After a massive three-year boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agrees to improve working conditions for its tomato pickers in Florida, increasing their wages by paying an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked.
Maryland passes the Fair Share Health Care Act, requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies in the state to provide health benefits for employees. Throughout the year, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart--who helped get the bill passed--wage a tireless campaign to reform Wal-Mart, forcing the retail behemoth into P.R. crisis mode.
Antiwar & Peace Movement
Chicago's City Council votes 29 to 9 to become the largest US city to pass the "Bring Them Home Now" resolution. The Windy City joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento and more than fifty other municipalities that have called for withdrawal.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus--comprised of the strongest anti-war voices in Washington--gets in gear, hiring Hill veteran Bill Gould as its first full-time staffer.
The United Methodist Church and the Union for Reform Judaism pass resolutions calling for withdrawal.
Let's dance, sing and laugh on New Year's eve -- and celebrate these victories and the organized efforts behind them. But let's also admit that there's little time for pause. Much important work remains to be done and many critical battles loom ahead for all those who wish to rebuild America into a country we can be proud of once again.
(As of January 2006, The Nation will chronicle "Sweet Victories" as a regular feature in the magazine. If you have a victory you'd like to share with us, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. And with many thanks to my co-conspirator on this project--writer and documentary filmmaker Sam Graham-Felsen.)
3. Heroes and Goats of 2005 -- by Gary Alan Scott
As we look forward to the New Year, it is well to remember the public figures that have distinguished themselves.
1. Sen. Russell Feingold, the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act and the one who led the fight to block its sequel. In this tradition of independence and integrity, we should also include Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa), Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT), and Sen. Robert Byrd, the eldest statesman in the Senate, who is still on target. I applaud these leaders for their courage and honesty. Keep holding the administration accountable!
2. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Ronnie Earle for bringing I. Scooter Libby and Tom Delay to justice for their criminal behavior. Keep digging and bringing the cabal to justice!
3. Cindy Sheehan, the catalyst for an antiwar movement that was on life support before this grieving mother with her "no-holds-barred" way of expressing herself camped out in George W. Bush's back yard! Rebecca Solnit called her "the antiwar Movement's second chance." Sheehan demanded an explanation for the death of her son (and so many others), and she dogged Bush throughout the summer, refusing to allow him to evade or ignore the consequences of his actions. "He can run, but he can't hide!"
4. Jessica Lange and Etan Thomas for their speeches at the protest rally in Washington D.C. in October, which featured the sign carried by a Hurricane Katrina survivor that read, "No Iraqi Ever Left Me on a Roof to Die" Keep telling the truth and exposing the evil that is this occupation!
5. The reasonable and good citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania who voted out the school board members that wanted to replace science with mythology. The religious right demonizes Darwin but they sure seem to love social Darwinism!
6. Seymour Hersh of the New York Times for being the first journalist to report on the increasingly indiscriminate, lethal, and potentially sectarian U.S. air war against Iraq. From My Lai to Iraq, Hersh again breaks an important story where others do not dare to tread.
7. All of the good and responsible journalists who strive for independence, aver spurious balance, and speak truth to power. For a list, see Danny Schechter's December 18 article on this site, entitled: "The Envelope Please: It's Time to Honor our Media Heroes" and I would add one name Schechter omitted: Tom Engelhardt (TomDispatch.com). Thomas Jefferson was right: it would be better to have a free press with no government than a government with no free press!
8. The Christian Peacemakers Teams for their unbelievable courage, sacrifice and commitment to peace and justice. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
9. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Sec. of State, Colin Powell's aide, for exposing the Cheney-Libby-Rumsfeld-Rove cabal that made decisions, apparently without the approval, and sometimes even without the knowledge, of the President. He should be applauded especially for recalling Gen. Tommy Franks' description of former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, whom Franks called "the f---ing stupidest guy on the planet." You go, sir.
10. The Code Pink Movement, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) the Appalachia Science in the Public Interest (ASPI), and the women taking on Wal-Mart across the country. We all owe much gratitude to these and many other civic groups whose work is ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. Your service is appreciated!
THE GOATS: (an abbreviated list)
1. George W. Bush for his stubbornness, lack of compassion, duplicity, incompetence, and secrecy. You have brought shame to the office and disrepute to our country's values. No President is above the law!
2. The Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld-Libby cabal for their dirty tricks, lawbreaking, and recalcitrance. Keep digging, Mr. Prosecutor!
3. The nine Republican Senators who voted against the ban on torture, which passed 90-9 (with Sen. Corzine absent). They are: Allard (R-CO), Bond, (R-MO), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Cornyn (R-TX), Inhofe (R-OK), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), and Stevens (R-AK). Shame on all of you! There will be a quiz on the constitution after recess.
4. Rep. Tom ("The Hammer") DeLay for his brazen disrespect for constitutional democracy, for breaking Texas' campaign finance laws, and for his pathetic performance in the Terri Schiavo case. You shall be judged by the company you keep.
5. Sen. Bill ("One-Eyed Bill") Frist for shady, likely insider-trading of his HCA stock. A little prison time was good for Martha, so I'm sure it will be good for you!
6. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for accepting bribes and being yet one more elected "public servant" selling his country for personal gain. Let this be an example for the friends of the likes of Michael Scanlon and Jack Abramoff! May you reap what you have sown.
7. DHB, the company that manufactured and sold to the U.S. military what were supposed to be "bullet-proof vests", until the Marine Corps Times revealed that the vests experienced "multiple complete penetrations". The company's President and CEO, David H. Brooks used $10 million of his war profits to throw a Bat-Mitzvah for his daughter. No punishment is too severe for you!
8. The Democratic Party, especially Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, for being wimpy, wishy-washy wafflers. Sen. Kerry didn't even have the fortitude to challenge the voting irregularities in the 2004 election and a Hillary nomination in 2008 would be a Republican's dream come true. Oh, and Hillary, pray tell, did Bill inhale before going on the Dec. 9 Larry King show with Bush 41?
9. The U.S. Election System (and the Democrats again) that cannot seem to verify vote counts in order to hold free and fair elections (in 2000, 2004, and 2005). It really doesn't matter who runs nor who is nominated in 2008 if the vote tallies are left up to the right-wing cyber-thieves. Bring on the U.N. election monitors and the Carter Center. We must demand paper back-ups to allow for recounts!
10. Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, and generally, the mainstream, advertising-saturated, trivial, corporate, insider media. Unembed yourselves!
11. FEMA and Cronyism. Gee, who knew that a party that believes government is the problem and does everything possible to undermine government would turn out to be poor governors? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!
(Dr. Gary Alan Scott is a philosophy professor at Loyola College in Maryland. He is currently the Director of Loyola's International Nachbahr Huis in Leuven, Belgium. You can email him at email@example.com)
4. The Most Valuable Progressives of 2005 -- by John Nichols
It is hard to complain about a year that began with George Bush bragging about spending the "political capital" he felt he had earned with his dubious reelection and ended with the president drowning in the Nixonian depths of public disapproval.
But the circumstance didn't just get better.
A handful of elected officials, activist groups and courageous citizens bent the arc of history toward justice.
Here are this one columnist's picks for the Most Valuable Progressives of 2005:
MVP - US Senate:
This is an easy category. While California Democrat Barbara Boxer deserves credit for refusing to go along with the certification of the dubious presidential election results from Ohio, and Arizona Republican John McCain merits praise for forcing the administration to back down from its pro-torture stance, there's no question that Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold was the essential senator of 2005. He was the first member of the chamber to call for a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq - a stance that initially was ridiculed but ultimately drew support from many of Feingold's fellow Democrats and even a few Republicans. And he ended the year by forging a bipartisan coalition that beat back the Bush administration's demand for the long-term extension of the Patriot Act, scoring one of the most significant wins for civil liberties that Congress has seen in years.
MVP - US House:
There are plenty of members of the House who deserve credit for standing up to the administration on critical issues - from Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, who led the fight against Central American Free Trade Agreement, to Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who was the point man in the battle to fix the Patriot Act, to North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, who courageously broke with the administration to oppose the war. And, of course, there was Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, the decorated Vietnam veteran who forced the House to get serious about the war he called for a speedy withdrawal. But the essential member of the House in 2005 was Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the ranking member of his party on the Judiciary Committee. No one used their bully pulpit better in 2005 than Conyers, who gathered damning information about electoral irregularities in the 2004 Ohio presidential voting and then led the challenge to the certification of the results, held hearings on the Downing Street Memo's revelations regarding the Bush administration's doctoring of pre-war intelligence, and ended the year by moving resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for lying to Congress and the American people - and to set up a committee to examine the issue of impeachment.
MVP - Executive Branch:
Yes, there was one. It's Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the retired US Army colonel who served as chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell until Powell exited the State Department in January, 2005. After leaving his position, Wilkerson began revealing the dark secrets of the Bush-Cheney interregnum, telling a New America Foundation gathering in October that during his years in the administration: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." Wilkerson warned that, with "a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either," the country is headed in an exceptionally dangerous direction. "I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita and I could go on back, we haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time," Wilkerson explained. "And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence." That is truth telling of a quality and a scope all too rarely witnessed in the Washington of Bush and Cheney.
MVP - Law Enforcement Branch:
While Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald deserved all the headlines and the credit he got for indicting I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the now former chief-of-staff for Vice President Dick Cheney and a key player in faking up the "case" for war with Iraq, Fitzgerald's work is just beginning. His most important indictments are yet to come. The prosecutor who took the greatest risks and who secured the most consequential indictment of 2005 was Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who brought down House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The man who ran Congress for most of the Bush years has not been convicted - yet - but DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader and no one who watches Washington thinks he will ever regain that position. Earle got his man, and began the long process of cleansing a Congress that, after all these years of being run by a pest-control specialist, is in serious need of fumigation.
MVP - Citizen Branch:
In August, when Democrats leaders in Washington were still talking about working with the Bush administration on Iraq - effectively leaving Americans who were growing increasingly ill-at-ease about the war without a voice in the chambers of power - the mother of a slain soldier followed Bush to his Crawford, Texas, ranchette and asked him to take a few minutes away from his month-long vacation to talk about the quagmire. Cindy Sheehan put the issue of the war back at the forefront of the national agenda, forcing even the dysfunctional White House press corps to start covering dissenters and getting D.C. Democrats to wake up to the reality that the American people had lost faith in the president and his military misadventure.
MVP - Watchdog Branch:
The media did a slightly better job of monitoring political wrongdoing in 2005 than it did during the first four years of the Bush-Cheney presidency - when it actually would have mattered. But the real work of exposing the misdeeds of the administration is still being done by activist groups. And the most inspired of these in 2005 was After Downing Street, the coalition of groups that describes itself as "working to expose the lies that launched the war and to hold accountable its architects, including through censure and impeachment." In conjunction with Progressive Democrats of America, the able activist group that seeks to create an actual opposition party in America, After Downing Street is pushing the political envelope in exactly the direction it needs to go. Check out their website and keep ahead of the action in 2006.
(John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.)