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A Safe Haven for Torturers

Yesterday's indictment of Roy Belfast, Jr. aka Charles "Chuckie" Taylor, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, was understandably applauded by human rights groups. Taylor was the head of Liberia's Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU), which according to Human Rights Watch "committed torture, including various violent assaults, rape, beating people to death and burning civilians alive." Taylor was indicted by a grand jury in Miami under a federal law (18 USC sections 2340A and 2441) that allows the US to prosecute citizens (Taylor was born in Boston) who commit torture abroad. His arrest and indictment is an act of justice. But don't hold your breath waiting for more torture prosecutions.

Last May, the UN Torture Committee slammed the US for limiting prosecution of torture to extraterritorial cases and for failing to prosecute even those acts that fall under its jurisdiction. Indeed, to date, Taylor's indictment is the first and only case in the law's 12-year history. Moreover, the Military Commissions Act (aka the torture bill) passed by Congress this fall essentially legalizes all but the worst forms of torture in the war on terror, ensuring that US interrogators, contractors and higher-ups are immune from prosecution. Taylor stands accused of burning his victim with a hot iron and scalding water, electrically shocking genitalia and other body parts and rubbing salt into his victim's wounds. These acts appear to constitute the "serious physical pain or suffering" prohibited by the torture bill, but the administration has made it abundantly clear that waterboarding, extreme sensory deprivation (see the Padilla case) and other techniques do not. And when Congress passed the Military Commission Act, it (and by extension the American people) agreed.

In a press release announcing Taylor's indictment, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, who heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE), said "This is a clear message that the United States will not be a safe haven for human rights violators."

It will take more than one case to prove to the world that we, a nation of torturers, are not a safe haven for human rights violators.

Jesse Jackson: Dems Must Hold Bush to Account

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is prodding the incoming Democratic Congress to take more seriously its duty to hold President Bush and members of his administration to account for engaging in abuses of power that overtly and aggressively affront the strict controls on executive power detailed in the Constitution.

"How do we hold presidents accountable when they trample these limits?" asks Jackson. "Presidents cannot be indicted. They are immune from civil lawsuits on the basis of their official actions. The only recourse in the Constitution is impeachment."

The two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who remains an influential player within the party and in the broader progressive movement acknowledges that soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has been saying that the question of impeaching the president is "off the table." He recognizes that most of Washington's political and media elites are ill at ease with talk of accountability in general and of impeachment in particular. And he admits to a measure of personal caution -- rooted in memories of abuses of the impeachment process by Republican critics of former President Bill Clinton -- with regard to the remedy recommended by the founders for the controlling errant executives.

Jackson is not saying that a new Democratic Congress should rush to impeach a Republican president.

"But in the current circumstances, the question isn't merely rhetorical or partisan," he argues in a provocative assessment of the impeachment debate offered in advance of the pro-impeachment rallies and forums that are being organized for Sunday by activists across the country.

"While in office, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted an extraordinary array of extra-constitutional powers," he explains. "Bush argues that he has the right to declare war on his own. He claims he can designate any American an ‘enemy combatant.' For those under that suspicion, he claims the right to wiretap them without warrants, arrest them without charges, detain them without lawyers, torture them without judicial review and hold them until the war ends. He also says that neither Congress nor the public has any right to review his decisions, or to gain access to the papers that he chooses to keep secret. Because Bush himself says the war on terror will last for decades, the scope of this assertion is staggering."

Using powers that were never afforded by the founders to the executive branch, Jackson notes, "Bush and his men drove us into the war of choice in Iraq, distorting intelligence to gain public support and undermining our credibility across the world. His policies led directly to the disgraces of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. His assertions have trampled the rights of American citizens, as well as those from other countries. Lack of accountability squandered billions in taxpayer dollars on waste, fraud and abuse of major contractors in Iraq. The list goes on."

Referencing the concerns expressed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison about the prospect that an out-of-control executive might impose an "elective despotism" on the United States and serve as "a king for four years," Jackson bluntly states that, "Bush's remarkable assertions would make the president an elected king. That is not what the founders intended. They wrote the Constitution to create a system of checks and balances to limit presidential power. They gave Congress the right to declare war, arguing that 'no one man' should ever have that power in a republic. They passed the Bill of Rights to guarantee rights to the people."

Jackson's got his history right. The founders created the system of checks and balances -- including the impeachment option -- with an eye toward preventing presidents from unleashing "the dogs of war" and toward sanctioning them when they use the excuse of foreign conflict to undermine domestic liberties.

Jackson's also right when he suggests in a column for the Chicago Sun-Times that, "The Democratic Congress has a duty to the Constitution to investigate Bush's claims to be above the law."

While the veteran civil rights leader acknowledges that Representative John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who will take change of the House Judiciary Committee "may well put off any consideration of impeachment" for the time being, he asserts that Conyers "has a duty to convene serious hearings on the scope of the president's claims, the abuses to the Constitution and to citizens resulting from those claims, and the remedies to them."

Jackson does not suggest that the establishment of a case for impeachment must be the initial goal of these inquiries, nor that they should necessarily lead to an effort to remove the president from office before the end of his current term. But Jackson argues well and wisely that appropriate inquiries must be undertaken, that appropriate questions must be asked, and that "Congress must act to defend the Constitution before America turns completely into an elected dictatorship."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by author Gore Vidal as "essential reading for patriots." David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, says: "With The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Only a Rainbow Will Win

This past Election Day, Netta Young-Hughes attempted to become the first African-American to represent Pennsylvania's 70th district in the state House. She lost by just over 100 votes in a district that is 60 percent white Republican.

Young-Hughes' margin of defeat is testament to her strength as a candidate – even more so when one considers that she confronted some of the worst race-baiting and intimidation tactics on the national scene. Death threats to both her and her staff; widespread reports of voter suppression; and the physical assault of a white, female volunteer who had signed a sworn statement saying that she heard Young-Hughes' opponent tell voters at the polls, "Netta is just a nigger. She doesn't deserve to win."

Progressive Majority – an organization dedicated exclusively to electing progressives at the state and local level – worked closely with Young-Hughes as part of its Racial Justice Campaign. The Racial Justice Campaign recruits and trains progressive candidates of color to run in key races nationwide. It works with its candidates on everything from speechwriting to staffing to GOTV efforts. Pennsylvania State Director for Progressive Majority – Lewis Thomas, III – said that Young-Hughes' opponent used race as a wedge issue from the start.

"Not everyone knew she was a black woman," Lewis says. "So [her opponent] made a concerted effort to make sure white conservative voters knew." Lewis said that her opponent's campaign mailings even used doctored photos to make the light-skinned Young-Hughes appear to have a darker complexion. And despite Young-Hughes' record of service throughout the county, opposition mailings suggested that she only served Norristown--a majority African-American district.

"Race is still at the forefront of American politics," Lewis says. "People still vote – or change their vote – based on race."

Racial Justice Campaign Director, Malia Lazu, agrees. On a national scale, she viewed "immigration as the new Willy Horton… sending a message of ‘Mexicans run amok.'" Lazu cites a race for the state House in Colorado where a Republican candidate – Ramey Johnson, who is white – sent out a flyer featuring two photographs: one of Ramey with two white voters and the caption "She's on OUR Side!"; the other depicting a handcuffed Latino man on the ground and the caption "Re-Elect Ramey!"

With candidates of color facing extreme personal attacks – as well as race-bating and voter suppression tactics – it can be very challenging to persuade the best potential candidates to run. Progressive Majority is starting a new mentorship program so that potential candidates can work with other leaders and politicians who have been in the same boat. Lazu, Lu-Hanley and Thomas all spoke of insufficient support from the Democratic Party in helping candidates of color and PM is working to fill that void.

"If Democrats want to continue to win then the party needs to do a better job embracing diversity and facing these tough issues," Lazu says. "Do they want to keep targeting independent and swing voters? Or do they want to reach the 50 percent of people who aren't voting and minority voters who – when they vote – vote Democrat 90 percent of the time? The rainbow is the only way to win."

There are also numerous reports of Democratic state legislators failing to support progressive challengers if there is an existing collegial relationship with an incumbent Republican. There needs to be more seriousness of purpose and commitment to building winning, diverse coalitions.

Thomas says that prior to Progressive Majority entering the Young-Hughes race in August she was receiving no mainstream support or resources from the state Democratic party. "She was a spectacular candidate," Thomas says, "but they didn't think she could win."

He said he was reminded of a time when he worked for potential Senate candidate Barack Obama. Thomas sat in on a meeting between Obama and the State Party Chair who stated that the party would never support Obama – for the sole reason that whites would never vote for him given their disappointment with former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun.

"By that logic," Thomas says, "any time people are disappointed by a white representative they'll never vote for another white candidate." According to Thomas, Obama was only selected as a candidate worthy of support after every other viable white candidate was rejected.

"How do we begin to head those kinds of sentiments off? How do we get people to make decisions based on our common humanity? How do we as a party take a leading role in making race a non-issue?" Thomas asks.

In Pennsylvania, the Montgomery County District Attorney is still investigating the threats and the assault in the Young-Hughes race. And Lewis says the candidate will run again in 2008 with a lot more preparation and a lot more support. But it is clear from this contest and so many others that our nation –and the Democratic Party – still has much to grapple with in battling racism.

Dems Bite Rubin's Hand

Robert Rubin, the reigning guru on economic policy for the Democraticparty, got a stiff surprise when he appeared today beforethe closed caucus meeting of House Democrats. A bunch of Democrats,including several of the new freshmen, challenged the former Treasurysecretary--instead of listening reverently to Rubin's standard pitchfor free trade and balanced budgets.

David Sirota had a source inside the caucus and reports on the blowback.Indiana freshman Rep. Joe Donnelly told about the Delphi employees in hisdistrict whose wages have been broken from $21 to $9 an hour, theirpension obligations dumped on the government and jobs shipped offshore--thanks to Rubin's "free trade" system. "What do you say to that?"Donnelly asked.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell unloaded on Rubin, linking the loss ofAmerica's manufacturing base to national security. Freshman Rep. NancyBoyda of Kansas reportedly tore into NAFTA, the trade agreement Rubin shepherdedthrough Congress for the Clinton administration. Ohio Rep. Marcy Kapturrecalled the US trade deficit was $70 billion when Rubinomics waslaunched in 1993 and $370 billion at the end of the Clinton presidency(it is now $700 billion and rising).

I have no details on Robert Rubin's responses except that another sourceinside the caucus says Rubin begged off the negative questions byobserving that the trade issue is "complicated." One House memberreportedly growled that trade may be complicated, but losing your job isnot complicated.

This is a small moment in the new life of the Democratic party, but itis a good moment and, one hopes, the harbinger of more to come.

Big Pharma Against AIDS

Last Friday I wrote about some good ways to mark World AIDS Day on December 1. Well, I missed something, which The Nation's well-read Controller just pointed out, and it's worth sharing since the program is on-going.

Bristol-Myers, the huge Big Pharma company, is devoting an (undoubtedly small) portion of its marketing budget to a website which raises money for the National AIDS Fund. You just need to click here and take one simple action. Then, Bristol-Myers will donate one dollar to the AIDS Fund on your behalf. You can only do this once per email address.

I'm typically very cynical about corporate ploys like this, which seem to be conceived much more as public relations tools for the company in question rather than as civic-minded efforts to combat social ills. Nonetheless, why not help Bristol-Myers burnish its image if the concrete result of the program is that a significant amount of money will be donated to a good cause? It only takes ten seconds.

Baker Report Slaps Bush, Takes the Middle Ground

James Baker did not enter the Senate committee room bearing two tablets. But the Bush clan adviser and former secretary of state had high expectations to meet Wednesday morning when he and his fellow commissioners of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group publicly disclosed at a Capitol Hill press conference their collective wisdom on how to fix George W. Bush's war in Iraq--if, as they more than once noted, that's possible. Baker and his colleagues presented no surprises--given a week's worth of leaks about the report's findings. But they made it official: the Washington establishment has judged Bush's management of the war a failure.

No such bold statement exists in the 142-page report. And before the scores of reporters and dozens of camera crews, Baker, former Representative Lee Hamilton, and the eight other ISG poohbahs offered no harsh words for the fellow Baker got into the White House. Yet the report is unequivocal. "The situation in Iraq," it says, "is grave and deteriorating," and the Bush administration must "pursue different policies."

Citing such statements, I asked Democratic power-lawyer Vernon Jordan, one of the commisioners, if the report is an outright repudiation of Bush's handling of the war. Flashing a wide smile, he replied, "That's implicit." Baker has politely sent a message to Bush the Younger: you screwed up.

The report is both a political and policy document. By declaring that Bush's current approach is misguided, the Baker-Hamilton commission creates greater space for a debate over alternatives. Its report undermines Bush's recent claims that "we're winning" in Iraq and that he has "a strategy for victory." You're not and you don't, the report retorts (between the lines). This slap from Baker and the other Republican members (former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Senator Alan Simpson, and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger) is significant. When has such a group of Washington influentials offered a stinging indictment--even if gently--of the defining mission of a president from their own party? This report comes close to being a vote of no confidence from the Republican elite.

Having dismissed Bush's prosecution of the war, Baker and his comrades try to fill the vacuum with 79 mostly middle-of-the-road policy recommendations. They do not side with the withdrawalists who urge initiating disengagement immediately or within months. ("Precipitous withdrawal," Baker maintained, "could lead to a blood bath and wider regional war.") They do not endorse the proposal from neoconservatives and Senator John McCain for dispatching more troops to Iraq. ("Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq," the report says, adding, "we do not have the troops.") They do not support dividing Iraq into parts. ("It could not be managed on an orderly basis," Baker said, and partition could cause "a humanitarian disaster or broad-based civil war.")

The commission calls for a pullback of combat troops by the first quarter of 2008--"subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground"--as part of shifting the U.S. military mission from combat to training and support operations. (Bush, the commission notes, should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.) This mission switch, according to the commission, must occur in tandem with a "diplomatic offensive to build consensus for stability in Iraq and the region"--an effort that would include approaching Iran and Syria and seeking "a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts." The Baker gang proposes creating an Iraq International Support Group that would involve all countries bordering Iraq and other nations in the region and world. The commission also recommends that the United States pressure the Iraqi government concerning "milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance." The report lists various benchmarks Washington should demand of the Iraqis, including passing a law governing oil revenue sharing (by early 2007), completing "reconciliation efforts" (by May 2007), gaining control of the army (by April 2007), and appreciating the value of the Iraqi dinar by 10 percent to combat inflation (by the end of this year). And the pressure must be explicit. If the Iraqi government does not make "substantial progress," the report notes, the Bush administration "should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the government."

Is all this truly "a better way forward," as the report puts it? It certainly is better than the muddle-through approach of the Bush administration. The report lays out specific ways the US military should attempt to improve the training of Iraqi security forces--mainly by increasing the number of U.S. military personnel embedded with Iraqi units. And withdrawing combat troops is a key part of the plan. But one can easily pick apart the fundamental recommendations. The US military has already trained 300,000 Iraqi troops and police officers--or so Vice President Dick Cheney claims--and the program has been a failure. The report cites "significant questions" about the abilities and loyalties of Iraqi units. "The state of the Iraqi police is substantially worse than that of the Iraqi army," the ISG concludes. Is there reason to believe that a new round of training of security forces in this highly fractured state can be done in a manner that works?

The same goes for other recommendations. The report urges both supporting and applying pressure on "the Iraqi government." Is Bush nimble enough to do this? More important, is the Iraqi government truly a working and viable entity that can be effectively assisted and nudged simultaneously? "Key players within the government too often act in their sectarian interest," the report says. "Iraq's Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders frequently fail to demonstrate the political will to act in Iraq's national interest, and too many Iraqi ministries lack the capacity to govern effectively." It adds that sectarian militias "are currently seen as legitimate vehicles of political action." The report sums up a primary obstacle:

Sunni politicians told us that the U.S. military has to take on the militias; Shia politicians told us that the U.S. military has to help them take out the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda. Each side watches the other. Sunni insurgents will not lay down arms unless the Shia militias are disarmed. Shia militias will not disarm until the Sunni insurgency is destroyed. To put it simply: there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms.

How to break this deadlock? The report does not say. And Baker conceded that Iran might have no interest in participating in a diplomatic endeavor designed to stabilize Iraq. He was more optimistic about Syria: "With respect to Syria, there's some strong indications that they would be in a position if we were able to enter into a constructive dialogue, that they could--would be in a position to help us and might want to help us."

At the press conference, Baker, Hamilton and Company discussed political divisions in the United States more than they did those in Iraq. They repeatedly echoed the report's call for the forging of a bipartisan political consensus on Iraq. Baker, the commissions and their report point to the divisive debate within the United States as a critical problem. Whether that's so or not, they left untouched a bigger matter: will Bush listen (to them or anyone else) and chart a different course?

The commissioner met with Bush prior to the press conference, and Hamilton said he was "immensely pleased today when President Bush indicated to us that this report presents to the American people a common opportunity to deal with the problems in Iraq." But the report is more than an "opportunity." It's a specific plan resting on ideas Bush and his aides have already shoved aside. The Bush White House has indicated it has no interest in discussing the Iraq mess with Iran and Syria. Bush has repeatedly stuck with an open-ended commitment: US troops will stay in Iraq until the mission is completed. The Baker commission--as limited as its recommendations may be--is asking Bush to change policy in a dramatic fashion. Does Bush, one reporter asked, "have the capacity to pull a 180?" Baker replied, "I never put presidents I work for on the couch."

But--couch or no couch--that is the question. Bush's intentions are more important than the middle-of-the-road/give-it-one-more-shot particulars of the ISG recommendations. The commission is going out of business. Its members will be testifying before various congressional panels in the weeks and months ahead. But they will not be pressing Bush in any organized way to adopt their proposals--or to alter his own approach. What matters more than the merits of Recommendation No. 37 ("Iraqi amnesty proposals must not be undercut in Washington by either the executive or the legislative branch") is whether Bush accepts the report's fundamentals--Iraq is getting worse and his policies have failed--and whether he is willing to reconsider what to do in Iraq.

At the press conference, Baker talked about improving the "chances for success," not about victory. "We stayed away" from using the word "victory," he said. Hamilton observed, "I don't know if [Iraq] can be turned around." No one connected to the commission positioned him- or herself as a policy savior. "There is no guarantee for success in Iraq," the Baker report says, noting that "the ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out." Baker readily acknowledges his panel's recommendations might not do the trick. There's little hubris within the report.

On the first page, the panel notes, "Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support." That suggests "our leaders"--meaning the president--has not been so. To their credit, the ISG commissioners frankly concede--all too willingly--that their proposals might not work. But now that the Baker report is finally done and the Bush family's Mr. Fixit has declared no magical solution exists, the Iraq debate reverts to the basics: can Bush candidly admit Iraq is a debacle and can he ponder meaningful alternatives to the present course? For that question, there's no answer from the wise men (and one wise woman) of Baker's study group.

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

A Very Bad Idea

There are some sound ideas contained in the Iraq Study Group report that was finally released after weeks of leaks this morning. The confirmation that the circumstance in Iraq is "grave" and rapidly deteriorating, while not exactly news, is important -- especially coming a day after President Bush's nominee for secretary of defense acknowledged that the United States is most definitely not "winning" the war in Iraq. For those in the Bush administration and its media echo chamber who as recently as a few days ago were prattling on about how successful the mission really is, this is a necessary dose of reality.

So, too, is the recognition by the ISG members that, "The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regional instability." The reports call for an intense and comprehensive diplomatic initiative to resolve disputes between the Israelis and the Palestinian inserts regional realism into a discussion that has been largely devoid of that essential component.

The same goes for the emphasis on diplomacy, particularly as regards relations with Syria and Iran, that is the critical focus of the report from the commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. If there is to be a serious exit strategy for U.S. forces, it is going to require support and involvement from other countries in the region.

But, for all the encouraging bows toward reality that can be found in the 142-page-long report, "The Way Forward: A New Approach," there are also some deeply troubling proposals contained the 79 recommendations made by Baker, Hamilton and their compatriots. This is especially true of a core recommendation of the report: "The primary mission of U.S. forces should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army."

On the surface, and especially coming in the context of the suggestion that the U.S. military presence in Iraq should be drawn down, that may sound smart. In reality, it's a recipe for more disaster.

The report says, "By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

So far, so good.

But, the report then adds, "At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue."

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, who has written extensively on the Iraq imbroglio, says, embedding U.S. troops in this manner creates "tens of thousands of hostages in uniform."

Actually, that's a nice way of putting it.

Considering the condition of the Iraqi Army -- which could charitably be described as "fully dysfunctional" -- and the likelihood that if the Iraqi military moves into a more high-profile position its units will become the primary targets of the insurgency, this scheme could actually get more Americans killed. In particular, it could set up precisely the sort of "Blackhawk Down" scenarios where very bad things happen to Americans, and those developments then become excuses for dispatching more U.S. troops to danger zones. In effect, the embedding of substantial numbers of Americans in Iraqi military units could establish the slippery slope on which positive steps toward the withdrawal of U.S. forces end up being reversed.

Perhaps worst of all, the embedding of U.S. troops within Iraqi units opens up the prospect that Americans will come to be seen as siding with the ethnic grouping that eventually will dominate the military. If that happens, the choice to embed U.S. units could harm rather than help prospects for diplomatic solutions, as it will stir concerns among neighboring countries that are aligned with -- or, at least, sympathetic to -- Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities.

James Baker says that staying the course in Iraq is "no longer viable."

He's right. But the key is to make a proper change of course -- one that aims for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country -- rather than one that could, as remarkable as this may seem, make things worse.

John Nichols covered the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 and has reported extensively from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and other Middle East countries.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

The People's Iraq Study Group

As of this morning, new polling data about American public opinion on Iraq is on the table. The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), through its WorldPublicOpinion.org, has just released its post-election poll. It indicates that, on crucial issues, especially the matter of setting a timetable for withdrawal and the Bush administration's (in all but name) permanent bases in Iraq, American and Iraqi public opinion are remarkably similar: The Bush administration, as the election results indicated, is now distinctly a minority regime and Democrats are still lagging behind public opinion on Iraq, as is the media, as is James Baker's Iraq Study Group (ISG), which today releases its "consensus report" to the President.

The PIPA numbers indicate that, even if George W. Bush remains adamantly in his no-longer-mission-accomplished, but stay-until-the-mission-is-accomplished dream state, Americans have largely awoken. Yes, they do agree with the ISG recommendations by whopping proportions. Three out of four Americans (including 72 percent of Republicans), according to PIPA, believe that the US should be engaged in conversation and negotiation with Iran and Syria. They even more massively favor a major international conference on the Iraqi catastrophe; but those aren't actually the most interesting figures. Here are some:

In the poll, 54 percent of Americans believe that attacks on US forces are approved by half or more of all Iraqis; 66 percent (including a near majority of Republicans) believe that a majority of Iraqis oppose the establishment of permanent US bases in their country (only 28 percent disagree); and 68 percent--including a majority of Republicans--believe that we should not have such bases. This is an especially remarkable set of figures, given that permanent bases have received next to no attention in the American mainstream media.

Most important of all, given the arrival of the Iraq Study Group's "consensus" proposal for a "phased withdrawal" that is to begin without a timetable in sight, 58 percent of Americans, according to PIPA, want a withdrawal of all US troops on a timeline--18 percent within six months, 25 percent within a year, 15 percent within two years. Moreover, if the Iraqi government were to request such a withdrawal on a year's deadline, 77 percent of respondents (including 73 percent of Republicans) think we should take them up on it. In this they agree with the Iraqi public. As Middle Eastern expert Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently, "Polls have shown that up to 80 percent of Sunni Arabs and 60 percent of Shiite Arabs want an immediate end to the occupation."

These new numbers should act as a wake-up call. Without much help from anyone, politicians or the media, the American people, it seems, have formed their own Iraq Study Group and arrived at sanity well ahead of the elite and all the "wise men" in Washington.

On one other matter, Americans have reached a remarkable conclusion that you're not likely to find either in your local newspaper, on the nightly news, or in the ISG report. On the question, "Do you think the US military presence in Iraq is currently a stabilizing force or provoking more conflict than it is preventing?," only 35 percent opt for "stabilizing force," while 60 percent have reached the reasonable conclusion that American forces, rather than standing between Iraq and a hard place, are "provoking more conflict than [they are] preventing." Michael Schwartz argues just that case today in The Myth of More at Tomdispatch.com and offers a canny explanation of exactly why that is so.

FCC Chair Schemes to Undermine Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to be made up of five independent members who serve in the public interest.

But FCC chair Kevin Martin, a Bush White House retainer who reportedly entertains notions of running for the governorship of his native North Carolina with a campaign war chest full of telecommunications-industry contributions, is now attacking the basic structures of the FCC in order to deliver for the corporations he hopes will someday be his political benefactors.

Martin has ordered the commission's lawyers to come up with a scheme that would force another Republican commissioner, Robert McDowell, to "unrecuse" himself from a voting on a massive merger between telecommunications giants AT&T and BellSouth.

Prior to joining the commission in June, McDowell represented a telecommunications corporation, CompTel, that has engaged in lobbying with regard to the merger. As such, McDowell has a classic conflict of interest. He acted appropriately when he recused himself from the merger vote.

Martin, who still hopes to secure FCC approval of the merger this year, is now trying to get McDowell to act inappropriately -- and, presumably, in a manner that will please Martin's corporate masters.

Martin's move has already drawn rebukes from members of Congress who follow telecommunications issues. "I believe that forcing a Commissioner to participate in a proceeding in which he or she would otherwise be recused is an extraordinary notion for an independent, impartial regulatory agency," said Representative Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, a key player on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who is seeking the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. "Agency Commissioners must exercise independent, impartial, and unbiased judgment in matters before the Commission."

Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Doyle, another well-regarded member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, wrote to Martin that, "While I take no position on the merger proceeding itself, I feel very strongly that this request to unrecuse Commissioner McDowell would set the Commission on a treacherous course toward an unacceptable precedent."

"The recent November elections were, in part, about holding our government officials to the highest ethical standards," added Doyle. "When public servants have identified and recused themselves from legitimate conflicts of interest, they should be commended for upholding the highest standards of public integrity that are required of all government appointees. The recusal option gives the public the fullest possible confidence that agency appointees and other public servants will impartially decide upon the issues before them."

That's Government 101 stuff. But Martin -- a former telecommunications-industry lobbyist who earned his spurs with the administration when he joined the team that helped swing the 2000 Florida presidential recount in Bush's favor -- is not respecting the signals from Congress.

Rather, the FCC chair is pressing ahead with his extraordinary initiative.

Martin needs McDowell's vote because the FCC is split on the merger question. Martin and a fellow Republican commissioner, Deborah Taylor Tate, support the merger. Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have refused to support the merger because they want network neutrality provisions attached to the arrangement.

Network neutrality is the first amendment of the internet. It prevents telecommunications corporations from rigging the web so it is easier to visit sites that pay for preferential treatment. And it is under attack from internet service providers that want to set up a system of two-tier internet access -- with an information superhighway for sites that pay premiums to the providers and the digital equivalent of a dirt road for sites that cannot afford to pay the toll.

The issue is of particular significance to the potential AT&T-BellSouth merger, as approval of the deal would make AT&T the world's largest telecommunications company. The merger would give AT&T 9.1 million DSL broadband customers, which is roughly the same number of high-speed Internet subscribers as industry-leader Comcast.

To AT&T-BellSouth merger to go ahead without binding and permanent net neutrality protections would set a precedent that is all but certain to undermine basic protections for all consumers who utilize internet services.

Because the issues are so momentous, Markey says that, even if Martin succeeds in forcing McDowell to vote, the commissioner should refuse to cooperate with the scheme.

"If the FCC General Counsel takes action to compel Commissioner McDowell's participation," says Markey, "I strongly urge Commissioner McDowell to announce his intention to vote to abstain as a matter of principle."

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