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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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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

Hunger Strike at Purdue

In this space, we've periodically tried to highlight some of the many examples that demonstrate that student activism is alive and well, even if under-reported by the media. We've featured the student organizers of SNAP, the eco-activists with the Campus Climate Challenge and the culinary whizzes behind Campus Kitchens Projects, a student-led initiative that coordinates food donations, prepares and delivers meals to social service agencies, and teaches food preparation and culinary skills to unemployed and underemployed men and women.

Now, Nation writer, author and professor of politics at Occidental College Peter Dreier writes in calling attention to a group of twelve Purdue University students who are entering the 19th day of a hunger strike to get their school to adopt the Designated Supplier Program.

Designed to encourage colleges and universities to purchase clothing from socially responsible companies instead of sweatshop-driven corporations, the DSP has already been adopted by twenty schools, including Duke, Syracuse, Smith, Skidmore, Columbia, Georgetown and the entire University of California system. (Click here and here to read two Nation articles by Dreier detailing the DSP.)

The Purdue students are trying to make a simple point: "I think workers' rights should be extended to people not just in the United States but internationally," Bill Slavin, a chemistry graduate student who said he has not eaten solid food since Nov. 17 told the Indianapolis Star. "I don't think it's fair for companies to go to other countries and exploit workers."

The students say they will stop the hunger strike when university president Martin Jischke signs a document that will ensure Purdue apparel will be manufactured in factories where workers can earn a living wage and have the freedom to be represented by democratic unions.

Why hunger strikes? The answer say the students is that years of lobbying official channels by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and Purdue Organization for Labor Equality (POLE) have had little impact and they feel the need to pump up the volume. "While drastic, this tactic of non-violence shows people we're not messing around; that we take the issue seriously and the lengths we're willing to go," hunger striker Nathan Jun told the Purdue Exponent.

President Jischke has agreed to meet with four of the student activists tomorrow, December 6, to discuss their concerns. It remains unclear however how serious the president is about actually addressing the students' grievances.

Here's how you can help convince Jischke to do the right thing:

**Sign the hunger strikers' online petition.
**Join the campaign's Facebook page.
**Email or call (765-494-9710) the Purdue Board of Trustees to support the strikers.
**Find out more and circulate word about the campaign.

For more about the anti-sweatshop movement nationally, check out the websites ofUnited Students Against Sweatshops and the affiliated watchdog/monitoring group, Workers Rights Consortium.

Six Questions for Robert Rubin

Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and Citigroup executive,meets Wednesday with the House DemocraticCaucus to begin educating its new members on the politically correctway to think about the economy. "Fiscal responsibility" is his standardtheme and no doubt some freshmen will want to hear his views on tradeand globalization and other large concerns.

A political friend asked me: If you were in the room, what would youask? So I gave him a list of challenging questions. These might or mightnot get passed along to House members. It seems unlikely, in any case,that freshly-elected Democrats would be so impertinent to ask them ofthe party's most esteemed economic authority.

1. Your central message is "fiscal responsibility"--balancing thefederal budget--but is it really a good idea to cut spending or, forthat matter, raise taxes now when the national economy is heading intorecession? Won't that make things worse, withdrawing economic stimulusat the very moment when more may be needed?

2. On globalization, you told TheNation magazine last summer you don't think the reform ideas of yourHamilton Project will halt the global convergence of wages that ispulling down wages and incomes in America. If that's the reality,shouldn't we be exploring stronger measures to reform the trading systemand defuse this explosive situation?

3. You blame our swollen trade deficits almost entirely on the nation'slow savings rate. Given that American families are up to their eyeballsin debt, how can you expect them to increase their savings? If that'sthe case, shouldn't you just tell people the straight truth? Theirstandard of living is going to fall. There's no way to avoid it, basedon your precriptions.

4. You suggest that balancing the federal budget will also reduce ourtrade deficits, but studies by the Federal Reserve and the IMF bothconclude the impact of fiscal balance is trivial. As the Clintonadministration balanced the federal budget in the late 1990s, the UStrade deficit was simultaneously exploding. Our current accounts deficitgrew from 1.6 percent to 4.2 percent of GDP--despite Clinton's balancedbudget. Japan ran huge budget deficits throughout the 1990s, yet itshuge trade surpluses continued regardless. Given those facts, how canyou argue the opposite?

5. Why does the business-financial establishment insist on securingelaborate rules in trade agreements to protect the rights of capital andinvestors, but claims any rules to insure the rights of labor andworkers would be "protectionist" and mess up the system? Don't we needrules for both labor and capital to create a stable, balanced tradingsystem?

6. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other leading financial houses aretaking major ownership positions in Chinese banks and financial firms.How does this color your advice to Congress on American economic policytoward China?

Are there other questions that might be asked? Register your comments below.

Gates: US Will Be in Iraq "A Long Time"

Give Robert Gates credit for willingness to acknowledge the obvious.

At the Senate Armed Services Committee's confirmation hearing for President Bush's nominee to replace consistently surreal Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin asked:"Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"

"No, sir," replied Gates.

Levin, the Democrat who next month will take over as chairman of the committee, praised Gates's admission that the war has not gone well "a necessary fresh breath of reality that is so needed."

Unfortunately, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency was not ready to fully embrace reality.

When asked how long he thought the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Iraq, Gates said there would have to be "some presence" in Iraq for "a long time."

That's not an encouraging stance, as Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy made clear in the most pointed questioning of the hearing. Kennedy, who voted against the nomination of Gates to head the CIA in 1991, has said he will keep an open mind about the current nomination, but he has correctly pointed out that "More of the same failed policy that depends on an open-ended commitment of our military will not bring America closer to victory. It will not stop the violence, and it will not protect our national security interests."

Perhaps the most meaningful questioning of the day came from West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who asked whether Gates thought the measure that passed Congress empowering the President to respond to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the 2002 resolution authorizing the President to use force against Iraq would empower Bush to attack Iran or Syria.

"To the best of my knowledge," Gates replied, "I do not believe so."

When Byrd asked the nominee whether a US attack on either Iran or Syria would intensify violence in Iraq and lead to more US deaths, Gates said, "Yes, sir, I think that's very likely."

Let's save the tape of that response.

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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

Paid Sick Days and Family Values

After raising the minimum wage, economic justice priority number two for the Democratic congress should be mandating paid sick days for all workers. Aside from a simple issue of fairness (just because someone has a low-wage job doesn't mean they should have to work sick or not get a chance to care for sick kids), there's pretty good data suggesting that sick workers hurt more than they help. They drag down productivity and spread illness among their co-workers. The New York Times gives a good run-down of the issue today, with the predictable opposition from the US Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists. The business owners argue that there's "no such thing as a free lunch" and that the legislation would amount to a regulatory tax and an "unfunded mandate."

It's true mandating sick days will cost employers something, but it shouldn't have any kind of differential effect. That is, since the law will be universal, any business' competitors will be paying roughly the same (proportional) amount. And the sector where the legislation is likely to have the largest impact is in the service industry, which unlike manufacturing isn't subject to the same competitive pressures from globalization to reduce labor costs or outsource. Also, as noted, there's a significant cost to the existing regime in which sick workers come into work. a cost that could conceiveably be higher (or not much less) than the cost of paying sick workers to stay home.

From the political perspective, sick days are exactly the kind of broadly popular, progressive measure for economic justice that the Democrats should be prioritizing. Will it pass? The spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce seems confident it will face a filibuster from Republicans in the Senate. Which is why it would seem the perfect kind of issue for evangelicals to flex their political muscle on. There's been a lot of noise recently about evangelicals broadening their political focus to include issues other than abortion and the gays. They could use sick days to show that it's not just talk. Caring for your sick kid is a family issue. Mandating sick days is a policy that is parent and family friendly in every sense of the word. The US Conference of Catholic bishops is supporting the legislation. Will the National Association of Evangelicals step up to the plate?

Biking with Rumsfeld

Last week, someone slipped New York Times reporters Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud the secret memo finished by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just two days before he "resigned." It was the last in a flurry of famed Rumsfeldian "snowflakes" that have fluttered down upon the Pentagon these past years. This one, though, was "submitted" to the White House and clearly meant for the President's eyes. In it, the Secretary of Defense offered a veritable laundry list of possible policy adjustments in Iraq, adding up to what, according to Gordon and Cloud, is both an acknowledgement of failure and "a major course correction."

Think of this last zany, only semi-coherent Rumsfeldian document--part of Washington's grim ongoing silly season over Iraq--as Rumsfeld's last stand. In it, he quite literally cycles (as in bicycles) back to the origins of the Bush administration's shredded Iraq policy. It is, in a pathetic sense, that policy stripped bare.

Here are just three last-stand aspects of the memo that have been largely or totally overlooked in most reporting:

1. "Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start ‘taking our hand off the bicycle seat'), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

From the early, carefree, "stuff happens" period of the occupation comes the wonderfully patronizing image embedded in this mixed metaphor of a passage--though I suppose Iraqis perched on bike seats could indeed have crumpled socks. The image of the Iraqi (child) learning how to ride the bike of democracy--or whatever--with the American (parent) looming behind, hand steadying the seat, was already not just a neocolonial, but a neocon classic by the time the President used it back in May 2004. (In fact, in an even more infantilizing fashion, he spoke of taking the "training wheels" off the Iraqi bike.)

Many others in the administration proudly used it as well. Rumsfeld in his rococo fashion elaborated wildly on the image in a speech to U.S. troops that same year:

"Getting Iraq straightened out… was like teaching a kid to ride a bike: ‘They're learning, and you're running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you're just barely touching it. You can't know when you're running down the street how many steps you're going to have to take. We can't know that, but we're off to a good start.'"

And now, long after kids stopped riding bikes in Iraq and started ending up dead in ditches, our nearly former Defense Secretary just couldn't help cycling back to the good old days.

2. "Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. bases. We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases. Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007."

Talk about cycling back to the beginning, Rumsfeld's "major course correction" takes us right to the original basing plans the Pentagon had on entering Iraq. As the New York Times reported in a front-page piece on April 19, 2003 (and then no one, including reporters at the Times, paid much attention to again), the Pentagon entered Iraq with plans already on the drawing board to build four major bases well beyond urban areas. These were to be permanent in all but name and, from them, the Bush administration planned to nail down the oil heartlands of the planet (while making up for the loss--thanks to Osama bin Laden's efforts--of our bases in Saudi Arabia).

Now, here we are, over three and a half catastrophic years later, back to those four bases (built to the tune of multibillions of American taxpayer dollars) plus one--undoubtedly the former Camp Victory, the huge American base that grew up on the edge of Baghdad International Airport (as well, of course, as the new, almost finished billion-dollar U.S. embassy with its "staff" of thousands inside Baghdad's Green Zone).

3. "Aggressively beef up the Iraqi MOD [Ministry of Defense] and MOI [Ministry of the Interior], and other Iraqi ministries critical to the success of the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces]--the Iraqi Ministries of Finance, Planning, Health, Criminal Justice, Prisons, etc.--by reaching out to U.S. military retirees and Reserve/National Guard volunteers (i.e., give up on trying to get other USG Departments to do it.)"

This mad suggestion, hardly noticed by anyone, cycles us back to the attitude with which Bush & Co. first entered Iraq. Iraqi sovereignty? Who ever heard of it? Just do what you want. Flood any ministry with a bunch of U.S. military retirees, all of whom can have their heavy hands on untold Iraqi bureaucratic bike seats. This is an idea just about as brilliant as every other one initiated by this administration in Iraq.

And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that all those "U.S. military retirees" and other "volunteers" might just not rush to offer their services to Iraq's death-squad infiltrated Ministries of the Interior and Defense? If you biked around that corner without those training wheels--and some body armor--I suspect you'd be likely to find yourself in the Baghdad morgue in no time at all.

In this way was Rumsfeld's last stand remarkably like his first pedal. If only, after September 11, 2001, someone had left the training wheels on when the Bush administration went pedaling off on its merry, shock-and-awe way.