The Nation

Pressing for Peace

The National Call-In for Peace is an effort by a coalition of peace and veterans groups to coordinate a unified phone campaign to urge Congress to reject the Bush supplemental appropriations request for $93 billion more for the war in Iraq.

Each day from March 5 through March 13, a different national antiwar group will take the lead in generating calls to Congress. The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are up today with CodePink on deck for tomorrow.

PDA offers some talking points for the calls:

**Most Iraqis – both Sunni and Shia -- want US troops out of their country and most believe attacks on our troops are justified.

**US military force is no solution in Iraq. Diplomacy, not war, is the solution.

**The American people at the polls in November and in opinion polls have expressed their view that the US needs to get out.

**With its Constitutionally-granted "power of the purse," Congress has the duty to end the war by cutting off war funding, except what's needed for the prompt, safe, orderly withdrawal of all our troops.

With a wobbly Democratic leadership consumed with half-hearted amendments aimed at undermining the surge but not the war, the coalition is making every effort to marshall grassroots pressure on Democratic legislators. Help the effort by calling 1-888-851-1879 today and click here to share the story of how the call went.

The Next Mission: Removing a Tyrant

RUTLAND, Vt. -- Over the weekend, I traveled Vermont with three of the most remarkable defenders of democracy I have met in a long time: former Army Sgt. Drew Cameron, former Marine Cpl. Matt Howard and former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne.

We were on a mission: A mission to end an unjust and horrific war, and a mission to hold to account the men who launched that war.

What made the experience of appearing in close to a dozen communities with the local Iraq Veterans Against the War campaigners was not that these courageous young vets had chosen to speak so openly and so directly about the reasons why they favor ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. IVAW members and supporters are speaking up all over this country, more boldly, more aggressively, every day, telling the fundamental truth that Drew Cameron, who served as a field artillery soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, spoke: "Democracy is not taught through the end of a gun."

Rather, the experience was remarkable because these veterans had come to the same conclusion as that reached by a growing number of honest critics of the war: If we are determined to bring the troops home, we have to get serious about addressing the lawlessness of those who brought this war on and who now seek to expand it.

We do not do so by promoting "non-binding resolutions."

We express our seriousness by sending a signal that the need to end this occupation of a foreign land is so pressing that we are prepared to speak of impeaching the men who promise to maintain their military misadventure for so long as they occupy the White House.

"If you want to support the troops, you need to support the Constitution," explained Kinne, who served in the Army from 1994 to 2004 as an Arabic linguist in military intelligence, "And you need to recognize that if you support the Constitution, you must support impeachment."

There are millions of Americans who would like to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney for the long list of high crimes and misdemeanors that have been associated with the names of these errant executives over the past six years. For instance, polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor impeachment if it is proven that the president lied to the America people about the reasons for going to war in Iraq.

But there are still those casual citizens who suggest that impeachment is a "distraction" from the important business of the day.

What absurdity!

The Americans who established the power to impeach had just finished a revolution against a king named George. They fought that revolution on the premise, spelled out by a young Virginia farmer named Thomas Jefferson, that the people had the power to remove leaders who disregarded the rule of law and the mandates of morality. "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," wrote Jefferson, who worried that the presidency would devolve into a circumstance where an occupant of the Oval Office would govern as a king for four years.

An "elected despotism" is not what we in America fought to achieve, explained Jefferson, who established that both members of the U.S. House and state legislatures would have the authority to submit articles of impeachment.

Impeachment is not a casual act of political retribution. It is not a game. It is an essential act of the republic, established and defined for the purpose of preventing presidents from governing as warrior kings.

We are not talking about stained blue dresses anymore.

We are talking about a war that has cost more than 3,000 lives and ruined tens of thousands more -- need we mention Walter Reed? -- a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, a war that is emptying our federal treasury at a rate of $200 million a day.

Impeachment, as intended by the founders who created a system of checks and balances in order to "chain the dogs of war," is a political act -- initiated, at its best, with the purpose of preventing a president from maintaining a course of action that affronts the Constitution, endangers the republic or damages democracy.

The war in Iraq does all of these things. And, yet, as the Bush-Cheney administration proposes to surge 21,500 more young Americans into the quagmire that is Iraq, and as the Congress debates non-binding resolutions that, by virtue of their very names, are guaranteed to be inconsequential, there are those who would dare suggest that impeachment initiatives might distract the House and Senate.

There is no more serious work than ending the war.

The veterans I traveled with this past weekend put no faith in non-binding resolutions.

Instead, they expressed a faith, born of bitter experience, that only a serious movement to impeach Bush and Cheney will meet these maladministrators with a response equal to the crisis the president and vice president seek to perpetuate.

"The first thing I did in the United States military was swear to defend the Constitution," recalled Howard, who served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. "I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and that is what I'm doing now by speaking out against the war and against this administration."

Over the course of three days, we spoke in schools, churches and community halls across the state of Vermont about the war and impeachment. We were encouraging Vermonters to vote for impeachment resolutions at today's town meetings -- as part of a process to convince the state legislature to forward articles of impeachment to Congress and to get Vermont's U.S. representative to propose and promote such articles. We were joined by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq War veteran who has long been an advocate of the "Impeach for Peace" movement, and by Dan DeWalt, the instigator of Vermont's grassroots impeachment campaign.

If the call for impeachment is raised by the town meetings of Vermont today, it will not be a "symbolic" act.

It will be the right response to the wrong war. It will be the response that our bravest veterans counsel that we must embrace if we want to get about the business of bringing the troops home. As Drew Cameron said, "They're sending us to these aggressive wars overseas and democracy is eroding beneath our feet here at home so… it us our duty, it is our service to say something about that."


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

R.I.P., Anna Nicole

At times, the right and the left share a school-marmish attitude toward pop culture and the people who enjoy it. (You know, those benighted fools who make up most of the world's population.) Not surprisingly, then, liberals and conservatives alike have been falling all over themselves to chide the masses for taking an interest in the tragic story of Anna Nicole Smith. Writing in the March 19 National Review, Rob Long admits that watching the judge cry on television he thought: "What are we fighting so hard for? Let the terrorists win. They have a point." New York Times token conscience Bob Herbert recently lamented that Americans care more about Anna Nicole than about global warming or the resurgence of terrorists in North Waziristan. (He even quotes arch-scold Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death.) Over the past month, I've heard numerous similar laments.

People, get a grip.

First, what's not interesting about this story? An iconic and beautiful celebrity dies after enduring a horrendous trauma (her adult son died while she was still in the hospital after giving birth to a daughter). Everything is in question, from the cause of death to the paternity of the baby to where -- in a creepy twist -- Smith's rapidly decomposing body should be buried. Sure, it won't affect our children's futures and won't matter that much a year from now. But if you weren't -- at least briefly -- sucked into the high drama and supreme weirdness of this story, you're probably the lovechild of Theodor Adorno and Donald Wildmon.

And look how much more compelling it is than many allegedly "serious" news stories, many of which are simply pallid -- rather than tragic or titillating -- gossip. Most of the endless reports about the presidential candidates and their little tiffs and beefs with one another are, after all, about nothing more than celebrity and personality, and these don't even deliver sizzle, much less steak!

Furthermore, why should we have to choose between gossip and "real" news? We journalists are perfectly capable of following both Anna Nicole's autopsy report and Al Qaeda -- why should we assume that the rest of the public can't do the same? People spend ample time on the Internet, and watching TV. Bob Herbert intones gravely: "I imagine that there are a fair number of television viewers and newspaper readers who have trouble distinguishing the relative importance of celebrity stories, like the death of Ms. Smith, from other matters in the news, like the reconstitution of forces responsible for the devastating Sept. 11 attacks." Herbert imagines this is true, but provides no data or evidence showing that it is. I've never met any mentally functional adult (much less a "newspaper reader") who had "trouble distinguishing" between a celebrity story and a news story of longer-term social or economic significance, and I doubt that Bob Herbert has, either.

In the case of Anna Nicole, broadcasters did get carried away; for two days in February, the story took up half the airtime on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. But as the Associated Press reported today, the networks backed off in their coverage of Smith's Friday funeral. And guess what? You're still not going to see much in-depth coverage of North Waziristan. Or much thoughtful coverage of anything else. So let's not blame Anna Nicole for the sorry state of the U.S. media. Hasn't the lady suffered enough?

Home From the Wars--and Homeless

Homeless Veterans

In the Washington Post today, following on the Post's extraordinary series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reporter Christian Davenport takes an important look at the problem of homelessness for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs provided shelter for only 300 veterans of the two wars from 2004 to 2006, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Post that this number fails to include the "others sleeping in buses, their cars or on the streets." Rieckhoff said his group alone has helped 60 veterans since 2004--and that's just in New York City.

Army studies suggest that "up to 30 percent of soldiers coming home from Iraq have suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD… [and] that those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress." But the VA says that there is no causal connection between combat exposure and homelessness. Local shelter providers disagree, and retired Army Col. Charles Williams--executive director of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training--says that the increased demand for shelter is on its way. "The wave has not hit yet," he told the Post, "but it will."

Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, would probably agree. Last month Filner cited that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and how this speaks to the importance of getting the Veterans Administration to treat post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness. Filner co-sponsored the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, which would guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for US veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts.

The One in Four War

General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, is widely viewed as the architect behind a "surge" of 21,500 troops. But even Petraeus believes that the Bush Administration's policy is unlikely to succeed.

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith said Friday that Petraeus told him privately that "we have a one in four chance that Bush's plan will work." (Thanks to Josh Marshall for unearthing Smith's remark.)

The Administration and its loyalists are constantly urging critics of the war to give Petraeus time for his policy to bear fruit. But is it tactically smart--and morally justifiable--to send 21,500 more troops into a mission that even our top generals believe is likely to fail?

And how in the world does the Administration still not have a backup plan. "Plan B was to make Plan A work," Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recalled after a group of governors met with the White House last week.

Or maybe there's a plan C: Topple Iran and hope nobody remembers Iraq (or Afghanistan).

Human Rights, Democracy, the US, and Syria

I spent a few days in Damascus at the end of February, and was able to get a ground reality view of the effects of the Bush administration's (former) campaign for the forced 'democratization' of Middle Eastern societies on the work of Syrian citizens with long experience struggling for human rights and democracy in their country.

Bottom line: "Very bad indeed."

That was the verdict rendered on the Bushites' 'democratization' campaign by Danial Saoud, the President of the venerable Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms in Syria (CDF).

Saoud was himself a political prisoner from 1987 through 1999, and has been President of the CDF since August 2006. He was adamant that what Syria's rights activists need most of all right now is a resolution of their country's state of war with Israel.

Speaking of Condoleezza Rice he said,

    Her pressure on the regime had a very bad effect for us. Now, for 18-24 months the Americans and Europeans have put a lot of pressure on the regime-- but the regime then just pushes harder on us.

Mazen Darwish, who is Saoud's colleague in the CDF's three-person Presidential Council, told me,

    Before the US invasion of Iraq, people here in Syria liked us, the human rights activists, and we had significant popular sympathy. But since what happened in Iraq, people here say 'Look at the results of that!'

Saoud stressed that for Syrians, the question of Israel's continued occupation of Syria's Golan region itself constitutes a significant denial of the rights of all the Syrian citizens affected-- both those who remain in Golan, living under Israeli military occupation rule there, and those who had fled when Israel occupied Golan in 1967 and have had to live displaced from their homes and farms for the 40 years since then. "Golan is Syrian land, and we have all the rights to get it back," he said.

In addition, he and the other rights activists I talked with pointed to the fact that the continuing state of war between Syria and Israel has allowed the Syrian regime to keep in place the State of Emergency that was first imposed in the country in 1963. "All these regimes in this area say they are postponing the issue of democracy until after they have solved the issues of Golan and Palestine," he said.

    So let's get them solved! Everything should start from this. The people in both Syria and Israel need peace. We need to build a culture of peace in the whole area.

... The CDF is working hard to build this culture.

Both men pointed out the numerous contradictions and ambiguities in the policy the US has pursued regarding democratization in Syria. Darwish noted that, "When the US had a good relationship with Syria, in 1991, Danial was in prison-- and the US didn't say anything about that." These two men, and other rights activists I talked with also noted that more recently, even during the Bushites' big push for 'democratization' in Syria in 2004-2005, the Bushites were still happy to benefit from Syria's torture chambers by sending some suspected Al-Qaeda people there to be tortured. (Canadian-Syrian dual citizen Maher Arar was only the most famous of these victims. In September 2005, Amnesty International published this additional list.)

Over the past year, two processes have been underway in Syria that seem to confirm these activists' argument that US pressure on the Damascus regime has been detrimental to their cause. Firstly, the rapid deterioration in the US's power in the region has considerably diminished Washington's ability to pressure the Syria regime on any issues, and Damascus has become notably stronger and self-confident than it was a year ago. For some evidence of this, see my latest interview with Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem, serialized here, here, and here.

Secondly, over the same period, the situation of human rights activists within the country seems to have improved some.

Saoud told me that the number of (secular) political prisoners in the country is now less than 20. Indeed, the day we talked, about 16 Kurdish and student activists who had been held for less than a month had just been released. He said "No-one knows how many Islamist activists are in detention... We don't hear about them until they come to court." He said, "They don't torture people like Anwar al-Bunni or Michel Kilo, or the others who were detained last year for having signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration." He indicated, however, that it was very likely that many of the Islamist detainees had been tortured. (Human Rights Watch's recently released report for 2006 states that in Syria, "Thousands of political prisoners, many of them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, remain in detention.)

... Meanwhile, the main factor dominating political developments in Syria as in the rest of the Middle East, is the continued and extremely painful collapse of conditions inside Iraq. Syrians have watched that collapse in horror. Their country has received and given a temporary refuge to more than a million Iraqis (a considerable burden on their nation, equivalent to the US taking in some 17 million refugees within just a couple of years.) And since Iraq's collapse has occurred under a Washington-advertised rubric of "democratization", the whole tragedy in Iraq has tended to give the concept a very bad name, and has caused Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East to value political stability much, much more than hitherto.

Under those circumstances, it is very moving to still hear people living in Arab countries talking about the need for democracy. But when they do so, they are very eager to distance themselves from the coerciveness inherent in Washington's recent 'democratization' project. And they all-- regime supporters and oppositionists, alike--stress the need for moves toward democratization to grow out the local people's needs and priorities, rather than the geostrategies pursued by distant Washington.

Cluster Bombs and New Nukes

Good news from Belgium. After forty-six nations--including Britain, Canada, and Germany--met in Oslo in February and agreed to work towards a global ban on cluster bombs over the next year, Belgium became the first nation to make investing in companies that produce the weapons a crime.

Under the new Belgian law, the government would publish a list of manufacturers and "prohibit banks from offering credit to cluster bomb makers and from owning shares or bonds in these companies."

Cluster bombs are spread over vast areas and many unexploded "bomblets" lie dormant for years. (The UN estimates that as many as 40 percent of 4 million bomblets dropped by Israel in Lebanon failed to explode on impact, and the weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as well). Civilians--especially children who are attracted to "their small size and bright colors"--are often the people who detonate them. An estimated 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children. According to organizers, the Oslo conference was spearheaded in order to "avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions." The 46 participating nations approved a declaration to "conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument [to] prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."

The United States was noticeably absent from the Oslo conference (as were China and Russia). This is not surprising, since the Bush Administration continues to move towards a renewed arms race. At this critical moment when we are pushing Iraq and North Korea to abandon any ambitions to become a nuclear power, the Bush Administration is attempting to build "the first new nuclear warhead produced by the United States in more than 20 years." (This after the Administration's effort to build a nuclear "bunker buster" weapon was thwarted by the normally "see no evil hear no evil" Republican Congress).

Fortunately, there is opposition to the latest chapter in the Bush Administration's "what else can we do to piss off the world?" approach to...well, everything. Senator Dianne Feinstein told Walter Pincus of the Washington Post that she is "100 percent opposed" to the new weapon--the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). But the netroots' not-so-favorite Democrat, Representative Ellen Tauscher, said that she is "encouraged" by the new nuclear plan--perhaps because Livermore National Laboratory was selected to design the weapon and it's located in her district.

This is a perfect moment for readers of this column to send a letter to Tauscher (2459 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515; or by e-mail if a resident of her district), letting her know that the world doesn't need another nuclear weapon. In fact, if she wants to do a great service she might not only work against this new nuke but get the United States on board with 46 other nations to ban the cluster bomb too.

Faggot Feud

So Ann Coulter called John Edwards a "faggot." All this proves is that the woman's gaydar is seriously on the fritz. Last year she diagnosed Bill Clinton as a "latent homosexual" whose "promiscuity" is "reminiscent of a bathhouse." Then on Hardball she called Al Gore a "total fag." Meanwhile, Ted Haggard and Mark Foley stage 120 Days of Sodom right under her nose, and all she can say when confronted with the goods is "who knew Congressman Foley was a closeted Democrat?"

Ann Coulter couldn't find a homosexual at a Barbra Streisand concert, in San Francisco, on gay pride, if Elton John bitch slapped her in the face. I shudder to think what would become of her on Gay, Straight or Taken?

What really has me peeved though is not Coulter's misfiring gaydar, but the histrionic response from Democrats and gay leaders alike. Here's HRC head honcho Joe Solmonese:

"To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low. Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country's political arena."

Likewise, DNC chief Howard Dean called Coulter's remarks "hate-filled and bigoted." "This kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds," said Dean while calling on Republican presidential candidates to denounce Coulter's remarks.

Howie, Joe, listen, don't get your panties all in knot over this Coulter-faggot business. What's so "vile," "disgusting," and "low" about being (called) a faggot in the first place?

Let's ponder the possible meanings behind our village idiot's latest ramblings. Surely not even Coulter can believe that Edwards is actually gay (unless she's knows something we don't -- an unlikely scenario). So perhaps she intends to tar Edwards with a patently false but nonetheless toxic slur. This is puerile name-calling to be sure. In Coulter's twisted little mind, "faggot" is an insult, not necessarily because it's true, but because "faggot" is so radioactive that even to be called one is damaging.

But this homophobic logic is exactly what Dean and Solmonese recapitulate in their over-zealous response. One can only believe that being called a faggot is "vile," "digusting" and "low" if one believes, as Coulter might, that being a faggot is vile, disgusting and low. Do Howard Dean and Joe Solmonese believe that?

It's also clear that Coulter's hopelessly confused "Democrats" and "Gays." (Freebie for Ann: Democrats tax and spend; fags just spend!) Why would Coulter cross the two? Because Democrats like Edwards care about poverty, healthcare and inequality? Because they're not ready to go all Dr. Strangelove on Iran? Because they don't shoot quails and buddies like manly man Cheney? What's so "vile," "disgusting" and "low" about that?

Fags like myself have been trying to rehabilitate faggotry for years, and it's time we're joined by our liberal friends. Edwards hasn't responded to Coulter yet, but when he does, he should step up to the plate. After all, there is something gay-ish about him. He's pretty. He's passionate. He spends a lot of time on his hair. And what's wrong with that? He should toss his Nancy Boy locks back at Coulter and say, "Faggot? I own that word."

Then maybe one day, as Toni Morrison once honored Bill Clinton by calling him our first black president, I can bestow upon Edwards the title of First Fag.

Fighting for the Right to Organize

Working people scored at least a temporary victory Thursday when the House voted for legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. (Thanks to all Nation readers who heeded my call to lobby their reps this past week.)

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to form a union by individually signing cards rather than having to participate in a secret-ballot election. Union officials called it the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to pass a house of Congress in decades.

The legislation, which passed 241-185 on a mainly party-line vote (two Dems voted against the bill, 13 Republicans voted for it) faces an uphill journey to gain the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster and pass in the Senate. The White House also announced Wednesday that President Bush would veto the bill if it reaches him.

But, despite the improbability of the bill becoming law in this Congress, the passage of the EFCA is nonetheless hugely important. As Miss Laura writes on Daily Kos, in order to defeat the bill and satisfy their corporate masters, "Republicans will have to go on record against workers. Not against unions, but against the millions of non-union workers in this country who want to join unions. Democrats are forcing them to lay that contempt for workers bare before the nation."

This is all for the good and stranger, more unexpected things have happened than this bill passing the Senate. Numerous groups as well as organized labor are ramping up their efforts for the upcoming Senate battle over this legislation. By making a donation to American Rights at Work, you can help provide critical support. Click here for more info on what American Rights is doing to defend the interests of US workers and watch this space for more info on the next stage of this battle.

The debate on the House floor prior to yesterday's vote was unusually impassioned. Rep. George Miller took the cake in making the case for the act. Check it out....