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The Nation

Democracy Promotion Now (continued)

Recently I wrote of the need for an expansive agenda of Democracy promotion here at home to strengthen and repair our broken electoral system. The urgency of one critical element of that agenda was evident last week when 18,382 votes were lost by paperless voting machines in a Florida House race – a race won by just 368 votes.

Rep. Rush Holt has reintroduced H.R. 550 with 220 bipartisan co-sponsors to require that all electronic voting machines produce a voter-verified paper record. It would be nice, after all, to be able to count the votes in the event of mechanical failure.

While the Republican Congress held the bill up in committee, there is reason to hope that the new House will act aggressively to pass it. Common Cause is organizing an effort to urge the passage of similar legislation in the Senate. Act now to let your Senators know that you want a paper trail and voting machines that can be audited. With two years until the next national election, let's not wait or leave this vital reform to chance.

Conservative Dissonance

Republicans are drawing an odd lesson from Tuesday's defeat: they weren't conservative enough.

Conservatives abandoned their small-government principles, a growing consensus alleges, and got trounced as a result.

Now a fight is brewing inside Congress to claim the mantle of "reform" that supposedly elevated the GOP to power in 1994. Rep. Mike Pence, a devout Christian and former radio host from Indiana who heads the right-wing Republican Study Group, is challenging Rep. John Boehner for House Minority Leader.

"I believe we did not just lose our Majority, we lost our way," Pence wrote in a letter outlining his candidacy. "I believe this happened to us because somewhere along the way we lost our willingness to fight for limited government, fiscal discipline, traditional values and reform."

Pence has tried to portray Boehner as out of step with the new conservative caucus, while Boehner is quietly suggesting that Pence is too inexperienced to be effective. A third candidate for Minority Leader, Rep. Joe Barton, a crony of Big Oil who recently chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, offered a similarly full-throated defense of right-wing conservatism. "Republicans cannot simply be Democrats-lite," Barton wrote.

Barton may swing a few votes, but the race is between Boehner and Pence, with Boehner the favorite. Pence may be extreme, but he's also principled--and thus may be a tougher challenge for Nancy Pelosi. Boehner is a classic old-school pol who'll probably be more likely to cut deals with the Democrats. Elections are scheduled for Friday. The new majority party will be watching closely.

A Presidential Vote for Torture

Last Wednesday, the President held a news conference in the wake of that election thumpin' in which he announced the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld, made (strained) jokes, pledged himself to bipartisan good feelings, and even volunteered to recommend some "Republican interior decorators" to help Nancy Pelosi pick out drapes for her new office. He spoke of his openness to new ideas on Iraq, even while swearing a somewhat contradictory fealty to "victory" in that country. ("And so, I'm committed to victory. I'm committed to helping this country so that we can come home").

Oh yes, and one more thing--that no one seemed to notice--he also swore his undying fealty to torture. Maybe reporters are so used to the President taking on the role of torturer-in-chief that no one even blinks; maybe the coded language fooled everyone; maybe--what with the Democrats sweepin' into Washington and Daddy's guys, Baker and Gates, makin' their return from the inside-the-Beltway wilderness--too much else was going on. Whatever the explanation, the President's plunkin' for a torture regime went unreported.

So you read it here first. The torture moment came after the President had praised the new Democratic (or "Democrat" as he likes to say slurringly) leadership for caring for America's security almost as much as he did. A reporter pointed out that on the campaign trail--where he had all but equated their position with welcoming terrorists into the country--he had given a somewhat different impression. In the exchange that followed, he highlighted the one issue on which he clearly felt, even in the new bipartisan Washington, he and the Democrats differed when it came to national security. Here was his response:

"Richard, I do believe [the Democratic leaders] care about the security. I don't--I thought they were wrong not making sure our professionals had the tools, and I still believe that. I don't see how you can protect the country unless you give these professionals tools. They just have a different point of view. That doesn't mean they don't want America to get attacked [sic]. That's why I said what I said."

(That "sic," by the way, isn't mine. It's up at the White House website. However, like so many mangled presidential sentences, this one probably represents a deep belief, not a mistake.)

Now, for those who don't know it, making sure "our professionals have the tools" is just a slightly coded way to say: torture (as well, undoubtedly, as the unbridled right to secretly conduct surveillance on Americans). Sometimes, the administration calls these "alternative interrogation techniques," as in court recently where it claimed such "techniques" were "among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets"--so much so, in fact, that it was trying to get a federal judge to bar "terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons" from even revealing to their own lawyers details about what was done to them by American interrogators. However painless or bland the language, though, it's the infliction of pain that's at stake.

As it happens, a radical Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, kidnapped in Milan by a notoriously high-living group of CIA agents (five-star hotels and restaurants, Tuscan and Venetian vacation spots, all on the taxpayer dole) and shipped to Egypt evidently to be turned into a double agent, just smuggled an 11-page letter out of imprisonment. In it, he details some of the "tools" that were applied by "professionals" once he had been "rendered" to the Egyptians and put into their system of torture. According to Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, the Iman

"also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed ‘the Bride' and zapped with electric stun guns. On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner's shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils."

In our secret CIA prisons, as well as our Afghan and Iraqi detention centers, American pros have done similar things along with the well-known practice, never rejected by the President, of waterboarding or simulated drowning ("dunking" as the Vice President was recently happy to call it). This, then, is what George W. Bush buried like a little IED in his bipartisan, set-a-new-tone, post-election news conference.

Pelosi Backs Murtha

When Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker of the House, Democrats will have to fill the position of majority leader. The complex contest pits Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, who has become one of the chamber's most outspoken advocates for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, against Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, the current Democratic whip in the House and a much more cautious critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Most House Democrats tend toward Murtha's position on the war. But, by and large, they tend to be more socially liberal than Murtha on issues such as abortion rights and gun control, a circumstance that has led some war foes -- including "Out of Iraq Caucus" founder Maxine Waters, D-California -- to back Hoyer.

How to sort the choice out? Pelosi wants to help. In a rare move for someone in her position -- earlier this year, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Illois, sat out the contest to replace disgraced House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, after DeLay resigned -- the top Democrat has made an endorsement.

Despite previously expressing frustration with Murtha's decision to challenge Hoyer, Pelosi on Sunday weighed in for her longtime ally from Pennsylvania. Sending a signal that she thinks the Iraq debate is going to be central to the new Congress, Pelosi wrote Murtha an endorsement message that read: "I salute your courageous leadership that changed the national debate and helped make Iraq the central issue of this historic election. It was surely a dark day for the Bush Administration when you spoke truth to power. Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our party, and I count on you to lead on these vital issues."

The letter was circulated late Sunday by Murtha's office. It had to sting Hoyer, who jousted with Pelosi in a previous leadership contest and who has generally been seen as the leader in this race.

The vote by the full House Democratic Caucus is expected to take place Thursday.

Truth and Reconciliation--US-style

In an interview with Truthdig.com last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich--in line to be Chair of the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations--used an unusual phrase to describe the importance of holding hearings into how and why America invaded Iraq.

"America needs a new approach of truth and reconciliation," Kucinich told interviewer Joshua Scheer, He added, "we'll never be able to bring closure to this Iraq matter unless we tell the truth about what happened." Truth and reconciliation isn't a phrase--or process--usually applied to American political life. But I think Kucinich is right. There is a need for truth and reconciliation--US-style. Some may prefer to call it an accountability moment--one that has eluded this country, with damaging consequences, for several years.

"This is a matter that relates to the conscience of this country," Kucinich explains. "This is a matter of the heart--the heart of democracy itself. This is a matter of whether we're going to have a sober reflection about the events that have transpired since 9/11, with respect to Iraq. And until we do this, we will be trapped not only physically in Iraq, we'll be trapped emotionally and spiritually in Iraq. We may never get out of Iraq if we don't tell the truth."

Feingold Won't Seek Democratic Nod

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who many progressive activists had encouraged to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2008, has decided against making the race.

In a letter to be sent to supporters on Sunday, Feingold writes, "I want you to know that I've decided to continue my role as Wisconsin's Junior Senator in the U.S. Senate and not to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2008."

Feingold, the sole senator to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001 and the first senator to advocate a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, stoked speculation about a possible presidential run during the 2006 congressional campaign season. His call for the censure of President Bush for authorizing warrantless wiretapping was wildly popular with party activists -- even if most of his fellow Democratic senators shunned the move. Feingold's addresses to state party conventions and campaign events across the country were well received. And he began to develop the infrastructure for a candidacy by setting up a new campaign group, the Progressive Patriots Fund, which aided candidates around the country who shared his anti-war and pro-civil liberties positions.

But Feingold was always torn between the lure of a presidential run and his love of the Senate, where he has served since 1993.

The Wisconsinite, who has spent most of his Senate career serving as a member of the minority party, decided after Tuesday's decision by the voters to shift control of the chamber to the Democrats that he was more interested in making the Congress work than in spending a year or more on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Iowa and other early primary and caucus states.

"I'm sure a campaign for President would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda. At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a Senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget Committees," the senator explained. "Although I have given it a lot of thought, I cannot muster the same enthusiasm for a race for President while I am trying simultaneously to advance our agenda in the Senate. In other words, if I really wanted to run for President, regardless of the odds or other possible candidates, I would do so. However, to put my family and all of my friends and supporters through such a process without having a very strong desire to run, seems inappropriate to me. And, yes, while I would strongly prefer that our nominee in 2008 be someone who had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning, I am prepared to work as hard as I can through the Progressive Patriots Fund, and consistent with my duties in the Senate, to maintain or increase our gains from November 7 in the Congress and, of course, to elect a Democrat as President in 2008."

Feingold's decision gives a boost to the all-but-certain candidacy of former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president, who has positioned himself to the left of the current field. Of course, if Illinois Senator Barack Obama decides to run, he could well eclipse Edwards as the choice of progressives who worry about handing the nomination to the presumed frontrunner, centrist New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Last week, another centrist, outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack launched an exploratory bid for the Democratic nod. Vilsack's move was seen by some as narrowing the options for Democrats, such as Feingold, who might have hoped to jumpstart an outsider campaign with a strong showing in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. But Feingold had developed as much support in New Hampshire, the traditional first-primary state, where anti-war candidates ran especially well on Tuesday.

In the end, Feingold came to the conclusion that the enthusiasm he detected as he visited states across the country in 2006 had more to do with the boldness of his progressive positions than with his own potential candidacy.

"(While) I've certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, 'Run Russ Run,' or 'Russ in '08,' I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I've taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations," mused Feingold. "This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "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

Listening to a Veteran

Next week, one of the greatest war heroes to ever serve in Congress will return to Washington to discuss how the U.S. should extract itself from the quagmire in Iraq.

Former Sen. George McGovern will address members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Already, conservatives are accusing the Democrats in the House and Senate of being "McGovernite" liberals because some members of the House caucus will meet with the South Dakotan.

Let's hope the conservatives are right - because if this Congress wants to know about issues of war and peace, they should start listening to veterans. And McGovern is one of America's wisest old soldiers. Like a lot of the veterans of World War II, he understands that there are times when it makes sense to fight, just as there are times when it makes sense to bring the troops home.

McGovern never made much of his war record when he served in the U.S. House and Senate from the 1950s to the 1980s, nor when he sought the presidency in 1972. Like many veterans, he was cautious about separating his service from that of the millions of other Americans who beat back Hitler and the fascists in World War II.

As a result, most Americans are probably still unaware of the fact that, as a 19-year-old college sophomore, McGovern volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Force immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He ended up with one of the most dangerous missions of the war: piloting a B-24 Liberator bomber. He flew 35 missions over enemy territory from bases in North Africa and Italy at a time when flight crews knew that their chances of making it back were often slim.

McGovern got his crew through the war alive and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. Decades later, historian Stephen Ambrose would write about that service in his epic book, "The Wild Blue."

Recalling his support for McGovern's 1972 presidential candidacy, Ambrose wrote, "I felt at the time of the election that he should have pressed the issue of his war record a bit more. For whatever reasons, he chose not to. But yes, I would like the American people to know more about what he did during the war. I hope this will foster, not so much McGovern's appeal to a wider audience, but the understanding that you don't necessarily have to be a hawk to be patriotic. McGovern is one of the greatest patriots I know, and his anti-war stance doesn't make him any less of one."

Those words remain true on this Veterans Day. The crisis of this moment in history is that those who know about war and peace, about when to fight and when to use diplomacy, have not been listened to by the Bush administration. And that refusal to take the wise counsel of veterans has cost this country dearly.

Thousands of young American men and women have been killed in Iraq since Gen. Wesley Clark and other military men warned against invading that country. Hundreds of young American men and women have died in Iraq since one of the most decorated veterans in Congress, Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha, said a year ago that it was time to start bringing the troops home.

The best way to honor those who have fought to protect the U.S. on this or any Veterans Day is to listen to the veterans.

Members of Congress will have an opportunity to do so on Tuesday when McGovern comes to Washington. The decorated World War II veteran will come with a plan to extract the U.S. from the mess in Iraq quickly, safely and honorably. It is outlined in his new book (written with Wiliam Polk), "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," and it comes down to a simple fact: "The best way to reduce this insurgency is to get the American forces out of there. That's what's driving this insurgency."

McGovern's book calls for a new approach, one that would center on removing U.S. and foreign troops and establishing a transitional force made up of Muslims from the region to police the country.

"I've talked with a lot of senior officers - generals and admirals - in preparation for this book that say this war can't be won, that the problems now are not military problems," explains McGovern.

The answer is a political one. Congress must act. And it should start by listening to a veteran.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "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

Whither the Rainbow in the Blue Wave?

In the midst of Democratic victories on Tuesday, a series of anti-immigrant initiatives passed. In Arizona, voters defeated the worst anti-immigrant hardliners, such as Minuteman Randy Graf who got "thumped" in the 8th district. But voters overwhelmingly approved (by nearly 3-1 margins) Propositions 100, 102, 103 and 300. These initiatives deny some immigrants the right to bail, punitive damages and state child-care and adult education programs. Prop. 103 establishes English as the official language of Arizona. Que paso en Arizona?

It seems voters rejected anti-immigrant vitriol when it spewed from the mouths of candidates, but when that same rhetoric came in the faceless form of citizen's initiatives that mixed fiscal austerity with xenophobia -- voters swallowed the bait. Why should your tax dollars go to services for illegal immigrants? This was the message that anti-immigrant forces took to Arizonans. It was classic Lou Dobbs, class vs. race, and it worked.

The apparent appeal of this message is what makes me nervous about the rising blue tide of economic populism in the Democratic Party. Raising the minimum wage and beating back the worst of free-market capitalism are all good things, of course. But Democrats have a long history of pandering to white, working-class "Reagan Democrats" while cutting and running on racial minorities. Most recently, a raft of Democrats voted to build a fence along the US-Mexico border, including Prez. hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was a do-nothing, symbolic vote, but it doesn't bode well for what will happen next on the "common ground" Bush and Dems hope to find on immigration issues. As Roberto Lovato points out, "The crop of House and Senate members-elect includes many Democrats whose positions on immigration hardly differ from the 'border first' Republicans they ousted."

As a matter of long-term strategy, running tough on immigration is a fool's game. Swiftly and surely the country is becoming majority minority -- some big states (California, Texas) are already there. In this last election, 70% of Latinos voted Democrat -- up from 53% in 2004 -- but this switch was largely a backlash against Republicans, not the product of genuine base-building by Democrats. Dems can keep hoping that Republicans implode on this front, or they can offer up a real alternative.

No one represents the failed strategy of immigrant-baiting more than Tennessee's Harold Ford. Formerly a moderate on immigration issues, Ford shifted his votes and talk in a craven effort to appeal to nativist sentiment in his home state. In an ad attacking his Republican opponent for hiring illegal immigrants, Ford declared, "We've got to get tough on illegals." (As both a matter of grammar and politics, I find this line repugnant. Acts are illegal. When people themselves are made "illegal" -- as in anti-immigrant initiatives or the torture bill -- the law becomes a dehumanizing instrument.) In the end, Ford was the victim of race-baiting ads himself, an irony that is probably lost on him.

Ford ran and lost as the anti-Rainbow Coalition candidate, a black man who disparaged his brown brothers and sisters. Now there's rampant speculation that he'll be drafted to replace Howard Dean as DNC chair. All of which begs the question -- Whither the rainbow in the blue wave?

Listening to a Veteran

Next week, one of the greatest war heroes to ever serve in Congress will return to Washington to discuss how the U.S. should extract itself from the quagmire in Iraq.

Former Sen. George McGovern will address members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Already, conservatives are accusing the Democrats in the House and Senate of being "McGovernite" liberals because some members of the House caucus will meet with the South Dakotan.

Let's hope the conservatives are right - because if this Congress wants to know about issues of war and peace, they should start listening to veterans. And McGovern is one of America's wisest old soldiers.

McGovern never made much of his war record when he served in the U.S. House and Senate from the 1950s to the 1980s, nor when he sought the presidency in 1972. Like many veterans, he was cautious about separating his service from that of the millions of other Americans who beat back Hitler and the fascists in World War II.

As a result, most Americans are probably still unaware of the fact that, as a 19-year-old college sophomore, McGovern volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Force immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He ended up with one of the most dangerous missions of the war: piloting a B-24 Liberator bomber. He flew 35 missions over enemy territory from bases in North Africa and Italy at a time when flight crews knew that their chances of making it back were often slim.

McGovern got his crew through the war alive and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. Decades later, historian Stephen Ambrose would write about that service in his epic book, "The Wild Blue."

Recalling his support for McGovern's 1972 presidential candidacy, Ambrose wrote, "I felt at the time of the election that he should have pressed the issue of his war record a bit more. For whatever reasons, he chose not to. But yes, I would like the American people to know more about what he did during the war. I hope this will foster, not so much McGovern's appeal to a wider audience, but the understanding that you don't necessarily have to be a hawk to be patriotic. McGovern is one of the greatest patriots I know, and his anti-war stance doesn't make him any less of one."

Those words remain true on this Veterans Day. The crisis of this moment in history is that those who know about war and peace, about when to fight and when to use diplomacy, have not been listened to by the Bush administration. And that refusal to take the wise counsel of veterans has cost this country dearly.

Thousands of young American men and women have been killed in Iraq since Gen. Wesley Clark and other military men warned against invading that country. Hundreds of young American men and women have died in Iraq since one of the most decorated veterans in Congress, Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha, said a year ago that it was time to start bringing the troops home.

The best way to honor those who have fought to protect the U.S. on this or any Veterans Day is to listen to the veterans.

Members of Congress will have an opportunity to do so on Tuesday when McGovern comes to Washington. The decorated World War II veteran will come with a plan to extract the U.S. from the mess in Iraq quickly, safely and honorably. It is outlined in his new book (written with Wiliam Polk), "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," and it comes down to a simple fact: "The best way to reduce this insurgency is to get the American forces out of there. That's what's driving this insurgency."

McGovern's book calls for a new approach, one that would center on removing U.S. and foreign troops and establishing a transitional force made up of Muslims from the region to police the country.

"I've talked with a lot of senior officers - generals and admirals - in preparation for this book that say this war can't be won, that the problems now are not military problems," explains McGovern.

The answer is a political one. Congress must act. And it should start by listening to a veteran.