The Nation

The GOP's 100 Hour Plan

It's always fascinating to see how one side views the other in politics. Scrolling through my inbox last night, I noticed that Republicans had a very different conception of the House Democrats' 100 hour plan, both substantively and rhetorically. They've even renamed the key provisions.

The Dems "Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations,"--under consideration today in the House--became the GOP's "Not Fully Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations."

"The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007," sponsored by Democrat George Miller and scheduled for debate tomorrow, transformed into the GOP's "Minimum Wage Increase Without Assistance for Small Business."

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act = The Destruction of Human Embryos for Research.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act = Government "Negotiated" Drug Prices.

No word yet on what they're calling the Democratic plans to cut student loan rates in half and roll back tax breaks for oil companies. How about "Welfare for College Students" and "Tax Increase for Texas."

Pentagon Dystopia

In our world, the Pentagon and the national security bureaucracy have largely taken possession of the future. In an exchange in 2002, journalist Ron Suskind reported a senior adviser to President Bush telling him:

"that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality… We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Slowly, step by step, the present White House has found itself forced back into at least the vicinity of the reality-based community. This week we may, in fact, get to hear one of the last of this President's great Iraqi fictions.

The same cannot be said of the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community (IC). They have settled into the future and taken it in hand in a business-like, if somewhat lurid, way. It's the Pentagon that, in 2004, was already producing futuristic studies about a globally warmed world from Hell; it's the Pentagon's blue-skies research agency, DARPA, that regularly lets scientists and other thinkers loose to dream wildly about future possibilities (and then, of course, to create war-fighting weaponry and other equipment from those dreams). It's the National Nuclear Security Administration that is hard at work dreaming up the nature of our nuclear arsenal in 2030.

Typical is the National Intelligence Council, a "center of strategic thinking within the U.S. Government, reporting to the Director of Central Intelligence." In 2005, it was already expending much effort to create fictional scenarios for 2010, 2015, and 2020. Someone I know recently attended workshops the Council's long-range assessment unit organized, trying to look at the "threats after next" -- and this time they were deep into the 2020s.

The future -- whether imagined as utopian or dystopian -- was, not so long ago, the province of dreamers, or actual writers of fiction, or madmen and cranks, or reformers and journalists, or even wanna-be war-fighters, but not so regularly of actual war-fighters, or secretaries of defense, or presidents. In our time, the Pentagon and the IC have quite literally become the fantasy-based community. And yet, strangely enough, the urge of our top policy-makers (and allied academics and scientists) to spend their time in relatively distant futures has been little explored or considered by others.

A couple of things can be said about this near compulsion. First, it's largely confined to the arts of war. There is no equivalent in our government when it comes to health care or education, retirement or housing. No well-funded government think-tanks and lousy-with-loot research organizations are ready to let anyone loose dreaming about our planet's endangered environment, for instance. The future -- the only one our government seems truly to care about -- is most distinctly not good for you. It's a totally weaponized, grimly dystopian health hazard for the planet.

Of course, future fictions are notorious for their wrong-headedness. All you have to do is check out old utopian or dystopian fiction, if you don't believe me. The scandal here is not that, like most human beings, our soldiers and spies are sure to be desperately wrong on most aspects of their future fictions. The scandal is that we're mortgaging our wealth and our futures, whatever they may be, to their bloodcurdling, self-interested, and often absurd fantasies. After all, they're running a giant, massively profitable business operation off fictional futures, while creating their own armed reality at our expense.

For a peek at the Pentagon's vision of how to fight in Baghdad 2025, check out Nick Turse's latest piece at Tomdispatch.com.

The Senator Who Will Not Surge

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, are trying to figure out how to respond to the to the expected presidential proposal for to surge the United States deeper into the quagmire that is Iraq.

But the man who, by virtue of his long service in the Senate and his mastery of that chamber's politics and procedures, is recognized and respected by savvy Democrats and Republicans as the essential member of the new Congress, is not confused.

Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, is today introducing legislation to uniquivocally "prohibit the use of funds for an escalation of United States forces in Iraq above the numbers existing as of January 9, 2007."

Kennedy voted against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq and he has been a consistent critic of the war. But this targeted piece of legislation specifically addresses the "surge" being proposed by the president.

Even more importantly, Kennedy's bill reasserts the role of Congress in a time of war. The Constitution allows the president to serve as commander-in-chief and affords him reasonable war-making powers in that role. But it reserves for Congress the power of the purse, and the founders were clear in their believe that the House and Senate should use that power to constrain a president who is waging war without reason or sound strategies.

The Congress has frequently used the power of the purse to control presidential war-making. Kennedy points to examples from the Vietnam era, but there are also examples from just the past quarter century of the Congress specifically embracing troops caps in Lebanon, in the European NATO countries and in Colombia. Indeed, as the Center for American Progress notes in a detailed new report, "Congressional Limitations and Requirements for Military Deployments and Funding," the Congress has a rich record of stepping in to prevent presidents from expanding U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

Kennedy, who came to the Senate in 1963 recognizes that record, and he embraces its central theme: That the Constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances requires Congress to be in the thick of decision making with regard to wars and their escalation.

Kennedy's specific message is summed up in the title of the speech the senator is delivinng today at the National Press Club: "Escalation is Not the Answer: Time for Congress to Insist on Real Change in Iraq"

Says Kennedy, "It seems to me that we are at a time of a major escalation into a civil war, that's what the proposal of a surge is really about. This president is going to escalate the American presence and escalate the whole Iraqi war. This is a major mistake and a major blunder. If there's one thing that the election was about last fall was sending a very clear message to Congress and to the president that the American people want accountability. They want a change in direction on Iraq, they want accountability, and they want people to stand up and be counted."

Will other members of the Senate stand up and be counted? And will members of the House do the same?

Pelosi is clearly toying with strategies to challenge the proposed escalation of the war. She's said that Congress must be a part of the discussion about the president's "surge" proposal, while the Senate's Reid remains troublingly vague.

Ultimately, it is Kennedy who has proposed the clearest challenge to the administration. And senators, especially those who recognize the futility of expanding this war, need to join him in saying no to the surge.

"I think it's to try to hold policy makers accountable," Kennedy explained in a discussion with The New York Times regarding his legislation. "The president is the commander in chief. This is George Bush's war. But we have some responsibility in holding him accountable and holding accountable the people that want to continue the war in the way that it is being undertaken at the present time. The American people have expressed a different view and we need accountability."

Here are Kennedy's remarks regarding his bill:

The American people sent a clear message in November that we must change course in Iraq and begin to withdraw our troops, not escalate their presence. The way to start is by acting on the President's new plan. An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake. It would compound the original misguided decision to invade Iraq. We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq. We must act to prevent it.

Today I am introducing legislation to reclaim the rightful role of Congress and the people's right to a full voice in the President's plan to send more troops to Iraq. My bill will say that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation, unless and until Congress approves the President's plan.

My proposal will not diminish our support for the forces we already have in Iraq. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure they have all the support they truly need. Even more important, we will continue to do all we can to bring them safely home. The best immediate way to support our troops is by refusing to inject more and more of them into the cauldron of a civil war that can be resolved only by the people and government of Iraq.

This bill will give all Americans – from Maine to Florida to California to Alaska and Hawaii – an opportunity to hold the President accountable for his actions. The President's speech must be the beginning – not the end – of a new national discussion of our policy in Iraq. Congress must have a genuine debate over the wisdom of the President's plan. Let us hear the arguments for it and against it. Then let us vote on it in the light of day. Let the American people hear – yes or no – where their elected representatives stand on one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Until now, a rubber stamp Republican Congress has refused to hold the White House accountable on Iraq. But the November election has dramatically changed all that. Over the past two years, Democrats reached for their roots as true members of our Party. We listened to the hopes and dreams of everyday Americans. We rejected the politics of fear and division. We embraced a vision of hope and shared purpose. And the American people voted for change.

Many of us felt the authorization to go to war was a grave mistake at the time. I've said that my vote against the war in Iraq is the best vote I've cast in my 44 years in the United States Senate.

But no matter what any of us thought then, the Iraq War resolution is obviously obsolete today. It authorized a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction. But there were no WMDs to destroy. It authorized a war with Saddam Hussein. But today, Saddam is no more. It authorized a war because Saddam was allied with al Qaeda. But there was no alliance.

The mission of our armed forces today in Iraq bears no resemblance whatever to the mission authorized by Congress. President Bush should not be permitted to escalate the war further, and send an even larger number of our troops into harm's way, without a clear and specific new authorization from Congress.

Our history makes clear that a new escalation in our forces will not advance our national security. It will not move Iraq toward self-government, and it will needlessly endanger our troops by injecting more of them into the middle of a civil war.

... Comparisons from history resonate painfully in today's debate on Iraq. In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy. The Department of Defense kept assuring us that each new escalation in Vietnam would be the last. Instead, each one led only to the next.

There was no military solution to that war. But we kept trying to find one anyway. In the end, 58,000 Americans died in the search for it.

Echoes of that disaster are all around us today. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.

As with Vietnam, the only rational solution to the crisis is political, not military. Injecting more troops into a civil war is not the answer. Our men and women in uniform cannot force the Iraqi people to reconcile their differences.The President may deny the plain truth. But the truth speaks loudly and tragically. Congress must no longer follow him deeper into the quagmire in Iraq.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines 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.'"

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

Surge Homeward

Peace groups and members of Congress are crafting creative ideas to counter a Commander-in-Chief who misled us into a catastrophic conflict and now proposes to escalate the war in Iraq.

As the President prepares to escalate (aka "surge") the war in Iraq, the new Democratic Congress and peace activists across the nation are searching for the most effective ways to respond to the continuing Madness of King George. Here is a look at what some legislators, former and current military personnel, and peace groups are doing to end a war that has stretched the military to the breaking point, and sacrificed more than three thousand American men and women to what columnist Paul Krugman calls "the quagmire of the vanities."

•Representative John Murtha has already taken a strong stand in announcing that he will oppose funding for any escalation as Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Murtha told Arianna Huffington that "he wants to ‘fence the funding,' denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq…."

Murtha's stance is critical since the rightwing will wrongly spin (as they have post-Vietnam) that opposition to funding a war is tantamount to not supporting the troops. How best to counter the rightwing political blame game will require hard work and courage in the coming weeks and months.

•In addition to Murtha's stance, Representatives such as James McGovern and Dennis Kucinich--now a Presidential candidate--are also focused on using the power of the purse to end this debacle. Kucinich called for the withholding of funds for future troop deployments after the people spoke against the war so clearly on Election Day, and McGovern introduced the End the War in Iraq Act last session "to prohibit the use of funds to deploy United States Armed Forces to Iraq." While many--especially the still delusional neocons--will try to paint this legislation as anti-military, it isn't. It calls for using those funds "for the safe and orderly withdrawal of the Armed Forces from Iraq."

Although Rep. McGovern's bill only had 19 co-sponsors (including Rep. Kucinich) at the end of Congress' last session, more Democrats may be moved to take a stand when the next supplemental funding bill comes up as early as February – especially as they hear from their constituents and peace activists.

•In the Senate, according to the New York Times, Senator Edward Kennedy will introduce legislation on Tuesday that would require the President to obtain new authorization from Congress prior to sending any more troops to Iraq. Kennedy urged a quick vote, saying, "The importance of this legislation is that it will apply now before we could get the escalation." He cited Congressional intervention in both Vietnam and Lebanon in calling for his colleagues to take action to stop any escalation in Iraq. One clear ally of Sen. Kennedy's is Sen. Russ Feingold – who, along with Sen. John Kerry, introduced legislation during the last session of Congress for a withdrawal to be completed by July of this year. Feingold told The Times: "My concern now is that too many Democrats are going to want to play it safe on this issue and not take the strong stand that American people demand."

Appeal for Redress – Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, spokesman for the extraordinary movement of active military personnel, reservists, and officers (including "a handful of colonels") seeking withdrawal--says that getting Congressional representatives to explicitly take a stand against the occupation is even more pressing than any debate on funding. Hutto believes that the debate must focus on shifting the policy of this government from one of occupation to "withdrawing all troops and bases from Iraq." Any vote to fund the current policy--whether increasing troop levels, or training Iraqi soldiers, or even funding an Iraqi jobs program with no end to the war in sight--supports the principle of occupation, and to Hutto and his fellow-servicemen and women that is simply unacceptable.

"The first priority needs to be to get the leadership in DC to commit to the principle of withdrawal," Hutto says. "Then we can talk about funding needs."

Sen. George McGovern, who recently met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) advises that he would continue funding only in the context of moving towards a withdrawal. His book–-co-authored with former history professor and State Department Middle East expert, William R. Polk--outlines a step-by-step, six-month plan for withdrawal to be completed on or before June 30.

McGovern will present his proposal at the CPC's Capitol Hill Public Forum on Iraq this Friday, January 12 at 9:30 A.M. (345 Cannon House Office Building… and word is that new Iraq legislation will come out of this forum). He stresses the need for a massive reconstruction effort led by Iraqis and largely funded by the United States (at a far cheaper cost than maintaining the occupation); a provision for financing law enforcement contingents from other Muslim or Arab countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia; and reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of life and property as the British are doing.

"I think [this] is more politically acceptable than simply cutting off funding," McGovern said. "Although, if that's the only thing that will work after trying this more deliberative effort then I would support a funding cutoff. We have to terminate that war in the near term."

Win Without War--a coalition of national organizations advocating for a foreign policy based on international cooperation and enforceable international law – is preparing to join forces with Rep. Murtha in calling for any supplemental to be used only towards a safe and orderly withdrawal. National Director and former Congressman Tom Andrews says, "In response to George Bush's call to escalate the war in Iraq, the message of our campaign will be as simple, direct and as straightforward as possible: NO!" The America Says NO! campaign will utilize local actions, signs, buttons, bumper stickers, flyers, and ads in newspapers and online to communicate this message.

MoveOn is launching an immediate campaign to oppose Bush's escalation and a long-term campaign to force Congress to end the war. It is organizing rallies across the nation, advertising, call-in days, online petitions, and more. Already over 260,000 members have signed MoveOn's petition opposing escalation and made over 8,000 calls to Congress. MoveOn has endorsed the Kennedy bill and – according to Washington Director Tom Matzzie--its message to Democratic leaders is: "Figure it out. Get out of Iraq. All options should be on the table."

Military Families Speak Out--with a membership of over 3,000 military families--is urging citizens to send their Congressional representatives a postcard--"Support Our Troops: De-fund the War!"--to bring the troops home now. And Iraq Veterans Against the War--with members in 41 states, Washington, DC, Canada, and on numerous bases overseas (including Iraq)--is also calling for an end to funding, as well as reparations to Iraqis and full benefits (including mental health) for returning servicemen and women.

Peace Action--with over 28 state affiliates and 100 local chapters across the country--will call on Congress to vote against the supplemental funding bill. But it will also explore with its Congressional allies how the money might be reduced or conditioned. In a statement, Executive Director Kevin Martin said "The question now is, how will the Democratic Congress respond? While they sound skeptical of [Bush's] plan right now, if they refuse to curtail funds in any way and allow Bush to do what he wants, they will become his accomplices in this disastrous war. And the American people will not accept that."

United for Peace and Justice--a coalition of more than 1300 local and national groups--is focused on demonstrating wide antiwar sentiment with March on Washington, DC on January 27 as well as a Congressional Advocacy Day on January 29. UFPJ hopes to have at least one participant from each of the 435 Congressional districts and will "remind Congress why they were elected and demand that they act immediately to end the occupation of Iraq."

While there is still some uncertainty about how to fulfill the mandate of the November election to end this war, peace groups and members of Congress are crafting creative ideas and resolutions to counter a Commander-in-Chief who misled us into a catastrophic conflict and would now recklessly waste more lives and resources in pursuit of his ideological mission and the salvaging of his legacy. It is time to focus on seeking a political resolution, energetic regional diplomacy to contain the civil war, and funding to address this growing humanitarian catastrophe.

And, finally, to find a safe and honorable way home for our troops.

An Israeli Defense of Jimmy Carter

There is an ugly cynicism to the attack on Jimmy Carter that has been launched by Americans who well recognize that the former president's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, says nothing that has not already been said about the Middle East conflict by Israeli politicians and commentators.

So why is Carter, a longtime friend of Israel and the Jewish people, being smeared as an anti-Semite for suggesting that the occupation by Israeli forces of Palestinian territory inspires troubling comparisons with the apartheid system that white South Africans once imposed on their country's black majority?

One of Israel's most prominent political figures suggests that it has a lot to do with the determination of Carter's critics to allow their emotions to trump the facts.

"The trouble is that their love of Israel distorts their judgment and blinds them from seeing what's in front of them," argues Shulamit Aloni, a veteran of Israel's war of independence who went on to serve in the Knesset and as a minister in several Israeli cabinets. "Israel is an occupying power that for 40 years has been oppressing an indigenous people, which is entitled to a sovereign and independent existence while living in peace with us."

In a defense of Carter penned for the mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yediot Acharonot, the woman who served as former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's education minister wrote that, "Indeed apartheid does exist here."

"The U.S. Jewish establishment's onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies," explains Aloni. "Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population's movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians' land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades."

Aloni should be reminded that the battering of Carter has as frequently come from non-Jews as Jews in the U.S. But, with that clarification, her message is one that merits serious attention from Americans who are frustrated by this country's inability to engage in a serious discussion about Middle East policy.

This does not mean that everyone must agree with Aloni's every point.

A recipient of the Israel Prize, the highest honor awarded by her country's government, the internationally-respected parliamentarian has long been a critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Some will disregard her remarks for that reason. Others who respect Aloni's history may disagree with her current critique. But no one who has followed Israeli affairs can doubt that she speaks for a meaningful number of her countrymen and women when she defends Carter.

In fact, the website of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom recently featured a call for visitors to" "Please consider adding your voices to those who are grateful to Jimmy Carter for writing a brave and important book, Peace Not Apartheid. While the media tries to blank him out, and some would cast aspersions at President Carter for being 'anti-Israel,' in fact the book offers much needed wisdom about how to support a just peace in Israel and Palestine."

Aloni and Gush Shalom certainly do not speak for all Israelis. But their response to Carter's book should be instructive for Americans.

It is not necessary to share all of Aloni's views to recognize that the veteran of the Hagana paramilitary organization that fought for Israeli independence has done a service not only to Carter but to all Americans who would like to see this country engage in an honest dialogue about Middle East affairs.

While Israel enjoys a reasonably vibrant debate with regard to how the Jewish state should relate to Palestine, the United States suffers from a crude and dysfunctional discourse about the same question. The attacks on Jimmy Carter highlight just how ugly and dishonest that discourse has become. Perhaps that is why Shulamit Aloni's pointed response to those attacks is so important. It took an Israeli to remind us of how much more realistic the dialogue could -- and should -- be.


John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines 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.'"

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

Asian Americans for Affirmative Action

Sunday's NYT Education supplement ran a cover story by Timothy Egan about Asian Americans and affirmative action. Focusing on UC Berkeley -- where Asians have grown to 41% of the student body since Proposition 209 banned racial preferences in 1997 -- Egan observes that the end of affirmative action and the implementation of a "pure meritocracy" in admissions spells hugely disproportionate numbers of Asians at elite colleges and drastic shortages of Hispanics and African Americans. Berkeley, he concludes somewhat ominously, is the future of higher education.

But you don't need the NYT to spot the trend. Just take a day trip to the Ivy league campus of your choice. Back when I was at Yale (in the mid-'90s), Kim was the most common last name. Outdoing the Jones by far, there were, I think, 51 of us at one point. (There were even, to my chagrin, two Richard Kims!) As Egan points out, Asian Americans comprise roughly 5% of the US population but represent anywhere from 13-40% of undergraduates at many top schools: 27% at MIT, 24% at Stanford, 17% at UT Austin, 13% at Columbia, 37% in the UC system as a whole and so forth. In contrast, only 3.6% of Berkeley's freshman class are African American and only 11% are Hispanic -- way below state population levels.

Egan's right about the numbers, but he misses the mark on many other measures. First, he underplays the differences between "brain drain" Asian Americans and more recent, less affluent, less educated Asian immigrants. As Frank Wu points out in his book Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, after the passage of Prop. 209, Filipino Americans (like African Americans) were "zeroed out" at Berkeley's law school despite the fact that the Bay area contains one of the largest Filipino communities in the US. Egan does quote a few academics who note that Sri Lankans and Koreans are not the same people, but he makes it seem as if the salient differences are matters of culture and "values" rather than of class and access.

Secondly, for much of the article Egan gives the erroneous impression that Asian Americans are just delighted about their demographic surge at the UCs, biting to end affirmative action elsewhere and seize seats currently reserved for other minorities. He gives airtime to Jian Li, who's campaigning to deny Princeton federal funding because he thinks its admission policy discriminates against Asian Americans. (Despite a perfect SAT score, Li was rejected by the Tigers. But don't shed a tear just yet, he's doing quite fine at Yale). And Egan cites a 2005 study by Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung that finds that, without affirmative action, Asians (and not whites) would fill the vast majority (80%) of spots reserved for African Americans and Hispanics at elite universities.

But what Egan fails to note here is that, despite the possibility that Asian Americans may be the group most "disadvantaged" by affirmative action, they consistently, vigorously and overwhelmingly support it at the polls. Back in 1996, California governor Pete Wilson, Ward Connerly and a host of other right-wingers ran a vicious, race-wedge campaign for Prop. 209. Asian communities were targeted with a slew of invidious, "me-first" messages designed to appeal to their narrow self-interests. And yet, 61% of Asian American voters rejected Prop. 209. Last year, when Michigan voters approved a similar measure (Prop. 2) by 58%, 75% of Asian American voters voted against it. Joining the NAACP, Rainbow/Push Coalition, the ACLU and the UAW in mobilizing opposition to Prop. 2 was the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The real question then about Asian Americans and affirmative action -- one that Egan and the NYT don't ask -- is why? Why do we continue to support a policy that apparently "harms" us? One answer is that it doesn't, at least not always and not equally. Connerly and his minions -- who have anti-affirmative action initiatives brewing in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska -- have focused their message almost exclusively on admissions, and not on public employment and state contracts, even though affirmative action applies to those arenas as well, arenas in which Asian Americans are often underrepresented. (By focusing solely on Prop. 209's impact on UC admissions, the NYT repeats Connerly's misinformation).

But racial group interest aside, I have a hunch that Asian Americans support affirmative action because the legacy of discrimination against Asians -- from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese internment to the crucifixion of Wen Ho Lee to post-9/11 roundups of brown folk -- is seared into our collective memory. And despite the model minority myth, and despite the occasional con-jobs like Dinesh d'Souza or Elaine Chao, most of us know that the deck isn't fairly stacked, that the moment demands remedy, for us and for others.

The last question I'll raise is: What's up with white people? If abolishing affirmative action would gain whites little in the admissions game (and then mostly to the ruling class of whites) and if Asian Americans reap most of the benefits of what Egan calls a "pure meritocracy," then why is it that only white people as a group vote to end affirmative action? Why are the litigants and campaigners at the forefront of the affirmative action backlash predominately white (Connerly aside)? From where does this seething, misplaced, amnesiac resentment, so often masquerading as class-consciousness (see Walter Benn Michaels) and fairness, come?

Egan's article, if unwittingly, at least provides a clue. In his Bladerunner-esque, dystopian image of Berkeley as "Asian heaven," as "boring socially, full of science nerds, a hard place to make friends," as abuzz with "foreign languages" and packed with "clubs representing every conceivable ethnic group," lies the real anxiety behind the white backlash -- the unnerving, inevitable end of the white republic. If Berkeley is indeed the future of America, then neither maintaining nor abolishing affirmative action will preserve this American future as a white refuge. But keeping (and restoring) affirmative action will provide, however imperfectly, space for not just the yellow, but also for the brown, the red and the black.

The Shifting Terrain in Economics

I spent much of this weekend at the annual American Economic Association conference here in Chicago. The conference is the biggest gathering of economists anywhere in America (approximately 10,000 in all) and features a non-stop orgy of wonky discussions, multiple-variable regressions, and eager grad students looking to get hired. A few cultural observations: economists are far more given to wearing suits than any other kind of academic I've ever seen. Really: it looked like an accounting conference. (The two exceptions being the European grad students, who were noticeably more stylish, and the lefty, heterodox economists who eschewed suits in favor of jeans, sweater vests and the occasional pair of Tevas.)

There were about five papers during each time slot that I wanted to see, so it was impossible to get around and take in everything, but I got to see a number of stimulating discussions. Here are a few things I learned:

1. Women are disproportionately represented among the set of workers hurt by "free trade." In her paper Trade-Related Job Losses: A Gender Analysis, Ramya M. Vijaya analyzed what happens to workers who lose their jobs due to outsourcing. Many of them attempt to take advantage of the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which funds retraining. Those who enroll in the program are mostly women, and, surprisingly, those who get retrained for jobs in a different sector than the one they lost end up recouping less of their former salary than those who don't retrain. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a politician touting "job retraining" as a way of mitigating the distributional effects of US trade policy.

2. People don't have much financial literacy, and those who do are much more likely to be highly educated. This may not seem like a shocking result, but it's worth noting that signficant variations in basic (and I mean basic) financial knowlege aren't really accounted for in the traditional neo-classical models. Indeed, the putative rationale for shifting retirement management to 401ks, and defined contribution programs is that individuals as rational actors are going to most efficiently allocate their capital and grow their wealth. In Financial Literacy and Planning: Implications for Retirement Wellbeing [pdf], Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell put this notion to the test. Their methodology is very simple. They inserted three very basic questions about finance into the annual Health and Retirement Study. Here's an example of one; "Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow: more than $102, exactly $102, less than $102?" As easy as this question may seem, fully one third of the respondents got it wrong.

To quote their abstract:

Our analysis shows that financial illiteracy is widespread among older Americans: only half of the age 50+ respondents could correctly answer two simple questions regarding interest compounding and inflation, and only one-third correctly answered these two questions and a question about risk diversification. Women, minorities, and those without a college degree were particularly at risk of displaying low financial knowledge.

This all may seem obvious, but it's hugely important that the authors have established it empirically. Financial illiteracy is not evenly distributed and therefore retirement systems that depend on levels of financial literacy are going to further exacerbate inequalities of wealth distribution.

3. The current mainstream, neo-classical economics models don't take into account the ways in which human behavior is affected by norms, and if the did, the economic models might look very, very different. This point was made in great detail by outgoing AEA president and Nobel Laureate George Akerlof in his talk, The Missing Motivation in Macroeconomics [pdf]. The speech was fascinating for a variety of reasons I hope to discuss in an upcoming article, but here's Louis Uchitelle's write-up in the Times.

All in all, the sense I got from the weekend is that slowly but surely the economics field is changing, becoming more open and pluralist, and less committed to the rigid orthdoxy developed by the neo-classical economists of the last generation. There's still a tremendous amount of status hierarchy attached to who gets counted as "mainstream," but there's something brewing in the field, and it might have some very significant effects in our policy discussions.

How to Leave Iraq

So some House Democrats now say they want to put forward their own plan for Iraq, as a counter to Bush's? Here is an excellent plan that I have thought long and hard about that I urge them to use.

(Please note that, unlike the vast majority of the people now producing "plans" for Iraq, I have extensive experience in both Middle East studies and strategic studies, as well as the study of peacemaking. Readers might want to see some of what I was writing back in February '03 or April '03 about the US and Iraq....)

So here is my current, Three-step program for a US disengagement from Iraq:

(1) The President makes an authoritative public statement in which he announces,

    (a) His firm intention to pull all US troops out of Iraq by a date certain, perhaps 4-6 months ahead;

(b) An assurance that the US has no lasting claims on the land or resources of Iraq;

(c) An expression of the US's goodwill towards the people of Iraq, and its sympathy for all the harms that they have suffered in recent years; and

(d) An invitation to the UN Secretary-General to oversee the process of negotiating all the modalities of the US troop withdrawal, including the formation of an Iraqi negotiating team of his (not the US's) choice, and the convening of a parallel negotiation that involves Iraq, the US, and all Iraq's neighbors.

(2) The clock starts ticking on the timetable announced by the President. That fact and the other new diplomatic realities created by his announcement all act together to start transforming the political dynamics within Iraq, the region, and indeed the US, as well. The Iraqi parties and movements all have a powerful incentive to work with each other and the UN for the speedy success of the negotiation over the post-occupation political order. They and the UN also start planning for the many tasks of social, economic, and political reconstruction that the country needs. Another important function for the UN will be to resurrect and re-stress the principle of Iraq's territorial integrity and national soveriegnty against all the pressures that its powerful neighbors may exert in this fragile period. In these months the US troops in Iraq might come under some form of UN command (as happened-- imperfectly, but with ultimate success-- during an analogous process of a negotiated troop withdrawal in Namibia, in 1989.) But anyway, the US troops' main mission in this period will be to organize and start implementing their own orderly departure from the country.

(3) On the date certain the last US troops leave Iraq and there is a handing-over ceremony.

... For those who don't believe such a program is feasible, I'll just note that when I was growing up in England in the 1950s and the 1960s this kind of thing was happening almost every week as our "empire" got dismantled. It truly ain't rocket science.

Iraq is lucky that it has hundreds of thousands of very well-trained technicians, administrators, and other professionals who can-- in the right political circumstances-- set to work to rebuild their country. They did that successfully after the end of 1990-91 Gulf War, even in the difficult situation of ongoing UN sanctions. (The US should contribute some "reparations" payments to help Iraq's next reconstruction program along, but should absolutely not seek any control over it.)

Can Iraqis reach and sustain the kind of internal political entente that will allow an orderly, negotiated US troops withdrawal to take place? If they are convinced they can truly regain their national sovereignty through a process like that outlined above, there is no reason to believe that they can't do so. Unlike the way Iraq is portrayed in most US media, there is still an ongoing process of cross-sectarian politics underway in the country, alongside the many, more widely publicized, episodes of sectarian killing and ethnic cleansing.

The US and the rest of the international community have a strong incentive to allow (or even quietly help) Iraqis to reach such a withdrawal-focused entente. Apart from anything else, the lives of 150,000 US Americans may well depend on it.

McCain's Blame Game

"When I voted to support this war, I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough," John McCain recently told MSNBC, "and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I'm sorry they were mistaken. Maybe they didn't know what they were voting for."

In fact, no one has been more mistaken about the war than McCain himself. Just read his predictions before it began, which Keith Olbermann and others have recently noted:

"I believe that the success will be fairly easy." [CNN, 9/24/02]

"We're not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we're not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies." [CNN, 9/29/02]

"We will win this conflict. We will win it easily." [MSNBC, 1/22/03]

Since the war of roses and liberation turned into a quagmire, McCain has repeatedly tried to distance himself from George W. Bush's "many, many mistakes" in executing the war, namely not having enough troops at the beginning. Now Bush is ready to implement McCain's proposed escalation. Soon McCain will bear a long overdue shared responsibility for the conflict. If things don't go as planned, there will be no one left for him to blame.