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Merry Christmas, Bill O'Reilly!

Ranking up there with good cheer and the smell of evergreen, one of the holiday season's many genuine pleasures is the now-annual ritual of watching the far right wax livid on the supposed "War on Christmas."

With all but about 4 percent of Americans celebrating Christmas, and the carols and decorations now ubiquitous even before Thanksgiving, you'd think Yuletide celebrants could rest secure in their comfortably majoritarian status.

But a vocal handful of them just can't, because right-wing cultural politics is all about stoking a perennial victim complex. Thus, Christmas must always be under siege. Take, for instance, the killjoys from the ACLU who enjoy booting the baby Jesus from public parks! The problem the right faces in attacking liberals on this sort of issue, though, is that huge numbers of Americans -- even, and sometimes with particular fervor, people of faith -- do think separation of church and state is a pretty good idea.

So the more promising raw material for the "War on Christmas" lament is stores like Best Buy, Sears and Crate & Barrel (and, until recently, poor old Wal-Mart, which, constantly attacked from both left and right, has caved to the right on this particular issue) which avoid the use of the word "Christmas" in advertisements, or encourage employees to wish customers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." From Bill O'Reilly to William Donohue to John Gibson to the American Family Association, the nutters are forcefully mobilized against these outrages.

What I love about the "Merry Christmas" crusade is that it's such a waste of right-wing time and energy. (Not that the left is immune to silly political performance art, of course -- what else is Jesse Jackson's call for a boycott of the "Seinfeld" DVD?)I hope it continues every year, distracting its ringleaders from their more menacing projects. But life in a democracy is about compromise and I'm more than happy to make a deal. If these bozos would agree to stop crusading against gay marriage, reproductive rights, stem cell research and rational sex education and immigration policies, I'd be delighted to hear Best Buy clerks say "Merry Christmas." I'd even say it back.

Romney Runs Right

It's no secret that Mitt Romney's stock is rising inside Republican circles. The former Massachusetts Governor is working overtime to position himself as the authentic conservative alternative to "moderates" John McCain and Rudy Giuliani for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. While McCain and Giuliani try to court the right of the party, Romney contends he's already there.

Said Romney in June about the Republican electorate: "On the Republican side we'll want someone who can beat her [Hillary Clinton] and someone who has a clear message for the direction of our country, making it absolutely clear that they're a strong Republican that believes in Republican principles."

In other words, not McCain and Giuliani.

After McCain, Romney's done more than any other GOP candidate to build a farm team of intellectual and grassroots talent to advise him.

Yesterday Romney announced the hires of two of President Bush's top economic advisors, Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw, and a top domestic policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, Cesar Conda.

Earlier in the week he locked up the support in South Carolina of operative Warren Tompkins, described as "the architect behind Bush's hard-hitting campaign in S.C. in 2000," by The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper.

The impending battle between McCain and Romney in South Carolina is already being called "Slugfest 2."

Let the games begin!

News Flash: Major Media Begins to Think for Itself

Something important in the overall scheme of the American experiment happened this week.

On Monday morning, MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer appeared on cable television screens across the United States and announced: "The news from Iraq is becoming grimmer every day. Over the long holiday weekend bombings killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. And six Sunni men were doused with kerosene and burned alive. Shiite muslims are the majority, but Sunnis like Saddam Hussein ruled that country until the war. Now, the battle between Shiites and Sunnis has created a civil war in Iraq. Beginning this morning, MSNBC will refer to the fighting in Iraq as a civil war -- a phrase the White House continues to resist. But after careful thought, MSNBC and NBC News decided over the weekend, the terminology is appropriate, as armed militarized factions fight for their own political agendas. We'll have a lots more on the situation in Iraq and the decision to use the phrase, civil war."

The statement followed a similar decision by the Los Angeles Times to drop the pretense of referring to the fighting in Iraq as something other than the civil war it has obviously been for some time. Time magazine and other publications have begun to loosen up on the use of the term "civil war," as well.

What is important about this development is that, for the first time since the debate about Iraq began, some--though certainly not all--major media outlets in the United States are making their own judgments based on developments in the Middle East. Up until now, major media has, with few exceptions, failed to embrace that most basic of journalistic responsibilities. Rather, it has served as a stenography service for the Bush-Cheney administration.

The Washington press corps has imbibed the assessments, the claims, the lies of the White House and then regurgitated them as "news." In so doing, they have warped not just the language but the very essence of the national debate. Meaningless phrases such as "stay the course" and "cut and run" have become mainstays of a discussion that has been stage-managed by White House political czar Karl Rove and his acolytes, as opposed to the news editors who are supposed to be calling the shots for broadcast and cable networks and newspapers.

Major media's on-bended-knee approach to the White House has forestalled an honest dialogue about the crisis into which Iraq degenerated after the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country.

By abandoning the role intended by the founders when they enshrined "freedom of the press" protections in the Constitution--that of checking and balancing executive excess, particularly during periods of one-faction or one-party political dominance--major media failed the Republic at precisely the point when its intervention on the side of realism was most needed.

In no measure has this been more the case than in the refusal of most media outlets to acknowledge Iraq's civil war. By following the dictates of the White House and refusing to employ the only honest description for what's happening in Baghdad and other regions of the country, broadcast, cable and print editors made themselves extensions of the Bush White House during the course of two national election cycles and three years of empty congressional debate.

This in-kind contribution to Republican presidential and congressional campaigns was never appreciated by the White House, which has perfected the art of complaining bitterly about even the most tepid deviations from the official script. But the damage was done--not merely to the Democrats and to the discourse but to the Bush himself.

A president needs a skeptical and challenging media to remind him of the realities that ideologically and personally self-serving aides seek to obscure. Read the transcripts of White House conversations involving Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War and it is evident that both men were conscious of critical reporting on their actions and often challenged the sillier spin of their advisors based on information gleaned from print and broadcast news.

For the better part of four years, as he has steered the country deeper into the disaster that is Iraq, Bush--who does not read newspapers but who reportedly catches televised news breaks while watching sports--has been at the mercy of the neoconservative nutjobs and schemers who continue to crowd his inner circle.

Now, if the president happens to tune in NBC or MSNBC, he will be exposed to the fact that he has placed more than 100,000 young Americans in the middle of a bloody civil war that they cannot resolve.

There are no guarantees that Bush will recognize reality and shift course. However, as major media begins to rise from its bended-knee position, and stenography pads are traded for reporters' notebooks, we approach the moment where Congress and the American people can open the honest discussion that should have started years ago. Too many lies have been allowed to go uncontested, too many Americans and Iraqis have died, to suggest that editors and reporters can simply adopt the term "civil war" and then hold their heads high. It will take a lot of realism, a lot of truth telling, to lift the shame that major media brought upon itself in what historians of journalism will see as an era of relinquished responsibility and propagandistic excess. But, for the sake of those still in the line of fire, not to mention the Republic, let us hope that the critical corner has been turned.

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John Nichols' new book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is out now from 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

Lost in Transition

After George Herbert Walker Bush was jeered by an Abu Dhabi crowd for saying that his "son is an honest man," he appeared stunned and surprised. He apparently was unaware that his boy is not exactly the most popular man in the Arab world.

It has become a common journalistic trope to compare favorably George Senior's realism to his son's faith-based approach. This revival of his father's reputation may end up being Junior's only success. But how in touch with reality was Bush 41? When did he ever know the price of milk?

This issue is suddenly relevant, because the political elite have turned to the father, in the form of his former advisors James Baker and Robert Gates, to rescue the country from his son's mess. And so they wait like supplicants for the Iraq Study Group to deliver unto them a roadmap to the final corner in Iraq and a strategy for turning it.

But so far the combined wisdom of these wisemen is that we should talk to Syria and Iran. Remembering how Iran-Contra turned out, why should Democrats rely on the Bush 41 teams' diplomatic skills this time around?

Iran/contra: 20 Years Later and What It Means

It's the 20th anniversary of the Iran-contra scandal. Two decades ago, the public learned about the bizarre, Byzantine and (arguably) unconstitutional actions of high officials in the post-Watergate years. But many Americans did not absorb the key lesson: the Iran/contra vets were not to be trusted. Consequently, most of those officials went on to prosperous careers, with some even becoming part of the squad that has landed the United States in the current hellish mess in Iraq.

Before tying the then to the now, let's revisit the basic narrative. When Congress, by fair vote, decided in the 1980s that the United States should not assist the contras fighting the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua, the Reagan White House concocted several imaginative ways to pull an end-run around democracy. This mainly entailed outsourcing the job to a small band of private sector covert operators and to foreign governments, which were privately requested or pressured by the Reaganites to support the secret contra support operation. The "Iran" side of the scandal came from President Ronald Reagan's covert efforts to sell weapons to Iran to obtain the release of American hostages held by terrorist groups supposedly under the control of Tehran--at a time when the White House was publicly declaring it would not negotiate with terrorists. The two clandestine projects merged when cash generated from the weapons transactions with Iran was diverted to the contra operation.

Conservatives for years--make that decades--have argued there was nothing really criminal about the Iran/contra affair and that it was merely a political dispute between the pro-contras Republicans in the White House and the Democrats controlling Congress. Yet at the time the architects of these schemes worried they were breaking laws and placing Reagan in jeopardy of being impeached. Look at how the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit that gathers national security records, summarizes a memo documenting a key White House meeting on the clandestine contras program:

At a pivotal meeting of the highest officials in the Reagan Administration [on June 25, 1984], the President and Vice President [George H.W. Bush] and their top aides discuss how to sustain the Contra war in the face of mounting Congressional opposition. The discussion focuses on asking third countries to fund and maintain the effort, circumventing Congressional power to curtail the CIA's paramilitary operations. In a remarkable passage, Secretary of State George P. Shultz warns the president that White House adviser James Baker has said that "if we go out and try to get money from third countries, it is an impeachable offense." But Vice President George Bush argues the contrary: "How can anyone object to the US encouraging third parties to provide help to the anti-Sandinistas…? The only problem that might come up is if the United States were to promise to give these third parties something in return so that some people could interpret this as some kind of exchange." Later, Bush participated in arranging a quid pro quo deal with Honduras in which the U.S. did provide substantial overt and covert aid to the Honduran military in return for Honduran support of the Contra war effort.

The Iran arms-for-hostage-deal was also illegal--or so Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger thought. At a December 7, 1985 White House meeting, Weinberger argued the Iran missile deal was wrong and criminal, according to his notes of the session. Weinberger pointed out to Reagan that selling missiles to Iran would violate a U.S. embargo on arms sales to Iran and that even the president of the United States could not break this law. Nor, Weinberger added, would it be legal to use Israel as a cutout, as was under consideration. Both Secretary of State George Shultz and White House chief of staff Donald Regan, who were each present, agreed that a secret weapons deal with Iran would be against the law. Reagan, though, insisted on proceeding, noting he could answer a charge of illegality but not the charge that he had "passed up a chance to free hostages." Weinberger then quipped, "Visiting hours are Thursdays"--meaning the deal could land someone in jail. After the meeting, Regan told Weinberger he would try to talk Reagan out of the deal. He failed to do so.

Soon both the clandestine contras program and the secret Iran deal were underway, with the relevant agencies--most notably, the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department--providing back-up and National Security Council officers Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter and Oliver North overseeing operations. In supporting the contras project, the CIA worked with individuals it suspected of being involved in drug-dealing, according to a subsequent CIA inspector general's investigation.

The skullduggery began to unravel in the fall of 1986. On October 5, 1986, a C-123 aircraft ferrying supplies to the contras was shot down by the Sandinistas, and an American named Eugene Hasenfus was captured. He told the Nicaraguans that his flight was part of a CIA-approved operation. Days later, Reagan said of the Hasenfus operation, "There was no government connection with that at all." He was not telling the truth. Shortly after that, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testified in Congress that the administration had arranged for no foreign donations--"not a dime"--to the contras--even though he had arranged for a $10 million contribution to the rebels from the Sultan of Brunei.

On November 3, 1986, a Lebanese weekly revealed that the previous May National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane had secretly flown to Tehran. McFarlane's covert mission had been part of the arms-for-hostages deal--which now stood exposed. On November 25, Attorney General Edwin Meese held a press conference and disclosed that funds from the arms sales to Iran had been diverted to the contras support program. (I happened to be watching that press conference with Abbie Hoffman, the former Yippie, who exclaimed, "I couldn't make this stuff up.")

A full-scale scandal was born. Investigations were convened. The Reagan presidency was hobbled. But impeachment never became an issue--in part because Democratic congressional investigators removed it from the table at the start of their inquiries. White House partisans threw up a defense of spin and obfuscation that turned the affair into a political muddle. (That is, mission accomplished.) Oliver North became a hero to conservatives. Bush the Elder, who lied about his involvement in Iran/contra (saying he had been "out of the loop," though noting in a private diary that he had been one of the few officials in-the-know), was elected president in 1988.

The investigations continued. Abrams, McFarlane (who botched a suicide attempt), and a CIA officer named Alan Fiers pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress. Two other CIA officers--Clair George and Duane Clarridge--were indicted on perjury-related charges. Former General Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, who managed the secret contra supply operation, pleaded guilty to minor charges. North and Poindexter were convicted of various counts, but their convictions were overturned on legal technicalities. Weinberger was indicted for illegally withholding his notes from special counsel Lawrence Walsh.

The affair came to an ignominious finale on Christmas Eve, 1992. George H.W. Bush, who had been defeated by Bill Clinton seven weeks earlier, issued pardons for Weinberger, Abrams, McFarlane, Clarridge, George and Fiers. Only Thomas Cline, a former CIA officer and partner of Secord and Hakim, who was found guilty of tax charges, ended up going to jail due to the Iran/contra scandal.

But history never ends. Twenty years later, Abrams is deputy national security adviser for global democracy in the George W. Bush administration. A fellow who admitted that he had not told Congress the truth and who had abetted a secret war mounted by a rebel force with an atrocious human rights record now is supposed to promote democracy abroad. Other Iran/contra figures are leading players today. Here's a partial list from the National Security Archive:

* Richard Cheney - now the vice president, he played a prominent part as a member of the joint congressional Iran-Contra inquiry of 1986, taking the position that Congress deserved major blame for asserting itself unjustifiably onto presidential turf. He later pointed to the committees' Minority Report as an important statement on the proper roles of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

* David Addington - now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and by numerous press accounts a stanch advocate of expanded presidential power, Addington was a congressional staffer during the joint select committee hearings in 1986 who worked closely with Cheney.

* John Bolton - the controversial U.N. ambassador whose recess appointment by President Bush is now in jeopardy was a senior Justice Department official who participated in meetings with Attorney General Edwin Meese on how to handle the burgeoning Iran-Contra political and legal scandal in late November 1986. There is little indication of his precise role at the time.

* Robert M. Gates - President Bush's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, Gates nearly saw his career go up in flames over charges that he knew more about Iran-Contra while it was underway than he admitted once the scandal broke. He was forced to give up his bid to head the CIA in early 1987 because of suspicions about his role but managed to attain the position when he was re-nominated in 1991.

* Manuchehr Ghorbanifar - the quintessential middleman, who helped broker the arms deals involving the United States, Israel and Iran ostensibly to bring about the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, Ghorbanifar was almost universally discredited for misrepresenting all sides' goals and interests. Even before the Iran deals got underway, the CIA had ruled Ghorbanifar off-limits for purveying bad information to U.S. intelligence. Yet, in 2006 his name has resurfaced as an important source for the Pentagon on current Iranian affairs, again over CIA objections.

* Michael Ledeen - a neo-conservative who is vocal on the subject of regime change in Iran, Ledeen helped bring together the main players in what developed into the Iran arms-for-hostages deals in 1985 before being relegated to a bit part. He reportedly reprised his role shortly after 9/11, introducing Ghorbanifar to Pentagon officials interested in exploring contacts inside Iran.

* Edwin Meese - currently a member of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, he was Ronald Reagan's controversial attorney general who spearheaded an internal administration probe into the Iran-Contra connection in November 1986 that was widely criticized as a political exercise in protecting the president rather than a genuine inquiry by the nation's top law enforcement officer.

* John Negroponte - the career diplomat who worked quietly to boost the U.S. military and intelligence presence in Central America as ambassador to Honduras, he also participated in efforts to get the Honduran government to support the Contras after Congress banned direct U.S. aid to the rebels. Negroponte's profile has risen spectacularly with his appointments as ambassador to Iraq in 2004 and director of national intelligence in 2005.

Another Iran/contra veteran has dramatically returned to the scene recently: Daniel Ortega. On November 7, as the Bush White House prepared itself for congressional elections that would be widely seen as a repudiation of its war in Iraq, the morning newspapers carried the news that Ortega, the Sandinista leader whom the Reagan administration had targeted, had won a presidential election in Nicaragua. The old contras backers now running the Bush administration had to watch their old nemesis (not that Ortega was ever much of a threat) regain power, as their hold on power was slipping. The arc of history is indeed long.

As for the current relevance of Iran/contra, one could argue that the affair taught Reaganites and neocons a lesson, the wrong lesson: you can get away with it. Though the operations ended up being exposed and the Iran deal crashed and burned, the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration did create enough pressure on Nicaragua and forced the expulsion of the Sandinista government in a 1990 election. Perhaps more important for this crowd, no one involved in the shady activity was held accountable. Bush the First was elected. Abrams and other scandal vets were rewarded with prominent posts in the next Republican administration--that of Bush the Younger. The Reaganites had lied to Congress and the public about Iran/contra and ultimately escaped retribution.

This sordid episode hardly served as a warning--either for the Iran/contra alumni who would lead the United States into the debacle in Iraq or for voters who would support an administration staffed with people who twenty years earlier had made their bones in a scandal involving war and truth. One can hope, though, that the disingenuous, reality-defying engineers of the current disaster will be too old or too discredited to return to power two decades from now.

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

What If the Iraqi Insurgency Ran for Another 5,000 Years?

On Sunday, in a front page New York Times piece ("U.S. Finds Iraq Insurgency Has Funds to Sustain Itself"), John Burns and Kirk Semple reported that a federal "interagency working group," looking into the finances of the various branches of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, had come to the conclusion that it was now financially self-sustaining. No need for old Baathist funds, no need to look outside the country. Some combination of oil thievery, ransom funds from kidnappings, counterfeiting, and money from "corrupt Islamic charities" has, according the secret government document slipped to the Times reporters, left it with, if anything, a surplus of funds.

The working group estimated--though other experts claim that it's pure speculation in the darkness of remarkable ignorance about the insurgency and its financial resources -- that the various rebellious factions were raising between $70 million and $200 million a year.

Let's forget for a moment the speculative, not to say unreliable nature of these figures, and instead consider the larger context. The Times reporters, in fact, took a striking stab at this--though deep inside the paper--in the following paragraph:

"The group's estimate of the financing for the insurgency, even taking the higher figure of $200 million, underscores the David and Goliath nature of the war… If the $200 million a year estimate is close to the mark, it amounts to less than what it costs the Pentagon, with an $8 billion monthly budget for Iraq, to sustain the American war effort here for a single day."

Philip Morrison, the nuclear scientist, once wrote a whole text on size and context: Powers of Ten: A Book about the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero. Let's see if, in his spirit, we can add a few zeroes to the Times figures.

A while back Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard's Linda Bilmes tried to tote up the long-term costs of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, based on an American troop withdrawal somewhere between 2010 and 2015. Their most conservative estimate of total costs to the United States: $1 trillion. Their "moderate" estimate: $2.2 trillion.

So let's be conservative. At those levels of funding, assuming that Iraq's Sunni fighters continue to motor their movement at the financial upper levels of the secret interagency estimate -- $200 million -- their insurgency could run for another 5,000 years.

Or perhaps we should subtract some zeroes and enter the micro-world of the US military. If you gave the US Army that $200 million dollars raised by the insurgents by hook or crook and told them to spend it as they wished… actually, they've recently done just that. This October, the Army signed onto a $200 million (yep, that's $200,000,000) a year contract with the McCann Worldgroup ad agency to launch an "Army Strong" ad campaign aimed at bringing into the fold those ever more resistant recruits needed to fight the Iraqi insurgency.

Imagine how strong "Insurgent Strong" must be then, since Iraq's ragtag, minority insurgency continues to fight the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (all of whom have their own ad contracts) to a standstill for a mere $200 million.

Talk about "standing up" some Iraqi fighters.

Civil War in Iraq

Major media outlets are beginning to recognize the obvious: Iraq is now in a state of civil war. The widely used term "sectarian violence" no longer describes the horrific bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis that is tearing the country apart--with US soldiers stuck in the middle, unable to quell the violence.

"For months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into a civil war," NBC's Matt Lauer said yesterday, announcing his network's new policy. "And, for the most part, news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such. But after careful consideration, NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted--that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas--can now be characterized as a civil war."

Added Time magazine's Michael Ware, one of the best reporters on the ground: "By any academic's definition, this is civil war, organized conflict by two elements within a country to pursue the political center, with elements of ethnic cleansing, militia combat, family against family, neighbor against neighbor, with a degree of organization and coordination...So, whether the White House calls it civil war or not, the fact on the ground is, if this is not civil war, we don't want to see one when it comes."

The nature of the civil war undercuts many of the Bush Administration's most basic assumptions and reasons for staying in Iraq.

1. This is not a war primarily between an Al-Qaeda led insurgency and Coalition forces. We're not fighting 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em here.

2. It doesn't make sense to train a Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army that will then slaughter Sunnis.

3. Even the solution reportedly peddled by the much-hyped Iraq Study Group--talking to Iran and Syria, while crucial and long overdue, won't radically alter Iraq's internal dynamics.

4. Quite frankly, this is not even a war strictly between Shiites and Sunnis.

"It's worse than a civil war," a senior member of Iraq's government told the Washington Post. "In a civil war, you at least know which factions are fighting each other. We don't even know that anymore. It's so bloody confused."

A Wall Street Journal poll before the election found that "a plurality of voters now see the situation in Iraq as a civil war among Iraqis, rather than a war between American troops and foreign terrorists." It was virtually the only point on which Republicans and Democrats agreed. That was in mid-October, before the latest round of bloodshed. If the situation continued, predicted GOP pollster Bill McInturff, "that will ratchet up the pressure to terminate our deployment in Iraq."

Delta Airlines Joins 21st Century

I'm happy to report some insta-progress on the Delta Air Lines breast-feeding scandal, which I've been chronicling hereat the Notion. For those who've been out of the loop: a mother (in crunchy Vermont!) was thrown off a plane for the dire national security breach of nursing her baby. A remarkable number of people -- over 20,000 -- signed a petition by MomsRising, an online mothers' political group (an excerpt from the founders' new book, by the way, recently appeared in the Nation). Countless numbers of people were inspired to call Delta about the incident, and many also participated in protests and "nurse-ins" at Delta terminals across the land. Last week Delta issued an apology, as well as chiding its subsidiary, Freedom Airlines, which operated the plane from which the lady was so rudely escorted. Here's Delta's morsel of holiday crow: "Delta Air Lines supports a mother's right to breastfeed her baby onboard our aircraft. We regret the decision to remove the passenger from Flight 6160 as it was not in keeping with Delta's high service standards, and we are coordinating with Freedom Airlines to ensure that they deliver the level of service we expect for all of our customers."

MomsRising also reports that thanks to all the pressure, Delta is considering officially supporting the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, currently before Congress, to stop discrimination against nursing mothers. To that end, it can't hurt to get more names on MomsRising's petition.

Speaking of small but sweet victories, Wal-Mart's high-priced PR firm is humiliated and mired in scandal over fake blogs and "grass-roots" organizations it created to, um, improve the company's terrible image. Wal-Mart Watch deserves credit for exposing this bit of fraud. Today, Online Media Daily reports that the PR firm, Edelman, may be kicked out of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (sounds like a joke, but there really is such a thing, and even corporate bloggers have standards!).

Debating Rangel's Draft

Congressman Charles Rangel announced earlier this month that he willpush to renew the military draft. Rangel argues, forcefully, that thedraft will spread the burden of war more equitably and force politicalleaders to think twice about starting wars. "There's no question in mymind that this president and this administration would never haveinvaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented tothe Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and theadministration thought that their kids from their communities would beplaced in harm's way."

The 18-term Representative, and incoming Chair of the powerful Ways andMeans Committee has already introduced a bill. Lawrence O'Donnell overat the Huffington Post has a strong piece supporting Rangel's move. Let hisbill come to a vote, O'Donnell insists. House Majority Leader NancyPelosi "should let the House debate the draft. Let the Republicans givespeeches listing all the good reasons why we should have a volunteerArmy. But let's hear Rangel's speech about how the burden of war is notfairly shared in this country. Let's get America thinking about exactlywho is being left in the line of fire in the war Americans have turnedagainst and know we can't win. Let's get America thinking about JohnKerry's line about Vietnam--who is going to be the last soldier to diefor a mistake? A real debate on the draft will do that. Don't worry, thebill has no chance of passing."

It all makes a lot of sense. But if you want to read a powerful counterto O'Donnell's take, check out Nation columnist Katha Pollitt'slucid column, "Do You Feel aDraft" from June 7, 2004.) " For many," Pollitt writes, "the draftsummons up ideals of valor, adulthood, public service andself-sacrifice--SHARED self-sacrifice. Those are all good things, butthe draft is still a bad idea."

Pollitt goes on to ask, "Given our ever more stratified and atomizedsociety, why expect the draft to be equal or fair?" And she deflates theargument that the draft will produce opposition to war.

It's Pollitt's larger point that progressive supporters of the draftshould think hard about. "Supporters of the draft are using it topromote indirectly politics we should champion openly and up front. It'sterrible that working class teenagers join the Army to get college fundsor job training or work--what kind of nation is this where Jessica Lynchhad to invade Iraq in order to fulfill her modest dream of becoming anelementary school teacher and Shoshanna Johnson has to be a cook on thebattlefield to qualify for a culinary job back home?"

We need to fight, at home, for a a society that is more just andfair--and not rely on the draft to level our obscenely unequal playingfield. (One place to start: fight for a real GI Bill--which made for amore equal America--not a renewal of the draft.)