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Focus on Rumsfeld Misses the Point

Democratic members of the House and Senate wrote George Bush Monday, urging a redeployment of US troops before the end of 2006 and the firing of Donald Rumsfeld.

Some excerpts from the letter signed by the Democratic leaders, as well as ranking members from key national security committees, include: "... this current path--for our military, for the Iraqi people, and for our security--is neither working, nor making us more secure"; "... our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse"; "consider changing the civilian leadership at the Defense Department....While a change in your Iraq policy will best advance our chances for success, we do not believe the current civilian leadership at the Department of Defense is suited to implement and oversee such a change in policy."

This comes on the heels of Senate Democrats' plan to offer a resolution demanding Rumsfeld's resignation after the Secretary's incendiary comments in which he compared war critics to Nazi appeasers.

Of course, the Republicans remain in denial--witness Sen. Mitch McConnell who said on Face the Nation, "I think Secretary Rumsfeld has done an excellent job. He'll be remembered as one of the great secretaries of defense."

Sure, and George Bush will go down as the People's Choice for whom to turn to when a hurricane hits.

And, no surprise here, the Republicans are pulling out their favorite election-year tactics of "scare the hell out of Americans" and "demagogue whenever possible." So that Democrats' calls for a new course represent "retreat" or "waving the white flag," and will "leave Americans more vulnerable."

Here is the truth, separated from the election year spin and hyperbole: This is about Bush's failed policy, not Rummy's incompetence. It's about a fundamental, illegal war and occupation that has killed more than 2,600 American men and women, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Incompetence does not capture the full horror or tragedy that is the Iraq War and its ethno-sectarian strife.

Instead of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation or pushing through a resolution that may, in fact, allow some GOP candidates to put distance between themselves and the President--without much consequence because this vote will fail--legislators who truly care about learning what to do next and how this occupation is failing should contact members of the platoon profiled in the New York Times on Sunday.

Based in Hit, Iraq, in Anbar Province--a "tough assignment," as the Times puts it--several of the men quoted are unsparingly outspoken. Their words are infused with a kind of despair as they question what they are doing in Iraq. One sergeant talks about how "the great majority [of Hit's people] want us to go home." "No one understands why we are here and what our mission is," another Sergeant tells the Times reporter. "This war is lost. We aren't helping these people. We are just dying and getting injured."

These are the people Rumsfeld needs to listen to; these are the people Congress should listen to; these are the people who deserve a hearing. The resolution on Rumsfeld will occupy center stage this week--and there is indeed a need for a reckoning, for accountability--but it is time to find an exit strategy from this Administration's policies which created this quagmire.

GOP Squabbles on Security

September was supposed to be "security month" for Republicans. On Congress's second day back in session, that effort is already falling apart on Capitol Hill.

"GOP Senators Differ with President on Military Trials," the Washington Post reported today on page A3. Next page over is another headline: "Republican Rift Over Wiretapping Widens."

Two articles about Republican division and nary a Democrat in sight!

And the New York Times reports today that GOP candidates from Washington to Connecticut to Virginia to New Jersey are calling for Donald Rumsfeld to step down as defense secretary.

If security is still a winning issue for Republicans, why are GOP candidates in tight election races across the country distancing themselves from President Bush?

Sister Act

Yesterday I posted about one of the more disturbing fallouts from the push for gay marriage -- right-wing attempts to use state DOMAs to strike down domestic violence protections for unmarried people. Well today I have a far more rousing incident to report. Two elderly sisters in Britain are suing the UK in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to get gay married!

Well, not exactly. But in one of the more felicitous and surprising developments to result from same-sex union drives, Joyce (88) and Sybil Burden (80), of Ogbourne St. George, are demanding that the UK extend to cohabitating, dependent family members the same rights that same-sex couples enjoy under Britain's Civil Partnership Act. That act, passed in 2004, extends almost all the rights of marriage to unrelated, same-sex partners, including the right to avoid inheritance taxes in the event of the death of one partner. That last bit is key since if their lawsuit (and one of the sisters' health) fails, the survivor will be forced to sell the house they designed, built and lived in together for 41 years, leaving her homeless.

Under the Civil Partnership Act, you don't need to be queer, conjugal or even cohabitating to register as civil partners; you just need to be unrelated, unmarried, of the same-sex, and sign an affidavit in front of a registrar and two witnesses. Joyce and Sybil Burden don't qualify merely because they are related.

If under British law, Katha gets a share of her new husband's UK pension (congratulations Katha!), it seems most unfair that these two dames are essentially treated as if they were strangers. As Sybil Burden said to the Times, "We are looked down upon for being single. We just want to be treated as equal citizens and given the rights we deserve. We've saved the Government thousands by caring for our elderly sick relatives till they passed away and have never claimed a penny apart from the pension." Jolly good, ladies!

The Beyond Marriage statement I helped draft calls for exactly the sort of household recognitions that would aid the Burdens and other elderly, unmarried people. Alas, Britain's version of same-sex union is far more progressive than anything available in the US; it doesn't require conjugality and explicitly forbids religious participation. This latest twist only accentuates the yawning gap between Europe and the US on these matters since in this country we're beating back attempts -- from right-wingers and gay marriage advocates -- to heighten the difference between married and unmarried people.

Designated Driver

Sometimes, if you want to get reality straight, it pays to read pieces in our press with care and to the end. Take a recent New York Times piece by Richard A. Oppel Jr., headlined: Iraqi Official Reports Capture of Top Insurgent Leader Linked to Shrine Bombing." It's pretty typical of reporting on this story. Forget for a second that the capture of second-in-commands and "top lieutenants" of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been staples of Bush administration announcements for the last year or more -- or that you could practically fill Abu Ghraib (recently turned over to the Iraqis empty) with these "top" figures. Though this was billed as a joint U.S./Iraqi operation, it's been heavily flogged as an Iraqi success story. Hence the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, proudly made the announcement that "the second-ranking leader" of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi, was in custody.

Read a little farther into the piece though and you get this telling bit of journalistic anonymity: "However, a United States military official was more cautious in describing Mr. Saeedi's place in the organization's pecking order… ‘I'm not sure we are ready to put a number on him,' said the American official, who agreed to speak only without being named because Iraqi officials had been designated to announce the capture. ‘It's a very decentralized operation.'"

Is this the equivalent of designated driver, Iraqi-style? You all go to the bar and boisterously down a few -- except for that little guy in the corner, drinking coffee, who's there to drive you home. Is this what they call "sovereignty" in Iraq?

If you read on to the very end, you'll find this gem: "In Baghdad, Iraqi and American officials worked to overcome disagreements over the transfer of direct operational control of the Iraqi armed forces to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. At issue is the delineation of responsibilities between Iraqi and American forces, said an American official, who called the disputes minor."

Ah, now I get it. The "Iraqi Army" may soon be turned over to the Iraqis -- as today's Times put it, this is a "plan to take over formal operational command of the Iraqi Army from the United States."

Back in 2003, Americans in the occupation used to wield a wonderful term for all this. They would speak of putting an "Iraqi face" on things -- in Iraq. Now, they don't say it, they just do it. Whatever "formal" plan may be worked out, as Michael Schwartz, a smart sociologist I know, wrote recently: "There is no Iraqi army… The government's military consists of Iraqi units integrated into the U.S.-commanded occupation army."

Increasingly the question is: Is there an Iraq?

Appease Your Thirst

Two weeks ago, we asked readers of thenation.com to submit new definitions for an updated Dictionary of Republicanisms. In that time, we've had hundreds of sharp and hilarious suggestions. We've also had the Secretary of Defense compare Iraq to Nazi Germany and Democrats who want a timeline for withdrawal to "appeasers," which may require us to create a Republican Dictionary of Bad Historical Analogies. In the meantime, I'd like to appease your thirst for political satire by sharing some of the best submissions with you.

Adapting to win phr. 1. Cutting and Running from the rhetoric of Staying the Course while staying on the same losing course. [Yana Way]. 2. Strategy to fight them over here instead of over there; see October Surprise [Scott Urbanowski].

Birth pangs of a new Middle East phr. Condition that occurs three years after failing to pull out of Iraq in time [Steven Troccoli].

Cut and run phr. An unacceptable strategy for Iraq, but perfectly fine for New Orleans [Scott Urbanowski]

Death tax n. 1. The Paris Hilton tax; 2. The Lucky Sperm Tax [Steve Anderson]

Dieboldened adj. The swagger a politician has, even when he's behind in the polls, when the voting machines are built by his cronies [Dennis Leroy Adair].

Nomentum n. Joe Lieberman [Julia Glahn]

No one could have foreseen phr. 1. That terrorists would use airplanes as missiles. 2. That Saddam did not possess WMD. 3. That the levees would fail. 4. That sectarian violence would erupt in Iraq. 5. All of the above [Jesse James Gilles]

Talibangelist n. A politician who uses 9/11 to justify faith-based policies [Jason Thompson].

Term limits n. Legal restrictions on the number of years corrupt Republican politicians can serve in jail; see Contract on America [Robert Hirst].

Dead as Horse Meat

Immigration reform is off until after the '06 elections. Security and mortgage moms are bolting the GOP. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Democrats will take back the House of Representatives in November.

So how are nervous House Republicans responding in their first week back in session after a month long recess? By talking about horse meat.

The "American House Slaughter Prevention Act," introduced by GOP Rep. John Sweeney and up for a vote Thursday, attempts to stop the sale of horse meat for human consumption. A laudable goal. But the top priority for the House?

Is this how Republicans plan to spend their two or three remaining weeks in Washington before the midterms? Well, not completely. They'll also try and paint the Democrats as the party of "retreat and defeat" in the war on terror, by scheduling votes on defense and homeland security spending bills, and authorizing Bush's warrantless wiretapping program (recently ruled unconstitutional by a US district court) and military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).

Yet even the GOP's advantage on security has eroded. Which isn't to say that Democrats won't find a way to blow it. But, odds are, in a few months at least some sitting Republicans will be dead as horse meat.

What a New Mason-Dixon Poll Reveals

A new and interesting poll out of the Florida governor's race suggests how (1) a broad-based, quasi-populist economic message has legs this election season; and (2) how those 2004 exit polls showing the extraordinary power of "moral issues" should be consigned to pollsters' dustbins. A just-released Mason-Dixon poll finds that only 5 percent of GOP voters were the most concerned about "moral issues" going into the Florida primaries. Many more said they were worried about property insurance rates that have skyrocketed because of hurricanes. As Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, put it in Monday's New York Times, "Even the religious conservatives are more concerned about the $2000 homeowners' insurance hit they just took."

Message to Tom Frank: Maybe it's time for a look at what's doing in Florida?

Christian Conservatives for Domestic Violence?

When a raft of state defense of marriage amendments (DOMAs) passed in 2004, observers (including yours truly) warned that such amendments would not just ban gay marriage but also imperil domestic partnership agreements, next-of-kin arrangements and domestic violence protections for unmarried people. Right-wing backers dismissed such concerns as left-liberal paranoia. Well, I normally love to say "I told you so," but in this case it brings me no pleasure. Nonetheless, I told you so.

Ohio was one of 11 states to pass DOMAs in 2004, and pundits alleged then that "State Issue No. 1," as it was called on the ballot, played a major role in John Kerry's defeat. Whatever the case may be (and let's hope the ballots are still around to see), one immediate fallout is clear: domestic violence protections for unmarried women.

In late August, Ohio's Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a right-wing organization devoted to promoting "Judeo-Christian moral values," filed an amicus brief on behalf of an alleged domestic abuser. For the past 25 years, Ohio's domestic violence law has covered married couples as well as unmarried and divorced individuals. According to CCV, such protections run afoul of Ohio's DOMA, which bars the state from recognizing any legal status for unmarried people that "intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." If CCV has their way, "persons living as a spouse" (i.e. unmarried, live-in partners) would no longer be protected under Ohio's domestic violence statute. Apparently, it's more important for CCV to preserve the distinction between married and unmarried couples (and pre-empt gay marriage) than it is to prosecute domestic abusers. So much for Judeo-Christian values...

Fight For the Internet Freedom Heats Up

Congress is about to return to Washington this week after taking a long summer break for campaigning and before taking a long fall break for campaigning.

During the brief period of governing that will be wedged into the month of September, a lot of damage could be done -- particularly to "The First Amendment of the Internet": the principle known as "Net Neutrality."

Net Neutrality, which has until now been the guiding principle that preserves a free and open Internet, ensures that everyone who logs on can access the content or run the applications and devices of every site on the world wide web. The neutrality principle prevents telephone and cable companies that provide internet service from discriminating against content based on its source or ownership.

As the "Save the Internet" campaign [www.savetheinternet.com], a broad coalition of groups fighting to maintain open access to all sites on the web, explains: "Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It's why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech."

Telecommunications firms salivate at the prospect of eliminating Net Neutrality requirements and setting up systems where websites that pay for the service will be more easily reached than sites that cannot afford the toll. And U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who has for many years been a dominant figure in communications debates on Capitol Hill, is determined to change the rules so that Internet gatekeepers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner, can create an "information superhighway" for those who pay and a dirt road for those who fail to do so.

A sweeping overhaul of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that is being promited by Stevens does not include Net Neutrality protections and would effectively clear the way for the telecommunications giants to colonize the Internet.

Stevens, the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, wants to see action on the measure before Congress breaks for the remainder of the election season in early October. But rewriting the rules to favor the telecommunications conglomerates may not be as easy this year as it was in 1996. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the overhaul legislation and says he will not lift it until Net Neutrality protections are written into the measure.

Activists across the country used the August break to urge senators who had not taken a stand to line up in favor of net neutrality. Rallies in late August targeted Congressional offices in 25 cities nationwide, and they had an impact. A number of senators -- including New York's Chuck Schumer, Minnesota's Mark Dayton, Iowa's Tom Harkin and Vermont's Jim Jeffords -- pledged their support for net neutrality.

But Stevens -- and too many of his allies in both parties -- remained unmoved as September started.

As the return of Congress loomed, however, the Alaska senator took a poke from the largest daily newspaper in his state, the Anchorage Daily News, which bluntly declared in a September 4 editoral that: "Net Neutrality is a good idea. Sen. Ted Stevens should support it."

"Sen. Stevens has said he doesn't see an immediate problem that requires regulation. In other words, he's reluctant to have the government set the playing rules until more companies are caught cheating. Apparently he thinks competition can be counted on to prevent any abuses," explained the editorial. "Only problem is, local Internet service is not a fluid, totally free market with a lot of competitors. Many markets are served by only one or two high-speed Internet companies. Switching providers is not as easy as driving to the next gas station or grocery store. Special expertise and special equipment are required to switch. Many consumers may not even be sophisticated enough to know when their Internet service is playing favorites in sending content."

The Anchorage Daily News concluded that, "Net Neutrality is hardly a heavy-handed government intrusion into the free-wheeling world of the Internet. It is a simple antitrust rule that protects consumers by keeping Internet companies from exploiting their control over connections. Congress should get ahead of the curve and ensure net neutrality before abuses begin to spread."

That's the right position. And it is summed up by a measure that the Senate should pass before its members go out and ask Americans for their votes this fall: The Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Sponsored by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan the act would provide meaningful protection for Net Neutrality.

While the machinations in the Senate this month are troubling, they also provide a critical opening for the debate that America should be having on media policy. No incumbent senator or candidate for a senate seat should be allowed to make it to November without addressing the issue of Net Neutrality and the broader question of whether media policy in this country should serve a few telecommunications giants or the the great mass of Americans and the great potential of American democracy.