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The Nation

Time to Micromanage the War

Congressional Republicans are planting a trap for Democrats by accusing them of trying to micromanage the war in Iraq by deciding how additional billions of dollars be spent. It's an argument Democrats could easily rebut--if only moderates in the party would let them try.

Instead, conservative Democrats are playing right into the GOP's hands by criticizing efforts by Jack Murtha to force the military to meet normal readiness standards before escalating the war.

"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat who was instrumental in blocking Bill Clinton's healthcare plan, told the Washington Post today. "If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," added Rep. Chet Edwards, another Zell Miller donkey.

It's amazing that some Democrats would quibble with the notion that troops be properly rested, equipped and trained before deploying for battle, as the Murtha plan mandates. Are critics of Murtha's plan intentionally trying to endanger the troops? George W. Bush had four years to run the war exactly as he liked, with no Congressional oversight and no restrictions on funding. Look where it's gotten us. Republicans broke the military and lost the war. The last thing Democrats need to do is to throw our hapless Commander-in-Chief a life raft.

Hillary's Stalking Horse Leaves the Field

Having served his none-too-subtle role in the grand scheme of the 2OO8 presidential competition -- keeping as many Iowa Democrats as possible "locked up" until New York Senator Hillary Clinton got her campaign up and running in the first caucus state -- former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack today announced his exit from the race for the Democratic nomination.

Vilsack launched his run early and made as much noise as could be expected from a nowhere-in-the-polls candidate with a vague message and even vaguer hopes of raising the funds needed to mount a truly national campaign. But his brief candidacy -- which was quietly advised and encouraged by Democratic strategists with long and close ties to the Clinton camp -- never really amounted to much more than a blocking move for the New York senator with whom he worked closely as a leader of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council centrist.

For his trouble, the Iowan will earn a little bit of speculation about his vice presidential prospects -- nil. And, if Clinton actually wins the presidency, about his Cabinet prospects -- pretty good, if he's willing to settle for Secretary of Agriculture; a bit slimmer if he wants something muscular like Energy.

From the start, Vilsack's job was to present himself as a respectable alternative to the other Democratic candidates who, while he would go nowhere in states other than Iowa, could remain in the running with his fellow Hawkeyes until it was time to get out of Clinton's way.

Even that modest task proven difficult.

Iowa Democrats never took Vilsack's candidacy all that seriously. The latest Strategic Vision survey of potential Democratic caucus goers had former North Carolina Senator John Edwards at 24 percent, Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama each at 18 percent, and Vilsack with 14 percent.

That's consistent with other polls. It is consistent, as well, with the reaction of key Democrats in Iowa, who dismissed Vilsack's candidacy as they rushed to jump aboard other bandwagons. After Obama officially announced his candidacy earlier this month, two of Iowa's most prominent Democratic officials, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, endorsed the Illinoisan.

And Edwards has a grassroots operation in the state that borrows far deeper into most Democratic precincts than that of Vilsack, who quickly came to understand that the definitional phrase in the term "former governor" is "former."

Had the 2OO8 race begun more slowly, Vilsack might have had a better run. The original plan was for Clinton launch her campaign at the relatively leisurely pace of a clear front runner. With that in mind, Clintonites quietly encouraged Vilsack to get in the race early and to run hard -- in order to prevent the Edwards campaign from gaining too much of a lead in the essential first-caucus state.

But Obama changed everything. After achieving superstar status on the fall 2OO6 campaign trail for Democrats around the country, the senator made it clear in early January that he intended to seek the party's presidential nod. That forced Clinton to move her schedule forward and to hightail it into Iowa in order to counter the Obama surge.

Clinton's moves were smart, and effective. She's holding her own in a state where it was thought she would have a hard time. But the former First Lady's fast start turned Vilsack's candidacy into little more than an annoyance. There was no longer a need to have a homeboy candidate keep Iowa's county chairs on the sidelines -- either backing their former governor or at least refusing to make endorsements that might embarrass him. In fact, Vilsack was in the way. Whatever money might have slid into his campaign accounts from DLC-tied donors dried up, and the Clintonistas who had been giving him encouragement were now encouraging him to quit the race and let Hillary grab up as many of his Iowa backers as possible.

Not without an ego, Vilsack tried to pump some energy into his flagging campaign by moving left. The man who chaired the DLC for most of the past two years suddenly abandoned the group's modestly pro-war approach to the Iraq imbroglio and started talking about the need to bring the troops home. But, as the Hotline political wire noted this week, "Even Vilsack's anti-Iraq war message fell on deaf blogger ears."

After this week's Nevada forum for the Democratic presidential candidates, the Daily Kos savaged the Iowan's response to the question: What have you done to end the war?

"What has Vilsack done to end this war?" asked Kos. "[Where] was he the last few years? Well, for one, he was chair of the Democratic Leadership Council between 2005-2007. ... Of course, the DLC has been a haven for pro-war Democratic warmongers, and has been used by the media to paint a picture of a divided party."

Ouch.

So Vilsack's out. As Des Moines Register political writer David Yepson correctly notes, "Vilsack's departure does little to change the nature of the national race -- he was getting less than 1 percent in the polls."

Even In Iowa, Vilsack's exit will mean only a little.

A few savvy staffers will be freed up for hire by the other campaigns, and grassroots Dems who remained with Vilsack will now be getting calls from Clinton, Obama, Edwards and others. And Vilsack? He'll talk about keeping his options open for awhile. But watch for him to eventually join the Clinton camp that he never really left.

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

PJ O'Rourke Does Adam Smith

Yesterday I was invited to attend a fundraiser for the CATO Institute with special guest PJ O'Rourke who is on a book tour for his new book, which is a pretty ingenious idea. He basically slogged his way through the entirety of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (a book I've tried to read numerous times with no success) and then wrote a kind of digest/rumination.

Because I'm an idiot, I misread the invitation and came late, which meant I missed the free lunch (further proving Milton Friedman's famous dictum on the matter), but was able to catch O'Rourke's talk. It was pretty standard libertarian fare. But two things struck me. One, I may be totally biased here, but I think it's far more mainstream in conservative circles to compare Democrats to evil, odious figures than it is on the center-left.

At one point O'Rourke said, Smith's lesson was that either you have unfettered free trade of goods and services or you start meddling in trades and you have, and I quote, "North Korea and Nancy Pelosi." Big laugh. I'm trying to come up with an equivalent statement that would have been said at, say, a Center for American Progress fundraiser. "Either you regulate markets to enforce some moral order or you get Tom Delay and slave ships"? That's not quite right, but even so, I can't imagine it getting uttered at a CAP function.

Also, there's something just maddeningly condescending about the rhetoric of libertarianism and-free market orthodoxy. Time and time again O'Rourke made the point that politicians, specifically, Democrats, "don't understand" Smith in particular and markets in general. There was never any consideration that perhaps people understand Smith and markets, they just have different value judgments about relative trade-offs of equity and efficiency, or -- gasp! -- a more sophisticated understandings of the complexity of markets, market failure and political economy than some conservative humorist who sat down and read a really long book.

Abolitionists Then and Now

A new film called Amazing Grace, opening today, marks the bicentennial of the end of slavery in Britain, portraying the British abolitionist movement as led by activist and Member of Parliament William Wilberforce. In conjunction with the movie, Bristol Bay Productions has launched the Amazing Change campaign in an effort to raise people's awareness about the continuing existence of slavery and build a movement of 21st century abolitionists "to complete William Wilberforce's unfinished work."

There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today and at least 10,000 in the United States--144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 200 years after Britain ended its participation in the slave trade. In contrast, there were approximately 15 million people enslaved during 150 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

"Anything that brings awareness to slavery in history of the present is positive," says Eric Foner, the leading historian on post-Civil War reconstruction. "If people fighting slavery today identify with the abolitionists, that's good."

There is little doubt that this film will have some of the common pitfalls of any Hollywood biopic. Indeed, reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post have called it "prettified", "an imperfect look at an imperfect soul", and "earnest to a fault." But reviewers have also noted the compelling political, moral, and educational aspects of the film, as well as some brilliant performances by great British actors.

Christopher Brown, professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism, anticipates some of these strengths and weaknesses in the movie: "There is a danger that the abolition of the British slave trade will be reduced to the heroism of one individual and, arguably, not the most important individual. Thomas Clarkson, for example, was absolutely essential to this history too. And the accomplishment of abolition in 1807 had as much to do with Britain's mastery of the sea lanes during the long wars with Napoleonic France. Still, I am glad this subject comes to public attention through this important bicentennial. In the United States, we don't learn enough about the history of slavery and the slave trade outside of our national borders, nor do we often realize the history, character, and importance of antislavery movements outside of the British Isles."

The contemporary anti-slavery campaign--Amazing Change--will produce some unlikely bedfellows. Philip F. Anschutz, who has ties to the conservative Christian right, owns Bristol Bay Productions. But it's worth remembering that the role religion played in the work of abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries was striking, and there are historic ties between the religious community and progressives. (In fact, The Nation was founded by American abolitionists). The Amazing Change campaign is trying to match Wilberforce's astounding achievement by collecting 390,000 signatures on its own petition to end modern slavery.

The organization says petitions will be presented to government officials around the world to "demonstrate our desire to see the emancipation of slaves and accountability for slave masters and others who benefit from the enslavement of people."

If the film sparks a wider movement to end contemporary slavery, any artistic shortcomings or historical inaccuracies will pale in comparison to its achievement.

If they gave an Academy Award for the year's best progressive film, who would the winner be? Cast your vote in The Nation poll.

Mainstream Media Discover Antiwar GIs

A story The Nation broke eight weeks ago about the growing movement of active-duty military dissenters against the war will get a nationwide television audience Sunday on CBS News' 60 Minutes.

The soldiers and sailors who organized the Appeal for Redress and who petitioned Congress last month to bring the troops home from Iraq will be interviewed and profiled by CBS correspondent Lara Logan. At the time The Nation published its story, we found about 1,000 officers and rank and file personnel had signed on to the effort, from all branches of the military, some stationed stateside and others on the frontlines in Iraq.

At latest count that number had grown to more than 1,300. After 60 Minutes airs its report, that number could multiply quickly. Read our original report here.

Getting Conyers His Conscience Back

Ouch. It hurts to listen to. This was Representative John Conyers,speaking to a troops-out demonstration this past January in WashingtonDC:

"George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him theIraq war is failing. But let me tell you something. He can't fire you.He can't fire us. But we can fire him!"

Many took those words to mean that Conyers, the chair of the HouseJudiciary Committee, was serious about firing this president, meaning,impeaching the man, along with the vice president he rode in on.

But this was Conyers, progressive Democrat of Michigan, speakingrecently on Pacifica's Democracy Now, explaining why, although he hasthe authority, he's not going to initiate impeachment proceedings.

"Impeachments come to the Judiciary Commitee. And, believe me, to tieup this government just as we're trying to stop the war and the clockis running on both the President and the Vice President, I think wouldbe a mistaken strategy. We've got to win the next election which isnext year."

Winning the election, he told Democracy Now, is what he meant by"firing" the president. Yeah right. Like firing a senior on the day hegraduates. It hurts to listen to because what you're hearing is thesound of consciousness – razing -- as in razor, as in destroy or levelor scrape. What you're hearing is the leveling, scraping away of aman's conscience. Probably no one's done more than RepresentativeConyers and his staff have done to investigate Bush White House crimes,from wiretapping and torture to misleading the country into an illegalwar.

Luckily for Rep. Conyers, grassroots activists may save his conscienceyet.

This week in Olympia, Washington, more than 800 people packed into a meetingwith Elizabeth De La Vega and State Senator Eric Oemig, who isintroducing a resolution to petition the US House for impeachements.About half that number worked throughout last weekend to come up with anational strategy on which impeachment activists could unite. A lot isgoing on on the impeachment front. It's just been hard to see.Different groups have prioritized different grounds for impeachment--there's no shortage-- from Iraq, to Guatánamo to signing statementsand illegal wiretapping and gross negligence in hurricane Katrina'swake.

Now a broad array of organizations have launched a new coalition thatbrings scores of groups together, from the Center for ConstitutionalRights to Hip Hop Caucus, to Progressive Democrats ofAmerica, Code Pink, After Downing Street, the Green Party of the USAand The World Can't Wait.

Impeach07 has national and local demonstrations planned, along with anational day of action on April 28. Oemig isn't alone. Legislators inthree states--New Mexico, Washington and Vermont have made movestowards petitioning the Congress. And no topic provokes more calls toRadioNation on Air America--people want accountability even if theirleaders don't.

Fox Attacks

Guerrilla documentarian Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Films team have been in the forefront of pioneering innovative ways to fund, produce and distribute progressive and timely films and videos. Their recent web video, The Real McCain, rapidly made its way around the internet and was featured on 360 blogs who linked to it.

Now, Brave New Films is turning its attention to Fox News' regular distortions and dissembling on behalf of right-wing candidates and causes. Fox's recent crusade against Barack Obama has been relentless and dirty as a new short video by Brave New Films demonstrates.

Fox Attacks: Obama is the first of a series of short videos designed to challenge Fox News. Please watch it, then send it around to others. And if you're sufficiently outraged, use some of the tools at FoxAttacks.com to take action against Fox's mendacity.

You can start by signing a petition asking the Democratic Party of Nevada not to partner with Fox on the first Democratic debate this coming August, as it has announced it is planning to do.

The next step being urged by BNF is to watch Fox, identify local businesses that are advertising on the Fox News Channel and enter their contact information into a database so that activists can pressure these advertisers to stop supporting Fox. Once these companies are identified, we can (politely) urge them to stop advertising on Fox until and unless the network stops acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. Click here for details.

If Bush Were Prodi

Italian Prime Minister resigned yesterday after his center-left coalition government lost a crucial foreign policy vote in the Senate.

Maybe George W. Bush should do the same. After all, the House of Representatives is now on record opposing his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, as is a majority of the US Senate. In Italy, that would certainly be grounds for dismissal. If Bush were Prodi, he'd be resigning every day. I nominate Chuck Hagel as his replacement.

Prodi came only two votes short of passing a measure that would keep Italian troops in Afghanistan and allow the US to expand a military base in northern Italy. The vote offers further confirmation of just how unpopular US foreign policy has become. Iraq is not the only place where the coalition of the willing has chosen to cut and run.

The Sunshine Caucus

The Democratic Party's sweep in November was due in no small part to its promise to clean up Washington. For those turned off by the K Street "politics as usual" deforming our democracy check out a new initiative by the Sunlight Foundation – a nonpartisan organization dedicated to using technology to achieve greater openness between members of Congress and their constituents. Urging all Representatives to post their daily schedules online is a good step towards some much-needed transparency.

So far only two freshmen, Representative Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Jon Tester, are heeding the call. Every day Tester reveals each lobbyist, constituent, and colleague he meets with--as well as the duration of the meeting. Gillibrand identifies meeting participants. (In order to address safety concerns schedules are posted the next day. Also, items pertaining to national security are omitted.)

"I believe in transparent government and this is my effort," Tester told the Washington Post.

"This is about ethics reform, letting people know who's bending your ear," said Gillibrand.

Ellen Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation, agrees. "This isn't ‘gotcha' politics. But a positive way to respond to public cynicism about Congress. This openness will breed more trust between members and their constituents."

But for all of the conversation about greater transparency, Miller says that resistance to the initiative by most members of Congress is "rather surprising." The most common concern expressed is that opponents will use information as ammunition in the next cycle. For example, if a Congressman met with a timber industry lobbyist on an issue, it could be taken out of context even if there were three meetings with the Sierra Club on the same issue. (Miller notes that representatives should want the public to know that they are meeting with people on all sides of any given issue). That probably explains why one Democrat close to Gillibrand told the New York Times, "There are a lot of people who think she's crazy to do [this]. But she really believes in it."

The Sunlight Foundation is also working on "three modest proposals" which complement this reform effort, including: ensuring that all currently required public reports are made available online; putting an end to secret legislation by requiring that all earmarks, amendments, and bills are identified with the proposing member's name; and meaningful lobbyist disclosure such as financial contributions, legislation discussions, and relationships with members or staff members. Meanwhile, the Foundation is laying the groundwork for a major push in the next few months for constituents to call on their members to join Gillibrand and Tester in posting their schedules online.

Gillibrand is certainly ready to welcome her colleagues.

According to the Post she wants "to create a special caucus of like-minded members" she calls "the Sunshine Caucus." Together, they can work towards a Sunlight Government defined by real transparency and ethics reform.