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Flying While Arab

In my last post I wrote about a woman who was kicked off a Delta Airlines plane for feeding her baby. That could easily have been me; I fly often with my (breastfed) baby, and it would never occur to me to let him go hungry on the plane. If you're planning to fly over the holidays and you're an observant Muslim, you, too, might get booted -- for feeding your soul. Yesterday six Muslim Imams were escorted from a US Airways jet for praying. According to news reports, a gate agent was distressed that the men were "praying very loud" in Arabic. Some passengers say they were upset by political discussion they overheard among the imams; the men deny they were talking about politics -- but as one of the imams asked the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Even if we did, so what? What is suspicious about that?" The six imams were questioned by U.S. Marshals, the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration. Though neither government officials -- nor a bomb-sniffing dog -- found anying troubling about the men, their tickets were refunded and they were not allowed to take a later U.S. Airways flight; they ended up flying home on Northwest instead.

Praying, and feeding children, would rank pretty high on most people's list of inoffensive and even wholesome activities. There are plenty of larger issues embedded in these two outrageous stories -- about racism and religious intolerance in the war on terror, misogyny and puritanism, disregard for basic individual freedoms -- but I'd like to also point out that flying is an increasingly miserable experience for everyone. A plane is essentially a Greyhound bus in the sky these days. The workers are short-staffed and stressed-out, laboring for stingier pay and benefits; thus, not surprisingly, they seem to have completely lost patience with the passengers. I think we're seeing more and more examples of capricious and just plain rude treatment; you're just particularly vulnerable to it if you're praying in Arabic, taking off your shirt or doing anything the slightest bit unusual. Making matters worse, most companies, desperate to milk some profits out of us, overbook flights and cram seats closer and closer together. You have to bring your own food, and are too-rarely offered coffee, or even water. Only the fatcats in first class look comfortable. All the security regulations -- which, by the way, seem stupidly based on a few high-profile incidents (because of the Shoe Bomber, we all have to take off our shoes, and because of the London liquid bomb scare, no sunblock for the kids) -- add to the sour mood. Yet I know plenty of people who are flying more, even on short regional trips, because Amtrak has become so expensive. This is crazy: in addition to being no fun anymore, commercial flights contribute significantly to global warming. Taking the train is much better for the environment, and a far greater pleasure. We need significant public investment in the train system, to make it much cheaper and faster, with the goal of eventually phasing out plane travel for all but the longest trips. It's one of many ways we can save the planet while creating great new jobs, and improving everyone's quality of life.

An update on the breast-feeding incident: yesterday parents and children gathered at 30 airports around the country, staging a national "nurse-in" to protest Emily Gillette's treatment by Delta Airlines. Protesters' signs included "Best in-flight meal ever" and "Breasts -- not just for selling cars anymore."

A New Congressman Says 'No' to the President

Most freshman Democratic members of the House of Representatives attended last week's reception at the White House with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, White House political czar Karl Rove and others who had just finished plotting and executing unrelenting attacks campaigns on the newcomers. But the target of some of the campaign season's crudest attacks, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, had better things to do.

Ellison, the first Muslim to ever be elected to Congress, skipped the private reception at the White House in order to attend a reception organized by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

"I went to the AFL-CIO reception, because I wanted to meet and greet leaders of labor, and get to know them," explained Ellison, who won an intense Democratic primary and then the general election with strong union backing. "Those are the people who I came here to support."Was it hard to give up a chance to rub elbows with the president and vice president?

"It wasn't even a close call," Ellison told the Associated Press."Maybe one day I'll get to meet the president. He's the president, and I respect him in his role as the president, but I have exceedingly sharp differences with him on a policy level."

Despite attacks on his religious beliefs and activist career, Ellison prevailed in the September Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party primary for an open Minneapolis-area seat by promising to fight in Congress for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"We are being led by a president who believes he has a right to send us to war based on a lie, that it's O.K. to torture prisoners and to spy on Americans. His administration has given sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts to private companies and then looked the other way when those profiteers cannot account for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars," Ellison said during the campaign. And, yet, where is the outrage? Where are the leaders who are willing to stand up and demand accountability?"

"I'm running for Congress because there has been a wholesale abdication of responsibility by our political leaders," Ellison continued. "When I get to Washington, I will demand complete responsibility from this administration."

Come to think of it, Bush, Cheney and Rove were probably just as happy that Ellison didn't have time to come to the White House last week.

Of course, some Bush defenders have condemned the Minnesota congressman for daring to disregard a White House invitation. But it should be clear by now that Keith Ellison was not elected to play nice with this administration.

Ellison did not come to be a part of the broken politics of the Washington consensus. He promised to serve, like his friend and mentor Paul Wellstone, as an agent of change rather than an apologist for compromise. It should be remembered that Wellstone made news when he arrived in Washington back in 1991 and almost immediately confronted then President George Herbert Walker Bush regarding another scheme to send U.S. troops to the Middle East.

Ellison's preference for the company of union members over that of a nother president named Bush provides only the latest indication that this congressman from Minnesota is more than ready to carry on where the late senator from Minnesota left off.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Pelosi's Next Big Problem

Having unsuccessfully supported Representative Jack Murtha for the No. 2 slot in the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi moves on to her next hard decision: whether to name Representative Alcee Hastings as chairman of the House intelligence committee.

This is a tough call for Pelosi. The current senior Democrat on the committee is Representative Jane Harman from California, and Pelosi wants her out. There has long been bad blood between Harman and Pelosi, who preceded Harman as the top Democrat on the panel. Pelosi, according to several Capitol Hill sources, has been upset with Harman's performance on the committee and has faulted Harman for not sufficiently confronting the Republicans and the White House. Next in line for the Democrats on the committee is Hastings. But he, too, poses a problem. In the late 1980s, Hastings, then a federal judge, was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on bribery and perjury charges and removed from office by the Democratic-led Senate. He was later elected to the House and subsequently joined the intelligence committee.

Can Pelosi pick a fellow impeached and convicted on corruption charges to run a committee handling the most sensitive secrets of the government? But can she bypass Hastings, an African-American, and alienate the Congressional Black Caucus? Should she choose the third-ranking Democrat, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas? That would upset the CBC but win plaudits from the Hispanic Caucus. To duck the whole knotty issue, should she simply let Harman have the job for a short spell?

In a closer to perfect world than this one, the answer would be obvious: do none of above and name Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat on the committee, to lead the panel. (More on Holt in a moment.) But since the House is far from perfect, this is not likely to happen.

Hastings has come a long way since being impeached by the House Democrats. He is currently the senior Democrat on the intelligence panel's subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security. He also serves ably as a Democratic whip. But now that he is close to taking over the intelligence committee, his past has become an item of renewed controversy. Prior to the congressional elections, conservatives and Republicans started raising the obvious question about Hastings: Should a person kicked off the federal bench for conspiring to receive a $150,000 bribe be placed in charge of the intelligence committee? The attack on Hastings was part of the GOP's campaign to frighten voters into not electing Democrats. (Charlie Rangel will be in charge of the tax-writing committee!) But it was a justifiable query; the Republicans had a point. History is not on the side of Hastings or his present-day supporters.

On August 3, 1988, the House voted to impeach Hastings by a vote of 413 to 4. The floor manager of the impeachment resolution was Representative John Conyers, a CBC stalwart to this day, who declared that there was "damning evidence" that Hastings had plotted with another lawyer to obtain a payoff in exchange for reducing the sentences of an undercover FBI agent posing as a convicted racketeer. Five years earlier, Hastings, appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, had been acquitted of these charges by a Miami jury. But Conyers maintained that Hastings had lied at his trial. (A post-trial investigation conducted for the U.S. Court of Appeals had concluded that Hastings had sought the bribe and then faked evidence and testified falsely.)

During the impeachment, Conyers declared, "I looked for any scintilla of racism. I could not find any." He noted that "race should never insulate a person from the consequences of unlawful conduct." No House members defended Hastings during the impeachment proceedings. When the Senate tried Hastings in October 1989, Conyers, who was part of the House prosecution team, told the senators, "We argue that he must be removed from office so that he does not teach others that justice may be sold." The Senate voted 69 to 26 to oust Hastings from office. He became the sixth judge in U.S. history to be removed from the bench by the Senate. In an act of revenge, retribution, or redemption, Hastings three years later ran for a House seat and won.

Hastings has been scandal-free since he entered Congress. House Democratic staffers praise his leadership of the terrorism and homeland security subcommittee. "He's been a hardworking member of the committee," one Democratic aide notes. "For years, no one has raised any issues about him being on the committee." Still, how can Pelosi name to a sensitive position a man once denounced by his fellow Democrats as corrupt? Were he to become chairman, all his actions and statements would be tainted by his past. As the newly empowered Democrats challenge President Bush on such matters as the Iraq war and the so-called war on terrorism, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees will assume lead roles in the various debates. (Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is slated to become head of the Senate intelligence committee.) Hastings' past will hobble him as a spokesman for the Democrats on national security.

Under House rules, seniority--which usually dictates which legislator becomes chair of a committee--does not apply to the intelligence committee. Pelosi is not obligated to hand the gavel to Hastings should she bounce Harman from the top Democratic spot on the committee. But Pelosi, according to several senior House Democratic staffers, has already promised Hastings the position. And the Congressional Black Caucus has indicated it would be quite displeased if Pelosi shoved him aside. The CBC was angry at Pelosi last June for forcing Representative William Jefferson, who's under investigation for accepting bribes, to quit the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Pelosi has not named Hastings yet. Some Hill Democrats have floated the option of giving the job to Reyes. Such talk is partly motivated by racial considerations: trade a Hispanic for a black, and it's a wash. Meanwhile, Harman, according to a senior Democratic consultant, has made an offer to Pelosi: let me remain the top Democrat on the panel, and I'll only chair the committee for two years. Granting Harman this wish would relieve Pelosi--at least, temporarily--of making a decision about Hastings. But House Democratic staffers say that Pelosi's antipathy for Harman is so pronounced that no one expects her to take this easy way out. "Other members, too, are not enamored of Harman," says an aide to a Democrat on the intelligence committee. "She has not been nearly aggressive enough in pushing back on the Republicans--though she has improved a bit on this in recent months."

Which brings us to Rush Holt. He is a former Princeton University physicist and past intelligence analyst at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He specialized in nuclear matters. He knows much about the intelligence bureaucracy and about weapons proliferation and loose nukes, critical national security priorities. First elected in 1998, Holt has not been shy about confronting the administration and the intelligence agencies. He voted against granting George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. He has challenged the administration's policies on the detention and questioning of suspected terrorists, arguing the White House has not been mindful enough of civil liberties. He also was one of the few Democrats to charge on to the House floor to oppose the Republicans when they sought to intervene in the Terri Schiavo affair. The Courier News of Bridgewater, New Jersey, endorsed Holt's reelection this year and noted, "Holt offers the kind of intelligence, reasonable and decisive voice that has been all too lacking inside the Beltway during the partisan wars of recent years. But Holt's value in Congress goes beyond that; he has developed a reputation as a thinking man's congressman, a scientist by trade who provides more thoughtful analysis on issues than most lawmakers." Holt calls for beginning a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He has warned the administration not to hype the intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapon program, noting the "intelligence on Iran is poor, contradictory, or both."

Tapping Holt, the seventh-ranking of the committee's nine Democrats, would be an unconventional move. The CBC would be agitated--even though its members are already claiming three major chairmanships: Conyers at the judiciary committee, Rangel at the tax-writing committee, and Representative Bennie Thompson at the homeland security committee. The Hispanic caucus could be peeved, too. Other House Democrats might be uneasy about such a sharp slap at the seniority principle (though younger members would be heartened). But this would be a chance for Pelosi to send a signal: the Democrats do regard national security seriously and are willing to put aside political concerns to do the right thing. She would be saying, merit matters most when it comes to protecting the United States. Yet if she sticks with Hastings, she is going to have to defend the quasi-indefensible. It will appear--rightly or wrongly--that she cannot shake free of racial politics and institutional imperatives. She ought to instead adopt a radical stance and give this most important job to the most qualified person.

UPDATE: On November 28, 2006, Pelosi released a statement:

Congressman Alcee Hastings and I have had extensive consultations, and today I advised him that I would select someone else as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Alcee Hastings has always placed national security as his highest priority. He has served our country well, and I have full confidence that he will continue to do so.

It was slightly curious that she announced her decision not to choose Hastings without saying who would get the position. Holt is not lobbying for the post, according to Democratic Hill sources. But he certainly would like to get it. The betting, though, has to be on Representative Silvestre Reyes. With such a pick, Pelosi could please the Hispanic caucus as she peeves the Congressional Black Caucus. If merit ruled--yeah, right--Holt would get the nod. But that's not how business is done in Congress.

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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.

The Uncovered War: Salvaging American "Dignity"

So far, what have the American invasion and occupation of Iraq led to -- other than a staggering bloodbath, killing fields galore, and a secret landscape of detention centers and torture chambers? As a start, an already badly battered Iraqi economy was turned into a looting ground for Bush administration crony corporations and thoroughly wrecked. (Tall Afar, for instance, is considered an American "success" story when it comes to security, though part of the city is now a "ghost town" of rubble and unemployment there is estimated at almost 70%.) The Iraqi education system is in tatters; the medical system in ruins; basic social and urban services almost undeliverable; oil production barely up to pathetic prewar levels (if present-day figures are even real, which is in doubt); the position of women now disastrous; child malnutrition on the rise; and well over a million Iraqis have fled their homes in a country of only 26 million people.

In addition, national sovereignty has been destroyed; the national police system is on its last legs, its ranks well-stocked with men loyal to various murderous Shiite militias; a Sunni insurgency rages ever more violently; a Kurdish form of independence seems ever more likely (though inconceivable to neighboring states); corruption is rampant; and a central government, whose sway doesn't reach most streets in its capital, is now considered "the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East." (The Interior Ministry alone "reportedly employs at least a thousand ghost employees, whose wages amount to more than $1 million a month.")

Throw in the fact that the Iraqi Army the Bush administration has been so intent on "standing up" is largely a Shiite one (as the fine Knight-Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter discovered back in October 2005 and New York Times correspondent Richard A. Oppel found only last week in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad). So if the plan is to bulk it up further to create a modicum of "stability" before departure, forget it. By its nature, such a training program, even if successful, is but a plan to generate an even more murderous civil war.

Now, add in endless months or years of non-withdrawal withdrawal plans, which may even for a time involve significantly upping American troop levels, already reportedly at 152,000, keep in mind the likelihood that American air power will be ratcheted up when American troop strength finally starts to go down, don't forget those media-ignored permanent bases the Bush administration has no desire to give up, and you have a formula for further carnage, collapses and disintegrations of every sort, coups, assassinations, civil war, and god knows what else.

In the Vietnam era, President Richard M. Nixon went on a well-armed, years-long hunt for something he called "peace with honor." Today, the catchword is finding an "exit strategy" that can "salvage U.S. prestige." What we want, it seems, is peace with "dignity." In Vietnam, there was no honor left, only horror. There is no American dignity to be found in Iraq either, only horror. In a Washington of suddenly lowered expectations, dignity is defined as hanging in there until an Iraqi government that can't even control its own Interior Ministry or the police on the streets of the capital gains "stability," until the Sunni insurgency becomes a mild irritation, and until that American embassy under construction, that eighth wonder of the world of security and comfort, becomes an eye-catching landmark on the capital's skyline.

Imagine. That's all we want. That's our dignity. And for that dignity and the imagined imperial stability of the world, our top movers and shakers will proceed to monkey around for months creating and implementing plans that will only ensure further catastrophe (which, in turn, will but breed more rage, more terrorism that spreads disaster to the Middle East and actually lessens American power around the world).

Now, the neocons dreamers and their patrons, the greatest gamblers in our history, are slowly departing official Washington and the "realists" have hit the corridors of power that they always thought they owned. It wouldn't hurt if they opened their eyes. Even imperial defenders should face reality. Someday, it's something we'll all have to do. In the meantime, call in the Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones.

For Part 1 of "The Uncovered War," Permanent Bases in Iraq, click here.

For Part 2 of "The Uncovered War," Air Power in Iraq, click here.

An Iraq Vet Fights Back

For nearly three years now, KellyDougherty has been standing up against the war in Iraq. Thiswouldn't be all that significant if it weren't for the fact thatDougherty actually served there in a military police unit. Now, as therecently appointed director of the roughly 300-member Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)organization, she is still speaking out, campaigning for the Appeal ForRedress and expressing her frustration with the administration'smaintain the status quo attitude. I recently spoke with Dougherty aboutthe future of Iraq and the IVAW.

What has the IVAW been up to lately?

For the third anniversary of the war we marched from Mobile to NewOrleans with hurricane survivors. Then, during the summer, we hadseveral of our members go back down to New Orleans to do volunteer workfor a couple of months. Right now we're trying to get people tovolunteer during the Thanksgiving holiday. We have some local contactsdown there called the Wrecking Crew, which is mostly made up of peoplefrom New Orleans and the area focused on rebuilding homes. We have anIVAW bus on a counter-recruitment tour. We have several people on thebus who are mostly going to inner cities where they have conferences andtalk about alternatives to military recruitment and the truth aboutmilitary service.

What should be done next in Iraq?

My personal position and the position of our organization is that weshould call for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces. Thatreally hasn't changed since the beginning of our organization and ifanything, for me, I'm more certain of the necessity of withdrawing ourforces than I was two and a half years ago when I'd just gotten backfrom there. I don't think I'd imagined three years ago that'd it'd be asbad as it now.

Why is leaving now better than, say, sending more troops?

Right now I hear people talking about how we can't leave because they'llbe civil war or there will be chaos. But from my standpoint and fromtalking to people who've been in Iraq more recently, who're faced withhaving to go back for their second or third time, the situation on theground has deteriorated. This past month was one of the bloodiest of thewar and there was that report that said over 600,000 Iraqis have died since the beginning of the occupation.

I think we have to start asking ourselves what are we trying to accomplish in Iraq. Right now there's really no hope for them to create a formal, democratic society with our help because we've been there for over three years and we've only been able to decrease the odds of that happening. It's a privilege to sit back in America and analyze this from our prospective but for the Iraqis, they're trying to go about living their lives in an increasingly hostile environment filled with destruction and chaos. I don't think our presence there can solve that problem because we're the ones who created it.

Why is the US presence so disruptive?

First of all, when we invaded Iraq, certainly in the first monthsfollowing the invasion there was a lack of reconstruction. There was alot of patrols and building US bases, but not helping the Iraqi peoplewho were in desperate need after the complete bombardment of theircountry by our military. The Iraqi people had been living under someform of warfare for years before we even got there as occupiers. We weregonna free Iraqis from a dictator and make their lives better butinstead we run amok, we kill tens of thousands of Iraqis in the processand their lives aren't better. They have massive unemployment, fuelshortages, water shortages, lack of electricity and medical care. Ithink Americans should put themselves in the place of the Iraqis and askthemselves if your city were occupied by a foreign military who had a shoot first ask questions later attitude, withsecret prisons, torture: How would that make you feel? How angry andresentful would you be with someone like that? Time after time we'rebeing told by certain people in power that we're making positiveprogress there but then we hear about torture, rapes, murders andrevenge killing throughout Iraq.

What do you think is going to happen now that the ‘06 election is over?

First of all, I think the administration in power doesn't have anyintention of leaving Iraq and they've made that very clear. And also Ithink a lot of the Democrats also aren't talking about exiting Iraq.There is some talk of withdrawal but it seems to me that all of thecandidates are talking in such vague terms and don't want to actuallymake a statement or commitment to bring the troops home.

It's going to have to take a popular public consensus--and polls arealready showing the majority of people don't support the war--toactually work towards the end of the occupation and bring the troopshome.

So I would say that I'm optimistic because I do see a lot more peoplegetting involved with our organization, getting involved with othergroups like Military Family Speak Outand Veterans For Peace.Also, when I talk to people now I don't really find people defending thewar. People now acknowledge that it's horrible, that we don't need to bethere but they don't know how to disengage. It's really a shame that wehave all these people in power who are supposed to be smart but can'tcome up with any ideas--actual, realistic ideas--about how are we goingto leave Iraq.

What more will it take to get people to "get it" about the war?

I feel like the public at large is so disconnected from the war becauseno one's alive in the United States who's experienced a war on UnitedStates soil. I don't think people here really have an understanding ofwhat it's like to be the focus of a war. Because fighting in a war ismuch different then being a citizen living during a war on your soil.

I don't think there's any empathy for a lot of people; they just don'tthink about it. Not many people have someone over there fighting thatthey love. They see Iraqis as different than themselves, which is whywhen they see a report that says 600,000 Iraqis have died as the resultof this war, people don't even think about what a number like thatmeans. About a million were killed there as a result of our sanctions.

It seems to me that one of the reasons Iraqis mistrust us so much anddon't want us in their country is not only because of this war butbecause of our involvement in their country, decade after decade. Whenyou look at the Iran-Iraq War, we really fueled that war. Directlyfollowing that with the first Gulf War and the war that's going on, theIraqis get it and they feel like they have no reason to trust us. Thepeople who took us into war did so by telling lies and manipulatingpeople with bad intentions that we're honorable because they weredishonest about the intelligence. I think it's a big mistake to believethat the people who made the mistake of starting this war will find asolution to it.

The Uncovered War: Air Power in Iraq

In addition to our largely ignored permanent bases in Iraq, here's another mystery of Iraqi (and Afghani) media coverage: The essential American way of war -- air power -- has long been completely MIA, except at a few websites. Until last week, there had been not a single mainstream piece of any significance on the air war these last years, with the exception of journalist Seymour Hersh's remarkable December 2005 report, "Up in the Air," in the New Yorker. ("A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units.") It is, of course, an irony that the only American reporter in these last years to look up and notice all those planes, helicopters, and Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones overhead has never been to Iraq.

Such modest coverage of the air war in Iraq as exists in our press generally comes in the form of infrequent paragraphs buried in wire service round-ups as in a November 14th Associated Press piece headlined, "U.S. General Confronts Iraqi Leader on Security":

"On Monday night, U.S. forces raided the homes of some Sadr followers, and U.S. jets fired rockets on Shula, their northwest Baghdad neighborhood, residents said. Police said five residents were killed, although a senior Sadr aide put the death toll at nine. The U.S. military said it had no comment."

This incident assumedly took place somewhere in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr city. In other words, we're talking about American planes regularly sending rockets or bombs into relatively heavily populated urban areas. All you have to do is imagine such a thing happening in an American city to grasp the barbarism involved. And yet, over these years in which such targeting has been commonplace and, in larger campaigns, parts of cities like Najaf and Falluja have been destroyed from the air, hardly a single reporter has gone to an air base like Balad and simply spent time with American pilots.

(Last week, David S. Cloud of the New York Times finally became the first reporter to get in a plane, a B-1 bomber, take off from an unidentified "Middle Eastern airfield" for an eleven-hour mission at 20,000 feet over Afghanistan and to report a staggering rise in the use of air power in that embattled country -- 2,095 air strikes in the last six months. In passing, however, Cloud offered a far too low figure for strikes in Iraq in the same period and the piece inside appeared deep inside the Times.)

Not surprisingly, the use of air power in Iraq remains a non-issue in this country. How could Americans react, when there's no news to react to, when there's next to no information to be had--which doesn't mean that information on our ongoing air campaign is unavailable. In fact, the Air Force is proud as punch of the job it's doing; so any reporter, not to speak of any citizen, can go to the Air Force website and look at daily reports of air missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan. The report of November 15th, for instance, offers the following:

"In Iraq, U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18s conducted a strike against anti-Iraqi forces near Ramadi. The F/A-18s expended guided bomb unit-31s on enemy targets. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Forward Operating Base McHenry and Baqubah. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad.

"In total, coalition aircraft flew 32 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."

This was a pretty typical day's work in recent months; there were 34 "close air support missions" on November 14th, 32 on the 13th, and 35 on the 12th--and note that each of the strikes mentioned was "near" a major city. These reports can be hard to parse, but they certainly give a sense, day by day, that the low-level air war in Iraq is no less ongoing for being unreported.

Here's the crucial thing: At the moment, all sorts of Iraqi "redeployment" or "phased withdrawal" plans are floating in the air in Washington, most aimed at "stabilizing" the woeful Iraqi government embedded in Baghdad's well-fortified Green Zone and keep the US in that country in some scaled-down form. The fact is, with such goals, American troop levels simply cannot be slowly drawn-down without -- as in Vietnam -- some increase in the use of air power. And yet, you can look far and wide and find no indication of any public discussion of this at the White House, in Congress, or in what we know of the deliberations of James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group. And yet, as the Iraqi chaos and strife grows while the American public increasingly withdraws its support for the war, air power will be one answer. You can count on that. And air power--especially in or "near" cities--simply means civilian carnage. It will be called "collateral damage" (if anyone bothers to call it anything at all), but--make no mistake--it will be at the heart of any new strategy that calls for "redeployment" without meaning to get us out of Iraq.

For Part 1 of The Uncovered War, "Permanent Bases in Iraq," click here. Next: "Salvaging American Dignity."

Full Steam Ahead

Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey – co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – aren't concerned about the close-to-conventional wisdom that conservative and Blue Dog Democrats will dominate the next Congress.

The CPC – already the largest caucus in Congress with 64 members – is expected to add at least seven new Democrats after this election. (Eight of the twelve candidates who received campaign support from caucus members won their races, including: Jerry McNerney (CA); Phil Hare (IL); Keith Ellison (MN); Bruce Braley (IA); John Hall (NY); Mazie Hirono (HI); Gabrielle Giffords (AZ); and Julia Carson (IN).) The CPC will now be represented in the Senate, too, where Senator-elect Bernie Sanders has pledged to remain a member and help recruit his new colleagues, and Sherrod Brown is expected to do the same.

Most significantly, the CPC's pressing issues are in sync with the American public's interests and desires. "We represent the real democratic values of our party," Woolsey says.

"We are a big tent party, but it was the war and economic issues that won this election," says Lee. "CPC members were the ones who didn't vote for the war in Iraq; and CPC members were the ones who called for an end to the Iraq War. And as far as the economy goes, proposals like raising the minimum wage are part of the progressive agenda."

Woolsey believes that the diversity of ideas within the party represents an opportunity. "Our party can prove to the nation that we represent all Americans – not just a slice of America. But our role is clear: if we sat quietly and let moderate Democrats become the left edge, then right-wingers would sail….They wouldn't look so right-wingy anymore!"

The Caucus has a clear vision for the upcoming Congress. It will support former-CPC member and Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi on her First 100 Hours and Six for '06 initiatives. But both Lee and Woolsey say that the CPC is focused on going "beyond that." They point to the caucus' Progressive Promise which outlines its goals in the areas of economic security, civil rights and liberties, global peace and security, and environmental protection and energy independence.

"We have to keep our promise to the American people by passing our Progressive Promise," Lee says.

Among other legislation, Woolsey looks forward to the CPC's unveiling of its "Peace and Security" budget this Spring. It will show "what a budget would look like if we invested in peace." She points to addressing the Patriot Act and Homeland Security ("make our nation more secure but not by taking away our rights"); making elections genuinely secure ("we as Democrats didn't do enough about that in the past two years"); taking on media control ("the FCC needs to know that we need more than a few corporations controlling the media"); and taking real steps to free the nation from dependence on foreign oil.

And, of course, responding to the crisis in Iraq.

Lee says the CPC will work to ensure that the Democratic Caucus as a whole embraces ending the war. It will work with its "millions of supporters," using the same "inside-outside strategy" that led to so many critical victories on Election Day. Many members will march with supporters and do all they can to expose the cost and devastation of the war and occupation. Meanwhile, the Out of Iraq Caucus – chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters and co-founded by Lee and Woolsey, among others – will present clear alternatives to the Administration's policy.

Lee makes it clear that it was the Bush Administration that "got us into this mess. And its going to have to get us out. But we'll come up with our specific proposals--including diplomacy with Syria and Iran."

The CPC will also maintain its laser-like focus on reducing poverty, which Lee notes isn't just an urban problem but impacts rural communities too.

With at least 10 CPC members expected to chair committees, and 35 members chairing subcommittees, both Lee and Woolsey are confident that the caucus' ideas and vision will inform the Democrats' approach on issues across the board.

"We'll be a steady and firm part of the debate," Woolsey says. "We'll get our amendments introduced. We'll have a voice."

Lee points to the critical role of witnesses in hearings. "We'll get a chance to call our witnesses," she says. "New ideas will be brought before the committees. Listening to people and presenting new ideas – that's how you come up with good legislation. Speaking [as a Representative from California], we are going to call more African-American, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander American witnesses. We're going to call on our best and brightest. Republicans didn't do that."

Hearings will also allow CPC members to do their job of oversight. "We had a Republican Congress of No Oversight," Woolsey says. "The American people have been left with blanks where there should be answers. How did we get into Iraq? Where did the Reconstruction money go? Why did Abu Ghraib happen? What went wrong during Katrina? We will investigate and we will get answers. [CPC member] John Conyers will chair the Judiciary Committee – what more can I say?"

Lee and Woolsey are both reflective about the disastrous period which has now – in part – ended, and the work that lies ahead.

"Our country was on the brink," Lee says. "Domestic surveillance, torture, suspension of the Geneva Conventions. Our fundamental notion of democracy was at risk. Now we've got to take our country back. We were close to losing it, now we have to restore our democracy."

"My message to my leadership is this: this country elected us to be bold," Woolsey says. "They didn't elect us to wait for James Baker to report. They said they trust Democrats to get us out of Iraq. And they didn't elect Democrats to simply be partners with President Bush – rather, the public told us to correct, challenge and confront the President. I believe in nothing but boldness from this point on."

"This is a defining moment and we can't lose it," Lee adds. "It's full steam ahead."

Pelosi's Problem

Of course, House Democrats made a mistake in choosing the slick favorite of Washington special interests, Steny Hoyer, over shambling populist John Murtha to serve as House Majority Leader. In one of the more ridiculous exercises of journalistic irresponsibility by a Washington press corps that is distinguished by nothing so much as its ineptness when it comes to offering useful perspective to the American people, Murtha was dismissed as an ethically-challenged mess of a man while Hoyer, the candidate of K. Street, was presented as the tidier Democrat.

The coverage of the Murtha-Hoyer fight was commendable in the sense that Americans were reminded that it matters when members of Congress choose their leaders. Perhaps, soon, reporters will remind the populace that, under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government charged with checking and balancing the excesses of the executive.

But, while it was nice to see a little attention paid to Congress, the failure of perspective when it came to reporting the realities of the leadership race was glaring. While Murtha certainly failed as a paragon of virtue, his alleged misdeeds tended to be petty and self-serving. Yet, they were blown up into such a "scandal" -- complete with the 24/7 repetition of grainy Abscam investigation videos that featured Murtha turning down a bribe but not doing so firmly enough -- that even Democrats who might have been inclined to respond to House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi's pro-Murtha pleas decided to go with Hoyer.

While Murtha may be an imperfect individual, Hoyers imperfections are systemic. The Marylander who served as minority whip before the election is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the insider Democrats of Washington: He votes right on just enough issues to keep in the good graces of Democratic special-interest groups. But he votes wrong on just enough economic issues to keep the doors of corporate America open to his fund-raising appeals. The sly strategy has worked for Hoyer -- Public Citizen rated the Maryland congressman as the "most dependent on special-interest money" in the House and ranked him fifth out of the 433 members reviewed for contributions received from lobbyists.

In the critical measure of who gets money from corporate political action committees, Hoyer beats Murtha 2-1.Why?

Where Murtha could point to a consistent record of standing up to Wall Street on the most fundamental of economic issues, trade policy, Hoyer's record is one of abandoning the interests of workers, communities and the environment in order to meet the demands of multinational corporations and their lobbying groups. Even when human rights groups pleaded with Congress not to award permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China, Hoyer broke with most Democrats to back the move. In fact, Hoyer was the highest ranking Democrat in the House to support the shift. He also backed the North America Free Trade Act and other trade deals that most Democrats -- including Murtha -- opposed.

Where Murtha made his name by challenging the neo-conservative consensus on the war in Iraq in particular and foreign policy in general, Hoyer criticized his colleague for taking a stand, saying doing so "could lead to disaster."

Where Murtha defined the issues on which Democrats won in 2OO6, Hoyer was an anonymous backroom operative.

Nancy Pelosi knew that.

She backed the better contender for the majority leader post.

As usual, Pelosi did the right thing. Remember, this is the woman who voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq and who stood up to former President Bill Clinton on trade with China.

But, also as usual, Pelosi did the right thing wrong. She came out for Murtha long after it was possible for her to influence the race in the Pennsylvanian's favor. Had Pelosi begun laying the groundwork before the November 7 -- especially with women in the caucus who respect and like her but who have never been so comfortable with Murtha -- she might well have been able to get the result she wanted. Had she used her prominence and her position to make the leadership vote more of a referendum on Iraq policy, rather than to allow it to be a murky choice within the caucus, she might have turned the focus away from the discussion of what Murtha did or did not do a quarter century ago and toward what he did in the fall of 2OO5, when the former Marine jumpstarted the discussion about exiting Iraq.

By backing Murtha so late and so ineptly, Pelosi made herself look weak and ineffectual. Even worse, she allowed a wrong signal to be sent -- the false message that the House Democratic Caucus was scared by Murtha's talk of quickly bringing the troops home from Iraq. With the key player in the Out of Iraq Caucus, California Democrat Maxine Waters, backing Hoyer for reasons of personal allegiance, it was always clear to honest observers that the leadership race was not a referendum on Iraq. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dishonest observers in Washington, and Pelosi should have known that.

As has been the case since she entered the House leadership, Nancy Pelosi, with her endorsement of Murtha, displayed a reasonably good sense of what Democrats should do. But, when she acted upon that endorsement, she displayed a particularly poor sense of how to do it. No one should be shocked by the latest stumble. This is, after all, the woman who knows that Democrats must hold the Bush administration to account for lying about the reasons for attacking Iraq, for condoning war profiteering, for warrantless wiretapping, for using positions of power to punish critics and, yet, declared before and after the election that talk of impeaching the wrongdoers is "off the table."

Pelosi's bumbling approach to the race for the majority leadership ought to serve as a wake-up call for the woman who will be Speaker of the House. She is about to come into immense power. She needs to exercise that power aggressively and without compromise. She should not be waiting until it is too late to make it clear who she wants on her leadership team, and to make the case to her allies for why they must vote with her. She should not be taking Constitutional procedures "off the table." She should not be pulling her punches.

Nancy Pelosi should trust her judgement and act upon it. She is the leader. She needs to lead -- more firmly, more strategically and more effectively.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

McCain's Misguided Policy

What is Senator John McCain smoking? The war in Iraq is a rapidly disintegrating mess and McCain wants to send more US troops directly into harm's way. "Without additional combat forces we will not win this war," McCain said yesterday.

Has it not occurred to the presidential wannabe that America's occupying presence might itself be fueling the insurgency?

In early August the US launched Operation Forward Together, sending 12,000 additional troops into Baghdad to try and pacify the city. It didn't work. Even Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell admitted that the operation "has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence." In fact, the bloodshed spiked upwards.

Why would sending more troops again, to Baghdad or the rest of the country, produce any different result?

Moreover, where will the troops come from? The Weekly Standard's subscription list? There's already a backdoor draft in this country, with many soldiers on their third or fourth deployments. "Not a single deployed US Army unit is battle ready," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday.

McCain is now calling himself a "common sense conservative." But on Iraq, he's full of you know what.