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The Nation

Media, Democracy and the FCC

In 2003, an unprecedented groundswell of popular opposition killed then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell's efforts to eliminate rules that limit the ability of one corporation to monopolize all the media outlets in a given place.

But, once again, media-industry lobbyists and their allies on the FCC are working to revise the rules on media ownership to allow a single corporation to own most, if not all, of the newspapers, radio and TV stations and Internet news and entertainment sites in your town. Last June, new FCC chairman Kevin Martin issued a draft policy proposal -- called a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making -- that kick-started Big Media's latest attempt to weaken the rules protecting local voices, vibrant competition and diverse viewpoints.

Now the battle is on. Martin, a far more savvy politician than his predecessor, is keenly aware that Powell was roundly criticized in 2003 for trying to ram through radical regulatory changes with virtually no public input. So he has opened up the decision-making process somewhat and permitted hearings on the proposed policies nationwide. But Martin and the two Republican members of the commission have restricted their involvement to six public meetings, while pro-regulation commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have hit the road to chair additional sessions. (The next official hearing with all five commissioners takes place on December 11 in Nashville, TN.)

On November 30, the Seattle Public Library will host a 6:00pm public hearing on media ownership with FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein. The hearing will help the FCC gather public comment as it considers revising its media-ownership rules. This is Seattle's opportunity to weigh in on an issue critical to our culture and our democracy.

And everyone can weigh in by clicking here to file a public comment with the FCC registering your opposition to the lifting of the current media-ownership rules. (The final deadline for comment is December 21.) Also, check out the ReclaimTheMedia site for background on the FCC, for ways you can get involved in the fight for local and non-corporate media and for directions to the Seattle library.

Backdoor Diplomacy in Iraq

On Thanksgiving eve, writer and activist Tom Hayden posted an explosive article at Huffington Post about what may be elements of the US's secret diplomatic exit strategy from Iraq. Hayden details a possible endgame strategy--including reports of US officials having contacted Sunni nationalist insurgents to explore a cease-fire and replacement of the Iraqi Al-Maliki government with an interim one. He also alleges that in October Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice appealed to the Gulf Cooperation Council to serve as intermediaries between the US and armed Sunni resistance groups [not Al Qaeda].

Such contacts, Hayden also makes clear, "may be nothing more than 'probes'--in the historic spirit of divide-and-conquer, before escalating the Iraq war in a Baghdad offensive....Yet Americans who voted in the November election because of a deep belief that a change of government in Washington might end the war have a right to know their votes counted." Confronted with an escalating humanitarian disaster in Iraq and increasingly horrific sectarian violence, it appears the US may be offering significant concessions without its citizens knowing.

"It is wild," Hayden wrote in an email Friday afternoon. "Bush-Rice-Maliki to Amman, Cheney to Saudi Arabia. The Iraq Study Group preparing its conclusions, the Pentagon preparing proposals of its own. Is it all just a reshuffling after the November elections, and in response to the devastating casualty levels in Iraq? Can the Democrats cohere around a proposal of their own? Or should we expect it all to go on, behind masks of diplomacy and management of our perceptions?"

As his latest article reveals, there is a quickening interest in US dialogue with the insurgents and the Iranians, a course opposed fiercely by some in Washington and Baghdad. The American public deserves to know what's going on, but if history is any guide, we'll likely be the last to know.

Click here to read Hayden's article detailing the secret story of a possible US retreat from Iraq and check out Hayden's follow-up on documents showing there have been secret talks between the US and the armed Iraqi insurgency.

Political "News" Replaced By Political Ads

When Franklin Roosevelt and the first New Deal Congress faced the question of how best to organize broadcasting on the public airwaves, they enacted the federal Communications Act of 1934. That law brought into the modern age the principle that had underpinned the "freedom of the press" protection in the first amendment to the Constitution: that a competitive and responsible media was essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy.

Though the airwaves belonged to the people, private owners would be allowed to broadcast on particular frequencies. Ownership would be diverse, competition would be encouraged and all who used the people's airwaves would be required to do so in the public interest.

Over the ensuing decades, the radio and television airwaves have been colonized by ever more powerful corporate interests. Media conglomerates have used their economic power – a power obtained through their exploitation of the people's airwaves – to hire lobbyists and secure ever more favorable federal rules and regulations. Slowly, the civic and democratic values that were intended to guide broadcasting have been replaced by commercial and entertainment values.

The duty to inform the public about the political processes of the Republic, which once was considered the essential responsibility of the recipient of a broadcast license, has been abandoned. The amount of news coverage of state and local elections is in decline, while television stations cede the political discussion to paid advertising.

How bad has the circumstance become?

In the month before this year's mid-term elections, local television news viewers received dramatically more information about the candidates and their campaigns from paid political advertisements than from news coverage, a just-completed University of Wisconsin-Madison NewsLab study concludes.

Local newscasts in seven Midwest markets aired 4 minutes, 24 seconds of paid political ads during the typical 30-minute broadcast while dedicating an average of 1 minute, 43 seconds to election news coverage.

Even the miniscule amount of attention that was paid to electioneering by the news departments of local television stations in markets spread across some of the key battleground states of the Midwest was warped. According to the analysis, "most of the news coverage of elections on early and late-evening broadcasts was devoted to campaign strategy and polling, which outpaced reporting on policy issues by a margin of more than three to one (65 percent to 17 percent)."

What makes these figures all the more troubling is the fact that, while local television stations are clearly failing to provide adequate coverage of the most basic functions of democracy, they continue to be the primary source of information for voters. In other words, the great majority of citizens who rely on television news for the healthy diet of information that is needed in order to cast informed votes are being starved by station owners who are more interested in collecting revenues from political advertisers than in meeting the responsibilities of a broadcast license holder.

How should citizens respond? There are two necessary actions:

1.) The data gathered by the UW researchers should be employed in broader efforts by citizen groups to challenge the renewal of broadcast licenses for communications corporations that are failing to serve the communities in which they own stations. These challenges are legitimate and they should be pursued aggressively. For more information, visit www.freepress.net

2.) Federal and state legislators should take up proposals to require commercial television and radio stations to provide free air time to all serious candidates as a means to counter the influence of commercials and, hopefully, to energize the news coverage of campaigns. For more on this, visit the website of the national campaign, endorsed by Walter Chronkite and others, visit www.freeairtime.org and www.campaignlegalcenter.org

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John Nichols is the co-founder with Robert W. McChesney of Free Press, the national media reform network. Nichols and McChesney are the co-authors of many books on media policy, including Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy, which is just out in paperback from The New Press.

Can We Feed the World? Absolutely

It is Thanksgiving Day, a moment when Americans celebrate the abundance of our harvest.

There is much to be thankful for. Most, though certainly not all, Americans will be well fed this day.

We enjoy the gift of residence in a land that is far more wealthy, far more productive and far more secure than most.

How ought we to say thanks?

By answering responsibly and realistically to calls for help from those living in lands that are neither so wealthy, nor so productive, nor so secure as our own.

For the past five years, the most visible contribution of the United States to the rest of the world has been chaos. No matter what one thinks of the reasons for going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has engaged in those endeavors ineptly. And, in so doing, a country that has the power to do immense good has instead been saddled with the image of a bullying incompetent.

That needs to change, not merely for the good of regions that are currently experiencing unnecessary conflict but for the good of the United States.

Simply put, this country needs to improve its image.

Where to begin?

The best place to start is by getting serious about ending hunger on the planet.

Is it possible to end hunger?

Absolutely.

"Food supply is not the central issue in reducing hunger," explains Craig Jenkins, a professor of sociology and political science at Ohio State University who has conducted groundbreaking research into the question of whether it is possible to feed the world. "Hunger is largely a political issue."

Jenkins and his colleagues conducted a groundbreaking study of hunger in 53 developing nations with populations of more than 1 million that identified the role that internal war and violence, political repression, high levels of arms trade and population pressures play in locking great masses of people into poverty.

According to Jenkins, the key to reducing hunger throughout the world involves the recognition that challenge is more than just one of agricultural and economic development.

"Hunger is also a distributional problem, and the obstacles to improved distribution are primarily political," says the professor. "Conflict regulation, violence prevention, the reduction of international arms trade, and the protection of civil and political rights should be central to policies that address hunger."

So where should an American, duly inspired by the seasonal spirit, send a check?

While there are many good groups working smart on hunger issues, here are a couple of recommendations:

* The American Friends Service Committee: More than any other group working in the international sector, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning AFSC has long recognized the need to address issues of violence, discrimination and economic injustice in order to address hunger and poverty. Their work on the ground in Africa and the Middle East has been especially sensitive and effective. Especially impressive is their Wage Peace Campaign, which highlights the economic and social costs of war and violence, and their Africa: Life Over Debt campaign, which among other things brings together religious and environmental groups to address the connections between debt relief, poverty, and climate change. To learn more about AFSC, visit the group's website at www.afsc.org or call 1-888-588-2372

* Stop Hunger Now: Established in 1998, in alliance with a program array of groups ranging from Rotary International to the Islamic Relief Agency and Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners, Stop Hunger Now works to provide the maximum amount of food and life saving aid to the maximum number of the most poor and hungry throughout the world in the most rapid, efficient and effective manner. Their programs are innovative and varied, ranging from traditional emergency relief initiatives that respond to crisis situations to so-called "Seeds Programs," which supply people in areas of chronic drought and famine the necessary resources to rebuild their lives, to micro-credit loan programs that help impoverished women climb out of destitution by funding partner organizations that provide low-interest, revolving loans to empower women to start their own businesses. To a greater extent than many other groups, Stop Hunger Now has figured out how to work around the political barriers that slow down the process of delivering aid and that make it hard for people living in poverty to improve their circumstances. You can learn more about Stop Hunger Now by visiting the group's website at www.stophungernow.org or by calling: 1-888-501-8440.

"Freedom, Brotherhood, and Justice…”

Sixty-five years ago, in that tense passage after the worst of the Great Depression began to ease but before the bombings at Pearl Harbor drew this country into the wars of Europe and Asia, Franklin Roosevelt penned the most remarkable of Thanksgiving Proclamations.

Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, including the current occupant of the Oval Office, Roosevelt saw the writing of the annual statement as something more than a perfunctory task. Each of the 32nd president's dozen Thanksgiving Proclamations was unique, and as his tenure progressed, Roosevelt used them to express the values of the New Deal and the internationalist struggle against fascism.

Though Roosevelt's proclamations retained a spiritual character, he deemphasized explicitly Christian references in favor of a more universalist approach, which recognized the contributions of different religious groupings within the United States and abroad. He also added inclusive language, which he and his aides hoped would be read as an encouragement to overcome racial and ethnic divisions.

Roosevelt's finest proclamation, that of Thanksgiving Day, 1941, was an appeal for "the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice…"

It read:

THANKSGIVING DAY - 1941BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - A PROCLAMATION

I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set aside Thursday, the twentieth day of November 1941, as a day to be observed in giving thanks to the Heavenly Source of our earthly blessings.

Our beloved country is free and strong. Our moral and physical defenses against the forces of threatened aggression are mounting daily in magnitude and effectiveness.

In the interest of our own future, we are sending succor at increasing pace to those peoples abroad who are bravely defending their homes and their precious liberties against annihilation.

We have not lost our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment. The love of democracy still burns brightly in our hearts.

We are grateful to the Father of us all for the innumerable daily manifestations of His beneficent mercy in affairs both public and private, for the bounties of the harvest, for opportunities to labor and to serve, and for the continuation of those homely joys and satisfactions which enrich our lives.

Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us.

On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us ray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this 8th day of November, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-sixth.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

As we take up the homely joys and satisfactions of this Thanksgiving, there is much to celebrate. Americans have used their franchise to temper a regal presidency, and the prospect of a more realistic and humane future appears to be in the offering. But the favorable result of one election ought not blind us to the reality that this nation has for too long deferred the essential work of "the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice." Even a chastened President Bush will not be inclined to guide us toward that task. Thankfully, President Roosevelt prods us still, across the expanse of history, to embrace the better angels of our nature and to seek the America -- and the world -- that should be.

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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

Moral Consequences of the Occupation

It may be an old saw, but it remains true: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And this, ultimately, is why occupation is so pernicious. The occupier is at once all powerful, able to arrest and berate the occupied at will, but also powerless, for he knows that his security and safety are largely outside his control. He knows he is hated.

The result is this .

There's a lot of talk about the mounting toll in Iraq: in blood , in treasure , in the lives of innocent Iraqis. But one of war's darkest legacies is the moral corrosion it inflicts on those who wage it. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse it will get.

Next time that little boy will be wielding a rock. Later, a bomb.

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.