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The Nation

Most Valuable Progressives of 2006

Any year that begins with Bill Frist and Tom DeLay running the Capitol and ends with Frist out of politics and DeLay headed for trial gets high marks from this quarter. Throw in the polls that show the American people are now firmly in the anti-war camp, the fact that even Republicans are starting to suggest that the best word to describe the president's policies may be "criminal, the prospect that those policies will soon be under the scrutiny of House and Senate committee chairs who have actually familiarized themselves with the term "checks and balances" and 2006 ends on the best note of any year since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched their co-presidency.

The voters deserve a lot of credit for the taming of the shrews. But elections do not occur in vacuums. Good election results do not come about by luck or chance. They follow upon bold gestures and smart strategies by elected officials who choose to lead rather than follow, organizations that take chances and individual citizens who understand why Jefferson said that all power should rest with the people.

Here are this one columnist's picks for the Most Valuable Progressives of 2006:

* MVP – U.S. SENATE

Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold cinched the title in March when he proposed that Senate censure President Bush for repeatedly authorizing domestic wiretaps on American citizens without first obtaining a legally required court order. "This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors," explained Feingold on ABC-TV's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." Republicans cried foul. Democrats ran for cover – with the commendable exceptions of Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer. But Feingold was right, as he was right when he called for setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, built a bipartisan coalition to block renewal of the worst sections of the Patriot Act, traveled to Africa to focus attention on the need to address poverty and disease as part of a broader strategy to combat the appeal of Islamic fundamentalists, sponsored legislation urging state and local governments to establish a system to assure that every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to cast a ballot, and when he came out unapologetically for gay marriage. He was even right when he decided that, rather than mount an uphill bid for the 20087 Democratic presidential nod against better-known and better-financed contenders, he would instead focus on turning the key Foreign Relations and Judiciary subcommittees he will chair on the immediate task of challenging the Bush-Cheney administration's policies.

It is a measure of how far Feingold stands ahead of the rest of his own party that some of his stiffest competition for the MVP title came from Republicans: in particular, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, who bluntly compared the Iraq imbroglio to the Vietnam War in which he served and who recognized long before the Iraq Study Group completed its report that talks with Syria and Iran and a renewed focus on resolving disputes between Israel and Palestine were essential steps on the path to peace in the Middle East. Credit, as well, is due Oregon's Gordon Smith for describing the president's Iraq policies as "deeply immoral" and potentially "criminal," and to outgoing Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee for finishing his Senate tenure by blocking efforts to make permanent the president's recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

* MVP – U.S. HOUSE

Barbara Lee and her co-chair and fellow California Democrat, Lynn Woolsey, renewed the Congressional Progressive Caucus by hiring an able full-time staffer, staking out a clear set of stances that defined the left wing of the possible, holding forums and hearings on the Iraq War and developing strategies for aiding progressive contenders in House races around the country. The approach paid off. The Progressive Caucus will be the largest ideological grouping in the new Democratic House, and it has the ear – if not always the full agreement – of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Progressive Caucus members – such as John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, George Miller and Henry Waxman -- and their allies are moving into key committee chairmanships. (Bet on Waxman, who will guide the House Government Reform Committee's investigations of Bush to be a contender for MVP next year.) Lee gets especially high marks for her dogged insistence that Congress go on record in opposition to permanent bases in Iraq – she actually got the Republican House to approve her amendments to prohibit their development. And Lee, who has made the fight against HIV/AIDS a prime focus of her congressional service capped the year off by leading a high-profile move by leaders of the African-American, Latino and Asian-American communities to get tested for the virus on World AIDS Day in order to emphasize the importance of regular testing to fight the spread of the disease.

Tips of the hat, as well, to New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey for repeatedly challenging Dick Cheney to come clean about his role in exposing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame – as part of an effort by Cheney's office to punish Plame's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, for exposing the administration's misuse of intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – and to another New York Democrat, Jerry Nadler, for his absolute commitment to the Constitution. Nadler, the senior Democrat on the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has been uncompromising and unrelenting in his calls for hearings on warrantless wiretapping, illegal detentions and a host of other Bush administration assaults on civil liberties. Now, he will be able to chair those hearings.

* MVP – EXECUTIVE BRANCH

David Kuo joined the Bush administration as an actual compassionate conservative, serving in the White House for two-and-a-half years as a Special Assistant to the president and then as Deputy Director of the Bush's Faith-Based Initiative. Horrified by the cynicism of the administration, and the barely-cloaked disdain of key players in the White House for the president's religious base, Kuo came clean. He condemned the administration for failing to deliver on its promises to the poor, noting that when issues related to the supposed compassionate-conservative agenda of the president arose: "The White House legislative affairs office rolled their eyes while others on senior staff yawned." In the end, Kuo explained, "From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the ‘poor people stuff.'"

* MVP – STRATEGIC VISION BRANCH

The Democrats actually made more progress on the state level than the federal level in 2006, winning a majority of governorships and an overwhelming majority of state legislative seats. A lot of the credit for those victories, which are essential to the long-term progress of the party, goes to Progressive Majority, the five-year-old multi-issue political action committee (PAC) that was established to enhance the political effectiveness of the progressive movement. Working on local and state-legislative races, Progressive Majority has recruited, trained and steered resources to dozens of candidates – with a special focus on women and people of color – who form the "farm team" for future statewide and congressional campaigns. The dramatic Democratic advances in Colorado – where the party took full control of state government for the first time since John Kennedy was president – Wisconsin, Washington, Ohio and Pennsylvania were a byproduct of Progressive Majority's smart and effective grassroots approach. Indeed, Progressive Majority has been so successful in the seven states where it has operated that party leaders and activists in other parts of the country are clamoring for the group to come into their states.

* MVP – ACCOUNTABILITY BRANCH

When Russ Feingold moved to censure Bush, the activists of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition – who had been pushing for the better part of a year for a congressional inquiry into the administration's warping of intelligence to fit its Iraq War goals – adjusted their focus to promote an even broader and more aggressive critique of the Bush presidency. Nancy Pelosi may have tried to take impeachment off the table, but the AfterDowningStreet.org crew, led by the indomitable David Swanson, kept forcing it back on. Their coalition's website remains the "go-to" place for the latest on investigations, inquiries, subpoenas, legal actions and every other move to hold this president and vice president to account. And their passion for empowering citizens to promote "impeachment from below" and other accountability initiatives has forged a loose-knit but very real national movement. Watch for this movement to get a lot more attention in March, when a drive organized by Newfane, Vermont, town selectman and impeachment impresario Dan DeWalt and others will see dozens of town meetings endorse articles of impeachment.

* MVP – CITIZEN BRANCH

Thomas Jefferson said when left the presidency that he was retiring to a higher position: that of citizen. And it is as a citizen that another former president, Jimmy Carter, continues to make profound contributions to the nation. Increasingly frustrated by the failure of both the Bush administration and Democrats in Congress to take seriously the duty of U.S. officials to operate as honest brokers in the festering dispute between Israel and Palestine, Carter penned the most important book ever written by an ex-president: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster). Carter's frank assessment of the history and current character of the Middle East peace process has earned him vilification from those who would maintain an untenable status quo. Old friends and allies have abandoned him because of his willingness to echo the sentiments of Israeli peace activists by declaring that: "Palestinians must live in peace and dignity, and permanent Israeli settlements on their land are a major obstacle to this goal." Carter has been let down by a U.S. media that is supposed to encourage open debate and discourse. And, yet, he has persevered in explaining to true friends of Israel and Palestine the need to recognize that a lasting peace, while possible, will not be achieved until the United States and other powerful nations get serious about promoting sincere negotiations. "An overwhelming majority of citizens of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine want peace, with justice for all who live in the Holy Land," argues Carter. "It will be a shame if the world community fails to help them reach this goal." As a citizen who happens to have a Nobel Prize for Peace on his mantle, Carter is doing his part to avert that shame.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Ford: Bush Made "Big Mistake" With Iraq War

As the nation mourns the passing of former President Gerald Ford, President Bush has been appropriately respectful. Hopefully, however, the current occupant of the Oval Office's regard for its former occupant will extend to consideration by Bush of what Ford had to say in one of his last interviews.

Asked by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward about the Iraq imbroglio, Ford said in 2004, "(Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

Both Rumsfeld and Cheney served as White House chief of staff under Ford, but the former president put loyalty to his country ahead of any deference to former aides. He did, however, ask that Woodward not make the contents of the interview public until after Bush's presidency was done, or until after Ford's passing.

As of Tuesday, Woodward was free to reveal Ford's comments regarding Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the quagmire they have created.

Ford explained that he would not have chosen the course adopted by the current administration. "I don't think, if I had been president -- on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly -- I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war," said the former president.

Rather, said Ford, "I would have maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.".

In addition to identifying the specific error with regard to Iraq, Ford spoke more broadly of the Bush administration's flawed vision of the U.S. role in the world.

Ford, a lifelong Republican, expressed the traditional view of his party with regard to military adventures abroad, saying, "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Candidate Edwards: Version 2.008

The John Edwards who today announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination is a very different contender from the fresh-faced young senator who in 2004 bid for the party nod--and eventually secured a place on the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

By any measure, he has a lot more to offer progressives than he did in 2004. That potential to appeal to the party's left flank is essential for Edwards, who will need an ideological base as he struggles for attention in a race where New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama have been sucking most of the air out of the contest.

Edwards struggled to craft a message in 2004. After stumbling frequently and, many assumed, fatally in 2003, he finally developed the "two Americas" stump speech that identified him as a candidate who was serious about broadening the national debate to include a serious discussion of the dangerous gap between rich and poor in America.

Even as he improved as a speaker and debater, however, Edwards remained a vague and frequently ill-defined candidate. He condemned President Bush's management of the war in Iraq, and was particularly critical of the war profiteering that had been allowed--if not encouraged--by the White House. But Edwards took no clear stand on the war.

Edwards talked tough about the need to protect American farmers. But he developed a "farm plan" that seemed more sympathetic to agribusiness than to working farmers.

Edwards tried to portray himself as a champion of labor. But he never really developed a coherent, let alone effective, message on the central issue for unions and their members: trade policies that favor multinational corporations and Wall Street over working Americans and Main Street.

Despite his flaws, Edwards did well enough in 2004 to merit another look in 2008. And he has given progressives reason to be impressed. Many migrated to the Edwards camp late in the 2004 race in hopes of blocking the candidacy of an even more flawed contender, John Kerry.

For one thing, instead of announcing on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Edwards is heading to New Orleans, where his "two Americas" theme is illustrated by the stark reality of the federal government's ongoing neglect of Hurricane Katrina victims. And he has answered his critics' old "Where's the beef?" question with comprehensive plans for guaranteed universal health care and providing equal access to education.

Edwards is also more focused and more right about the Iraq war. He has acknowledged that he was wrong to vote in 2002 to authorize Bush to attack Iraq. He wants to begin bringing the troops home quickly and he is steadfastly opposed to the construction of permanent bases.

On trade and agriculture issues, he has shown perhaps the greatest evidence of growth. In addition to taking tough stances against individual flawed trade pacts, he has hired as his campaign manager former Congressman David Bonior, D-Michigan, who for years was the leading House foe of the corporation-friendly trade policies favored by the last two administrations.

Most indications suggest that Edwards gets it. That does not mean he is the perfect contender, nor that he is the perfect progressive. But he has grown a great deal over the past several years, and that growth has been in a serious, smart and savvy direction that progressives would be wise to note at this relatively early stage in the 2008 contest.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Death of a Moderate

When I think about the passing of Gerald Ford several things come to mind: that unforgivable pardon of Nixon, his unfortunate participation on the Warren Commission, even Chevy Chase's mercilessly funny parodyof Ford on the early days of Saturday Night Live. But his deathrepresents something else to me, something fundamental about thecurrent political landscape.

Ford, despite a brief tenure in office, has had reaching influence. AsJonWeiner pointed out, the leadership of Justice John Paul Stevens and the ascension of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney all lead back to Ford. But also he was one of the last of a dying breed: the moderate Republican.

By today's standards Ford was a real moderate Republican --maybe evena liberal. In 1976 when Ford ran for re-election he was besieged onboth sides. The left wing never forgave him for pardoning Nixon whilethe right didn't like his extension of détente policies with regards to Communism. They also didn't like the presence of a moderate Republican on his ticket, in the form of Nelson Rockefeller.

Ronald Reagan launched one of the most successful insurgent politicalcampaigns in modern history and nearly stole the Republican nominationfrom the sitting president. Reagan ran hard to the right and forcedFord in that direction in order to save his political life. When Fordfinally emerged the winner of the '76 Republican nomination he knew he had to extend an olive branch to the hardcore conservatives of his party to retain their support in November. His compromise was handing the vice-presidential nomination to the 1976 equivalent of right-wing Republican, Bob Dole.

Not only did this move backfire on former President Ford, by making him seem indecisive, but it also signaled the slow death of the liberal wing of the Republican party. Ford's nomination of Dole was meant to be a concession but it really ended up ceding the party's future. Ford lost a close election by 1970's standards to Democrat Jimmy Carter, but the groundwork for a conservative revolution was definitely solidifying. In 1980, Reagan returned, steamrolled over the competition, and. won the GOP nomination. The GOP never looked back. In retrospect, Ford looks like a model of bipartisanship and decency, but then again all of our leaders grow in stature in the shadow of George W. Bush.

Gerald Ford's Legacy: Cheney and Rumsfeld

Gerald Ford is gone, but he lives on in two of his key appointees: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Their impact on America today is greater than Ford's, who died Tuesday at 93.

Ford appointed Rumsfeld his chief of staff when he took office after Nixon's resignation in 1974. The next year, when he made the 42-year-old Rumsfeld the youngest secretary of defense in the nation's history, he named 34-year-old Dick Cheney his chief of staff, also the youngest ever.

Those two Ford appointees worked together ever since. The Bush White House assertion of unchecked presidential power stems from the lessons they drew from their experience of working for the weakest president in recent American history. "For Dick and Don," Harold Meyerson wrote in The American Prospect last July, "the frustrations of the Ford years have been compensated for by the abuses of the Bush years."

Ford also named a new head of the CIA – a former Texas congressman named George H. W. Bush. Thus you could also credit also Ford with launching the Bush dynasty.

It was during Ford's presidency that the last Americans left Vietnam – that photo of them struggling to get into that chopper on the roof of the Saigon embassy remains our most powerful image of American defeat, and it shadows our current debate about how to get out of Iraq.

Ford did leave one positive legacy, as Meyerson reminds us: his supreme court appointee, John Paul Stevens. Few remember it today, but when the Court majority appointed Bush president in December, 2000, Stevens wrote a blistering dissent, damning the other Republican appointees for their blatant partisanship. And this year Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld declaring that the military tribunals at Guantanamo violated the Geneva Convention.

But we wouldn't need Stevens if we didn't have Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush--that's the legacy of Gerald Ford.

The Accidental President

On August 9, 1974, amid the turbulence of the Watergate moment, Gerald R. Ford found himself in the extraordinary circumstance of assuming the presidency of the United States without first having faced the American electorate as a candidate for president or vice president.

Ford handled the unsettling transition as gently as he could.

"I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans," the new President told the American people in a televised address on the hot August day when he took over the office that had been abandoned by the disgraced Richard Nixon. "I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."

Ford, who died Tuesday at age 93, tried to put the best spin on his assumption of the presidency. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," he declared. "Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

As genuine and decent a fellow as may have been--and, having enjoyed the opportunity to interview Ford several times, I do believe he was that--the new President got that last line wrong.

The people did not rule.

The presidency fell to a man who had never been elected by the voters of more than the single US House district in Michigan that Ford had represented for several decades. That's not the way a democracy is supposed to work.

Ford had been a popular and well-positioned member of the Republican minority in the House when in the fall of 1973, following the abrupt resignation of corrupt former Vice President Spiro Agnew, the congressman was plucked from relative obscurity by Nixon to fill the No. 2 position in the land. According to the then relatively new 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which set up procedures for filling a vacant vice presidential office, Ford had to be confirmed by the House and Senate.

Yet, only three senators -- Maine's William Hathaway, Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson and Missouri's Thomas Eagleton--voted against Ford's confirmation to serve as vice president, as did a handful of House members. The concerns expressed by the dissenters varied. But underpinning them was a recognition that a man who had not faced the national electorate could assume the presidency.

Less than one year later, after Nixon was forced to resign, Ford did, indeed, become the nation's chief executive.

As President, Ford served more ably and honestly than many of his successors. But he was, and will always be, remembered as an accidental President. Perhaps that is not fair to him, but nor is it fair to the American people to have a President assume office in such a dysfunctional manner.

There will be a bit of discussion about how best to honor Ford. But, in truth, the best way to honor this former President is to close the Constitutional loophole that allowed him to become President. The presidency is already too regal to permit chief executives to annoint their successors--and, perhaps, to extract the promise of a full presidential pardon or some other favor, as critics suggested Nixon did with Ford.

It would be better to return to the old, pre-25th Amendment, practice of allowing an abandoned vice presidential office to remain vacant and allowing the Speaker of the House to assume the presidency in an emergency situation. It would be better still to set up a healthier procedure--perhaps even a special national election, along the lines regularly employed in other countries--to choose a new vice president.

Whatever the solution, the fact remains that something should be done.

There is a great deal of talk these days about how best to cure what ails American democracy. There are plenty of issues to address. But if Americans ever get serious about restoring the battered infrastructure of democracy, they will want to close the loopholes that allow someone who has never faced the great mass of American voters--and, theoretically, who has not faced any voters--to become President.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

James Brown, 1933-2006

"Internationally known as the hardest working man in show business . . . . Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself . . . the star of the show, Jaaaames BROWN!"

That was the unforgettable opening of "The James Brown Show Live at the Apollo," an LP released in 1963, which spent 66 weeks on the Billboard album charts – something no R&B album had ever done. The hardest working man in show business died Christmas day at a hospital in Atlanta. He was 73.

I saw his live show in 1967 at the Boston Garden, the cavernous basketball and hockey arena. Tens of thousands of us knew exactly what would happen onstage: First he would dance like no man had ever danced before, hips shimmying, doing the splits, snapping his head in time to the beat, and never stopping.

Then would come his finale, "Please, Please, Please." In the middle of the song he would collapse. We would all leap to our feet crying "no, no!" Two assistants would emerge from the wings, cover him with a purple cape, and slowly help him to his feet to lead him offstage. Just before disappearing, he would throw off the cape and explode with even wilder dancing and screaming. It was the most ecstatic stage show anyone had ever seen (you can still see part of it on VHS as "The T.A.M.I. Show," taped at Santa Monica Civic in 1965).

His 1965 record "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" brought a revolutionary transformation to popular music. Rolling Stone called the song "epochal." Brown eliminated the chord changes that had provided the structure for song melodies for centuries, and in its place put rhythm--an irresistible beat, played by all the instruments--a stuttering, choked guitar, choppy base lines, riffing horns, and on top his awesome voice, raw, harsh and insistent, itself the greatest rhythm instrument in his band.

A decade of Brown-inspired funk followed, and after that rappers spent three decades sampling his tracks to provide the basis for their own.

"Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag" somehow announced the new era when an assertive black power replaced the dream of civil rights. He seemed to personify black power, especially with his 1968 song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."

But his relationship to politics was complicated and troubling to many of his fans. In the late sixties he became an advocate of black capitalism and offered himself as its exemplar, with a fleet of cars, a private jet, and a well-publicized mansion. When inner cities exploded in rage in 1967, he urged young blacks to cool it. Politically he aligned himself with Hubert Humphrey, LBJ's vice president and a defender of the war in Vietnam. In 1972 he endorsed Nixon for president.

Born in 1933 in South Carolina, James Brown grew up at the bottom in the segregated South, shining shoes and dancing for pennies on street corners. He served time in prison, first as a youth and later as an adult in the late 1980s. His death reportedly came as a surprise--he had planned to do a New Year's Eve show in New York City.

Surge, Reset, Escalate

Say it: escalation. More and more that's what the geniuses in Washington have come up with as a way of ending the war in Iraq. Instead of calling it an escalation of the war, they are using the military term of art, "surge." Ok, fine. Surge, escalation, "reset", call it what you will. The fact is that the American people voted in November to end the war in Iraq, and the White House has demonstrated that, kabuki-style consultations to the contrary, it just doesn't care.

Let's take as a given that adding more troops is a horrible idea, both strategically and morally bankrupt. How do the Democrats stop it from happening? Under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in late 2002, the President has fairly wide latitude to prosecute the war. The new Democratic-controlled Congress has two main sticks to wield: oversight hearings and the power of the purse. There's a lot of skittishness on the part of Democrats to use their power of the purse, because Republicans could then spin it as the Democrats "cutting funding for the troops." Spencer Ackerman laid out just such a scenario recently, and I understand where he's coming from. The right was able to construct a myth in the years after the end of the Vietnam war that Democrats ended the war by refusing to fund it after 1974. While this wasn't really true, the funding was cut-off only after Nixon had signed the peace treaty, it created an enduring right-wing bugaboo, one that Republicans now threaten to wield as a cudgel if Democrats attempt to use their power of the purse to end the occupation.

So how about this: Early next year, the president is going have to submit an emergency appropriations bill to continue to fund the war. The Democrats should respond in two ways. First, if by the time the appropriations bill is submitted, the president is still discussing escalating the war, Democrats should come up with a counter offer: they will only approve enough funding for the current troops and not one more. Second, the funding should only be approved for the first 90 days, after which time the administration will have to report comprehensively to Congress on what progress has been made in bringing the war to a conclusion.

It's certainly not an ideal strategy, insofar as it essentially maintains the status quo, but in the in the near term, the first priority for the Democrats has to be to use their newfound ability to stop this war from escalating.

Cross-posted at the Notion

Two Cheers for Paul Krugman

Rubinomics may still reign over the Democratic party, but thehair-shirt economic orthodoxy has taken an influential hit. New YorkTimes columnist Paul Krugman today renounced his faith. Next toCitigroup executive Robert Rubin, Krugman may be the Democrats'favorite economist. He flogs George W. Bush relentlessly and never,never criticizes the Dems (maybe still dreaming of a Cabinet postsomeday).

Krugman's columns have been deficit-obsessive--can't leave the subjectalone. Until now, that is.

Krugman reversed his field on fiscal rectitude by arguing today thatDemocrats must now concentrate on new spending, not budget-cutting.Deficits still matter, he explained, but Americans are hurting and thepolitical situation dictates that the Democratic Congress undertakeprojects and programs that will make a real difference in people'slives.

Two cheers for Krugman. This put him in the labor-liberal camp (myselfincluded) that has been making the same point for several years. IfDemocrats stick with the Hooverite logic of Rubin--whackingentitlements and shrinking budget deficits-- they will forfeit theopportunity to rebuild their party by restoring the country.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds (saith Emerson)but Krugman's mind is as big as his ego. He will get a third cheer fromme when he comes clean on free-trade globalization. The system Krugmanhas long defended and promoted is a disaster for most workingAmericans. He's too smart not to know it.