Sunday, December 10, 2006

We Need Real Action on Iraq

Recently I received the followin group e-mail message from Dennis Kucinich. I don't think he'll mind if I share it with you:

Dear Friends,

I am on a quest for integrity in Washington this week. The Democratic leadership plan to continue the war in Iraq by supporting yet another appropriations bill that is likely to go to the floor early next year granting an estimated $160 BILLION, the largest appropriation so far for the Iraq war. You can read my comments in an interview with Truthdig yesterday.

There is $70 billion already in the pipeline that can be used to bring the troops home.

There is only one way to end the war in Iraq – by cutting off funds. In October this year, $70 billion was appropriated for FY 2007; the $160 billion supplement will take the budget for the war in 2007 to $230 billion. 2006 saw $117 billion spent on the war, 2007 will be almost double. This will expand war, increase the violence, send more troops to the region, and push our nation into even further indebtedness.

Already over 18% of our tax dollars goes to service the interest on our national debt and 28% to the annual military budget (not including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), whilst only 2% goes on housing and 0.3% on job training.

Last week I published a series of articles on the web which analyze the responsibilities of congress, the Campbell v Clinton case, of which I was part, which rules that appropriating funds is implied consent for the war (i.e., voting for appropriations = voting in favor of the war), looks at the voting record in the House and Senate, and puts forth a plan for US withdrawal and UN handover. Click here to read the articles.

Yesterday the Iraq Study Group issued their Iraq report, which I read in full last night and spoke about on the floor of the house today.

The report cites how 500,000 barrels of oil are being stolen per day in Iraq. That is $11.3 billion worth per year. This is interesting, since the Ministry of Oil was the first place our troops were sent after the invasion of Iraq and we now have 140,000 troops there.

How can we expect the end of the Iraq war and national reconciliation in Iraq, while we advocate that Iraq's oil wealth by handled by private oil companies?

It is ironic that this report comes at the exact time the Interior Department's Inspector General says that oil companies are cheating the US out of billions of dollars, while the Administration looks the other way.

Is it possible that Secretary Baker has a conflict of interest, which should have precluded him from co-chairing a study group whose final report promotes privatization of Iraq oil assets, given his ties to the oil industry? Is it possible that our troops are dying for the profits of private oil companies?

What kind of logic is it that says we need to appropriate $230 billion in a single financial year? The largest appropriation for the war in Iraq? The money is there to bring the troops home now.

A defective logic has invaded Capitol Hill. Democrats won the election because the American people want to end the war in Iraq, yet members feel they can say they oppose the war in Iraq while at the same time support an appropriation of $160 billion. They say the appropriation is to "support the troops," yet will result in keeping them in Iraq for another two years.

We must work together to transform this destructive thinking.

I need your help.

Please contact your member of congress and the Democratic leadership, urging them to vote NO on the appropriations bill next year. An appropriation of $160 billion is enough to keep us in Iraq for another two years. In Government Oversight Committee hearings, I have personally questioned military officials, who state clearly that this war cannot be won militarily.

Would you buy a used war from this administration?

There is $70 billion already in the pipeline that can be used to bring the troops home and implement a real plan for stability in the region.

Dennis J Kucinich

I think Kucinich is absolutely right about this. If the Democrats want to have any long-term credibility with the American people, who want the U.S. troops OUT of Iraq, then we need to prove it with real action. This seems like the best way to do it. As he points out, we have money in the pipeline to bring the troops home, so the whole "support the troops" argument for spending obscene amounts of money to continue the occupation is simply wrong--and perhaps backwards, if you look at it from the point of view of the troops' well-being. We need to put pressure on Democrats and Republicans alike to support this approach.

This IS an issue of integrity. Some Democrats seem to want to make it look like we are doing something by demanding greater transparency. But this will DO NOTHING to get the troops home or end the occupation of Iraq. This is simply short-term self-serving behavior by elected politicians to avoid confronting the President or actually risking a gutsy move to actually force and end to the war. This is all about authenticity, and if we REALLY want to say we heard the American people in the last election--and polls show that 60% of people want the U.S. out of Iraq within six months, and even higher percentages say within a few years. We have to simply swallow hard and do it. Click here to read more of Kucinich's plan for getting out of Iraq.

On a different, but related, subject...the whole thing about "keeping impeachment off the table" (Pelosi) is starting to bother me more and more. How can we say that it is off the table? Like Iraq, this issue is also about long-term integrity and authenticity. If we truly believe that evidence suggests grave offenses against law and the American system of government by Bush and Cheney, then don't we have to pursue it? I wouldn't ever want to prejudge a process like that, but don't we have ample evidence to at least begin some inquiries? Sure, in the short term, the media will try to skewer us for going on the offensive. But don't difficult times call for courageous leadership? If impeachment is not warranted in situations like this (if facts are what they appear to be), then when would it ever be justified? We need to think about the long-term consequences, both domestically and internationally, for failing to do everything we can to hold Bush and Cheney responsible for what they have done. There are even Republicans now who are starting to recognize the illegality of what has happened.

This is not about short-term political gain, this is about the long-term health of America. If it were about politics, then we would follow Nancy Pelosi into table clearing mode, for it is certainly more expedient in the short term to avoid the inevitable charges of political Bush and Cheney will be gone in a few years they provide ample foils for the Democratic Party's PR efforts... Maybe we need to do a little positive legislation first (raising minimum wage, negotiating lower drug prices, etc.) just to get things moving a little in Congress but pretty soon we need to at least be willing to investigate wrongdoing by Bush-Cheney in a serious way. If the evidence is solid, the Democrats (and honest Republicans) should move quickly forward to impeach both of them. Here's my idea: Let's give them until Groundhog Day (Feb. 2nd). That's a week or two after Bush's state of the union, and it will give just a little time to immediately pass some consensus legislation and send it to Bush. Then we need to start agitating for accountability in our hallowed system of checks and balances. Let's face it: the members of Congress (except for a few courageous ones) aren't going to do it on their own--they need our prodding and encouragement to do what's right.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why I am Not a Kossack

Wow, is this an amazing coincidence--yesterday I posted about Kucinich, for the first time in awhile, and now look: here's the most well-known member of the "progressive" blogosphere trashing him...and mocking those of us who support him as "the cranky left." What a heart-breaker. (I truly mean that, not being sarcastic.) I must say, what a crazy world we must live in for someone who claims to be a leader at the heart of new progressive movement to use the same kind of dismissive, unthinking language against one of our movement's most prophetic and courageous leaders--and a sitting House member and former chair of the Progressive Caucus, I might add--that the right-wing and the mainstream media regularly use against our movement as a whole.

I have to confess, I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the wildly popular Dailykos website. I've gone through various "down" phases before, but just lately, especially through the '06 campaign season, I was becoming a pretty regular reader. I never could quite bring myself to join, though. And now I'm starting to remember why.

Back in 2004, Dennis Kucinich was hope to me and many others who had grown disgusted with the corporate Democratic Party of the 1990s. Dennis Kucinich spoke out courageously and voted against the war and has been resoundingly (if tragically) proven right by subsequent events. He has stood for and with working people for his entire political career and has been calling for universal health care for years. Dennis Kucinich stands for all the right (or should I say "Left"?) things. He is an authentically spiritual man who articulates ethical values without pandering and in a common language that transcends sectarian labels. He may not be the most conventionally telegenic politician in the world, but he came up from poverty and speaks from the heart. I was already coming back into the Democratic Party in the early 2000s, but it was Dennis Kucinich who inspired me and made me enthusiastic about pursuing progressive change within the Party instead of going outside to a third party. I volunteered for the Kucinich campaign, went door to door on freezing winter nights in my neighborhood to get signatures and even got on the ballot as a Kucinich delegate (didn't win the election, but I felt proud to stand as a candidate for Kucinich to the Democratic Convention). So please don't disdain or ostracize me as the "cranky left" and call one of our greatest American progressive heroes--or our campaign for him and the ideals he stood for--a "joke".

I believe that the greatest danger of the blogosphere as a vehicle for progressive politics is that it does not evenly represent the working people of America (or, of course, even less the world as a whole). Sure, it's great that avid internet users, who skew middle and upper class, are getting together. And there are some sincere efforts on the part of some popular progressive blogs (mydd more than dailykos, for example) to cover labor issues and working-class perspectives, and link to people like David Sirota who are consistently talking about it. But the "netroots" is not equivalent to the "grassroots". As a professional-class, academic person myself, I have lately gotten too comfortable with the on-line community oriented around Dailykos and other such sites and start to believe it is articulating "my politics".

But it's not. And little jolting reminders like this help me remember where my heart should really be. Not wasting all my time reading "progressive" websites that care more about their influence and triangulating to some mythical center than their ideals (although I will probably not be able to completely give up reading commondreams, HuffPo, and other alternative news and views sources, nor should I), but giving my time instead to movements that aren't afraid to articulate their ideals that they truly believe in and fight for them regardless of how much they are ridiculed by talking heads, be they on Fox News or the proprietor of the most popular "progressive" website in the world.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Did He Actually Say "Hegemony"?

While I've been focusing on who to support for President in '08, look what my '04 favorite Dennis Kucinich just said in Part IV of his series on "There Is Only One Way to End the War in Iraq"...Seriously, the piece is great--very prophetic, not what you will usually hear from an elected politician in America--and he DOES actually use the word "hegemony" in the opening paragraph.

As I mentioned before, I think a central issue we need to start gradually building support for is to drastically cut military spending in this country, so we can have the money to take care of urgent human needs. Kucinich is out there on a limb, making these arguments. I'm still proud of him.

As for the academic jargon ("hegemony"), maybe he's been reading Noam Chomsky.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Freedom of Religion

I have a nomination for Media Idiot of the Week.

Some would say that whether a new Muslim congressman gives his oath on the Bible or the Koran is a one of those silly manufactured issues, such as the War on Christmas, that are pure bluster, lacking in substance. I would normally tend to agree--we are after all, in the middle of a terrible war right now, and have serious moral issues about poverty, health care, and the environment to address--except that it occurs to me we are on the verge of wasting a golden opportunity to show the Muslim world (not exactly filled with joy for what the USA has been doing lately, you know) that we really truly do respect their religion on an equal basis.

Alas, here we go, squandering our chance to show that we really do believe in pluralism and freedom, not a clash of civilizations. I happen to really like Keith Ellison, and I think he is going to be a great progressive member of Congress. But even if he were a crazy right-wing nut (we do have a few of those in Congress), I would still defend his choice to swear his allegiance to the Constitution on the Koran. We really do believe in that freedom of religion stuff, don't we?

Don't we? Maybe this is the chance for the vast majority of American to reaffirm our belief in the freedoms our country was founded on. If we repudiate the hateful politics that would enshrine the Christian Bible in a privileged position over the Koran, we will tell Muslims around the world that we don't hate their religion at all--we just oppose people twisting Islam to justify killings and violence (and, of course, we also oppose people twisting Christianity in the same way, as they unfortunately have...)

I fear that some conservative Christian groups are already circulating calls to action against Rep. Ellison being sworn in on a Koran. (But how would they react if they weren't allowed to use a Bible for oaths? If we can't use the Koran, then we can't use the Bible either, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe we can swear on a Dictionary...) What I really fear is that this is on the verge of being blown out of proportion, and that it will have serious negative consequences for the U.S. image among Muslims in the world (if we are not at rock bottom already in that category). So, at the risk of contributing to the blow-up--but in a contrarian manner--I have raised the issue here.

On a completely different subject, I'm glad that a few people on the Left are starting to speak out on what a stupid idea it is to reinstate the draft. I know it is a Democrat who has proposed this (Rep. Rangel of N.Y.), I know the whole idea is to make Bush-Cheney supporters think more about the cost in human lives for going to war, and I know that lots of Progressives are endorsing the idea on various grounds, such as shared sacrifice across class lines. But the whole idea is not only suspect on moral and pragmatic grounds (if we have to force people to go to war against their better judgment, should we really be fighting that war? And why give the war-mongers another tool to keep their immoral wars going?), it also flies in the face of history. As the linked columnist, Andrew Greeley of the Chicago Sun-Times concludes:
"One should ask Rangel if the draft created such racial and social equity in the 1960s, how the president and vice president managed to avoid combat. How could such draft dodgers be elected to high office? And don't tell me that the president served in the Texas Air National Guard. That's like serving in the Nebraska Navy."

As a child of Nebraska, I should note that there really is a Nebraska Navy, although serving in it didn't get you out of Vietnam, if indeed it even existed back then. As a card-carrying Admiral in the Nebraska Navy (really, though it is purely a paper organization having nothing whatsoever to do with actual military service, and my commission surely must have expired by now!) I think forcing people into the military is always a bad idea. Seriously, despite my humorous asides, this is no joke, and I do think that Progressives who support Rangel's crazy plan should reconsider their enthusiasm. To the best of my knowledge, every draft in American history has forced more working-class and poor people into military service than the well-to-do. We do have a sort of economic draft operating today, in part, due to the lack of other opportunities for many people. But reinstating the draft will not suddenly create new opportunities for anyone, nor will it change the basic dynamic making military service attractive (or not) for people differentially based on class.

I have the sneaking suspicion that many (though not all, mind you) of those Progressives clamoring for Rangel's draft are old enough to be exempt (or female: would women be subject to a draft?), and if those same people were in their twenties, many of them would protest vehemently against it. It really is incredible that people who lived through the Vietnam War can now turn around and say what a better deal it was back then when we had a draft. Oh, really, was that such a great way to do things? The draft may have helped spur the anti-war movement, but it sure took a long time to stop the bloodbath. How many thousands of American soldiers (to say nothing of Vietnamese) died after the draft really got cranked up? And what percentage of those fighting were from privileged families (hint: one of the most widely read scholarly works of the Vietnam War is titled _Working Class War_)?

Okay, enough on that. I just had to get that off my chest, and Greeley's op-ed column gave me the excuse.