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The Nation

Pete Seeger and the WFP

In these critical midterm elections – with so much on the line – a disastrous war in Iraq; the continuing erosion of our bedrock rights and liberties; and deepening economic inequality…. the great singer and activist Pete Seeger has written a powerful letter on behalf of the Working Families Party (WFP) and its slate of candidates on the ballot in New York.

The WFP aims to send a strong antiwar message to the politicians, and it has updated and re-recorded Seeger's Vietnam-era classic, Bring 'em Home as part of its "Bring Them Home" campaign.

In his letter Seeger writes, "Here in New York, voting on the Working Families line is the best way to tell the politicians, bring them home, bring them home." Seeger quotes a key verse of his song to capture the spirit of the WFP message: "the world needs teachers, books and schools … And learning a few universal rules."

In addition to ending the war, the WFP agenda calls for universal healthcare, affordable housing, a living wage and closing the income gap through progressive taxation. The WFP claims an organized and diverse bloc of voters committed to economic populism, and it uses its electoral power to push major-party politicians to follow its agenda. Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Eliot Spitzer, solicited Working Families as his first endorsement.

There are eight states in the nation that allow "fusion" voting (where a candidate can appear on the ballot as the nominee for more than one party), and Spitzer will be listed separately as the nominee of both Democrats and the WFP--as will Senator Hillary Clinton. (For those who believe the WFP should have stayed neutral in the Clinton race--or, better, endorsed her opponent Jonathan Tasini--just vote for Spitzer and WFP candidates in down ballot races.) By pulling the lever for the WFP (Row E on the ballot), voters can support a candidate while also making a clear statement that the WFP and its antiwar stance represent their values.

"When you vote on the Working Families Party line, your vote carries a distinctive message. Start bringing American men and women serving in Iraq back home. Right now," said WFP Executive Director, Dan Cantor.

With Spitzer far ahead in the polls, and real and justified disappointment among progressives about Clinton's position on the war, there is a concern that New York's voter turnout might be low. But for those committed to ending this war, and sending that message loud and clear to Clinton and her fellow-Democrats – show up for this election and vote for Spitzer and WFP candidates in down ballot races.

As Seeger reminds in the close of his inspiring letter, "Our votes do count. And if we vote to bring the troops home, they count even more."

The Pentagon Clears Itself of Illegal Acts (Yet Again)

On Friday, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon Inspector General's audit of a secret Pentagon Iraqi propaganda program contracted to the Lincoln Group (which calls itself "a strategic communications & pubic relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments") had cleared the Pentagon of violating laws or its own regulations So challenging and hostile was the Iraqi environment, it seems, that the Lincoln Group spent its time using U.S. military personnel to create good "news" stories, having them translated into Arabic, and then secretly paying bribes to members of the newly "free" Iraqi media to publish them as Iraqi-generated news reports.

According to a brief summary of the investigation released by the Inspector General's office, "Psychological operations are planned to convey selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of Psychological Operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to U.S. objectives."

Get that mouthful? Now, all you have to do is translate it into Arabic and bribe an Iraqi news editor to publish it. Think of your goal as messing up a few more Iraqi minds when it comes to "objective reasoning."

The New York Times, which saw some of the other unclassified documents in the investigation, summarized the clearing of the Pentagon of illegal activity this way: "The report said that the secret program, run by the military in conjunction with the Lincoln Group, a Washington contractor, was lawful and that it did not constitute a ‘covert action' designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country."

Now, to a normal human being, a secret Pentagon operation to produce propaganda pieces--call it "selected, truthful information," if you wish--and slip them into the Iraqi press for a price might sound remarkably like a "'covert action' designed to influence the internal political conditions of another country."

Though I haven't seen the full documentation myself, I do have a theory about why the Inspector General might have cleared the five-pointed bureaucracy of illegality. The Bush administration has always been more focused on American than Iraqi public opinion. After all, Iraq is just a place where "stuff happens." The goal of administration officials was always to win the war at home above all else. With that in mind, perhaps the Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to slip those good-news pieces into the Iraqi media not to influence Iraqis, but Americans. Perhaps the hope was that the "free" Iraqi media would be the royal route back to the American press. And, of course, if that's the conclusion the Inspector General came to, then influencing the "internal political conditions of another country" obviously doesn't apply. We're not another country. We're the original country, the only one that matters.

Oh, by the way, the IG's audit did dun the Pentagon for not retaining "adequate documentation to verify expenditures" or explain how the Lincoln Group got its initial $10.4 dollar contract in the first place. But, the Times tells us, since that contract had already expired, the inspector general "did not recommend any punishment for the violations." And the Lincoln Group is now back at work for the Pentagon in Iraq.

The Most Vital Political Statement of 2006

We have entered the ugly season of the political cycle, the time when election day looms close enough that politicians, parties and pundits are willing to utter just about any claim, any innuendo, and libel in order to sway a vote.

Reasonable Americans are understandably inclined to shut off the noise and presume that nothing more of importance can or will be said in the final weeks before the vote.

It is in precisely in such white-hot moments, however, that the statements that matter most are often made. And such is the case with a short article titled "After Pat's Birthday," which appeared Friday morning at the essential online magazine site Truthdig. Since then, the words of Kevin Tillman, the brother of perhaps the most famous casualty of the Bush administration's military adventuring, have ricocheted around the internet faster than the speed of light – a proper rate, as what veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts has to say is far more illuminating than anything on offer from the current crop of candidates.

After September 11, 2001, Pat and Kevin Tillman signed up for the U.S. Army. It was an especially dramatic sacrifice for Pat, a player with the Arizona Cardinals football team who turned down a $3.6 million contract to play the next three years with the Cardinals in order to join the Army Rangers in Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, and received war-hero honors at a memorial service where U.S. Senator John McCain spoke. Supporters of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, endeavors that by the time of Tillman's death were growing increasingly controversial, sought to spin the football star's sacrifice as evidence of the nobility of the Bush administration's military adventure. Sunshine patriot Sean Hannity swore his allegiance to Tillman on his television program, declaring: "I love him and admire him..." Ann Coulter oozed, "Tillman was an American original: virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be."

The propaganda push eventually fell apart, however, when it was learned that the Pentagon had delayed revealing to Tillman's family the circumstances of his death -- he was shot three times in the head by so-called "friendly fire" and U.S. troops then burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent cover-up attempt -- until after the memorial service, with all its patriotic flourishes and media attention, was finished. Later still, it was revealed that Pat Tillman had during the course of his service become an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and was in the months before his death urging fellow soldiers not to vote for President Bush's reelection.

Kevin Tillman survived his deployments, and was discharged from the Army in 2005. Now, on the eve of the first national election after that discharge, with "After Pat's Birthday," he has made it clear that he shares his brother's disenchantment with the armchair warriors of the Bush administration and its amen corner in the media.

In so doing, Kevin Tillman has made the most vital political statement of 2006:

It is Pat Tillman's birthday November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice.... until we get out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can't be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few "bad apples" in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It's interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers who die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don't be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that "somehow" was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat's birthday.

Kevin Tillman's election message -- and, thankfully, with its references to November 7, there can be no question that this is an election message -- is not particularly long. With a little trimming, it might make a compelling radio or television commercial. After all, this is the dose of truth that needs to be administered to voters who are still searching for perspective as they prepare to cast their ballots.

But Kevin Tillman's message ought not be circulated by a campaign committee or a political party. It should be shared, citizen to citizen, first on the internet, but then in phone calls to family members and old friends, in conversations over coffee and along the sideline at the soccer field, in leaflets slipped under the doors of neighbors and handed to one another after church.

This is the message that, unvarnished and unpackaged, can touch the hearts and the minds of voters who -- if they read seriously the words of the brother who made it back – will come to understand that they can and must redeem the American experiment on the day "After Pat's Birthday."

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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

A Nice Round Number

If there's one thing the media loves, it's a nice round number. Unlessyou had chosen this week to play Henry Thoreau, you probably noticed thatthe United States population passed the 300 million mark at some pointin the last few days. Local newspapers rushed to declare one of theirown the 300 millionth soul and nearly every media outlet from NPR to CNNto The News Hour devoted air time to explain to the their viewersWhat It All Means.

All the attention brought into high relief just how absent demography isfrom our routine political discussions. Well, with some notableexceptions. On October 18, I got an e-mail from the Federation for AmericanImmigration Reform (FAIR) with the subject "300 Million and Counting!"--complete with the obligatory black-and-white photo of a crowded citystreet at rush hour: Hell is other people. "Can the US sustain thiscontinued increase in its population or will this growth suffocate aonce thriving nation?," the e-mail asked. It wasn't really a question.

It's a strange quirk of the anti-immigration movement, that while thebase is animated largely by xenophobia, the leadership, like FAIR, Numbers USA and others aredriven by the far more esoteric concern of population growth. Much ofthis is the legacy of John Tanton, the eccentric, brilliant opthamologist from Petoskey, Michigan who founded FAIR and pretty muchsingle-handedly started the modern anti-immigration movement. Tanton'sworldview was formed at a time when demography was a major concern,thanks to Paul Ehrlich's landmark book The Population Bomb, whichpredicted the world was about to breed itself out of existence. As theUnited States' native-born birthrate leveled off in the 1960s, Tantonturned his attention to the source of the nation's continued growth,which was propelled by immigrants and their offspring. The rest ishistory.

So that explains why Dan Stein, head of FAIR, was everywhere last week,from MSNBC to the op-ed pages of USA Today making the case that300 million was an ominous milestone and the culprit was our porousborders. For FAIR, the rare spotlight on population growth was a goldenopportunity to make their case. "Overcrowded schools, congestedhighways, environmental stresses: We are a nation paving over itswildernesses while depending on our enemies for vital resources," Steinwrote in an editorial in USA Today. "Why? Because Americans havebeen blindsided by a government-mandated mass immigration program that'sfueling this nation's runaway population growth. This growth was neitherplanned nor expected, but we feel the consequences every day."

Stein's partly right. There is little official policy that sets out anideal US population, but images of crowded streets and traffic jamsaside, the fact remains that the US is still a very big place, andrelatively sparsely populated. With thirty-two people per squarekilometer, the US ranks 172nd in the world in density. Amsterdam andSouth Korea, just to name two, are each more than ten times as dense.

But of the world's richest nations, the United States is also the onlyone with a robustly growing population. Most of Europe has been caughtin a much-discussed population drought, a birthrate so far belowreplacement rates that countries like Italy and Spain could lose halftheir population in the next fifty years. But thanks largely to higherbirth rates of America's immigrants, the US faces no such problems.

Is that a good thing? There are arguments on both sides, but ultimatelyit's the wrong question. Some in the anti-immigration movement point outthe environmental effects of the increased resource consumption comefrom increased population, but if that's your concern, there's no reasonto wall off the United States and let, say, Mexico slide intoenvironmental ruin. And while it's true that once people come to the USthey burn a lot more carbon, that logic would also imply that it's agood idea to keep the rest of the world poor, which doesn't quite seemfair. The fact is that population growth isn't really a problem for theUS. As one environmentalist told me, "It's not that we have too manypeople--we have too many cars."

Of course, you can't very well win elections or raise much money demonizing cars. Groups like FAIR figured that out long ago.

Trudeau (Continued)

Good to see that CBS.news picked up my recent Editor's Cut regarding Gary Trudeau's wonderful, inspired project, The Sandbox. That posting led to this very moving comment from a military parent….

"This is fantastic- I cannot believe what a great idea this is and I am so grateful to Trudeau for conceiving of it and instituting it.

I am a member of Military Families Speak Out and though I do not speak for my organization, I know enough about the agonies that all of us face on a daily basis with regard to lack of honesty and reality with regard to this heinous war.

The degree of agony that all of us feel- and the nature of the deception, the atrocities commited against our own children with lack of medical care and even the lack of dignity as to the nature of their sacrifice is almost unbearable. If others can come to understand the futility and the disgrace of our foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere perhaps we can overturn the likes of the propaganda as in this week's comments by our vice president about how much progress we are making there. How do we make progress on a war based upon lies and certainly a war that could never be won at any level. My child and your children and all of your loved ones are at risk- we are killing not only the Iraqis and our soldiers- we are killing America."

Posted by nanachalfont at 04:59 PM : Oct 19, 2006

Swiftboating MoveOn

In 2004, Houston multimillionaire Bob Perry was the largest donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, he's using his money to "swift boat" MoveOn.org.

Perry's given $1 million this cycle to the Free Enterprise Fund's "Stop MoveOn.org" campaign, which is running television ads attacking the online organization. Both ads try to link MoveOn to "radical billionaire George Soros," who appears in the spots looking like a crazed burglar.

"MoveOn.org has a radical agenda of tax increases, expanding the welfare state, global governance and socialized government run healthcare," reads a Free Enterprise Fund fundraising pitch. "And since they already own the Democrat [sic] Party, they now want to buy Congress and put their puppets in power."

(Like the Swift Boat Vets, accuracy has never been a strong point of the Free Enterprise Fund. An ad they ran about the estate tax was called "blatantly false" by FactCheck.org.)

MoveOn has become a convenient scapegoat for desperate right-wingers. If only the group had as much clout as conservatives imagine. "They present us as the all-powerful puppeteer of the Democratic Party," jokes MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser. "We wish."

But MoveOn has been effective, which is the real reason it is attracting so much scorn from the right. The Free Enterprise Fund admits as much. "Before MoveOn.org's ads [Congresswoman] Thelma Drake in Virginia had a 9% point lead," the fundraising letter states. "This race is now dead even."

In April MoveOn began running a series of ads tying four vulnerable GOP Representatives--Drake, Chris Chocola, Deborah Pryce and Nancy Johnson--to corporate welfare and Republican corruption. The negative ratings of the Republicans rose and their leads began to vanish. Even Majority Leader John Boehner admitted that the ads "certainly have had some impact." The group recently targeted three more GOP Congressmen: Charlie Bass, Randy Kuhl and John Sweeney.

And MoveOn's going beyond the ad market to try and get-out-the-vote for progressive Democratic candidates in the final weeks before the midterms. The group hopes its 3.2 million members will make 5 million phone calls to prospective Democratic voters in 30+ targeted House and Senate races. They've dumped $4 million into the "Call for Change" program, making it one of their most ambitious projects yet.

If MoveOn's successful this November, expect the Right to pay even closer attention.

Conservative Realism or Disingenuous Callousness?

Last week, The Nation and The National Interest held a public discussion to explore whether these days foreign policy realists of the right could make common cause with foreign policy idealists of the left. (The event was titled, "Beyond Neocons and Neolibs: Can Realism Bridge Left and Right" and can be viewed here.) After all, both groups share an opposition to the messianic crusaderism and bullying interventionism of the neocons that has yielded the Iraq war. Speaking for the left were Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Sherle Schwenninger, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute and a regular contributor to The Nation. The hardheaded crowd was represented by Dov Zakheim, an undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004 and now a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton (who supported the invasion of Iraq), and Dmitri Simes, a former Nixon adviser and now publisher of The National Interest

The presentation showed there was not a lot of territory to share. In his opening remarks, Bird noted that Henry Kissinger had been wrong about everything, and he referred to Vietnam and the US support of the military junta that in 1973 overthrew Salvador Allende, a democratically elected socialist, in Chile. Invoking Kissinger as the embodiment of all that has been wrong with U.S. foreign policy for decades was a deep insult to the conservative realists. Kissinger is the honorary chairman of The National Interest. Bird's salvo prompted Zakheim to defend Kissinger, particularly on Chile. (Nixon and Kissinger, via the CIA, had backed efforts to topple Allende.) "Chile," Zakheim said, "doesn't look to me like a failure....Quite a success. It wasn't doing that well in the 1970s." Simes then chimed in: "I'm not appalled by what Kissinger and Nixon have done in Chile. I'm not aware of them ever endorsing torture."

There's realism; then there's callousness. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed by the junta that was encouraged and then supported by Nixon and Kissinger; millions of Chileans lost all their political rights for years, as well. That's hardly "quite a success." And Simes is wrong to suggest that Kissinger was unaware of the abuses of the Chilean regime. The coup occurred on September 11, 1973. A quick search at the website of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit, produced a November 16, 1973 cable from Jack Kubisch, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, to Secretary of State Kissinger that noted that the Chilean junta had carried out "summary, on-the-spot executions." The cable also reported that military and police units had engaged in the "rather frequent use of random violence" in the post-coup days.

Weeks earlier, at an October 1 meeting Kubisch told Kissinger about a Newsweek story that maintained that over 2700 Chileans had been killed by the junta and added that the government had only acknowledged 284 deaths. Kissinger noted that the Nixon administration did not "want to get into the position of explaining horror....[W]e should not knock down stories that later prove to be true, nor should we be in the position of defending what they're doing in Santiago. But I think we should understand our policy--that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was."

Here were some early indications for Kissinger of the brutality of the Chilean junta. He obviously cared little about what was happening to Chileans apprehended by the junta. And he tacitly went along with the regime's violent means. Two years later, he showed his scorn for human rights concerns when he met with the Chilean foreign minister. At the start of that meeting, according to a State Department memo, Kissinger pooh-poohed the human rights issue. He told the Chilean, "Well, I read the briefing papers for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State." Kissinger added that it was a "total injustice" to fixate on Chile's human rights record.

In August 1976, according to another State Department document, Kissinger was briefed on Operation Condor, a secret project concocted by the Chilean junta and other military dictatorships in South America to conduct "murder operations" against opponents of those regimes. By the way, two months later, Kissinger met with the foreign minister of the military regime of Argentina, which at that time was conducting a dirty war that would come to "disappear" at least 10,000 people (and maybe over 30,000), and Kissinger took a rather casual attitude toward the abuses in that country. As a State Department memo recounted, Kissinger told the Argentine,

Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better… The human rights problem is growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

In other words, get your abuses over with quickly, while I look away. Unfortunately, the fascistic and anti-Semitic Argentine military regime would continue to disappear and torture its citizens for another seven years.

I'm all for reaching across the ideological divide, seeking common ground, making alliances. And Simes--unlike Zakheim--advocated working together whenever possible. Referring to the current course in US foreign policy, he noted, "This republic is facing a mortal damage," and the Bush administration is "pursuing policies that make us more vulnerable."

But foreign policy intellectuals should not forget about the past as they move ahead. I appreciate the fact that realists fancy being hardheaded. Simes noted that he was aghast at the corruption and state violence he saw when he recently visited Russia. But he added that since the United States needs Russian assistance in dealing with Iran and North Korea a realistic approach has prevented him from insisting that Washington pressure Moscow too forcefully on issues of corruption and political rights.

Such calculations--whether correct or not in the particulars--are understandable. They have a logic to them (whether you agree or not with that logic). But, please, let's be realistic about past decisions and calculations. It's not realism to whitewash history and to deny responsibility for actions taken. Those who distort the past cannot be expected to save American foreign policy from those who distort the present.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, 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 more information on Hubris, click here.

Heck of a Job, Maliki!

In some ways, amid the internecine bloodletting, torture, spiking American casualties, death-dealing confusion, general mayhem, and especially the recent coup rumors that Robert Dreyfuss has been taking the lead in reporting, here's all you really need to know about the Iraqi "government" of Nouri al-Maliki. When the Prime Minister wanted to check on whether he was going to hang onto his position or be overthrown, he didn't go to parliament or to the Iraqi people, he checked in with the President of the United States. What he needed, it turned out, was George Bush's vote of confidence.

Here's the exchange as White House Press spokesman Tony Snow described it:

"Q So he [Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki] is concerned about talk of a timetable for withdrawal, or any specific –

"MR. SNOW: It's not -- no, no, no, it's not a timetable for withdrawal. The way it was portrayed is, we're giving them two months, or we'll go for somebody else. This was a timetable for his government, not for withdrawal. So thank you for positing that.

"Q Tony, is this stuff that came out of the [Senator John] Warner visit or –

"MR. SNOW: No, I think it's -- the answer is I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it refers to the report that said -- that there was a rumor that there were going to be attempts to replace him if certain things didn't happen in two months. And the President said the rumors are not true; we support you.

"Q The President initiated the call?

"MR. SNOW: Yes.

"Q So what was the level of concern that caused the President to pick up the phone?

"MR. SNOW: It's not a level of concern. Here you have the central front in the war on terror, which the President has been talking about, and he's made it clear that he wants to consult with the Prime Minister regularly."

Try, for a second, to imagine the situation in reverse. The American president, fearing a coup d'etat or some other move to throw him out of office, turns to the prime minister of Iraq to discover whether his job is still safe, whether he still has "support."

Of course, that's a ludicrous thought, but it highlights the ongoing inability of the Bush administration to set up an Iraqi government that might have legitimacy and meet its desires as well. Instead, what you have, practically speaking, is the worst of both worlds: a government that lacks legitimacy and is incapable, not to say unwilling, to meet the needs of the President and his advisors. In such a situation, a vote of confidence from one man may end up looking like the kiss of death to another.

Salvaging Their Future

You still sometimes hear periodic laments from progressives over the apathy of today's students in the face of major political turmoil. The Nation's investigations, however, have turned up a new generation of student activists engaged with the issues of the day and creatively and courageously working against the forces of reaction the magazine regularly chronicles.

Sam Graham-Felsen's new Nation magazine piece detailing the accomplishments of the group Students for a New American Politics (SNAP) helps demonstrate that students are not currently lacking in either political commitment or savvy.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle recently helped make the same point. Citing the efforts of students to promote clean energy and efficiency as influential in his decision, Governor Doyle announced a massive five-year program to make four University of Wisconsin campuses completely energy independent.

The program – endorsed by the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group -- comes in the wake of significant student action. Students across the University of Wisconsin system have been active for several years at both the campus and local level, promoting sustainable policies and educating students and the general public about clean energy solutions.

The program will ensure that 100 percent of each campus's energy supply comes from clean sources like wind and solar, as well as biomass, which has significant potential as a homegrown fuel in Wisconsin. Details of the energy independence program can be found by clicking here.

Meanwhile, in Maine Bowdoin College has been powered by renewable electricity since July, after a student-run campaign last spring succeeded in securing a commitment from President Barry Mills and Treasurer Catherine Longley for the purchase of one hundred percent "clean" renewable energy on its campus. The school is now buying 12 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power per year from Miller Hydro Group -- the owner of the only certified low impact hydroelectric facility in Maine.

At the College of the Atlantic (COA), as Ben Adler reports for Campus Progress, the environmental movement received a jolt that could reverberate last Friday when new COA president David Hales announced a commitment to making the school a "Net-zero" emitter of greenhouse gases. "If institutions across the country begin to follow suit," Adler writes, "the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions--and the concomitant reduction in global warming--could be significant."

In Colorado students are also in the forefront of fighting for their futures, starting with the state's House Bill 1147, which would establish energy efficiency programs for Colorado consumers. Republican governor Bill Owens has already vetoed the bill once, but he's in an increasingly tight race to keep office this November, so there's still hope that he'll sign the popular bill if it gets re-submitted by the Colorado Legislature. As the student-run CoPirg's useful fact-sheet notes, the bill would enable utilities to give consumers rebates on new efficiency products, and require the utility companies to reduce energy consumption twenty-five percent by 2011. (If you're a Colorado citizen, click here to ask the governor to support the bill.)

If you're a student and want to help move your campus toward energy independence, check out the Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) website. The CCC--which I wrote about last August--isa project of more than thirty environmental and social justice groups in the US which runs clean energy drives on campuses nationwide as well as taking part in municipal and state-level advocacy and public education campaigns. If you're not a student, don't dis the kids. Celebrate and support what they're doing.