The Nation

Don't Blame the Base

Fifty-eight percent of the American people support Jack Murtha's plan to properly rest, train and equip American troops before deploying them into battle, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Too bad Congress continues to lag behind the public when it comes to what to do about Iraq.

According to the Post, conservative Democrats are upset that Murtha introduced his plan on a "liberal web site." Oh my goodness, a liberal web site! How provocative. What in the world was Murtha thinking?

He knew that the media would twist his words, as they so often do. So he decided to host an in-depth online chat with Tom Andrews, the head of Win Without War and a former Congressman from Maine, who's not exactly a Bolshevik.

The details of Murtha's proposal, which he hoped to attach to the Bush Administration's latest $100 billion supplemental funding request, had been reported before, including by yours truly. Obviously the "liberal web site" isn't the problem. Pro-war Democrats should say what they really think--they're afraid of Republicans attacking them for not "supporting the troops."

Memo to Congress: Don't blame the Democratic base for your own insecurity. And stop hiding behind the troops. They, like everyone else, want to get out of the quagmire in the desert.

The Sanity of Jimmy Carter

In an interview with This Week, anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, former President Jimmy Carter said that his recent book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has led to the most personal criticism of his life. Carter said that he has been called a "liar," "anti-Semite," "plagiarist," "thief," "coward"--and yet the 82-year-old remains as focused, passionate and articulate as ever on his reasons for writing the book and what he hopes it will accomplish.

"If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last thirty years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list," Carter said. "And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door." (To readers who would still question Carter's commitment to Israel, read the article in The Nation by former national Director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman). Carter hopes his book will precipitate an open debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict and renew the abandoned peace process- certainly, as both Carter and Stephanopoulos noted, it has already accomplished the former.

In Carter's opinion, the need for this vigorous public debate is all the more crucial since he doesn't believe the Democratic Congress will take any more of a balanced approach to peace than its Republican predecessor. Aside from "maybe two or three members" Carter believes that our representatives view any position critical of the current conservative Israeli government as  "politically suicidal."

The same humanity which leads Carter to speak out fearlessly about the Middle East has led him to address "diseases that no one else really cares about much, or knows about"--like Guinea Worm (now on the verge of becoming the first disease eradicated in over twenty-five years largely through the work of the Carter Center)--that impact "the poorest, most destitute, forgotten and needy people on Earth." He stated plainly that the United States needs to increase our foreign aid--"We're at the bottom of all the developed countries in giving to other people"--and he's right, as a percentage of GDP we are shamefully stingy.

Finally, Carter gets the importance of global warming as a defining issue of our time--which is a significant reason why he would support formerly elected by popular vote/Oscar winner, President Al Gore in 2008. "I've put so much pressure on Al to run that he's almost gotten aggravated with me," Carter said, laughing. "He said, 'Jimmy, I'll support you. Don't call.' But he would be my favorite."

At a time when there is too little honesty or boldness in our politics, Jimmy Carter speaks his mind, with sanity and humanity. His ideas deserve discussion and debate, not vituperation and ad hominem attack.

Oscar Postmortem: What About Iraq?

It's great that the problem of global warming was all the rage at last night's Academy Awards. An Inconvenient Truth deservedly won best documentary, Melissa Etheridge's song from the film scored an upset victory and Al Gore was feted like a king, largely because of his prophecy about climate change.

All well and good. But what about Iraq? Maybe global warming is the most pressing calamity our country currently faces. But you'd think that the war that has killed over 3,000 Americans and cost hundreds of billions of dollars would be worthy of Hollywood's attention. Yet aside from two Oscar-nominated documentaries about Iraq, it barely came up.

I wasn't expecting Jennifer Hudson to suddenly call for immediate withdrawal. And celebrities often do more harm than good when they speak out about issues of the day (paging Jane Fonda). But if Hollywood is going to be socially conscious, they should also be consistent. The war in Iraq is messy, complicated and controversial. That's all the more reason to talk about it, even at the Academy Awards.

Talking Points for the Next War

At 10:16 PM on March 19, 2003, after copious military preparations in the Persian Gulf region and beyond, after months of diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations, after a drumbeat of leaked intelligence warnings and hair-raising statements by top U.S. officials and the President about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how close Saddam Hussein might be to developing a nuclear weapon, after declaring Saddam's regime a major threat to Americans, after countless insinuations that it was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks on our country, after endless denials that war with Iraq was necessarily on the administration's agenda, President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger…"

Almost four years later, all the above elements are again in place, this time in relation to Iran -- with Iranian responsibility for the deaths of Americans in Iraq replacing Iraqi responsibility for the deaths of Americans in New York and Washington. On a careful reading of our President's latest speeches and statements, Michael Klare has noted that an actual list of three charges against Iran, a case for war, has already essentially been drawn up, making it easy enough to imagine that at 10:16 PM on some night not so very distant from this one, from that same desk in the Oval Office, the President of the United States might again begin, "My fellow citizens, at this hour…"

As Klare writes: "Sometime this spring or summer, barring an unexpected turnaround by Tehran, President Bush is likely to go on national television and announce that he has ordered American ships and aircraft to strike at military targets inside Iran. We must still sit through several months of soap opera at the United Nations in New York and assorted foreign capitals before this comes to pass, and it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will occur -- let it be so! -- but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy his European allies. The proof of this, I believe, lies half-hidden in recent public statements of his, which, if pieced together, provide a casus belli, or formal list of justifications, for going to war."

But check his piece out for yourself at Tomdispatch.com. It's a chilling glimpse into a possible future for us all.

Libby: No Mistrial, Yet

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, on Monday morning, dismissed a juror in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby after determining that the juror had been exposed to media coverage of the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.

After meeting with jurors and lawyers behind closed doors, the judge allowed jury deliberations -- now in their fourth day -- to continue with 11 jurors. He could have called on one of two alternate jurors.

The machinations surrounding the errant juror raised concerns about whether a mistrial might ultimately be declared. But that won't happen , at least for now.

From the start of the trial, the jury has been under strict orders to avoid watching, listening to or reading news coverage about the trial and issues related to it because of concerns that contact with the news could taint the process.

The judge halted deliberations after raising concerns about information the juror learned over the weekend.

The deeper worry, according to the judge, was that the juror who had been exposed to the news reports might have shared the news with other jurors. The extent to which this might have happened was the subject of the behind-closed-doors inquiries from Walton and attorneys in the trial.

The Monday morning dust-up raises the possibility -- though not the certainty -- that a mistrial could still be declared after the month-long courtroom drama involving the former White House aide for lying and obstructing an investigation into the 2003 leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Cheney and his aides have been accused of going after Plame in order to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joe, for revealing the administration's manipulation of intelligence to make a "case" for war with Iraq.

By some calculations, a mistrial could serve the interests of Libby and the Bush administration by dragging the complex case out longer -- toward a point when the president might find it convenient to pardon the man who could point a finger of blame at Bush, Cheney and others in the administration. That presumes that Libby would be convicted.

In the event of a mistrial, Libby's lawyers would likely claim their client had been cheated of exoneration by the jury.

Whatever the spin, if a mistrial is called, it is important that the case be renewed -- just as it is vital that Congress begin to take up issues that were raised during the trial. In particular, there is a need to examine the revelations about Cheney's role in plotting the attacks on Plame and Wilson.

Open Congress

As a political reporter, you often have occassion to attempt to find specific language in a bill, or figure out who's co-sponsored a piece of legislation, or what the status of an amendement is. While all of this can be gleaned from Congress' Thomas web site, it ain't easy. In fact, it's a serious headache. There are other tools aside from Thomas, but while they are comprehensive in their data, none of them synthesizes and presents the information in a particularly useful way. They don't incorporate blogs, and user rating systems, or tell you what other users have been searching for. In short, they don't use all the features of web 2.0 usability that have made the web such a powerful aggregator and distiller of information in the last few years. But now all that is about to change. Today, the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation went live with the beta version of OpenCongress, an amazing new tool for activists and citizens.

OpenCongress gives you access to all the going-on of congress: what bills are in commitee, what amendments are up for floor votes, how individual legislators are voting, and it presents all this information is an easy-to-use, simple-as-pie manner. But you can also spend time on OpenCongress just browsing. The site displays what votes have just taken place and lists which bills and legislators are most viewed. It's got a blog that distills congressional news and even allows you to set up RSS feeds so you can track what's happening with a specific issue or bill. There's nothing else remotely as intuitive and easy. Next time you want to check up on what your elected representative is up to, head over to OpenCongress.

Announcing Al Gore

No, Al Gore did not make any major announcements Sunday night. But he certainly did not still speculation about the prospect that he might yet enter the 2008 presidential race.

The former vice president was never going to use the Academy Awards ceremony as a launching pad for a third presidential bid. In fact, no one familiar with the man could have imagined him even pondering such a stunt.

The senator's son who has always been a little too conscious of proper protocols would never play games with something so consequential as his last chance to be seriously considered for the Oval Office. He was at the ceremony to join the crew from "An Inconvenient Truth," as they collected the inevitable Oscar for best documentary.

And he was there to continue exploring popular reaction to the notion that he might again bid for the office that he won in the November, 2000, popular vote but lost in the December, 2000, Supreme Court vote. For Gore, it is a serious – and open – question.

But, because of the unique elder-statesman-slash-rock-star position in which he finds himself these days, Gore does not have to claw for approval – and money – in the way that New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and the rest of the formal contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination must. Gore knows he has time to make a decision; indeed, he knows that as long as he isn't running he will be just about everyone's favorite son.

For Al Gore, politics can finally be fun. And so it was Sunday night.

His Oscar night adventure offered the former vice president a perfect opportunity to show the side of the ponderous politician that is rarely evidenced in public. Despite his reviews, Gore is one of the wittier people in public life. And so it came as no surprise to anyone who has spent much off-camera time with the man that he played the Academy Awards like a Saturday Night Live appearance.

With attention constantly turning his way, Gore mocked and mugged with the best of the A-listers around him. The crowd was his from the start of the night, when host Ellen DeGeneres made reference to the fact that America voted for Gore, not George Bush, in the 2000 election – a line that drew loud and knowing applause.

Gore's main appearance of the night came when the former vice president joined actor Leonardo DiCaprio for one of those deliberately hokey Oscar night versions of a public service announcement.

Ostensibly, they were at the podium to tell the viewing audience that, in DiCaprio's words, "this show has officially gone green."

"Which means," Gore chimed in, "that environmentally intelligent practices have been integrated fully into every aspect of the planning and production of these academy awards. And you know what? It is not as hard as you might think. We have a long way to go, but all of us can do something in our own lives to make a difference."

After steering the curious to www.oscar.com for environmental tips from the Academy and the National Resources Defense Council, DiCaprio got down to the meat of the moment, declaring, "Now, although our time is almost up, I want to say I'm very proud to be standing next to such an inspirational leader in the fight against global warming. You are a true champion for the cause, Mr. Gore."

"Now," DiCaprio continued, "are you sure, are you positive that all this hard work hasn't inspired you to make any other kind of major, major announcement to the world here tonight?"

Smiling like the Cheshire Cat that he can be for at least a few more months, Gore said, "Well, I do appreciate that, Leo. And I'm kind of surprised at the feelings welling up here actually. You've been very convincing. Even though I honestly had not planned on doing this, I guess with a billion people watching, it's as good as time as any. So, my fellow Americans, I'm going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention…"

The music that stirs up when a stunt-double-thanking winner goes on just a little too long roared up, silencing Gore, who exited the stage to laughter and more, much more, applause.

It is said that the best entertainers always leave the crowd yelling for more. The same goes for prospective presidential candidates.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Suppressing News: Déjà Vu

"The assault on a free press ...should be recognized for what it is," wrote New York Times columnist Frank Rich last July, "another desperate ploy by officials trying to hide their own lethal mistakes in the shadows."

While the Bush Administration's assault on free, independent and aggressive media has been unparalleled, US government attempts to suppress information are not new. I was reminded of that essential fact this weekend while reading an obituary of Ronald Hilton, an influential scholar on Latin America who played a central role in The Nation's expose of CIA preparations for the Bay of Pigs.

Obituaries have many purposes. They can celebrate a person's work, accomplishments and contributions. And this one did--noting that Hilton was a courageous man and scholar. But obituaries also serve to set the record straight--and in this case, to issue a mea culpa for Times editors ( living and dead) who regret the paper's decision to accede to Kennedy Administration requests to delay publication (on national security grounds) of its article about the impending, disastrous CIA attack. (There have been other mea culpas: Last year, in an editorial, the Times wrote that "it seems in hindsight that the editors were over-cautious" by not printing what they knew about the invasion.)

The memory of that journalistic failure continues to play a role at the Times. For example, when the Administration vituperatively attacked the paper last year--even threatening legal action--for publishing an important investigative article on banking records and terrorism, executive editor Bill Keller's open letter explaining the decision to publish made explicit reference to the Times's handling of the Bay of Pigs story. "Our biggest failures," Keller wrote, "have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After the Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco."

What is little known is the role The Nation and Ronald Hilton--"a fiercely independent and intellectually tireless scholar," as the Times obituary rightly describes him --played in this story. In November 1960, The Nation published the first article on preparations being made for what would become the Bay of Pigs invasion. According to Carey McWilliams, The Nation's editor at the time, "Ronald Hilton, director of Stanford University's Institute of Hispanic-American Studies had just returned from Guatemala with reports that it was common knowledge --indeed, it had been reported in La Hora, a leading newspaper, on October 30--that the CIA was training a guerrilla force at a secret base for an early invasion of Cuba." McWilliams promptly got in touch with Hilton, who confirmed details, and agreed that he could be quoted. The magazine then published an article setting forth the facts Hilton had given it, including the location of the base near the mountain town of Retalhulea. If the reports were true, McWilliams wrote, "then public pressure should be brought to bear upon the administration to abandon this dangerous and hare-brained project." In the meantime, he added, the facts should be checked out immediately "by all US news media with correspondents in Guatemala." Although a special press release was prepared--to which copies of the article were attached--the wire services ignored the story and only one or two papers mentioned it.

However, The Nation's article was then called to the attention of a New York Times editor, who assigned Times reporter Paul Kennedy to do a story. Kennedy filed an article in January 1961 covering similar ground to The Nation's. But it was the Tad Szulc article in the Times--which ran only a week before the invasion in April 1961--that Kennedy called the Times's publisher about. The New York Times yielded to the President's demand that the story be reduced in prominence and detail.

According to McWilliams's memoirs (and the Columbia University forum on "The Press and the Bay of Pigs" of fall 1967), a week or so after the Bay of Pigs fiasco a group of press executives met with President Kennedy at the White House. "At this session," McWilliams recounts, "the President complained of premature disclosure of security information in the press and cited Paul Kennedy's story in the New York Times as a case in point. The New York Times' Turner Catledge then reminded Kennedy that reports about the base had previously appeared in the Guatemalan newspaper La Hora and The Nation."

The President reportedly turned to Catledge and said, "If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake." More than a year later, Kennedy told the New York Times's Orvil Dryfoos, "I wish you had run everything on Cuba.... I am just sorry you didn't tell it at the time."

To his credit, top Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. also later said that he wished the Times had run its stories so that the whole catastrophe would have been avoided.

As McWilliams notes, "Kennedy was correct: timely disclosure of the facts might have prevented what was truly a 'colossal mistake'."

It is thanks to Ronald Hilton, an independent and fearless scholar, that The Nation first alerted a country to what was being done, illegally, in its name.

Never has the need for a free and independent press been greater. Never has the need for the media to act as a watchdog on government abuse and wrongdoing--and as an effective counter to still excessive executive power--been greater.

Cheney's New Front in War on Reality

When the Bush administration was asking in 2002 for Congressional approval of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Vice President Cheney told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." He then claimed that, "Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten American friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."

As it turned out, Cheney was proven wrong.

Several months later, just prior to the launch of the war he had conjured, the vice president appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and said of Saddam Hussein, "We know he has reconstituted these (chemical weapons) programs. We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons, and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization."

As it turned out, Cheney was proven wrong.

During his "Meet the Press" appearance on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the vice president announced that, "We will be greeted as liberators."

As it turned out, Cheney was proven wrong.

Now, the vice president says of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's support for moves to extract U.S. troops from the quagmire that is Iraq: if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaeda.``

It is only a matter of time until Cheney is proven wrong again.

Indeed, as former President Jimmy Carter said during the taping of an appearance on ABC's This Week program, which will air Sunday, "If you go back and see what Vice President Cheney has said for the last three or four years concerning Iraq, his batting average is abysmally low. He hasn't been right on hardly anything in his prediction of what was going to happen."

When Pelosi challenged the vice president's over-the-top rhetoric this week, Cheney shot back, "She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment."

Remarkable as it may be for Cheney, at this point in his tenure, to raise the issue of judgment, he has in so doing provided an appropriate opening for a discussion of his own tenuous ties to reality.

Were Cheney a run-of-the-mill vice president, his inability to identify the line between fact and fantasy – or is it: truth and fiction – would be the stuff of comedy sketches. But, of course, Cheney is no ordinary second in command. Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy, he has for six years now been the real "decider." Only the most delusional observer of Washington fails to recognize that the Bush White House does what it does "because," as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill explained, "this is the way that Dick likes it."

So as the vice president, with his attacks on Pelosi, launches a new front in his war on reality, isn't it time to talk ask whether American can survive another two years of his misrule. Or, to be more precise: Hasn't he earned the sanction proposed by the bumper stickers that read: "Impeach Cheney First"?


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"