The Nation

We're Winning

There's been a lot of evidence recently that the Bush administration is causing (or perhaps amplifying) an ideological shift among the American public away from Reagan/Gingrich conservatism, towards something resembling social democracy. That might be a touch pollyanna, but check out the latest data from the massive Pew survey released last week. Kevin Drum runs down the most important data points: a sharp decline in the percentage of voters identifying themselves as Republicans, a significant increase in the percentage of people who think "government should help the needy even if it means greater debt," and similar decline in the percentage of people who think "school boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers."

In other words the populace is getting a) more socially liberal b) more economically progressive c) more identified with the Democratic party.

From Havana With Hypocrisy

Most leaders of totalitarian states do not display much humor in public. But Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, has a flair for satire. How else to interpret his recent piece on The Nation's website, in which he nostalgically ruminates about C. Wright Mills, noted sociologist and author, on the 45th anniversary of Mills' death? Alarcon hails Mills for having led an "intense, creative and noble life" and publishing books "in the midst of McCarthyism and the cold war"--including his classic The Power Elite--that "unmasked the true nature of capitalism." But the Mills book of most interest to Alarcon is Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, which was based partly on long conversations Mills had with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the summer of 1960. As Alarcon writes, "Written without great academic pretensions, told in straightforward language through the voice of an imaginary and anonymous Cuban revolutionary, the book aimed to reach ordinary Americans. It quickly became a bestseller." The book obviously was sympathetic to Castro and his revolution.

Alarcon decries the FBI for having attempted to undermine Mills' book. The Bureau unsuccessfully tried, Alarcon notes, to persuade Mills' publisher to put out a competing book criticizing the Cuban revolution. The FBI was spying on Mills at this time, and Mills, according to FBI files, believed he might be targeted for assassination by the FBI or another American agency. "Mills's friends," Alarcon writes, "recall that he was concerned not only for himself but for his family, and that he had indeed acquired a handgun, which he even kept next to his bed while he slept." After Mills suffered a heart attack, Castro invited him to recuperate in Cuba. Alarcon's narrative: while the FBI chased Mills, Castro sought to help the noble intellectual. "C. Wright Mills paid a high price for his passionate love of truth," Alarcon declares.

Mills was hounded for challenging the conventional wisdom of his day. But Alarcon's concern for the plight of this one author is comical--in a dark fashion--for he heads a government that does not allow its citizens to challenge openly the conventional wisdom of the Castro regime. There is no free press in Alarcon's country, no freedom of expression. There is no "passionate love of truth" among the rulers of Cuba. Alarcon is crying for Mills, while his government does even worse to Cuban writers than the FBI did to Mills.

For some "passionate truth" about the state of intellectual freedom within Cuba, let's turn to the Committee To Protect Journalists' most recent annual report on Cuba. (By the way, Nation publisher emeritus Victor Navasky is a CPJ board member.) The report notes that CPJ "named Cuba one of the world's 10 Most Censored Countries." It explains:

The government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other organizations controlled by the government.

No freedom to write. No freedom to surf the Internet. And no freedom to report:

The media operate under the supervision of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which develops and coordinates propaganda strategies. Those who try to work as independent reporters are harassed, detained, threatened with prosecution or jail, or barred from traveling. Their relatives are threatened with dismissal from their jobs. A small number of foreign correspondents report from Havana, but Cubans do not ever see their reports.

And what does Alarcon's government do to brave souls who try to act as independent journalists? CPJ says:

Cuba continued to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. During 2006, two imprisoned journalists were released, but two more were jailed....

Of the 24 journalists who remained imprisoned, 22 were jailed in a massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press. Their prison sentences on antistate charges ranged from 14 to 27 years. Many of them were jailed far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their families. Their families have described unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate medical care, and rotten food. Some imprisoned journalists were being denied religious guidance, and most shared cells with hardened criminals. Many were allowed family visits only once every three months and marital visits only once every four months--a schedule of visits far less frequent than those allowed most inmates. Relatives were harassed for talking to the foreign press and protesting the journalists' incarceration.

Imagine a Cuban who wants to write and publish a Cuban version of The Power Elite. That person would be locked up in a modern-day dungeon by Alarcon and his comrades. Alarcon, thus, has no standing to bemoan the harassment of Mills or to pontificate about the glories of pursuing establishment-defying truths. (Stating the obvious about the gross absence of political and human rights within Cuba should not be equated with support for the economic embargo maintained by the Bush administration against Cuba. The wrongs of each side do not justify the other.)

"Today," Alarcon writes, "Cuba forges a path to craft its own unique socialist system, rooted on its own historical experience and with the active participation of its people." Not the active participation of anyone who wants to write or report news and ideas not sanctioned by Alarcon and his colleagues. It takes nerve for a person who runs one of the ten most censored countries to praise a pioneering and influential free thinker. That's why Alarcon's accolade for Mills is best read as farce.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Markey's Big Chance

Two weeks ago, Representative Ed Markey was appointed chair of the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. The committee has no legislative role but it does have subpoena power, a $3.7 million budget, a team of investigators, and a two-year term. So there should be ample opportunity to powerfully illustrate the crisis and arrive at some smart policy recommendations. There are already strong legislative proposals out there and Markey's committee could use these as a starting point for potential Congressional action. "Our job," Markey says, "will be to take these issues and translate them into a language that has political potency and is accessible to the public." Here then are some areas the Select Committee could explore in response to the global warming crisis.

1.Job Creation

There are many good groups doing work on the relationship between job creation and clean energy. The Apollo Alliance – a coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, urban, farm, faith and business groups – has a plan that has won wide respect. It includes: promoting renewables; upgrading existing energy infrastructure; improving efficiency in transportation, industry, and buildings; research in new clean technology; and Smart Growth for cities and suburbs. Joel Rogers, a member of Apollo's National Steering Committee and Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, says, "We estimate that $300 billion spent on our plan would generate about 3 million new jobs…. It would generate a little over $1 trillion in additional GDP over its ten-year development. And, most important, it would reduce our energy costs by better than $300 billion annually. That would effectively… eliminate our dependence on the Middle East… [and] it should reestablish the American position in what is clearly going to be a gigantic world market for clean-energy technology…. Our plan has been out there for about two years now and nobody has seriously questioned any of these numbers." Van Jones, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, has discussed a Clean Energy Jobs Bill with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would help "create green pathways out of poverty." Jones says, "The bill would get hundreds of millions of dollars in green-collar job training down to community colleges, vocational colleges and public high schools across the country. It would establish Clean Tech Training Centers in at least one public high school in every US city. And it would create a National Energy Corps, which would give America's youth the opportunity to help retrofit buildings and put up solar and wind farms." The Apollo Alliance and Campus Climate Action are working with the Ella Baker Center to advance these ideas. Elizabeth Martin Perera, Climate Policy Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), also notes that a cap on greenhouse gasses will open new markets for low-carbon fuels, low-carbon electricity, and renewables. Experts from the Economic Policy Institute have also done very good research in this area.

2. The Exorbitant Costs Myth

Republicans repeatedly responded to Al Gore's testimony on global warming this past week with predictions of exorbitant costs and massive job loss. The fact is clean energy done right can be a stimulus for jobs and economic growth. That is why the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) – a coalition of US-based businesses (including Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E, and PNM Resources) and environmental organizations – has called for quick legislative action to slow, stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions. The group said any delay in mandatory, economy-wide climate protection "increases the risk of unavoidable consequences that could necessitate even steeper reductions in the future." This is the kind of private sector action that is needed – along with a concerted government effort – to address what Al Gore calls "the most dangerous crisis in American history." Markey would do well to bring in these business and environmental leaders to skewer the myth of catastrophic job loss and exorbitant costs.

3. The Economic Harm of Global Warming

The Apollo Alliance and other leading experts recommend that the Markey Committee work to establish a clear, definitive and scientifically defensible quantification of economic harm to the US economy within 20 years, 50 years, and 100 years if a strong response to global warming isn't adopted. The Stern Report – which looks at the impact of global warming on the world economy, written by former chief economist at the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern – is useful in illustrating the consequences of doing nothing to curb global warming but an official federal analysis would provide new credibility for Congressional policymakers.

4. ‘The Experts of the Land'

Lorraine Peter of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon (a town of about 300 aboriginal people north of the Arctic Circle), spoke at Climate Crisis Action Day in Washington, DC this week. She has traveled to DC for 25 years to stand with her Canadian and Alaskan brothers and sisters impacted by decisions made in the US capital. "Listen to the experts of the land – they are the ones who can tell us," she said. According to Peter, the hunters and trappers who live subsistence lifestyles see the changes every day. They see a Porcupine Caribou Herd which has thrived for thousands of years with her ancestors – and which the community still depends on for food, clothing, and crafts – suddenly dwindling in the last 10 to 15 years. And Robert Thompson, an Inupiaq Eskimo wildlife guide (and Vietnam veteran) from the 300-person village of Kaktovik on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, spoke of unusual February rains, and the Yukon Flats burning in September. "We don't need more science," he said. And then there was Republican Mayor Rob Sisson of Sturgis, Michigan. He spoke eloquently of the impact of reduced ice cover, record low water levels, and warmer temperatures that are damaging the fishing and agriculture industries in his county. Mayor Stanley Tocktoo of Shishmaref – a Northwest Alaska village of 581 people threatened by coastal erosion – told of the need for relocation before his village is destroyed (last year, the US Army Corps of estimated the village could survive another 10 to 15 years). "We need to be safe from the dangers of being washed away and able to maintain our subsistence lifestyle," Tocktoo said. Representative Jay Inslee (author of a new book, Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Revolution) said that we must act now so that the people of Shishmaref are the first and last Americans who will need to relocate due to global warming. By speaking with – and giving voice to – the citizens and leaders who are experiencing the impact of global warming first-hand the Markey Committee can help personalize the fight against global warming.

5. A Bipartisan Approach

In order to make the kind of substantive changes that are needed, action will have to be taken on a bipartisan basis. This week, Al Gore noted that in Great Britain Labour and Tories are working together – they understand that the science is settled and that a strong response is urgently needed. Gore said that the parties are arguing about the most effective solutions – not whether to take aggressive action – based on a shared realization that the "cost to our economy of not solving the crisis is devastating." In contrast, the issue here is too often framed as a partisan one. (In fact, sources within Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) say that Minority Leader John Boehner would only appoint Republicans who are hostile to the idea of global warming to Markey's committee. So when a legislator like Representative Wayne Gilchrest – who has a sincere interest in responding to the crisis – requested an appointment to the committee he was rejected.) But there is reason for hope. Just look at Representative Roscoe Bartlett's reaction to his global warming denialist colleagues at the Gore hearings, "It's possible to be a conservative without appearing to be an idiot." Bartlett is right, and true conservatives like President Theodore Roosevelt placed stewardship and preserving our environment and resources for future generations at the top of their agenda. Markey should make sure America hears from those Republicans who have reviewed the science and want action now – like those at REP, or Gore's allies at The Alliance for Climate Protection, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft; and former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Reagan, Lee Thomas. The sooner our country puts partisan politics aside on this issue, the quicker and more resolute action will be.

6. Centralize Findings

Many advocates suggest that the Markey Committee serve as a clearinghouse for gathering, organizing and disseminating the findings of concurrent climate hearings taking place in both the House and Senate. These hearings include those conducted by Representative John Dingell; Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici; Senator Barbara Boxer; Energy and Air Quality subcommittee hearings, and others. The findings of these different forums and investigations need to be consolidated and used as the basis for action.

7. Describe Domestic Investment

According to the Apollo Alliance and other experts, current legislative proposals are often too vague in describing the details of domestic investment in a low-carbon economy. Industries are more likely to support low-carbon legislation – and view it as a growth opportunity – if the benefits they will receive are clearly and specifically laid out.

8. Paint a Picture

Markey told The Washington Post he is interested in taking members of Congress to Greenland: "You can see in Greenland . . . that if the huge sheet of ice -- huge, massive sheet of ice melts, that the consequences are quite catastrophic." But there are also places in our own backyard which could be visited. Elizabeth Martin Perera of NRDC suggests that the Markey Committee visit the "Crown Jewels at risk" in our nation. Places like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where the the US Geological Survey (USGS) judged all 59 miles of beaches at high or very high risk for rising seas. Or melting glaciers in Glacier National Park and North Cascades National Park. High temperatures and drought threatening forests in the American Southwest, including in Bandelier National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Visit with the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state, who agreed to develop a regional target to lower greenhouse gases. They were motivated by recent droughts and suffering through perilous fire seasons. A tour of these sites could be informative for the American people and legislators.

9. Two Federal Bills

Advocates for bold leadership to fight global warming have hailed two bills in Congress: Representative Henry Waxman's Safe Climate Act, and Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders' Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act . All aspects of these bills should be examined, and every opportunity for the public to learn about them should be pursued.

These are just some of the areas the Markey Committee could explore in order to generate the political will necessary for change. There is certainly no shortage of places, people, and organizations that can help illustrate the urgency and the benefits of responding to global warming now.

Crowdsourcing Elizabeth Edwards

John and Elizabeth Edwards' decision to continue his presidentialbid, despite learning that Ms. Edwards was diagnosed with incurablebut treatable cancer, has sparked impassioned discussions across thecountry and the blogosphere. In fact, Americans have probablydiscussed the family's choice more than anything else Mr. Edwards hasdone during the campaign thus far. That is definitely true online,where debates over the couple's choice even inspired The New YorkTimes to break with tradition and use Internet "crowdsource"reporting from its own blog for the very first time.

Last Thursday, there were 2,000 blog entries citing Mr. Edwards, morereferences than any other day in the past year, according toTechnorati. That record-breaking volume was matched by unusuallystrong reactions to the blog commentaries. An entry about the news on TheNew York Times political blog, The Caucus, drew over 600comments, easily quadrupling the typical feedback for the site's mostpopular entries, with many personal and heartfelt contributions.

Posting a comment from Bosnia, Janet A. Leff relayed how shenever halted her international volunteer work during "treatment andrecovery" for seven tumors. "Elizabeth should be listened to, and letthis couple make their own decisions. At 65 I am still amazed howmany uninformed people make decisions about and for cancer patients,"she wrote, signing off, "thanks for listening, Janet alive and wellin Bosnia i Herzegovina!" Another commenter explained that afterbattling breast cancer twice, she could understand why Ms. Edwardswould want the campaign to continue. "[I] greatly encouraged myhusband to pursue hobbies, hoping to break his focus on my health,"she wrote.

While Americans took to the Internet to share personal experiencesand prayers for the Edwards family, the media and political worldrushed to measure the potential effect on Mr. Edwards' candidacy. Ina thoughtful front page article this weekend, The Times' KirkJohnson tried to gauge the mood of a public that had "seized" on thedifficult choice the Edwards family made. It is a significant topic,but very difficult to report accurately. Besides cold-calling thephonebook, how do you learn what people really think of the news?How do you find people who have followed the story or care about it?And in a country with two million women who have been treated for breast cancer, how do you learn what survivors think? After all, cancersurvivors understand the pain and challenges facing the Edwardsfamily better than anyone, and they are likely to lead public opinionon the rectitude of the family's decision. That's a lot for areporter to tackle on deadline.

So Mr. Johnson, to his credit, tapped the pool of sources and cancersurvivors that had already gathered to discuss the decision on TheTimes' political blog. Citing the comments section, he concludedthat "a major dividing point in how people reacted to the Edwardses'decision was their experience with cancer in themselves or a lovedone." Mr. Johnson also called Ms. Leff in Bosnia and related herinspiring story in the article:

Janet Leff, 65, a breast cancer survivor whose cancer had also spreadto her bones, said all the talk about what the Edwardses should orshould not do is misguided. It is nobody's business but theirs, shesaid. When her cancer was diagnosed five years ago, she wasvolunteering as a social worker in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Family membersurged her to come home, give up the hard life in a war-ravagedcountry. She ignored them, she said, and she thinks that is partlywhy she is still alive. "The two of them know what they both need,"said Ms. Leff, who is still in Bosnia-Herzegovina and describedherself as a Republican. Ms. Leff agreed to be interviewed bytelephone after posting a comment on The Times' blog. "It'snot easy on anybody, but it's no time to sit and watch the grassgrow," she said. "You have to keep your life going, because whetherit gets to the terminal stage or not, you don't know until it's there."

This is the first time a New York Times national article hasquoted a source from the paper's own political blog, according to asearch on Lexis.com.

(The Times quoted a source from its regional blog, The EmpireZone, for the first and only time in January, in a metro article onInternet theories about a "mysterious stench" that had passed throughManhattan.)

It is a significant step, coming at a time when some journalists areexperimenting with ways to tap online networks for new sources,information and even primary reporting. This "open source" model,often called "crowdsourcing," can range from swiftly plucking acancer survivor's story from a newspaper's blog, as Mr. Johnson did,to pooling the collective knowledge of thousands of readers in highlyorchestrated long-term projects. (Apart from journalism,Crowdsourcing has pooled amateur labor to produce complex computerprograms, research and even art.)

Last week marked the official launch of NYU Professor Jay Rosen's Assignment Zero, anambitious site that empowers people to research and write storiestogether, with guidance from a professional editor who has worked forSalon and National Public Radio. The effort, which is fundedby Reuters, The MacArthur Foundation, Craigslist's Craig Newmark andWired Magazine (which coined "crowdsourcing" in its Juneissue), will test how a "smart crowd" of volunteers can enhance thework of professional journalists.

Even if projects like Assignment Zero do not immediately succeed infostering collaborative journalism, crowdsourcing is already usefulfor quoting the public's reactions to current events. The passion,authenticity and strong opinions shooting across the blogosphereprovide far more feedback than a reporter can assemble via "person-in-the-street" interviews, which are less likely to pinpoint people whoknow the given topic anyway. The traditional media may still bereluctant to crowdsource because the tactic seems too new or too self-selected; a common argument is that journalists should stick to theircraft and readers don't want to read the notes piling up in blogs andreporters' inboxes. But the Internet will continue to stimulate andenable a more participatory society, further blurring the linebetween writer and reader, producer and consumer, quotable expert andblog commenter. Journalism will increasingly engage thisdevelopment, both because it is a reality that accurate reportersshould cover, and more practically, it is what the audience wants.Or, as Professor Rosen would say, it'swhat the "people formerly known as the audience" want.

Lying to Congress

Note to future Capitol Hill witnesses: it's a crime to lie to Congress, even if you're not under oath.

Stephen Griles, the former number two official at the Department of Interior, learned this recently, pleading guilty to misleading a Senate committee about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Griles claimed to have had no special relationship with the lobbyist, even though he was romantically involved with one of Abramoff's intermediaries and Abramoff referred to him as "our guy" at Interior.

Top officials at the Justice Department could soon find themselves in a similar predicament for their ever-shifting explanations of why eight US prosecutors were unexpectedly dismissed. No wonder the White House doesn't want a transcript of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers's testimony.

And it's no surprise that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has yet to testify before Congress about his contradictory role in Attorneygate. When he goes up to the Hill next month, Gonzales must watch his words carefully. If he tells the Senate Judiciary Committee what he told reporters two weeks ago ("was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on") he may be more than out of a job.

Republicans Detect "Cloud" Over Gonzales

What do the following statements about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- the embattled presidential appointee at the center of a growing scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to politicize their prosecutions --have in common?

1. "The Justice Department has bungled this attorney thing. There's no question about it. There's no excuse for it."

2. [You] cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility."

3. "The Attorney General has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics ... He has said some things that don't add up."

4. "If we find out he's not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on."

Answer: They were all made over the weekend by Republican members of the U.S. Senate; Utah's Orrin Hatch, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, respectively.

Specter, it should be noted, is the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hatch is a former chairman of the committee and Graham serves on its Administrative Oversight subcommittee. Hagel sits on the powerful Rules Committee and remains a GOP presidential prospect.

No, these key Republicans have not officially joined the rising chorus of calls for Gonzales to step down immediately -- a chorus led by New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu, who has said that if the Attorney General will not leave willingly he "should be fired."

But their statements do put the lie to continuing claims by White House apologists in the media that "there is no scandal."

Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly may want Americans to believe that "the U.S. attorney thing is absurd, a fabricated event designed to hurt the president and make it easier for the Democrats to consolidate their power and elect a president in 2008."

But that line is a tough sell when the Senate's leading Republicans -- partisans want to support the Bush administration in general and Attorney General Gonzales in particular -- say things like: "The Attorney General has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics..."

The fact is that Gonzales is finished.

The casual question of the moment is no longer "if?" but "when?" will the Attorney General exit the Department of Office.

The more serious question for observers of the Bush administration crack up is a more fundamental and far-reaching one: Who if anyone will this presidential loyalist -- a man with no track record of acting on his own in matters of the law or politics -- take with him when he goes down?


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.'"

The Haunting Legacy of Slavery

Here in London, many people are making a pretty big deal out of the 200th anniversary of an act passed by Parliament in March 1807 that outlawed the involvement of British ships in the slave trade. Just a block or two from where I'm staying, the British Museum has a lot of special events relating to this bicentennial (e.g., this one, today.) The movie Amazing Grace, which is based on the life of the abolitionist MP William Wilberforce, is about to be released here. I see the British Quakers have put together an interesting little online exhibition to mark this bicentennary, featuring some texts and other items from the collections of Friends House Library.

I think it's excellent to remember this anniversary, and to find ways to reconnect with the strong ethical and religious sense of all those who worked and organized to end the transatlantic slave trade, which was outlawed by the US Congress in 1808. However, the enslaved persons in the Americas were the first slaves since the days of the Romans whose condition of bondage and status as chattel was passed down from parent to child; and in a cruel irony, as the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans died out the price of the slaves who were already in place, working under horrendous conditions in the US, many Caribbean islands, and some South American nations, merely rose... And there was thus a strong incentive, until the whole institution of slavery was outlawed in the United States, which took several further decades, for slave-"owners" to try to breed their slave-stock as much as much possible, a matter to which many white men in slave-owning communities made a big personal contribution.

If you look at the (US Census Bureau-derived) demographic table in this section of the relevant Wikipedia page, you can see that between 1810 and 1860 the number of enslaved persons in the US rose from 1.2 million to nearly 4 million.

Imagine how many enslaved women were raped by white men and boys as part of that "breeding" program...

Earlier, back in the first half of the 18th century, many, many portions of the white settler community in the US had been heavily involved in the institution of slavery... including some portion of just about all the many Christian denominations that had proliferated in the settler communities by then-- and yes, that included the Quakers-- and also a portion of the Jewish settlers. As far as I know it was only the Mennonites, among the Christians (and perhaps the other Anabaptists?) who had never participated in the owning or trading of enslaved persons. But many Quakers certainly had.

There were huge hyper-profits to be made in the business; and some were made by Quaker plantation owners in the southern states or Quaker slave-traders in Rhode Island and other states to the north.

Then in the 1750s, along came Quaker social activist John Woolman. He saw at first hand the misery and inequity of the institution of slavery. He heard all the allegedly "do-gooding" claims of the slave-holders and slave-traders among the Quakers... that they were "saving these poor souls from the misery of wars in Africa", etc... and he slowly confronted these slave-holders with his witness, one-by-one, and also in small groups and at impassioned meetings for worship and business.

He was not alone. There were other American Quaker abolitionists who joined him in his campaign. But he was the one who kept an extremely moving journal of all his efforts... And between them, these Quaker men and women made a big difference. They managed to persuade all the Quakers of the US to dissociate themselves from the "peculiar institution"; and it was on the basis of that achievement that many Quakers of later decades then became leaders in the broad national movement against all aspects of the institution of slavery.

I guess I wish the events here in Britain being held to mark the bicentennary of this country's abolition of the slave trade in 1807 had a little less smug self-satisfaction, and a little more real reflectiveness to them. After all, should we really be doing much celebrating if someone stops beating his wife??

When I say "reflectiveness", I just want to note that I've seen nothing in all the many newspaper articles and other items of commentary here on this anniversary that looks at how many of the fine institutions of the "Enlightenment" here in Britain, as in the rest of Europe and also, certainly, in the Americas, were financed with the hyper-profits from the slave trade... And then, no reflection at all on the degree to which the legacies of the slave trade and other crimes of colonialism still live on in the pauperized, war-ravaged portions of Africa; or, on whether the very rich and settled former slave-trading societies of northern Europe should not take seriously the task of effecting some real form of reparations to those ravaged home-communities of Africa.

Church leaders here in Britain are calling on Tony Blair to at least offer an apology to the descendants of the enslaved communities. So far, Blair has expressed "regret" for the suffering caused, but has stood firm against offering any apology-- since, in the view of many, an apology could open the door to demands for reparations...

(See this further post on the topic of Quakers and slavery, on my home blog, Just World News.)

Writer Threatened By Powerful Fanatics

Internationally renowned writer Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist activist, is facing harassment and threats from fundamentalist extremists in her country. Her play, "God Resigns at the Summit Meeting," has been condemned for alleged attacks on "God, the prophets and the heavenly religions." A petition supporting her calls these accusations "a license for her assasination" which could "encourage any madman" to come after her. El Saadawi has been hassled over such matters in the past, and cases have been filed against her with the government's prosecutor general office; in 2001, extremists, using Sharia law, tried to force her to divorce her husband, as punishment for apostasy. Last month, an Egyptian blogger was sentenced to prison for four years on similar charges, so the climate is obviously a scary one. According to a recent reportby Index on Censorship, El Saadawi has fled Egypt for now. Readers who want to help should help distribute this http://www.nawalsaadawi.net/news/07/petition07.htm">petition. Addresses of relevant Egyptian authorities can be found here.

A Principled Dissent

Of the handful of House members who cast conscience votes against further funding of the war in Iraq Friday, the most unexpected may well have been New York Democrat Michael McNulty.

A moderate Democrat from ther Albany area, McNulty voted in 2002 to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq. And he continues to be more identified with domestic issues -- such as protecting Social Security -- than foreign policy.

Unlike most of the other Democratic House members who refused to go along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan to provide Bush with funding for the continuation of the war -- while adding benchmarks and a timeline as tools to begin setting the course for an exit strategy -- McNulty has never been identified as an anti-war activist in the House.

On Friday, when Pelosi's bill came up for a vote, Democrats generally voted "yes" while Republicans generally voted "yes." Only a Democratic handful of members broke ranks to make a clear anti-war statement.

The "no" voters included Democrats such as Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, Georgia's John Lewis, Maine's Mike Michaud, and Californians Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, and Republicans such as Texan Ron Paul and Tennessee's John Duncan.

And then there was Michael McNulty.

Why had this usually loyal Democrat joined the dissenters?

McNulty explained why in a short statement issued Friday afternoon:

In the spring of 1970, during my first term as Town Supervisor of Green Island, I testified against the War in Vietnam at a Congressional Field Hearing in Schenectady, New York.

Several months after that testimony, my brother, HM3 William F. McNulty, a Navy Medic, was killed in Quang Nam Province.

I have thought -- many times since then -- that if President Nixon had listened to the voices of reason back then, my brother Bill might still be alive.

As a Member of Congress today, I believe that the Iraq War will eventually be recorded as one of the biggest blunders in the history of warfare.

In October of 2002, I made a huge mistake in voting to give this President the authority to take military action in Iraq. I will not compound that error by voting to authorize this war's continuation.

On the contrary, I will do all that is within my power to end this war, to bring our troops home, and to spare other families the pain that the McNulty family has endured every day since August 9th, 1970.


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.'"