The Nation

Abstinence Takes a Blow

It's been a frigid winter for the abstinence-only crowd. Back in October the GAO slammed the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for funding two abstinence-only programs without reviewing their "education materials for scientific accuracy" or even requiring grantees "to review their own materials for scientific accuracy." Then last week the Institute of Medicine (IOM) attacked abstinence-until-marriage earmarks in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as ideologically driven barriers that jeopardize "the vitally important end of saving lives." The nation's editorial pages echoed IOM's findings. And this Monday, Wade Horn, director of ACF and architect of Bush's abstinence-only and marriage promotion policies, abruptly resigned -- much to the dismay of the family-values crowd.

Add to this mix the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine endorsed by the CDC and Republican governors alike but opposed by abstinence-only fanatics, and it's clear that support for abstinence-only education is more precarious now than at any other point in the Bush administration. With Democrats in control of Congress, there's hope that funding for comprehensive sex education (such as the REAL Act and the PATHWAY Act, both sponsored by Barbara Lee (D) and Chris Shays (R)) might get a fair shake.

But don't count your condoms just yet. As Scott Swenson reports over at RH Reality Check, federally-funded abstinence groups have pooled together their resources and created the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). And they've hired Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the pitbulls behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" ads, as their PR flacks. NAEA promises "proactive 'rapid response'" to "negative attacks" on abstinence education, a campaign to "promote positive national media exposure" and the mobilization of "local abstinence organizations" in "key congressional districts."

What does this all mean? Well, if CRC's track record is any indication, expect vicious, targeted campaigns against vulnerable Democrats and moderate Republicans who vote to cap or eliminate funding for abstinence-only programs. Expect bogus op-eds questioning the integrity of groups like the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association, both of whom support comprehensive sex education. And expect media campaigns touting the values of abstinence-only education and offering up the abstinence lobby's manipulated data.

And yes, as Swenson points out, all of this will be paid for, at least in part, by your tax-payer dollars.

In Ron Ridenhour's Memory

In 1969, Ron Ridenhour – a Vietnam veteran – wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon which exposed the My Lai massacre to the American public and the world. He went on to become an award-winning investigative journalist but died suddenly at the age of 52. The annual Ridenhour Prizes – awarded by the Nation Institute and Fertel Foundationfor the past four years – memorialize the spirit of fearless truth-telling Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career. They honor people who articulate unpopular truths, who act bravely and put their reputations at risk in order to strengthen our democracy.

Yesterday, at a packed and spirited gathering at the National Press Club in DC, the Ridenhour Prizes for Truth-Telling, Outstanding Book, and Courage were presented to Donald Vance (an American contractor in Iraq turned whistle blower), Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and President Jimmy Carter, respectively.

In introducing Chandrasekaran, Ted Koppel – whose news program America Held Hostage was created in 1979 to monitor the Iranian hostage crisis before eventually morphing into Nightline – said of Carter: "He was good enough to remind me of the role that he and his administration played in my professional good fortune and suggested that five percent of my income over the past 28 years contributed to the Carter Center might be an appropriate way of…" – he trailed off to laughter and applause.

Koppel then noted his own recent NPR commentarythat compared similar elements of Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City and the German film The Lives of Others. The film focuses on the impact of the Stasi – the East German secret police – on the lives of some theatre people and, ultimately, the impact those individuals have on a senior Stasi officer. Koppel said there was a clear message in the film that "when a regime places a higher value on ideological loyalty than it does on honesty or creativity or even efficiency, that regime has already sown the seeds of its own destruction. Which brings me to Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Hardly a replica of East Germany in the 1980's but replete with sufficient similarities to warn us of what can happen when political loyalty is allowed to substitute for competence…. Rajiv's portrayal… makes the tragedy of Iraq today all the greater. He makes you wonder again and again of what might have been – if only…."

If only, indeed. And if only some of our political leaders today possessed the courage and wisdom, the grace and humility, of President Jimmy Carter. Rabbi Leonard Beerman introduced Carter as the recipient of The Ridenhour Courage Prize. Beerman is the Founding Rabbi of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles and a past President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis. He spoke eloquently, saying that Carter "has fashioned a career of extraordinary accomplishment…out of what I believe is most important – a persistent moral sensibility. Even about the most sensitive and contentious issues – such as the rights of the Palestinians, for example."

He spoke of Carter's conviction and guiding principal that "every human being is a disclosure of the divine," and also that "in the geography of [Carter's] conscience there are no borders." Beerman quoted Kafka in recognizing a universally important aspect Carter's work: "You can hold back from the suffering of the world, and you have free permission to do so. And it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back maybe the one suffering you could have avoided." He closed powerfully with a passage scrawled by Walt Whitman that he had found in the Library of Congress: "Uncage in my heart a thousand new strengths and unknown ardours and terrible extremes," and then he wished Carter "a thousand new strengths."

Carter began by speaking of The Prize for Truth-Telling recipient, Donald Vance, "who has demonstrated in his own experiences and his writings and his courage the ability to reveal some of the most despicable aspects of our own nation's policies." (Vance is a Navy veteran, voted twice for George Bush, was a supporter of the war in Iraq and a contractor there, but was tortured and detained for three months by US forces at a military prison camp. It is also notable that he was introduced by documentary filmmaker, Rory Kennedy, whose HBO film The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib examines the horror of the scandal and its impact on our nation's standing in the world) Carter continued, "We used to raise high the banner of human rights and now I think Donald has pointed out that this is not something we can do any more. And I hope that in the future that will be changed."

Carter offered that what he most wanted to say was that he was "humbled and grateful for this award. But the higher courage that I would like to honor is among the Israelis and the Palestinians who have constantly been frustrated year after year. But have persisted in their search for peace with justice…. A half century of suffering, of death, of persecution, and of fear, experienced by the people of Israel and Palestine…[Yet] consistently, for three decades, I've seen public opinion polls inside of Israel that show that more than 60 percent of the citizens approve of the exchange of Palestinian land for peace. And in January, a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem revealed that 81 percent of all Palestinians share this same desire."

Carter said he wrote Palestine Peace not Apartheid to describe the plight of the Palestinians and the desperate need for debate in the United States in order to rejuvenate a Middle East peace process that has now been dormant for six years. He said history has shown that – with the exception of the Oslo Accords in 1993 – progress is only possible when the United States plays its historic role "as honest broker," with the trust and respect of both sides. He suggested that the Bush administration had abandoned this role that six previous presidents – three Republicans and three Democrats – had been faithful to. He closed with a prayer "for our own elected officials of both parties, and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, that they would have the courage to face the facts and to do what is necessary to return America to its honored position as a peacemaker." Carter received a standing ovation. There was a sense of sanity and commitment inside the room even as leaflets were distributed outside describing him as anti-Israel.

After the ceremony, he held a well-attended press conference. There were many questions and the old Jimmy Carter came out – well versed as ever on such particular matters as cellulose and biofuel energy. He spoke in support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria ("I was glad that she went. When there is a crisis, the best way to help resolve the crisis is to deal with the people who are instrumental in the problem." He also noted that she was simply fulfilling the Iraq Study Group proposals). And he spoke of his potential support for a presidential candidate who would work evenhandedly to bring peace to the Middle East (but also noted how difficult it is to speak the truth and get elected). But Carter again made it clear why he was in DC yesterday: "The main reason I came is to express my hope that we'll see the peace process rejuvenated concerning Israel and the Palestinians. And that there would be an element of courage in this country to resort back to what was the policy of all the presidents, I would say, prior to this administration. Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, me, all the way back to Harry Truman… to try to take a balanced position – enough to let both sides have trust in us, confidence in us."

The three men honored with Ridenhour Prizes yesterday all demonstrate how trust and confidence can be inspired with some fearless truth-telling and dedication to one's ideals.

Bush Gives Congress the Finger

It wasn't enough for George W. Bush to nominate a donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as Ambassador to Belgium. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which John Kerry sits, was poised to reject Sam Fax's nomination, Bush gave him a recess appointment.

The President just told Congress what Dick Cheney memorably said to Senator Patrick Leahy: "Go [bleep] yourself."

Under the recess arrangement, Fox will bypass the Senate and serve in a voluntary capacity, receiving no salary. But since he's a multimillionaire donor to GOP causes, that hardly matters. Democrats are now questioning the legality of this arrangement. "Federal law prohibits 'voluntary service' in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does," reports Mary Ann Akers of the Washington Post, citing the Government Accountability Office.

Bush vowed after the November elections that he would "work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way." It's now clear that he had no such thing in mind.

Media Nostalgic for Satanic Abuse Scandals?

Boy, does the media love a good daycare controversy. Since we haven't had a good Satanic abuse or child molestation daycare story in years, we have to make do with provocative statistics. It's not the same, but it allows us to air our gender anxieties and maternal issues, and we seem to have a collective need to do that at least once a year.

Last week's media frenzy focused on the latest National Institutes of Health day care study-- actually on one finding in particular: kids who spent three or four preschool years in daycare had marginally more behavior problems in school. Researchers themselves said kids were "in the normal range" and parents shouldn't freak out -- but such caveats were lost in the cacophony. This week, the reports are still making the roundsin the blogosphere, with many bloggers offering a salutary corrective to the way the story was initially reported. Many mainstream journalists, as usual, were eager to twist the results to confirm the most reactionary assumptions: mothers shouldn't work. The very best analysis anywhere was Emily Bazelon's terrific dissection on Slate.

The study suggests some interesting possibilities. The quality of the day care mattered a great deal (though the quality of the care children received at home, from their parents, mattered even more). Many day care centers are substandard, especially those available to poor people. Watching TV in the company of underqualified strangers can't be terribly helpful to a kid's development. Raising the pay of child care workers would certainly help improve the quality of care, and more oversight of the daycare industry would be helpful. There's a great daycare center in my neighborhood-- caring, intellectually and socially stimulating -- but since it costs more than three years of my college education, I have never even visited it. All kids deserve to attend places like that. But in addition to improving daycare, we need to get more companies to offer on-site babysitting so that parents and children can spend more time together. And of course, people should have more choices: it should be made much easier for parents to take longer parental leaves or work part time when their children are very young.

Another possibility is that some of these "behavior problems" are just no big deal. As American University/University of Maryland economics professor emerita Barbara Bergmann writes in a not-yet-published paper on these studies ("Long Leaves, Child Well-being and Gender Equality"), "It would be helpful in thinking about policy issues to have an idea of how bad the behavior of the children...actually is. Are they merely argumentative, or are they a bit nasty at times, or are they monsters? Unfortunately, it is impossible to get that kind of understanding from these reports." Like so many well-researched studies, this one inevitably leads us to the conclusion that...more research is needed.

Refunds for Good

Did you know that the most wide-reaching tax refund in IRS history is on tap for this year?

The Telephone Excise Tax Refund (TETR) is a one-time payment available on your 2006 federal income tax return. It's designed to refund previously collected long distance telephone taxes that have been ruled illegal by the courts. Any American who purchased long distance or wireless phone service between March 2003 and August 2006 is entitled to the refund. The trick is that you have to request it. (Click here for instructions.)

The Phone Excise Tax was enacted by Congress in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War. The government at the time was skittish about its ability to pay for its latest colonial venture so it enacted the tax over widespread public opposition. Shockingly, though it took US forces less than four months to conquer the island of Cuba, the tax to fund that operation has been on the phone bills of US consumers ever since.

In May 2006, following the losses of five federal court decisions, the IRS finally agreed to stop assessing the surcharge and to accept a court order to refund taxpayers. The American public is eligible to receive an estimated $20 billion through this refund, if taxpayers claim it; half going to businesses and non-profits, and half to individuals. Individuals are due to receive from $30 to $60 each based on their own deductions. But the IRS is counting on more than half of all people eligible to neglect to ask for the money.

To urge people to claim their refunds and then donate this found money to a good cause, two social entrepreneurs, Jonathan Gorham and Michael Swartz, have launchedrefundsforgood.org. The interactive site--which has drawn support from thirteen Nobel Peace Laureates--offers clear guidance on how to claim the refunds and highlights three US non-profits as potential recipients of this unexpected residual.

*PeaceJam Foundation works to nurture a new generation of young leaders committed to social change through peace-making service projects in local communities.

* Solar Electric Light Fund brings solar power and modern communications to rural villages in the developing world for enhancements in health, education, and economic well-being.

* Physicians for Social Responsibility organizes medical and public health support for policies to stop nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and toxic degradation of the environment.

Taxpayers can use the secure form at refundsforgood.org to make a tax deductible donation of any amount to one or more of the three non-profits. Kudos to Gorham and Swartz for this great idea. Let's take full advantage of it.

Bush v. Constitution... Again

George Bush's presidency has been distinguished by nothing so much as his consistent disregard for the Constitution. He wages war without required Congressional declarations. He orders spying that is in direct conflict with the 4th Amendment. He permits tortures and extraordinary renditions that violate the 8th Amendment,

Above all, the President disregards the basic requirement of shared governance. He shows little respect for the separation of powers, let alone for the system of checks and balances that requires Congress to participate in domestic and foreign-policy decision making.

Bush's anti-Constitutionalism was on full display today, as he echoed claims by his aides that it is somehow inappropriate for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to travel to Syria--a county the White House has tried, with almost no success, to isolate from the international community.

"Going to Syria sends mixed signals, signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to President Assad," Bush said. "And by that I mean, you know, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror."

The President is upset that Pelosi has chosen to take seriously the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended multilateral diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as a means of promoting stability in the the violence-torn nation and the region surrounding it. Despite the fact that the ISG was essentially led by his father's former Secretary of State, James Baker, Bush II had rejected the sort of bilateral diplomacy that allowed Bush I to work so well with Syria during the tense days before and after the first Gulf War.

"Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive,'' claims the Bush of the moment, illustrating once again the ahistoric approach to global affairs that has defined his presidency.

Just as the present President chooses not to be informed by the record of his father's era, he also rejects the intent of the founding fathers.

The Constitution makes clear that the Congress has broad authority to actively participate in foreign and military affairs. After all, the founders created the legislative branch as the first defined branch of government and afforded to it the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations," "to define and punish... offenses against the law of nations," "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water," and "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."

House and Senate leaders have a long history of being regular travelers abroad, and they have sometimes overstepped their boundaries. Famously, according to documents obtained by the National Security Archives at George Washington University, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, secretly advised Colombian authorities to ignore the human rights requirements that had been attached to US military aid allocations made to Colombia during the Clinton years.

But, while there are always fine lines to be walked by traveling legislative leaders, there has never been any real question of the intent that they should travel, consult, gather information and otherwise prepare themselves to check and balance the executive branch's international initiatives.

Translation: Speaker Pelosi travels to Syria and other diplomatic hot spots with the encouragement of James Madison and George Mason, if not George Bush. No, it's not Pelosi's job to negotiate treaties or to engage in the fine-tuning of diplomatic relations. That is usually, and appropriately, the work of the State Department, where the secretary in charge serves, yes, at the pleasure of the president but, also, with the approval and the oversight of the Congress.

It is Nancy Pelosi's job to open and maintain the lines of international communication that allow her--and, by extension, the Congress--to be full and active participants in the forging of America's foreign policy priorities. She does so not as an interloper on executive authority but as the leader of a co-equal branch of the federal government of the United States.


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.'"

Supreme Court Stands Up for the Polar Bears

The Supremes have spoken. George, we put you in the White House back in 2000, but we can't go along with your "junk science" on global warming. We order you and your weak-spined EPA to obey the law. Do something real about the climate-change carbon emissions from automobiles that are killing the polar bears. Or, if you decide not to do so, then give us an explanation based on science, not on the latest press release from your pals at Exxon Mobil.

How radical is that? Of course, the four Corporate Justices – Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito--choked and sputtered and pounded the bench. In the majesty of the Constitution, they insisted, this issue should never have come before the court. Leave it to the Congress. In the wisdom of democratic process, the lawmakers can decide whether to side with Al Gore and a zillion anxious scientists or the good folks from autos, oil and electric utilities who pass out the checks to deserving legislators.

After the court delivered its 5-4 decision, a political hack who fronts for the car makers, solemnly announced they "look forward to working constructively with both Congress and the administration." That's a hoot. Detroit has resisted every small step forward for forty years, starting with Ralph Nader's observation that many fewer people would be killed if the companies designed more for safety, less for testosterone.

The political muscle of the Big Three (now two and a half) has fought every measure for better fuel usage and cleaner tailpipe emissions. And, sad to say, the United Auto Workers, once one of the most progressive unions, marched side by side with the companies' reactionary strategy. The US industry, one can say, planned its own demise--building bigger and bigger gas wagons because they deliver more profit per pound--while those crafty Japanese engineers at Toyota were designing better cars--better mileage, less damage to nature.

The Supreme Court's other environmental case--a slam-dunk 9-0 decision against Duke Energy--provides a cautionary tale about the prospects for achieving real progress on global warming. I don't doubt that Congress will act, at least once there is a new president. But reformers should be very wary about joining the corporates in a cooperative mode.

Some leading corporations are sincerely committed to solutions, but the trade groups and industry lobbyists really want a hand in drafting the legislation so they can build in loopholes and escape hatches--legal gimmicks they can exploit later to stall on compliance.

That's what the case against Duke Energy was about. In 1970, when the Clean Air Act was first enacted, the electric utilities industry screamed and begged for dispensation. Repairing older power plants to reduce emissions would be hugely expensive and a waste of capital. Give us a "grandfather clause" that allows us to keep operating those old plants until they become obsolete--then we will build new plants with the latest pollution-control technologies.

Congress gave them that deal, partly to round up votes from coal-producing states. The industry has proceeded to ignore the terms ever since. Over many years, EPA and the Justice Department tried to get compliance. They tightened law, they sued the companies. Duke Energy and others filed appeals, stalled and dissembled and managed political fixes at the White House or Congress.

So here we are 37 years later--still waiting for these companies to obey the law. Even the Corporate Justices have had enough. The 9-0 ruling essentially said, for god's sake, obey the damn law.

If Congress enacts carbon legislation with the same friendly approach to the well-being of the polluters, the polar bears are not saved. They will be long gone before the titans of industry have changed their behavior.

Bush Defense Follies (continued)

Here's another nominee for the Best Bush Folly--the Administration's latest plan to expand its "missile defense shield" by locating a radar base and 10 missile interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland, respectively.

While too few among our pundit and political class are willing to expose the insanity of this plan, Czech and Polish citizens appear to have more sense --and guts.

According to the Financial Times, 70 percent of Czechs oppose the shield and Poles are evenly split – the latter is especially "surprising in a country that sees itself as the most pro-American in Europe."

Jan Neoral, the mayor of the Czech village of Trokavec where the radar site would be positioned, "…feels the US and Czech governments are lying about the dangers posed by the radars and the possible economic benefits that will accrue to villages in the area." In a village referendum on the radar 71 of 72 votes were against!

"Trokavec will get nothing but this harmful radar," Neoral told the Financial Times.

Many Poles would agree with Neoral's assessment. Even Radek Sikorski, Poland's Secretary of Defense until February of this year (and also a former fellow at a neocon think tank in DC who maintains many close contacts and friends in the US government), thinks this plan is a terrible idea. Writing in a Washington Post op-ed Sikorski put it bluntly: "… the war in Iraq has dented Central European trust. The spectacle of the US secretary of state at the UN Security Council solemnly presenting intelligence that proved unreliable shook our faith. Our old-fashioned expectation that the United States would show gratitude for our participation in Iraq also proved misplaced. Public perceptions of America are plummeting, while opposition to U.S.-led military operations, and above all to the proposed missile site, grows." Sikorski is particularly strong in laying out the potential for this proposal to "provoke a spiral of misunderstanding, weaken NATO, deepen Russian paranoia and cost the United States some of its last friends on the continent."

Indeed, the Bush proposal is further evidence of what Russia scholar Stephen Cohen (full disclosure: my husband) described last year in a Nation cover story as the current state of affairs between the US and Russia: "The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington." Cohen notes that the US unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in an attempt to build this missile defense shield which would also give the US first strike capability. It has abandoned real and meaningful reductions of nuclear stockpiles while developing new weapons. These actions "have all but abolished long-established US-Soviet agreements that have kept the nuclear peace for nearly fifty years," and a "dangerously provocative military encirclement of Russia and growing Russian suspicions of US intentions" will now only increase.

And for what?

"Their whole reason for what it is supposed to defend – the continental United States, The United States and western Europe, Europe only? – keeps shifting, depending on the political winds," says Victoria Samson, Research Analyst at the Center for Defense Information. "Now they're talking about creating a whole new interceptor - the two-stage version, which would presumably require a whole new testing regimen. But you don't hear about that last part. And what is this threat anyways? I think that the Administration is trying to create institutional momentum for missile defense so that whatever happens in the 2008 election, it will continue to steam ahead. The more money that gets spent on this program, the more voices are raised when discussions are made of future cuts. If you can get other countries involved in lobbying for this to continue, all the better from the perspective of the missile defense regime."

Samson notes that missile defense already receives more annually than any other Pentagon weapons system – $10.85 billion in FY 08 – despite the fact that it has "demonstrated [no] capability to defend the United States against enemy attack under realistic operational conditions."

Last year, Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, wrote in an op-ed that the Bush administration "broke the bars that had caged the nuclear beast." The latest missile defense follies only serve to make the beast more difficult to recapture. It's time for some sanity – call on Congress--and the Presidential candidates-- to end this missile defense fraud.

John McCain and the Jew-Counter

Every day, the presidential campaigns email to reporters press releases touting the endorsements they have most recently snagged. On Tuesday morning, the John McCain campaign, stinging from the news that its first-quarter fundraising efforts were anemic, zapped out word that GOP moneyman Fred Malek is joining the McCain team as a national finance co-chair. The press release hails Malek:

Fred Malek has been a pioneer in four professions including corporate management, government, politics, and finance. After distinguished service as an Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army, Malek joined the Marriott Corporation and rose to become president of Marriott Hotels and Resorts. He later served as president and co-CEO of Northwest Airlines.

Malek has played a central role in government over the past 30 years. He has served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He also served President Ronald Reagan in a number of advisory capacities and, in 1990, was Director of the Summit of Major Industrialized Nations--with the lifetime rank of Ambassador.

Malek's political career spans over three decades. In 1972, after Watergate, he served as the deputy chairman of President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. Malek was director of the 1988 Republican National Convention and campaign manager for President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

The McCain press shop left out an interesting piece of Malek's history: when he counted Jews for President Richard Nixon. Two years ago--when Malek was leading an investment group seeking to buy the new Washington Nationals baseball team, my friend Tim Noah at Slate reviewed Malek's dark past. Here's what he wrote:

It's one of the more gothic stories about Nixon related in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's The Final Days. As they tell it, late in 1971--the same year, coincidentally, that the Washington Senators moved to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers--Nixon

summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.

In 1988, when George Bush pere installed Malek as deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee, Woodward dusted off his notes and, with the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, further revealed that two months after Malek filed a memo on the matter--he'd counted 13 Jews, though his methodology was shaky--a couple of them were demoted. (Malek denied any role and said Nixon's notions of a "Jewish cabal" were "ridiculous" and "nonsense.") The 1988 story raised a predictable ruckus, and Malek beat a hasty retreat from the RNC. As exiles go, Malek's was pretty painless. He still got to run the 1988 Republican Convention (and in 1992 he would be Bush pere's campaign manager). He joined George W. Bush's syndicate to purchase the Rangers, he went on the board of the American-Israel Friendship Society, he took over Northwest Airlines, and he started an investment firm, Thayer Capital Partners.

Counting Jews was not Malek's only shady enterprise. As a Nixon aide, he set up a project that sought to influence government decisions to assist Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Colbert King described this program as "a scheme designed, organized and implemented...to politicize the federal government in support of Nixon's reelection." Citing a memo Malek wrote about the project, King noted,

The Malek memo also claimed another accomplishment: The steward of a dockworkers union local in Philadelphia, an active Nixon backer, had been accused of being responsible for illegal actions of the union's president. The Pennsylvania Committee to Reelect the President asked that the Labor Department rule in the steward's favor. It did, Malek claimed, adding that "this action had a very strong impact on the local ethnic union members."

Malek's responsiveness program was extensively investigated by the Senate Watergate committee. The panel found that the program was aimed at influencing decisions concerning government "grants, contracts, loans, subsidies, procurement and construction projects," decisions regarding "legal and regulatory actions," and even personnel decisions that affected protected "career positions" -- all to advance Nixon's reelection.

Malek, the committee determined, also called for channeling federal grants and loan money to blacks who would support Nixon's reelection efforts and, conversely, away from minorities who were considered administration foes. Equally striking, Malek wanted the program to be falsely structured so that Nixon and the White House would be dissociated from it in the event of a leak.

Malek was serious about keeping his pervert-the-government efforts secret. In a March 17, 1972 memo to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, Malek wrote,

No written communications from the White House to the Departments -- all information about the program would be transmitted verbally...documents prepared would not indicate White House involvement in any way."

Ten years later, the Republican led Senate government affairs committee refused to approve Malek's nomination to be a governor of the US Postal Service, in part because some senators believed he had not been testified straightforwardly about this program during a confimation hearing. Still, the Bush clan embraced him, and he went on to run the 1988 Republican convention and President George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful 1992 reelection campaign. Last year, Malek's group lost its bid to buy the Washington Nationals. These days, he chairs two private equity firms and sits on the advisory committee for the Scooter Libby defense fund.

The McCain campaign press release quotes McCain saying, "Fred is an inspiring public servant who has served our nation well. I am honored to have his support and look forward to his guidance and counsel in the days and months ahead." Inspiring? How's that for straight talk? Is McCain, who once upon a time campaigned as a good-government candidate, truly inspired by Malek's days as a Nixon lieutenant, when Malek tallied Jews, rigged government contracts, and improperly influenced law enforcement and regulatory decisions? If McCain has to turn to Malek for help in fundraising, his campaign surely is in difficult straits.


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.