The Nation

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.'"

Time to Micromanage the War

Congressional Republicans are planting a trap for Democrats by accusing them of trying to micromanage the war in Iraq by deciding how additional billions of dollars be spent. It's an argument Democrats could easily rebut--if only moderates in the party would let them try.

Instead, conservative Democrats are playing right into the GOP's hands by criticizing efforts by Jack Murtha to force the military to meet normal readiness standards before escalating the war.

"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat who was instrumental in blocking Bill Clinton's healthcare plan, told the Washington Post today. "If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," added Rep. Chet Edwards, another Zell Miller donkey.

It's amazing that some Democrats would quibble with the notion that troops be properly rested, equipped and trained before deploying for battle, as the Murtha plan mandates. Are critics of Murtha's plan intentionally trying to endanger the troops? George W. Bush had four years to run the war exactly as he liked, with no Congressional oversight and no restrictions on funding. Look where it's gotten us. Republicans broke the military and lost the war. The last thing Democrats need to do is to throw our hapless Commander-in-Chief a life raft.

Hillary's Stalking Horse Leaves the Field

Having served his none-too-subtle role in the grand scheme of the 2OO8 presidential competition -- keeping as many Iowa Democrats as possible "locked up" until New York Senator Hillary Clinton got her campaign up and running in the first caucus state -- former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack today announced his exit from the race for the Democratic nomination.

Vilsack launched his run early and made as much noise as could be expected from a nowhere-in-the-polls candidate with a vague message and even vaguer hopes of raising the funds needed to mount a truly national campaign. But his brief candidacy -- which was quietly advised and encouraged by Democratic strategists with long and close ties to the Clinton camp -- never really amounted to much more than a blocking move for the New York senator with whom he worked closely as a leader of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council centrist.

For his trouble, the Iowan will earn a little bit of speculation about his vice presidential prospects -- nil. And, if Clinton actually wins the presidency, about his Cabinet prospects -- pretty good, if he's willing to settle for Secretary of Agriculture; a bit slimmer if he wants something muscular like Energy.

From the start, Vilsack's job was to present himself as a respectable alternative to the other Democratic candidates who, while he would go nowhere in states other than Iowa, could remain in the running with his fellow Hawkeyes until it was time to get out of Clinton's way.

Even that modest task proven difficult.

Iowa Democrats never took Vilsack's candidacy all that seriously. The latest Strategic Vision survey of potential Democratic caucus goers had former North Carolina Senator John Edwards at 24 percent, Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama each at 18 percent, and Vilsack with 14 percent.

That's consistent with other polls. It is consistent, as well, with the reaction of key Democrats in Iowa, who dismissed Vilsack's candidacy as they rushed to jump aboard other bandwagons. After Obama officially announced his candidacy earlier this month, two of Iowa's most prominent Democratic officials, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, endorsed the Illinoisan.

And Edwards has a grassroots operation in the state that borrows far deeper into most Democratic precincts than that of Vilsack, who quickly came to understand that the definitional phrase in the term "former governor" is "former."

Had the 2OO8 race begun more slowly, Vilsack might have had a better run. The original plan was for Clinton launch her campaign at the relatively leisurely pace of a clear front runner. With that in mind, Clintonites quietly encouraged Vilsack to get in the race early and to run hard -- in order to prevent the Edwards campaign from gaining too much of a lead in the essential first-caucus state.

But Obama changed everything. After achieving superstar status on the fall 2OO6 campaign trail for Democrats around the country, the senator made it clear in early January that he intended to seek the party's presidential nod. That forced Clinton to move her schedule forward and to hightail it into Iowa in order to counter the Obama surge.

Clinton's moves were smart, and effective. She's holding her own in a state where it was thought she would have a hard time. But the former First Lady's fast start turned Vilsack's candidacy into little more than an annoyance. There was no longer a need to have a homeboy candidate keep Iowa's county chairs on the sidelines -- either backing their former governor or at least refusing to make endorsements that might embarrass him. In fact, Vilsack was in the way. Whatever money might have slid into his campaign accounts from DLC-tied donors dried up, and the Clintonistas who had been giving him encouragement were now encouraging him to quit the race and let Hillary grab up as many of his Iowa backers as possible.

Not without an ego, Vilsack tried to pump some energy into his flagging campaign by moving left. The man who chaired the DLC for most of the past two years suddenly abandoned the group's modestly pro-war approach to the Iraq imbroglio and started talking about the need to bring the troops home. But, as the Hotline political wire noted this week, "Even Vilsack's anti-Iraq war message fell on deaf blogger ears."

After this week's Nevada forum for the Democratic presidential candidates, the Daily Kos savaged the Iowan's response to the question: What have you done to end the war?

"What has Vilsack done to end this war?" asked Kos. "[Where] was he the last few years? Well, for one, he was chair of the Democratic Leadership Council between 2005-2007. ... Of course, the DLC has been a haven for pro-war Democratic warmongers, and has been used by the media to paint a picture of a divided party."


So Vilsack's out. As Des Moines Register political writer David Yepson correctly notes, "Vilsack's departure does little to change the nature of the national race -- he was getting less than 1 percent in the polls."

Even In Iowa, Vilsack's exit will mean only a little.

A few savvy staffers will be freed up for hire by the other campaigns, and grassroots Dems who remained with Vilsack will now be getting calls from Clinton, Obama, Edwards and others. And Vilsack? He'll talk about keeping his options open for awhile. But watch for him to eventually join the Clinton camp that he never really left.


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.'"

PJ O'Rourke Does Adam Smith

Yesterday I was invited to attend a fundraiser for the CATO Institute with special guest PJ O'Rourke who is on a book tour for his new book, which is a pretty ingenious idea. He basically slogged his way through the entirety of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (a book I've tried to read numerous times with no success) and then wrote a kind of digest/rumination.

Because I'm an idiot, I misread the invitation and came late, which meant I missed the free lunch (further proving Milton Friedman's famous dictum on the matter), but was able to catch O'Rourke's talk. It was pretty standard libertarian fare. But two things struck me. One, I may be totally biased here, but I think it's far more mainstream in conservative circles to compare Democrats to evil, odious figures than it is on the center-left.

At one point O'Rourke said, Smith's lesson was that either you have unfettered free trade of goods and services or you start meddling in trades and you have, and I quote, "North Korea and Nancy Pelosi." Big laugh. I'm trying to come up with an equivalent statement that would have been said at, say, a Center for American Progress fundraiser. "Either you regulate markets to enforce some moral order or you get Tom Delay and slave ships"? That's not quite right, but even so, I can't imagine it getting uttered at a CAP function.

Also, there's something just maddeningly condescending about the rhetoric of libertarianism and-free market orthodoxy. Time and time again O'Rourke made the point that politicians, specifically, Democrats, "don't understand" Smith in particular and markets in general. There was never any consideration that perhaps people understand Smith and markets, they just have different value judgments about relative trade-offs of equity and efficiency, or -- gasp! -- a more sophisticated understandings of the complexity of markets, market failure and political economy than some conservative humorist who sat down and read a really long book.

Abolitionists Then and Now

A new film called Amazing Grace, opening today, marks the bicentennial of the end of slavery in Britain, portraying the British abolitionist movement as led by activist and Member of Parliament William Wilberforce. In conjunction with the movie, Bristol Bay Productions has launched the Amazing Change campaign in an effort to raise people's awareness about the continuing existence of slavery and build a movement of 21st century abolitionists "to complete William Wilberforce's unfinished work."

There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today and at least 10,000 in the United States--144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 200 years after Britain ended its participation in the slave trade. In contrast, there were approximately 15 million people enslaved during 150 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

"Anything that brings awareness to slavery in history of the present is positive," says Eric Foner, the leading historian on post-Civil War reconstruction. "If people fighting slavery today identify with the abolitionists, that's good."

There is little doubt that this film will have some of the common pitfalls of any Hollywood biopic. Indeed, reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post have called it "prettified", "an imperfect look at an imperfect soul", and "earnest to a fault." But reviewers have also noted the compelling political, moral, and educational aspects of the film, as well as some brilliant performances by great British actors.

Christopher Brown, professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism, anticipates some of these strengths and weaknesses in the movie: "There is a danger that the abolition of the British slave trade will be reduced to the heroism of one individual and, arguably, not the most important individual. Thomas Clarkson, for example, was absolutely essential to this history too. And the accomplishment of abolition in 1807 had as much to do with Britain's mastery of the sea lanes during the long wars with Napoleonic France. Still, I am glad this subject comes to public attention through this important bicentennial. In the United States, we don't learn enough about the history of slavery and the slave trade outside of our national borders, nor do we often realize the history, character, and importance of antislavery movements outside of the British Isles."

The contemporary anti-slavery campaign--Amazing Change--will produce some unlikely bedfellows. Philip F. Anschutz, who has ties to the conservative Christian right, owns Bristol Bay Productions. But it's worth remembering that the role religion played in the work of abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries was striking, and there are historic ties between the religious community and progressives. (In fact, The Nation was founded by American abolitionists). The Amazing Change campaign is trying to match Wilberforce's astounding achievement by collecting 390,000 signatures on its own petition to end modern slavery.

The organization says petitions will be presented to government officials around the world to "demonstrate our desire to see the emancipation of slaves and accountability for slave masters and others who benefit from the enslavement of people."

If the film sparks a wider movement to end contemporary slavery, any artistic shortcomings or historical inaccuracies will pale in comparison to its achievement.

If they gave an Academy Award for the year's best progressive film, who would the winner be? Cast your vote in The Nation poll.

Mainstream Media Discover Antiwar GIs

A story The Nation broke eight weeks ago about the growing movement of active-duty military dissenters against the war will get a nationwide television audience Sunday on CBS News' 60 Minutes.

The soldiers and sailors who organized the Appeal for Redress and who petitioned Congress last month to bring the troops home from Iraq will be interviewed and profiled by CBS correspondent Lara Logan. At the time The Nation published its story, we found about 1,000 officers and rank and file personnel had signed on to the effort, from all branches of the military, some stationed stateside and others on the frontlines in Iraq.

At latest count that number had grown to more than 1,300. After 60 Minutes airs its report, that number could multiply quickly. Read our original report here.

Getting Conyers His Conscience Back

Ouch. It hurts to listen to. This was Representative John Conyers,speaking to a troops-out demonstration this past January in WashingtonDC:

"George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him theIraq war is failing. But let me tell you something. He can't fire you.He can't fire us. But we can fire him!"

Many took those words to mean that Conyers, the chair of the HouseJudiciary Committee, was serious about firing this president, meaning,impeaching the man, along with the vice president he rode in on.

But this was Conyers, progressive Democrat of Michigan, speakingrecently on Pacifica's Democracy Now, explaining why, although he hasthe authority, he's not going to initiate impeachment proceedings.

"Impeachments come to the Judiciary Commitee. And, believe me, to tieup this government just as we're trying to stop the war and the clockis running on both the President and the Vice President, I think wouldbe a mistaken strategy. We've got to win the next election which isnext year."

Winning the election, he told Democracy Now, is what he meant by"firing" the president. Yeah right. Like firing a senior on the day hegraduates. It hurts to listen to because what you're hearing is thesound of consciousness – razing -- as in razor, as in destroy or levelor scrape. What you're hearing is the leveling, scraping away of aman's conscience. Probably no one's done more than RepresentativeConyers and his staff have done to investigate Bush White House crimes,from wiretapping and torture to misleading the country into an illegalwar.

Luckily for Rep. Conyers, grassroots activists may save his conscienceyet.

This week in Olympia, Washington, more than 800 people packed into a meetingwith Elizabeth De La Vega and State Senator Eric Oemig, who isintroducing a resolution to petition the US House for impeachements.About half that number worked throughout last weekend to come up with anational strategy on which impeachment activists could unite. A lot isgoing on on the impeachment front. It's just been hard to see.Different groups have prioritized different grounds for impeachment--there's no shortage-- from Iraq, to Guatánamo to signing statementsand illegal wiretapping and gross negligence in hurricane Katrina'swake.

Now a broad array of organizations have launched a new coalition thatbrings scores of groups together, from the Center for ConstitutionalRights to Hip Hop Caucus, to Progressive Democrats ofAmerica, Code Pink, After Downing Street, the Green Party of the USAand The World Can't Wait.

Impeach07 has national and local demonstrations planned, along with anational day of action on April 28. Oemig isn't alone. Legislators inthree states--New Mexico, Washington and Vermont have made movestowards petitioning the Congress. And no topic provokes more calls toRadioNation on Air America--people want accountability even if theirleaders don't.

Fox Attacks

Guerrilla documentarian Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Films team have been in the forefront of pioneering innovative ways to fund, produce and distribute progressive and timely films and videos. Their recent web video, The Real McCain, rapidly made its way around the internet and was featured on 360 blogs who linked to it.

Now, Brave New Films is turning its attention to Fox News' regular distortions and dissembling on behalf of right-wing candidates and causes. Fox's recent crusade against Barack Obama has been relentless and dirty as a new short video by Brave New Films demonstrates.

Fox Attacks: Obama is the first of a series of short videos designed to challenge Fox News. Please watch it, then send it around to others. And if you're sufficiently outraged, use some of the tools at FoxAttacks.com to take action against Fox's mendacity.

You can start by signing a petition asking the Democratic Party of Nevada not to partner with Fox on the first Democratic debate this coming August, as it has announced it is planning to do.

The next step being urged by BNF is to watch Fox, identify local businesses that are advertising on the Fox News Channel and enter their contact information into a database so that activists can pressure these advertisers to stop supporting Fox. Once these companies are identified, we can (politely) urge them to stop advertising on Fox until and unless the network stops acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. Click here for details.