The Nation

The Cunningham Scandal: A White House Link?

It's a cliche: what a difference a Democratic congressional majority makes. The US attorney scandal, Walter Reed, the suppression of global warming data, the FBI's misuse of national security letters--Democratic legislators have been demanding documents, testimony and answers. Given that they now hold the purse strings and can shoot out subpoenas, the Democrats can no longer be ignored by the White House, executive agencies, and the media. Representative Henry Waxman, the relentless Democratic chairman of the government oversight and reform committee, has been leading the pack in investigating allegations of administration wrongdoing. (See my 2005 profile of Waxman here.) There's a lot for Waxman to cover, and he's being thorough. Consider the letter he sent the White House on Monday.

In that note to Joshua Bolten, President Bush's chief of staff, Waxman requested information about a $140,000 contract the White House awarded in July 2002 to MZM, Inc. This was Mitchell Wade's company. He's the (now former-) military contractor who paid more than $1 million in bribes to Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who's in jail for having accepted these and other bribes in return for steering federal contracts to Wade and Brent Wilkes, another defense contractor. (Wade pleaded guilty; Wilkes has not.) What's intriguing about the contract Wade received from the White House is that its amount equals the price Wade paid in August 2002 to buy the Duke-Stir, the yacht Cunningham lived (and partied) on in Washington. According to the sentencing recommendation memo in Cunningham's case, Cunningham himself negotiated the $140,000 purchase price of the boat in the summer of 2002. This raises the intriguing possibility that Wade that summer needed money to buy Cunningham the yacht and--presto--a White House contract materialized.

And there's more: this contract was Wade's first prime contract with the federal government. The firm had been incorporated in 1993 but had pulled in no revenue through 2001. So Cunningham scandal watchers have wondered, did a White House contract help launch Wade on his felonious ways, and was this contract legitimate?

The modest contract reportedly covered supplying computers and office furniture to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. By the time it was signed, MZM, which had become an approved federal contractor only two months earlier, was already bribing Cunningham, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee. Two months later, in September 2002, MZM hit it big, scoring a $250 million, five-year contract with the General Services Administration. Look at the timeline, one congressional investigator notes: May, MZM was listed as a federal supplier; July, it won a White House contract for $140,000; September, it obtained a $250 million contract. A not-too-suspicious mind could wonder if something--or someone--was juicing the process.

A look at that first contract--and how it had come to be--would seem a no-brainer for investigators. Plenty of MZM's subsequent doings have been probed. But as Waxman notes, "To date, however, there has been no examination of the circumstances surrounding MZM's initial federal contract and the role that White House officials played in the award and execution of the contract."

Months ago, I tried to obtain information about this contract. According to federal procurement records, the contract was for "ADP systems development services" and "custom computer programming services." What did MZM do for the White House under these terms? I contacted the Interior Department. Why Interior? It's home to an interagency contracting office that handles procurement for the White House. This office was established during the Clinton administration as a good-government measure aimed at consolidating contracting efforts. But this procurement reform has become subject to abuse. A recent Senate armed services committee hearing examined how this change in the procurement system has allowed agencies to escape effective oversight. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report slammed the Interior Department's interagency contracting office for "significant problems" in handling Pentagon contracts granted to CACI International for interrogation and "other intelligence-related services" in Iraq.

I asked the Interior Department if I could obtain a copy of the MZM contract under the Freedom of Information Act. The answer: you can submit a FOIA request, but you won't get anything. "It's national security," an Interior official told me, reciting various exemptions. The release of this information, he said, was restricted not by the Interior Department but by the Executive Office of the President because it "includes techniques and procedures used by the Secret Service for law enforcement investigations" and because its disclosure "could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." He added, "There is no way to get any details."

A committee chairman with access to subpoenas might have better luck. Waxman has asked for all MZM contracts related to the White House and other materials, such as any communications between Wade, Wilkes, MZM officials and White House employees. Waxman's request also covers communications between the White House and Interior relating to MZM--for the obvious reason.

It could be that MZM in the summer of 2002 managed to snag a small White House contract in legitimate fashion, even as Wade was plotting a quick, bribery-greased rise to the top. But given that the Cunningham/MZM tale is one of sleaze and crime--I haven't even mentioned the prostitutes Cunningham received as bribes--Wade's first contract with the Bush administration deserves scrutiny. Republican legislators--no surprise--expressed no interest in this when they ran Congress. And, coincidentally or not, the US attorney in charge of the Cunningham case, Carol Lam, is one of the prosecutors who was fired by the Bush administration. But here comes Waxman, and the Case of MZM's First Contract is alive and open.

Update: See this Talking Points Memo posting for more news on this MZM contract.


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.

Exxon's Shame

Alaskan wood carver Mike Webber unveiled his "Shame Pole" this past Friday in Cordova to mark the 18th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which devastated the area and ruined lucrative herring and salmon fisheries.

The pole tells the grim story of the spill: sea ducks, a sea otter and eagle float dead on oil. A sick herring with lesions is featured. There's a boat for sale with a family crew on board, commemorating fishermen who went belly up, and a bottle of booze to remind people that Joe Hazelwood, who was captain of the Exxon Valdez, had been drinking before turning the helm of the ship over. Topping the pole is the upside-down face of former longtime Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, sporting a Pinocchio-like nose.

None of these apocalyptic images were the hardest part of the job however, as Webber told the Anchorage Daily News. "No, the toughest part was etching the words 'We will make you whole again' from the trunk of yellow cedar,' said the Alaska Native carver. That infamous promise was made to the state's inhabitants after the spill by Don Cornett, formerly Exxon's top official in Alaska.

The reality is that after eighteen years and countless false promises, ExxonMobil has still not paid the billions of dollars in punitive damages that the courts have determined it owes the spill victims--this despite the fact that the company posted the most profitable year in 2006 of any corporation in history. In 1994, a federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, Native Alaskans, and other plaintiffs in a class action suit against the oil giant. But rather than accepting its obligations Exxon has been fighting the verdict, employing hundreds of lawyers, filing countless appeals and effectively buying science that supports its claims.

This has added injury to injury as more than 30,000 people whose lives and livelihood were disrupted by the spill have now been dragged through years of litigation. During this time, according to the advocacy group ExposeExxon whose excellent mailing prompted this column, 6,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for compensation.

The company is even employing a strategy straight from the White House's fact-challenged department by arguing that the affected area of Prince William Sound has recovered and is "healthy, robust and thriving." (The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council reports that, in fact, the multi-million dollar herring fish industry, which once supported thousands of lives and livelihoods in the area, remains closed indefinitely.)

As Ashley Shelby concluded in an extensive investigative report outlining Exxon's legal tricks and maneuvers in the April 5, 2004 issue of The Nation, this is a classic story of how corporations can use and abuse the legal system and the seeming apathy of the federal government to avoid responsibility for their actions. It's been twelve years since a federal jury awarded the fishers and Natives on the Cordova sound $5.2 billion in punitive damages from Exxon, but not a single check from that award has been cut.

Thus, Webber's Shame Pole, which is in the long-standing tradition of his Tlingit ancestors, who carved such poles to embarrass rich people who owed society.

ExposeExxon is offering facsimile solidarity to Webber and his educational campaign. Click here to send a fax to Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson and Exxon Board Chair Michael J. Boskin imploring them to stop appealing the guilty verdicts and pay the damages the company owes.

You can also help get the word out about ExxonMobil's misdeeds by distributing flyers in front of your neighborhood Exxon or Mobil stations, by passing the information out generally, and by writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper asking them to report on Exxon's continued refusal to pay its debts. (Click here for downloadable materials.) Lastly, if you can make it to the next exit without stopping, try to speed past Exxon and Mobil gas stations! It should be pretty simple to refuse to buy the company's gas.

Public to Dems: Investigate Onward!

Pontificators of conventional wisdom in Washington have been warning Democrats not to overreach in their probe of why 8 US Attorneys were unexpectedly fired last December. "It seems doubtful that Democrats can help themselves a great deal just by tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys," Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday.

Broder's an astute analyst of polling, so let's hope he sees the latest USA Today poll on Attorneygate [see questions 14-16]. Seventy-two percent of the public believes Congress should investigate the involvement of White House officials. When asked how the Bush Administration should respond to a Congressional probe, 68 percent of respondents want top officials to "answer all questions." The same number believe White House aides should testify under oath.

It seems pretty clear cut what the public wants Congress to do on this front. Of course they'd like Democrats to try and pass substantial pieces of legislation (even though President Bush will probably veto them). But they also realize that after six years of one-party rule, a measure of accountability is long overdue.

Getting Serious About the "I" Word

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough had me on his MSNBC show tonight to talk about impeachment.

It was smart, civil discussion that treated the prospect of impeaching the president as a serious matter.

Scarborough took the lead in suggesting that Bush's biggest problem might be that Republicans in the House and Senate who -- fearful of the threat Bush poses to their political survival -- do not appear to be rallying 'round the president. The host's sentiments were echoed by two other guests, columnist Mike Barnicle and Salon's Joan Walsh.

The impetus for the show was Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel's ongoing discussion of the impeachment prospect -- Hagel's not quite a supporter of sanctioning Bush, more a speculator about the prospect -- and a new column by Robert Novak that suggests Bush has dwindling support within the congressional wing of the GOP.

Speaking about impeachment on ABC's "This Week," Hagel said, "Any president who says 'I don't care' or 'I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else' or 'I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed' -- if a president really believes that, then there (are) ways to deal with that."

Novak wrote "The I-word (incompetence) is used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to described a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. 'We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,' one House leader told me. 'How can we claim that anymore?'"

Scarborough drew the two statements together for the purpose of asking whether Bush could count on Republicans to block moves by Congressional Democrats to hold Bush to account for high crimes and misdemeanors.

When a conservative commentator who was on the frontlines of Newt Gingrich's "Republican revolution" entertains a thoughtful conversation about the politics and processes of impeachment on a major cable news network, it should be clear that the cloistered conversation about sanctioning this president has begun to open up.

No, Scarborough is not jumping on the impeachment bandwagon.

He is simply treating the prospect seriously, as did CNN's Wolf Blitzer earlier in the day.

What I told Scarborough is what I have been saying in public forums for the past several weeks: We are nearing an impeachment moment. The Alberto Gonzales scandal, the under-covered but very real controversy involving abuses of the Patriot Act and the president's increasingly belligerent refusals to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government are putting the discussion of presidential accountability onto the table from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to remove it.

Does this mean Bush and Cheney will be impeached? That, of course, will be decided by the people. Impeachment at its best is always an organic process; it needs popular support or it fizzles -- as with the attempt by House Republican leaders to remove former President Clinton in a process that, fairly or not, seemed to be all about blue dresses.

While the people saved Clinton – by signaling to their representatives that they opposed sanctioning a president's personal morals – it does not appear that they are inclined to protect Bush.

With each new revelation about what Gonzales did at the behest of the Bush White House to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys, the revulsion with the way this president has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law becomes more intense. And citizens are not cutting their president much slack.

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll -- conducted over the weekend -- shows that, by close to a 3-to-1 margin, Americans want Congress to issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify in the Gonzales case. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed say the president should drop his claim of executive privilege in this matter, while only 26 percent agree with the reasoning Bush has used to try and block a meaningful inquiry.

If the president wants to get in a fight with Congress over how to read the Constitution, it appears that the people will back Congress. And that backing is what will begin to restore the backbones of House members who, despite Pelosi's attempts to quiet talk of impeachment, are getting more and more intrigued by the prospect of holding this president to account.

As Hagel says, "This is not a monarchy. There are ways to deal with (executive excess). And I would hope the president understands that."

If Bush doesn't recognize this reality now, he soon will.


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.'"

No Special Rights

Nonbinding this and that, deadline lah-di-dah, Bush/Cheney are going to ignore the mandate of the midterm elections and every pressure from Congress on Iraq, because Bush/Cheney know their opponents' bark has no bite. And that's because those opponents have yet to renounce the Bush/Cheney vision of US supremacy in the world. In fact, mostly, they share it.

William Pfaff> writes about US Manifest Destiny in the New York Review of Books: "It is something like heresy to suggest that the US does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations," he writes. Bush/Cheney tap into a belief that's as old as the state itself. (Pfaff quotes Paine: "The case and circumstances of America present themselves as in the beginning of the world… We are as if we we had lived in the beginning of time.")

Belief in US "exceptionalism" is the hop-skip-jump that led to US intervention in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Central America--and now Iraq. It's the "exception" that okays the breaking of global rules, from the Geneva Convention, to the conventions against torture to the chucking-out of Habeas Corpus. Like Dirty Harry, Bush knows Americans believe "good" cops can break the rules if they're on a mission to save the world from terror, evil, tyranny.

Neo-cons came up with the chilling phrase "The New American Century," but even their critics accept the concept. In his testimony to Congress on global warming, Al Gore referred not once but a handful of times to the US "unique" role to save the planet.

At the risk of being burnt at the stake I'd like to suggest that this month provides a special chance to review all this stuff about specialness. March 25 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament's abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (A US law took effect in 1808.) To take a second look at the foundations of the country is to be reminded of the reality behind the rhetoric.

The New World wasn't so new. Ask the people who lived here. Slavery wasn't a new beginning. It was ancient. The first place to throw off slavery was Haiti in 1801, sixty-three years ahead of the United States. That makes Haiti special. Does it give Haiti a unique role in the world, to invade other countries and pursue a Project for a New Haitian Century?

We've got the brawn, but does that give us the right or the responsibility to rule the world? The problem isn't this deadline or that. The problem is the ideology of supremacy. The same ideology (that some are by nature better, or more valuable than others) that undergirded slavery in the first place.

Commentary, RadioNation, 3/24/2007.

Right about Iraq, Written Out of the Story

Among the missing-in-action of these last years are all those Americans who went out into the streets before the invasion of Iraq began, part of the largest global antiwar demonstrations ever mounted. Even a fine piece like Frank Rich's "The Ides of March 2003," his recent return to the countdown to war, leaves out that mass of people -- a distinct minority in the U.S., but already part of a global majority.

They carried a plethora of handmade signs, including "No blood for oil," "Contain Saddam -- and Bush," "Uproot Shrub," "Oil for Brains, We Don't Buy It, Liberate Florida," "The Bush administration is a material breach," "Pre-emptive war is terrorism," "W is not healthy for Iraqis and other living things," "Use our Might to Persuade, not Invade," "Give Peace a Chance, Give Inspections a Chance," "How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand," "Peace is Patriotic," and thousands more. In their essential grasp of the situation, they were on target and they marched directly into the postwar period in vast numbers before seemingly disappearing from the scene and then being wiped from history.

It wasn't, as people now often claim, that almost everyone was gulled and manipulated into supporting this war by the Bush administration, that no one could have had any sense of what a disaster was in the making. Millions of Americans had a strong sense of what might be coming down the pike and many of them actively tried to stop it from happening. I certainly did and I found myself repeatedly in crowds of staggering size.

Women traced out pleas for peace naked on beaches, while in the Antarctic well bundled bodies formed similar peace signs in the snow. And almost everywhere on the planet hundreds of thousands, millions, marched. After the invasion was launched and we had broken Iraq like a Pottery Barn vase, Americans in startling numbers went to the effort of officially apologizing in photos at the Sorry Everyone website.

The demonstrations of that moment were impressive enough that my hometown paper, the New York Times, which loves to cover large demonstrations as if they were of no significance, had a fine front-page piece by Patrick Tyler claiming that we might be seeing the planet's other superpower out on the streets.

Here is a description I offered of an enormous demonstration in New York City four days after the shock-and-awe invasion was launched:

"Twenty to thirty minutes after the group I was with ended our march at Washington Square and dispersed, I called my son -- thanks to the glories of the cell phone -- and he told me he was stuck at the end of the march over 30 blocks north of us. And we hadn't even been near the front of the march. That's a lot of people and there were sizeable crowds of onlookers, cheering from the street side as well as people waving or offering V signs from windows all along the way. It was a remarkably upbeat experience. We were all, perhaps, stunned by the evidence of our existence. Many, many young people. Wonderful signs. Drums and music. Roaring waves of cheers at the end. I think we felt something like shock and awe -- of the genuine kind -- that we had not gone away, that we were not likely to go away."

And then, in a sense, we were gone. And yet, in another sense, we never left the scene.

At the time the invasion was launched, polls showed over 70% of Americans in support of the President's war (or in a state of terror about terror, should we not stop Saddam Hussein from nuking us). Now, here we are, four years later, and the pundits who were telling us that we should indeed do it are still familiar fixtures on our TVs, while the faces of the pundits who didn't, and of the Americans, in their millions, who arrived at similar conclusions and tried to stop possibly the maddest, most improvident war in our history, have been erased from memory.

And yet, to offer a little hope to those who believe that the mainstream media holds the idling brains of hundreds of millions of Americans helplessly in its thrall, that we are all merely the manipulated, let's consider something curious indeed: The general point of view of the minority represented in those giant prewar demonstrations took deep hold as time passed and has now been embraced by a striking majority.

Back in December 2006, when James Baker's Iraq Study Group released its report -- and was hailed in the press for finding genuine "common ground" on Iraq -- I argued that the American people, without much help from politicians or the media, "had formed their own Iraq Study Group and arrived at sanity well ahead of the elite and all the 'wise men' in Washington."

The Bush administration, of course, rejected the findings of the Iraq Study Group, while the Democrats, by and large, accepted them. But no one turned out to be particularly interested in the "Iraq Study Group" formed by ordinary Americans whose "findings" were expressed in that least active of all forms: the opinion poll (and later, the midterm election). Nonetheless, the numbers in those polls represent a modest miracle, if you think about it.

According to a poll released that December by the reliable Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 58% of Americans wanted a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq on a timeline -- 18% within six months, 25% within a year, 15% within two years; 68% of Americans wanted us completely out of that country with no permanent bases left behind, including a majority of Republicans -- despite the fact, that you could search the American press, most of the time, in vain for any indication that the Bush administration had built a series of vast military bases, big enough to have multiple bus routes and capable of housing 20,000 or more American troops and contractors. In addition, according to PIPA, by the end of 2006, 60% of Americans had reached the conclusion that the U.S. military presence was "provoking more conflict than it is preventing"; while only 35% still thought it a "stabilizing force" in Iraq.

Too bad we don't have similar polls for politicians, opinion-makers, and media gatekeepers. They would surely bear little relation to PIPA's findings.

In 2007, if anything, such polling figures have only grown more emphatic. A recent Newsweek poll, for instance, offered the following figures: 69% of Americans disapprove of the President's "handling" of the Iraqi situation; 61% think the U.S. is losing ground in Iraq; 64% oppose the President's "surge" plan; 59% favor Congressional legislation requiring the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the fall of 2008.

In the most recent CNN poll, 61% of Americans feel the decision to launch the invasion of Iraq was "not worth it"; 54% think the U.S. will not win there; 58% believe we should either withdraw "now" or "in a year"; in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 58% favor total withdrawal from Iraq either immediately or within 12 months. So it goes in poll after poll, while the President's approval ratings continue their slow slide into the low 30s.

Let's remember, by the way, that, unlike mainstream Democratic "withdrawal" plans, the American public is talking about actually leaving Iraq, as in that old, straightforward slogan of the Vietnam era: Out now! In other words, there is a hardly noted but growing gap -- call it, in Vietnam-era-speak, a "credibility gap" -- between the Washington consensus and what the American people believe should be done when it comes to Iraq.

Add in one more odd fact here: It's possible that American public opinion is now actually closer in its conclusions to its Iraqi equivalent than to the Washington consensus. A number of recent polls, in which Iraqis expressed grim feelings about what has happened to their country, have been released and, like the American polls, they seem to reflect a belief that American forces are anything but "stabilizing" and an urge simply to have the Americans out. A PIPA September 2006 poll found "that seven in ten Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year."

The question is, of course, will this public sea change someday be translated into actual policy?

This is part of a longer piece, "Demobilizing America," at Tomdispatch.com on why public opinion about the Iraq War has become so strong and has diverged so much from the "Washington consensus," while public protest has remained so relatively weak.

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.