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March 27, 2006 | The Nation

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March 27, 2006

Cover: Cover art by Brian Stauffer, cover design by Gene Case & Stephen Kling/Avenging Angels

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The Editors acknowledge the third anniversary of the Iraq War, Christian Parenti files a dispatch from Afghanistan and Helen Thomas assails the cowardice of the White House press corps.

Letters

LIBERALS, LIBERALS EVERYWHERE

Washington, DC

In his March 6 "Liberal Media" column, titled "The Gasbag Gap,"
which discusses the Sunday-morning public affairs broadcasts, Eric
Alterman writes that "every week" on This Week With George
Stephanopoulos
, Mr. Stephanopoulos seeks the wisdom of George Will and
Fareed Zakaria "with no balance whatsoever." By that, he means no
liberal or progressive voice. Had Alterman done some basic research, he
would have seen how false that statement was.

It is true that Will appears almost every week and Zakaria has been on
more than fifteen times in the past year (though not every week). Both
provide keen insight for our viewers. However, it is not true, as
Alterman suggests, that Sam Donaldson no longer appears on the
roundtable. In fact, he appeared eleven times over the past year.
Alterman also fails to note, perhaps because he failed to check, that
the following liberals and progressives have also appeared on the
roundtable over the past year: E.J. Dionne (four times), Robert Reich
(two times), Donna Brazile (six times), Kweise Mfume (two times), Mario
Cuomo, Paul Begala, Paul Krugman, Howell Raines, Cynthia Tucker, Walter
Dellinger, and last--but certainly not least--Nation editor and
publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel (three times).

KATHERINE O'HEARN
Executive Producer, This Week With George Stephanopoulos


ALTERMAN REPLIES

New York City

"Basic research" or no, Katherine O'Hearn's critique strikes me
as a kind of bait-and-switch operation. I never said liberals are
unrepresented on This Week. I said, based on the careful research of
Media Matters for America, that they are consistently overmatched. And
they are. The study, which offered an extremely generous definition of
"progressive," found that during Clinton's second term, Republicans and
conservatives outmatched Democrats and progressives on the show by
a margin of 45 percent to 39 percent. During the first Bush term,
the figures were 40 percent Republican/conservative and just
28 percent Democratic/liberal. With progressive journalists, as
opposed to officials, the figures are more heavily weighted toward the
right; 54 to 33 during the second Clinton term and 36 to 17 during the
first Bush term (with the rest coded as "neutral," again extremely
generously).

That O'Hearn can name a few progressives who have appeared with Will in
no way contradicts anything I wrote; nor do the few appearances of
liberal journalists like E.J. Dionne (who, I noted, was the only
exception in the study) and my boss, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Will's
appearances probably number in the four figures over the past twenty
years, and he is frequently offered the last word or one-on-one
interviews with public figures. If we round down that estimate to 800
for argument's sake, is ABC News asking us to believe that Will is 400
times as perspicacious as E.J., or 800 times as thoughtful as Krugman?
Obviously not. But it is saying that it is wholly comfortable inviting a
right-wing pundit to be a central player, and equally forceful liberals
need not apply. (If O'Hearn is going to count appearances by liberals
who came after the study concluded and after my column appeared, I guess
we're going to have to throw in yet another powwow with "Mr. Straight
Talk," John McCain, occurring as I write this.)

Moreover, This Week has a rather expansive definition of "liberal." For
instance, even with Donaldson and (the then-liberal)
Stephanopoulos as regulars, I recall no unapologetic defenses
of Clinton during the impeachment debacle, nor any full-throated critics
of Ken Starr, even though a majority of Americans supported the
President and pronounced themselves appalled at Starr's behavior. For
that matter, I'm having a little trouble remembering many opponents of
Bush's war. But I'm a liberal, so what do I know?

ERIC ALTERMAN


THEY DON'T KNOW JACK

Colorado Springs

James Dobson is hardly a close ally of disgraced lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, despite the insinuations Max Blumenthal lays on Nation readers
["Abramoff's Evangelical Soldiers," Feb. 20]. Abramoff's personal
e-mails have led some people to believe that Dobson helped him defeat a
tribal casino in Louisiana, but it's an empty boast--like a rooster
taking credit for the sunrise. Dobson didn't do anyone's bidding.

The fact is, gambling has been mentioned as a destructive force to
families roughly 200 times on Focus on the Family radio broadcasts
during the organization's twenty-nine-year history. So when we took
action against Louisiana gambling expansion in 2002, it was a
continuation of a long-established pattern. We used our own money, and
Dobson had no contact with Abramoff and no knowledge of his activities.

Focus on the Family is getting mentioned in the sad Abramoff story only
because we quite coincidentally fought the same casino at the same time.
Dobson needs no one's pressure to oppose gambling in all its forms,
because he's motivated by only one thing: the desire to safeguard
families from the crime, bankruptcy, corruption and divorce that
proliferate whenever a casino comes to town. We did it because gambling
destroys families. Why, or how, Jack Abramoff did it is a story we have
no connection to.

TOM MINNERY
Focus on the Family


BLUMENTHAL REPLIES

Washington, DC

Tom Minnery omits any mention of the man who prompted and
coordinated Focus's involvement in Abramoff's schemes--Ralph Reed,
Abramoff's go-between with Dobson and the Christian right, whom he then
rewarded with $4 million in casino money. As documented in the e-mail
exchanges among Reed, Abramoff and Abramoff's business partner, Michael
Scanlon--subpoenaed by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs--they
delighted in manipulating Dobson like a puppet on a string.

In February 2002, when Abramoff learned that the Jena Choctaws, a tribal
competitor to one of his casino clients, had contracted the
lobbying services of DC super-lawyer and current Mississippi
Governor Haley Barbour, Reed asked Dobson to attack Barbour on his radio
show. In a February 6, 2002, e-mail Abramoff tells Reed, "Let me know
when Dobson hits him [Barbour]. I want to savor it." That same day, in
an e-mail titled "Ralph and Dobson," Abramoff tells Scanlon that Reed
"got to Dobson who is going to...get on the radio!" On February 19 Reed
got a direct request from Abramoff. "Can we get Dobson on the air?" Reed
responded that day in an e-mail, "yes. We're negotiating that now." In
an e-mail later that day, Reed told Abramoff, "called Dobson this a.m."

The next day Abramoff wrote to Scanlon: Reed "wants a budget for radio
in the state. I'm inclined to say yes, so we can get this Dobson ad up.
He asked for $150K. We'll play it in WH [the White House] and Interior."
Later that day Abramoff was jubilant. Reed "may have finally scored for
us!" he wrote to Scanlon. "Dobson goes up on the radio next week." On
February 26 Abramoff asked Reed, "where are we with Falwell, Robertson,
Dobson, etc.? we need to see some action in D.C. That's what I sold them
for $100K." Doesn't James Dobson know that lies make baby Jesus cry?

MAX BLUMENTHAL


HILLS ALIVE WITH SOUND OF MONEY

Springfield, Mo.

In "Can Justice Be Trusted?" [Feb. 20], on the Abramoff/Guam
story, Ari Berman mentions Howard Hills, the Abramoff conduit for Guam
lobbying funds paid in $9,000 increments. Hills's irregular practice of
law is well known to the islands. Just ask the people of Rongelap, who
were exposed to US nuclear tests in the Marshalls. As a State Department
lawyer, Hills led the move to dismiss their cases in the US Court of
Claims. Then he offered the people of Rongelap his services as a
"connected Republican lobbyist and political strategist" to restore
their claims and get Congressional funding. Oh, but for a fee of more
than $300,000 a year. This is not representation, this is a shakedown,
like closing casinos and then offering help to reopen them--for a fee.
Varmints like Hills should be exposed and brought to justice.

TONY de BRUM


NUKING THE NUKES

La Jolla, Calif.

Richard Falk's "Storm Clouds Over Iran" [Feb.13], on the dangers
associated with a US aerial attack on Iran, omits the crucial fact that
such an attack is likely to include the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
New US nuclear weapons policies have "integrated" nuclear weapons with
conventional weapons and envision their use against underground
facilities and to pre-empt enemy attack with WMD. The drafters of these
policies occupy the upper echelons of the current Administration.

The B61-11 nuclear earth penetrator entered the US stockpile in late
2001. It can be launched from F-16 aircraft and causes twenty to 200
times less "collateral damage" than surface explosion. At low yield in
desolated areas like the Natanz enrichment plant, it would cause few
casualties and achieve US goals. The US "negative security assurance" of
1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries
explicitly excludes countries declared in "noncompliance" with the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Iran was in September 2005.
Pentagon documents emphasize that "no customary or conventional
international law prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in
armed conflict."

The President has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.
Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the Constitution, Congress
could restrict this authority by legislating that its authorization is
needed for the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries. Such
use of nuclear weapons will set off a dangerous chain reaction, leading
to many more countries acquiring nuclear weapons and heightening the
risk of global nuclear war. This path should not be entered on the
decision of the President alone. Congress is derelict in its
responsibilities if it doesn't address this issue while there is still
time.

JORGE HIRSCH


DINING AT THE CIA'S 3-STAR TROUGH

Louisville, Ky.

Victor Navasky's obituary for The New Leader ["In Fact...," Feb.
13] contained an interesting comment: "Arguably it has been drifting
rightward...even dined at the CIA trough," which stirred me to defend
progressive groups that received CIA funds during the cold war.
Accepting occasional support from the CIA in the 1950s might very well
have been a mark of honor and distinction for a leftist journal like The
New Leader
.

The CIA was created in 1947 by Congress to fight the cold war using
covert and clandestine methods. Despite its many failures, the agency
was always on "our side." We may have had "rogue" Presidents who used
the CIA for rogue purposes, but we never had a rogue CIA. In fact, The
New Leader
's founder, the Socialist Party's Norman Thomas, was involved
with a group that supported elected Latin American leftist governments,
like the one that briefly ruled in the Dominican Republic, 1962-63. This
group was later revealed to have received funds from CIA cash conduits.
That fact does not imply that Thomas had moved "rightward," only that
the US government--in this case, that of John Kennedy--wanted a means of
quickly and quietly helping the reformist government of Juan Bosch
without having to go through Congress.

As a young graduate student, I was involved with the programs of this
group--which ran IDES (the Institute for Economic and Social
Development) in the Dominican Republic, and CIA funding was vital.
(Unfortunately, the Bosch administration was overthrown by a coup in
mid-1963). The CIA, with all its warts, was always on our side in the
cold war. I'm not certain I could say the same for The Nation.

DAVID EUGENE BLANK

Editorials

The American public acknowledges the failure of US ground forces in Iraq. With civil war imminent, when will our "leaders" in Washington accept the same conclusion?

Senator Russell Feingold should be praised for calling on the Senate
to censure the President for breaking the law and lying about his
domestic spying program. Instead, he's mocked by the media and
abandoned by many of his own party.

The US housing market has been responsible for about half the economy's recent growth, but increasing dependence on home-equity credit could create a financial disaster.

PHOTO NATION. With this issue, we begin a new series, Photo Nation. The
first photo essay and accompanying text are by Eugene Richards, a
photojournalist and filmmaker, is the author of Stepping Through the
Ashes
(Aperture) and The Fat Baby (Phaidon). Richards is a fellow at The Nation Institute. Research support was provided by the Investigative
Fund of The Nation Institute.

PRIZES. We're looking for thoughtful, provocative student voices to tell
us what issue most concerns their generation. Essays shouldn't exceed 800 words and should be previously unpublished work that demonstrates fresh, clear thinking and superior craftsmanship. The winning entry will be published in The Nation, and the winner will receive $500. Five finalists will be published at thenation.com. Deadline: March 31. Send entries to: studentprize@thenation.com (for more information go to www.thenation.com/student).

AWARDS. Bryan Farrell has won the Gertrude Blumenthal Kasbekar
Fellowship for his web article on NASA climatologist James Hansen's refusal to let the Bush Administration mute his work on global warming. The award is given to Nation interns who conduct research on science and healthcare issues.

ON THE WEB. The Notion, The Nation's new blog, features Richard Kim's comments on the uproar that greeted a Harper's article by an AIDS
denier. Marking International Women's Day, Cynthia Enloe reports on protests by antiwar feminists against the increasing militarization of American society and the attendant cult of masculinity.

The Global Online Freedom Act should be the beginning of a conversation about what needs to be done to prevent US Internet and technology firms from contradicting American values.

Pete McCloskey, the first Republican member of Congress to call for Nixon's impeachment and withdrawal from Vietnam, has resurfaced at 78 to challenge Richard Pombo and the Iraq War.

The antiwar messages most likely to be heard and acted upon by Congressional Democrats and wavering Republicans will come from their hometowns, where a growing number of activists are organizing with an eye toward communicating to Congress.

Columns

Major League Baseball owners may gripe, but the World Baseball Classic
provides a glimpse of an alternative future for our national pastime.

TruthDig

As Bush continues to insist the US is bringing peace and freedom to
Iraq, his latest plan to quell the insurgency spends billions more to
stem the use of improvised explosive devices.

Howl

As Congress jacks up the rates students and their parents are paying for college loans, the consequences are already being felt by young people whose ability to have a child or own a house is limited by debt.

It's no surprise to learn that oil companies are underpaying royalties for drilling on public land, or projecting profits in the billions. The battle for energy regulation was lost a long time ago.

Bush's low approval rating is irrelevant, considering who is still on his side.

Articles

John Bolton's grandstanding vote today opposing the establishment of a UN Human Rights Council might please hard-core isolationists. But no one else.

As the House considers two bills to regulate political speech on the Internet, the liberal Daily Kos and conservative Red State blogs are bedfellows, supporting a flawed GOP-sponsored bill that opens the door for soft money to buy political ads online.

During the run-up to the Iraq War, the nation's leading print and broadcast media could have saved lives if they questioned the Administration's pronouncements. Instead, they were an echo chamber for the White House.

The detainment of two actors from The Road to Guantánamo reveals a legal apparatus that is no longer able to distinguish between real and invented threats.

Despite recent press visits, the building of bases in Iraq has not come under much scrutiny. If Congress and opposition Democrats continue to ignore the issue, there will be no withdrawal from Iraq.

Eight months ahead of the 2006 midterm vote, Democrats are either ignoring Iraq or supporting the war while criticizing Bush's prosecution of it. But it's not too late to mount a strong opposition.

Despite Bush's feel-good rhetoric, the United States has done little to help Afghanistan, leaving the impression of abandonment. Meanwhile, European troops work hard to build bridges to the locals.

In the first installment of a new series called Photo Nation, a young soldier from Missouri recounts the ambush of his unit in Iraq.

Books & the Arts

Film

Thank You for Smoking praises the professional hucksters of the cigarette companies, and Duck Season is a road movie in which the scenery doesn't change.

Book

In his captivating new book Absolute Convictions, Eyal Press explores the links between his hometown's post-Vietnam decline and its emergence as a battlefield in the national crusade against abortion.

Book

In The Power of Movies, Colin McGinn asserts that films are the medium best suited to imitate the workings of the dreaming mind.

Book

Taylor Branch concludes his staggering trilogy of the civil rights era with At Canaan's Edge, a relentlessly detailed narrative of Martin Luther King's desperate struggle to save the movement.