Wake Up & Smell the Controversy

As the war in Iraq grinds on, coffee purveyor Dean Cycon is doing his bit to ensure that U.S. troops can savor a satisfying cup of joe. Picking up on gripes from Marines in Fallujah about the quality of Halliburton-served coffee, his Massachusetts company, Dean's Beans, has donated 35 pounds of exotic blends, along with bumper stickers proclaiming, "Make Coffee, Not War."

A Wall Street lawyer turned fair-trade coffee crusader, Cycon began badgering Halliburton officials to address the bad-coffee issue after noticing an increase in orders to military addresses from his Web site, www.deansbeans.com. "It's simply absurd to me that front-line troops have to order coffee from home because Halliburton refuses to give them decent coffee," he told us. "They've got my dander up."

He shared with us a recent e-mail from a person who works at a military welcome center near Fallujah: "The morale here is not that great. The reason why I'm asking you to donate some coffee is because a friend of mine sent me some from your company and all the Marines around here loved it! Coffee is hard to come by here because the PX doesn't get a lot and the chow hall always runs out."

Halliburton officials, in a statement to The Post, scoffed at Cycon's claims: "We are amazed at the lengths some people will go to brew up controversy," company spokeswoman Cathy Gist said by e-mail. "Coffee served in military dining facilities is prepared according to military guidance and oversight. We are not responsible for the strength of the brew, but we are amazed at the factual weakness of much of the criticism directed at us this election year. . . .

"Halliburton has no option for the brand, grind type or roast variety of the coffee it purchases -- it is only authorized to order items, like coffee, from the Army food supply catalog. In short, the question is 'How much?' not 'What would you like?' "

To date, vendors have supplied nearly $153,000 in Maxwell House and Taster's Choice to troops in Iraq, Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Jack L. Hooper told us Friday. He defended the quality of the brews: "It may not be Starbucks, but it's not Joe Blow's Colombian knockoff, either. They get the same basic stuff you or I do at the grocery store."

Cycon says his small company isn't interested in grabbing a piece of the action from the Houston conglomerate that holds massive military-support contracts but urges taxpayers on his Web site: "Join me in the call for Halliburton to put our money where our troops' mouth is." In her statement, Gist assured us: "This is a controversy that doesn't amount to a hill of beans."

But we stand ready to percolate a few more piping-hot metaphors just in case.

Kitty Kelley and Her Fans: The Untold Story

* After a combative publicity tour in New York to launch her controversial new book, Kitty Kelley, the White House's least favorite author, returned to Washington to a warm welcome from 250 fellow scribes. Thursday night at the National Press Club, she addressed the Washington Independent Writers, a group she joined in 1976 as a founding member and which supported her in a legal battle royal with Frank Sinatra in the 1980s. (Ol' Blue Eyes sued to stop publication of "His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra" before she'd written a word.)

Kelley began with an "unauthorized introduction" of herself: "She's a 62-year-old windbag who only ventures out of her cave when she's got a book to push. Then her fat face is all over television, morning, noon and night. . . . You could certainly say that Kitty Kelley is a household name, but then, so is Calamity Jane and Typhoid Mary. . . . For the next few minutes, we're gonna have to sit here and listen to the old bag as she explains how she managed, despite limited ability, to survive and thrive."

Clearly, she was among friends -- afterward they spoke of her courage, snapped up books and stood in a long line for her signature. (Kelley donated royalties from the evening's sales to the group's legal and education fund.) In the back of the ballroom, Jonathan Zucker, her silver-haired husband of 12 years, introduced himself by his stage name. The allergist told us: "I become Doctor Kelley for two months."

George Clooney, Acting Like a Politician?

* Washington's favorite celebrity hunk, George Clooney, is back in town. Tonight he'll be at a fundraiser at Lounge 201 on Capitol Hill for his father, Nick, who's running for Congress as a Democrat in Kentucky. We've heard that George, who reveled in making "K Street" for HBO, may enjoy politicking more than show business. So we asked his rep about this.

"He also likes Italian food. And pranks, for that matter," Stan Rosenfield told us. So again, Clooney doesn't like politics more than acting? "I know he likes to be acting because you're not accountable to the public when you're an actor." Really? "I'm just saying what he would tell you." (See, either way, you have spokesmen who spin expertly.)

The Annals of Puffery

An Occasional Verbatim Press Release

* "When Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth heard the ominous words 'you're fired' from real estate mogul-turned-television-star Donald Trump on the NBC television show 'The Apprentice,' it was much more of a beginning than an end for the Washington-based political consultant. She will share the elements of her amazing journey and lay out her secrets for a successful academic experience when she meets with incoming University of the District of Columbia freshmen Tuesday. . . . Widely recognized simply by her first name, Omarosa will bring a fresh perspective to the challenge of becoming a successful student."

With Anne Schroeder