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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Go FOIA Yourself

The folks at People For the American Way have set up this handy website that practically writes a FOIA request for you. All you have to do is print and fax. Of course, whether and when the feds get back to you is another matter. The Justice Department maintains that simple requests take an average of 19 days, while complex ones can take up to a year -- though I've heard of journalists waiting much longer for their results.

Speaking of FOIA requests, Tom Hayden gave a talk up here in Saratoga Springs on Monday. While I quibbled with his choice of title Democracy or Empire: You Choose -- since US imperialism past and present may well go by the slogan Democracy AND Empire: No Choice -- he did launch into a fascinating digression on the contents of his voluminous FBI file. The most chilling words contained within: "How do we neutralize Hayden?" (At which point a colleague mumbled, "Give him a tenure track job.")

If anyone comes up with similar results let us (and your lawyer!) know.

"Stare" at that Decisis

Walking up to my office on Capitol Hill today, I noticed an usually large amount of people milling around. Big crowds were standing outside the Senate buildings on a chilly February day. Cabs kept dropping visitors off. You could barely stand on the crowded sidewalks. Sure, Congress was back in session after yet another week-long recess (do these guys ever work?), but surely that wasn't the reason why.

Then I noticed camera crews lingering outside the Supreme Court steps, along with a mass of spectators. A particularly important case to be heard, I surmised. I went into the office and asked my two colleagues, "what's the hell is going on outside?"

They responded with three words, "Anna Nicole Smith."

BMD (Bike of Mass Destruction)

Today's question: What's more dangerous -- hunting with Dick Cheney or bike riding with George Bush?

For background, we offer this report from Murdo MacLeod, the able political correspondent for Edinburgh's Scotland on Sunday newspaper:


He may be the most powerful man in the world, but proof has emerged that President George Bush cannot ride a bike, wave and speak at the same time.

Scotland on Sunday has obtained remarkable details of one of the most memorably bizarre episodes of the Bush presidency: the day he crashed into a Scottish police constable while cycling in the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel.

The incident, which will do little to improve Bush's accident-prone reputation, began when he took to two wheels for a spot of early-evening exercise during last year's G8 summit at the Perthshire resort.

After a hard day's discussion with fellow world leaders, the president was looking for some relaxation. Instead, he ended up the subject of a police report in which the leader of the free world was described, in classic police language, as a "moving/falling object".

It was "about 1800 hours on Wednesday, 6 July, 2005" that a detachment of Strathclyde police constables, in "Level 2 public order dress [anti-riot gear]," formed a protective line at the gate at the hotel's rear entrance, in case demonstrators penetrated the biggest-ever security operation on Scottish soil.

The official police incident report states: "[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through." The report goes on: "[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.

"As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties."

The injured officer, who was not named, was whisked to Perth Royal Infirmary. The report adds: "While en-route President Bush phoned [the officer], enquiring after his wellbeing and apologising for the accident."

At hospital, a doctor examined the constable and diagnosed damage to his ankle ligaments and issued him with crutches. The cause was officially recorded as: "Hit by moving/falling object."

No details of damage to the President are recorded from his close encounter with the policeman and the road, although later reports said he had been "bandaged" by a White House physician after suffering scrapes on his hands and arms.

At the time Bush laughed off the incident, saying he should start "acting his age".

Details of precisely how the crash unfolded have until now been kept under wraps for fear of embarrassing both Bush and the injured constable. But the new disclosures are certain to raise eyebrows on Washington's Capitol Hill.

Jim McDermott, a Democrat Congressman, last night quipped: "Not only does he break the law over here on eavesdropping and spying on our own citizens, but it seems he can't even keep to your law when it comes to riding a bike. It's another example of how he can't keep his mind on the things he should be thinking about."

Bush often takes to two wheels for exercise, after pain in his knees forced him to give up running. He regularly rides at secret service training facilities near Washington, and the G8 accident is just one in a long list of mishaps. In May 2004, he fell off his mountain bike, grazing his chin, upper lip, nose, both knees, and his right hand, while riding on his ranch in Texas. In June 2003, he fell off his hi-tech Segway scooter.

In Scotland, an accident such as the one at Gleneagles could have led to police action. Earlier this year, Strathclyde Police issued three fixed penalty notices to errant cyclists as part of a crack-down on rogue riders. Legal experts also suggested lesser mortals could have ended up with a fixed penalty fine, prosecution, or at least a good ticking-off from officers.

John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said: "There's certainly enough in this account for a charge of careless driving. Anyone else would have been warned for dangerous driving.

"I have had clients who have been charged with assaulting a police officer for less than this. The issue of how long the police officer was out of action for is also important. He was away from work for 14 weeks, and that would normally be very significant in a case like this."

No-one was available for comment from the White House.

Mr. MacLeod's only error was to contact the White House. For an official response to an incident of this sort, he should have called the woman who owns the Armstrong Ranch in Texas. Notably, she got the story out within 24 hours. This tale of executive excess did not come to light for six months. Still, considering recent developments, the timing could not be better to set Bush and Cheney up for the great bikes vs. bullets debate.

The West Leans Left

Is a red state Governor who wears cowboy hats, embroidered denim jackets and bolo ties, drives a Volkswagen Jetta powered by biodiesel, ran with a Republican Lt. Gov on his ticket, loves hunting, strives for energy independence and refuses to accept special interest money or hold closed-door meetings the new face progressives should be talking about?

If his name's Brian Schweitzer, many already are. In the last four presidential elections Democrats took 41, 38, 33 and 38 percent of the vote in Montana. By comparison, Schweitzer engineered a four point win in 2004. Since then he's become one of the most popular Governors in the country.

This week Schweitzer took his show on the road, attending a meeting of Governors in Washington, appearing on 60 Minutes (be sure to check out his reference to "sheiks and dictators and rats and crooks") and speaking before the Center for American Progress--an event I attended yesterday.

Schweitzer called his recent session with the Montana state legislature "the most progressive in the country." The Missoulian offers a recap:

His initiatives include the largest two-year increase in state funding for schools since 1991, a new college scholarship program for Montana students, a good raise in pay for state employees, eliminating the business equipment tax for 13,000 small businesses, requiring more wind power and other alternative energy development, beefing up health care and other programs for the needy and improving relationships with Montana's Indian tribes and nations.

Schweitzer's made energy independence the centerpiece of his governing agenda, advocating wind, ethanol, biodiesel and new coal-to-fuel technologies. He even carried little vials of various farm oils and a rock of coal to the CAP event. "The next generation will not be sent to a foreign land to protect an oil field," he says.

Schweitzer for President websites are already launching. The current hype may prove to be just that--hype. But Republicans are beginning to watch closely. At a White House dinner on Sunday, Schweitzer's wife, Nancy, sat between "the straight shooter himself," Dick Cheney, and "the Architect," Karl Rove.

A Night at Arianna's: Democrats and the War

At a Democratic Party fundraiser hosted by Arianna Huffington in Los Angeles recently, Howard Dean and Barbara Boxer laid out strategy for the upcoming Congressional races, with lots of strong talk about retaking the House next fall -- and, on Dean's part, one stunning silence: Iraq.

The occasion was a fundraiser for a Democrat hoping to win a special House election next month in a Republican district in northern San Diego county. The former incumbent, "Duke" Cunningham, dubbed "the poster boy of Congressional corruption," pled guilty to several felony counts of bribery and resigned. The special election will be held on April 11, and the Democrats are putting impressive resources into electing Francine Busby, a school board member campaigning as an ethics-in-government candidate. She lost to Cunningham in 2004.

The presence at Arianna's house of the Democratic National Chairman, a senator, and three members of Congress underscored the importance Democrats attach to this campaign. Taking over a Republican district in this special election, they argue, would set the tone for the Congressional races to come in the fall.

In Arianna's grand living room, Dean said the Democrats would never win back a majority in Congress by running only on their traditional issues--health care, Social security and education. He said "we need to learn from Karl Rove, and attack our opponents where they are strong"--which means attacking them on defense.

"Here's our strategy for 2006," he said. "We need to argue that Bush has failed to get bin Laden; after five years in power, he's failed to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program; he's failed to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program; and he's failed to provide adequate security for our ports. We need to argue that the Democrats will do a better job protecting the nation than Bush has. We promise that we will kill or capture bin Laden; with the help of China and Russia, we will shut down the North Korean nuclear program; we will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power; and we will protect our ports."

Notably missing from the list: "we will end the war in Iraq."

Boxer took a different tack. The Democrat who won more votes in 2004 than any candidate in the nation except for Bush and Kerry, who won more votes in 2004 than any Senate candidate in history--6.9 million votes--called the war a "disaster" and "a horror story" and said, "We should listen to the Iraqi people. Polls show that 70 per cent of the Iraqi people now say we should leave. We should do what they want--and bring the troops home."

Jane Harmon, a "moderate" from LA who is the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was also in Arianna's living room--and was notably silent. In other venues she has endorsed a proposal to maintain US troop levels in Iraq and shift US forces to major urban centers and key economic areas. "We've got about a year to get it right," she recently said.

Elsewhere Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the House Democratic leader, has endorsed Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha's call for immediate withdrawal. Dean, however, has supported gradual withdrawal of US forces: 80,000 troops out by the end of this year, and the remaining 60,000 withdrawn by the end of 2007, with many redeployed to nearby bases in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Asia.

Candidate Busby's position on the war is to the right of Dean: while her campaign emphasizes that she "opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and believes the war was a distraction from the very real threat of terrorism," she is in favor of setting "benchmarks" rather than a timetable for withdrawal--which is not too different from the Bush position.

The open district, which runs along the coast north of San Diego, has 160,000 Republicans and only 107,000 Democrats. The race is turning out to be one of the most expensive House campaigns in the country. The eleven Republicans and Busby together have raised nearly $1.9 million, making it the fourteenth most expensive House campaign, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Busy has raised more than $520,000, while her leading Republican opponent, Alan Kurt Uke, has reported raising $420,000, according to the Union-Tribune, most of it from himself.

The crowd at Arianna's was heavy with candidates for other state and local offices and campaign staffers keeping one eye on their Blackberries. Hosts included Sherry Lansing, dubbed by the Hollywood Reporter "the grande dame of female executives," who is stepping down as head of Paramount Pictures; Robert Greenwald, whose most recent film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price just opened in Europe; and several members of ANGLE, "Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality." If any of them were looking for a clear party position on ending the war in Iraq, they left bitterly disappointed.


Curtains for 'Rachel Corrie'

So much for freedom of speech, let alone thought.

The play My Name Is Rachel Corrie, directed in London by actor Alan Rickman anddue to open in New York City in March, has been canceled for fear ofcontroversy.

The play adapts the diaries of the 23-year-old woman from Seattle who wasmurdered inRafah in 2003, when she was deliberately run down by anIsraeli Defense Forces bulldozer. Rachel had traveled to the Gaza Strip during the last intifada as an activist for the International Solidarity Movement.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie has enjoyed two sell-out runs in London at the Royal Court Theatre and greatcritical acclaim; it was due to open at the New York Theatre Workshop inthe East Village.

In private conversations with those who staged the play in London, theTheatre Workshop cited the election of Hamas in Palestine, ArielSharon's medical condition and the furor over the Danish cartoons asreasons for refusing to stage the play.

"The decision is incredibly frustrating," said one of the peopleclosely associated with the play. "It underestimates the intelligenceand compassion of the American people."

During a period of such intense reflection about freedom of speech andthe so-called "clash of civilizations," the play's cancellation is auseful reminder of the forces at work in constructing and limitingAmerica's freedom to access the views and experiences even of otherAmericans.

How is the American public supposed to develop a civilizedunderstanding of what their government is bankrolling in Israel andPalestine when plays like this cannot be shown?

State Parties Say: "Impeach!"

The decision of the Democratic Party in rural Walworth County to call for the impeachment of President Bush, which Katrina vanden Heuvel recounts on this blog, is an encouraging one, indeed. If there is talk of impeachment in Walworth County, a bastion of Badger State conservatism where the president personally campaigned last fall and won almost 60 percent of the vote, then this movement is spreading much further than most national Democratic leaders have dared imagine.

Indeed, in Wisconsin, it has spread far beyond Walworth County. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin overwhelmingly endorsed impeachment of Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at its state convention last June.

Wisconsin Democrats aren't alone on this front. Last month, after the warrantless wiretapping scandal blew up, the executive committee of the North Carolina Democratic Party backed a resolution urging the state's representatives in Washington to support efforts to impeach Bush, Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party resolution of last June was primarily focused on concerns about the actions taken by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to promote the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was advanced by rural and smalltown activists with groups such as the Stoughton Area Democrats -- Stoughton, population 12,354, has been a hotbed of anti-war sentiment going back to World War I, when voters there were big backers of U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette.

Here's the text of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) resolution


WHEREAS, the Downing Street Memo shows that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld began planning and executing the war on Iraq before seeking Congressional and UN approval;

WHEREAS, UN weapons inspectors showed prior to the invasion that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and

WHEREAS, there is further mounting evidence that the Administration lied or misled about "mushroom clouds," "connections to 9/11," and "war as a last resort" as they sought UN, Congressional, and public approvals;

THEREFORE, RESOLVED, the DPW asks Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

The Military's Gay Porn Problem

February has been a very queer month for the US military.

Early this month, the Defense Department admitted (in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee) that its TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) surveillance program engaged in "inappropriate" domestic spying on anti-war groups. As NBC News reported late last year, military intelligence labeled UC Santa Cruz's Students Against War a "credible threat" after they shut-down a recruitment visit and returned a few months later to spy on a kiss-in against the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Likewise, the FBI spied on a demonstration against military recruiters organized by NYU's OUTLaw. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (along with the ACLU) has filed a lawsuit requesting more information on the program and its impact on LGBT organizations.

On February 14, a 12-member commission assembled by the University of California (which included Clinton's Defense Secretary William Perry and Reagan's Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb) concluded that the GAO has severely underestimated the cost of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The panel found that the total cost of implementing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (including discharging and replacing troops) during its first decade was $364 million, almost double the GAO figure of $190 million.

Among the revelations in the torture documents released by the ACLU on February 23, is the apparent use of gay porn as a torture tool in Guantanamo. In a series of e-mails, FBI agents working at Guantanamo complained about military interrogators' techniques to their supervisors. One e-mail notes that the Bureau and Army intelligence have "parted ways" and then reports:

Last evening I went to observe an interview of __ with __. The adjoining room, observable from the monitoring booth, was occupied by 2 DHS investigators showing a detainee homosexual porn movies and using a strobe light in the room. We moved our interview to a different room! We've heard that DHS interrogators routinely identify themselves as FBI Agents and then interrogate a detainee for 16-18 hours using tactics as described above and others (wrapping in Israeli flag, constant loud music, cranking the A/C down, etc). The next time a real Agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.

You can access the results of the ACLU's FOIA here.

Finally, culminating a month-long investigation, on February 25, army officials recommended that seven paratroopers from the famed 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Fort Bragg be discharged after appearing on a gay pornographic website -- which gay bloggers quickly concluded was www.activeduty.com. (I won't make this link hot as a courtesy to those who are unwilling or unable to view gay porn at work!). More serious than a discharge under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, three of the soldiers face court-martial on charges of sodomy, pandering and "wrongfully engaging in sexual acts with another person while being filmed with the intent of broadcasting the images over the Internet for money." (Yes, while sodomy is perfectly legal for civilians after Lawrence v. Texas, military appeals courts have upheld military sodomy laws). Four others were demoted and penalized for underage drinking, drunken driving and adultery.

This confluence of events presents the unlikely but completely plausible scenario in which 1) military boys star in gay porn which is 2) subsequently used by military interrogators in Guantanamo to torture prisoners in violation of international law then 3) these same military boys are prosecuted for acts which are perfectly legal under civilian law but remain punishable offenses under a silly and discriminatory set of military policies while 4) the torturers and their supervisors get off totally scot-free. Ain't that America.

Wisconsin Democrats Vote to Impeach Bush

The other day, I received a letter from Robert Burrows of Whitewater, Wisconsin. I was moved to read his description of why the Democratic Party of Walworth County, Wisconsin voted for a motion to impeach President George W. Bush.

Here's what he wrote:

Dear Ms. Vanden Heuvel:

Copies of Elizabeth Holtzman's brilliant article calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush were distributed to all thirty members of the Democratic Party of Walworth County (Wisconsin) at our January 2006 meeting.

The effect of the article was electrifying. Two members had brought copies of the article to the meeting; their call for an immediate response to Holtzman's challenge led to vigorous discussion, followed by the unanimous adoption of the motion to impeach.

Please communicate to Elizabeth Holtzman our thanks for galvanizing our group into action. We applaud her initiative--and commend The Nation for giving such prominent space to her impressively reasoned call for action.

Yours Sincerely,

Robert N. Burrows

P.S. Copies of our resolution calling for Bush's impeachment have been sent to Senators Kohl and Feingold of Wisconsin and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, our representative at the Capitol. Alsothe Democratic Party of Wisconsin and key Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives.

The local paper, The Janesville Gazette, also ran a good story about the party meeting, noting that "the groups' list of reasons for impeachment takes a page out of a recent article in the liberal-leaning magazine, The Nation."

Stem-Cell Hypocrisy

How serious are Republican -- and some Democratic -- politicians who go on and on about the need to restrict embryonic stem-cell research?

Not very.

Stem cell research, which scientists believe holds the promise of cures or treatments for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer's disease, is popular with the American people. But it is unpopular with the faction of the anti-choice movement that tends to be most active in Republican primaries. So a lot of prominent Republican politicians tip their hat to the "pro-life" crowd by backing so-called "anti-cloning" bills that purport to restrict mad science but that are really written to prevent promising research projects from going forward.

The cloning critics seek to energize the faithful by backing these silly bills, while at the same time hoping that no one in the broader electorate will notice.

When the issue does become the fodder for a general election campaign, however, all best are off as, suddenly, stem-cell research critics become stem-cell research advocates.

That's what has happened in Missouri, where Republican U.S. Senator Jim Talent has a long and ugly record as an outspoken advocate for the sort of restrictions on stem-cell research that are favored by the anti-choice movement.

Talent, who has never been a particularly popular senator, faces a tough challenge this year from Democrat Claire McCaskill, the very popular state auditor. McCaskill has actually been running ahead of Talent in some polls. She's a supporter of stem-cell research, who is highlighting that stance in her campaign. "We should be promoting hope for people suffering with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and other debilitating diseases," said McCaskill, when she announced her support for a Missouri ballot initiative that seeks to guarantee that research into lifesaving cures can be done in the state.

"Stem cell research holds the promise of saving lives and alleviating the pain and suffering endured by so many of our people," added McCaskill. "This initiative enables Missouri doctors and researches to be at the forefront of lifesaving research and it has my support."

In a state where polls show voters favor embryonic stem-cell research by a 2-1 margin. Talent felt the heat. So, last week, he withdrew as a co-sponsor of a federal anti-cloning bill that that seeks to outlaw what many scientists see as one of the most promising forms of embryonic stem-cell research. Talent's tortured speech announcing his new stance, in which he announced that he had come across "an ethically untroubling way" for obtaining embryonic stem cells that can be used in research, was an attempt to blunt McCaskill's appeal. But, as McCaskill noted, Talent still supports many restrictions on stem-cell research.

"Unfortunately," McCaskill says of Talent, "like too many politicians, he's trying to hide his opposition by dancing around science for politics. In a 30-minute long speech chock full of scientific jargon, he attempted to obfuscate his position and distract Missourians from the real issue: why does he think we should criminalize research instead of providing hope and cures for our people?"

McCaskill adds, with the directness that voters should expect of candidates on these issues: "I don't need 30 minutes or even 30 seconds to tell you where I stand. I support hope, I support science, and I support lifesaving cures. Because desperately ill Missourians deserve hope, not political cover -- and scientists deserve support, not handcuffs."

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