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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.

 

Not One Penny More

As we approach the third anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq, the National Priorities Project (NPP) has issued an invaluable new report demonstrating the financial impact of the war on taxpayers in every state. (And this doesn't even take into account Bush's new request for another 72.4 billion dollars in "emergency supplemental funding" for the war.)

If the war didn't cost a penny it would, of course, be a terribly wrong thing. But focusing on the war's costs at home could be another effective way to illustrate to many Americans how deeply damaging the war is on so many levels. So check out NPP's report, tell all your friends about it, and participate in a National Call-In Day, TOMORROW, Tuesday, February 28, organized by our friends at Democrats.com.

Call the Capitol Hill switchboard anytime tomorrow at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your Representative. (Click here to find out who they are.) Democrats.com suggests giving them this basic message in your own words: "I strongly oppose the war in Iraq. I want all our troops brought home safely, without delay. I urge Representative X to vote against the President's $72.4 billion 'emergency' supplemental request for the war."

The Republicans who run Congress will include small amounts of money for numerous good things in the supplemental bill to be voted on. This will provide your Representative all sorts of noble excuses for voting to authorize another massive amount of funding for the occupation. Tell them this position will only be credible if they also co-sponsor Rep. Jim McGovern's bill, which simply ends funding for the war.

McGovern's bill (H.R. 4232) would allow Defense Department funds to be used only to provide for the safe and orderly withdrawal of all troops; consultations with other governments, NATO, and the UN regarding international forces; and financial assistance and equipment to either Iraqi security forces and/or international forces. (The bill would not prohibit or restrict non-defense funding to carry out reconstruction in Iraq.)

Click here to email your elected reps imploring them to support McGovern's legislation and remember to call Capitol Hill sometime tomorrow.

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

CALLING ON THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO INITIATE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST PRESIDENT BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY AND DEFENSE SECRETARY RUMSFELD FOR HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS

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.

Larry Summers Ghosts--Continued

As Russian-watcher and ex-Nation blogger Matt Bivens detailed in this space last week, despite the spate of media coverage being devoted to Larry Summers' resignation as Harvard University's President, little, if anything, has been said about Summers' role as deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration in aiding and abetting Russian corruption during the Yeltsin era.

That is, until today, when the New York Times reported that a devastating 18,500 word (22,007 with sidebars) expose in Institutional Investor, "How Harvard Lost Russia," may have led to Summers' downfall. The article, written by award winning journalist David McClintick, chronicled financial improprieties by those in charge of Harvard's Russia project, including Andrei Shleifer, a professor of economics who is a friend and protégé of Dr. Summers's, and Jonathan Hay, a Harvard-trained lawyer. Shleifer, who agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement, has not been subjected to any disclipinary action by Harvard. As the Times reports, "Some Harvard watchers attribute that to Dr. Summers' influence, though he formally recused himself from the matter, and they see the entire affair, assiduously detailed by Mr. McClintick, as an indelible stain on Harvard's reputation."

The Nation has been reporting on this for some time. Click here to read Bivens' piece for the details of Summers' role in Russian corruption which didn't make the New York Times.

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."

Bob Hagan's Modest Proposal

Bob Hagan has for decades been one of Ohio's most progressive-minded and intellectually adventurous legislators. So it comes as no surprise that the Democratic state senator from Youngstown would blaze a new policy-making trail with a plan to reform adoption laws.

Hagan's proposal: Ban Republicans from adopting children.

In an email dispatched to fellow legislators last week, the senator announced his plan to "introduce legislation in the near future that would ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents."

Explaining that "policymakers in (Ohio) have ignored this growing threat to our communities for far too long," Hagan wrote that: "Credible research exists that strongly suggests that adopted children raised in Republican households, though significantly wealthier than their Democrat-raised counterparts, are more at risk for developing emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, an alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different than themselves, and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities."

"In addition," the Democrat noted, "I have spoken to many adopted children raised in Republican households who have admitted that 'Well, it's just plain boring most of the time.'"

Hagan acknowledges that the "credible research" to which he refers cannot he quantified. But that should not be a problem, he explains, as a bill proposed by Republican state Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, which would prohibit adoptions of children by gay and lesbian couples, suffers from a similar deficiency.

Since Hood's homophobic legislation is not backed by evidence that gay and lesbian parents are in any way detrimental to children, Hagan argues, why should his Republicanphobic legislation have to be grounded in anything more than emotions or ideology. (Hood's proposal, one of many similar measures being pushed around the country in a move by Republicans to stir up their voter base in advance of the 2006 and 2008 elections, would bar children from being placed for adoption or foster care in homes where the prospective parent or anyone else living in the house is gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered.)

Hagan has no cosponsors for his bill at this point, a circumstance that may have something to do with the fact that the legislation has been proposed, as he says, with "tongue was planted firmly in cheek."

But Hagan does have a point for legislators in Ohio and other states who are wrestling with questions of whether to discriminate against upstanding and responsible citizens whose sexuality does not meet with the approval of the homophobic wing of the Republican party.

"We need to see what we are doing," explained Hagan, who notes that, while Republicans seek to score cheep political points, there are close to 3,000 Ohio children awaiting adoption and close to 20,000 in foster care.

The conservative Cincinnati Enquirer agreed.

Noting that "(Republican Representative) Hood's offensive and discriminatory bill would hurt, not help, children," the usually pro-Republican newspaper observed in an editorial that, "perhaps Hagan's modest proposal gave some folks a taste, however fleeting, of what it would be like to be labeled as a class somehow incapable, unworthy or unacceptable."

But Hagan has the best counter of all to the repeated attempts by Republican legislators to fake up issues involving gays and lesbians -- from amendments to ban same-sex marriage or their new nationwide push on the adoption front. Speaking of Hood's proposal, Hagan says, "It flies in the face of reason when we need to reform our education system, address health care and environmental issues that we put energy and wasted time (into) legislation like this."