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Guess Who Was Advising the Emirates?

Guess who just bobbed to the surface smack dab in the middle of the Dubai ports deal? Why, none other than Slick Willie. That's right, we now learn that Big Bill Clinton was on the phone a couple of weeks ago offering the monarchs of Dubai some free advice on how to slip their ports management deal by a rather skeptical, if not dumbfounded, American public.

Clinton was offering his sage counsel in private at the time that his wife, in public, was denouncing the deal. American politics hasn't seen such a cynical duo since the advent of the Carville-Matalin spectacle.

The former president's paid flacks are now trying give this all an innocuous spin: "President Clinton is the former president of the US and as such receives many calls from world leaders and leading figures every week," said his official spokesman. And, we're further told, Clinton was a good Boy Scout and earnestly advised the Emirs to submit to any and all reviews that might be asked of them. (There's no report he was biting his lip or crossing his fingers behind his back as he chatted up our royal buddies).

What Clinton didn't say, obviously, is that the whole thing stinks and that the Emirates should simply withdraw the deal.

How will any of this play out politically? Guess it depends on what your definition of a schmo is.

 

Support the Troops? Start by Listening to Them

According to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, a new poll shows that 72 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq favor complete withdrawal from that country within a year.

Despite the claims of the armchair strategists in the White House and its amen corner in the media, who suggest that calls for withdrawal represent a failure to "support the troops," the troops themselves are ready to come home.

Only 23 percent of the soldiers surveyed in January and February for the Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll echoed the administration line that the U.S. presence in Iraq should be maintained for "as long as needed."

According to the pollster's analysis, there is remarkably broad support among the troops for immediate withdrawal.

"Of the 72 percent (who support withdrawal), 22 percent said troops should leave within the next six months, and 29 percent said they should withdraw 'immediately.' Twenty-one percent said the US military presence should end within a year," according to Zogby's review of the results of the survey, which was conducted before the recent explosive of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Around the country this spring, opponents of the war are promoting local resolutions and referendums -- particularly in Wisconsin, where more than two dozen measures will be on April 4 local election ballots in cities, villages and towns around the state -- that are intended to give citizens an opportunity to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Critics of these initiatives suggest that it is unpatriotic and anti-military to talk about bringing the troops home. They don't like the idea of letting citizens play a role in establishing foreign policy priorities.

There are plenty of appropriate responses to this anti-democratic tendency on the part of those who are more loyal to George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are to their country's Constitution and its best political traditions -- beginning with: "When we fought that revolution back in 1776, your position lost."

But the best response of all might well be to say: If you really want to support the troops -- as opposed to the Bush-Cheney administration's warped policies -- why not listen to the troops? Indeed, why not let them vote in an advisory referendum of their own on whether they think the occupation of Iraq should continue?

Of course, the administration's apologists -- along with many more pragmatic players -- would respond to such a proposal with all the reasons why it is dangerous and unwise to treat the military as a democracy.

But if citizens are not supposed to advocate for withdrawal because doing so represents a failure to "support the troops," and if the troops who want to withdraw are not allowed to weigh in for all the practical reasons that might be cited, then what are we left with? No debate. No democracy. And no chance to set right what this administration and its neoconservative gurus have put wrong.

Ultimately, that's a fine scenario for George Bush and Dick Cheney, but its the wrong one for citizens at home and troops abroad. The right one is to recognize that, when citizens advocate, petition and vote for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq they are supporting the troops.

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."

Clinic Clash : Right to Protest v. Right to Choose

Ruling on an issue that had divided progressive groups for the better part of two decades, the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an 8-0 decision that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations outside abortion clinics.

The decision is being portrayed as a victory for anti-choice groups such as Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action Network. That is surely the case, as the court has conclusively rejected arguments for an on-and-off nationwide injunction that had been used to prevent anti-abortion groups from protesting outside clinics in a manner that, by all reasonable evidence, was intended to prevent the clinics from operating.

Effectively, the high court has rejected arguments, formulated by lawyers for the National Organization for Women in the 1980s, that civil provisions of the 1970 Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was adopted as a tool to combat organized crime, and the Hobbs Act, an older anti-extortion measure, could be used to bar protests by groups that clearly intend to prevent clinics from operating.

But from the beginning of the long fight over clinic protests, some progressive groups have argued that, even if the anti-choice organizations involved were noxious players, broader issues of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were also in play.

It is for that reason that the AFL-CIO, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the position of the anti-choice groups, will see itself as having secured a sort of victory with this particular court ruling. While they disagree officially, and often passionately, with the anti-choice groups on fights over court nominations and other issues, labor organizations weighed in on the side of the clinic protesters because of honest fears that lawsuits and injunctions based on a broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws could be used to undermine strikes, anti-sweatshop protests and similar agitations on behalf of social and economic justice that target businesses.

Bob Blakey, a former Congressional aide who drafted the RICO Act has argued that its use in litigation against anti-choice groups "will unconstitutionally chill social protest." Many anti-choice activists have cynically echoed Blakey's line, while conveniently failing to stand up for the rights of labor, environmental and anti-war groups to engage in protests of the sort they defend.

NOW President Kim Gandy countered Blakey's argument by writing that, "As a national officer of NOW, I know that the National Organization for Women has a strong interest in preserving free expression. As former counsel in this case, I know that we have been scrupulous in addressing issues of violence, not speech or peaceful demonstrations.

"NOW's marches, informational pickets and sidewalk demonstrations are effective and legal. Anti-abortion activists have the same right to distribute pamphlets and display signs and make their voices heard. But no group has a right to use violence or threats of violence to force others to give up their constitutional rights.

"Racketeering is not free speech. Marching in front of a clinic, carrying signs and distributing literature is free speech. When that picket becomes a brutal blockade . . . when those signs are used as weapons . . . when prayers change to overt threats . . . then the "protest" has crossed the line into violence and lawlessness, and has left the First Amendment behind."

But that line of reasoning did not convince the AFL-CIO, which historically has eschewed taking an official stand on abortion rights but has worked closely with pro-choice organizations such as Emily's List in recent years, and AFL affiliate unions and groups -- some of which, such as the Coalition or Labor Union Women, are ardently pro-choice. The AFL's lawyers argued against the broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws, on the grounds that unions could be targeted by similar civil suits in efforts by corporations to restrict pickets by labor unions.

Justice Stephen Breyer picked up on the AFL's arguments. Noting that there is a specific federal law that bars the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care -- the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act -- the justice suggested at one point during the long deliberations on these issues that allowing the use of racketeering and extortion laws to restrict protests would "transform virtually every threat of violence anywhere in the United States into a serious federal crime."

To Breyer's view, that would "make a major change in (how) threats of violence (are handled) on the picket line."

The Supreme Court's ruling will not eliminate differences of opinion on where exactly protests enter into the space where they have "left the First Amendment behind." But the unanimous ruling would appear to put an end to the practical legal debate, as the broad interpretation of these laws has been broadly rejected.

In matters of this kind, it is usually best to err on the side of dissent and dissenters. NOW made a credible argument for an exception, but the AFL and other groups made what many considered toi be an equally credible argument that a good exception could become a bad rule. The legal fight, for all intents and purposes, is now done. Unfortunately, with the recent appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the high court and with the move by South Dakota legislators to effectively ban abortion in that state, the national political fight over reproductive rights is heating up. And it is certainly reasonable to suggest that labor organizations, which split with pro-choice groups in the battle over clinic access, citing concerns about protecting the right to protest, have a greater responsibility than ever to work with those pro-choice groups to defend another endangered right -- that of women to make the most fundamental of all choices.

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:

US LEADER CRASHED BY TRYING TO 'PEDAL, WAVE AND SPEAK AT THE SAME TIME'

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.

 

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.