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A New Middle East Arms Race

The Bush Administration has a solution to the escalating arms race in the Middle East: sell more arms.

Under an Administration proposal, Saudi Arabia will get $20 billion of satellite-guided bombs, fighter jet upgrades and new navy ships over ten years to counteract Iran. Israel will get $30 billion over the same period to balance Saudi Arabia, a 43 percent increase compared to the last decade. Not to be left out, Egypt will receive $13 billion. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have also been promised a piece of the pie.

In the latest US-backed arms bonanza, everyone's a winner!

The pact with the Kingdom of Saud--home to 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, 45 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq and birthplace of Al Qaeda--in particular has prompted resistance inside Congress and human rights organizations.

Representatives Anthony Weiner and Jerry Nadler introduced a plan to block the deal on the steps of the Saudi consulate in New York City on Saturday. "We should remember that the high tech arms we gave to the Shah of Iran ended up in the Ayatollah Khomeini's hands," Nadler said. "The same thing could end up happening in Saudi Arabia."

If the US withdraws from Iraq, the Saudi royal family has pledged to arm Sunni military leaders and create new Sunni militias. An advisor to the Saudi government admitted in a November op-ed that Saudi intervention in Iraq "could spark a regional war."

In other words, the weapons the US is proposing to sell to the kingdom could likely end up in the hands of the very people we are currently targeting in Iraq.

Don't forget this picture from 1983 of a certain American official shaking hands with a certain ally-turned-dictator in Baghdad. If only Donald Rumsfeld were still around...

Newt's Pygmy Primary

Last week in Washington Newt Gingrich may or may not have compared the GOP candidates for president to a group of "pygmies."

When asked if he'd join the '08 fray, Newt, ever erudite, invoked Charles De Gaulle. "This is like going to De Gaulle when he was at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises during the Fourth Republic and saying, 'Don't you want to rush in and join the pygmies?'" he said at a dinner sponsored by the American Spectator. "I have no interest in the current political process."

But it seems as if Fred Thompson might win Gingrich's pygmy primary. Newt's longtime strategist, Rich Galen, recently signed up with the (to-be-announced-in-September) Thompson campaign. Gingrich and his wife dined with the Thompsons last month and he's said that if the former Tennessee Senator "runs and does well, then I think that makes it easier for me not to run."

What a relief! But given Gingrich's sordid personal history and chronic foot-in-month disease, an endorsement for Thompson could be more trouble than it's worth.

Censure and Impeachment: Take 2

New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey is easily the most dogged critic of Vice President Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives, and Hinchey has not exactly been soft on President Bush. So it comes as no surprise that Hinchey, a passionate progressive who stood up to the Bush administration when most of the Democratic candidates to replace Bush were cowering in corners of the Capitol, is preparing to introduce House versions of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's proposals to formally condemn the Bush administration "for falsifying its justification to attack Iraq, mismanaging the subsequent military occupation, and egregiously abusing the Constitution."

Hinchey is working with Feingold to develop language for censure resolutions that the ardent critics of the administration hope will quickly attract broad support after their introduction next week.

The first resolution from Feingold and Hinchey is expected to cite Bush and Cheney for making intentionally false statements about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and for misleading Congress and the public into believing Saddam Hussein had ties to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. In addition, it will score the president and vice president for failing to plan for the occupation of Iraq, distorting the reality on the ground as it deteriorated, and overstretching the military in order to maintain the administration's mad mission in Iraq.

The second resolution is expected to suggest that Bush, Cheney and other senior administration officials have blatantly disregarded the rule of law. It will focus on the administration's illegal NSA warrantless surveillance program, its extreme policies on torture, the abusive use of presidential signing statements, the politically-motivated firings of U.S. Attorneys and the failure of the administration to cooperate with congressional inquiries.

"The American people have reached a breaking point with this administration and they are demanding that Congress step up and hold the president, vice president, and others in the executive branch responsible for their actions," says Hinchey, who has been sounding the alarm about Cheney's wrongdoing for years. "While President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to operate as if they are leaders of a monarchy, Congress should censure them and make it clear to this and future generations that their actions are entirely unacceptable. If Congress does not act to formally admonish this White House then the future of our democracy will be placed on a slippery slope in which other presidents may point to the actions of this administration as justification for further abuses of the Constitution. Congress cannot allow such abuses of power and law, which is why Senator Feingold and I will soon introduce these censure resolutions."

Feingold, who first proposed censuring Bush more than a year ago, has struggled to gain support from fellow Democrats in the Senate for any kind of demand for presidential accountability. So he was clearly delighted by the willingness of Hinchey to step up as an ally in the House.

"Congressman Hinchey has been a strong voice in opposition to the President's policies in Iraq and in defense of the Constitution," says Feingold. "I thank Congressman Hinchey for his willingness to stand up to this administration for its misleading statements leading up to and during our military involvement in Iraq, as well as its attack on the rule of law. I am working with Congressman Hinchey and others in crafting these censure resolutions condemning the damaging actions of this administration. Censure is about holding the administration accountable. Congress must be on the record repudiating the administration's misconduct, both for the American people, and for history."

The censure resolutions carry no formal penalty. Unmentioned in the Constitution or in the procedural rules of the House or Senate, a censure vote would not even have the authority to compel the president or vice president to respond to Congress. Yet, a rare rebuke from one or both houses of Congress would put Bush and Cheney on notice that they must either change their approaches in the final 18 months of their tenure or face an even stronger push for their impeachment and removal from office.

An honest review of the records of Bush and Cheney leaves little doubt that impeachment is warranted, and 14 members of the House have now signed on as cosponsors of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's proposal to impeach Cheney. But for a Congress that has shown little taste for the serious work of upholding the Constitution, the censure resolutions offer what Feingold refers to as "moderate" response to administration wrongdoing.

Censure of Bush, Cheney and their underlings by the House or Senate would be meaningful. It would confirm that America has reached a too-long delayed "accountability moment." And, assuming that Bush and Cheney continue to respond to any congressional challenge like belligerent school boys rather than sworn defenders of the republic, it is highly unlikely that a renewed push to censure Bush and Cheney will undermine the burgeoning grassroots campaign for impeachment. Only if Bush and Cheney were to acknowledge their wrongs, change their policies and finish their terms as the model officials they have never been would a censure drive push impeachment off the table.

Demands for censure and impeachment ought to be seen as complimentary. They are both expressions of the desire of enlightened members of the legislative branch to begin holding errant executives to account.

Hinchey is right when he says that, "History must show that Congress stood up to this administration and formally condemned it."

Ultimately, history may ask less of Congress than the American people. The people are already expressing a desire for more than a formal condemnation of Bush and Cheney. Fifty-four percent, according to a recent American Research Group poll, want the vice president impeached. Support for impeaching the president hovers just below 50 -- and the anti-Bush, anti-Cheney numbers have been rising, rapidly, in recent months.

But a formal condemnation, in the form of censure resolutions, ought not be dismissed as a compromise or a deviation from the one true path of impeachment. Getting members of the House and Senate to sign on for censuring Bush and Cheney forces them to start thinking about the administration's lawlessness, it gets them on the record for accountability and it narrows the gap for the leap to impeach. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Rapture Ready

On July 16, I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses led out of Egypt."

Throughout CUFI's Israel Summit, videographer Thomas Shomaker and I were hounded by PR agents seeking to prevent us from interviewing attendees about the End Times. The conference, we were told, was about "one message" - evangelical Christians supporting Israel. We were instructed to only interview CUFI leaders capable of sticking to the talking point that their support for Israel has, as Hagee declared, "nothing to do with the End Times." But I was forbidden from asking Hagee about statements he made in his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," that appeared to blame Jews for their own persecution. After doing just that during a press conference, I was removed from the conference by off-duty DC cops summoned by members of Hagee's family.

I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington. See it for yourself.

 

Romney v. Europe

What does Mitt Romney have against France? Campaigning this week in Iowa, Romney warned that, even though America's unhappy with the war, it's "not about to take a sharp left turn and put somebody in the White House who would turn America into a European-type state." The day before, in New Hampshire, Romney trotted out the old GOP red flag against "big government, big brother, big taxes." "That's where Europe went," he added "That's what got them the economic challenges they had." Old Mitt's sticking close to a campaign strategy memo, written by his top advisers and reported in the Boston Globe earlier this year, that advised him to make "European-style socialism" the enemy. "That's where Hillary and the Dems would take us," the memo said, "Hillary=France." (Romney's also taken to comparing Hillary Clinton to Karl Marx.)

Perhaps he could me more grateful to his one-time host country. As a young Mormon, Romney received a missionary draft deferment and spent two plus years attempting to convert the residents of Bordeaux and Paris to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. According to his one-time fellow missionary, Dane McBride, the usual answer was "Non, merci."

Though Romney organized the 2002 Winter games in Salt Lake City, he's apparently lost the Olympic spirit of global goodwill. Meanwhile, the Americans in Paris featured in Michael Moore's SICKO seem quite happy with France--fries and universal healthcare included.

A Commitment to the Constitution

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn.org have launched a vital campaign to put restoration of the Constitution on the agenda for Democratic presidential candidates -- just as the conservative American Freedom Agenda movement has done for Republican candidates.

CCR, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn have dubbed their initiative the American Freedom Campaign (AFC), and its goal is roughly parallel to that of the American Freedom Agenda movement launched by former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, veteran Republican strategist Richard Viguerie and American Conservative Union chairman David Keene: "to build grassroots support to restore checks and balances and reverse abuses of power by the executive branch."

Like the American Freedom Agenda, which has dogged Republican candidates to sign on for restoration of the Constitution -- with limited success, aside from an enthusiastic endorsement by Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- the CCR/Human Rights Watch/MoveOn campaign will urge presidential candidates to sign its "American Freedom Pledge."

The pledge reads:

We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal recourse, allow our phones and emails to be tapped without a court order, and above all we do not give any President unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from assault by any President.

The Constitution protects American Freedom. With checks and balances, and basic legal rights, it has prevented tyranny and safeguarded our liberty. Yet today, under the pretense of the "war on terror," the White House is dismantling the Constitution, concentrating power in the President and undermining the rule of law. THIS IS UN-AMERICAN.

I hereby join the American Freedom Campaign to educate my neighbors about the threat and urge my representatives to confront and correct these abuses of our America.

That's a sound statement, although it is not quite as specific as the American Freedom Agenda declaration, which asks candidates to pledge to:

* Prohibit military commissions whose verdicts are suspect except in places of active hostilities where a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony or to prevent anarchy;

* Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion in military or civilian tribunals;

* Prohibit the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants without proof of criminal activity on the President's say-so;

* Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien enemy combatants, i.e., non-citizens who have allegedly participated in active hostilities against the United States, to protect the innocent;

* Prohibit the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails or breaking and entering homes on the President's say-so in violation of federal law;

* Empower the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of signing statements that declare the intent of the President to disregard duly enacted provisions of bills he has signed into law because he maintains they are unconstitutional;

* Prohibit the executive from invoking the state secrets privilege to deny justice to victims of constitutional violations perpetrated by government officers or agents; and, establish legislative-executive committees in the House and Senate to adjudicate the withholding of information from Congress based on executive privilege that obstructs oversight and government in the sunshine;

* Prohibit the President from kidnapping, detaining, and torturing persons abroad in collaboration with foreign governments;

* Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution; and;

* Prohibit the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence.

Theoretically, Democratic and Republican candidates could sign on to both pledges. But let's accept for the time being that two campaigns are needed to address the damage done by the Bush/Cheney administration to our one Constitution.

Let's also accept that the conservative American Freedom Agenda has set the standard that the new American Freedom Campaign should adopt with regard to presidential candidates. When Republican candidates have refused to sign on to the American Freedom Agenda, the conservatives running that campaign have highlighted the fact with press statements that are sharply critical of the reluctant contenders.

After former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney begged off, Fein told the Boston Globe, "Mitt Romney's ignorance of the Constitution's checks and balances and protections against government abuses would have alarmed the Founding Fathers and their conservative philosophy."

The American Freedom Campaign should adopt a similar standard. It is not enough to hail those candidates who agree to defend the Constitution. It is also necessary to condemn those who fail to do so.

After all, if candidates won't commit to the Constitution during the campaign, it is a safe bet that they will not do so once they are in office.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Josh Marshall on Impeachment

What was once considered marginal is now mainstream. A majority of the country supports beginning impeachment proceedings against Vice-President Dick Cheney; and when it comes to his partner, Bush, the nation is evenly divided.

Legal experts make the case that the grounds for impeachment are stronger now than when the House threatened to impeach Nixon. The list of criminal acts and instances of executive overreach grows longer with each passing day. Constitutional crisis looms. And as my colleague John Nichols has said, (and written in our magazine this week)-- at a time of constitutional crisis, impeachment proceedings are the proper tonic.

That said, I've had as many questions as answers about the political value of pursuing impeachment proceedings--and The Nation has published strong views for and against. (For one of the strongest cases "For", see Elizabeth Holtzman's rigorous and powerful cover story, "The Case for Impeachment," published in January 2006; I'd argue that it was central spark to launching a movement that has now acquired extraordinary popular groundswell.)

What's fascinating to watch is how pragmatic political commentators are now beginning to see that impeachment may not be that radical a remedy--especially when confronted with a defiantly lawless Administration. Today, for example, respected political analyst/blogger/ writer Josh Marshall posted a must-read blog at TalkingPointsMemo.com.

He's still opposed to the movement to impeach Bush, but in a sign of how this political moment is shaping Marshall's reasoning, he writes:" Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the Constitution, acting as though not just the law , but the Constitution itself , which is the fundamental law from which the statutes gain that force and legimitacy, doesn't apply to them. If this is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed."

Marshall admits that his position on impeachment hasn't changed. Yet. But it is clear that he is a man on an intellectual and political journey when it comes to this issue. He ends by noting: " I think we we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country." That is a central question: How do we acquit ourselves of our duty to our country? Marshall remains opposed to impeachment proceedings on pragmatic grounds. I understand his thinking and reasoning.

And while, like Marshall, I've wrestled with the political value of impeachment proceedings, in these last weeks and months it seems increasingly clear that we as citizens have a higher moral duty to our country, its fate and future generations. While some have argued that impeachment may create a constitutional crisis, it may well be that Impeachment is the cure for our constitutional crisis.

Who's the Victim in the Case of Michael Vick?

Michael Vick has a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons for $130 million. His skill at running, kicking and throwing a football has won him the admiration of millions -- until now. As you probably know, Vick has been charged with involvement in the cruel and illegal "sport" of dog fighting. Americans may not care if an athlete beats his wife, but we love our pets. Breeding and training dogs to fight and kill, disposing of the losers by hanging, electrocution, slamming them repeatedly onto the floor -- this is definitely taking machismo too far.

In his recent piece for The Nation's website, Dave Zirin makes some valid points. Yes, Vick deserves some semblance of the presumption of innocence in the media. (Vick claims others ran the dog fight business from his Virginia house without his knowledge when he wasn't present.) And yes, there's racism in some of the virulent attacks on him on sports and news websites. References to lynching, the n-word and OJ do suggest something besides love of animals.

But I was appalled by Zirin's attempt to shift focus away from Vick to "the self-righteousness of the media" and the hypocrisy of "American culture" which "celebrates violent sports -- especially football -- and is insensitive to the consequences that the weekly scrum has on the bodies and minds of its players" like Earl Campbell and Andre Waters and other middle-aged ex-footballers who suffered long-term damage from old injuries. Like the accusations of racism, this sounds like a rather desperate bid to change the subject. Why should one concern displace the other? Can't one both feel revulsion at animal torture and want the game to be safer? At least the the players were volunteers, richly rewarded for the risks they took. Nobody asked the dogs if they wanted to have their throats ripped out.

There's probably a sense in which Michael Vick is a victim. But it's the same sense in which everyone , from Alberto Gonzales to Paris Hilton, is shaped by social forces outside their control. If you take that view, though, everyone should get amnesty: the racist cop, the Enron executive, the porn-loving tormenters of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and all the other people we love to attack at The Nation. Why do I think we are not going to recommend our readers lighten up on, say, Scooter Libby, on the grounds that working for Dick Cheney would warp anyone's moral fibre? We only deploy the blame-society argument on behalf of people we already sympathize with.

As human beings go, Michael Vick had more freedom of action than most. Nobody claims he electrocuted dogs to put food on the table. If -- note I said if -- he's found guilty, he should get the same sentence other people get who are convicted of the same crimes. Increased sensitivity to animal welfare may have its annoying pieties and hypocrisies but it marks a true contemporary moral advance and it's not as if we humans have so many of those to show for ourselves. It's good that dog fighting is banned. And if football is really as morally destructive as Zirin claims -- if it really turns ordinary men into sadists through a culture of "trickle-down violence" -- then maybe we should ban it too.

ADDENDUM: I thought I would enjoy having a comments section on this blog, but as you can see I've turned it off. For some reason, the website's comment sections have been colonized by a small group of trolls--mostly men, mostly conservative -- who post obsessively, rudely, inanely and irrelevantly. I just got tired of hosting their sandbox.

War Made Easy

In 2005, Norman Solomon released his book, War Made Easy, which exposes the manner in which US presidents manage to sell war, like clockwork, through the same fallacious arguments, largely with the help of a compliant media.

Two years later the Media Education Foundation's Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp have adapted Solomon's book into a documentary film. The movie features footage of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and our current president making frighteningly similar arguments about the motives for wars. All claim that violence is a means to peace and that war is the last resort. "We still seek no wider war," said Johnson. "The United States does not start fights," said Reagan. "America does not seek conflict," argued George H.W. Bush "I don't like to use military force," said Bill Clinton. "Out nation enters this conflict reluctantly," says George W. Bush.

As the movie points out, the mainsteam media only turn against war when it is too late. "News media, down the road, will point out that there were lies about the Gulf of Tonkin or about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," notes Solomon in the film. "But that doesn't bring back any of the people who have died … when it comes to life and death, the truth comes out too late."

It is a chilling and persuasive movie. Solomon hopes it can serve as an organizing tool --and a call to action. "In my 40 years as a journalist and activist I have learned that it is important to see grassroots activity as central and not as peripheral" he says.

In that spirit the filmmakers are helping to organize screenings around the country in the hope that it will spark anti-war activity. So far there have been dozens of screenings of the film -- in churches, at meetings, and in people's living rooms. The meetings have been organized by various groups committed to peace, such as the Progressive Democrats of America and Veterans for Peace.

These grassroots screenings, says Solomon, offer people ways to see the film--and, perhaps even more important, help spark a dialogue between activists. "The most common reactions to the film have been feelings of grief and anger, as well as a heightened resolve to end this war and to prevent future ones," said Solomon. A recent screening in California, for example, prompted discussions on how to advance legislation to call for bringing California National Guardsmen home from Iraq. "Activists are making the film their own … it's a sharing process that moves us forward in the directions we need to go," said Solomon.

The Nation plans to screen this film on next week's Nation Cruise, and those interested in attending or hosting a screening of War Made Easy in their town can find details at the film's web site.


This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to nationvictories@gmail.com.