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A Future Only a Pentagon Planner Could Possibly Love

How can we understand our world, if we have hardly a clue about the mini-worlds where planning for our future takes place? Just the other day, the Washington Post had one of the odder reports of the year. According to journalist Rick Weiss, demonstrators at protests in Washington DC and elsewhere have been independently reporting large "dragonflies" (with a bizarre "row of spheres, the size of small berries, attached along the tails") hovering near their rallies. ("'I'd never seen anything like it in my life,' the Washington lawyer said. 'They were large for dragonflies. I thought, is that mechanical, or is that alive?'")

Is this the micro-equivalent of UFO madness? Folie à Philip K. Dick? Are these actual dragonflies, which do look robotic, or advanced "spy drones" loosed by some unnamed agency in search of homeland-security troublemakers?

As a matter of fact, militarized insects have been on the Pentagon's drawing boards for quite a while. Most recently, the British Times reported that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing cyborg moths, implanted with computer chips while still in their cocoons, that might someday soon flutter into an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan and beam back video and other information. (The Post's Weiss quotes DARPA program manager Amit Lal as saying: "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support…. [T]his science fiction vision is within the realm of reality.") And don't forget those Pentagon-funded neural-implant experiments involving blue sharks in hopes that they might someday be turned into stealth spies of the oceans.

The first robobug, the "insectothopter," was developed by the CIA back in the 1970s. It "looked just like a dragonfly and contained a tiny gasoline engine to make the four wings flap," but it couldn't handle the crosswinds. Three decades later, no agency will fess up to siccing robobugs on crowds of American demonstrators (as the Cleveland Indians sicced gnats on the Yankee's Joba Chamberlain in a crucial recent playoff game). And some experts agree with Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, former head of the Naval Air Systems Command, who claims: "I'll be seriously dead before that program deploys,"

Whatever the truth of the hovering "dragonflies," planning for new weaponry and supportive technologies no less strange, no less futuristic, no less implausible (if it weren't actually happening) is indeed underway -- and the number of Americans who know anything about it, or the uses to which such new militarized technology is likely to be put, runs to the vanishing point. The other week Tomdispatch.com's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Turse--whose new book, The Complex, on the military-industrial-academic-entertainment-everything complex, will be out in the spring--spent time behind the closed doors of a Pentagon-approved conference that had in mind nothing less than planning weaponry, strategy, and policy for the next hundred years--yours, mine, and our children's.

For two days, he hobnobbed with key players and planners in "Urban Operations," or more familiarly UO, as well as Pentagon power-brokers, active duty and retired US military personnel, foreign coalition partners, representatives of big and small defense contractors, and academics who support their work, all gathered at the "Joint Urban Operations, 2007" conference to discuss weaponry so futuristic that you last encountered it in science fiction films.

While noshing on burnt eggrolls and chocolate-chip cookies, these Pentagon-supported planners are also considering hand-launched tiny spy drones, "sense through walls" technology, weaponry so "precise" that it can take a floor out of a building, leaving the floors above and below largely intact, and the far reaches of "non-lethal weaponry." For these men, the fighting in Baghdad today is the future of American warfare in the burgeoning slum cities of the developing world over the next century.

As Turse concludes in his piece "The Pentagon's 100-Year War": "With their surprisingly bloodless language, antiseptic PowerPoint presentations, and calm tones, these men are planning Iraq-style wars of tomorrow. What makes this chilling is not only that they envision a future of endless urban warfare, but that they have the power to drive such a war-fighting doctrine into that future; that they have the power to mold strategy and advance weaponry that can, in the end, lock Americans into policies that are unlikely to make it beyond these conference-room doors, no less into public debate, before they are unleashed."

So buckle your seat belt, prepare for G-force, and blast off into a future only a military planner could possibly love.

Ballotground in the Battlegrounds

For years, the rightwing has used divisive anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-fear-of-the-day ballot initiatives to boost voter turnout on Election Day and squeak out wins over Democratic candidates. But now Ballotground.org, a grassroots group that kicked off a couple weeks ago, is taking a page from that playbook – minus the divisive ugliness – and working to place antiwar ballot initiatives in the battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.

"The right has been using turnout initiatives for years," Executive Director Dylan Loewe told me. "This is the left's response. We're going to work with the states to craft language that captures what more than two-thirds of the country already believes – that it's time to bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible."

Loewe was pursuing law and public policy degrees at Columbia Law School and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government when he came up with the "vague idea" that led to Ballotground.

"Like most Americans, I'd grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of the war and the impotence of Congress to change it," Loewe said. "I felt like we had to take the issue out of DC, into the states and to the people. People have a right – at the ballot box, on election day – to express that in a democracy our opinion is not irrelevant and that it's time to bring the troops home."

Loewe took a leave of absence from grad school and reached out to an experienced team of colleagues. Together, they looked at the 24 states that have a ballot initiative process and narrowed it down to states that either were battlegrounds in 2004 or could be in 2008. Of the five selected, Arizona is the only one that was decided by more than five percentage points in the 2004 presidential election, and it had been considered "in play" until the final weeks when the Kerry campaign made a controversial decision to pull out. Ballotground is now working closely with civic leaders, state elected officials, antiwar organizations, and the citizens of the targeted states to determine the ballot language and build coalitions.

"Our goal is to literally make the 2008 election a referendum on the war," Loewe said. "These ballot initiatives will boost antiwar turnout, and the greater turnout, the greater the antiwar mandate for the new Congress and president. To end this war, we need a change in the White House and a clear mandate for the new president."

Ballotground will be on the ground in each of the five states sometime between December and March, depending on the states' initiative deadlines. The organization will then spend 30 to 45 days training volunteers, and 100 to 120 days gathering signatures to get on the ballot. It hopes to raise a budget of $6.2 million – about half of which would be used to qualify for the ballot and build a database of antiwar voters, with the remainder going towards voter turnout.

Loewe also hopes in the coming months that Ballotground's success at the grassroots will translate to increasing pressure on the current Congress as 2008 shapes up as a direct referendum on the war.

"I think 2006 definitely showed us that an implied mandate is insufficient," Loewe said. "But more importantly, when it comes to military policy, if you're not sending a mandate directly to the Commander in Chief, you end up with an uphill climb."

George Bush won by a margin of just seventeen electoral votes in 2004. If Ballotground is successful in its effort, citizens will be in a better place to hold the new Commander in Chief accountable.

Gore Wins the Norwegian Primary

Having now won the Norwegian Primary, it is reasonable to ask why Al Gore would want to slog his way through the snows of New Hampshire.

But the inconvenient truth is that never has the man who might yet be president needed to more seriously consider his personal legacy--not to mention the small matter of his potential to make the world anew--than now.

There is, after all, the matter of the open space at the end of what is now the most remarkable resume of anyone seeking – or considering seeking – the presidency.

Let's review.

This is how Al Gore's resumé reads as of this morning:

Son of a great senator.

Harvard graduate, with honors.

Vietnam veteran.

Award-winning investigative journalist.

Congressman.

Senator.

Vice President.

Winner of the popular vote for President of the United States.

Best-selling author.

Environmental activist.

Academy Award winner.

And, now, Nobel Peace Prize winner--he shares the prize with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--for "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

As resumés go, that is one for the top of the pile.

But it begs the question: Shouldn't a man who has gotten this far be thinking about how to finish the journey?

And isn't the last stop the Oval Office?

To think that Gore is not pondering these questions today would be absurd.

Of course, the former vice president says, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

No doubt about that.

But Gore cannot feign ignorance of his own "political issue." When he appeared in San Francisco on the eve of Friday morning's announcement, at a fundraising event for California Senator Barbara Boxer, the man of the hour tried to deliver an earnest address about climate change. But when he concluded his remarks, the crowd burst into chants of "Run Al Run!"

That message echoed the full-page ad that was placed by the burgeoning "Draft Gore for President" movement in the front section of Wednesday's New York Times. The advertisement bluntly suggested that the announced contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination lack Gore's ``vision, standing in the world, and political courage" -- not just with regard to climate change, but in his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, his defenses of civil liberties and his advocacy for a renewed commitment to science and reason.

"There are times for politicians and times for heroes. America and the Earth need a hero right now," read the Draft Gore movement's open letter to the soon-to-be Nobel man. "Please rise to this challenge, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been."

Now, that's pressure. But it is a velvet grip in which the peace prize winner finds himself.

Al Gore has arrived at the point that most politicians can only imagine in their wildest dreams. The entire world is asking him to be not merely a candidate but an ecological--not to mention, ideological --savior. And there is simply no question that he is viable. In fact, he is more viable than he has ever been.

Can Gore resist? Probably.

Should he resist? Probably not.

Sure, it will be said that Gore can do more to address climate change as a private citizen. But no one who as been so close to the presidency as he will miss the point that the most powerful official on the planet has some sway in matters involving the planet.

The last serious presidential prospect to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Teddy Roosevelt, who got the award when he was serving as president in 1906. (The Norwegians were impressed that he had convinced Japanese and Russian representatives to come to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and that he had then gotten them to negotiate an end to a nasty little war they had been waging.)

Roosevelt exited the presidency in 1908 and almost immediately began to regret the decision. The peace prize was not enough to get Republicans to ditch his successor, the hapless William Howard Taft, and put Roosevelt at the head of their 1912 ticket. But TR did run the most successful third-party presidential campaign of the 20th century that year – as a "Bull Moose" Progressive.

Roosevelt never got over his belief that, had he just won the Republican nomination in 1912, he would again have been president. And, eight years later, at a point after the horrors of World War I when people were taking peace prizes rather more seriously, he was widely encouraged to make a run for the Republican nomination that probably would have secured him not just the party line but the presidency.

Roosevelt did not need much encouragement. Barely 60 -- the age Gore will turn next March -- the Rough Rider was ready for one more charge; indeed, family members and friends reported that he was raring to go.

Only the coronary embolism that did him in on January 6, 1919, was powerful enough to cure TR's case of presidency lust. And there is no reason to believe that Al Gore, a man who bid first for the presidency in 1988, considered running in 1992, spent eight years as an understudy, then bid again in 2000 – winning the Democratic nomination and the popular vote, but losing the job on a 5-4 technical call by the Supreme Court -- is any less inclined that Roosevelt was to give it another try.

There will be a lot of "fire-in-the-belly" talk over the next few days.

But Al Gore should not be worrying about checking his gut.

He should be thinking about the resume he has spent a lifetime preparing.

It is more impressive than ever.

Unfortunately, the suddenly more impressive character of Gore's resume only serves to emphasize that it remains incomplete.

A Nobel Prize for Peace is a fine honor. But take it from a man who won the presidency and the prize but could not leave the political arena.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better," Teddy Roosevelt said as he prepared another run for the White House. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

The Experts on Iraq

Some years ago Nation patriarch Victor Navasky and his sometime collaborator in mischief Chris Cerf published The Experts Speak: The Definitive Guide to Authoritative Misinformation, a sort of Guinness Book of World Records of experts who were wrong in every field.

Now the duo is back and have embarked on a sequel -- experts who were wrong about Iraq. They're interested in exact quotations (the shorter the better) from politicians, professors, pundits, the military, whomever and they've asked for help from Nation online readers.

Here are a few examples of what they're looking for:

"We shall be greeted, I think, in Baghdad and Basra, with kites and boom boxes."
Fouad Ajami, Professor of Middle East Studies at John Hopkins University in the Washington Post on the likely outcome of an American invasion of Iraq.

"I will bet you the best dinner in the Gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week."
Bill O'Reilly, Fox News

"Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries."
Colin Powell offering "proof," before the United Nations Security Council, to back up his claims about Iraq's possession of WMD.

As Nation readers know, this is just a very short sampling. The experts were wrong about the future, the past, and the present of Iraq. The goal of this new book is to document the errors, the arrogance and the mendacity with short, pungent quotes that speak for themselves.

Any help you can provide will be much appreciated. Please send suggested quotes to Navasky and Cerf at missionaccomplishediraq@gmail.com.

Veterans' Health-Care System Does Not 'Support The Troops'

With soldiers being endlessly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the system that is supposed to provide the injured with disability benefits is broken. So says an independent commission report released this week. The report, put out by the Veteran's Disability Benefits Commission notes that there is inadequate information-sharing between government departments and there is little communication between doctors and government officials dealing with veterans claims. Worse, the information that needs to be shared is apparently often not very reliable in the first place.

A House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday reviewed the 544-page commission report which details how unresponsive the executive branch and military are to veteran's medical needs. James Terry Scott, chairman of the independent commission, said at the hearing that there is a lack of expertise among clinicians in army hospitals and that veterans frequently receive inadequate medical advice, especially concerning posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The report chronicled the stunning backlog in processing claims, which the Government Accountability Office first documented two weeks ago. The GAO report found disability payments were delayed an average of six months after the claim was made.

Committee members and Terry spent much of the hearing agreeing that the military needs more doctors who can identify and competently address PTSD. Joshua Kors has chronicled for The Nation has how some military doctors avoid dealing with PTSD by falsely diagnosing veterans with a pre-existing personality disorder instead.

As Kors reported, if the military diagnoses a personality disorder as a pre-existing condition, then it does not have to pay for medical benefits. According to the commission's report, in the mid-1980s, the Pentagon, as a cost-cutting measure, encouraged military doctors to diagnose veterans with only one condition. That means that if a military doctor can diagnose a veteran suffering from PTSD with another pre-existing condition, the pentagon does not have to provide treatment for PTSD.

Committee chair Bob Filner, a California Democrat, said he hoped he could add an amendment to this year's military spending bill that would deny the Pentagon this dodge. What about overhauling the entire dysfunctional veterans' health care system? Filner said that while he strongly agrees with the commission's recommendations for fundamental change he doubts Congress can take up this matter until next year.

Of course, if Congress continues to fund the wars, the problem will be even more massive next year then it is now.

Five Years On....

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Congress's vote to authorize the Bush Administration to overthrow the government of Iraq by military force. The Nation opposed the war authorization. In "An Open Letter to Congress," which we published on the magazine's cover on the eve of the vote, we argued that it would have "a significance that goes far beyond the war." Our opposition has been fully, tragically confirmed by the human and political disasters of these last few years.

As we mark this anniversary, it is time to consider the longterm damage the grievously misconceived "war on terrorism" has inflicted on our security and relationship with the world. Eventually US troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle for an exit strategy, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the "war on terror." At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country's role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the "war on terror" --even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won't a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?

Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.

The Administration has also justified the expansion of America's military capacity--over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets nearing 700 billion dollars--as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism. What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism--a brutal, horrifying tactic--is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn't succeed. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.

Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the US; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians.

It is also worth remembering as we mark this anniversary that military invasion and occupation, and crusades masquerading as foreign policy, divert precious resources from real security. Five years ago, the doubts and warnings about military action in Iraq were brushed aside (including those clearly and consistently expressed by the Nation). Now that reality has confirmed the argument, isn't it time to act on the knowledge?

Alongside the get-out-of-Iraq debate, the political system needs a parallel debate that lays out how we will exit this "long war" -- which is a formula for unlimited militarization and recurring military conflicts. (As an industrial project for the arms industry, it could be even more open-ended than the Cold War.) We need a debate that confronts the danger of inflating a very real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war, to be fought simultaneously on countless obscure battle fronts, large and small, visible and secret.

Major political leaders in both parties continue to buy into a view of US global supremacy--the "indispensable nation" scenario. They were silent when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" to hunt down Islamists on that continent. Nor they did object when CIA gunships bombed villages earlier this year in Somalia. When Bush announced intentions to increase Army troop strength by 90,000, many Democrats boasted it was their idea first.

To what end? These new troops won't be available for Iraq. Are they for the next war or occupation? The delusion of military power is deeply rooted.

We would do better--both in addressing the danger of a wider sectarian war with failing regimes in the Middle East, and in combating terrorism--to reduce the heavy US military and geopolitical footprint in the region. That means withdrawing US forces from Iraq and organizing regional diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria, to contain the civil war from spreading. It would mean addressing the legitimate grievances of many in the Islamic world, especially Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And it would mean changing the conversation with the people of the Arab and Islamic worlds from the danger of extremism to the economic opportunity that peace and cooperation could bring.

A purposeful opposition must form to rethink America's role in the world. There are large and fateful questions to confront: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Republic or Empire? Global leader or global cop? Where, as Sherle Schwenninger asked in the Nation's pages a few years ago, "is the America that is less one of warrior and preacher/proselytizer and more one of architect and builder?" How can America act like an imperial power in a post-imperial world? Much can be accomplished by focusing on the questions that conventional opinion ignores. And starting the discussion now can help establish new terms and limits for the next president elected in 2008.

Concretely, Congress should be pushed to take legislative action to renounce the Bush doctrine of "preventive war." As The Nation warned on the eve of the 2002 war resolution vote, "the decision to go to war has a significance that goes far beyond the war....It declares a policy of military supremacy over the entire earth-- an objective never attained by any power....The new policy [of preventive war] reverses a long American tradition of contempt for unprovoked attacks. It gives the United States the unrestricted right to attack nations even when it has not been attacked by them and is not about to be attacked by them...It accords the US the right to overthrow any regime--like the one in Iraq--it decided should be overthrown...It declares that the defense of the US and the world against nuclear proliferation is military force." Declaring the Bush doctrine of endless war defunct will not solve the problems posed by Iraq, but it will reduce the likelihood that we will see more Iraqs in our future.

With the 2008 elections upon us, it is unlikely that the Democrats (with a few honorable exceptions) will rethink their official national security strategy in any significant way. But citizens committed to a vision of real security can launch a debate framed by our own concerns and values. If we have learned anything in the past six years, it is that even overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the 21st century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

A real security plan would widen the definition of security to include all threats to human life, whether they stem from terrorism, disease, environmental degradation, natural disasters or global poverty--a definition that makes it clear that the military is only one of many tools that can be used to address urgent threats. A last resort. This alternative security strategy would also reconfigure the US presence in the world -- reducing the footprint of American military power, pulling back the forward deployments drastically and reducing the bloated Pentagon budget by as much as half.

Yes, at home, all this will take time and will have to overcome the fiercest kind of political resistance. Yet this is not an impossible political goal, now that Americans have seen where the military option leads. Dealing intelligently with reality is not retreat. It is the first wise step toward restoring genuine national security.

The "Draft Gore" Moment

Al Gore may well win a Nobel Peace Prize this week, which is no small accomplishment. But the more relentless of the former vice president's political proponents are saying, "Why stop with an trophy when can have it all?"

After all, the "Draft Gore" movement suggests, it is not that great a leap from the awards stage in Stockholm to the presidential campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The peace prize winner -- or winners, if deserving Canadian Inuit environmentalist Sheila Watt-Cloutier shares the honor with Gore -- will be announced on Friday.

Then there will be headlines, broadcast reports, interviews with Gore about his Global Marshall Plan to address climate change, and the inevitable flurry of speculation about whether it wouldn't make more sense for Democrats to nominate an internationally acclaimed thinker and activist than a cautious-and-calculating former First Lady or a cautious-but-somewhat-more-inspiring junior senator from Illinois.

Conveniently, the speculation would probably reach a crescendo around the time of the November 2 deadline for entering the New Hampshire primary competition. Imagine the drama of days prior to that deadline, as America awaits the decision of a former congressman, senator, vice president and Democratic presidential nominee to enter the race for an office that -- had only the American political process been structured to accept the popular will of the people rather than the determination of an archaic and undemocratic Electoral College and its Supreme Court manipulators -- he should have held for the past eight years.

"We feel that if he wins the Nobel Prize... then he can't not run for president," chirps Roy Gayhart, a California "Draft Gore" organizer.

Perhaps. But, just in case the reluctant runner needs a push, his line coaches are yelling at the top of their lungs, "Run Al Run."

The crusading campaigners of a "Draft Gore" movement that is decidedly better organized and focused than at least a few of the declared Democratic presidential campaigns operate a sharp website at Draft Gore.com have active organizations in a number of states and are now capitalizing with some skill on the Nobel moment.

On Wednesday in the front section of the New York Times--the town square of American political discourse--is a full-page advertisement featuring a particularly trim and youthful image of the former vice president presented as "An Open Letter to Al Gore."

"You say you have fallen out of love with politics, and you have every reason to feel that way," the letter from the Draft Gore campaigners suggests. "But we know you have not fallen out of love with your country. And your country needs you now--as do your party and the planet you are fighting to save."

Suggesting that Gore must be president if he wants to tackle global warming, the letter prods him, "Only from the Oval Office can you wield the kind of influence needed to move countries, policies and corporations to bring about meaningful change."

The Draft Gore movement, which is seeking petition signatures urging their man to run, is hitting the former vice president where it counts. It is certainly true that the presidency would afford Gore an unrivaled opportunity to realize what for him are moral imperatives. And it is also true that the presidency is within his grasp.

The New York Times advertisement follows radio advertising in Iowa and Florida, as well as an ambitious "op-ed" campaign by Gore proponents such as Ben Barber. Already, Gore backers in Michigan are busy gathering the 12,396 signatures that must be obtained by October 23 to qualify their man for a place on the primary ballot in a state where an August poll by the Detroit News had Gore accomplishing what Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Clinton and the other Democratic contenders have not been able to do: leading Hillary Clinton.

Mitt Romney Goes All Alberto Gonzales on the Constitution

Call it the Alberto Gonzales approach to the system of checks and balances.

Asked whether he would obey the Constitution and consult Congress before sending US troops into combat, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney says he would consult his lawyers first.

Just as President Bush turned to Gonzales for legal opinions that the disgraced former White House counsel and Attorney General wrote with the purpose of absolving the commander-in-chief of any duty to uphold the Constitution, so Romney says that he would take his cue from contemporary counselors rather than the Founders of the American experiment.

The question in Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Michigan came from MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who asked, "Governor Romney... if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?"

Romney responded, "You sit down with your attorneys and (they) tell you what you have to do. But obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress..."

Matthews interjected: "Did (President Bush) need (a go-ahead from Congress)?"

"You know," Romney replied, "we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do."

Most of the other GOP contenders paid at least a measure of lip service to Constitutional niceties, with Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson displaying relative respect for the separation of powers while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee adopted the mad-bomber line.

When all was said and done, however, only Texas Congressman Ron Paul actually challenged Romney's disregard of the essential document.

Matthews asked, "Congressman Paul, do you believe the President needs authorization of Congress to attack strategic targets in Iran, nuclear facilities?"

"Absolutely," said Paul, who in 2002 was one of six House Republicans to vote against authorizing Bush to attack Iraq. "This idea of going and talking to attorneys totally baffles me. Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it? You're not allowed to go to war without a declaration of war."

Paul went on to dismiss the whole notion that Iran poses a threat to the US. "The thought that the Iranians could pose an imminent attack on the United States is preposterous. There's no way. This is just... war propaganda, continued war propaganda, preparing this nation to go to war and spread this war not only in Iraq, but into Iran, unconstitutionally. It is a road to disaster for us as a nation. It's a road to our financial disaster if we don't read the Constitution once in a while."

Later, Paul would attempt to explain to Rudy Giuliani that the September 11, 2001, attacks were carried out by terrorists, rather than a foreign government. When the former New York mayor again attempted to use the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as justification for preemptive attacks on sovereign states, Paul explained with regard to September 11: "That was no country. That was 19 thugs. That had nothing to do with a country."

Giuliani wasn't having any of it. "So imminent attack is a possibility, and we should be ready for it," the Republican front runner ranted, before declaring that "we have to be willing to use a military option" against Iran.

That dust-up may explain one of the more intriguing exchanges of Tuesday night's debate.

"Congressman Paul," moderator Matthews asked, "do you promise to support the nominee of the Republican Party next year?"

"Not right now I don't," Paul replied. "Not unless they're willing to end the war and bring our troops home. And not unless they are willing to look at the excess in spending. No, I'm not going to support them if they continue down the path that has taken our party down the tubes."

Dems Fail Litmus Test

The Washington Post reported today that Sen. Harry Reid has informed private-equity funds that the Senate will not be closing the obscenely inequitable tax loophole that allows mega-billionaires to be taxed at 15 percent – lower than most working Americans. Harry says there simply isn't time in the busy Senate schedule. Seriously. And the Post points out that if there isn't time in 2007, there almost certainly won't be in 2008 either – "Congress tends to be leery of tax increases in election years."

I'm sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with the private-equity firms and hedge funders putting "more than 20 lobbying firms" to work for them in the Halls of Congress. Nor is Reid's about face a sign of the Wall Street Execs "increasing their campaign donations to members of Congress." It's simply a jam-packed schedule – who has time to address the shafting of revenues for public infrastructure investment? Rebuilding the shredded social contract? funding health care, education, or new sustainable energy programs? Making up for lost revenues due to insane Bush tax cuts?

As I posted previously, this was a litmus test for Democrats – to see whether the party > is capable of truly taking a stand for working people. They have failed it. Rick Perlstein blogged today of Democratic capitulations on this issue and FISA.

Ari Berman noted that Barack Obama – and kudos to him – wasted no time in calling out this bad decision. Within hours, John Edwards had done the same, saying in a released statement, "Incredibly, for an investment of about $6 million dollars in lobbying fees – and another $6 million in political contributions – these elite Wall Street traders preserved a $6 billion tax break for themselves…. We have to end the rigged system in Washington that rewards big corporate interests at the expense of hard-working families."

Certainly Sen. Bernie Sanders gets it. The longtime fighter for a fairer and more decent America told me: "At a time when poverty is increasing, the middle class is shrinking and the distribution of wealth and income is more unequal than at any time since the 1920s, it is imperative that Congress initiate progressive tax reform which asks the rich and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. This tax reform should certainly include raising the tax rate on private-equity firms and hedge funds from the current 15 percent... The American people want us to move this country in a new direction, and progressive tax reform is central to that effort." And Sen. Sherrod Brown is sticking to his principles on this issue too, telling me, "The income tax system should be the same for the trucker from Greenwich, Ohio, making 20 dollars an hour as for the hedge fund manager from Greenwich, Connecticut, making 20 million dollars a year. Carried interest is compensation for managing other people's money, pure and simple. I believe it should be taxed accordingly."

Here's hoping that more Democrats rediscover their spines and tell Harry Reid he's way off on this. Along with the promise to end the war, telling working Americans that they would stand up for them is the reason Dems are in the majority.