The Nation

Lieberman v. Feingold and the Constitution

During Friday's debate in the US Senate on various proposals to alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Connecticut's sort-of-Democrat, sort-of-Independent, but always loyal to the Bush White House when it comes to debates on how to conduct the War on Terror senator angrily objected to the fact that the chamber was even discussing the difficult challenge of balancing the need to gather intelligence with the requirement that civil liberties be protected.

Joe Lieberman, who in an appearance last Sunday on ABC's This Week referred to efforts to assure that any reform of FISA take into account the right of American citizens to be free from unwarranted government surveillance as "nonsense," told the Senate on Friday that he regretted his colleagues were debating the issue.

In Lieberman's view, congressional oversight of Bush-Cheney Administration moves to expand spying programs amounts to "fiddling" at a time when he just wants to "figure out how to pass a law to modernize this electronic surveillance capacity." The Connecticut Senator's no fiddler. He gruffly told the Senate that it must enact a plan, crafted largely by the White House to dramatically expand President Bush's authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without court warrants.

Lieberman got most of what he wanted, in the form of a six-month expansion of presidential spying powers. That happened because Lieberman and a number of other members of the Democratic caucus voted to cede the authority of the legislative branch to that of the executive branch on a 60-28 division.

The House failed to do the same, however, so the debate that so frustrates the Connecticut Senator continues.

Lieberman's impatience with the dialogue is rooted in the legislator's dismay that matters usually discussed behind closed doors by shadowy men with the highest security clearances--and a few friendly senators --were being reviewed in an open and transparent matter.

Lieberman is a lawyer. Indeed, he is a former state Attorney General.

But he is anything but a Constitutional scholar, let alone a senator who takes seriously the oath he swore to "support and defend the Constitution"--a document that, it should be noted, includes an amendment reading: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Thankfully, another member of the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, feels himself duty-bound to respect the Constitution, and to preserve the rights it outlines.

After Lieberman lodged his complaints, Feingold addressed the Senate.

"Mr. President, let me just respond a bit to what the Senator from Connecticut just indicated.," said Feingold, who was the only member of the chamber to vote against the draconian USA Patriot Act in the Fall of 2001, and who now proposes censuring President Bush for abusing civil liberties and Constitutional requirements in the years since then. "At times of war we don't give up our responsibility in the U.S. Senate to review and make laws. The notion that we simply defer this to the Director of National Intelligence and whatever he says is an abdication of our duties especially in time of war."

To Lieberman's expression of frustration with the fact that intelligence initiatives, such as the Administration's spying program, were being discussed in an open forum, Feingold replied, "The senator regrets we're debating this and some of these very important matters that are generally kept secret are being discussed; I agree, but why aren't they secret? Because the administration was conducting an illegal wiretapping program, and somebody inappropriately blew the lid on it. That wasn't the doing of anybody in this body. That was due to the incompetence and inappropriate conduct of this administration in the first place."

Feingold sees himself as a senator, as as such as a member of a branch of government that is co-equal with the executive branch. It was in that role that he objected to the decision of the chamber to give in to the president's demands for more spying authority. "The day we start deferring to someone who's not a member of this body ... is a sad day for the US Senate," said the Wisconsinite, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution. "We make the policy--not the executive branch."

On that point, unfortunately, Feingold was wrong--at least temporarily.

As long as Lieberman can muster the needed Democratic votes to help the White House's Republican allies give the president whatever authority he demands, senators do not make the policy. The White House does. So Friday was, indeed, a sad day--for the Senate, for the Constitution and for the Republic.


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.'"

Exposing Block & Blame Conservatives

No progress on ending the war. No advances on new energy policy. No movement on health care costs. Why is Congress gridlocked?

There has been much smart debate over this vexing question at Yearly Kos, the annual convention of the country's progressive bloggers, currently taking place in Chicago. Different factors prevail but a main one is the GOP's conscious strategy of tying up any potential progress that could come out of Congress as an amusing and effective new video starring Jason Alexander and made by Julie Bergman-Sender suggests.

The video premiered yesterday at the confab with the sponsorship of the Campaign for America's Future. Bergman-Sender is the innovative film producer and media strategist who was responsible for the great Will Ferrell ACT video from two years ago. This time around she's transformed Alexander into a Harry Potter-inspired character called Rovemort who stands at the center of the vast right-wing conspiracy. In her presentation at Yearly Kos Bergman-Sender talked about her hopes that the video will be useful as a tool to pre-empt the Republican contention that this Democratic Congress is a "do nothing" body.

The truth is, as she explained, that as far back as January, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he would insist on a 60-vote majority, rather than a simple 50-vote majority, for getting bills through the Senate, claiming that this is "the ordinary procedure." But it's not, as the Campaign for America's Future has painstakingly documented. The reality is that McConnell's abuse of Senate procedures to block the majority will on legislation is "unprecedented" according to CAF. Senate Republicans have launched 43 filibusters on popular reforms in the first seven months of this Congress. That's on pace to triple the previous record. McConnell and Senate Republicans like the filibuster now, but they felt differently when Democrats used it far more sparingly in the 109th Congress against President Bush's most extreme judicial nominees.

Watch the video, pass it on and then click here to tell the Senate obstructionists to stop blocking progress on Iraq, energy policy, health care and more. And check out Ari Melber's Nation reports as well as Garance Franke-Ruta and Ezra Klein at Tapped, among many others, for more on Yearly Kos.

Now That's a Patriot Act

Now here is a Patriot Act everyone can get behind. It's called the Patriot Corporation of America Act and it rewards the companies that don't screw their employees and weaken the country by moving the jobs to China and elsewhere.

In these troubled times, doesn't that sound like common sense? Government policy presently works in opposite ways. It literally assists and subsidizes the disloyal free riders who boost their profits by dumping their obligations to the home country. It's called globalization. Establishment wisdom says there is nothing politicians can do about it.

But the bills introduced Thursday by three senators and seven representatives, all Democrats, can begin to reverse this political perversity. Don't expect a roll call anytime soon, but I think the governing principle is pivotally important.

And some Democrats have come up with a potent new version of patriotic politics. While the nation is fighting this ugly, costly war in Iraq, employers should be doing their part to defend the homeland. Will Republican warriors want to vote against that?

The House and Senate bills appear to be differ slightly but pursue the same goal. In the House, a "Patriot Corporation" would get tax breaks and preferences in federal contracting for employers who produce at least 90 percent of their goods and services in the US and with American workers. The companies must invest in research and development domestically, provide adequate health care and pensions and--surprise--comply with federal laws like workplace safety, environmental protection and consumer regulations.

The Senate's "Patriot Employers" version would give a 1 percent tax credit on taxable income for companies that maintain or increase their US employment in relation to their overseas workers. They must also keep their corporate headquarters in the US. The Senate bill adds a "living wage" requirement. Its initial co-sponsors are Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dick Durbin and Barack Obama of Illinois. Obama's sponsorship, I would guess, may attract other celebrated names.

House co-sponsors are the same nucleus of progressives pushing party leaders to undertake a thorough revamp of US policy on globalization and trade. They are Schakowsky and Hare of Illinois, Sutton and Ryan of Ohio, Woolsey of California, Kagen of Wisconsin and Ellison of Minnesota. Senator Brown and Rep. Jan Schakowsky endorse both House and Senate versions.

The principle at stake is straightforward. Multinational corporations cannot continue to have it both ways--moving more and more value-added production and jobs offshore to capture cheap labor, while still enjoying all of the rewards and benefits of claiming American identity. It's not just the outrageous tax breaks. The American military defends their freedom to operate around the globe.

These measures can be the beginning of tough new policies on globalization. They are quite limited in scope, but a good start. Thousands of small to mid-sized manufacturing firms that do not offshore their production should salute the initiative since the incentives are intended for them. The rewards are modest gestures at this point. The real fight begins when Congress proposes penalties--higher taxes--for those unpatriotic companies that left home.

The Weekly Standard's Strange Sources

The war in Iraq has sparked a parallel war between two of Washington's most prominent partisan political publications, The New Republic and the Weekly Standard. The war has been akin to the ongoing seige of Baghdad's Green Zone, with the Standard playing the role of Iraqi insurgents, lobbing mortars over the Green Zone gates while TNR rushes to shore up its defenses.

The war began on July 13, when The New Republic published a "Baghdad Diary" by "Scott Thomas," an Army private writing under a pseudonym about U.S. atrocities in Iraq. Thomas described his participation in the mockery of a female soldier disfigured by an IED, claimed he witnessed troops intentionally running over dogs in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and alleged that another soldier played with the skulls of dead Iraqi children.

In attempt to challenge the wild notion that atrocities could occur amidst a violent occupation, the neoconservative Weekly Standard's Matthew Goldfarb published an article declaring that TNR's Baghdad Diary was "looking more like fiction." Goldfarb's piece relied on a series of letters supposedly sent to him by active-duty soldiers that raised questions about the veracity of TNR's story.

As a result of intensifying attacks from the Standard and right-wing blogs -- attacks amplified by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz -- Thomas was forced to reveal his identity: Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp. According to Foer, the Army punished Beauchamp by revoking his cellphone and email privileges. Right-wing bloggers subsequently seized on TRN editor-in-chief Franklin Foer's disclosure that Beauchamp is engaged to TNR reporter and researcher Elspeth Reeve.

Beauchamp has placed his career in extreme jeopardy and subjected his private life to the scrutiny of right-wing trolls, all to confirm his published account of U.S. atrocities in Iraq. TNR for its part has just completed a review of Beauchamp's diary and found only one minor error. Now it is up to Goldfarb and his allies to back up their incendiary charges. Who are the Standard's sources? Are they reliable? And if they are, why did the Standard omit key details about their backgrounds?

Among all the active duty soldiers used by Goldfarb to undermine Beauchamp, only one is cited by name: Matt Sanchez, a corporal in the Marine reserves. "Frankly, I don't believe ANY of this story," Sanchez proclaimed in the Standard about Beauchamp's diary. Who is Sanchez? According to Goldfarb, he is simply a soldier "who stands behind his work."

But Sanchez is more than a mere man in uniform. As I reported for Media Matters today, Sanchez is also a conservative pro-war activist whose bio includes a stint as the gay porn actor Rod Majors, (star of such filmic classics as "Beat Off Frenzy") and an illustrious part-time job as a male prostitute -- facts he has acknowledged "leaving ... off my curriculum vitae."

More importantly, Sanchez has been under investigation by the Marine Corps for fraud. According to an April 1 Marine Corps Times article, Sanchez was informed in a March 22 email from Reserve Col. Charles Jones, a staff judge advocate, that he was under investigation for lying "'to various people, including but not limited to, representatives of the New York City United War Veterans Council [UWVC] and U-Haul Corporation' about deploying to Iraq at the commandant's request." The email added: "'Specifically, you wrongfully solicited funds to support your purported deployment to Iraq' by coordinating a $300 payment from the UWVC and $12,000 from U-Haul."

There is no excuse for Goldfarb's omission of these facts about Sanchez. They were easily accessible through a simple Google search of Sanchez's name, and have been the talk of the blogosphere for some time. I wrote extensively about Sanchez for the Huffington Post in March and appeared on a segment of Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss his strange double life. Sanchez has also been profiled by Radar and by numerous bloggers. He even penned a long auto-apologia for Salon.com about his path from porn to the conservative movement. Couldn't Goldfarb find a better on-the-record source? Apparently not.

The efforts of Sanchez and right-wing bloggers to take Beauchamp down were allegedly supported by a TNR staffer with a bizarre background. I just received a letter from a source close to TNR. The source wrote:

One reason Beauchamp had to go public was that conservative bloggers were tracking him down. And the reason they were was that a temp who was working as assistant for our publisher was leaking like crazy to right-wing websites. Not that he knew much, but he was hanging around, he went to a going away party for Ryan [Lizza] at frank's [Frank Foer] house, eavesdropping and then posting on right-wing websites.


That's how they found out about Scott being married to Ellie [Elspeth Reeve].

Anyway, the guy's name is Robert McGee. His online pseudonym: Throbert McGee. Not real hard to track down (especially when he's posting that he works at TNR.)


After a little Googling, I found that "Throbert McGee" (seen here embracing his "longtime sidekick Juan") once kept a "blinkin' blog" where he posted about "Faggot fixer-upper wallpaper" and linked to the overtly racist right-wing blog, "Little Green Footballs." On the forum of another conservative blog, Throbert commented favorably about Matt Sanchez's "11" Monster Cock." Throbert also used this forum as his platform to attack Beauchamp and leak information to conservative bloggers about Beauchamp's private life.

I hear there are darker postings by Throbert lurking in the blogosphere, but I will leave it to his right-wing mouthpieces to explain those. And I will wait for the Weekly Standard's Goldfarb to come clean about Sanchez and the rest of the unnamed "active duty soldiers and various experts" he used as sources. So far, the silence is deafening.

Hillary Silent on Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the Wall Street Journal this week is drawing the ire of some Democrats running for President.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd called the deal "a serious threat to our democracy." John Edwards urged fellow Democrats to oppose and block the merger and refuse campaign contributions from News Corp execs.

But the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, hasn't said a peep. Perhaps that's because Clinton has been courting the Aussie billionaire since she became a New York Senator---and vice versa. Murdoch threw a lavish fundraiser for her at the News Corp tower last year. And he and son James, the heir apparent, both wrote big checks to Clinton's presidential campaign this June. Nine News Corp executives have thus far given a total of $20,900 to Clinton this election cycle.

She calls him "smart and effective." He calls her "a good Senator" and "very, very gutsy originally on the war in Iraq."

So you see, the Journal is not Murdoch's only recent prize.

When a Government Won't Own Up

Rescue and cleanup workers, who put their lives on the line in our nation's darkest hour, weren't given information about environmental risks and are now paying the price with financial hardship, illness, and even death.

Hundreds of thousands of people living on the Gulf Coast survived a horrific natural disaster and a failed government response, only to be placed in trailers that FEMA knew were at risk for dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

We are witnessing the cumulative impact of the Bush ideology: what columnist Paul Krugman called a "hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good."

Last month, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil rights, and Civil Liberties, chaired by Representative Jerrold Nadler, held a hearing entitled "the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Response to Air Quality Issues Arising from the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001: Were There Substantive Due Process Violations?"

It was revealed that scientists had informed the EPA of harmful air quality and dust at the disaster site that contained "dangerous levels of asbestos and other carcinogens." A September 14 draft of an EPA press release sited elevated asbestos levels and, as Nadler wrote in a New York Times op-ed, "expressed concern for workers at the cleanup site and for employees who would be returning to their offices 'on or near Water Street' on September 17." The White House deleted the warning and instead went with, "Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York's financial district."

Christine Todd Whitman, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time, testified that opening the stock market quickly was important: "We weren't going to let the terrorists win." As for revisions to public statements Whitman said it was critical at the time for the federal government to speak with "one voice."

How about an honest voice? A Mount Sinai Hospital study that began last year showed that 70 percent of the first 9,000 workers examined reported some kind of respiratory problem after working on the debris pile. Retired Lieutenant Bill Gleason of the New York Fire Department said, "If [Whitman] had stood on the pile and told us how bad it was, she could have saved tens of thousands."

According to Nadler, even the EPA's inspector general has concluded that the early statements about air quality were "falsely reassuring, lacked a scientific basis and were motivated by White House concerns other than public health -- and that, as a result, people were unnecessarily exposed to deadly contaminants."

And when Hurricane Katrina hit the EPA still hadn't learned its lesson. According to OMB Watch, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report "found inadequate monitoring for asbestos around demolition and renovation sites," and that "key information released to the public about environmental contamination was neither timely nor adequate, and in some cases, easily misinterpreted to the public's detriment." But far more damning is what has transpired with regard to FEMA-supplied trailers that an estimated 275,000 Americans are living in.

In March 2006, FEMA field workers began warning of health problems experienced by Hurrican Katrina survivors living in trailers with formaldehyde levels that were 75 times greater than the recommended workplace-safety level. One expectant couple was relocated, but then something that should be stunning, but sadly isn't, happened: the FEMA Office of General Counsel recommended no testing of trailers because--as one logistics expert wrote--testing "would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." Another FEMA lawyer wrote, "Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running out on our duty to respond to them." After a man who had complained of formaldehyde fumes was found dead in his trailer, "a 28-person, six-agency conference call took place."

Again, FEMA opposed testing of the trailers. Meanwhile, as Amanda Spake reported in February of this year in The Nation, infants and children were being hospitalized with respiratory illnesses. Air sampling by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the open air at trailer holding stations revealed formaldehyde levels thirty to fifty times greater than the EPA recommendation. Pediatrician Scott Needle, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi said, "I was seeing kids and families coming in with repeated, prolonged respiratory illnesses--sinus infections, lingering coughs, viral infections that didn't go away. Over the course of three months, I saw several dozen families with these health problems. That's really high, and this isn't something I'd seen in my practice before. All of them were living in FEMA trailers."

"We started testing in Alabama," Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi Sierra Club, told Spake, "because we got reports from social workers there that so many elderly people living in the trailers were being hospitalized for respiratory conditions. And many of them were dying." The Sierra Club found unsafe formaldehyde levels in 30 of 32 trailers tested.

There were complaints of choking, coughing, nosebleeds, mouth and nasal tumors, sick pets, complicated pregnancies, and deaths. But it wasn't until last Wednesday--nearly a year and a half after the original warnings from field workers and right before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing--that FEMA announced it would conduct random testing of trailers.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman deemed FEMA's non-action "an official policy of premeditated ignorance.... senior officials in Washington didn't want to know what they already knew, because they didn't want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done."

One former army officer living in a trailer with his wife testified, "We have lost a great deal through our dealings with FEMA, not the least of which is our faith in government."

How many Katrina survivors might have been saved had testing begun a month ago? Or six months ago? Or a year? Or if people had been listened to and relocated?

How many workers who showed heroism after 9-11, who this administration praised but then left to fend for themselves, would still be healthy today if had they been properly warned?

The Bush government legacy is this: sacrificing proclaimed heroes, and turning its back on our most vulnerable citizens. We have fallen far indeed.

Broken Bridges, Lost Levees and a Brutal Culture of Neglect

As rescue workers continued to pull bodies out of the stretch of the Mississippi River that runs beneath the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters released a $5 million grant to help with cleanup and recovery at the site of the disaster.

That will barely be enough to cover the expense of extracting the bodies of the drowned and dismembered commuters who were hurtled into the river when the interstate highway bridge they were traveling on buckled and then fell into the river. And it will not begin to pay for the rebuilding of a vital transportation link in one of America's most populous cities -- an initiative that will cost in the hundreds of millions.

To get the money that is needed to repair the damage, limits on federal aid for infrastructure will have to be lifted.

This will happen now not because the money is needed but because dozens of Minnesotans have been killed and injured.

If the federal limits were not applied with an eye toward denying needed infrastructure funding to states, if the federal government accepted its responsibility to maintain the bridges, roads, levees and sewers of the United States, the death and destruction that comes from neglect might well have been avoided.

The I-35W bridge had repeatedly been identified as suffering from "fatigue cracks." Inspectors had labeled it "structurally deficient."

Yet, as Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman noted on the morning after the collapse, "The death bridge was 'structurally deficient,' we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way."

That's not a unique circumstance. That is the daily reality of America's rapidly aging and decaying infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago in New York City, an underground steam pipe exploded, killing one person and injuring dozens

Natural disasters do occur. Storms, heat, aging steel and concrete can all contribute to horrific turns of events like the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the pipe explosion in New York, or the nightmare that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.

But there is simply no question that the steady neglect of the crying need for repair and improvement of bridges, levees and other vital pieces of the nation's infrastructure, and the resolute stinginess of a federal government that is much better at finding money to repair the Middle East than the middle west, makes disasters more likely to occur and more extreme in their consequences.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobucher is right when she says, "Bridges in America should not be falling down."

They will continue to fall, however, just as aging levies will continue to crumble, until the federal government gets serious about investing in the updating, improvement and replacement of decaying infrastructure. The point here is not to absolve state officials, who in Minnesota -- as in Louisiana two years ago -- could and should have done more. But an "interstate highway system" is, by its nature and by the intents of the founders of the American experiment and their wisest successors, a federal priority.

Major infrastructure challenges, such as maintaining bridges over our mightiest rivers and modernizing levies, ought never be the sole or even the major responsibility of cash-strapped state and local governments. That is a recipe for disaster -- deadly, injurious and damaging disaster of a sort that plays out not just in "headline" events like a bridge collapse but in hundreds of below-the-radar infrastructure failures each year.

The American Society of Civil Engineers argues that, "With each passing day, aging and overburdened infrastructure threatens the economy and quality of life in every state, city and town in the nation." Conditions have grown so bad that the ASCE estimates it would cost $1.6 trillion over a five-year period just to bring the nation's infrastructure up to "good" condition. "Establishing a long-term development and maintenance plan must become a national priority," says the group.

That $1.6 trillion figure sounds like a lot of money, unless it is compared with the anticipated cost of $1 trillion or more for completing George Bush's mission in Iraq.

Make no mistake, the money to renew our collapsing infrastructure can be found.

But it will not be spent appropriately until top officials in Washington, led by the president, recognize that maintaining the infrastructure of the United States is as important, and as worthy of investment, as fighting wars in places like Iraq.

There are many costs that come when our leaders divert $2 billion every ten days to occupy a distant land. The first of these is human. Wars cost lives in a war zone, but they also dry up the funding that could save lives on the home front. By drawing resources away from vital social and economic development projects at home -- and maintaining a safe and functional infrastructure is essential to progress on both fronts -- an obsessive focus on warmaking abroad leaves a trail of death, destruction and decay in the U.S.

Writing of federal "negligence" when it comes to infrastructure repair, the Star-Tribune's Coleman observed, "A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there aren't enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

"And now, one has fallen, to our great sorrow, and people died losing a gamble they didn't even know they had taken. They believed someone was guarding the bridge.

"We need a new slogan and we needed it yesterday:

"No More Collapses."

Amen to that.


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.'"

Saying No To Bush & Saudis

At least one high-profile presidential candidate has come out against the Bush Administration's proposed $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

"Congress needs to stand firm against the president," John Edwards said in a press release this week. "The administration's proposed arms deal with Saudi Arabia isn't in the long-term interests of our country or the region. This deal has serious shortcomings--it doesn't force Saudi Arabia to stop terrorists from going into Iraq, make a real effort to help stabilize Iraq, lead regional security talks or assure the arms will not be used for offensive purposes. Congress should do the right thing and block the deal."

A group of Democrats in the House are preparing to introduce legislation to block the deal "the minute Congress is officially notified," according to Reps. Jerry Nadler and Anthony Weiner. Democrats picked up their first GOP co-sponsor when New Jersey Republican Mike Ferguson announced his opposition to the deal on Tuesday.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Bush Administration's decision to begin negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a $20 billion arms package of advanced weaponry," Ferguson said at a press conference, "and it is our hope that Congress will take every step necessary to block this transaction."

The deal has members of both parties scratching theirs heads. If Dubai wasn't fit to run our ports, they reason, why should the Kingdom of Saud get our arms?

[UPDATE: 114 members of the House, including 16 Republicans, sent a letter to President Bush this afternoon stating their "deep opposition" to the arms deal and vowing "to vote to stop it."]

For, Against & For The War

Before he was against getting out of Iraq, Michael O'Hanlon was for it.

In May 2004, the foreign policy specialist (and frequent advisor to Democratic candidates) penned a Washington Post op-ed with his Brooking Institution colleague James Steinberg entitled, "Set a Date to Pull Out."

"Unless we restore the Iraqi people's confidence in our role, failure is not only an option but a likelihood," they wrote. "Critical to achieving our goal is an announced decision to end the current military deployment by the end of next year."

But O'Hanlon, for reasons unexplained, seems to have had a change of heart. He supported the escalation of troops. And after a recent eight day tour of Iraq, on the invitation of his old Princeton buddy David Petraeus, O'Hanlon and Iraq war cheerleader extraordinaire Ken Pollack wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday entitled, "A War We Just Might Win."

"We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms," the two write, contradicting Brookings's own Iraq index, ironically supervised by O'Hanlon. "There is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

So O'Hanlon and Pollack are back firmly in the pro-war camp, where they and so many of their colleagues in the foreign policy establishment were before the war. (I wrote a feature about the supposedly liberal think tanks that enabled the war in Iraq back in '05 called "The Strategic Class.")

Only Steinberg (now dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Texas), it seems, has kept to his position. "I'm skeptical" of the O'Hanlon-Pollack op-ed, he told me via email. "On the other hand, they've just been there and I haven't. But in the absence of more compelling evidence (and a chance to talk to them directly) I remain of the view that I held then."

It's little wonder why the White House likes O'Hanlon and Pollack so much. But it's a mystery why prominent Democrats still bother to listen to them.