Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Civics Refresher

When I aced the state mandated test on the U.S. Constitution back in the seventh grade my teacher awarded me a sack of Kandy Korn. That sweet reward reinforced my interest in what was then known in our schools as Civics, the rights and obligations of citizens. Trouble is I took all that stuff seriously–and still do. This has caused me problems over the years as I have learned how in real life the politicians manipulate the checks and balances of our branches of national government, not to mention what goes on in state capitols and city halls.

It was therefore only a nagging sense of duty that led to me agreeing to a request from the legislative coordinator of US Labor Against the War to join a delegation visiting Representative Reverend Emanuel Cleaver yesterday. This was part of a national effort of Volunteers for Change, sponsored by a “progressive” reseller of nonunion long distance service. They seek to orchestrate volunteerism for “busy people who want to make a difference.” Guidelines and talking points are provided.

All of us busy volunteers showed up at the appointed time to discover that Cleaver’s office claimed to know nothing about the scheduled visit. Cleaver himself was not on the premises but the director of his Kansas City office, Jeff Jolley, did agree to take a meeting with us.

To my relief, no one in our group seemed determined to follow our scripted guidelines and talking points. Two Unity (not Unitarian) ministers were more sharp tongued than I in dressing down Reverend Cleaver’s vicar. Not for the first time, he was reminded that the new congressional majority was there only because of antiwar sentiment and indispensable support from organized labor. We now expect more than half-ass nonbinding resolutions. We made clear we want our congressman to not only vote against the supplemental appropriation of 93 billion for the war; he should vote against any Iraq military spending other than what it takes to bring all of our GIs home now.

The unflappable Mr Jolley assured us that Representative Cleaver had always been against the war. (Cleaver was not yet in congress at the time of the 2002 resolution, on which Bush bases his authority for war, but has consistently voted for funding to continue the war.) He explained to us that defunding the war was not so simple. If congress slashes the defense budget by the amount requested for Iraq he claimed the White House and Pentagon can simply shift funds from elsewhere in Defense to keep the war going.

This seemed to me an excessively defeatist attitude on the part of congress. I strained to recall that seventh grade test. I believe the Constitution in fact gives congress the sole authority to declare and end wars. The highest law of the land also endows the legislative branch with exclusive power for authorizing all expenditures of government money. If congress chooses to renounce their power–and responsibility to those who elected them–to end the war I assured Mr Jolley that an angry majority will start looking for other alternatives to lobbying to stop this unjust war.

As I read this morning’s news sites I discovered there was an even less polite visit to Senator McCaskill on the other side of the state. The St Louis Post-Dispatch headline read “Iraq War Protestors Target Democrats.”Veterans for Peace organized a sit-in in the new senator’s office. Four were arrested and fined 75 dollars for making a fuss about McCaskill’s cynicism about the war.

Another somewhat relevant story caught my eye this morning. "Congress puts Palestinian funds in limbo" was the banner in the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. once committed to giving financial aid to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Road Map to Peace. But their support to democratic government among Palestinians was suspended when the ingrates elected somebody Washington didn’t like. The abrupt loss of this funding led to a virtual shut down of all public services resulting in widespread hardship and exacerbating factional rivalries. Recently the Bush administration agreed to restore about 86 million to the Authority.

But some in congress didn’t feel so helpless about challenging the commander-in-chief on this one. In fact one lone member of congress, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, has put a hold on the money. Too bad her counterpart chairing the subcommittee on defense spending, Jack Murtha, can’t seem to do the same on Iraq war spending.

Well, that’s enough civics refresher for one morning.

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