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Cindy's Day in Court

By David Swanson

Cindy Sheehan has a court date Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., and faces up to 6 months in jail for the charge of demonstrating without a permit, as a result of the civil disobedience action at the White House in September at which Cindy and nearly 400 other activists protested the war. Some paid a $75 fine. Others, including Cindy, are refusing to pay anything.

Some of those refusing to pay are required to appear in federal court at 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. They'll be at the Federal Courthouse at 3rd and Constitution Ave. NW, and a group of supporters will be there to hold a vigil at 8:30 a.m.. Supporters planning to be there include Congressman John Conyers.

Cindy has a second court date pending for a second identical charge dating from a die-in in front of the White House on the occasion of the 2,000th death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq. (I was arrested at that time, as were two dozen others, and have paid my fine.)



Also happening in D.C. at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Out of Iraq Caucus, led by Congresswoman Maxine Waters will be holding a press conference at 1539 Longworth House Office Building to announce a new strategy aimed at bringing a debate on the Iraq War to the floor of the House. The strategy involves a discharge petition, a petition which, if signed by a majority of House Members, forces a bill to the floor without having to win approval from any committee. (Numerous bills and resolutions on Iraq have been killed in various committees.)

The bill being used for this (H.J.Res. 55) is the weakest one out there and has the most Republican support, but the discharge petition will allow amendments once the bill reaches the floor. So, the Democrats will be able to propose anything as an amendment on the floor and have it debated.

Whether even this weak bill (which calls for beginning to get out of Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006) will garner the necessary 218 signatures to allow a debate to occur may depend on whether the Democratic leadership gets behind it and whether signing it is widely understood as supporting a debate, as opposed to supporting this particular bill.


A strong proponent of the discharge petition is Congressman Jim McGovern, the sponsor of the strongest bill out there, one which would cut off funding for the war.


Tuesday evening was also an interesting time in our empire's capital. It began with a fundraiser for Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), which was attended by Congress Members McGovern, Conyers, Waters, and Raul Grijalva. The event was used to announce the establishment of PDA's advisory board, which a number of progressive Congress Members have joined.

Congressman Conyers spoke passionately about the Bush Administration's war lies and announced that he will be releasing a report, this week or next, on the topic of the Downing Street Memos and other evidence of lies.

"The misrepresentations of the sorriest administration in my lifetime," he said, were crumbling around them. "What did Bush and Cheney know about what their chiefs of staff, Rove and Libby, were doing all this time? Nothing? Please! We want these truths to come out."

Conyers said he was working to achieve a Democratic majority in Congress in next year's elections.


Some of us, including Cindy Sheehan, her sister Deedee Miller, and PDA Board Chair Mimi Kennedy, went to see the new anti-Wal-Mart movie after the fundraiser. The Campaign for America's Future hosted the event. Congress Members George Miller and Jan Schakowsky attended, as did the director Robert Greenwald. Some 700 house parties watched the movie too, and there were other big premiers around the country.

What got to me about the movie were the parallels between the almost unfathomable arrogance of the White House and the incredibly flagrant disregard for law or decency by Wal-Mart. Apparently even something less than absolute power can corrupt absolutely.

I knew about the union busting, the destruction of small towns, the low wages, the discrimination, the horrible Chinese factories, the dependence on public subsidies, the wealth and the political influence. (I would have liked to see more about the political influence of the Waltons, actually, and something about their promotion of school vouchers).

What I had not seen before was all the stories of violent crime in Wal-Mart parking lots, and Wal-Mart's refusal to spend a dime protecting people, while spending a fortune on security within the stores. Here was Wal-Mart putting people's lives at risk in the most direct way for simple greed.

But there was a section of the film that lasted a few seconds in which a man commented that there was just no way to talk to people who would sacrifice lives to greed. On the wall behind him (with apparently no irony intended) was a big poster that said "BUY WAR BONDS."

At some point the progressive movement, and that includes the Campaign for America's Future, will have to start drawing connections between wars and domestic affairs. And that should start with beginning to recognize that it is wars that open up the political space for destructive politics.

Bush has demolished workers' rights under the protection of a waving flag and falling bombs. And far more money has gone to his war than has gone to Wal-Mart subsidies.

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The Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Power of the People
By Paul Baldwin, U.S. Citizen, Seattle, Washington

The People of the United States live in a Constitutional Democracy. In principle, under such an arrangement, the legitimate authority of the government derives from the consent of the People, who originally bestow upon both the Legislature (Congress) and the Executive (the President) the right to represent and govern over them. However, the "ultimate authority" -- the right to constitute (or form) a new government or alter the powers of existing office-holders -- is retained by the People. Transferring such rights to the government would undermine the People's authority and threaten democracy itself.

However, under the U.S. Constitution, the People have been stripped of this ultimate authority. The Framers designed the U.S. Constitution in a manner that curtails the ultimate authority of the People in three fundamental ways. First, the People do not have the right to directly alter the Constitution under which they live (Article V). Second, the People do not have the right to directly elect their President (Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2-4). Third, the People do not have the right to remove the President from office during his or her term (Article II, Section 1, Clause 6). In all three cases, this ultimate authority was transferred from the People to either the Congress or the State Governments. As a result, this ultimate authority lies with the People's elected representatives, who are assumed to be legally equivalent and interchangeable with the People.

Why did such a transfer occur in the U.S. Constitution? What was the historical context motivating the Framers to design the Constitution in such a manner? The answers lie in the British Constitutional Crisis of the 17th Century, the Framers' concerns over granting too much power to the People, and the Framers' fears about the uncertainty associated with the will of the People.

The British Constitutional Crisis
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution, as recent British subjects, were greatly influenced by the history of Constitution building in Britain. The "Constitutional Crisis" arose in 1642, when Parliament "re-interpreted" the British Constitution and assumed King Charles I's powers. Britain had created a Constitutional Monarchy; the Constitution granted the King and Parliament independent and equivalent powers -- neither was to dominate the other. (This was a transitional period for Britain from an earlier Monarchy, in which the King possessed absolute power, to the current Monarchy, in which the King possesses only ceremonial powers.) Under the principle of popular sovereignty, the ultimate political authority lay with the People.

However, under the prevailing constitutional thought of the period, the ultimate authority of the People (to depose the King or alter the powers of his office) was equated with the rights of Parliament, who represented the People. Yet, the two principles upon which the British Constitution was based -- the independence of the Executive and Legislature, and the popular sovereignty of the People -- were incompatible with this notion.

This incompatibility was highlighted by the actions taken by Parliament in response to its bitter struggle with King Charles I for supremacy in England. In the twenty years prior to 1642, both Parliament and King Charles I utilized their strengths to press their religious and political aims on the other. Parliament, controlling certain government monies, withheld them in an effort to have their grievances redressed. In addition, Parliament passed various laws to reduce the King's influence. King Charles I, for his part, dismissed Parliament twice, and attempted to rule in its absence for most of the 1630s.

King Charles I suppressed civil and religious liberties, and threatened a military coup against Parliament. Parliament resisted by enacting the Militia Ordinance of 1642, which entrusted to Parliament certain armed forces and military fortifications. By this unilateral action, Parliament stripped the King of his constitutional authority as commander of the military.

As pointed out at the time by George Lawson, and fifty years later by John Locke, Parliament did not possess the power to constitute new authority and alter the positions of those in government. Rather, this power, under the principles established by the British Constitution, lay solely with the People. Therefore, the 1642 British Constitutional Crisis between Parliament and King Charles I should have resulted in the dissolution of government and a reversal of governance to the People (who had initially bestowed upon both Parliament and the King the right to represent and govern over them).

In the 1640s, this conclusion was not so clear. However, by the early 18th Century, and more so by the time the U.S. Constitution was being drafted, the position of Lawson and Locke was well articulated and defended. As a result, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were fully aware of the inherent power and ultimate authority possessed by the People under Constitutional Democracies.

Drafting the U.S. Constitution
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution feared such power in the hands of the People, and wished to consolidate this power in governing bodies which they considered more deliberate and consistent. By and large, the Framers wanted a Constitution where -- in practice, if not in principle -- the People did not possess ultimate authority. Their design of the U.S. Constitution reflects this concern and desire. In the three particular ways mentioned earlier, the U.S. Constitution formally transfers this ultimate authority to Congress or the State Governments.

Was stripping the People of their ultimate authority a noble gesture -- done for the good of the Country as a whole? Or, distrustful of the People they would serve, did the Framers rob the People of their democratic rights? Either way, the Framers were not supporters of true democracy.

As a result, the three-branch system of the U.S. Government limits the possibility of abusive and oppressive behavior by the Government on the People. However, the design of the Constitution itself reflects a degree of oppression in that it transfers ultimate authority away from the People. So what the British Parliament in the 17th Century accomplished through unconstitutional means, the U.S. Congress can accomplish constitutionally.

Nonetheless, while the U.S. Congress -- thanks to the Framers of the Constitution -- need not concern itself with the ultimate authority of the People in a strictly legal sense, it must still wrestle with the "principled" authority that lies with the People. The constitutional principle emerging from the British Constitutional Crisis drew a clear distinction between the authority of the People, and that of governments. No representative of the People, regardless of how elected, may usurp rights unique to the general public under a Constitutional Democracy -- e.g., the right to depose the Executive, or the right to amend or revise the Constitution -- without the consent of that general community. While the device used by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution was "theoretically" consistent with the tenets of a Constitutional Democracy, no craftily-designed Constitution can elude the tensions that emerge when the principled rights of one body of People are usurped by another.

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