Monday, March 28, 2011


                                                       deyan ranko brashich & nikola kostich

          Our Constitution has been criticized for being vague and subject to interpretation with changing morals and times. Scholars and judges have wrestled with the meanings of “establishment of religion”, “freedom of speech”, “right of the people to keep and bear arms”, “cruel and unusual punishment”, “unreasonable search”. However, the Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, makes it crystal clear that Congress, and only Congress, shall have Power  

“To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;”

          The Civil War, America’s first modern war with weapons of mass destruction and casualties in the hundreds of thousands, was presided over by Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps it is apt to consider his take on the War Powers Clause when he sat in Congress and debated the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846:

“The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.”

          President Obama is not a “king”. He and his Adninistration’s  [Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Generals and Admirals constituting the Joint Chiefs of Staff] violation of the War Powers Clause by unilateral military action in Lybia should be condemned and not condonned.
          Now don’t confuse me with euphemisms like “no fly” zones. That is pure unadulterated Orwellian double speak. It’s a war, that’s what it is, pure and simple. Secretary of Defense, or should it be Secretary of War, rightfully said “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A “no-fly” zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” We are now bombing not only their air defenses but we are destroying tanks, military installations and their “beans and bullets” as one of our generals aptly put it. If that ain’t war, what is? You can’t hide a war by calling it a “limited military engagement aimed to protect civilians”. You can’t deny engaging in regime change when you target a regime’s leader with your smart bombs and missiles.
          Americans and their elected Representatives sitting in Congress have for too long allowed Presidents to abuse their power. Starting with Harry Truman and his “Police Action” rightfully called the Korean War with some 50,000 dead American soldiers. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all wallowed through the Vietnam War. Reagan had his Granada moment, and Bush I had Panama and the Gulf War. Bush II got us into the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan.
          We all expected more from Obama. Yet he sorely disappoints us. First he reneged on Afghanistan and Guantanamo. He authorized military action in Pakistan, our ally, and one that we support yearly with billions of dollars. But Libya is were Congress and we the people should draw the line, the line in the sands of Libya.
          The reason for Congress’ inaction is dodging the blame game should something go disastrously wrong. “It’s the other guy’s fault” sydrome of modern politics, the Alfred E. Newman “Who, me?” moment. In fairness the Presidents have sported Congressional fig leafs of War Power Resolutions and Congressional funding of their wars. It is time for Congress to fully shoulder its constitutionally mandated responsibility in declaring war, if war is what the people want.
          Now don’t give us that the exigency of the situation required Obama to act without Congressional approval. That’s bull. Obama and his administration dithered for days before raming through the United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing a “no fly” regimes, with five nations abstaining. Do we have to remind you the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941 and that Congress declared war on December 8? You have a simple resolution and you vote for or against it. War or no War. That the right and honest way of doing it.
          It’s time that we jerk the President’s leash and bring him to heel. Remind him, and future Presidents, that the prerogative of war is not his to make. Force Congress to reassume its Constitutional power to represent us in deciding if war is want we want, what we are willing to pay for, and ultimately to die for.
          The world is peopled with bad actors, despots and dictators. Muammar el-Qaddafi is a prime example and as crazy as a “Mad Hatter” to boot. That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to invoke the War Powers Clause. We must insist on the right way or no way. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


          A “Hail Mary Pass”, as everyone knows, is a very long forward pass made in sheer desperation with only a small chance of success, usually thrown at the end of a football game. Faced with catastrophic and huge budget deficits, American politicians at the state and city level should seriously consider lobbing their own Hail Mary Pass: Tax God, Tax Religion.
          New York State is slashing payrolls and threatening to fire and furlough teachers. Connecticut is nor far behind. Wisconsin has just passed a law abrogating collective bargaining rights for state employees and mandating an 8% pay cut concession. New Jersey is closing psychiatric institutions and limiting state aid to education, the arts, cities and municipalities. California, Nevada, Rhode Island are but a few of the states considering taxing the sale of marijuana to solve the deficit. Adding insult to injury, the Town of West Hartford is considering extending parking meter hours, noting that for every extra taxable parking hour the Town will reap a benefit of $67,000 a year. 
          All of these proposals and measures seem to fall "disproportionately on the backs of the middle class, the poor, the elderly, schoolchildren, college students and inner-city residents, while leaving largely unscathed the wealthy and most businesses". OK, so why not tax dumb, fat, happy and rich tax targets, God and Religion?         
          But before taxing God, religion’s historic context should be considered. After twelve years of debate, our Constitution was finally adopted in 1787. The Bill of Rights was added in 1794. These two documents delineate the powers of government. Supposedly a secular nation, they prohibit “the making of no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Nada, niente, rien, niśta and nothing more.
           Religion is and was a major political player. Seizing on Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy”, religion promoted itself to a position of privilege. Religion secured advantageous tax treatments, on both the federal and local levels, relieving it of any burden of contributing to the general welfare. Religion assured that its secular wealth would be protected, and not taxed, allowing it to pursue its own agenda.
          Religion flourished and continues to flourish.  It built temples, cathedrals and churches; magnificent, opulent and expensive places of worship; and some not so grand; but all to be found in every nook and cranny of our country. It played and continues to play a major role in education. Religion gave its leaders a bully pulpit to preach and to advocate. Religion is the very embodiment of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, assembly and the right to petition the government for redress. A truly commendable achievement. But it did so on the cheap, for free.
          On the other hand, religion today has a negative impact on our society. It has become embroiled and mired in politics. This not to say that such political advocacy and involvement is in any way improper. It is to be encouraged since it is constitutionally protected. But one asks, at what price? Not on the taxpayer's dime, says I.
           There is no rational reason why religion is relieved from the burden of paying taxes. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York's magnificent gothic marble edifice, enjoys the protection of the police and the fire department. It benefits from mass transit that ensures attendance by worshippers. All aspects of today’s infrastructure and today’s federal, state and local government services benefit lay institutions and religious institutions alike. Yet the lay institutions are taxed, as they should be, while the religious ones are not, which they should be.
          The first step would be to tax religious real estate, now exempt. This would fairly spread the tax burden and surely help the budget deficit. Cities such as New Haven and Hartford have long raised the issue that purely secular institutions, such as colleges and universities, share in the cost of municipal services. Why not religious institutions?
          The second step would be to tax religious income on an equitable basis with other secular entities. Income, after all, is income no matter who makes it. We tax the National Football League and Major League Baseball, why not the Roman Catholic Church? After all, they both entertain the masses. This would free religion to advocate and become politically active without government interference. Of course, the level and efficacy of such activity would be constrained by the availability of after tax dollars. To put it rather vulgarly, religion should pay its fair share for state provided services and put its money where its mouth is, for the privilege of exercising its First Amendment rights. The budget crisis may well be solved.



Monday, March 7, 2011


         You just can’t keep up with the news, even if you are engaged full time. After posting comments on the follies of war on what is known as the internet, the true meaning of which I must ruefully admit I do not even begin to understand, I was alerted by a “site” [again, don’t ask me what the hell this means] known as “Justwatch” to a profound statement made by the Gulf Cooperation Council, apparently a body representing six tiny nation states in the Persian Gulf.
          Now Justwatch is a pretty nifty site. It is run by the University of Buffalo, last heard an accredited institution of higher learning. It is apparently both totally apolitical and rabidly partisan. If you enjoy intellectual mud wrestling on an international scale, I urge you to log on. Hours of unmitigated fun tempered with liberal [pun intended] ministrations of valium.  
          Back to the Justwatch posting: “The Gulf Cooperation Council demands that the Un Security Council take all necessary measures to protect civilians, including enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya” calling on “the international community, especially the UN Security Council, to face their responsibilities in helping the dear people” [emphasis supplied].
          When I see Saudi jets, bought for hundreds of millions of dollars from the United State patrolling Libyan skies, Egyptian F 16’s and Jordanian F 15’s, all paid for by United States military aid assistance programs, and whatever other military hardware NATO countries have sold to the Middle East enforcing a “no-fly” zone, then, and only then, will I say “You wants a no-fly zone, you gots a no fly zone”, now you enforce it. Never happen, I bet. Bets are taken at


         West Point, America’s War Academy, makes you proud to be an American, yet at the same time it fills you with dread and loathing. The pride comes from Bastogne, the “Battle of the Bulge”, Ivo Jima, Corregidor, Bataan and Valley Forge. The dread comes from the Battle of Gettysburg, the firebombing of Dresden, the blood spilled at Shiloh and some 800,000 American dead in our Civil War. The loathing comes from Viet Nam’s Mai Lai Massacre, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the hell hole of Andersonville’s prisoner of war camp.
That stone fortress, with its colorful flags flying high above the Hudson River, was an appropriate venue for Robert Gates, our Secretary of Defense [perhaps we should use the old moniker “Secretary of War”], to make a speech ten days ago bluntly warning:
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’, as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” [emphasis supplied]
          I am a believer in conspiracy theories. Without a shred of evidence, a scintilla of proof, I believe that Gates was throwing the gauntlet, drawing a line in the sand, giving fair warning, cautioning those in power that starting a war with Iran is suicide, hara-kiri. Just don’t go there, or for that matter into any local conflict now inflaming the region.
There are war hawks amongst us, mad dogs [mixed metaphor, I know] hell bent for war at any price, in lives or money. War for them is a way of life, a solution to what ails us, or for that matter the world. They may be part of the Israeli lobby seeking a safe haven for that country. They may well be idealists seeking a perfect world or they may be money hungry opportunists seeking to cash in on war. Or they may be just deluded fools.
Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney are peddling their memoirs and false memories giving us a revisionist history of the debacles that Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be. They still hew to the long discredited straw man theory of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, robust nation building and other far fetched fairy tales
Now the hawks are promoting that America’s fighting machine is in place to topple the regime in Iran and embark on another protracted war of futile nation building. The troops, the tanks, the Humvees, the ammunition dumps are there, right in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq, ready to roll across the sand to Teheran, or the shores of Tripoli. After all we have pacified and succeeded in nation building both in Iraq and Afghanistan, right?
President “The Happy Warrior” Bush on May 2, 2003 told us that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”, the war was officially over. This was straight from the horse’s mouth, from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, after old George, all decked out in a World War II bomber jacket, and had flown in on a broomstick of a jet telling us that:
“In this battle we have fought for the cause of liberty and for peace of the world. Our nation and coalition are proud of this accomplishment.”
Remember? And yet some 8 years later we are still there.
While Gates was giving fair warning to a new generation of chicken hawks, North African and Middle Eastern regimes were toppling like proverbial dominoes. Egypt’s “President” Mubarak and Tunisia’s “President” Ben Ali are  gone. Yemen is tottering. Bahrain and perhaps Saudi Arabia are next to. Libya is in the midst of a civil war.
Only a year ago Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was promoting “democracy” and testifying on Capital Hill in support of $2.5 million in aid to Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime. She was proudly photographed with Qaddafi’s son. Now Qaddafi is clinging to his megalomaniac dictatorship by his fingernails and Hillary is telling us that the United States has under “active consideration” the imposition of a no-flight zone over Libya. Has she forgotten that Iraq’s “no-fly” policy [1991-2003] was a failure and ineffective? Gates just testified in Congress
“Let’s just call a spade a spade. A “no-fly” zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.”
Does she even listen to the Secretary of Defense, the guy who should be in the know? Everyone who is clamoring for war against Iran is now clamoring for us to intervene, for us to embark on more nation/democracy building when we haven’t completely, even remotely, the last two that we have started.
So, who should we have, or should have had, their heads examined: Wolfowits, Cheney, Rumsfeld, President Bush, Tony Blair and now Hillary Clinton?                  
          Having one’s head examined is the first step in treating a mental disorder. The time to treat a mental disorder is before the patient commits grave injury. Those who lead us into this mess are long gone. They have retired. You can’t impeach a politician who is no longer in office. The only recourse now is war crime trials and criminal indictments for malfeasance and misfeasance in office.
          The International Community is clamoring for the ICC, the International Criminal Court [a court that George Bush, Hillary Clinton, Condolleezza Rice, Madeleine “The Price is Right” Albright, Colin Powell and United States all have refused to recognize], to try Qaddafi, Mubarak and others. Perhaps that is an appropriate step for us to take.
          But for those who want more war, whether in Iran, Libya or for that matter anywhere else in the world, we should first have their heads examined.