Monday, November 06, 2006

Congress Follows Executive Branch Like A Flock Of Sheep

Howard Zinn:
We are not a democracy in foreign policy

By Penelope Bowler
Contributing Writer
The South End

Wayne State University

Nov. 6, 2006

Howard Zinn told an audience that the state of our nation lies somewhere between democracy and totalitarianism.

Beginning with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the 1960s, Zinn has been a tireless activist as well as a voice of dissent for over 40 years. Last night at Cobo Hall, the Cranbrook Peace Foundation honored the historian, author and lifelong peace activist.

Zinn, the author of the classic best-selling book “A People’s History of the United States, 1492 - Present,” along with other important works on history and U.S. policy, lectured and answered questions. Zinn began his career as a professor at Spellman University in the early ‘60s where he became involved with SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Zinn began his lecture with an anecdote about meeting current Michigan House Representative John Conyers for the first time in Selma, Ala., in 1963. Conyers was introduced to Zinn as a young lawyer from Michigan. Zinn was there with SNCC, it was Freedom Day and black people were arriving at the county seat to try to register to vote, where they faced long lines of police cars, the deputy sheriff and his men.

“It was like a war was taking place on this street in front of the county courthouse, as if there was an enemy there. And the enemy [was] old black ladies and women carrying their kids and young men, people who wanted to vote — they were the enemy. And there was the Army brought out to intimidate them and to arrest some of them and beat some of them and cattle prod some of them and John Conyers was there that day and that was the first time I met him,” Zinn said. He called it, “a day to remember, a day of courage and commitment.”

The topics discussed ranged from our history of “violent expansion and history of ethnic cleansing,” the media’s apparent lack of fact-checking, to the Bush administration’s “war crimes.” Citing Colin Powell’s WMDs speech to the United Nations before the beginning of the war in Iraq, Zinn called it “probably the longest list of falsehoods ever spoken to the U.N.”

Zinn talked about the “complicated spectrum of political ideology” saying that “there is totalitarianism on one end and there is democracy on the other end but we (the U.S.) are not on that end. We are somewhere in between, because we cannot call ourselves a democracy in so many ways, we can (call ourselves a democracy) in many ways. Yes, we do have a Constitution, and we do have a Bill of Rights and we do vote but, there are too many ways in which we fall short. And one of those, simply, (is) that in matters of foreign policy, we are not a democratic country, in matters of going to war, there is no democracy there. The president decides on war. The president and a small group of people around him decide on war. The people don’t have any say in it.”

Zinn proceeded to discuss the system of checks and balances and how we all learned about the branches of government in our junior high classes in a way as to make it seem like a quaint idea from a children’s book — something that is nice in theory but in reality is actually more like a fairy tale.

In Zinn’s view, Congress has almost never exercised its role in government to check the executive branch, citing history as far back as the Mexican War of 1846, saying that every time a president has wanted to go to war “Congress has followed like a flock of sheep. This is not what James Madison had in mind.”

The burden lies with the Supreme Court to interpret what is Constitutional, and the Constitution requires that “war be declared by Congress.” Zinn noted, “Every war since World War II has been unconstitutional … democracy doesn’t always work out through practice the way it looks on paper or in the Constitution.”


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