Jim Hightower

Constitutional Backbone

James Madison, renowned as the Father of the Constitution, would be appalled by the fecklessness of our current Congress-specifically by its cowering in the face of an arrogant, reckless, runaway White House led by an imperial executive who asserts he is a war president and Congress must stay out of his way.

Congress was deliberately endowed with real muscle by the founders so it could stand up to the likes of Bush and Cheney, especially in times of war. Madison, noting that history shows the executive branch of any government is the “most prone” to war, stated that our Constitution “has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

Only Congress is authorized to “declare war”-a phrase that means much more than saying, “OK, start shooting.” The declaration clause of the Constitution authorizes Congress to limit the scope and duration of any war, and even set the terms of military engagement-something earlier Congresses have done and the Supreme Court has ruled proper.

Congress has absolute power of the purse-the ability to cut off financing for a war or any part of any war-a power it exercised as recently as the 1970s to stop expansion of the Vietnam War. Lawmakers also have the enormous power of investigation and subpoena to hold the executive branch accountable, as well as the ultimate power to initiate impeachment hearings to rein in presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet officers who try to rise above the law.

So when you hear lawmakers whine that they can’t stop the Bush-Cheney war regime, don’t buy it. The founders clearly gave them the power to do the job-not as a political option, but as a constitutional obligation. Having the power, they have the responsibility.

THOSE LYIN’ DYES

Fast-fingered con artists used to dupe people with the old shell game at county fairs and carnivals. Now the con has gone corporate and moved inside the offices of government regulators.

Agribusiness powers are playing a shell game with the “fresh” meat sold in stores. One clear sign of freshness that consumers can rely on is the meat’s red color, right? No more. The industry has come up with a deception that keeps the meat red not just for a few days, but for months. The meat can go bad, but a little spritz of carbon monoxide and other gases inside the plastic package prevents the tell-tale browning that signals spoilage.

In 2004, federal food regulators expressed alarm that the gassing trick could mask dangerous meat. Industry lobbyists moved in, and within a month the regulators reversed themselves, approving perpetually red meat for sale. Our so-called watchdogs did not conduct any studies, instead relying on industry data. Nor did they bother notifying consumers that the redness of meat should no longer be trusted.

The Democratic Congress is moving to require that this color-altered meat be labeled as such. Once again, industry lobbyists are on the prowl, claiming that such labels would be “alarmist” and “unfair.”

They say, with a con man’s sly grin, that since regulators have OK’d the gassing process, consumers have no need to be informed. Thus the shell game comes full circle-industry colors our meat to deceive us, writes the regulation to allow the deception, then cites the regulation as reason to keep deceiving us.

LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE

The fact that New York billionaire Alan Gerry and his family have donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of New York Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer has absolutely nothing to do with the coincidental fact that the two have siphoned $1 million of tax dollars into Gerry’s rock-and-roll tourist development being built near Woodstock, New York. I know this was not a quid pro quo, because Clinton’s spokesman said so: “One thing had nothing to do with the other,” he said.

Gerry, a former cable television mogul, has also come forward to assure us that his political donations are totally unrelated to the $1 million. Making political contributions, he explains, is not about gaining favors, but merely “something we think a good citizen should do.”

Some busybodies will try to make a fuss about the timing of this money exchange. It’s true that the senators funneled our tax dollars into Gerry’s project on June 21. And it’s true that the Gerry family donated $20,000 to Schumer five days later, then $9,200 to Clinton four days after that. But picky-picky. It’s not like Gerry sent a note with his donations, saying, “Thanks a million-here’s my bribe money.” How can people be so cynical when it’s obvious that Gerry was simply feeling civic-minded after his two senators behaved in such a statesmanlike manner? He was just expressing his love for America-and nothing says love like cash.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdownvisit www.jimhightower.com.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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