by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - December 18, 2006) Among the piles of papers strewn about my desk, things wait for completion: poems to finish, essays to write, letters to compose, house renovations to finish. Yet these things seem insignificant when compared to our nation's unfinished business: ending war, balancing budgets, prosecuting elected traitors, stopping racist profiling, rebuilding flood damaged neighborhoods, enacting universal health care, reforming school funding. That's the short list. Some of these items of unfinished business, so say the new members of Congress, will be addressed in the first 100 hours of their control. Whether or not the voter mandate, and it was clearly a mandate, will give the new Congress the will-power to make sweeping reforms, to sweep clear the government of corruption, and to cash in their political capital will be known, fortunately, within a short time.
Ending war must be the first order of business. One does not end war by waging war, but by solving the unequal distribution of wealth, of land, of opportunity. Nations must address the underlying causes for conflict whether those causes be religious, social, or economic. Resources spent in waging wars of aggression, implementing pre-emptive strikes and regime change can be used to solve the reason for war. The staggering amount of money wasted by waging war, by the destruction of infrastructure and the rebuilding of that infrastructure, can be used to improve education, expand trade, improve health, and more. The staggering loss of life, loss of productive members of society, loss of intellect, could be stopped if food, shelter, and opportunity replaced bullets and bombs. The growing resentment, mistrust, anger, and righteous indignation that survivors, refugees, and insurgents feel can slowly be changed if bullets were replaced by these olive branches: equality, justice, and opportunity. Are not those universal rights? Should not the United States promote those rights using economic rather than military means?
The international coalition must draw down in Iraq, for its presence has caused a civil war, and its presence will not help to end the conflict peacefully. To forcefully end the conflict would require massive troop increases and military actions more deadly than the original invasion of Baghdad, and would threaten to engulf the entire region. The current administration's plan to "stay the course" simply means to wage war indefinitely, to ensure the killing of more civilians, while the true criminals, the terrorists, continue to recruit the children, the survivors, and the refugees into their ranks.
In waging wars of aggression and pre-emptive actions meant to end terror, nations indiscriminately kill the innocent, and thus violate the aforementioned universal rights. Such violations are criminal. War criminals, like terrorists, should be treated as such and the international intelligence and police community should bring them to justice. Using the military to illegally invade a country in order to fight a terrorist group is like opening fire on a bank full of hostages in order to stop a bank robbery. Such an action is blatantly criminal when the invaded nation had no ties with the terrorist group.
Who should be held responsible for the crimes committed in the prosecution of this war on terror? This is the second order of unfinished business. Who should be prosecuted for high crimes, let alone misdemeanors? Those who ordered torture should be jailed. Those who use lies to involve the country in an illegal war should be jailed. Those who used tax-payer money to make unprecedented war profits should be jailed. Those who illegally wiretapped citizens, political opponents, and journalists should be jailed. Those who flagrantly violated the Constitution should be impeached. A mandate was given to this new Congress, not only to end the war in Iraq, but to impeach the politicians who lied us into an illegal war. The leader of this new House, Nancy Pelosi, has already stated that impeachment is "off the table." Her constituents did not give permission to remove this item of business, nor does the Constitution of the U.S. give her permission to ignore high crimes and misdemeanors.
Indeed, those who knowingly and willingly ignore crimes, or fail to prosecute those who have committed crimes and who will likely commit more crimes are themselves accessories, or at least grossly negligent. Gross negligence, according my understanding of law, is a high crime. In other words, if the new Congress does not impeach the president and vice president, and prosecute the former Secretary of State, that Congress itself is in violation of the law, in my opinion. One cannot choose to ignore a law. What constitutes a crime worthy of impeachment, according to interpretation of the Constitution, is determined by the House. Impeachment should not be a choice. Impeachment, when the evidence is so damming, should be automatic.
Constituents have given their representatives a mandate to clean the House and the Senate; moreover, that mandate includes curtailing spending. Fiscal responsibility, both a conservative and progressive ideal, should create a bipartisan movement to balance the budget, to start reducing the national deficit. This item of unfinished business must be a top priority; when deficits climb, people panic, so that spending for essential programs such as health care, education, and safety are reduced. Obviously, stopping the hemorrhaging caused by the Iraq war must be a priority; secondly, eliminating corporate loopholes on both the state and the federal level will increase revenue; thirdly, negotiating free trade agreements that benefit exports over imports will help protect the US worker and stabilize its economic base.
Incumbents were removed from office, because constituents rebelled against fiscal irresponsibility, part of which stems from requiring taxpayers to fund shortfalls in education caused by No Child Left Behind. This item of unfinished business must be addressed because a highly educated population creates economic growth, and promotes social stability and cultural diversity. Educated citizens are less likely to support wars of aggression or to commit crime, are more likely to become productive members of society, and much more likely to reject stereotypical and prejudice attitudes and behavior. Educated citizens are more likely to practice fiscal responsibility, and to participate more fully in the democratic process. Education should always be funded fully; teachers should be paid the same respect as CEOs of major corporations. Teachers play the most important role in any society or culture; furthermore, teachers know better than politicians how to teach children. Government should stop mandating curricula, and let teachers teach. Government should fund education, and allow teachers' unions to regulate working conditions, and allow business, school board and teacher coalitions to design, assess and improve the curriculum.
Frustration over the incompetence in handling the Katrina disaster also motivated voters to change Congress. Money squandered in Iraq could have been spent rebuilding the devastated southern coast, could have been spent rebuilding churches, schools, businesses, and the infrastructure necessary for a southern revival. Sadly, the federal response is still inadequate, and the slow government reaction has resulted in disenfranchised home owners losing their property to developers. The American dream became a nightmare for residents of the southern coast after Katrina. If the Democrats want to solidify their southern base, then rebuilding Katrina would be both an ethical and political good.
Finally, in my opinion, universal health should be implemented, and Social Security should be protected. Neither can be accomplished without fiscal responsibility, which cannot be accomplished while waging eternal war, which cannot be ended without an educated populace within a stable economic environment, which cannot be accomplished while unfair trade policies encourage outsourcing, busting unions, and reducing wages. In other words, the current fascist policies that give corporations the same rights as citizens, that encourage corporate cronies to infiltrate and then control government departments, that maintain war as a means to secure resources and ensure profits, must end.
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