N E W S B R I E F S
Six congressmen, along with several U.S. soldiers and parents of soldiers, filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Boston, Mass. on February 13. The suit sought to prevent President Bush from attacking Iraq without Congress formally declaring war. According to a United Press International report, John Bonifaz, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, explained that “a war against Iraq without a congressional declaration of war will be illegal and unconstitutional.”
Citing Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states only Congress has the power to declare war, the lawsuit asserts that the congressional resolution on Iraq passed in October 2002 “did not declare war and unlawfully ceded the decision to Bush.” “The president is not a king,” plaintiff Charles Richardson stressed. “If he wants to launch a military invasion against Iraq, he must first seek a declaration of war from the United States Congress. Our Constitution demands nothing less.”
While U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro agreed to hold an expedited hearing on February 20 on the injunction request, past precedents indicate this lawsuit will likely fail. As the Associated Press reported on February 14, “Congress has not formally declared war since World War II,” pointing out that the War Powers Act of 1973 only required that the President seek congressional approval “before or shortly after ordering military action abroad.” But proponents argue that precedents created by presidential usurpation, or congressional abdication, do not supersede the Constitution.
A similar lawsuit was filed against President George Bush (the elder) before the Persian Gulf War. But a federal judge rejected it on the grounds that the President “had not clearly committed the country to a course of action,” and that the 54 congressmen filing the suit only represented 10 percent of Congress, which was far from a majority.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley was appointed Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ new Homeland Security Task Force on March 19. The task force will spend its efforts on securing funding for police, fire, and emergency response personnel. Mayors have been seeking a stronger federal partnership and funding for local homeland security since 9/11. The federal budget for this fiscal year did not provide the promised $3.5 billion in new assistance for rising security costs in cities nationwide.
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. warns consumers of the pitfalls of certain cell phone plans which make it easy to wind up with an expensive bill. In the latest issue of Consumer’s Edge, Curran points out the different ways customers are confused by cell phone plans and gives solutions to the problems in the following:
Check with your provider about a return policy, in case your phone doesn’t work where you need it to. If there is no return period, a customer may be unable to terminate the contract unless a fee is paid, usually $150—200. Look for plans that allow a couple weeks to cancel if necessary.
Get all promises in writing. What the salespeople tell customers in a store may be different than what is in the written contract. Read carefully before signing.
Be absolutely clear about when “peak” and “off-peak” periods are. Some calls during peak periods cost up to 40 or 50 cents a minute.
Families sharing a cell phone plan should set ground rules as to how many minutes each family member gets, so the allotted number of minutes is not exceeded.
Toll-free calls and calls with a calling card made on a cell phone are not free. Customers will be charged airtime for these calls on their cell phone.
Consumers can request a copy of Consumer’s Edge by calling 410-576-6500 or read it online here.
Representatives Udall (D-NM), Udall (D-CO), and Leach (R-IA) recently introduced HR 1294, a Renewable Electricity Standard bill that requires utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from clean renewable sources by 2025. This bill would save consumers money on their utility bills, benefit farmers, create jobs, spur economic development, and improve our energy security. Encouraging the use of renewable energy would also reduce air pollution and heat-trapping emissions that threaten public health. Learn more about this issue and about HR 1294 by visiting this webpage.
On Saturday, March 1 at 4:30 p.m., eight anti-war activists were arrested in the Townson Town Mall in Towson, Maryland. They were among 18 activists representing the Iraq Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, one of 43 chapters across the country.
The entire group was peacefully leafleting without mall permission. No patrons had their movement obstructed.
During the 14 and a half hours of jail time, the eight activists endured shackles, handcuffs, cold jail cells, and verbal harrassment from guards.
They will be tried on June 10 with charges of trespassing, failure to obey a police order, and disorderly conduct. They face jail sentences of 210 more days in jail, along with $1500 in fines. In addition, the Towson Town Center Mall has informed the eight protestors that they are banned for life from the shopping complex.
The age range of the eight arrested is 24 to 60. They are Max Obuszewski, Maria Allwine, Levanah Ruthschild, John Dornheim, Marcel Estevez, Donald (Donny) Gann, Mark Giffen and Ann Forno.
The Iraq Pledge of Resistance is a national organization promoting a peaceful resolution to the Iraq crisis. Members engage in non-violent civil disobedience and promote the UN Charter and international law generally.
The Department of Public Works announced that the 2003 Boating and Fishing Guide for City Reservoirs is currently available for free to the public. The 32-page pocket-sized guide provides the rules and regulations governing reservoir activities and includes detailed fish species data.
The cost of a season boating permit is $50. For the safety of boaters and the protection of the water supply, gasoline powered engines are prohibited along with inflatable and collapsible vessels.
For additional information or to obtain a copy of the guide or a boating permit, contact the Department of Public Works at 410-795-6150.
The City of Baltimore reversed a permit refusal for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to park its travelling protest truck outside the Ringling Brothers Circus on opening night at First Mariner Arena on March 12. The group hired First Amendment lawyer Jonathan L. Katz of Silver Spring, Md.’s Marks & Katz, LLC, to seek the reversal.
Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works originally turned down the permit application of the Norfolk-based group, whose travelling protest truck shows videotapes from circuses and slaughterhouses as part of a campaign for the humane treatment of animals. The original reason for refusal, issued on February 27, was the anticipated pedestrian traffic.
Katz obtained a reversal for PETA one day before the circus’s opening night, after arguing to Baltimore’s Law Department that the permit denial amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint of protected speech. He argued that Baltimore had a particular First Amendment problem for not even having written guidelines for granting or denying such permit applications.
Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles called on the Bush Administration to continue diplomacy and find a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis on March 17, two days prior to when the attack began. The public health group claimed that a war on Iraq would increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the U.S., cause untold suffering to the Iraqi people, and threaten our economy and social needs at home. The group also demanded that President Bush publicly commit to a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons.
The group expressed concern that a humanitarian crisis would follow war, killing innocent Iraqis. In early March, a PSR doctor returned form a mission to Iraq sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and determined that the country is completely unprepared to deal with the disruption of war.
“We must understand the horrible consequences of war on the Iraqi citizens who are already weakened by twelve years of war, sanctions, and a kleptocratic leader,” said Dr. Jose Quiroga, a Board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “I prescribe peace.”
PSR-LA is part of the US affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention Nuclear War, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists Action Network, fossil fuels currently supply 69 percent of the electricity used by Maryland homes and businesses. Burning these fuels emits smog-forming nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution that triggers an estimated 200,000 asthma attacks in Maryland annually. Maryland power plants are also responsible for 27 percent of the state’s global warming pollution.
Maryland’s use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel has increased by 25 percent since 1992, and is still on the rise. Local environmentalist groups are calling for the implementation of a clean energy standard in the state that would ensure a steady ramp up to 7.5 percent of new, clean energy sources in the next 10 years.
Updated for the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel
on March 5, 2003.