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War is back, by popular demand. How else do you explain the fact that in 1999, North Carolina's senior senator, Republican Jesse Helms, was considered no more of a hawk than the likes of Democratic congressmen David Price and Bob Etheridge?

Sad, but true. According to the 1999 Congressional Report Card released last week by N.C. Peace Action, the state chapter of the nation's largest grassroots peace organization, the two Triangle representatives voted pro-military so often last year that both have been given failing grades.

Adding Helms' annual F to the mix gives the Triangle a solid block of pro-Pentagon voters. Democratic Sen. John Edwards, with a C grade (he voted with the Peace Action position eight of 13 times), saved some face for progressives. Price voted with Peace Action only four times of 11. Etheridge went with Peace Action just three times. Best of the Tar Heel bunch: Democrats Mel Watt (seven of 11 times for a C+) and Eva Clayton (six of 11 for a C).

House Republicans Sue Myrick and Howard Coble picked up D grades (five of 11), while the rest of the N.C. delegation recorded Fs. Worst of the group: Rep. Robin Hayes (one of 11).

"This has been a very tough year for peace," said Bill Towe of Raleigh, who serves as Peace Action's national co-chairman. "Congress has been happy to give the Pentagon even more than it asked for, while blocking a nuclear test ban and permitting an undeclared bombing war that undermined the United Nations." Throughout 1999, the United States kept its bombs blasting. Leading the way was the U.S.-led NATO air war against Yugoslavia and the continued bombing attacks against Iraq.

To determine congressional grades, Peace Action used a series of key votes on the Pentagon budget, nuclear testing, the war against Yugoslavia and other major foreign-policy issues, Towe said. Price and Etheridge both voted three times in support of the Yugoslavia war, and both voted in favor of a Star Wars missile defense system. On a good note, the Triangle pair did vote to slice funds from the Army's School of the Americas, which trains Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics that include torture.

The failing grades for Price and Etheridge were "surprising and disappointing," Towe said. In 1998, Etheridge and Price both received C grades. Before 1997, Peace Action didn't issue letter grades, only percentages. Below is a breakdown back to 1993:

· 1997: Clayton, 67 percent; Etheridge, 25 percent; Price, 42 percent; Watt, 92 percent.

· 1996: Clayton, 50 percent; Watt, 100 percent.

· 1995: Clayton, 92 percent; Watt, 100 percent.

· 1994: Clayton, 83 percent; Watt, 100 percent.

· 1993: Clayton, 89 percent; Price, 22 percent; Watt, 100 percent.

Helms, who is a straight-F student by Peace Action's measure, did do better than usual in 1999, voting with the Peace Action position four of 13 times. Edwards' predecessor, Lauch Faircloth, also registered straight Fs.

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