Nancy Pelosi Hugo Chavez
Speaker of the House
Nancy Pelosi
Venezuelan President & Dictator
Hugo Chavez

 

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, refused to allow an up-down vote on the passage of the Columbian Free-Trade Agreement (HR 5724) as authorized under the Presidential Fast Track Authority. Speaker Pelosi has instead modified House rules, ex post facto, so that the vote required by the fast-track provisions can be circumvented.

This despite the fact that the House Democrats have repeatedly, through more than 250 consultations with Columbia, insisted on and won additional language in the trade agreement forcing Columbia to provide more protection for trade unionists in the country — in the past it has been open season on organizers, though through no fault of Alvaro Uribe, the President of Columbia. Thank FARC. President Uribe has, in fact, worked to reduce this violence and has delivered impressive initial results, reducing violence by more than 80% since 2002. This is also an agreement which Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means, and Bill Clinton support, as does President Bush. It is good for the United States and good for Columbia. Even Hillary Clinton’s staffer Mark Penn is^H^H was working towards this bill’s passage.

The standard media drivel is that this is the work of the labor unions in the United States, but, as with all things political, the phrase ‘cui bono’ comes to mind. 90% of Columbian goods arriving in the United States are duty free and the balance are subjected to very minimum tariff. US goods in Columbia are assessed a 35% tariff, which would be eliminated as part of the Trade Agreement. This means that companies producing goods for Columbia would be more price competitive, be able to sell more goods (in what apparently is a pending recession), and would be able to hire more union labor to produce the goods. In other words, this trade agreement is a good thing for the labor unions. The unions do, however, make a good smoke screen. What is going on under the smoke should give any American a case of the chills.

Nancy Pelosi, acting in her persona as Secretary of State, visited Damascus last year and presented the House position on national policy. It was argued at the time that this was technically treason and in fact has been previously prosecuted as such under the Logan Act of 1798. Clearly, Speaker Pelosi feels that it is in the interest of the House to establish foreign policy.

In light of the evidence of other Democrats (Kennedy D-MA) making arrangements with Hugo Chavez, perhaps more is going on here than meets the eye. Could it be that the real reason for dumping the Columbia Trade Agreement is that Pelosi has made a deal with Chavez to attempt to weaken Columbian President Uribe. It’s no secret, since a suitcase full of money and computer files revealed that Chavez is bankrolling and providing strategic intelligence to FARC.

Should all this be suprising? No. The anti-war left did it to Cambodia, stiffing our Cambodian allies after we pulled out of Vietnam, at a cost of about 1.7 million deaths at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. They are seeking to do the same in Iraq when we know Iran is actively seeking to destabilize the Iraqi government. What consequence is Columbia against sad examples of this magnitude?

Not supporting Columbia, especially when President Uribe has compromised so much at the request of the Democrats in the House, is as shameful an act as been seen in a decade.

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George Washington, Feb. 22, 1732 – Dec. 14, 1799

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.

—George Washington (various sources)
 

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George Washington seems a strange choice for this series, which is (after all) about those forgotten greats. How can we include a figure so well known, so omnipresent, and so publicly venerated as George Washington: Founder of the Country, First President, First in Hearts of His Countrymen, etc.?

But fame is as a great a peril as obscurity if our goal is to remember the man and not the legend. And Washington is great precisely because he was a man—a man of his time and class—and not a myth. He was not the flawless saint of the classic “cherry tree” story. He deceived others from time to time (though perhaps only after deceiving himself). He was, at times, guilty of poor judgment, of jealousy, of passionate anger, of greed for wealth that lead to involvement with speculative schemes.

And for all his modest demurements, and socially correct (for the time) public rejections of ambition, he was certainly an ambitious man. One who took considerable pride in the good name he had won through his deeds, and one who could be jealous of his perquisites when challenged.

Indeed, that very ambition is one of the great things about Washington. He was a man who, in Britain, would have been doomed to obscurity by his relatively low birth. At best he might have risen to a modest career in the military, and perhaps eventually earned a minor peerage. But certainly he would not have risen to be ranked among the wealthiest men in his nation, nor risen to a role not only on par with the Prime Minster’s but above it in every way. But in America, his talent for being in the right place, at the right time, with the right plan; his noble good looks and regal bearing; and his upright moral character and sheer persistence allowed him to climb steadily up the ranks of society.

And so this, above everything else, makes Washington worthy of our praise: that after he had risen to the top of the heap, after his enemies domestic and foreign had been vanquished, when he was not only handed the laurel of victory but offered the imperial scepter, then he demurred. He who could have been King chose instead to be President.

And with a firm understanding that everything he did would be immortalized, and that his slightest act might become precedent for the office he held, this very ambitious, talented, and passionate man became the very model of restraint. A man who had bent the efforts of long years to rising in wealth and status now became almost passive, in order to ensure that nothing extravagant or unnecessary would attach to the office he was establishing each day by his actions.

This is not to say that he did not act, he did, and with force, when he felt it necessary. But he realized just how fragile the new nation was, and how fragile its rule of law was. If its first President had been a bad President, all might have been lost. Just as Pompey and Cesear had turned the offices of consul, dictator, and imperator into the trappings of tyranny, Washington could easily have hijacked the Republic and made it his. Not only be the crude method of being declared King, but by subtler methods: undermining Congress through direct appeal, having political enemies quietly eliminated, running for re-election until dying in office.

Any of those methods might have strangled the United States before it grew strong enough to survive them. And Washington understood this deeply, and bent all his intellect and will to ensuring that it did not happen. And he crowned those efforts with his greatest act: voluntarily stepping down and choosing not to run for election, and then lawfully handing over the office to a man who had publicly vilified his policies and privately vilified him. And then he took up station quietly on his farm and refused, largely, to engage in political debate for the remaining years of his life.

George Washington did many great things for this nation, and made many wise pronouncements about matters foreign and domestic. He was a force for moderation between extremes and for patriotism before party loyalty. He would have despised any notion that a man’s political affiliation should be more important than his principles or character. He crafted a foreign policy that sought, and ensured peace for a critical few decades as the country grew. He, and his administration, built many institutions that endure to this day, and without which we cannot imagine the nation.

But none of those were his greatest gift to the United States. His greatest gift was the incredible restraint which enabled him to do much, but not too much. To make sure that the nation would be shaped in We the people’s image and not simply George Washington’s image. And for that, we owe him eternal gratitude.

With due humility, I will take issue with one wise counsel given by President Washington:

We ought not to look back, unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors and for the purpose of profiting by dear bought experience.

I propose that there is another reason to look back, as good as these: to celebrate. Not to dwell in the past at the expense of the future, but to remember past victories as well as past defeats, and past wisdom as well as past error. In that spirit, let us remember our First President, who is truly worthy to be First in the Hearts of his Countrymen!

Happy Presidents Day Everyone!

A very creative depiction of the United States prompted an interesting discussion among the Angry Men this past week. One of the most striking features of the map is the complete absence of our nation’s capital, which prompted our Angry Overeducated Catholic to rejoice that our nation is blessed by having an insignificant capital city. After all, a large capital suggests a large government, and a larger capital would have made it onto the map. As AOC put it, “All true sons of the Founding Fathers should rejoice that, despite the best efforts of socialist weenies like the Democrats, foreigners still don’t give a fig about our capital.”

As a long-time DC area resident (like the Angry Midwesterner, actually, no matter what he might tell you), I too noticed the conspicuous absence of our capital city. I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions about this particular map: Just like the word “anecdote”, the plural of the term “funny picture on the Internet” is not “data”. In reality, the large number of international tourists in DC suggests that foreigners actually care more about Washington than most Americans do. Every American I meet from outside of DC says something like, “Oh, yeah, I was there once in fifth grade,” and all they seem to remember is the oppressive summer weather and a lot of buildings with columns on the front of them.

However, I would agree with a complementary point to AOC’s, which is that sons of the Founding Fathers should rejoice when Americans don’t give a fig about our capital. Having pretty monuments that attract Japanese people with cameras does not suggest that our government is too powerful. However, having too many people and jobs in our capital city suggests that our government is too powerful, and in fact that’s exactly the situation that we are in. Relative to its humble beginnings (to paraphrase Monty Python, “When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a White House on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It was burned down by the British, then sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one, and that one stayed up!”) or even its recent past, the Washington area is growing like a Republican president’s budget deficit.

Of course, I now have to take that point about “small capital = good” and turn the political implication (“socialist weenie Democrats”) on its head. The Washington area (particularly Northern Virginia) has exploded over the past few decades, with millions of people and numerous businesses moving to the area. Besides triggering an automotive transit clusterf**k of Los Angeles proportions, this migration suggests that our government is growing too quickly. However, these people and businesses are not here because they want to work for the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Commerce or all of the Departments of Things That Even Well Educated Americans Can’t Be Bothered To Remember. Rather, they’re all here directly or indirectly because of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

As someone who has looked for a job in the DC area, I can tell you that you can’t do anything more than flip burgers without a security clearance in this town (and that’s not because you’re going to work for some Super Secret Welfare Program, either). I’m currently in the process of finishing a graduate engineering degree, and I’m planning to move away following graduation because I don’t want to work for the military and I don’t want to work for some three-letter agency that is in the business of spying on Americans. If I stay in Virginia, I simply won’t have any other choices.

So, I would agree that a big and thriving capital is a bad thing, though I would argue that it’s a bad thing because it represents the excesses of the American War Machine and not the excesses of an alleged welfare state.

The greatest ideological struggle in the post-communist era is, so the media tells us, the struggle against radical Islam. Unfortunately, the media oracle feeds us conflicting messages on what the real issue is and how it can be solved. Like any issue that involves political zombies, America has two irreconcilable visions of the problem, and two radically different solutions. But, as is true with many issues in American politics: both sides are wrong. This is part one of a two-part series dealing with the problems Americans have with understanding and responding to radical Islam.

Let us begin with the right, which frankly speaking, isn’t. From the view of extreme partisans on the right, the problem is Islam itself. The Islamaniacs , and all those who follow the False Prophet, follow a fundamentally violent religion. From this perspective, Islam is locked in an eternal jihad against the heathen world, and it is a conflict that can only be continued by force of arms: Non-Muslims must either recite the shahadah or perish: There is no room for the separation of Mosque and State in Islam. Supporters of this view of Islam feel that the solution to the conflict is to take up arms to oppose the jihad. Though most won’t say it, there are always the more candid (and extreme) voices that feel that Islam must be destroyed. Supporters of this position point to the (admittedly) violent rise of Islam in the 7th and 8th century and content that the us-versus-them mindset of the early days of Islam translate perfectly into the 21st century.

In a refreshing (albeit disturbing) alternative to the zombification of politics, fellows from the “Atheist by Faith Alone” camp of lunatic leftists (like the recent douchebag-cum-author Christopher Hitchens) agree with this view. But this odd confluence of fundamentalist Christians and irrational atheists is united in something else: being flat out wrong.

For starters, Islam is not the only religion to have a troubling relationship with the state. Christianity, for instance has had problems in all its major branches (see late medieval Western Europe for Catholicism, the late Byzantine Orthodoxy or later writings of Luther that smack of complete Caesero-Papism). Second, the violence in Arabia was par for the course at the time and that Islamic nations were significantly less violent than some of their pagan contemporaries (the Golden Horde comes to mind). Third, radical Islam is a product of the modern era: beginning in the late 19th century with Jamal al-Din al-Afghani as a response to the British occupation. Until that point, the Islamic world (at least in its Turkoman/Islamic flavor) wallowed in the peaceful, slothful decadence it had descended into since the Battle of Lepanto. Fourth, barring isolated separatist insurgencies (which are not, in general religiously motivated), Muslims in Southeast Asia, the major nexus of Islam outside of the Middle East have lived quite peacefully for a long time.

A detailed look at history and a smattering of common sense (often lacking in the American right) tell a clear story: this view of Islam is wrong, and the conclusion that it must be destroyed by force cannot be supported from that evidence. If only the other side offered a better view. As we’ll see in the next issue, things aren’t any better on the left.

The Bush Administration is hemorrhaging people these days, which, of course, is to be expected for a seventh year in an eight year term, especially one in which turnover has been so rare. It’s getting to be like the plot of an Agatha Christie novel.

Rummy got the boot back the day after the election. Rove decided he wanted to go back to Texas to powder his nose. Now Gonzo the Great has—predictably—fallen from his highwire.

Amazing.

Too bad it didn’t happen back in 2005 after the election, when it is quite traditional for a returning administration to let a lot of people go and with good reason. New blood… new ideas… people able to let go of the old fights…. In short, turnover in an administration is generally a healthy thing, and this one has been decidedly odd in how little happened. I’ll make some brief comments on two recent departures.

Rove leaving… well, he was an example of someone who should never have been put in the job he was in. Not because he wasn’t smart or competent at the job he had before he got his post. Like him or not (and people of the Democratic persuasion are unlikely to like him, but come on), he was obviously a bang-up PR man and campaign manager. Not because a sitting president should appoint someone that pleases the opposition. That’s silly. However, politics and policy are not the same thing. Someone who is fundamentally a politics guy is unlikely to be able to see that and, quite evidently, Rove didn’t. Furthermore, the line set by the superiors flows downstream: The people hired in Rove’s own image, e.g., lookalike Kyle Sampson, obviously had a hard time distinguishing this. When politics and policy bumped into each other, guess which won? Worse, I fear he let his press about being the smartest guy in the room go to his head. He’s also poster child for the fact that the White House staff has gotten (a) too large and (b) too powerful. (That’s a conservative position, folks!)

gonzo_small.jpg I wrote about Gonzo a while ago. Gonzo was appointed AG after the departure of John Ashcroft, one of the few people to leave the administration in 2004. At the time we heard it was due to his health but, as we’ve found out later, due also to some serious disagreements about fundamental policy issues. Many people didn’t like Ashcroft because they didn’t like his positions as a perceived hardcore social conservative. However, whatever else you might say about him, Ashcroft was his own man… he’d been Governor of Missouri and later Senator from Missouri (as well as recording a gospel album in the 1970s). He was, whether you disagreed with his policy positions or not, a person who didn’t owe his position entirely to George Bush. Gonzo was wholly a creature of the President and, had he not been attached to him, would have been someone I doubt I would have trusted to write a simple will back in Texas. In essence, he was White House staff sitting in a cabinet department. See previous.

Let’s hope that—now that the White House has to deal with a Democratic Senate, after having four years of a supine Senate unwilling to do careful oversight even though, according to Bob Novak, many Republican Senators thought Gonzo was a schmuck as early as 2001—GWB’s going to pick someone more like his more recent appointments, such as Bob Gates. Nobody’s ever accused Gates of being a disloyal Republican, but he’s first and foremost a public servant, which is what we need now more than ever. Gates has become the Republican analogue to the late Clark Clifford, who showed up in Democratic administrations when they sail dangerously close to the rocks. (Hopefully Gates will stay away from bank scandals, which almost toasted Clifford in his last days.) Glad-handing Texas schmucks with “compelling personal stories” or party hacks like the now mostly forgotten Michael Brown we don’t need and, fortunately, are unlikely to get now. The real tragedy is that the Bob Gates types—hard-nosed professionals—weren’t appointed in the first place.

The real irony is that GWB—elected representative of a party that does not like affirmative action—felt that his good old pal Al just had to get an affirmative action job…. Ah well, affirmative action for the mediocre friend or relative sure is traditional, but there’s a more precise word for it: nepotism. So ultimately, Georgy Porgy got in trouble for a lot of the same reasons Bubba did: bringing the sycophants with from back in the home state. The difference is that Bubba had the smarts to cut them loose sooner rather than later.

8-28-07: It looks like there might be a departure coming soon to a Senate near you. See Brokeback Senator.

8-31-07 This just in: Press secretary Tony Snow has also departed, to “make more money.” In this case, it’s entirely understandable given the fact that he’s got a life-threatening disease (recurrent colon cancer, poor guy) and needs to make sure things are secure for his family in the non-trivial likelihood of his dying in the next few years. Still….

Recently, Congressman Henry Waxman sent a letter to United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab suggesting that Thailand be taken off of the intellectual property watch list. The USTR reinstituted Thailand on their watch list after Thailand decided to violate patents on AIDS medicine (Abbott’s Kaletra and Merck’s Stocrin) and manufacture the medicine as a generic using its own resources. While this was a motivating factor, video, audio, and software piracy provided additional impetus. Waxman suggests that this action is retalitory even though Thailand has been listed since 1994. In point of fact, Schwab is acting as specified in US Law, performing her function as a member of the executive branch of the government. Congressman Waxman’s letter is another example of Congress attempting to usurp executive power.

This is one of a long list of continuing incursions into other branches Congress has made in its belief that it has the right and mandate to intrude in all facets of American life, executive authority, and judicial review. We are witnessing the evolution of the Imperial Senate, as depicted by the new flag shown below.

The firing of the Attorneys General — political positions in the executive branch, serving at the pleasure of the President — are outside the purview of Congress (even if done in a ham-handed and arguably idiotic manner). If a political appointee does not toe the party line and support the agenda of the person who hired him, then his job is forfeit. Sad, perhaps but understandable. Certainly President Clinton knew this — he fired all the Attorneys. In an incessant attempt to usurp this power, Congress has subpoenaed records from the executive branch which are privileged documents.

In a related missive I discuss the intrusion of Congress into a labeling controversy on suntan lotions. While I have little respect for some of the excesses of the FDA, this is clearly an executive issue. There are other things for Congress to do.

The concept of 535 generals dictating battle plans, coordinating air strikes and ground maneuvers is even harder to swallow. If Congress doesn’t want to support the war, it has a Constitutional right to defund the military. It has no Constitutional right to dictate strategy and tactics to the commander in chief. The very political nature of the body insures that command decisions would be untimely, inappropriate, unexecutable and frequently wrong.

Our New Flag With July 4th long past, we the people of the United States of America need to take a hard look at our Constitution. This remarkable document provides for three branches of government, not one.

The Constitution of the United States tells the government what it can do. Everything else is reserved to the States and the people. Congress has stretched the elastic clause as if it were the costume of Mr. Fantastic. We need to cut Congress’s activities back to size somehow. Perhaps we should send each and every member a copy of the Constitution with yellow highlights over its duties. After we get Congress out of everyone else’s business, we can concentrate on the bloated Federal executive agencies. Flame on.

For some time, opponents of President Bush have been crowing about his terrible approval ratings. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, Congress’s approval ratings have sunk to levels that make the President’s approval rating look positively sunny. If the President’s ratings are an indictment of his leadership, the Congressional leadership probably deserves a quick trip to Gitmo! A quick summary of some recent ratings:

  • The President: 39% approval (Rasmussen 7/2007)
  • The Supreme Court: 40% approval (Rasmussen 7/2007)
  • The Congress: 16% approval (Rasmussen 7/2007)
    • Among Democrats: 26% approval
    • Among Republicans: 13% approval
    • Among unaffiliated voters: 9% approval

Given the traditional reverence for the Court, that 40% is probably nothing to be overjoyed about, but the people who have to really worried are the Democrats in charge of Congress. Considering that Congress’s approval rating has done nothing but decline since the Democrats won power from the Republicans, such abysmal ratings are a terrible indictment of Pelosi, Reid, and their cronies in the leadership. So far, Pelosi herself has managed to avoid the full measure of dislike, holding on to an approval rating rivaling the President’s. Still, considering that the President is holding steady or making slight gains, while Pelosi has watched her approval plummit from earlier in the year, she may not be drawing a lot of consolation.

But is this any surprise? Poll after poll made it clear that the economy, immigration, corruption, and pork trumped Iraq as key reasons for voters in the 2006 election. And what has the Congress done since then? Prattle on about Iraq, push through stupid and meaningless non-binding resolutions, studiously ignore health insurance, Social Security, and Medicare, and attempt to pass an immigration bill viewed by a huge majority as ignoring border security and offering blanket amnesty. What haven’t they done? Make any progress whatsoever on ending corruption or “earmarks” (as they like to term pork these days).

At the same time, voters who elected Democrats believing their promises to move away from the divisive and partisan politics of the 2000 and 2004 elections can’t help but be disappointed. The only areas in which the Democrats have made bipartisan efforts have been immigration (where the effort was viewed negatively by a huge majority) and earmarks (once again, doing precisely what the public doesn’t want). Meanwhile, on issue after issue, Pelosi, Reid, and the rest have issued scathing denunciations of the Administration and the Republicans in Congress. Rather than build bridges, they’ve been burning them in record numbers.

So voters who voted for change in 2006 have every right to be upset. They voted for a move away from the culture of corruption, pork, and partisanship and they got more of the same in every case. In many cases, those Democrats elected as reform candidates in 2006 are honestly trying to keep their promises, but their leadership is proving to be no more eager for reform than the Republicans they replaced. The country is starting to realize that the problem wasn’t the Republican leadership, it was the Congressional leadership.

Which means it’s unlikely that Congress will improve in either reality or ratings any time soon. Fortunately, Democrats (and others) interested in real reform do have a clear path forward: vote the entire Democratic leadership out of office as soon as possible! Hey, if we keep doing that every election cycle, maybe someday somebody will get the message: you work for us, so start doing your damn job!