Friday, August 29, 2008

Congressional fumbling should help McCain


Democrats and Republicans have scripted their conventions as tightly as possible. But after delegates return home with buttons, badges and banners, the curtain will rise on a more unruly drama: the fall session of Congress. And it could affect the November election more than the conventions. The House and Senate return to Washington Monday, Sept. 8. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hope it will be a short session, ending on Sept. 26. That will allow members to go home and campaign, not to return until after Election Day. Good luck.

Congress hasn't yet passed any one of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. And Congress isn't likely to pass them through both houses and get them to the president before leaving town. The goal here for Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi is to delay passing a budget until the next president is inaugurated. If the Democrats get their wish and sweep the November elections, Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will mark the opening of the spending floodgates.

Before they get there, however, this Congress must first pass stopgap legislation that will pay the federal government's bills for the next few months. Usually, that is done with a "continuing resolution," a bill that simply funds the government at its current level for a short period of time. But a continuing resolution is fraught with political problems for Democrats. Members, desperate for their election-year pork-barrel spending, could band together and threaten to withhold support if their earmarks are not inserted into spending bills. If that happens, say goodbye to Democratic claims of fiscal responsibility.

Another problem is oil. There is a congressional ban on drilling on the outer continental shelf that will expire on Oct. 1, if it isn't first reauthorized. Typically, the ban is reauthorized as part of the Interior Department appropriations bill. But this year the president says he will veto that bill if the House and Senate don't allow an up-or-down vote on drilling there. That sets up a political showdown. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid could try stuffing the ban into the continuing resolution. But that runs the risk of a government shutdown over spending and increasing domestic energy supplies -- a fight that is sure to focus public attention just weeks before the election.

Adding fuel to this fire is Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democrat in charge of increasing his party's majority in the Senate. He said recently that "the drilling issue has peaked," and is therefore less inclined to support a compromise to open the outer continental shelf. Normally politically acute, Mr. Schumer is either bluffing or out of touch with public opinion, which seems to favor Republicans on the issue nearly everywhere. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid could offer a drilling expansion bill that doesn't do much to open new territory, but which would include billions in new spending and would impose a "windfall profits" tax. But voters would sniff out such a phony ploy to do something about $4 gas....

The end result of all of these messy fights is that a Congress -- which hit a record low 14% approval rating in a July Gallup Poll before its members left on summer vacation -- may become even more unpopular.

Inevitably, John McCain and Barack Obama will be drawn into these fights. And, although both are sitting senators, the advantage may go to Mr. McCain. Democrats control Congress, so they are accountable. Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi are two of the worst advertisements for Congress imaginable. And Mr. McCain has an impressive record of political reform he can invoke, whereas Mr. Obama, who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate, has no accomplishments to point to that demonstrate that he is an agent of change. The 110th Congress is an excellent target for Mr. McCain. He ought to take careful aim at it and commence firing.

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How the Georgian Conflict Really Started

'Anybody who thinks that Moscow didn't plan this invasion, that we in Georgia caused it gratuitously, is severely mistaken," President Mikheil Saakashvili told me during a late night chat in Georgia's presidential palace this weekend. "Our decision to engage was made in the last second as the Russian tanks were rolling -- we had no choice," Mr. Saakashvili explained. "We took the initiative just to buy some time. We knew we were not going to win against the Russian army, but we had to do something to defend ourselves." ....

"I got a call from the minister of defense that Russian tanks, some 200, were massing to enter Tskhinvali from North Ossetia," Mr. Saakashvili told me. "I ignored it at first, but reports kept coming in that they had begun to move forward. In fact, they had mobilized reserves several days ahead of time."

This was precisely the kind of information that the Russians have suppressed and the world press continues to ignore, despite decades of familiarity with Kremlin disinformation methods. "We subsequently found out from pilots we shot down," said Mr. Saakashvili, "that they'd been called up three days before from places like Moscow. We had intelligence coming in ahead of time but we just couldn't believe it. Also, in recent weeks, the separatists had intensified artillery barrages and were shooting our soldiers. I'd kept telling our guys to stay calm. Actually we had most of our troops down near Abkhazia where we expected the real trouble to start. I can tell you that if we'd intended to attack, we'd have withdrawn our best-trained forces from Iraq up front."

According to the Georgian president, the Russians had been planning an invasion of his country for weeks -- even months -- ahead of time: "Some months ago, I was warned by Western leaders in Dubrovnik to expect an attack this summer," he explained. "Mr. Putin had already threatened me in February, saying we would become a protectorate of Russia. When I met Mr. Medvedev in June, he was very friendly. I saw him again in July and he was a changed man, spooked, evasive. He tried to avoid me. He knew something by then....

I put it to Mr. Saakashvili that there was also the question of why now? Why did the Russians not act before or later? It was a matter, he said, of several factors coming together: the useful distractions of the Beijing Olympics and the U.S. elections, the fact that it took Mr. Putin this long to consolidate power, the danger that tanks would bog down in the winter. But two factors above all sealed Georgia's fate this summer, it seems. In April, NATO postponed the decision to admit Georgia into the organization until its next summit in October. Mr. Saakashvili believes Moscow felt it had one last chance to pre-empt Georgia's joining NATO.

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Some interesting history

It is well known that the American Founding Fathers were profoundly influenced by England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, which had overthrown a reactionary British monarch in the name of Enlightenment principles, religious liberty and representative institutions. Yet were those truly the ideals of the 1688 Revolution? If not, "the spirit of 1776" was based on a false premise.

Lisa Jardine, a professor at the University of London, pursues this theme in "Going Dutch," a thoroughly researched and provocative revisionist study. She argues that the Glorious Revolution was far from glorious and less a revolution than a blatant invasion. Nor was it a great blow for liberty: 1688, she contends, was a naked power grab by the Statholder of Holland, William of Orange, who sought to oust his father-in-law, King James II, for the sake of his own interests and those of the Dutch Republic; all the talk of liberty and high ideals was just Dutch propaganda.

If Ms. Jardine is right, men like Jefferson, Franklin and Adams were duped, for, as Michael Barone recounted last year in "Our First Revolution," 1776 was a conscious re-run of 1688. Was the U.S. created at least partly out of piety toward a slick Dutch con job?

Ms. Jardine presents a close analysis of the plotting going on in William's court before his fleet of 500 ships and 30,000 men set sail for England on Nov. 1, 1688; months of preparation, she shows, went into creating the right political conditions for the invasion. She persuades us that, in part, a fear that France would invade Holland led William to attempt the attack on James II, hoping to use London to foil Louis XIV's designs. In part, she argues, William sought to exploit England's maritime power on behalf of Holland, or at least to negate British hostility to Dutch global expansionism, especially in the East Indies....

Once William had landed on the south coast of England on Nov. 5, 1688, and found himself cheered in the streets, he marched swiftly on to London, while James II fled, dropping the Great Seal of England into the Thames and burning parliamentary writs, vainly hoping that such efforts might stymie William's legislative legitimacy. English regiments such as the Coldstream Guards were deftly negotiated out of London, and only Dutch troops were allowed to keep order in the capital.

It is a beguiling thesis, but flawed, for the simple reason that William was invited to invade by the English Whig aristocracy and that his "Declaration," far from being "spin," was the only basis on which he was allowed to set foot in England. If the domestic Protestant governing classes had not effectively chosen William over James, the Dutch invasion fleet would have met the fate of the Spanish Armada.

The 1688 revolution was indeed glorious, and also a revolution, because it replaced -- without bloodshed, until James sought to reverse the outcome two years later -- an obscurantist would-be dictator of alien religious views with William III, the savior of English liberties, commercial practices, religious beliefs and world-outlook. That he was Dutch was immaterial ... William of Orange's "Declaration," then, was an honest document, as his benevolent rule -- and that of his wife, Mary -- would prove. Together they passed a Toleration Act and a Bill of Rights, furthering religious and political liberty. They founded the Bank of England, greatly increased trade and stayed out of war with France until Louis XIV rashly recognized James Stuart, James II's son, as England's rightful king. The reign of William and Mary, in short, was a golden age in British history. The Founding Fathers were right to draw inspiration from it.

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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