Political Hay

Barney Does Brussels: Why It Matters

An Australian fire, a Dutch MP, Barney Frank and Maxine Waters.

By 2.17.09

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On the surface the stories are just old and new.

But if signal flares count for anything, they are going off now at a rate that rivals the Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument.

First (but of course), America's Barney Frank.

The story dates from 2007. Various news outlets (CNN, Washington Examiner) report that Congressman Barney Frank has been to Brussels and, as well, London. On the trip with him is his House Financial Services buddy, Rep. Maxine Waters. How did they get there? After all, this is the crew (along with another HFS Committee member, California's Brad Sherman) who would soon be hauling carmakers and bankers in front of their committee to complain about the use of private jets from those who accept taxpayer dollars.

Well, they flew, of course. Specifically on a Boeing 737 Executive Jet operated by 201st Airlift Squadron of the D.C. Air Reserve Guard. Which is to say, a jet paid for by the taxpayers. You. Were they cramped in their seats? No. We learn that the Barnster and Maxie were in "plush first class seats." They had 34 to chose from. Plus, according to CNN, a conference area with table and full length couch, retractable movie screens that pop out of ceiling to see the latest movie, and a galley for full meals, snacks, and appetizers. This leaves out the Air Force stewards at their beck and call, not to mention the usual staff, both civilian and military.

Cost to hike Mr. Frank and Ms. Waters and their entourage across the pond to a couple European capitals and back? $10,000 an hour. Cost for that part of the adventure? $160,000.

Let's move Down Under.

As we speak, stunned Australians are in the process of recovering from a vicious fire that has killed at least 200 people.

Let's have a victim speak for himself. The account is from the theage.com.au (caution, a profanity ahead.):

ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk.

During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne's northern fringe, Warwick Spooner -- whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze -- criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council's help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," he said.

"We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road … and you can't even cut the grass for God's sake."

Later, the meeting was cut short when Mr Spooner's father, Dennis, collapsed in his chair and an ambulance had to be called. Despite losing his wife and son and everything he owned, a friend later said he had not stopped or slept since the weekend.

Another resident said she had asked the council four times to tend to out-of-control growth on public land near her home, but her pleas had been ignored.

There was widespread applause when Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen said changes were likely to be made about the council's policy surrounding native vegetation.

But his response was not good enough for Mr Spooner: "It's too late now mate. We've lost families, we've lost people."

Last, but not least, let's move on to the story of Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders. Here's the story in brief as reported by the Guardian (UK):

Geert Wilders, the rightwing Dutch politician accused of Islamophobia, was today refused entry to the UK after arriving at Heathrow airport in London.

Wilders was due to show his 17-minute film Fitna, which criticises the Qur'an as a "fascist book," at the House of Lords today. But on Tuesday he received a letter from the Home Office refusing him entry because his opinions "threaten community harmony and therefore public safety."

Now let's just stand back a moment here and take a good long look at what we are seeing.

First, it needs to be said that Members of Congress should get out in the world. That caring for the environment is a good thing. That bigotry is never a good thing. Yet in each and every one of these cases we see something that should scare the living bejeebers out of you.

Congressmen Frank and Waters have spent considerable time lately using their government power to go after private businessmen for abusing taxpayer dollars. Their pal Congressman Sherman has specifically hammered both the bankers and the carmakers hauled before their committee for the act of simply owning and using jets for, presumably, business purposes. Nowhere that I have heard have the bankers and carmakers been charged with using the company jets for obvious playtime stuff like, well, Ms. Waters. She, you see, followed her trip to Brussels with Barney with -- in the same week -- another government trip to the warm climes of Trinidad and Tobago. With her husband along.

Were the travels of Barney and Maxine reported as some sort of earthshaking scandal? Are you kidding? Hey, just another day at the trough with the taxpayers footing the bill. Why was it no big deal? Because, you see, Barney and Maxine and their congressional pals work for the government! There is no such thing as an abuse of taxpayers money if this is the government.

If then-Merrill Lynch chairman John Thain spends a million bucks of the firm's money pre-bailout to redecorate the office in the middle of tough times, the guy is an idiot who should be fired. (Actually, even he realizes he was an idiot and he was fired...but that is or should have been between Thain and his bosses. which is to say a board of directors and shareholders. Our opinion doesn't count -- nor should it.) Thain was a piker when compared to the government boys and girls who, thanks to the "Title VI, Financial Services and General Government" section of the "stimulus" bill, are set to get "not less than $6,000,000,000 (which) shall be used for construction, repair, and alteration of Federal buildings." Alteration. That's government-speak for redecorate. (A hat tip to the Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger.)

In other words, if some private sector guy is insensitive enough to blow a million bucks of his company's money in a display of bad judgment at a bad time for the economy, off with his head. But $6 billion for the federal government version of the same thing? Noooooooooo problem. Let's get those new drapes for the Commerce Department! The government shall not be trifled with!

Which, with infinitely more tragic results, is the story with our Australian friends. In obeisance to the gods of environmentalism, Australians are waking up to the realization that some 200 people are now dead because the government (catch that word "government" again) was not to be trifled with. Common sense? Cutting down "native vegetation"? What, are you crazy? The government said no, and that's final. Or was, at least, until a little mass death grabbed everybody's attention.

Last but certainly not least is the unsettling case of the Dutch MP and would-be filmmaker Mr.

Wilders. Let's put aside Wilders' film on Islamofascism, since (presumably) most of us have not seen it. Let's posit that Mr. Wilders is, say, a Dutch version of America's David Duke or Al Sharpton. Mr. Duke is in deserved obscurity precisely because the American people have a Constitution that lets them take him or leave him -- and they left him. Ditto Reverend Sharpton. Yes he gets PR, yes he agitates on the radio. But President Al? The good Rev has, with his own effort, turned himself into a joke in most quarters. Yet even where he is not taken seriously, no one of any substance is disputing his right to rant. Not so over there in Britain, where our good cousins in a fit of government-gone-even wilder have barred MP Wilders at the proverbial gate.

What is going on here in these several incidents is, as has been noted with increasing alarm (finally) in conservative precincts -- the deification of government. You can fly the government equivalent of corporate jets, replete with plush seats, government stewards and movies at your seat while you appetize -- and no one blinks. Ruin the economy with your government power as did Congressman Frank and company? Don't worry, we'll all look the other way. No pesky hearings or prosecutions for those guys! You can redecorate $6 billion worth of government offices or build whole new ones and no one is supposed to care. But woe betide he or she if they dare to use Australian common sense that shrieks "cut the damn grass" or tries to visit Britain with a film questioning the violence of others. The government will have none of that, mate. Community harmony and all of that.

In an era of instant communications, the global left is making what eventually will be a huge mistake.

The rest of us are not asleep.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.