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Monday, December 20, 2010

Mexican Narco-State File: Pemex pipeline blast kills 28 in Puebla, Congress revokes immunity of PRD deputy, Guatemala declares state of siege

WikiLeak Revelations: President Calderon’s Fears Regarding Iranian-Venezuelan-Drug Cartel Nexus Bolster Media Reports of Plans to Launch Missiles against USA

On Sunday, December 19, at least 28 people were reported killed in a Pemex oil pipeline explosion in central Mexico. The blast hit San Martin Texmelucan before dawn, destroying homes and vehicles, and sending streams of flaming crude through the city's streets (damage shown in photo above). Up to 13 of the fatalities appear to have been children. Authorities suspect a criminal gang was tampering with the 30-inch diameter pipeline in an effort to steal crude when the blast occurred.

The attempt to steal fuel from Pemex in Puebla state is part of a broader crime wave against the state-run oil giant, which in 2008 involved the theft of five million barrels of oil worth US$750 million. “It’s not an isolated incident. It’s part of the constant problem we’re living every day,” remarked David Shields, publisher of the Mexico City-based Energia magazine.

Last week, the lower house of Mexico’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to revoke the political immunity of a federal politician allegedly linked to La Familia drug cartel, paving the way for his prosecution. Julio Cesar Godoy, who is a member of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), faces a federal arrest warrant in his home state of Michoacan. All Mexican legislators are immune from criminal prosecution unless the lower house of congress removes their immunity by vote. Legislators, including his own party, voted 384-2 to withdraw Godoy’s protection.

Alejandro Encinas, who leads the PRD faction in congress’s lower house, hastened to distance the party from Godoy: “I want to make it clear that we are completely disconnected from any criminal activity and organized crime. The country needs transparency and coherence from those who are in public office.” The PRD originated in 1989 through a merger of several leftist parties, including the Mexican Communist Party, as well as left-wing members of the formerly long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which beginning in the 1980s moved to the political center.

The Attorney General’s Office supplied lawmakers with a recording in which a voice, presumed to be Godoy’s, converses with Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez, an alleged boss of La Familia. Godoy was sworn into Congress in September in spite of an arrest warrant against him. He is the stepbrother of Michoacan’s governor. The same month, Godoy insisted upon his innocence during a news conference and denied any ties to drug gangs. Godoy can return as a deputy to Mexico’s congress if exonerated of the charges.

Last week, authorities in Michoacan killed cartel boss Nazario Moreno Gonzalez during a gun battle that also killed five policemen, three civilians, and three gang members. The US government has referred to La Familia as “one of Mexico’s newest and most violent drug cartels.” The cartel specializes in the methamphetamine trade. In true Robin Hood fashion, it also publicly identifies with “the people” vis-à-vis the government, offering consumer loans with low interest rates.

In August, President Felipe Calderon proposed new laws to unify Mexico’s poorly equipped and hopelessly corrupt municipal police forces under state-level commands, as well as hinder the cartels from laundering up to US$40 billion per year through Mexican banks. However, he is encountering opposition from the PRI, PRD, and colleagues in his own National Action Party (PAN). “The president introduced this initiative with a lot of force but it got stuck in the Senate,” Jose Trejo, a PAN senator who heads the body’s finance committee. “If it passes, it will only be with various changes. It will be complicated in this session.”

A US diplomatic cable, published by WikiLeaks, contains a conversation between Calderon and US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, in which the Mexican president alleges that Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, financed the 2006 presidential campaign of his pro-Cuba rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. According to the October 2009 cable, Calderon contends that Chavez uses social programs, including sending medical doctors to Mexico (much as Cuba does worldwide), to gain political influence in the country. Calderon insisted that Latin America “needs a visible US presence” to counter Chavez’s revolutionary influence throughout the hemisphere.

Calderon also fretted about Venezuela’s alliance with Iran, the influence of the “very politically active” Iranian embassy in Mexico City, and a possible covert alliance between Iran, Venezuela, and the drug cartels. Along the same theme, Die Welt recently reported that Iran and Venezuela have negotiated a secret pact to set up a medium-range missile base in the South American country, capable of striking the USA. Earlier this month, the China Confidential blog, citing unnamed Western intelligence sources, alleged that Iran and Venezuela intend to use northern Mexico as a platform to launch “ballistic missile attacks,” “Mumbai-style swarming assaults,” and biowarfare against the USA.

The US diplomatic cable also relates Calderon’s attempts to “isolate” Venezuela in the Rio Group and his disappointment with former Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who did virtually nothing to restrain the exportation of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Incidentally, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, is an “ex”-guerrilla who enjoys Chavez’s open endorsement. Since the center-right PAN took power in 2000, diplomatic relations between Mexico and Venezuela have been “tense.”

In a December 2, 2010 Twitter posting, Obrador, who does not recognize the legitimacy of Calderon’s presidency and intends to run for office again in 2012, demanded that Calderon present proof that he is in Chavez’s backpocket. Obrador stepped down from the leadership of the PRD in 2008 and is now running on a smaller center-left ticket.

Over the last three weeks, Mexico’s drug war claimed more lives and terrified more citizens caught in the cross-fire between rival cartels and between the narcistas, in the one camp, and the army troops and federal police opposing them.

On Monday, December 6, two gunmen burst into a kindergarten in Ciudad Juarez, the mafia-controlled city across the border from El Paso, Texas, and set fire to the school. No one was killed or injured. Police say the would-be extortionists left a message saying the school had not paid a protection fee, which they had demanded from teachers at least three weeks ago. Classes in the school have been suspended and parents have said they will pull their children out of school until safety improves. (No kidding.)

On December 5, “armed commandos” attacked two drug rehabilitation centers in Ciudad Juarez, killing four people and wounding five. Three were killed in one center and one was killed in another. Over the last two years, narcistas have killed dozens of patients at rehabs across Mexico, including nine last summer in Durango and 19 in Chihuahua City, capital of the border state in which Ciudad Juarez is located. In October, gunmen mowed down 14 people at a Tijuana rehab. In some cases, cartels actually run rehabs to recruit addicts, exposing patients to attacks from rival gangs.

On the same day, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, nine bodies were found in Acapulco and nearby neighborhoods. Eight of the men, who ranged in age from 25 to 50, were shot, but one victim’s body was burned. On December 4, police found two headless bodies hanging from a freeway overpass in the resort city, a common tactic used by cartels to scare rivals. Authorities say the battle for control of the fractured Beltran Leyva cartel is responsible for the rising violence in the famous tourist destination.

On December 3, the Mexican army announced that it had arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of being a hired killer for the South Pacific cartel. Officials said US-born Edgar Jimenez, nicknamed El Ponchis (“The Cloak”), was apprehended as he boarded a US-bound plane in Cuernavaca with his two sisters. The military alleges that the teen assassin took part in a number of beheadings under the influence of drugs supplied by the cartel. The army source said one of Edgar’s sisters was accused of disposing of the bodies. The Reforma newspaper quoted Jimenez as saying: “I felt bad doing it. I was forced to do it. They said they would kill me if I didn't do it. I only beheaded them, but never hung [bodies] from bridges, never.”

Lastly, Reuters reports that some 5,000 businesses based in the northern states have fled to the relative safety of the Mexican capital, once known for its high crime rates and kidnappings. “Ten years ago everyone wanted to leave Mexico City because of the crime, no one would have believed it would become one of the safest places in the country,” said Eduardo Gallo, head of the citizens group Mexicans United Against Crime.

Mexico City authorities have staved off the worst cartel violence by installing thousands of surveillance cameras to monitor city streets and subways. Near the city’s central square, at one of several new command centers, more than 100 police scan 24-hour video feeds designed to track criminals. However, report Mica Rosenberg and Anahi Rama, “even as the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people escapes the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts, traffickers are moving into the city's outskirts and threatening to encroach on the capital’s relative calm.”

Over the past 12 months, the Mexican government has scored a number of victories against the cartels, killing or arresting several powerful crime bosses. To protect their operations, the country’s mafias have branched out internationally.

On December 15, reports the Washington Post, agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police from the District of Columbia’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division arrested eight men with ties to La Familia who had set up shop in America’s capital. Authorities also seized millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine as part of the investigation. In a raid near Atlanta, police confiscated an estimated US$5 million worth of crystal meth. Other, coordinated raids took place in Temple Hills, Maryland, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mexico’s drug war has also spilled into Guatemala’s border province Alta Verapaz, where Los Zetas--which was founded in the 1990s after a group of Mexican special forces officers joined the Gulf cartel--have reportedly established training camps. On Sunday, President Alvaro Colom declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz, empowering the Guatemalan military to detain suspects without warrants, confiscate weapons, and shut down groups viewed as subversive. The province’s El Petén jungles have a well-established reputation for lawlessness.

The Guatemalan army, which waged a counter-insurgency operation against communist guerrillas in the 1980s, has a documented history of involvement with organized crime. Past corruption, therefore, may be a hurdle as the army tries to combat drug traffickers from Mexico. “Military officers are easily bought off and so are the police. We have a state where impunity is the order of the day,” comments Anita Isaacs, a political scientist who studies Guatemala at Haverford College, near Philadelphia.

A Sermon Containing Reflections on the Solar Eclipse

Joseph Lathrop



Joseph Lathrop, a New England clergyman, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on October 20, 1731. He graduated from Yale in 1754, and was ordained as pastor of the Congregational church in West Springfield in 1756 - a church he pastored for over sixty years until his retirement in 1818. Many of his sermons were published; and a portion of them were issued in a seven volume series (published from 1796-1821), the last of which was published following his death in December of 1820. In this sermon, Rev. Lathrop uses the occasion of a recent solar eclipse to strengthen the Biblical worldview of his parishioners by providing both a scientific explanation and gleaning spiritual truths from the phenomenon. Lathrop's sermon is a clear example of how early American pastors used the events of their time to impart truth and develop the Christian worldview of their listeners.



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A Sermon Containing Reflections on the Solar Eclipse
Which Appeared on June 16, 1806
Delivered on the Lord's Day Following

By Joseph Lathrop, D. D. Pastor of the first Church in West-Springfield (Mass)

AMOS 8:9
It shall come to pass in that day; saith the Lord, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.

Amos was bred an husbandman and a shepherd. From his rural employment he was called to the office of a prophet. He says, "I was not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet; but I was an herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. And the Lord took me, as I followed the flock, and said unto me, go, prophesy unto my people Israel."

Many expressions in his book are taken from observations, which a shepherd would naturally make in attending to the business of his calling. In Judea the shepherds watched their flocks, not by day only, but also by night, to guard them against beasts of prey, in which that country abounded. And, in their attendance on their flocks, they would naturally observe the motions of the planets, and the appearances in the heavens, that they might foresee changes of weather and approaching storms. Hence the prophet, calling on the degenerate tribes of Israel to renounce their false gods, and to worship the great author and governor of nature, uses a language suggested by his former pastoral occupation. "Seek not Bethel, enter not into Gilgal, nor pass to Beersheba," the idolatrous places, where the sun and moon, and hosts of heaven were worshipped; "but seek him, who maketh the seven stars and Orion; and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night."

The stated course of nature, the order of the heavenly bodies, the vicissitude of day and night, and the regular succession of seasons, demonstrate the existence and providence, the wisdom, power and goodness of God. "Day unto day uttereth speech; night unto night sheweth forth knowledge." "God hath not left himself without witness, in that he giveth rain and fruitful seasons, and filleth our hearts with food and gladness." But common appearances, as they become more familiar, are less impressive. Unusual phenomena, though no less the effects of natural causes, more powerfully arrest the attention, and more deeply affect the mind. The prophet, therefore, predicting some dire calamities on the house of Israel, alludes to an unusual and solemn appearance in the skies, which probably they had lately seen; a total eclipse of the sun in the midst of a clear day. "Thus saith the Lord, I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day." The phenomenon which we beheld, on Monday last, will naturally lead us to understand the words as poetic descriptions of a solar eclipse.

Archbishop Usher, in his annals of the world, says, that in Amos's time, there were two remarkable eclipses of the sun, which happened at solemn festivals, and struck the people with great consternation. In ancient times, when astronomy was but imperfectly understood, eclipses were by many considered, as preternatural and portentous. The prophet, therefore, foretelling the judgments coming on the land of Israel, might with great propriety figure to them the changes soon to take place in their political hemisphere, by an allusion to the change, which they had seen, with terror and amazement, in the natural hemisphere. "God would cause their sun to go down at noon, darken the earth in the clear day, turn their feasts into mourning, and their songs into lamentation, and bring up sackcloth on all loins."

The use, which the prophet makes of a solar eclipse will justify us in some moral and religious reflections on the singular scene, which was exhibited in the past week.

1. We have reason to rejoice in the progress, which has been made in the sciences, and particularly in the noble science of astronomy. By this we are freed from many superstitious terrors, which, in the dark ages of the world, tormented mankind.

Eclipses have been observed from the remotest antiquity; and of these which were most remarkable, accounts have been transmitted to us by some of the earliest historians, who have also related the disastrous events which followed, and which the eclipses were supposed to portend.

The cause of eclipses must have been known long before they could be the subjects of mathematical calculation. It was well understood, many ages ago, that an eclipse of the moon was caused by its passing through the shadow of the earth, when the earth was between that and the sun; and that an eclipse of the sun was caused by the moon's passing between us and the sun, and intercepting its light. This knowledge, however, was not common to the vulgar; nor did the more learned view these causes as operating by regular and stated laws.

There were predictions of some eclipses, which appeared several centuries before the birth of our Savior. But these predictions were probably, like the present predictions of comets, conjectures grounded on a course of observations, and not the result of exact calculations.

The relations, distances and motions of the heavenly bodies are now so well ascertained, that accurate calculations can be made of all the eclipses, which shall be in ages to come, and of those which have been, since our system was framed. These calculations are of great utility to mankind, in husbandry, navigation, geography, chronology and history. The credit of some ancient histories derives confirmation from this source. The historian relates some great events, which he supposes, were portended by a certain eclipse, which he describes. The astronomer finds, that there was in fact, such an eclipse, at such a time, and hence justly gives more full credit to the historian.

These phenomena have also their moral uses. They enlarge our views of the works of God, and of the grandeur and extent of his creation and providence. They display his wisdom, power and goodness, and his continual agency in the government of the world. They teach us his constant care for the creatures, which he has made, and call us to reverence and adore him, who thus manifests himself to us in the works of his hands.

We see innumerable worlds rolling around us at vast but various distances; with different, but inconceivable rapidity. These all perform their motions with regularity, and observe their times with exactness. They obey their destination, they keep their order, they never interfere. Shall we not fear the power, admire the wisdom, adore the goodness of that being, who made and adjusted, who sustains and directs such a stupendous system, and render it subservient to our happiness? These rational sentiments are pleasant and delightful in themselves; and are far more conducive to piety and virtue, than the terrors of that superstitious ignorance, which views every comet flaming in the sky, every obscuration of the sun at noonday, every failure of the full orbed moon at night, every unusual noise bursting from the clouds, every strange appearance in the heavens and in the earth, as awfully portentous of some dire, but unknown calamity.

Superstitious terrors may operate as a temporary restraint from vice. But when the dreaded calamity is delayed, the restraint ceases, and vice regains its dominion. A rational fear of God, arising from a calm contemplation of his agency and government, displayed in his works, and taught in his word, will have a steady and permanent influence. "Fear ye not me, saith the Lord, will ye not tremble at my presence, who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, who give the former and the latter rain, and reserve to you the appointed weeks of harvest?" The more just are our thoughts of God's government, and the more rational our reverence of his majesty, the more uniform and cheerful will be our obedience to his will.

2. An eclipse of the sun, though it is not an omen of any particular calamity, yet may properly lead us to contemplate the gloomy changes which await us in this guilty and mortal state.

By a total obscuration of his glorious luminary, at noon, in a clear day, a gloom is suddenly spread over the face of nature. Not only the human mind, but the animal and material creation is deeply affected. Night seems to anticipate the time of its return. The stars hand out their lamps; the dews descend on the earth; the grazing beasts forget their hunger; the fowls hasten to their resting places; the bird of night chants his evening ditty; every thing wears a sober and mournful aspect.

Here is an emblem of declining age and approaching death.

The time is coming - to some of us it is near; when the sun and the light will be darkened; the eyes, which look out at the windows, will be bedimmed, surrounding objects will be hidden, and "we shall go to our long home - to the land of darkness and the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." "While we have the light, let us walk in the light, lest darkness come upon us. Let us give glory to God, before he cause darkness, and before our feet stumble on the dark mountains; lest, while we look for light, it be turned into the shadow of death." The eyes of our understanding still remain unextinguished, and the sun of righteousness shines upon us with salvation in his beams. Let us attend to the glorious discoveries which are made to us, and apply ourselves to the momentous work before us. Let us work while it is day. The time is short - night is at hand. What we find to do, let us do it with our might. There is no work in the grave.

Some of you are in youth and in full strength. My friends, your morning sun shines bright and pleasant; you think your day will be long. But, oh! flatter not yourselves. Your sun may go down at noon, and your prospect be darkened in a clear day. Employ these morning hours in the work of your salvation. You know not what a day, or an hour may bring forth.

The darkness of an eclipse the prophet improves, though not as an omen, yet as an emblem of national judgments. He warns his people that a metaphorical and political darkness may overspread their country, in the same surprising manner, as literal darkness in a solar eclipse falls on the unsuspecting earth. "Thus saith the Lord unto me, an end is come upon my people; I will not pass by them any more. Hear this, ye that swallow up the needy, and that say, when will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn, and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat? The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, surely I will not forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? Thus saith the Lord, I will darken the earth in the clear day. I will turn their feasts into mourning, and their songs into lamentation."

Sudden darkness caused by eclipses, clouds, vapor and storms, is, in the prophetic writings, a common figure for great and unexpected plagues; such as war, discord, pestilence and famine. The prophet Isaiah, describing the calamitous state of the Jews, on the invasion of the Chaldeans, says, "They shall look to the earth, and behold, trouble and darkness, and dimness of anguish; they shall be driven into darkness." In the same figurative language, Joel describes the devastation and famine caused in the land by clouds of devouring locusts, and by the rage of subsequent fires. "Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord cometh and is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and gloominess, of clouds and thick darkness. There shall be wonders in the heavens and in the earth; there shall be pillars of smoke, and the sun shall be turned into darkness."

When we see the sun darkened in the heavens, and the earth covered with a gloom, we are reminded, how easy it is for Him, who in a moment extinguishes the sun, to cast a cloud over our earthly prospects; to turn our joys into anguish, our confidence into terror, and our songs into lamentation - to subvert our national security, to let loose the infernal spirit of discord, to remove restraint from hostile nations, to send a blast on the labors of our hands, and to spread among us pestilence and death.

On God we are dependent not only for the daily visits of the sun, but also for his friendly beams, when he returns. The moon, which chases away the gloom of night, now and then steps in, and intercepts the light of day. If it should make a stand in that position, our day would become night, and the warmth of summer would be changed into the frost of winter. But the moon obeys the divine command, moves the cheering beams, which it had, for a few moments withholden.

The creatures, which are our ordinary comforts, may by God's direction or permission, become the occasions of affliction and anguish. The sun, which enlivens the rational, animal and vegetable world, may dart malignant fires and scatter pestilential diseases. The rains, which refresh and fructify our fields, may "wash away the things which grow out of the earth, and destroy the hope of man." The friends in whom we confide may become our tormentors, and "a man's foes may be those of his own household." Government, which is our defense against injustice, fraud and violence, falling into the hands of cruel and unprincipled men, may be made an instrument of oppression and misery. "They who lead us may cause us to err, and destroy the way of our paths."

Where then is our security? It is in the protection of Him, who created and upholds the frame of nature, "who made and guides the seven stars and Orion, turns the shadow of death into the mourning, or makes the day dark with night" - "who calleth to the waters and sends them on the earth, and restrains the floods" within the bounds prescribed - "who rules the raging of the sea, and stills the tumults of the people" - " who turns the hearts of men, as the rivers of water are turned" - "who causes the wrath of men to praise him, and the remainder of that wrath he restrains." How shall we enjoy his protection ? He has told us, "If ye will walk in my statutes, keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary, then I will give you rain in due season, your fields shall yield their increase; I will give peace in your land, and ye shall lie down and none shall make you afraid." - "But if ye will walk contrary unto me, I will walk contrary unto you, and make your plagues wonderful."

Learned astronomers can calculate with exactness the times when, the places where, and the quantities in which the luminaries of heaven will be eclipsed; but they cannot with the same accuracy predict the judgments of God. Nor do we here need their astronomical skill. There are other signs by which we may discern impending judgments. Our Savior. has taught us a kind of moral astronomy to direct our prescience of such events. The prevalence of infidelity, immorality and vice as surely indicates approaching calamities, as clouds indicate a shower, winds forebode a storm, or the conjunction, or opposition of the sun and moon, in certain places in the heaves, presignify an eclipse. He said to the people, "When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straitway, ye say, there cometh a shower; and so it is. When ye perceive the south wind blow, ye say, there will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it, that ye cannot discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" The blindness and stupidity of the ancient Jews to the impending judgments of God, the prophet upbraids by referring them to the sagacity and discernment apparent in the fowls of heaven. "The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed time; the turtle, the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people knoweth not the judgments of God."

There are now, as there were in former times, many who ask, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" And the watchman's answer then, is seasonable now, "If ye will inquire, inquire ye" wisely; "return, come," return to God by repentance; then come and inquire, and you may hope for a favorable answer.

It is common for people to look forward and inquire, what will be our national state in future years - what will be the result of certain public measures - what shall be done to obtain this favorite object, and avert that threatening evil, and to make future times better than these? But they inquire not wisely concerning this matter. Let them inquire what iniquities abound, and what share their own iniquities have in the common guilt? Let each one repent of his own wickedness, and apply himself to his own duty. Let each one use his best influence to correct the errors, and reform the manners of those with whom he is connected. Then things will go well. "Righteousness will exalt a nation. Sin will be a reproach to any people."

3. The darkening of the earth in a clear day brings to mind the final judgment. The scripture assures us, that "God has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, and render to every man according to his works." It teaches us, that the judgment will come on a guilty world by surprise - that "when men shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh." The manner of its coming is compared to the catastrophe of Sodom. "As it was in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they fold, they planted, they builded. But the same day, that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone out of heaven, and destroyed them all. Even so shall it be in that day when the son of man is revealed." To heighten the solemnity of this scene, the sacred writers tell us, "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light; the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken - the heaven shall depart as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island shall be removed out of their place." What effect the expectation of such a day should have, St. Peter instructs us. "Seeing all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the day of the Lord. Let us be diligent, that we may be found of the Lord in peace without spot and blameless."

You think that great day to be remote. Perhaps it is so. But whether it be near or remote, it will come. And when it shall come, it will be as real and important, as if it were now present. "Count the longsuffering of God's salvation. He is not willing that you should perish, but that you should come to repentance."

Were you sure, that within ten or twenty years, the frame of nature, as well as the works of man, would dissolved, the heavens with all their splendors would vanish, and the earth with all her furniture and in habitants would pass away, how vain would all your property, all your designs and labors appear? What folly would be stampt on avarice, ambition, worldly grandeur and ostentation, political intrigues, party contests and animosities? But, my fellow mortals, where is the mighty difference to you and me, whether the world is to be dissolved within twenty years, or whether within that time we are to leave the world forever. The latter will certainly be the case with many of us in a shorter, and with all of us in a little longer time than this. Under an impressive sense of this solemn truth, let us banish all worldly passions, and direct our cares to the grand interests of futurity.

4. Total darkness at noonday reminds us of the solemn scene of the Savior's crucifixion. The evangelists tell us, that when Jesus hung on the cross, "there was darkness over all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour;" or, according to our calendar, from midday to the third hour; "and the sun was darkened." The darkness continued for three hours. This, we know, could be no natural eclipse; for, in the eclipse of the week past, which appeared to be central, the total obscuration continued but about four minutes.

The darkness at the crucifixion was very extensive. It was "over all the land." Yea, it was beyond the land of Judea; or "over all the earth," as the words are, in one place, rendered. It was observed in countries distant from Judea; and is related by profane historians, as a phenomenon, for which no natural cause could be assigned. In a natural eclipse, the total darkness cannot be of very great extent. I have had correct information, that within the space of less than two hundred miles, from north to south, a segment of the sun appeared during the whole time of the late eclipse.

Nay, farther, at the time of the crucifixion there could be no natural eclipse, for the sun and moon were then in opposition. Christ was crucified at the time of the Passover. The Passover was to begin on the fourteenth day of the month. The Jewish month began at the first appearance of the new moon. On the fourteenth day, the moon, being full, and in opposition to the sun, could not cause an eclipse. The obscuration therefore must have been preternatural and miraculous.

That there really was such an obscuration is indubitable. It is recorded by three of the evangelists, who published their narrative so soon after the crucifixion, that many spectators of the scene, both friends and enemies to Christ, were still living. They would not have asserted such a strange phenomenon, as being universally known, in that and neighboring countries, and as having happened on a certain day, if it had not been a fact; for every man, woman and youth, living at that time, would have been able to contradict it. Had the evangelists been impostors, they would not have published a falsehood of this kind; for nothing could have been more fatal to their cause. There is no room to question the reality of the fact.

This darkness, the earthquake, and the rending of the veil of the temple, which occurred at the same time, had a great effect on the spectators. The commanding officer, who stood by the cross of Jesus, struck with astonishment, said, "Surely this was the son of God." "And all the people, who came together to that sight, beholding what was done, smote their breasts, and returned."

These miraculous appearances in the earth and in the heavens, at the time, when Jesus was suffering on the cross, were such divined attestations in his favor, as reason could not resist; and they were also most awful indications of the wrath of God against the horrid and impious work, which the infidel Jews were then transacting.

But were these the only persons against whom the darkness denounced the anger of heaven? No; it equally manifested, and still it manifests the amazing guilt of all unbelievers under the gospel - of all who are enemies to the blessed Jesus - of all who despise and oppose his religion.

Infidelity and impiety involve in them the same guilt now as in former times. The gospel comes to us with equal evidence and authority, as it came to the Jews. They who reject it, crucify afresh its heavenly author, and are bringing on themselves swift destruction - to such is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. As they walk in the darkness of unbelief and wickedness, they will fall into the darkness of misery and despair. "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, he will come in flaming fire, and will take vengeance on them who know not God, and on them who obey not the gospel."

5. The temporary darkness of an eclipse is followed with cheerful light, which "shines more and more unto the perfect day." This is a natural emblem of that moral change, in which a soul is brought out of the darkness of sin and guilt into the marvelous light of purity, pardon and peace.

How sad and gloomy is the condition of a guilty mortal, who convinced of his numerous transgressions, feels himself condemned to eternal death. The divine law, which was delivered. From Sinai, in smoke and darkness, in clouds and tempest, thunders terror and destruction in his ears. But how happily is his state reversed, when light, beaming from mount Zion, in the discoveries and promises of the gospel, breaks in on his soul, exhibits to him a dying Savior, a forgiving God, a sanctifying spirit? What joy springs up, when he finds the power of sin subdued - his enmity to God slain - his opposition to the gospel conquered - and every thought captivated to the obedience of Christ? The light is ceding to previous darkness. So the hopes and comforts of religion in the soul are exalted by their contrast to preceding anxieties and fears.

Ye awakened, desponding souls, look up to the sun of righteousness. He shines from heaven with salvation in his beams. However guilty, unworthy and impotent ye feel, there is grace sufficient for you; there is righteousness to justify you, promises to support you, the spirit to help you. Light arises in darkness. Turn your eyes from the cloud, and direct them to the sun. Christ came a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in him should not walk in darkness. Look to him, and be ye saved.

Finally: the obscuration of the sun in the sky bids us contemplate the uninterrupted brightness of the heavenly state. Could we rise above the moon, the sun which is eclipsed to the inhabitants of the earth, would shine to us in all its splendor. When the Christian has the moon under his feet, he will be clothed with the sun, and crowned with stars.

There is no darkness, no night in heaven: all is light; all is glory there.

In heaven there is the light of purity, and love. The pure in heart shall see God; he is light; in him is no darkness. Nothing enters into his presence that defiles.

There is the light of knowledge - glorious discoveries of God - of the Savior - of the works of providence and grace - of the wonders of creation and redemption. Here we see through a glass darkly; there we shall see face to face. Here we know in part, there we shall know as we are known.

The light of heaven is constant; it is never eclipsed nor clouded. The holy city needs not the sun to shine in it, for the glory of God doth lighten it, and Jesus is the light thereof. The nations of them who are saved shall walk in the light of it, and there shall be no night there.

How different will be the state of good men in heaven from that which they experience on earth? Here they have some light, but it is often interrupted, and always dim. How little do they know of God and his works - how much error is mixed with their faith - how much doubt with their hope - how much fear with their courage; how much carnality with their devotion? In heaven it will be otherwise. Knowledge there will be full without error, certain without perplexity and clear without confusion. Holiness will be perfect without sin, and refined without dross and corruption. And they will serve God continually without reluctance or weariness.

Let us begin the life, and accustom ourselves to the works of heaven, while we dwell on earth, that we may be prepared for admission into heaven, when we depart hence. Here God sheds down some beams of heavenly light to invite our thoughts and affections upward. The light is mingled with shades, and interrupted with clouds, because this is a state of trial, and our faith and patience must be exercised. Here we must walk by faith; we cannot walk by sight. "It is by faith and patience, that we inherit the promises." "We are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? And if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. And the spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us according to the will of God."

It is but little, that we can at present know of heaven; but "then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Let our souls follow hard after him; for what is there, which we can desire in comparison with him? "It doth not yet appear what we shall be. But when our Lord shall come, we trust, that we shall be like him and see him as he is. And having this hope, let us purify ourselves as he is pure."

[Rev. Lathrop's sermon The Infirmities and Comforts of Old Age is also posted on our website.]

Christmas with the Presidents

David Barton

Christmas with the Presidents 1

The White House observance of Christmas before the twentieth century was not an official event. First families decorated the house modestly with greens and privately celebrated the Yuletide with family and friends.

Christmas in Early America: the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England found no Biblical precedent for a public celebration of Christmas (recall that the goal of these groups was to simplify religious worship and to cut away all religious rituals and celebrations not specifically cited in the Bible); nothing in the Bible established any date for the birth of Christ; the holiday was instead established by Roman tradition, thus making it – in their view – one of the many “pagan” holidays that had been inculcated into the corrupt church that had persecuted them, and which they and other religious leaders wished to reform. Consequently, Christmas in New England remained a regular working day. In fact, Massachusetts passed an anti-Christmas law in 1659 declaring: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas . . . shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country.” The law was repealed in 1681, but the holiday still was not celebrated by religious non-conformists or dissenters (i.e., the Puritans and Pilgrims); it usually was celebrated only by a few Anglicans (later Episcopalians), Catholics, and other more formal or high-church-tradition New England families. It was not until the 1830s and 1840s that Christmas celebrations were just beginning to be accepted in New England (primarily due to the influence of large-scale Christmas celebrations in cities such as New York) – although as late as 1870 in Boston public schools, a student missing school on Christmas Day could be punished or expelled. By the 1880s, however, Christmas celebrations had finally become as accepted in New England as they were in other parts of the country. 2

White House Tree History Christmas Tree Trivia:

In 1889, the tradition of a placing an indoor decorated tree in the White House began on Christmas morning during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison.
In 1895, First Lady Frances Cleveland created a “technology savvy” tree when she hung electric lights on the White House tree (electricity was introduced into the White House in 1891).
1901-1909, Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons.
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
In 1929, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official (and not just a personal) tree in the White House – a tradition that has remained with the First Ladies.
In 1953, the Eisenhowers sought out Hallmark Cards to assist them in creating a presidential Christmas card – the beginning of the official White House Christmas card.
In 1954, the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is named the Pageant of Peace. It is held each year in early December to light the National Christmas Tree and includes performances by popular entertainers before the lighting of the National Christmas Tree by the President. The National Christmas Tree remains lit through January 1.
In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of Christmas Tree themes when she decorated the Christmas tree in toy trimmings from the Nutcracker Suite ballet by Tchaikovsky.
In 1963, the first Christmas card to include an explicitly religious element was the Kennedy card featuring a photo of a Nativity Scene set up in the East Room of the White House. Jack and Jacqueline had signed 30 cards before their final trip to Dallas. None was ever mailed. The National Christmas Tree that year was not lit until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following President Kennedy’s assassination.
In 1969, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols, and in 1973, the nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed.
In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran….
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan authorized the first official White House ornament, copies of which were made available for purchase.
In 1981, Barbara Bush took the first of twelve rides in a cherry-picker to hang the star at the top of the National Christmas Tree.
In 1984, the Nativity Scene was allowed to return to the Pageant of Peace, and when the National Christmas Tree was lit on December 13th, temperatures were in the 70s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
In 2001, the first White House Christmas card to contain a Scripture was chosen by Laura Bush. Quoting from Psalm 27, it said “Thy face, Lord, do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living,” which is what Laura Bush believed would happen after the tragedy of September 11. She chose that Scripture on September 16 (only 5 days after 9/11) based on a sermon the chaplain had preached at Camp David. The Bushes regularly used Scriptures on their Christmas cards.
George & Martha Washington (1789-1797)

At a time when Christmas was still quite controversial in a new nation, Martha Washington’s holiday receptions were stiff and regal affairs, quite befitting the dignity of the office of President of the United States and invitations were much desired by the local gentry. A Christmas party was given by the Washington’s for members of Congress on Christmas Day, 1795, at which a bountiful feast was served to the guests – all men with the exception of the First Lady!

The festivities at the Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia would start at daybreak with a Christmas fox hunt. It was followed by a hearty mid-day feast that included “Christmas pie,” dancing, music, and visiting that sometimes did not end for a solid week.

Andrew & Rachel Jackson (1829-1837)

From the earliest times memorable parties have been held for the president’s children or grand-children. One of the most elaborate was President Andrew Jackson’s “frolic” for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls.

Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln (1861-1865)

During the first Christmas of the war (1861), Mrs. Lincoln arranged flowers, read books, helped serve meals, talked with the staff, and cared for the wounded at Campbell’s and Douglas hospitals. She personally raised a thousand dollars for Christmas dinners and donated a similar amount for oranges and lemons when she heard that there was a threat of scurvy.

During the Christmas season of 1863, the Lincolns’ son, Tad, had accompanied his father on hospital visits and noticed the loneliness of the wounded soldiers. Deeply moved, the boy asked his father if he could send books and clothing to these men. The President agreed and packages signed “From Tad Lincoln” were sent to area hospitals that Christmas.

One Christmas Tad Lincoln befriended the turkey that was to become Christmas dinner. He interrupted a cabinet meeting to plead with his father to spare the bird. The President obliged by writing a formal pardon for the turkey named Jack.

Benjamin & Caroline Harrison (1889-1893)

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison, his grandchildren, and extended family gathered around the first indoor White House Christmas tree.

Grover & Francis Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897)

When Grover Cleveland first became President in 1885, there was no Christmas tree during the first Cleveland administration, but when daughters Ruth, Esther, and Marion were born, this changed in the second administration. In 1894, three years after electricity was introduced in the White House, the first electric lights on a family tree delighted the young daughters of President Grover Cleveland.

Mrs. Cleveland’s main Christmas activity, rather than entertaining and decorating, was her work with the Christmas Club of Washington to provide food, clothing, and toys to poor children in the D.C. area. She took the time to wrap and distribute gifts to the children and sat with them for a Punch and Judy show. Although Christmas Club charities in Washington date back to the 1820’s, no previous first lady had taken as prominent a role in these activities as Frances Cleveland, who helped set a tradition of good works carried on by many other First Ladies.

Theodore & Edith Roosevelt (1901-1909)

President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for Christmas decorations. However, his son Archie smuggled in a small tree that was decorated and hidden in a closet in the upstairs sewing room.

The Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt family Christmas traditions were quite simple. On Christmas Eve, they would pile into the family sleigh (later the motor car) and travel to Christ Church in Oyster Bay, New York. Following the pastor’s sermon, TR would deliver one of his famous “sermonettes” on the meaning of the holiday. The service would close with one of his favorite hymns “Christmas By the Sea.” On Christmas morning, gifts would be opened and then the family would spend the day hiking, playing games, and going for sleigh rides.

For many years TR played Santa Claus at a school in Oyster Bay, New York, listening to the children and then giving them Christmas presents that he had selected himself.

Calvin & Grace Coolidge (1923-1929)

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge touches a button and lights up the first national Christmas tree to grace the White House grounds. (Until 1923, holiday celebrations were local in nature.) It was the first to be decorated with electric lights – a strand of 2,500 red, white and green bulbs. While radio station WCAP broadcast the event to possibly a million Americans, the President gave no speech. The evening centered, instead, on Christmas carols and other festive music performed at the tree-lighting ceremony, including by the Epiphany Church choir and the U.S. Marine Band. Later that evening, President Coolidge and first lady Grace were treated to carols sung by members of Washington D.C.’s First Congregational Church.

That year, the erection of a National Christmas Tree was the first of several holiday practices instituted during the Coolidge Presidency that are still with us today. It was 1927 when President Coolidge issued a holiday message to the nation – and then only a brief one written by his own hand on White House stationery. Its text was carried in newspapers across the land on Christmas Day. Finally, in 1928, on his last Christmas Eve in office, the President delivered to the nation via radio the first tree-lighting speech. It was 49 words in length.

Herbert & Lou Hoover (1929-1933)

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official (and not just a personal) tree in the White House in 1929. Since that time, the honor of trimming a principal White House Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies.

Christmas 1929 was memorable for the Hoovers because an electrical fire broke out in the West Wing of the White House during a children’s party. The Oval Office was gutted, but Mrs. Hoover kept the party going. The Marine Band, meanwhile, played Christmas carols at a volume calculated to drown out the sound of the arriving fire engines.

The following year the same children were invited back for another party at which time each child was given a toy fire engine as a memento. The invitations to the 1930 party read as follows: “This is not like the Christmas parties you usually go to...for Santa Claus has sent word that he is not going to be able, by himself, to take care of all the little girls and boys he wants to this year, and he has asked other people to help him as much as possible. So if you bring some presents with you, we will send them all to him to distribute.” The party was an enormous success.

Hoover, December 25th, 1931

Your annual Christmas service . . . is a dramatic and inspiring event of national interest. It symbolizes and vivifies our greatest Christian festival with its eternal message of unselfishness, joy, and peace. 3
Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Eleanor initiated Christmas planning each year. Her gift giving list included over 200 names. She began buying gifts in January and regularly put things away in her special “Christmas Closet.” Throughout the year she added new items – gifts for family, friends, and almost everyone on the White House Staff. Each October, she would take over a storage room on the third floor of the White House to wrap the gifts. On Christmas, Franklin would be so interested in the gifts for others that it might be three or four days after Christmas before he was persuaded to open his own.

For the President, Christmas was a time for family and close friends. The tree was set up on Christmas Eve and the President directed his grandchildren in the placement of every ornament. After the tree was decorated, FDR had the grandchildren gather around while he read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or recited it from memory. Following the reading, the children would race upstairs to the President’s bedroom where they would hang their stockings on his mantel.

FDR, December 24th, 1935

Around the Manger of the Babe of Bethlehem “all Nations and kindreds and tongues” [Revelation 7:9] find unity. . . . The spirit of Christmas breathes an eternal message of peace and good-will to all men. We pause, therefore, on this Holy Night and . . . rejoice that nineteen hundred years ago, heralded by angels, there came into the world One whose message was of peace, who gave to all mankind a new commandment of love. In that message of love and of peace we find the true meaning of Christmas. And so I greet you with the greeting of the Angels on that first Christmas at Bethlehem which, resounding through centuries, still rings out with its eternal message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men.” 4
FDR, December 24th, 1939

In the happiness of this Eve of the most blessed day in the year, I give to all of my countrymen the old, old greeting – “Merry Christmas – Happy Christmas.” . . . Let us rather pray that we may be given strength to live for others – to live more closely to the words of the Sermon on the Mount and to pray that peoples in the nations which are at war may also read, learn and inwardly digest these deathless words. May their import reach into the hearts of all men and of all nations. I offer them as my Christmas message:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 5
FDR, December 24th, 1941 (Following Pearl Harbor)

There are many men and women in America – sincere and faithful men and women – who are asking themselves this Christmas. . . . How can we meet and worship with love and with uplifted spirit and heart in a world at war, a world of fighting and suffering and death? . . . How can we put the world aside . . . to rejoice in the birth of Christ? . . . And even as we ask these questions, we know the answer. There is another preparation demanded of this Nation beyond and beside the preparation of weapons and materials of war. There is demanded also of us the preparation of our hearts – the arming of our hearts. And when we make ready our hearts for the labor and the suffering and the ultimate victory which lie ahead, then we observe Christmas Day – with all of its memories and all of its meanings – as we should. Looking into the days to come, I have set aside a day of prayer. 6
FDR, December 24th, 1944 (Following D-Day)

Here, at home, we will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way – because of its deep spiritual meaning to us; because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives; and because we want our youngest generation to grow up knowing the significance of this tradition and the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace and Good Will. [He then led in a prayer for the troops] We pray that with victory will come a new day of peace on earth in which all the Nations of the earth will join together for all time. That is the spirit of Christmas, the holy day. May that spirit live and grow throughout the world in all the years to come. 7
Harry & Bess Truman (1945-1953)

It became a tradition for the First Family to go home to Independence, Missouri, for Christmas. The Chief Executive, however, always remained in Washington until after the staff party on Christmas Eve.

Truman, December 24th, 1945

This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. . . . We meet in the spirit of the first Christmas, when the midnight choir sang the hymn of joy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Let us not forget that the coming of the Savior brought a time of long peace to the Roman World. . . . From the manger of Bethlehem came a new appeal to the minds and hearts of men: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” . . . Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need! . . . We must strive without ceasing to make real the prophecy of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” In this day, whether it be far or near, the Kingdoms of this world shall become indeed the Kingdom of God and He will reign forever and ever, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. 8
Truman, December 24th, 1949

Since returning home, I have been reading again in our family Bible some of the passages which foretold this night. . . . We miss the spirit of Christmas if we consider the Incarnation as an indistinct and doubtful, far-off event unrelated to our present problems. We miss the purport of Christ’s birth if we do not accept it as a living link which joins us together in spirit as children of the ever-living and true God. In love alone – the love of God and the love of man – will be found the solution of all the ills which afflict the world today. 9
Truman, December 24th, 1950 (During the Korean War)

At this Christmastime we should renew our faith in God. We celebrate the hour in which God came to man. It is fitting that we should turn to Him. . . . But all of us – at home, at war, wherever we may be – are within reach of God’s love and power. We all can pray. We all should pray. . . . We should pray for a peace which is the fruit of righteousness. The Nation already is in the midst of a Crusade of Prayer. On the last Sunday of the old year, there will be special services devoted to a revival of faith. I call upon all of you to enlist in this common cause. . . . We are all joined in the fight against the tyranny of communism. Communism is godless. Democracy is the harvest of faith – faith in one’s self, faith in one’s neighbors, faith in God. Democracy’s most powerful weapon is not a gun, tank, or bomb. It is faith. . . . Let us pray at this Christmastime for the wisdom, the humility, and the courage to carry on in this faith. 10
Truman, December 24th, 1952

Through Jesus Christ the world will yet be a better and a fairer place. This faith sustains us today as it has sustained mankind for centuries past. This is why the Christmas story, with the bright stars shining and the angels singing, moves us to wonder and stirs our hearts to praise. Now, my fellow countrymen, I wish for all of you a Christmas filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and many years of future happiness with the peace of God reigning upon this earth. 11
Dwight & Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Unlike other Presidents who distinguished political from household staff, the Eisenhowers brought both together (more than 500 in all) for a Christmas party each year. For the White House staff, Mamie purchased gifts in area department stores, personally wrapping each one to save money.

President Eisenhower took a personal interest in the gifts and cards that were sent from the White House. Ike was an artist in his own right and allowed six of his own paintings to be used as Christmas gifts and cards during his administration. In eight years, Hallmark produced a prodigious 38 different Christmas cards and gift prints for the President and First Lady. No previous administration, nor any since Eisenhower’s, has sent such a variety of holiday greetings from the White House.

For the Christmas of 1958, Mamie pulled out all the stops in decorating the White House. She had 27 decorated trees, carols were piped into every room and greenery was wrapped around every column.

John & Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

The first card to contain an explicitly religious element was in 1963, which featured a photo of a crèche set up in the East Room of the White House. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, had signed 30 cards before their final trip to Dallas where he was assassinated. None of these cards were ever mailed.

Lyndon & Ladybird Johnson (1963-1969)

Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson spent four of their six presidential Christmases in Texas rather than Washington. The Christmas of 1967 (the 7th) was special for the Johnsons because their daughter, Lynda, was married to Charles Robb in the White House on December 9th with 650 guests in attendance. The celebrating continued during Christmas and they spent that Christmas in Washington, the first in seven years.

The Johnsons final Christmas in the White House in 1968 was a time of reflection for them and the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. On December 23rd, President Johnson sent Christmas greetings to the American troops in Southeast Asia, which included his two sons-in-law.

The First Lady committed herself to the beautification of America and the planting of trees. Except for their unplanned first Christmas in the Executive Mansion, all the cards and gift prints of later years were to feature trees.

LBJ, December 22nd, 1963

We were taught by Him whose birth we commemorate that after death there is life. . . . In these last 200 years we have guided the building of our Nation and our society by those principles and precepts brought to earth nearly 2,000 years ago on that first Christmas. 12
LBJ, December 15th, 1967

In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. . . . We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men. That Child – we should remember – grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony. But His death – so the Christian faith tells us – was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph – when the spirit of life triumphed over death. 13
Richard & Pat Nixon (1969-1974)

The Vietnam War was going strong when the Nixons entered the White House in 1969. Pat Nixon personally supervised an elaborate plan for decorating the White House. For the first time in a quarter century, wreaths were hung in every window. In the Great Hall stood a 19-foot fir tree with ornaments that featured the flowers of the fifty states. In response to the National Christmas Tree, war protestors set up their own tree and decorated it with soda pop cans and tin foil peace symbols.

Christmas celebrations during the following years were often filled with controversy and difficulty. In 1969, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols, and in 1973, the nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed.

Gerald & Betty Ford (1974-1977)

In 1975, to honor America’s upcoming bicentennial celebration, the National Christmas Tree was decorated with 4,600 red, white, and blue ornaments and 12,000 lights. On the top of the 45-foot blue spruce sat a 4-foot gold and green replica of the Liberty Bell. There were also 13 smaller trees representing the 13 colonies and 44 other trees placed in a row representing states and territories.

Ford, December 18th, 1975

As we gather here before our Nation’s Christmas tree, symbolic of the communion of Americans at Christmastime, we remind ourselves of the eternal truths by which we live. . . . In our 200 years, we Americans have always honored the spiritual testament of 2,000 years ago. We embrace the spirit of the Prince of Peace so that we might find peace in our own hearts and in our own land, and hopefully in the world as well. 14
Jimmy & Rosayln Carter (1977-1981)

One of the most interesting and controversial aspects of the Carters Presidential Christmases concerned greeting cards. In 1977, the Carters ordered and sent 60,000 Christmas cards, substantially more than any previous administration. In 1978, the number jumped to 100,000 and in 1979 when there were 105,000, President Carter finally established a White House committee to look into the problem of too many Christmas cards!

The hostage crisis in Iran dominated the holiday celebrations of 1979 and 1980. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree and fifty surrounding trees each showed a single light, one for each of the hostages. The President promised to turn on the other lights when the hostages were freed. Because the hostages were still in captivity, the following year the lights on the tree were turned on for 417 seconds on Christmas Eve – one second for each day they had been held.

Carter, December 15th, 1977

Christmas has a special meaning for those of us who are Christians, those of us who believe in Christ, those of us who know that almost 2,000 years ago, the Son of Peace was born to give us a vision of perfection, a vision of humility, a vision of unselfishness, a vision of compassion, a vision of love. 15
Carter, December 18th, 1980

In the first Christmas, the people who lived in the land of the Jews were hoping for a Messiah. They prayed God to send them that savior, and when the shepherds arrived at the place to see their prayers answered they didn’t find a king, they found a little baby. And I’m sure they were very disappointed to see that God had not answered their prayers properly, but we Christians know that the prayers had been answered in a very wonderful way. God knew how to answer prayer. 16
Ronald & Nancy Reagan (1981-1989)

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan began another custom by authorizing the first official White House ornament, copies of which were made available for purchase.

In 1984, the Nativity Scene was allowed to return to the Pageant of Peace.

Christmas in Illinois, where both Ronald and Nancy Reagan grew up, was a sharp contrast to their Christmases in Washington. The President has recalled that his family never had a really fancy Christmas. During the Depression, when they couldn’t afford a Christmas tree, his mother would decorate a table or make a cardboard fireplace out of a packing box.

Reagan, December 23rd, 1981 (click here to listen to this)

At this special time of year, we all renew our sense of wonder in recalling the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, nearly 2,000 year ago. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the Divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that He was and is the promised Prince of Peace. . . . Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love Jesus taught us. . . . Christmas means so much because of one special child. 17
Reagan, December 16th, 1982

In this holiday season, we celebrate the birthday of One Who, for almost 2,000 years, has been a greater influence on humankind than all the rulers, all the scholars, all the armies and all the navies that ever marched or sailed, all put together. He brought to the world the simple message of peace on Earth, good will to all mankind. Some celebrate the day as marking the birth of a great and good man, a wise teacher and prophet, and they do so sincerely. But for many of us it’s also a holy day, the birthday of the Prince of Peace, a day when “God so loved the world” that He sent us His only begotten Son to assure forgiveness of our sins. 18
Reagan, December 15th, 1983

Many stories have been written about Christmas. Charles Dickens’ “Carol” is probably the most famous. Well, I’d like to read some lines from a favorite of mine called, “One Solitary Life,” which describes for me the meaning of Christmas. [He then read the full story.] . . . I have always believed that the message of Jesus is one of hope and joy. I know there are those who recognize Christmas Day as the birthday of a great and good man, a wise teacher who gave us principles to live by. And then there are others of us who believe that He was the Son of God, that He was Divine. If we live our lives for truth, for love, and for God, we never need be afraid. 19
Reagan, December 12th, 1985

We do not know the exact moment the Christ Child was born, only what we would have seen if we’d been standing there as we stand here now: Suddenly, a star from heaven shining in our eyes, shining with brilliant beauty across the skies, a star pointing toward eternity in the night, like a great ring of pure and endless light, and then all was calm, and all was bright. Such was the beginning of one solitary life that would shake the world as never before or since. When we speak of Jesus and of His life, we speak of a man revered as a prophet and teacher by people of all religions, and Christians speak of someone greater – a man Who was and is Divine. He brought forth a power that is infinite and a promise that is eternal, a power greater than all mankind’s military might, for His power is Godly love, love that can lift our hearts and soothe our sorrows and heal our wounds and drive away our fears. . . . If each of us could give but a fraction to one another of what He gave to the whole human family, how many hearts could heal, how much sorrow and pain could be driven away. 20
George & Barbara Bush (1989-1993)

Mrs. Bush took particular pleasure in hosting a special party for homeless children from the Central Union Mission in Washington, DC. She distributed special Christmas bags filled with gifts and then read them Christmas stories. She sometimes would tell the stories in her own words, giving it her own personal touch.

The First Lady added her own special touches to the holiday with her annual cherry picker ride to hang the star at the top of the National Christmas Tree, a trip she took 12 times beginning in the Reagan Administration as the wife of the Vice President.

Bush, December 18th, 1989

During the beautiful and holy season of Christmas, our hearts are filled with the same wonder, gratitude, and joy that led the psalmist of old to ask, “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” At Christmas, we, too, rejoice in the mystery of God’s love for us – love revealed through the gift of Christ’s birth. Born into a family of a young carpenter and his wife, in a stable shared by beasts of the field, our Savior came to live among ordinary men. Yet, in time, the miraculous nature of this simple event became clear. Christ’s birth changed the course of history, bringing the light of hope to a world dwelling in the darkness of sin and death. Today, nearly 2,000 years later, the shining promise of that first Christmas continues to give our lives a sense of peace and purpose. Our words and deeds, when guided by the example of Christ’s life, can help others share in the joy of man’s Redemption. 21
Bill & Hillary Clinton (1993-2001)

Clinton, December 22nd, 1997

The beloved Christmas story itself is a story of light, for, as the Gospel of John tells us, Jesus came into the world as “the true Light” [John 1:9] that illumines all humankind. Almost 2,000 years later, that Light still shines amid the dark places of our world. 22
Clinton, December 21st, 1999

Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us that on the first Christmas 2000 years ago, a bright star shone vividly in the eastern sky, heralding the birth of Jesus and the beginning of His hallowed mission as teacher, healer, servant, and savior. . . . His luminous teachings have brought hope and joy to generations of believers. . . . His timeless message of God’s enduring and unconditional love for each and every person continues to strengthen and inspire us. . . . Love, peace, joy, hope – so many beautiful words are woven through our Christmas songs and prayers and traditions. 23
George & Laura Bush (2001-2009)

George W. Bush is the first president to choose a Yule card with a Scripture. First lady Laura Bush supervises the card selection. She picked cards with Bible verses when her husband was governor and has continued to do so in the White House.

In 2001 George and Laura incorporated a scripture depicting their faith in post 9/11 times. It said “Thy face, Lord do I seek. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living.” Psalm 27. Laura Bush believed that this is what really happened after the tragedy of September 11.

In 2004 George and Laura sent holiday cards with a Bible verse from Psalms (95:2): “Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

Bush, December 6th, 2001

Now once again, we celebrate Christmas in a time of testing, with American troops far from home. . . . It is worth recalling the words from a beautiful Christmas hymn. In the third verse of “Oh Holy Night” we sing, “His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Chains ye shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease. . . . We fight so that oppression may cease, and even in the midst of war, we pray for peace on Earth and good will to men. 24
Bush, December 4th, 2003

Throughout the Christmas season our thoughts turn to a star in the east, seen 20 centuries ago, and to a light that can guide us still. . . . The story of Christmas is familiar to us all, and it still holds a sense of wonder and surprise. When the good news came first to a young woman from Nazareth, her response was understandable. She asked, “How can this be?” The news would bring difficulty to her family and suspicion upon herself. Yet, Mary gave her reply, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.” The wait for a new king had been long, and the manner of his arrival was not as many had expected. The king’s first cries were heard by shepherds and cattle. He was raised by a carpenter’s son. Yet this one humble life lifted the sights of humanity forever. And in His words we hear a voice like no other. . . . We don’t know all of God’s ways, yet the Christmas story promises that God’s purpose is justice and His plan is peace. At times this belief is tested. During the Civil War, Longfellow wrote a poem that later became a part of a Christmas carol, “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, good will to men.” That poem also reminds us that hate is not the final word: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, `God is not dead, nor doth He sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on Earth, good will to men.”‘ 25


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Endnotes

1. Much of the general information in this piece concerning the Christmas practices of the presidents is directly excerpted from the primary sources: “Background Info: Christmas at the White House,” White House Historical Association (at: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_press/press_archives/whha_info-whchristmas.pdf), “Christmas at the White House,” Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum (at: http://hoover.archives.gov/exhibits/WHChristmas/index.html); and from the White House (at: http://www.whitehousechristmas.com/WHC/default.ASPX). The direct presidential quotes related to Christmas are each individually footnoted.(Return)

2. The information on historic Christmas in early America is taken from Celebrate Liberty (2003), David Barton, editor, pp. 192-193, n, available at http://www.wallbuilders.com/store/product170.html.(Return)

3.Herbert Hoover, “Message to the Nation’s Christmas Trees Association,” The American Presidency Project, December 25, 1931, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=22957). (Return)

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Christmas Greeting to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1935, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15005).(Return)

5. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Radio Christmas Greeting to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1939, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15854).(Return)

6. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Christmas Eve Message to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1941, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16073).(Return)

7. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Address to the Nation,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1944, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16485).(Return)

8. Harry S. Truman, “Address at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1945, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12250).(Return)

9. Harry S. Truman, “Address in Connection With Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1949, Harry S. Truman’s Christmas Eve Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13373).(Return)

10. Harry S. Truman, “Address Recorded for Broadcast on the Occasion of the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1950, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13698).(Return)

11. Harry S. Truman, “Remarks Upon Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 24, 1952, Harry S. Truman’s Christmas Eve Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14368).(Return)

12. Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Christmas Eve Radio and T.V. Broadcast, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26587).(Return)

13. Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1967, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28610).(Return)

14. Gerald R. Ford, “Remarks at the Lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 18, 1975, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=5445).(Return)

15. Jimmy Carter, “Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1977, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=7019). (Return)

16.Jimmy Carter, “Christmas Pageant of Peace Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 18, 1980, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=44421).(Return)

17. Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation About Christmas and the Situation in Poland,” The American Presidency Project, December 23, 1981, Reagan’s Christmas Address from the Oval Office, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=43384).(Return)

18. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 16, 1982, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=42123).(Return)

19. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Community Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 15, 1983, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=40873).(Return)

20. Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 12, 1985, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38161).(Return)

21. George H. Bush, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 18. 1989, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=17953).(Return)

22. William J. Clinton, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 22, 1997, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=53733).(Return)

23. William J. Clinton, “Message on the Observance of Christmas,” The American Presidency Project, December 21, 1999, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=57106).(Return)

24. George W. Bush, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 6, 2001, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=73502).(Return)

25. George W. Bush, “Remarks on Lighting the National Christmas Tree,” The American Presidency Project, December 4, 2003, (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=63610).(Return)

Stopping Obama: A Republican Game Plan

December 20, 2010


By Ed Lasky

Barack Obama may have had a licking, but he keeps on ticking.  How will the new Congress deal with a president who is relentless in his agenda to create a transformed America?


Barack Obama faces new challenges when the new Congress takes power on January 5.  The House has turned red with a solid majority of 242 Republicans to 193 Democrats; the Senate is less blue, and most of the senators facing elections in 2012 are Democrats who hail from states that voted for Republicans in 2010.  But people who fall for Obama's feints to the center (such as the faux pay freeze for federal employees or the tax deal he was forced into by Republican victories in November) have no one to blame but themselves.


Who says so?  Barack Obama, through his rhetoric and actions over the last two years.  Lest we forget, when he was forced to swallow the tax bill, he showed his true nature, lashing out at Republicans and saying that he was "itching for a fight on a wide range of issues."


Obama is on a mission to advance a far-left agenda, and he will use all means at his disposal to accomplish his goals.  "The end justifies the means" is his modus operandi.  The means may not be as apparent as they were when he was riding high with a sledgehammer in his hand; instead, he will rely on stealth.  (Stanley Kurtz researched Obama's career as a state senator and nicknamed him "Senator Stealth" in recognition of the subtlety Obama resorted to when he was a lowly state senator.)


So how will Obama react when the new Congress is sworn in come January?


He has already received his marching orders from the Center for American Progress (CAP) -- called his "Ideas Factory" by TIME and his "Policy Font" by Bloomberg News.  After the shellacking, the CAP released a report calling for Obama to rely on increased use of executive powers to push his agenda (and ignore the wishes of the American people and the role of the newly constituted Congress): "Executive orders, Rulemaking, Agency management, Convening and creating public-private partnerships, Commanding the armed forces, Diplomacy."


Michael Waldman, who worked for President Bill Clinton, cheers this muscular approach and writes that Obama has ample means to advance a progressive agenda:


... like all presidents, he has a bulging toolkit: executive orders, regulations, spending decisions, the bully pulpit and more.  Obama has lots of power, and he should wield it ...


Consider energy policy, where congressional gridlock seems inevitable, with many conservatives insisting climate change is a myth and taxes are a nightmare.  The Center's experts say Obama could impose a $2-per-barrel fee on imported oil with proceeds steered toward energy research.  Or he could direct that half the federal auto fleet use alternative fuels by 2015, thus creating a new huge market for clean vehicles.  And he could use the new financial consumer protection agency to introduce strong protections for consumers.
Waldman notes that Obama aides seeking a road map can find one written ten years ago by a professor who once worked for Bill Clinton when he faced a Congress that would oppose Clinton's plans.  She counseled a turn towards using the bureaucracy to achieve "the full panoply of his domestic policy goals ... whether the subject was health care, welfare reform, tobacco, or guns."  That professor is now our newest Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan.  Was she chosen for her expansive view of presidential powers since legal questions regarding presidential authority may arise in the future?


We have seen already that Barack Obama is inclined to use all the powers and tricks he can to force his ideology on us: executive orders that favor his allies and donors, big Labor among them; presidential signing statements that signal the provisions of legislation he feels he is entitled to ignore (a tactic that has riled even his own Democrats); appointments of czars and czarinas; and repeated reliance on recess appointments to circumvent the Senate confirmation process, helping him to choose key officials who are ideologically compatible with him, albeit not with the American people (see the Justice and  Labor Departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and a raft of other agencies).  The the list goes on and on.


John Fund believes that Obama 2.0 will rely on executive orders and rule-making to circumvent Congress.  Fund sees signs of this approach in a new Labor Department plan to make life even more miserable for business through a variety of means not resorted to by previous administrations, Republican or Democrat.  Conversely, monitoring of unions will be weakened by transferring the responsibility for whistle-blowing investigations from OSHA to a department charged with scrutinizing unions.  Given the added workload from OSHA, union-monitoring (how union leaders spend workers' dues, for example) will inevitably be weakened.


Charles Krauthammer foresees that Obama will also exercise his control over the fourth branch of government -- the bureaucracy, the regulations, and the rules it lives to proliferate -- to power his agenda for the next two years.  Obama the poker player has already tipped his hand.  He is using bureaucratic edict to advance card check, bypassing a Congress that resisted union demands to bring about card check via legislation.


That strategy is tailor-made for Obama.  Rules accumulate stealthily under the radar screen.  They are incomprehensible, and most people's eyes glaze over them anyway.  Even many of the politicians responsible for passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) admitted that they did not bother to read the bill.  Business groups might fish them out, but these will be portrayed as greedy people who want to exploit workers, despoil the environment, and plunder the nation to line their wallets.


The rules and regulations are going to come fast and furious


We are laboring under a massively expanding regulatory regime that has extended its tentacles into numberless nooks and crannies across our nation (and the playing field has widened with the takeover of two car companies, ObamaCare, and the new rules-laden  Federal Regulations Bill).  Big Brother has become Big Bully.


Obama focuses his regulatory imperialism on labor and environmental issues, defying the will of the people.  Last year, he warned Congress that if it did not pass cap and trade, his EPA would bring it about via rules and regulations -- Congress be damned..


That was just a warm-up.


We have seen nothing yet.


So what is to be done?


Is there a strategy that can defeat the one drafted by Obama cronies at the Center for American Progress?


Push-back by Congress against Bureaucrats Gone Wild


Republicans now control the House.  Speaker John Boehner can help control the flow of legislation through the House.  But the Republican ascendancy bears more fruit than just the Speakership.  All the various committees will now be headed by Republicans, and therein lies a powerful tool to stop Obama.


At Long Last, Oversight


There will now be broad oversight over the operations of the executive branch -- something that has been absent for the last two years.  I have written numerous columns on the potential benefits that will come when Congressman Darrell Issa takes over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He has already tipped his hand that his inquiries regarding the operation of the government over the last two years will be broad and deep.  Have all those billions flowing to green energy schemes been ways to reward political allies of the president and his party?  Has stimulus money devoted to energy programs been wasted in shoddy work and fraudulent schemes, as they were in Obama's hometown of Chicago?  Will Rep. Issa explore the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster?


The list is endless, as Al Kamen noted in a Washington Post column:


The possibilities are numerous. First, of course, might be Attorney General Eric Holder, for wanting to try alleged Sept. 11 terrorists in Manhattan, or for dropping charges against the New Black Panther Party of intimidating white poll-watchers and hypothetical white voters in an all-black Philadelphia precinct.


That could play to the tea party base, but maybe better to go deep on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, for being mean to polluters and enacting cap-and-trade regulations before Congress actually passes a bill. That would please mining, oil and other heavy polluters.


Then there's former president Bill Clinton -- no executive privilege anymore -- and the White House, for a job offer to Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to get him out of the Pennsylvania primary. That might be immensely satisfying to Issa personally, since he's really steamed about it. (On the other hand, Clinton's polls are up these days, and pursuing this could seem too political and unstatesmanlike.)


Treasury Secretary Tim "Bailout" Geithner is another fine target, if you're looking to rev up anger over the management -- not the actual Bush-signed legislation -- of the TARP billions. Or the Energy or Transportation Departments, for their management of the stimulus money. Good ties to jobs and deficit-cutting in those areas.


For excellent waste, fraud and abuse, Issa might want to subpoena Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and CIA chief Leon Panetta about those pallets of cash shipped to Afghanistan to show Washington's deep respect for certain warlords -- and the presidential palace, where about half the money went.


Issa, a successful businessman before embarking on a career in politics, intends to efficiently deal with the myriad duties by creating new oversight sub-panels to investigate the TARP and stimulus programs.  He is beefing up the panel to prepare for battle with the Obama administration.


Darrell Issa may hold hearings regarding Barack Obama's hostility toward inspectors general -- the unsung heroes of the federal government who watch our tax dollars.  Issa seeks to give more power to these watchdogs, including granting them subpoena power to call witnesses as a way to overcome stonewalling -- a proposal that the Wall Street Journal considers overreach, but an idea that at least one former inspector general thinks has merit as a way to uncover fraud, waste, and abuse in government.


The fear that Darrell Issa evokes among the Democrats is palpable: they are angling to place their best and brightest as minority members of his committee to go toe-to-toe with him.  According to The Hill, Democrat Elijah Cummings was chosen as the "ranking member of the Committee in an attempt to counter the aggressive incoming chairman Darrell Issa[,] who has vowed to hold hundreds of hearings and launch new investigations into the bank bailouts, the stimulus funds and possibly the healthcare [sic] overhaul."  These hearings will go on for two years -- right up 'til the next election.


Bureaucrats should be called to explain the purpose of Obama's executive orders.  Issa seems to have become the go-to guy for the media as journalists await Issa Inquisitions.  Perhaps Issa will have some luck in widely publicizing how Obama has been using these orders to frustrate the will of the people.  As Justice Brandeis wrote, sunlight is the best disinfectant.


The administration will try to shield itself by stonewalling and claiming executive privileges as well as invoking the specter of state secrets.


Issa and his chief of staff (who has been called the Democrats' worst nightmare) just might be the people who can tear down the wall by constant hammering.


Let the battle begin.


There will be other chairmen champing at the bit to find out what has been going on for the past two years (because we know the media won't -- with rare and reviled exceptions), and it will be up to them (and us) to expose the shenanigans, favoritism, and political payoffs that have flowed from the Oval Office.  Perhaps, finally, the promise of transparency made and instantly forgotten by Barack Obama (most of his promises have an expiration date) will be fulfilled and enforced.


There are a lot of new sheriffs in town, and they all bear the title "chairman."


Trying to Slow the Obama Bulldozer


These committee chairmen can also help stop the Obama agenda.  By calling hearings and issuing subpoenas for officials to testify, a chairman can tie up the working day for this czar or that czarina.  One witness who might be hauled before House committees is Elizabeth Warren, who circumvented the Senate confirmation process when she was named as the "special adviser" to a brand new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Her appointment elicited howls of protest from Republicans, given her left-wing views and the powers of this new agency.  Now their howls will be heard.


By calling these officials to committee hearings, they will have less time and energy to make mischief.  The left will howl about the oversight process being abused, but given the fact that Americans have objected to the rise of the czars, they may give some leeway to Republicans.  Besides, the left has often indulged in exactly this sort of activity.


The Power of the Pen


More importantly, committees control the drafting and flow of legislation.  Legislation has to work its way through committees before it can be voted on by the full House.  Imagine pipes and handles on the faucets -- those handles will now be in Republican hands.  Particularly important will be Republican control of the House Rules Committee, the traffic cop for legislation being considered.  Those who make the rules can have home field advantage.


Legislation can be drafted and passed that tightens and clarifies legislative intent so that regulatory agencies are restrained from interpreting it in unintended ways.  The EPA is on a mission that would harm many industries in America by using the Clean Air Act to give it a mandate to go to war against utilities, factories, and the coal mining industry.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been trying to draft legislation that would clarify the act and stop the EPA.  Republicans will seize the issue in the new Congress.


Legislation that used to slide through Congress (greased by pork and bribes, such as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase) will be bogged down by Republicans.  Nancy Pelosi was correct: Congress can be a swamp in one way.  Bills can be sucked into the muck of committee work and never see the light of day.


Conversely, clever Republicans can turn the table on Democrats and Obama by proposing popular pieces of legislation and daring Democrats to vote them down or challenging Obama to veto them.  Turnabout is fair play: the Republicans can then portray the Democrats as the party of no all the way up to November 2012.  Among the first legislative steps should be repealing ObamaCare, even though it won't happen because of the Democratic majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House.  However, ObamaCare has grown even less popular as time has passed, and it is incumbent on Republicans to show their allegiance to the American people.  But that should be just a start -- and Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV has a wish list of legislation he wants repealed in his quest to make the 112th the "Repeal Congress."


The Power of the Purse


Republicans control the House and will hopefully be more fiscally responsible than their predecessor Congress -- since this was a prime reason many of them won (a hopeful augury was the defeat of Harry Reid's omnibus spending bill).  While deficits matter, so does the money given to particular agencies.  This is a potent tool to restrain Obama's agenda.


A particularly clever GOP plan is to slice and dice appropriation bills into dozens of "bite-sized" pieces, making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies.  The days of large omnibus appropriation bills that make it difficult to target specific programs and agencies may be coming to an end.


Of course, the House will focus on defending elements of ObamaCare.  While repeal will be desirable and proposed as a public relations gambit, full repeal will be all but impossible as long as the Senate remains in Democrat hands and Obama is in the Oval Office.  First and foremost, we can expect (if not demand) that Republicans work to deny the administration the money it needs to implement ObamaCare.  Politico reports that a likely strategy would be "to choke off funding for pieces of the legislation that they find particularly troublesome, such as the requirement to buy insurance, changes to Medicare," and the hiring of an army of new IRS agents to harvest as many tax dollars as they can to fund ObamaCare.  A host of other budget actions can be taken to weaken the most harmful aspects of ObamaCare.


Lisa Jackson has been on a crusade to interpret environmental legislation in a way that exceeds what congressmen intended when these laws were passed.  Indeed, even Democrats have threatened legislation to roll back her carbon-killing crusade because they realize the baleful effects of her zealotry on jobs and the economy.  Republicans will be writing the checks now, and this alone should have a chilling effect on Jackson's actions, not to mention those of other departments, which imperil America's recovery -- and a host of our personal freedoms.


Obama has enjoyed the congressional equivalent of the American Express card: a card with no spending limits.  That card will be cut in two in a few weeks.


Congressman Paul Ryan, the incoming chair of the House Budget Committee, will put on his green eyeshades and pore over the budget with a cleaver in his hand -- not the scalpel that candidate Obama promised but has remained sheathed.


Eric Cantor has been soliciting ideas from us to save money (a public relations stunt, but hopefully a signal that the GOP has heard our voices).


New chairs ranging from Michigan's Fred Upton (Energy and Commerce Committee) to Michigan's Dave Camp (Ways and Means) swear that they have found religion and will use the power of the purse to restrain Barack Obama.  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will scrutinize the foreign aid budget and also the policies of President Obama when she assumes the chairmanship of the House Foreign Aid Affairs Committee.  Chairman Spencer Bachus will do the same when he takes the gavel from Barney Frank and becomes the head of the Financial Services Committee.  Bachus can -- irony of ironies! -- review the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, as well as take on the powerhouses of Capitol Hill, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, which are sucking up taxpayer dollars like a Dyson vacuum cleaner.  The House-cleaning has just begun.


Tightening the Laws to Stop a Regulatory Tsunami


Congress has already shown that its hackles can be raised when the EPA has gone on the warpath (see the above comments regarding Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller's efforts).  But rules and regulations have been proliferating for decades.  Thomas Jefferson foresaw the problem when he wrote the Declaration of Independence and justified rebellion against George III, who "created a multitude of new offices, and sent swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."  Ask any small businessman or professional if the situation is any better now.  The multitude of rules and regulations induces sclerosis that prevents our economy from growing and our people from being employed.


But so it is -- and it threatens to worsen -- when Barack Obama gives free rein to bureaucrats.  Republican congressmen along with sensible Democrats will sharpen legislation so regucrats will no longer trespass on legislative prerogatives and exceed the authority expressly granted to them.  This will be easier now that Republicans -- backed up by millions of right-thinking Americans -- are ascending the barricades.


But Obama's people do provide jobs for government workers and opportunities for lobbyists and politicians to milk free enterprise for all it is worth by exploiting the power they have over business to extract donations from them.  Lord Acton's aphorism is correct: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


If Republican have read the tea leaves and the Tea Party correctly, they will appreciate that Americans are tired and scared of government overreach and in a rebellious mood.


The Congressional Review Act


As Ed Morrissey has noted, Senate Republicans may use a different tool to strike down regulations that are onerous and absurd:


When Republicans took control of the House in the midterms, they gained a powerful tool in combating regulatory excess with the power of the purse.  Senate Republicans may use a different tool in their minority efforts to contain the EPA's efforts to impose climate-change regulation by fiat, a rarely-used law called the Congressional Review Act.  Created in 1996, the law essentially allows Congress to veto regulatory changes created by executive branch agencies, and may become a sledgehammer in battling the Obama administration's regulatory innovations:


GOP lawmakers say they want to upend a host of Environmental Protection Agency rules by whatever means possible, including the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used legislative tool that allows Congress to essentially veto recently completed agency regulations.


The law lets sponsors skip Senate filibusters, meaning Republicans don't have to negotiate with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for a floor vote or secure the tricky 60 votes typically needed to do anything in the Senate.


The House doesn't have the same expedited procedures, but it's assumed the GOP majority would have little trouble mustering the votes needed to pass disapproval resolutions.


A spate of contentious EPA rules that are soon to be finalized could be prime targets, including the national air quality standard for ozone, toxic emission limits for industrial boilers and a pending decision about whether to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste.


Obama and his team will strive to interpret regulations and rules in ways that circumvent the intent of Congress when the laws were passed.  Republicans will have to be vigilant in uncovering and stopping these power-grabs.


We may already be witnessing the chilling effect (mentioned above) of the November elections on Obama's EPA: the administration has delayed a decision on whether to tighten limits on ground-level ozone.  This was a major goal of Lisa Jackson's EPA -- a bit of zealotry that would have costs as high as $90 billion annually by 2020.  Since the money belongs to other people, Jackson couldn't care less about the costs imposed on others -- but congressmen see those costs in terms of jobs and voters.


While Morrissey focuses on the EPA, the Congressional Review Act can be brought to bear on many other agencies to thwart Obama's agenda.  Ivan Osorio at the American Spectator has expanded the horizons by writing of the many actions Barack Obama has taken to reward his big labor pals that can be subject to review and termination under the Congressional Review Act.


These are just a few of the tactics Republicans might use to derail the Obama express; undoubtedly some of the best and brightest are formulating new ones before the next Congress is seated in January.  They had better work fast.


President Obama is addicted to the analogy that Republicans drove us into a ditch, that the keys should be taken away from them, and that if they want to come along for the ride, they can sit in the back of the bus.  That was before November 2.


Republicans have been handed the keys to the House by voters.  We have done our part.  Now they should do theirs: follow our wishes and make our concerns their own.  Or they might indeed have the keys taken away from them two years from now.


The clock is ticking.


Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.


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