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Pause fast-track

Fast-track legislation would undercut the foundations of our government, which rely on checks and balances to reduce tyranny.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat and watched President Bush give his first speech to a joint session of Congress. By all accounts, it was a rousing success, generating more than 80 standing ovations from the mostly Republican congressional attendees, and lots of praise from analysts. The centerpiece of the talk was the tax cut, but he covered a lot of ground outside of his core agenda that mostly escaped notice.

One of the little-noticed items is his proposal to give him the authority to approve foreign trade agreements without the consent of Congress–so called fast-track authority. This is an unprecedented proposal, as it by-passes the standard checks and balances on which the founding fathers based our multibranch system of government. Yet, as a story on our site today describes, several high-tech industry groups are stumping for the measure in hopes that the tech-friendly President will generate revenue for their member companies.

Despite the fact that most of our readers are in some way associated with the groups mentioned in the story–the AeA, the ITI, the BSA and others–I’m going to voice my opposition to the proposal. Not that I want to dampen an already slowing economy, but the idea of giving a president the power of a monarch ought to give us pause.

Consider that, under the fast-track legislation, deals like Iran-Contra would be part of executive authority, at the very least weakening congressional review. Also consider the characters we have had the bad fortune to elect into the presidential post. I wouldn’t want Tricky Dick making deals with Pol Pot for the sake of GE, for example. The law not only covers this President, but all future presidents as well.

The fact is, there are lots of oppressive governments out there. And, short of jungle warfare, trade sanctions are the only way to show the tyrants that there are consequences for maltreating their citizens. And the last thing we want to do is give them the tools to more effectively violate their citizens’ rights. Consider Indonesia, which used U.S. guns, planes and other technology to exercise its reign of terror. Without congressional review, East Timor might still be in the hands of the murderous thugs.

And, though our own companies sometimes suffer from diminished overseas customer bases, at the end of the day, they have to admit that doing business from the U.S. is a pretty good deal. Let them deal with countries that not only get the President’s stamp of approval, but both houses of Congress.

James Mathewson is editorial director of and ComputerUser magazine. Also check out his Insights monthly in ComputerUser magazine.

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