Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Schadenfreude Follies: Republican (and one Democrat) sex scandal edition!

Let those other big-time bloggers cover the serious stories, like Fredo's last stand. Hey, he didn't even have the decency to tell us he was quitting to spend more time with his family, so where's the entertainment value there?

Still, when so many things are going badly, it's good to have everyone's favorite guilty pleasure to fall back on, so, partly at the request of my brother, here's a Top Ten of sex scandals and peccadilloes by our political enemies. It's not that Democrats are always pure and Republicans are always corrupt. It's not even that I think other people's sex lives are our businss, unless those same people are taking a more than healthy interest in the sex lives of their fellow Americans.

When it comes down to it it feels so much better when the guys who are hollering the loudest about those icky people and their icky practices get caught engaging in those icky practices themselves.

And, as much fun as that is, what makes it all the more fun is watching the explanations they really seem to believe will get them off the hook.

So, here we go, although this Top Ten does not come from the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska:

Number Ten--John Jenrette, D., S. Car. His downfall in Congress was probably the result of his bribery conviction, but what really catapulted him into glory was when he had sex with his then-wife, Rita Jenrette, behind a pillar on the steps of the Capitol Building.

Number Nine--Jack Ryan, R., Ill. He was married to TV star and former Borg Geri Ryan, but his campaign for the U.S. Senate ran aground when her divorce filings revealed that he had taken her to sex clubs in New Orleans, New York City, and Paris, where he had begged her to perform sex acts with him in front of other attendees of the clubs. Jeri Ryan described one as "a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling." Brack Obama was eventually elected after Ryan was replaced in the Senate campaign by Alan Keyes.

Number Eight--Jeff Gannon. You may know him by his real name, James Dale Guckert, or you may just remember the guy who got preferential treatment by the Bush Administration for being just their kind of conservative wack job, at least until they figured out that he was a male prostitute masquerading as a journalist.

Number Seven--Ted Haggard. Before his scandal broke you had probably never heard of him, but he was a big name in the world of evangelical mega-churches. Too bad he got caught spending church money on the services of a male prostitute. He said it was just a massage, the prostitute says it was three years of sex and amphetamines. Buh-bye, Ted.

Number Six--David Almond, R., N. Car. He may deserve a higher spot on the list, except you've probably never heard of him because he was only a state legislator and he had the decency to step down as soon as he got caught. Still, what can you say about the family values politician who exposed himself in front of a female employee and chased her around the room yelling "Suck it, baby, suck it." ? Oh yes, in true Republican fashion Almond was the vice chairman of the House committee on children, youth and families.

Number Five--Paul R. Balach. A top aide to former Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Balach was forced out of his job when he admitted "he had procured male prostitutes and was subjected to blackmail threats by one of the call boys." Thanks, Washington Times, for driving this particular scandal to new lows.

Number Four--Robert Bauman, R., Md., another conservative extremist who served in the Congress from 1973-1980, where he received a perfect 100 on the Christian Voice Morality Rating. Too bad that was before he got caught interfering with young boys in a public toilet.

Number Three--Mark Foley, R., Fla. I guess the best he can say for himself is that he didn't actually have sex with them, but sending lewd e-mails to Congressional pages and asking them to send him pictures of themselves seemed just a tiny bit out of keeping with his family values and anti-child-pornography legislative positions. What puts him so close to the top here, though, is the way his sudden departure helped pave the way to a Democratic House majority in 2006.

Number Two--David Vitter, R., La., the first Republican ever elected to represent Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, family values guy, and early supporter of Rudy Giuliani. He got his start in Congress replacing Bob Livingstone, who stepped down as Speaker and resigned from the House after his own marital infidelity was exposed during Clinton's impeachment trial. Following in Livingstone's footsteps, Vitter has been implicated in the "D.C. Madam" case, with his number appearing repeatedly in her phone records.

Number One--Larry Craig, R., Id. It's just come out that he pled guilty earlier this month after he was caught in an airport men's room by an undercover cop. Larry made himself comfortable in a stall, put his briefcase down in front of the door, and began signalling to the man in the next stall.
“At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area,” the report states.

Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times, and Karsnia noted in his report that “I could ... see Craig had a gold ring on his ring finger as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.”

Karsnia then held his police identification down by the floor so that Craig could see it.

“With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, ‘No!’ I again pointed towards the exit. Craig exited the stall with his roller bags without flushing the toilet. ... Craig said he would not go. I told Craig that he was under arrest, he had to go, and that I didn’t want to make a scene. Craig then left the restroom.”

His explanations and excuses are priceless:
"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously." And Craig stated “that he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine.”
Do I need to say it? A very quick check of Craig's record on gay issues turns up the fact that he voted in favor of an Idaho Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and also voted in favor of last year's Federal Marriage Amendment doing the same thing.

So come on, people. Let's hear it for those upstanding men and women--oops, men only, sorry--who are working so hard to uphold the values our nation was built on.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Come on, DNC, it's the twenty-first century.

The Democratic National Committee has told Florida that it won't get any delegates to next year's national convention unless they back down from their calendar move, which puts the Florida presidential primary ahead of New Hampshire and other anointed states in the presidential race next year.

The committee gave Florida Democrats 30 days to propose a primary date that conformed with Democratic rules prohibiting all but four states from holding their primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5. But Florida leaders, who seemed stunned by a near-unanimous vote and the severity of the punishment, said they were doubtful they could come up with an alternative.

This is something that's bugged me for some time. Not just the random fact that New Hampshire and Iowa have such a disproportionate role in the selection of presidential candidates, but more importantly, the obvious sense of entitlement that the residents of those two states, and especially New Hampshire, have, and the supine attitude of the parties in the face of this sense of entitlement.

This year the rest of the country is catching up with this, and other states who have in prior years been deprived of any say in who the presidential candidates will be are trying to get in the game, but our party, which ought by nature to be the voice of the people, is trying to squelch these efforts.

There are two good alternatives to the current system, either of which would be immeasurably better than the current system. Probably the best known is a proposal for rotating regional primaries. Even though Holy Joe supports the idea, it makes a lot of sense, by creating regional primaries that will spread the primary voting over time and take away the advantage that the early winners in insignificant states now have.

Another appealing idea is called the American Plan, and it front loads the smallest states, so that candidates get started early and have to ask the voters of small states for their support before they get to the big states that will put them over the top.

The American Plan is intended to correct these faults. First, it introduces a random element into scheduling while preserving the door-to-door politicking needed early in the race. Second, it arranges the schedule so that large "block" primaries take place at the end of the calendar, not the beginning. Finally, it condenses the schedule into a time span of 20 weeks that culminates with a large primary of both small and large states.

Here's how it works: The American Plan is designed to begin with primaries in smaller states, and grow progressively larger and more challenging as the nominating process advances. The schedule consists of 10 multi-state primaries evenly spaced over twenty weeks. The first primary would take place in a randomly selected group of states whose Congressional Districts total exactly 8 – for example, Alaska (1 CD), South Carolina (6 CDs), and Delaware (1 CD). The succeeding primaries would grow progressively larger - 16, 24, 36, etc. - up to the 10th primary, which would cover 80 CDs. A hypothetical sample schedule can be viewed here.

Both of these choices are obvious responses to the Super Tuesday system we have now, which has largely done what it was intended to do: advance conservative Democratic candidates (see, e.g., Carter, Clinton)

Either choice makes more sense than we have now, and either choice would hopefully protect us from more news stories about some geezer in New Hampshire who's decided that nobody who hasn't slogged up to his general store and listened to his hilarious outhouse story is qualified to be president.

So come on, DNC. Let's get off this infatuation with New Hampshire and Iowa and move to a system that actually makes sense.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Richard Dawkins--The Enemies of Reason

Do make sure to watch this.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's not just a partisan question, but we're certainly hearing lots of stories about how Rove was the greatest political genius we've ever seen, never lost, and blah, blah, blah.
A story in today's Globe raises yet another question about that, although Rove's name isn't even mentioned.
I've made this observation before, and now it's been confirmed and even Arlen Specter agrees with me. It has to do with the unceremonious way they dumped Rumsfeld after the election last year. You remember, a few days before the election Bush was asked if Rummy was staying on and Bush replied that he absolutely was, that he was going to be the Secretary of Defense for the forseeable future? And then, the day after the election, Rummy was out all of a sudden. Bush even admitted lying about it, although not in so many words.
Today's Globe has a story based on a long series of FOIA requests, which were finally successful after months of stonewalling by the administration, and now it turns out that Rummy's letter of resignation was signed the day before the election. The White House confirmed yesterday that Rumsfeld's letter of resignation was dated Nov. 6, 2006, the day before voters -- many of them furious about the war in Iraq -- evicted Republicans from the leadership of the House and Senate.
Now we know that no decisions were made in the Bush White House without Rove, but doesn't it strike you that it might have been smarter to toss Rove under the bus before the election? That's what Arlen Specter thinks: "If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said at the time. "I'd still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."
So this obviously proves that Rove isn't as smart as the conventional wisdom (and he) would have you believe.
It also proves that, after all these years, we finally have something to thank Rove for.
Who would have thought it?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Black sites and American credulity

Cross posted from Green Mountain Daily.

Throughout the war, the reporting in The New Yorker, both by Sy Hersh and Jane Mayer, has been indispensable to understanding what is actually going on.

In this week's New Yorker, Jane Mayer has a great piece about how the CIA has used torture to extract confessions from people it has decided are terrorists. The things that are being done in our name, with no assurance that they are gaining useful information or protecting the American people, are nothing short of shocking.
What may be newer is the way Mayer documents the manipulation of intelligence "disclosures" by the government, and how credulous the American press has been in swallowing whatever the government has decided to dish out.

Read this article today:

In March, Mariane Pearl, the widow of the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, received a phone call from Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General. At the time, Gonzales’s role in the controversial dismissal of eight United States Attorneys had just been exposed, and the story was becoming a scandal in Washington. Gonzales informed Pearl that the Justice Department was about to announce some good news: a terrorist in U.S. custody—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Al Qaeda leader who was the primary architect of the September 11th attacks—had confessed to killing her husband. (Pearl was abducted and beheaded five and a half years ago in Pakistan, by unidentified Islamic militants.) The Administration planned to release a transcript in which Mohammed boasted, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.”
Pearl was taken aback. In 2003, she had received a call from Condoleezza Rice, who was then President Bush’s national-security adviser, informing her of the same news. But Rice’s revelation had been secret. Gonzales’s announcement seemed like a publicity stunt. Pearl asked him if he had proof that Mohammed’s confession was truthful; Gonzales claimed to have corroborating evidence but wouldn’t share it. “It’s not enough for officials to call me and say they believe it,” Pearl said. “You need evidence.” (Gonzales did not respond to requests for comment.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

God says, "Love thy neighbor."

Or does he?

There are people who believe in a god or gods who claim that we should all believe in god, not just because it's true, but also because believing in god makes us better people, and not believing in god makes us vicious savages.

Think so? Take a look at this: A study done by researchers at the University of Chicago asked 2,000 doctors a series of questions, including their religious beliefs and the kind of medical practice they have. It turns out that doctors who report a belief in god are no more likely to practice medicine in poor, underserved communities, in fact slightly less likely, than doctors who do not believe in god.

Does this prove that believing in god makes you a greedy money-grubber? No, but it sure doesn't prove that it makes you good.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tommy Makem, 1932-2007

Like many people I know, especially of Irish ancestry, my first exposure to folk music was the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Also to Irish music and to the cause of Irish independence. To say that they were giants is to understate their impact.

Tommy Makem died this week. I've lived in Vermont for almost twenty-five years, and I knew he lived across the river in New Hampshire, but I never went to see him. I never thought the time was running out, which, of course, was stupid, but I also wasn't sure I wanted to replace my old image of him from the 1960's.

I'll miss him.

Friday, August 03, 2007

How to get tough on crime--NOT!

You remember Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who was caught in a bribery sting with $90,000 in cold cash in his freezer?

Of course, that was a long time ago, so you may be wondering why the case is taking so long compared to other prosecutions, like that of Duke Cunningham. You would think they would have this guy locked up already, wouldn't you? Especially since he's a Democrat, which would make the Bushies even more interested in nailing him.

Well, you would think that, except that the people who were going to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office can't even prosecute corruption right, and that's kept the case tied up since last year.

You see, the Justice Department had the FBI raid Jefferson's Congressional office, something that had never been done before, and Jefferson challenged the search in court. Today, the court ruled that even though the search was legal, the FBI violated the Constitution by searching his Congressional records and papers. The court said the Constitution insists that lawmakers must be free from any intrusion into their congressional duties. Such intrusion, even by a filter team, "may therefore chill the exchange of views with respect to legislative activity," the court held.

This was an intrusion that was so egregious that it brought together Democrats and Republicans, with former House Speakers Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and Thomas Foley, a Democrat, fil[ing] legal documents opposing the raid, along with former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, a Republican.

Now they still have to litigate whether they can use anything they scooped up in the raid of his office, and there's no telling how long that will take.

Maybe Gonzalez has a new motto: "Sure we're corrupt, but we're incompetent, too!"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A leftist attack on Obama

A friend of mine was asking me yesterday if I'm against Obama, and I'm really not. Still, I've come across a couple of things that really show him in a bad light, and since he is the leading candidate among liberals (for instance, he just won the Vermont Democratic Party's straw poll), I think it's important to look closely at him before he's our candidate, not after.

Therefore, I want to link to this diavlog that in it Matt Stoller makes some important points:

1. He was right on Iraq, but he hasn't done anything effective against the war or torture since he's been in the Senate.
2. He doesn't like activists, partly because of his whole "let's just get along" approach to things.
3. He wants to be part of the establishment, and consequently he hasn't really taken on the powerful institutions and politicians, like the press, that got us into the war.
4. There are no spots where you could show that his positions differ from those of Hillary Clinton.

Stoller is also saying that there are things he can do that would get away from these errors, like identifying the people who caused the war ("if he would Sister Souljah a liberal hawk . . .") and saying that they were wrong and will have no role in his administration.

I know that most of the readers around here probably support him, so I'd be interested to hear what you think after you watch this.