Thursday, May 31, 2007

Enough is enough! I have had it with these mother-effing Mycobacteria tuberculosis on this mother-effing plane!

The lead story on all the networks was about the guy who got on an airplane with a highly drug resistant type of tuberculosis. The CDC warned him not to travel.

The case has called into question the ability of the CDC to respond to emergencies and the Department of Homeland Security has been unable to explain how the TB-infected man was able to simply drive into the United States on his return trip from Canada when “all border crossings had been given his name and told to hold him if he appeared.

Think Progress explains all you need to know about this disturbing story.

Bush has repeatedly proposed slashing the CDC’s budget:

2002: Proposed a $174 million cut.

2003: Proposed a $1 billion cut, with no new funding for preventive health divisions working on TB.

2004: Proposed an increase of “less than 1 per cent.”

2005: Proposed a $263 million cut, while simultaneously proposing a $270 million increase in abstinence education.

2006: Proposed a $500 million cut which would have slashed grants to state and local health departments like the Fulton County Health and Wellness Department involved in this week’s TB-scare.

2007: Proposed a $179 million cut, in addition to unspecified plans for more CDC “savings.”

2008: Proposed a $37 million cut, including “massive funding cuts in proven health protection programs.”

In a report submitted to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year, CDC Director Julie Gerberding warned that a TB outbreak could result from the administration’s proposed cuts. She noted that “emerging plagues such as drug-resistant tuberculosis represent ‘urgent threats that have become more prominent in the dawn of the 21st century.’”

Additionally, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, points out that the full scale of the “erosion of [CDC’s] traditional disease control activities has been ‘masked’ by infusions of cash earmarked for spending on bioterrorism and pandemic activities.”

… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Big Mitch gets one right

In Class of ’71 reads the news, I set forth my reasons for being skeptical about what the government tells us. In particular, I urged a skeptical attitude toward the headline, “U.S. military believes al Qaeda has missing soldiers.”

Here’s what I said,
What evidence is there that it was al Qaeda in Iraq that kidnapped our soldiers? If there were any at all, I would expect that the government and its stenographers would be less mealy-mouthed in its description of the perpetrators than “al Qaeda or others associated with the militant group.”

I want to know what is the relationship of al Qaeda in Iraq to the group of Saudis that attacked our country on September 11, 2001. Do they take their orders from Osama Bin Laden? Do they have ambitions beyond the establishment of a Sunni Islamic government in Iraq? How do we know?
Today, the Boston Globe carried an article entitled “GOP rivals embrace unproven Iraq-9/11 tie.” Quoting Michael Scheuer , the CIA's former chief of operations against bin Laden in the late 1990s, and others, the Globe reports:
Al Qaeda in Iraq is not overseen by bin Laden.
[T]he enemy the military calls "Al Qaeda Iraq" is a combination of Iraqi jihadists and an unknown number of fighters from countries throughout the Middle East. "AQI" came together after the US invasion. And while there is evidence that AQI members coordinate attacks among themselves, there is little evidence that they coordinate closely with bin Laden.
The take-away message from the article is that the G.O.P. candidates are intentionally conflating the war in Iraq with our response to the threat of Islamic terrorists, in the deceitfull tradition established by King George the Incompetent.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Threatening chaos

We are told that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, there will be chaos there. Put aside for the moment the fact that the people who are telling us this have a nearly perfect record for being wrong about everything. Let’s assume that they are correct.

If it’s true, then we must also assume that there is intelligence to support this conclusion. We must also assume that the leadership of Iraq knows the truth, and even if it is not evident to them, the U.S. can show them the intelligence, which has been so persuasive to King George the Incompetent.

Now, chaos is a bad thing. I assume that the leadership in Iraq likes being in the leadership, and chaos is directly threatening to them. That’s a good thing, and I will explain why.

What it means is that the threat of us leaving and the chaos which is to follow is something with which the U.S can exert leverage against the leadership in Iraq.

What shall we exert pressure upon the Iraqis to do? Get up an army, get a working police force, get some oil production on line, get an agreement on oil revenue sharing, work out a federal system for Iraq. The list could go on, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out where we want to be and what it is going to take to get there.

There’s another question: what can we do to leverage the leadership in Iraq. And this is not a tough question, either. The answer is to give the Iraqi leadership timetables and enforce them with the threat of leaving.

Really, the only thing it takes is a congressional democratic leadership whose knees don’t go all wobbly when someone threatens to call them a wussy. Instead, we have a bunch of wussies.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monica Goodling and Thomas Heffelfinger

U.S. attorney Thomas Heffelfinger (Minnesota) was one of the U.S. Attorneys who appeared on Kyle Samson’s firing list. Monica Goodling mentioned him briefly during her testimony this week. She said that she'd heard he “spent an extraordinary amount of time” on his work relating to his position as Chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee (NAIS) of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.

Heffelfinger appeared on the list in January 2006, and a month later he voluntarily resigned. When he heard of Ms. Goodling’s testimony he had this to say:
I did spent a lot of time on it... That's what I was instructed to do [by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft].

If it’s true that people within the Department of Justice were critical of the amount of time I was spending on Indian issues, I’m outraged. … Are they telling me I spent too much time trying to improve public safety for Native Americans, who are victims of violent crime at a rate 2 ½ times the national population? If they are, then shame on them.
Who could object to the fact that a U.S. Attorney from Minnesota was devoting his time to improving the lot of American Indians? Well, that would be whoever is victimizing a lot of American Indians.

Does the name Jack Abramoff ring a bell?

Admittedly, none of Jack Abramoff’s Indian client/victims were up in Minnesota. But after his guilty plea, also in January of 2006, the investigation into his nefarious activities widened. Disrupting the subcommittee of U.S. attorneys that dealt with American Indian issues at that crucial time probably didn’t help the investigation.

Or it could just be a coincidence.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two negatives for the Bushies

There were two negative pieces of news for loyal Bushies today. The first was Monica Goodling’s testimony.

Big Mitch predicts that the Republican spin-meisters will be pushing a story that goes like this: Monica Goodling testified and was obviously very sincere, careful and honest. She was subjected to long, arduous, penetrating questioning. In spite of this, no wrongdoing has been uncovered.


First of all, we still don’t know how the list of U.S. Attorneys to be sacked came about. We can safely conclude that someone is withholding information. But let’s focus on the specific crimes that she testified about.

Monica Goodling testified today about a meeting she had with Alberto Gonzales shortly before she left the department. She stated that the conversation took place on the Thursday or Friday of the week before she left the department. She left on March 23rd -- so the conversation occurred on March 14th or 15th. Congress had already requested to interview Goodling about what she knew.

Goodling came to Gonzales to request a transfer because of the scandal. Gonzales did not immediately agree. He then began discussing what he remembered about the firing process. He asked her if she had "any reaction" to his recollection. The conversation made her “uncomfortable,” she testified. One can surmise that Gonzales was trying to shape her testimony.

On May 10th Gonzales testified in the House Judiciary Committee as follows: “I have not gone back and discussed this investigation with Sampson and others to protect the integrity of this investigation. I have not asked these specific questions.” General Gonzales appears to have been lying to Congress.

Ms. Goodling testified that she used political considerations in the hiring of non-political officials, in an apparent violation of the Hatch Act. On her behalf she admitted to “crossing the line,” but she said, she didn’t “mean to.” She also testified that McNulty was inaccurate and misleading in his testimony.

Regardless of what you hear Republicans saying, Ms. Goodling’s testimony today did nothing to restore confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The second negative -- call it a double negative if you will -- is this little item from Roll Call today, reprinted in it’s entirety:
Vice President Cheney isn’t not on the phone records of the alleged D.C. Madam, who is accused of running a high-price call-girl ring in Washington, the accused madam’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Republican Talking Points

David Brooks of the New York Times has a weekly gig on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, with Mark Shields. Here’s Brooks discussing the hospital visit by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to ailing John Ashcroft:
There was nothing illegal that happened. There was a disagreement over this FISA statute. Nonetheless, the way it went about was so disrespectful of the institution: that’s what leaves a bad taste.
Give me a break.

A review of the facts is in order. Shortly after 9/11, the administration ordered up a vast program of domestic spying that was in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The White House had obtained assent of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, led by John Yoo, to proceed with this program of illegal wiretapping. In October of 2003, Jack Goldsmith was confirmed as the head of the OLC. Goldsmith undertook a review of some of the more controversial opinions of Mr. Yoo.

It became obvious that the legal and factual underpinnings of the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program did not pass constitutional muster. In March of 2004, Attorney General Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Comey discussed the matter and decided that the program was illegal, and that therefore, they could not sign off on it. Shortly thereafter, Ashcroft became ill, and was hospitalized. DAG Comey became the acting Attorney General.

The details of the hospital visit are well-known. On March 10, 2004, Ashcroft and Comey informed Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card that the program –which had been in effect for over two years -- was illegal.

The White House went ahead with it anyway, though two days later the President gave Comey authority to suggest changes to address his concerns. For the next two or three weeks the program went forward, without any changes even though Ashcroft, Comey, FBI Director Mueller, and others (Goldsmith?) had threatened to resign over it.

Later, Alberto Gonzales testified that there was no serious disagreement about the program. Several senators have suggested that this testimony may have been false, and they gave the Attorney General a chance to revise it. He declined to do so.

Get out your score sheets. There was a two year period when the government was engaged in an illegal program of spying on Americans without a warrant in direct violation of the FISA law. In their defense, they had found a partisan lawyer to give them his okay, but reliance on mistaken legal advice is not generally a defense. Then there was a period of two or three weeks, where the Justice Department had explicitly told the White House that the program was illegal, but they went forward with it anyway. And then there is “Fredo” Gonzales’ crime of perjury.

The Republicans have managed to lower the standard of conduct for this White House to “as long as no crimes were committed.” We saw this in the Scoter Libby affair, too. (In that case, it is urged by Republicans that since no crime was committed, it was okay for him to lie to a Federal Grand Jury.)

“There was nothing illegal that happened.” That’s a pretty low bar. But it is a break with reality to suggest that the White House cleared it.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Yesterday’s news

As I reported in Scandal Fatigue, Democrats in the Senate asked the Attorney General if he stood by his earlier testimony in which he stated that there no substantial disagreements within the administration about the probity of the warrantless wiretapping program.

The Washington Post reports today:
The Justice Department said yesterday that it will not retract a sworn statement in 2006 by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that the Terrorist Surveillance Program had aroused no controversy inside the Bush administration, despite congressional testimony Tuesday that senior departmental officials nearly resigned in 2004 to protest such a program.
Big Mitch thinks he knows what the defense will be. Generalissimo ‘Fredo’ Gonzalez was very specific in his testimony in Congress. He said, “let me just say that I think the differing views that have been the subject of some of these stories does not – did not deal with the program that I am here testifying about today.”

My bet is that what he will say when this is explored further is that the program that he was testifying about at that time, was the program after it had made the changes obtained by the intervention of Comey and Mueller. After it was changed, it was a different program, the one that the President had confirmed, and about which there is was no substantial disagreement.

Of course, that’s yesterday’s news. Today, we learn (again from the Washington Post):
The Justice Department considered dismissing many more U.S. attorneys than officials have previously acknowledged, with at least 26 prosecutors suggested for termination between February 2005 and December 2006, according to sources familiar with documents withheld from the public.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified last week that the effort was limited to eight U.S. attorneys fired since last June, and other administration officials have said that only a few others were suggested for removal.
Will Gonzalez stand by his testimony, again? Is this yet another scandal?

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s news.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Scandal Fatigue

James Comey testified that for a period of time – two or three weeks – the warrantless interception of electronic communication continued although the Department of Justice had opined that it was illegal. That’s scandal number one. But it is only coming to light because of the fired U.S. attorneys. We’ll call that scandal number two.

Marie Cocco, of the Washington Post Writer’s Group has a good post on Truth Dig:
It is time to stop referring to the “fired U.S attorneys scandal” by that misnomer, and call it what it is: a White House-coordinated effort to use the vast powers of the Justice Department to swing elections to Republicans.

In a fledgling democracy, we would consider this shocking corruption. The chilling truth is that it can happen here—and apparently it did.
Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic Caucus has sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales in which they contrast testimony from Deputy Attorney General James Comey to his testimony in which he stated “that the disagreement that occurred was not related to the wiretapping program confirmed by the President in December 2005, which was the topic of the hearing.” The letter concludes: In light of Mr. Comey's testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?”

That’s a different scandal: the Attorney General committed perjury in Congress.

Monica Gooding asserted a privilege against self-incrimination and received limited immunity so that she will testify in Congress. Ms. Goodling moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with résumés that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan, two department officials said. That’s a violation of the Hatch Act, which is yet another scandal. See, Bush’s Monica and the Plot Against the Hatch Act.

In its efforts to investigate the goings-on at the Department of Justice we learned that the White House was using Republican National Committee servers for email. It looks like a violation of the Presidential Records Act. But we can’t say for sure because apparently Karl Rove deleted the emails that Congress is seeking. Is that one or two more scandals?

So many scandals. But they lack the sex appeal of a good-old fashioned Clinton scandal. That is, unless you buy into the thread at Wayne Madsen Report where he is flogging the D.C. Madam story. He reports, “The net may also ensnare two 2008 GOP presidential candidates, one declared and the other, as yet, undeclared.”

If that doesn’t pique your interest consider this May 14, 2007 posting: “WMR has received additional credible information on the patronage of Vice President Dick Cheney, while he was President and CEO of Halliburton in the mid to late 1990s, of the DC Madam's escort service.”

Keeping track of all these scandals makes a person tired.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

For the record

From James Comey’s testimony yesterday:
“Can you give us an example of an exercise of good judgment by Alberto Gonzales?” Republican Senator Arlin Specter asked.

“Let the record show a very long pause,” Specter said.
This exchange sent my mind back to August 24, 1960, when Nixon was running for President against JFK. President Dwight Eisenhower was asked if he could give an example of a major idea of Vice-president Nixon’s that was adopted by the administration.

“If you give me a week, I might think of one,” Ike replied.

But that was not the only thing redolent of Tricky Dick in Comey's testimony yesterday.

Comey testified that Gonzales and Card visited Ashcroft to “take advantage of a very sick man,” and get him to authorize a program that the Department of Justice had decided was illegal. To Comey’s great surprise, Ashcroft was able to forcefully resist.

A few minutes after the bedside confrontation, Card called the hospital. He "demanded that I come to the White House immediately," Comey testified. "I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present."

"He replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’"

What? Comey knew what he had just witnessed. Did Card think that he was going to convince Comey that there was no other reason for them to be there?

I’ve seen this type of conversation before. It occurs when one party knows that it is being tape-recorded.

You may think that the White House, having been burned by Nixon’s taping system would never repeat that mistake. It would be too stupid or too corrupt. But you would be wrong.

There is nothing too stupid or too corrupt for this White House.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

A shocking account of White House lawlessness.

If you had any doubt about what kind of people are running the government, you should watch the video below. In it, James Comey testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the efforts of Alberto Gonzalez to take advantage of a very sick man, Attorney General John Ashcroft.

So thuggish were the behaviors of then-White House Counsel “Fredo” Gonzalez, that the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, had to order his G-men to protect Comey from Gonzalez and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. When the administration went ahead with the spying program without Department of Justice approval, Comey, Mueller, and several other Justice employees considered resigning. Comey was persuaded to stay on until Ashcroft was well enough to resign with them.

This is the testimony that the Washington Post said described as “an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source.”

A must-read analysis of this shocking testimony appears on Salon. I urge you to read it.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

March 10, 2004

The current crop of crooks that is installed in the White House continues to embarrass us, violate our rights, and generally screw up at every turn. So steady is the stream of scandals that older ones are pushed off the screen to make room for new ones.

A case in point is the Department of Justice. The firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys (or is it nine?) reveals the operations of this dysfunctional agency, leading to calls for the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales. It’s hard to take your eyes off this train wreck long enough to gaze back at the last DOJ scandal. Nevertheless, our recollection was refreshed today when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Think back to when it was revealed that the government was engaged in wholesale spying on Americans in violation of the FISA law.

The story is not new. You may recall that the program was initiated at some time soon after 9/11, and that the president and his spokespersons defended it on the basis that it had to be re-certified by the Attorney General every 45 days or so. Back in January of ’06, I indicated that there was a disagreement between constitutional scholars about the validity of the defense that the Bush administration had offered for its domestic spying program. See, Horsefeathers vs. Poppycock: Constitutional Scholars weigh in.

Be that as it may, on March 10, 2004, Attorney General Ashcroft was in the hospital, and so the duty of re-certifying the program fell upon James Comey. He declined to do so.

The White House decided to visit Ashcroft in the hospital and seek his approval for the dubious program. Back in January of ’06, the NY Times reported that it “It is unclear whether the White House ultimately persuaded Mr. Ashcroft to give his approval to the program after the meeting or moved ahead without it.”

It is no longer “unclear.”

Here’s how Firedoglake summarized Comey’s testimony on the matter:
Office of Legal Counsel had told Comey there was no legal justification for parts of the NSA Domestic Spying Program. Comey briefed Ashcroft on it, and they agreed that they could not reauthorize the program in its current form. When Comey told that to Andrew Card, Card got pissed. That night, Comey got a call from his Chief of Staff, saying Mrs. Ashcroft had gotten a call at the hospital, saying Card and Gonzales were on their way over. Comey rushed to the hospital to try to prepare Ashcroft for what was about to occur. And then, in his drug induced state, Ashcroft refused to reauthorize the program, and said he wasn't AG anyway, Comey was acting AG.

The program was "reauthorized" anyway, w/o DOJ's blessing. For two weeks, according to Comey, it operated outside the rule of law (though one day after the hospital visit, Bush told Comey to "do what's right," so they started to put it in line with the law).

That night, Comey and a number of other DOJ staffers prepared their resignation, refusing to stay after they had been overridden.
You may be forgiven for thinking that on March 10th 2004, the Attorney General signed off on the program. After all, it had been in place for over two years, and we are told that it had been reviewed and approved by DOJ every 45 days. Why, you might wonder, did Ashcroft refuse to re-certify it in his hospital bed?

One reason might be that Comey had only recently convinced him that the program was not legal. Not very likely that Ashcroft would sign off on a program for two years, and then Comey would undertake to persuade him that it was illegal.

Another possibility is that Ashcroft felt that Comey was the Acting A.G. and that it was therefore Comey’s call. But Comey testified that in spite of his illness Ashcroft gave a cogent explanation of why he would not certify the program.

A third possibility exists. Could it be that when George W. Bush told us that the program required a sign-off by the Attorney General every 45 to 90 days, he was playing a little fast and loose with the facts? Who woulda thunk?

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Class of ’71 reads the news

In the late nineteen-sixties, there was an unpopular war being conducted by a corrupt president.

Opposition was so strong to the war, that colleges conducted moratoria and there were mass protest marches on Washington, D.C. Protest marches on campuses and elsewhere were common, too, and violence was not unheard of. Police rioted in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, and in May of 1970, National Guard Troops shot and killed 4 protesters at Kent State University in Ohio.

I was a political science major at the State University of New York at Binghamton, which was also known as Harpur College. It was a very liberal campus in those days, and damn proud of it.

Yes, the hippie ethic was fully embraced. Drug use was common, although in those days hashish was more common than marijuana. (These drugs have the same active ingredient, and the same potential for abuse.)

Someone noticed that whenever there was a scheduled moratorium there seemed also to be a surfeit of opium-laced hash on campus. Hash came to the U.S. from the mid-East, mostly Lebanon. Opium came from the Far East. The theory at the time was that only the CIA had contacts in both areas and that only they were capable of importing sufficient amounts of opium-laced hashish to influence the market. The theorized motive was to make the campuses too stoned to protest. So widespread was acceptance of this conspiracy theory that the ethic of the time disapproved of getting high during a moratorium.

Was the CIA involved? I don’t know. What I do know is that distrust of the government was so strong, that a conspiracy theory like that was widely accepted, and belief in it shaped our actions.

Also in those days, there was a government agency called the ICC – the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was their duty to regulate, among other things, trucking and transportation on the interstate highway system.

In 1968, there was a moratorium scheduled and a march on Washington. Students from Harpur College had hired several buses to transport protesters to the nation’s capital. The night before the protest the ICC pulled the licenses of the bus companies. The plan backfired for the government. Before the ICC actions, there were several apathetic or apolitical students who had no intention of participating in the protest. Afterwards, nearly 100% of our college community traveled to Washington, where the protest devolved into a riot.

It is against this backdrop that I read today’s news. I am not a conspiracy nut, but I think that it is the duty of a citizen to maintain a healthy skepticism about anything that the government tells us. And the current administration has been so deceptive that skepticism serves us well.

Take today’s news. A Reuters headline tells us: “U.S. military believes al Qaeda has missing soldiers.” Oh, really?

The article begins by stating, “The U.S. military said on Monday it believed that three U.S. soldiers missing after an attack south of Baghdad on Saturday had been taken by al Qaeda or others associated with the militant group.” Now which is it—al Qaeda or others associated with it?

It’s not merely a rhetorical question, because a different group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group, Islamic State of Iraq, is described by AP as “a coalition of eight insurgent groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq.” The same article informs us that, “Late last month, the group named a 10-member “Cabinet” complete with a “war minister,” an apparent attempt to present the Sunni coalition as an alternative to the U.S.-backed Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”

Let’s accept for the moment that one of the eight insurgent organizations under the mantle of Islamic State of Iraq is an insurgent organization called “al Qaeda in Iraq.” What evidence is there that it was al Qaeda in Iraq that kidnapped our soldiers? If there were any at all, I would expect that the government and its stenographers would be less mealy-mouthed in its description of the perpetrators than “al Qaeda or others associated with the militant group.”

I want to know what is the relationship of al Qaeda in Iraq to the group of Saudis that attacked our country on September 11, 2001. Do they take their orders from Osama Bin Laden? Do they have ambitions beyond the establishment of a Sunni Islamic government in Iraq? How do we know?

We have a duty to be skeptical. The administration’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it has conflated our mission against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda with our war in Iraq at every turn.

If I distrust the latest pronouncements of the government, it’s only because I was paying attention in the ‘60s. I guess some good did come from putting down that hash pipe.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mitt Romney’s religion

According to Time Magazine, 29% of American voters say they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. Back in November, a Rasmussen poll, had 43% saying they would never consider voting for a Mormon and only 38% said they would even consider casting such a vote. Nineteen per cent were not sure.

This is disgusting in a country founded on religious liberty and bound together by a Constitution which states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Growing up in New York, I had never met a Mormon, until I happened to sit next to one on the bus from my upstate college town to New York City. I continued in ignorance of what the LDS church believes and practices for many years, and it was not until the mid-1970’s that I got to count a member of the church among my friends.

When Jimmy Carter became President, there was a sudden upsurge of interest in the Southern Baptist church, which theretofore had been vaguely foreign to most northerners like me. Perhaps we will see a similar spurt of interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints with the ascendancy of Mitt Romney and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. For example, the Frontline/American Experience shows on PBS aired a four-hour series on The Mormons.

There is much to be admired in the culture of the Mormons, and plenty that is troubling in the history of this uniquely American church. (In the latter category consider the Mountain Meadows massacre and polygamy.)

But let us focus on that which is to be praised. One cannot learn about the Mormons and not be impressed with their devotion to the family. Consider the advertisements that the Mormons run on TV. The tagline is, “Family: isn’t it about time?” It is a Mormon practice to set aside Monday evenings for family home activities. The Mormon attitude to family is also reflected in the practice of genealogy and posthumous baptism. Mormons don’t get married “until death do us part,” but rather, for all eternity.

I am all in favor of family values and I love my family. But when I watched the Frontline series on The Mormons I realized that they have a different appreciation of the role of family. If I may be forgiven my presumptuousness, I would say that Mormons believe that the family provides for the individual and the individual should look primarily to the family to have his or her material and spiritual needs met.

It is insulting to Mitt Romney to acknowledge that he is a Mormon but deny that he is moved by the basic values of Mormonism. In any event, he gives us no reason to doubt that he is guided by his faith. For example, on his website he states: Americans are “a purpose-driven people founded on the family unit.” (Union Leader, March 19, 2006)

As I say, this may be laudable in a person’s personal life. Clearly, family is a great source of strength to the members of the LDS church. But what does it mean for a candidate for the office of the presidency?

It means that government doesn’t need to help people: that’s what families are for.

It means that government doesn’t need to provide a safety net for individuals because they can and should rely on their families when life deals them a harsh hand.

It means that government doesn’t need to create opportunity for individuals because people have unlimited opportunities in the context of their families.

It means that people who don’t share in the values of the conventional family don’t share in the values our national government, and therefore, it is not the role of government to protect their civil rights.

Mitt Romney is a conservative and as that term has come to be understood in the 21st century that means he is openly hostile to the institutions of government. Of course, he won’t come out and say that in so many words. He would like to see the role of government reduced as far as possible. And the way he sells this idea is to propose that the functions of government be performed by “the family.”

I take a back seat to no one when it comes to love of my family. But we are part of a greater society. Which is why I would never vote for Mitt Romney, or for that matter any of the buffoons I saw standing on the podium at the Reagan Library last week.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A flash of insight

This 30-second video got me to thinking.
In the past, Big Mitch has argued that George W. Bush ought to be impeached for a variety of reasons. He lied us into a war. His use of signing statements is contemptuous of the Constitution. He illegally snooped on Americans. He is ultimately responsible for turning the Department of Justice into a wing of the Republican National Committee. The list goes on.

Looking at this video made me think of the real reason he ought to be impeached. To borrow a phrase from retired Major General John Batiste, he has “placed our country at peril.”

That’s the real reason why he ought to be impeached: he has violated his oath to preserve and protect the Constitution.

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

From the Last Frontier: More Republican corruption

Rich Mauer reports in the Anchorage Daily News (McClatchey):
Bill Allen, a welder who took the Veco Corp. from a small Kenai oil-field company to a billion-dollar international contractor and a major political force, pleaded guilty Monday to bribing at least four Alaska legislators, including former Senate President Ben Stevens.
Also pleading guilty was Rick Smith, Veco’s vice president for community and government affairs.

Lat Friday, former Representatives Pete Kott, (R-Eagle River) Bruce Weyrauch (R-Juneau) and current Representative Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla) were indicted for extortion and bribery in related matters.

Ben Stevens is the son of Ted Stevens, the most senior Republican in the United States Senate.He received more than $200,000 in phony “consulting” contracts.

There was a time when Alaska was a reliably Democratic state. Problems are mounting for Ted Stevens and Don Young (see, here and here.) Indeed, the problems for all Republicans are on the rise. Could it be that the past is prelude to the future?

Memo to Democrats: Prepare to take back Alaska.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Word for today: “Hagiography”

From the recent hagiography of Ronald Reagan:
“Those are the things that Ronald Reagan taught us. You lead from optimism. You lead from hope. And we should never retreat in the face of terrorism.”

-- Rudy Giuliani, May 3, 2007 at a GOP debate held at the Reagan Library.
On April 18, 1983, the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was bombed by a suicide truck attack, killing 63 people.

Then, on October 23, 1983, 241 United States services members were killed when suicide bombers attacked a U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut. The Marines were part of a multi-national peacekeeping force during Lebanon’s civil war. President Ronald Reagan called it a despicable act.

The radical militant group Islamic Jihad took credit for both attacks. This group was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the number two leader in al-Qaeda, (or so we were told.)

There was little or no retaliatory military response to the attack on the American troops. The Marines were promptly moved offshore so that they could not be targeted any further. On February 7, 1984, President Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawal from Lebanon. By February 26th, the retreat was completed.

The Beirut bombings inspired Osama bin Laden to believe that the US can be defeated by suicide attacks. In a 1998 interview, which was reported on ABC on May 28, 1998, bin Laden stated:
“We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions.”
One thing we didn’t learn from Ronald Reagan is that the truth matters.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Giuliani. Thank God.

The New York Observer has a nice take on Bob Kerry’s thoughts about Rudy Giuliani.
“When he turned and said to Bernie Kerik, ‘Thank God George Bush is President,’” said Mr. Kerrey, echoing one of Mr. Giuliani’s favorite (but now retired) 9/11 anecdotes. “What he should have said was, ‘Why the fuck didn’t George Bush call us and tell us this was going to happen?’ That was a more appropriate response.”
Anyone who watches Chris Matthews on Hardball knows that he has a man-crush on Rudy Giuliani. It is going to be quite a challenge for him to keep it under wraps when he moderates the “Reagan Library GOP Debate,” as it is being billed. Here’s a telling moment to watch for.

Big Mitch predicts that amid the soft-balls that Matthews tosses to Rudy, there will be a question about one of his most famous whoppers. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, Rudolph Giuliani told the audience that while standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center, he spontaneously grabbed Bernie Kerik’s arm and said, “Bernie, thank God George Bush is our President.”

That’s a powerful story and better than the one he told during a 2003 GOP fundraiser. In the earlier iteration, Kerik is missing: “I remember that day saying a little prayer of thank-you that George Bush was our president.” Well, you could see why that story needed a little punching up. But still, it is an improvement on the original rendering.

On December 23, 2001, Giuliani appeared on Meet the Press. He told of the days following the attack. According to this first edition of the story, Rudy did, indeed, utter the words to his police chief. But it was not on September 11th. Rather it was on September 14th, by which time George Bush had finished My Pet Goat and found his way to Ground Zero. It was in this context that Giuliani stated, “Thank God he [Bush] is here [i.e., in New York.]”

The ironic thing is that Giuliani embellished and prevaricated to show a fabricated devotion to President Shit-for-brains. It’s not like people needed another reason to not vote for the guy. But watch Chris Matthews give him a chance to clean it up.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Deconstructing the veto message

The President said that he vetoed the Emergency War Spending Bill because it “mandated a rigid, and artificial deadline for American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq.” Moreover, he claimed that the bill imposed “impossible conditions on our commanders in combat.”

Here’s what he is really saying: He wants to wage the same old war, which doesn’t have the support of the American people. He fails to understand that the people have spoken and that elections have consequences. Congress was elected to end the war, and it is completely appropriate to set a timeline for doing so.

The bill ends the war and describes a new and different mission. The bill would require that by the autumn of 2008 however many U.S. troops remain in Iraq may only be used for diplomatic protection, counterterrorism operations, and training of Iraqi Security Forces. Unless certain benchmarks are met, this re-deployment may be required to start earlier.

I suppose you could call that imposing impossible conditions on the commanders in combat. Congress wants to make it impossible to persist on the same course of conduct that isn’t working and which has lost the confidence of the American people.

Just so that we are clear: The President says that we need to stay in Iraq to fight terrorism. The bill that he vetoed allows him to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely for counterterrorism operations.

For as long as I can remember, all presidential speeches have ended with some version of “May God bless America.” A favorite formulation of this president has been “May God continue to bless America.” Tonight, in announcing that he was flouting the will of the American people, he concluded with a new twist: “May God bless our troops.” He may as well have said, “May God help our troops.” President Bush surely won’t.

The president vetoed a bill that prohibits the deployment of troops who are not “fully mission capable” as defined by the Department of Defense – in other words, troops who are fully trained, equipped and protected. The bill that he vetoed provided funding for the Veterans Administration. And the bill refocused the mission of our military on a job for which it is well suited: defeating al Quaeda and terrorists in Afghanistan. Once again, we see that it is the Democrats in Congress who care about the troops.

The president thinks that he has support for the current ill-defined mission in Iraq, and that support extends to stubborn perseveration into the fall of 2008. He’s wrong. As if to prove the point, he vetoed a bill to protect troops and care for veterans.

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”