The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Frank Rich - Rudy, the Values Slayer

Op-Ed Columnist
Rudy, the Values Slayer

WITH the new president heading off to his Texas vacation during that slow news month of August 2001, I wrote a column about a man who would never be president: Rudy Giuliani. Banished from Gracie Mansion after dumping his second wife for Judith Nathan, New York’s lame-duck mayor had been bunking for two months with a gay couple. No brand-name American politician had ever publicly done such a thing, so I decided to pay a visit to Rudy’s home away from home.

His Honor was out that day, but Howard Koeppel, a garrulous Queens car dealer, and his partner, Mark Hsiao, a Juilliard-trained pianist, were gracious tour guides to their 32nd-floor apartment on East 57th Street. I asked Mr. Koeppel, a born comic, whether it was unexpected that Rudy would live with an openly gay couple. “I don’t know if it’s any more unusual than him wearing a dress,” he deadpanned. On a more sober note, Mr. Koeppel told me that the connubially challenged mayor was an admirer of his and Mr. Hsiao’s relatively “idyllic life” and had assured them that “if they ever legalized gay marriages, we would be the first one he would do.”

That this same Rudy Giuliani would emerge as the front-runner in the Republican pack six years later is the great surprise of the 2008 presidential campaign to date, especially to the political press. Since the dawn of the new century, it has been the rarely questioned conventional wisdom, handed down by Karl Rove, that no Republican can rise to the top of the party or win the presidency without pandering as slavishly as George W. Bush has to the most bullying and gay-baiting power brokers of the religious right.

When Rudy’s candidacy started to show legs, pundits and family values activists alike assumed that ignorant voters knew only his 9/11 video reel and not his personal history or his stands on issues. “Americans do not yet realize how far outside of the mainstream of conservative thought that Mayor Giuliani’s social views really are,” declared Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council leader, in February. But despite Rudy’s fleeting stabs at fudging his views, they are well known now, and still he leads in national polls of Republican voters and is neck and neck with Fred Thompson in the Bible Belt sanctuary of South Carolina.

There are various explanations for this. One is that 9/11 and terrorism fears trump everything. Another is that the rest of the field is weak. But the most obvious explanation is the one that Washington resists because it contradicts the city’s long-running story line. Namely, that the political clout ritualistically ascribed to Mr. Perkins, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer of American Values and their ilk is a sham.

These self-promoting values hacks don’t speak for the American mainstream. They don’t speak for the Republican Party. They no longer speak for many evangelical ministers and their flocks. The emperors of morality have in fact had no clothes for some time. Should Rudy Giuliani end up doing a victory dance at the Republican convention, it will be on their graves.

Part of their demise, of course, can be attributed to the pileup of personal hypocrisies that have always undone Elmer Gantrys in America, from Jimmy Swaggart to Jim Bakker. The Ted Haggard revelations were in that tawdry tradition, and so was the news that the Christian Coalition’s front man, Ralph Reed, looked forward, as he put it, to “humping in corporate accounts” in collaboration with the now-jailed K Street lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Their fall from grace was synergistically augmented by their scandal-prone family-values allies on Capitol Hill. Even now, the virulent marriage defender David Vitter retains his Senate seat despite having confessed to unspecified sins after his name surfaced in bordello scandals in both Washington and New Orleans.

Also staying put in the Senate is Larry Craig, who, consciously or not, is calling the whole moral brigade’s bluff. After he was busted in the Minneapolis airport, Republicans insisted he undergo an ethics committee investigation on the assumption that he’d disappear before they could conduct it. Now they will have to make good on their word.

Mr. Craig is not just refusing to leave, but, as he demonstrated to Matt Lauer, he is ready, willing and able to re-enact his toilet pas de deux on national television. The Larry Craig show could be C-Span’s hit of the election season. It will culminate with its star’s return to the scene of the crime during the Republican National Convention, which, as perverse poetic justice would have it, is taking place in Minneapolis.

But the most significant — and happiest — explanation for the values czars’ demise as a political force is that white evangelical Christians and a new generation of evangelical leaders have themselves steadily tacked a different course from the Dobson crowd. A CBS News poll this month parallels what the Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick found in his examination of evangelicals for today’s Times Magazine. Like most other Americans, they are more interested in hearing from presidential candidates about the war in Iraq and health care than about any other issues.

Abortion and same-sex marriage landed at the bottom of that list; fighting poverty outpolled abortion as a personal priority by a 3-to-2 margin. To see just how large a gap separates that evangelical electorate from the values organizations that purport to speak in its name, just look at the Values Voter Summit that the Family Research Council convened to much press attention in Washington last weekend. In a survey of participants to determine which issue would be “most important” in choosing a presidential candidate, the summit’s organizers didn’t even think to list the war, health care or fighting poverty among the 12 hot-button options.

The Values Voter Summit’s survey of the attendees’ presidential preferences showed just as large a disconnect. Rudy Giuliani came in next to last (behind Tom Tancredo, ahead of John McCain) in the field of nine candidates, earning only 1.85 percent of the vote. By contrast, among white evangelicals nationwide in the CBS News poll, he was in a statistical dead heat for first place with Fred Thompson; indeed, Mr. Giuliani’s 26 percent among evangelicals nearly matches his showing among all Republican voters. The discrepancy between the CBS poll and the summit survey leaves you wondering who exactly follows Dr. Dobson and Mr. Perkins beyond the ticket buyers who showed up for their media circus last weekend at the Washington Hilton.

Of late Dr. Dobson has been throwing a hissy fit about Rudy’s rise, reminiscent of his 2005 condemnation of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants for appearing in what he labeled a “pro-homosexual video.” Apparently suffering from the delusion that he has the pull on the right that Ralph Nader once did on the left, he has threatened to bolt to a third party. But for all this huffing and puffing, Dr. Dobson and his stop-Rudy brigade are as politically hypocritical as the Reverend Haggard was sexually hypocritical.

If they really believed uncompromisingly in their issues and principles, they would have long since endorsed either Sam Brownback, the zealous Kansas senator fond of using fetus photos as political props, or Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who spent 15 years as a Baptist preacher, calls abortion a “holocaust” and believes in intelligent design rather than evolution.

But they gave Senator Brownback so little moral and financial support that he folded his candidacy a week ago. And they continue to stop well short of embracing Mr. Huckabee, no matter how many rave reviews his affable personality receives on the campaign trail. They shun him because they know he’ll lose, and they would rather compromise principle than back a loser.

Backing a loser, they know, would even further diminish their waning Washington status in a post-Rove, post-Bush G.O.P. The more they shed their illusion of power, the more they imperil their ability to rake in big bucks from their apocalyptic direct-mail campaigns. They must choose mammon over God if they are to maintain the many values rackets that make up their various business empires.

Hilariously enough, some other big names on the right, typified by Sean Hannity of Fox News, are capitulating to the Giuliani candidacy by pretending that he, like the incessantly flip-flopping Mitt Romney, is reversing his previously liberal record on social issues. The straw they cling to is Rudy’s promise to appoint “strict constructionist” judges to the Supreme Court.

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one. No matter how you slice it, the Giuliani positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control remain indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.

“You have absolutely nothing to fear from me,” Rudy disingenuously told the assembled at the Values Voter Summit last weekend. Actually, there’s plenty for everyone to fear from a Giuliani presidency, starting with the mad neocon bombers shaping his apocalyptic policy toward Iran. But that’s another story. Whichever candidate or party lands in the White House, this much is certain: Inauguration Day 2009 is at the very least Armageddon for the reigning ayatollahs of the American right.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

FEMA Meets the Press, Which Happens to Be . . . FEMA

FEMA Meets the Press, Which Happens to Be . . . FEMA

By Al Kamen
Friday, October 26, 2007; A19

FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely
many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices.

They were
given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the
notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing were carried live on
Fox News (see the Fox News video of the news conference carried on the Think Progress Web site), MSNBC and other outlets.

stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he
would take a few questions. The first questions were about the
"commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials
are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he
appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an
oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency
declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the
president. He once again explained smoothly.

FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker interrupted at one point to caution he'd allow just "two more questions." Later, he called for a "last question."

"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked. Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."

"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said, hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."

so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of experience,
the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership,"
Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina." (Wasn't Michael Chertoff
DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't
seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked
about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires.
And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on
about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the
questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the
questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

about this, Widomski said: "We had been getting mobbed with phone calls
from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute."

the staff did not make up the questions, he said, and Johnson did not
know what was going to be asked. "We pulled questions from those we had
been getting from reporters earlier in the day." Despite the very short
notice, "we were expecting the press to come," he said, but they
didn't. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like
the real thing.

"If the worst thing that happens to me in this
disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that
reporters had been asking all day, Widomski said, "trust me, I'll be

Heck of a job, Harvey.

He's Leaving, Not Quitting

David Denehy, a.k.a. "The $75 Million Man," who headed a controversial program to dispense that amount to promote democracy in Iran, is leaving his job today at the State Department to go private-sector as head of a small company.

a recent e-mail, Denehy said that "my decision to leave the
administration is due, in part, to my belief that I am better able to
serve the goals of the President's Freedom Agenda from outside the
government. While there have been many challenges to the work we have
done together, the rewards have been equally great."

More than
two dozen Iranian American and human rights groups said the Iran
program, which began last year, was "counter-productive" and led to
wider repression of activists who were accused of being foreign agents
or traitors. Four Iranian Americans were jailed for "crimes against
national security," the groups said in appealing to Congress to
eliminate the program, and continuation of the program would only
further endanger democracy efforts by giving the Iranian government "a
pretext to harass its own population."

But Denehy, in an e-mail
to us yesterday, said he's not leaving because of criticism of the
effort. "I continue to enjoy the support of my leadership," he said,
and "from Congress and more importantly from those within Iran who
participate in our programs. . . . I don't back away from a fight."

All the Same?

April 8, 2004: Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told the Sept. 11 commission that "terrorism is terrorism is terrorism -- in other words, you can't fight al-Qaeda and hug Hezbollah or hug Hamas."

don't make a distinction between different kinds of terrorism. And
we're, therefore, united with the countries of the world to fight all
kinds of terrorism. Terrorism is never an appropriate or justified
response just because of political difficulty."

Wednesday: Army Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, a senior member of the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
told a news briefing: "There are over 45 different organizations on the
State Department's list of terrorist organizations, and you can't look
at all of them the same way.

"If you look at all of these as
nails, then all of the solutions you have all of a sudden suddenly
start to appear like a hammer, and a hammer's not always the right

Hmmmm. . . .

Don't Forget Where You Came From

In June, Paul McNulty left the No. 2 job at the Justice Department -- and the hassle being called to Capitol Hill
to answer questions about whether politics played a role in the firing
of U.S. attorneys -- for a big-bucks partnership at Baker &
McKenzie in Washington.

He told the audience at an American Bar Association
conference in Washington yesterday that he's still getting the hang of
his new job. Talking about criminal-fraud investigations of big
companies, McNulty referred to himself as part of the government, then
laughed and told the crowd: "I have to get the 'we' out of my
vocabulary," our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

he needs to remember who's signing his paycheck. At the conference,
McNulty staunchly defended a DOJ policy that allows prosecutors to
strong-arm companies to comply with the feds.

Resourcefulness at the FAA, Cont'd

The Federal Aviation Administration calls to say that the poker table and other furnishings bought for the Atlanta
air traffic control center did not cost $3,500 by itself, as we had
written Wednesday, but only $795. And it's a "de-briefing table for
trainees," FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said, although you
"could flip over the top for the checkerboard on the other side," which
folks could use to relax during downtime.

Of course, they could
play poker on it. And since the FAA can't get around to spending a few
bucks to fix the chronically leaky roof at the center, the controllers
could put their equipment under the table so it's not damaged when it
rains. Beats using the umbrellas that they have to hold over the stuff

"It could be used for other purposes," Spitalieri conceded.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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Dems Hit White House Over Cut Testimony

Dems Hit White House Over Cut Testimony


Associated Press Writer

5:16 PM EDT, October 25, 2007