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Ari Berman | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

Abramoff's First Casualty

Let's hope Rudy Giuliani picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal today. In its pages journalist Jeanne Cummings asks whether Ralph Reed will "become the first casualty of the Abramoff scandal?" Something for Rudy to remember when he campaigns for the onetime boy wonder's Lt. Governor bid in Georgia next month.

Reed's campaign, Cummings notes wryly, "is having trouble squaring his opposition to gambling with his work on behalf of Mr. Abramoff's casino clients." Here's the juicy backstory:

 

Between 2001 and 2003, Mr. Reed collected more than $4 million in fees from Abramoff clients with gambling interests, including Indian tribes. Mr. Reed's specialty was ginning up opposition from religious leaders to tribes trying to elbow into Abramoff clients' turf. Payments to Mr. Reed's firm were funneled through organizations such as tax-exempt or charitable groups aligned with Mr. Abramoff, which obscured their source.

 

 

Mr. Reed's work--and his emails--came to light last year during hearings by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and became a campaign issue. The Abramoff affair even shadowed the campaign kick-off, headlined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. In 2002, when the two men's lobbying firms had been on opposite sides of a Louisiana gambling fight between Indian tribes, Mr. Abramoff had bragged in an email to a colleague that Mr. Reed would get James Dobson, head of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family, to attack Mr. Barbour.

 

 

"Let me know when Dobson hits him. I want to savor it," Mr. Abramoff wrote in a separate email to Mr. Reed.

 

It's a testament to the enduring power and blindness of the religious right that Reed is still even in this race. But at least some of his former followers, Giuliani notwithstanding, are beginning to see the light.

As a former Christian Coalition activist who quit the Reed campaign put it: "Nobody likes to be a hypocrite and nobody likes to follow a hypocrite."

Giuliani's Boy Wonder

John McCain recently courted Jerry Falwell. So I guess Rudy Giuliani felt he needed to get Ralph Reed. According to the Associated Press, Giuliani has agreed to headline a fundraiser in May for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Gov.

Oh, the irony. A pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-gun control New Yorker stumping with a right-wing Christian crook. If Giuliani had to pick an evangelical activist to campaign with, couldn't he of found someone who wasn't Jack Abramoff's best friend? Shouldn't the so-called law and order Mayor be shunning a cynical political operator who defrauded fellow Christians and robbed and ruined Indian tribes? Doesn't he realize that a path to the presidency no longer runs through Ralph Reed?

Campaigning with the likes of Rick Santorum, as Giuliani did in Philadelphia today, is bad enough. But Reed represents a whole 'nother level of despicable. If Rudy wanted to show solidarity with a conservative moonbat, he should've picked Reed's primary opponent, Casey Cagle.

Fair & Balanced White House?

Finally, total synchronicity. Fox News and the White House are merging into one entity. Well, not really.

CNN just reported that a few weeks ago new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten asked Fox News's Tony Snow if he would be interested in replacing Scott McClellan as White House press secretary. CNN did not report whether Snow responded affirmatively and Snow refused to comment publicly. Funny how his website boasts of "The Power of Fox. The Connections of Snow."

This causes us to think of other potential White House hires:

Lou Dobbs as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

Geraldo Rivera as Secretary of Defense?

Bill O'Reilly as director of Faith-Based Initiatives?

Why not call it a day and hire Roger Ailes as communications director?

Bayh vs. Lugar

For months now, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has been traveling all across the country fashioning himself as the latest incarnation of warrior Democrat. A key part of Bayh's routine is talking "tough" on Iran. Bayh says Bush "was right to label Iran part of the axis of evil," and agrees with the President that a military strike option should remain on the table. Bayh recently introduced a Senate resolution calling for strict sanctions on the Iranian regime--including cutting off supplies of refined gasoline, denying foreign investment and isolating the regime "diplomatically, financially, and culturally."

No doubt Iran is a bad actor and its anti-semitic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a full-blown lunatic. But these sanctions sound very much like a pretext to war. If anything, they will only intensify Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapon. Which is why Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bayh to take a chill pill on Sunday. From ABC's This Week:

 

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, time for sanctions?

 

 

LUGAR: I would hold off for the time being until we're certain that they're going to be effective. And they will not be effective without European friends who are in our negotiations quite apart from the Chinese, the Indians and the others.

 

 

I believe, for the moment, that we ought to cool this one, too. The rhetoric has been pretty hot and heavy with the president of Iran on TV constantly. It appears to me they're not making that muchheadway. And we need to make more headway diplomatically.

 

Well said. If anyone wants to imagine what war with Iran might look like, read Sy Hersh's terrifying new piece in The New Yorker.

What Will DeLay Do? (WWDD)

What will Tom DeLay do next?

Will he form a ministry from prison, a la Chuck Colson? Will he join his lobbyist buddies on K Street? Will he become a right-wing activist? Or could he be headed for the White House?

According to US News and World Report, the White House is looking at "an outsider with strong fiscal conservative credentials" to head the Office of Management and Budget. The post became open when Josh Bolten was named George W. Bush's chief of staff a few weeks back. DeLay, apparently, is among the contenders--a fitting position for someone who consistently rubberstamped Bush's budgets in Congress. The rumor surfaced on Wednesday and, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be confirmed or denied.

The Hammer in the Bush Administration? Maybe it's not such a wild rumor after all. As recent events prove, he'd hardly be the first crook to enter, or exit, this White House.

Dean: No Dem Position on Gitmo

In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don't talk about it. So Kerry didn't, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib--or the Justice Department memo that 'broadened' accepted interrogations techniques--in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."

For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party's position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.

"We don't have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I've never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."

That frank response surprised a number of reporters in the room. Jane Mayer, who's reported extensively on the topic for The New Yorker, followed up by asking Dean why the stunning news of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the notorious CIA black sites overseas received only a "fleeting reference" in the new Democratic national security plan.

"There are an enormous number of issues," Dean said, and he worried Democrats were already talking about too many. Dean labeled the situation in Sudan's Darfur region as "clearly genocide," for instance, "but when it comes to Democrats ability to communicate with the American people, it gets dropped."

That's too bad. Democrats often speak too much about specific issues and not enough about broad values. Nothing is more immoral than genocide and torture. Democrats should say so loudly.

(PS: I'll have more of what Dean said at the breakfast later today.)

The Almighty's Plan for Tom DeLay

Now we know why Tom DeLay decided to quit Congress. It wasn't becausehe resigned as Majority Leader last September in advance of his moneylaundering trial in Texas. Or because his Abramoff-connected aidesran what the Washington Post dubbed "a far-reaching criminalenterprise operating out of DeLay's office." Or because was going tolose his re-election race this November.

No, it was because of the Lord. From Peter Perl's devastatingWP article on Sunday:

 

DeLay recently told one of his pastors that God wanted him to leaveCongress in part because He has bigger plans for DeLay. That pastor,the Rev. Rick Scarborough, introduced DeLay to a Christian conferencejust last week, saying, "This is a man, I believe, God hasappointed . . . to represent righteousness in government."

 

No, this isn't coming from The Onion, but courtesy of the author ofLiberalism Kills Kids, via the "War on Christians" conference.Naturally, Scarborough's the perfect pastor for DeLay now that hisold spiritual advisor, Ed Buckham, is moving from The Hammer to theslammer. Here's the really scary part:

 

In DeLay's world he answers only to a higher power, and his personalArmageddon has only just begun. He will artfully squeeze a load ofmoney from the Christian Right as he makes his thunderous argumentfrom multiple pulpits in the weeks and months ahead. The new TomDeLay will combine aspects of the Revs. Pat Robertson and JerryFalwell, and Lee Atwater, the late right-wing political consultantwith the legendary killer instinct.

 

Let me posit an alternate explanation. Now that DeLay's become a self-described sinner, it's time for him to go. Let us pray that hefinds salvation from a prison cell.

Berlusconi Backfires

Following up on John Nichols' post about Silvio Berlusconi's likely election defeat, I'm posting a dispatch from our ace Washington intern Cora Currier, who lived in Italy and, unlike the rest of us, speaks fluent Italian.

 

Berlusconi's parading as Bush's buddy at the start of the Iraq war was the least of his problems. Italy's slick, perpetually tanned billionaire prime minister will likely lose the election because, after five years of scandals and corruption, Italians have had enough of his antics. Before the election he ceded to overwhelming popular opinion by promising to pull Italian troops from Iraq by the year's end, but it was too late to save face.

 

 

While Italy's economy floundered, Berlusconi, ranked the country's richest man by Forbes Magazine, was busy re-writing laws to avoid charges of tax-fraud, corruption and bribery. During the run-up to the election, supporters of opposition candidate Romano Prodi protested the inequality of TV time between the candidates. Little surprise: through various businesses, Berlusconi controls an alleged 90 percent of the national media. Last week Berlusconi announced to supporters at a rally in Naples: "we will win because we are not coglioni," using a vulgar term literally meaning "testicles" to paint the opposition as "assholes." The next day, T-shirts were seen on the streets of Rome reading Io Sono un Coglione: "I am an asshole." Looks there are quite a few of them in Italy these days…

 

House Republicans: Bring Back DeLay

Oh, how House Republicans must miss Tom DeLay. There have been a series of embarrassments for the House leadership since DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader in September. The decision to pull their own 2007 budget from consideration on the House floor yesterday "was the latest and clearest illustration of the Republicans' difficulties in holding lawmakers together with a crucial election approaching," the New York Times wrote.

The aforementioned budget would extend Bush's costly tax cuts, add $3 trillion to the national debt over five years, and cut billions of dollars for education, job training and veterans health care. When conservative Republicans tried to enact even harsher budget rules limiting Congress's ability to control emergency spending for war and natural disasters, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis balked, dooming the budget for now.

The conventional narrative in Washington has been reversed. Democrats stood firm as Republicans fell apart. The so-called "party of ideas" have none, or at least can no longer agree on what they are.

Even DeLay concurs. "We don't have an agreed agenda," he told reporters this week. "Breaking up our leadership has taken its toll."

Cynthia McKinney, Enough Already!

The media should be talking about Tom DeLay and the collapse of the conservative movement. About immigration reform and the divide in the Republican Party. About how the Bush Administration is trying to export democracy to Iraq while cutting funds for democracy promotion. About how four House Republicans are pushing to force the House to debate the war. Or--if you want something seedy--about how yet another Bush Administration official was arrested, this time for trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl over the Internet.

Instead, they can't get enough of Cynthia McKinney, a controversial Democrat from Georgia who last week punched a police officer on Capitol Hill. It's not just Fox News. Wolf Blitzer had her in the Situation Room. Even Jon Stewart last night juxtaposed images of DeLay and McKinney, as if their sins were equal. And McKinney inexplicably keeps the story alive by holding media appearance after media appearance.

The Nation defended McKinney when the right-wing and AIPAC slimed her as an anti-Semite back in 2002. But, as far as I'm concerned, she's on her own now.

Maybe she was racially profiled, as McKinney adamantly claims. But there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Surely Capitol Police don't always recognize every member, especially when they've just changed their hair style and aren't wearing any identification. It may have been an honest mistake.

So, for the good of the country and your party Ms. McKinney, can we move on?

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