Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Newt Deal

With Newts conversion to Catholicism, his sins no longer exist. Thats what Deal Hudson told me, and he knows a thing or two about sin.

With Newt's conversion to Catholicism, his sins "no longer exist." That's what Deal Hudson told me, and he knows a thing or two about sin.

When Catholic University announced in January 2005 that Newt Gingrich would deliver a speech on campus, a group of students rose up in protest, accusing the twice-divorced, admitted philanderer of violating the Catholic values that their school was founded upon. Four years later, just last week, on March 24, Gingrich blasted another hallowed institution of Catholic higher learning: “It is sad to see Notre Dame invite President Obama to give the commencement address since his policies are so anti-Catholic values,” Gingrich wrote on Twitter of the president’s scheduled May address. What happened?


During the George W. Bush era, Gingrich rose quietly from the ruins of his failed crusade to impeach President Bill Clinton, trying to transform himself from a Republican pariah into a voice of conscience for the badly demoralized conservative movement. The religious-right elements that helped orchestrate Gingrich’s downfall as Speaker of the House became the catalyst for his resurrection and may now propel him into contention for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. But winning them over has not been easy. Before earning a seat at their table, Gingrich has had to confess his darkest sins and beg for redemption, first on the radio show of his former nemesis, James Dobson, and then before a priest at St. Joseph’s Rectory, a Catholic church on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, on Sunday, March 29, Gingrich converted to Catholicism, the faith of his third wife, Calista Bisek. Though the ceremony was announced without fanfare, leading Catholic conservatives like Deal Hudson are brimming with excitement. Hudson was the most important Catholic political adviser to President Bush and Karl Rove, founder of the seminal Catholic journal, Crisis magazine, and self-described “theocon.” He contends that Gingrich’s conversion represents more than a concession to his wife; it signals a dramatic break from the past, both personally and politically.

“From a Catholic point of view,” Hudson told me, “Newt’s sins no longer exist—they’ve been absolved. He’s made a fresh start in life. So Newt will continue to sin and confess but there aren’t going to be a lot of Catholics who will hold that against him. They understand why being a Catholic makes a difference.”

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The Backdoor Bailout Backlash

The bonuses paid to AIG executives from the insurance firm’s bailout fund have become a national outrage, and with good reason. Members of AIG’s financial-products division—the unit that sold more derivatives than the company could insure, bringing it to its knees—were essentially rewarded for their failures with $160 million in “retention” bonuses. When I went to Manhattan’s Financial District on March 20 to talk to people about AIG, the public’s anger and disbelief was palpable. Everyone from financial workers to street preachers seemed fed up. For example, when I jokingly raised a scenario to interview subjects where AIG executives were waterboarded until they returned their bonuses, few people even flinched. “If that’s possible, it would be a good idea,” one man flatly stated.

On March 23, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that nine of the top ten AIG bonus recipients had announced plans to return their bonuses. The news may create a sense that scrutiny of the bailout, however late it might have been applied, is forcing some important reforms. But an arguably greater outrage remains shrouded behind the bonus controversy: AIG’s secret funneling of tens of billions in bailout money to its counterparties, including several foreign banks. “People see that the guys that ruined AIG are getting paid more money, and that creates outrage,” investment-research specialist Porter Stansberry told Reuters. “If you want to be outraged, be outraged that the counterparties got paid out full value.”

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AJE on Freeman’s Withdrawal

A packaged version of my appearance on AJE. Hillary Mann Leverett, who has been consistently excellent as a counter-weight to the neocons, also makes an appearance:

So why has US cable news either avoided covering the Freeman withdrawal altogether, or downplayed the Israel Lobby element? I don’t think I need to answer my own question.

Following up on Freeman’s Sabotage, by “Max Blumenfeld”

I’m trying to get footage of my AJE appearance on Youtube. In the meantime, here is a write-up from AJE that includes some of my comments about Freeman:

Max Blumenthal, a blogger and journalist for the Daily Beast website who has been following Freeman’s nomination process, told Al Jazeera that his withdrawal was “a catastrophic defeat for the Obama administration”.

“What happened is the Israel lobby won,” he said.

“What [Freeman] said that I think is most remarkable in his statement, is that apparently the Obama administration will not be able to dictate its own Mideast policy and he places the blame for this squarely on the Israel lobby.”

Blumenthal said that the Israel lobby had “been furiously emailing sympathetic reporters, smearing him [Freeman] in public” and that “political decisions came into play with respect to [Freeman's] views on Israel and essentially his appointment was torpedoed”.

This was the Israel lobby’s “first all-out fusillade and they succeeded because they knew that Freeman would be dispensable to political elements in the White House that needed to court the Israel lobby, needed their money for senate races”, he said.

Also, Daniel Pipes refers to reporting by me, or at least some doppelganger version of me named “Max Blumenfeld,” to take credit for taking Freeman down:

Dear Reader:

As many of you may know, Charles Freeman has “has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed.”

What you may not know is that Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East Forum was the person who first brought attention to the problematic nature of Freeman’s appointment, in a February 19 blog titled “Alarming appointment at the CIA.” Within hours, the word was out; and three weeks later Freeman has conceded defeat. Only someone with Steve’s stature and credibility could have made this happen.

Even those who backed the Freeman appointment acknowledge Steve’s leadership in this effort. For example:

I congratulate Steve and am proud of this early achievement by the Forum’s newly created Washington Project.

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Pipes

Chas Freeman Speaks Out

Chas Freeman blames the Israel Lobby for forcing his withdrawal and says the Obama administration will not be able to dictate its own Middle East policy. Looks like he has seen the same emails I’ve been seeing:

“You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.

I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign.

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Freeman Withdraws Under Israel Lobby Pressure

Chuck Schumer has basically taken credit but as I reported for the Daily Beast, the Freeman hit was an Israel Lobby job from start to finish, originating on the blog of accused spy and former AIPAC director Steve Rosen,who now works for neocon Daniel Pipes. I will be on Al Jazeera English at 10:15 PM tonight to discuss the resignation. It is not receiving much coverage from the mainstream press — they don’t want to talk about the Lobby? — but it is extraordinarily significant. I consider the withdrawal it the first major setback of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Watch Al Jazeera English live here.

Accused AIPAC Spy Leads Attacks on Chas Freeman

Accused Israeli spy Steve Rosen was the first to attack Chas Freemans views on Israel and, ironically, to accuse him of loyalty to foreign governments

Accused Israeli spy Steve Rosen was the first to attack Chas Freeman's views on Israel and, ironically, to accuse him of loyalty to foreign governments

The assault on Charles “Chas” Freeman Jr., a former ambassador tapped to lead the National Intelligence Council, is the first blow in a battle over the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. Steven Rosen, a former director of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee due to stand trial this April for espionage for Israel, is the leader of the campaign against Freeman’s appointment. In his wake, a host of critics from the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg to the New Republic’s Marty Peretz have emerged to assail Freeman’s comments on Israeli policies and demand that Obama rescind the diplomat’s appointment. The campaign against Freeman spread to Congress, where a handful of representatives including the top recipient of AIPAC donations, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), called for an investigation of Freeman’s business ties to China and Saudi Arabia.

But it was Rosen who first publicly accused Freeman of unholy ties to foreign governments and Rosen who first attacked Freeman’s relatively benign statements about the Israeli occupation. His tactics follow a familiar pattern he has displayed throughout his career, in which he viciously undermined anyone in the foreign-policy community deemed insufficiently deferential to Israel—even his own boss. But with Rosen’s indictment for spying for a foreign government, his attacks are resonating less strongly than in the past.
“What’s so strange is that the face of the campaign against Freeman is Steve Rosen, and he is the weakest possible face,” said M.J. Rosenberg, a former colleague of Rosen’s at AIPAC who now serves as policy director for the Israel Policy Forum. “You couldn’t have picked anyone less credible to lead the charge.”
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The Rushed Rise and Fall of the RNC’s First Black Chairman

The RNCs first African American chair bows to a racist

The RNC's first African American chair bows to a racist

Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele assumed the Republican National Committee’s chair a month ago with great fanfare. The first African American elected to the position, Steele triumphed over a candidate who once belonged to a whites-only country club, and another who had distributed a CD that included the song, “Barack, the Magic Negro.” Days after taking over the party’s moribund infrastructure, Steele promised an “off the hook” PR campaign to apply conservative principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings”—offering the GOP a much-needed image makeover for the dawning of the age of Obama.

Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons hailed Steele’s election in an open letter, assuring his friend, “The hip-hop community remains eager to hear the views of national leaders like you…” But Simmons added a warning: “Don’t let those who are angry in your base guide your choices or let the people to the left of President Obama push your buttons.”

Of course, many of those to “the left of President Obama,” including members of “the hip-hop community,” greeted Steele’s election with a collective yawn. Meanwhile, the RNC chairman made little noise at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, with one exception that occurred only after he finished addressing a dinner banquet. He turned the mic over to Representative Michele Bachman of Minnesota. “You be da man! You be da man!” Bachmann repeatedly shouted to him. The awkward incident was among the evening’s top stories on cable news shows, while Steele’s jeremiad against Obama’s stimulus package went almost unnoticed.

When Rush Limbaugh basked in the CPAC spotlight for more than an hour and a half on February 28, drawing boisterous, sustained applause from conference attendees with a stemwinding speech reiterating his desire to see Obama “fail,” Steele took action. The following evening, on CNN’s D.L. Hughley show, Steele attempted to reassert control over the party. When Hughley referred to Limbaugh as “the de facto leader of the Republican Party,” Steele shot back, “No, I’m the de facto leader of the Republican Party!” And he mocked Limbaugh as an “entertainer” whose behavior was “incendiary” and “ugly.”

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More CPAC Video High (or Low?) Lights

 During day two of the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, I encountered former McCain-Palin surrogate Joe the Plumber (real name: Samuel Wurzelbacher) promoting his new bookJoe The Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream. While I stood in line to meet Joe, a star-struck young man asked him if he had plans to run for Congress. “Not for at least six years,” the unlicensed plumber announced.

When my turn with Joe arrived, I asked him to confirm a report that he had recently addressed congressional Republican staffers. Joe described how he gave his “uninvited opinion” to a captive audience of nearly 100 staffers, deploring the lack of leadership and “politically correct” tendencies within the GOP. “They did applaud,” Joe said of staffers’ reaction. “A lot of them did seem to like it.” A new Republican leader was born.

Inside CPAC’s exhibition hall, I met James Hutchens, founder of the Christian Zionist lobbying group, The Jerusalem Connection International. Hutchens told me his group favored forcing the Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan and from the Gaza Strip to Egypt. I asked him if he thought cattle cars would be an efficacious means of transporting the Palestinians to their new homes. “Certainly not cattle cars,” Hutchens said. “I mean, you can ride a bus across the Jordan River to Jordan.”

(More below the fold)…

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Phil Munger’s Open Letter to John “Konrad” Ziegler (and Palin Regrets Meeting Ziegler)

Phil Munger has written an open letter to professional rage-aholic “Konrad” aka John Ziegler. He points out quite correctly that Ziegler is impressed by power and by the powerful, especially Sarah Palin. Ziegler is, to paraphrase Carl Ford’s description of John Bolton, a kiss up, kick down kind of guy. However, after Ziegler released his interview with Palin in which she blamed the media for her plight (the full interview was shown at CPAC), she accused him of causing her more negative publicity. I also learned from Tommy Christopher, the AOL blogger who interviewed Ziegler and me at CPAC, that Ziegler privately admitted to using a false name to “get his foot in the door” with me; to essentially deceive me into appearing in his “documentary.” Munger’s letter is below the fold. 

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