Saturday, June 27, 2009

Exceptional circumstances: A Canadian couple and their premature baby, currently receiving care in the U.S., must be reunited ASAP

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A sad, troubling, rage-inducing story from The Canadian Press:

A critically-ill premature-born baby from Hamilton is all alone in a Buffalo, N.Y., hospital after she was turned away for treatment at local facility and transferred across the border without her parents, who don't have passports.

Ava Stinson was born Thursday at St. Joseph's Hospital, 14 weeks premature.

A provincewide search for an open neonatal intensive care unit bed came up empty, leaving no choice but to send the two pound, four ounce baby to Buffalo.

Her parents Natalie Paquette and Richard Stinson couldn't follow their child because as of June 1, a passport is required to cross the border into the United States.

They're having to approve medical procedures over the phone and are terrified something will happen to their baby before they get there.

The Canadian Consulate in Buffalo is providing advice and guidance to the first-time parents, and their local MP, New Democrat David Christopherson, is working to arrange emergency passports.

But that will take until at least Monday afternoon and the situation is complicated by the fact the baby's dad has a criminal record.

"I just want to be with her," said Paquette.

"She only knows my heartbeat, my voice and her daddy's voice. It's all I can think about. I feel so helpless."

I won't get into the relative merits of the American and Canadian health-care systems here. Suffice it to say that there obviously need to be more neo-natal intensive care unit beds up here. Thankfully -- and this doesn't mean that the American system is better (after all, at least the couple and their baby are guaranteed care up here, thanks to our public system, even if it's not perfect) -- there was an opening south of the border.

That aside -- now that the baby is in Buffalo -- isn't this a clear case where the law must allow for an exception? No, the parents don't have passports, which are now needed (a rule that recently came into effect), and, yes, the father has a criminal record (I don't know for what, but I doubt he's a threat to American society), but surely the demands of the moment, the exceptional circumstances of this individual case (and the need for the parents to be with their baby at this difficult time, with so much uncertain) trump all other considerations, including the unfeeling application of the law.

It is likely, I suppose, that the couple will get their emergency passports. But will the U.S. then let them in? And will they get there in time, should the baby take a turn for the worse?

This story is simply heartbreaking. The powers-that-be on both sides of the border ought to work something out, quickly, that makes this happen, passports or no passports, criminal record or no criminal record.

This family must be reunited. Now.

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Forgive and forget

By Mustang Bobby

When the news broke that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and then Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) had confessed to having extramarital affairs (and in the case of Mr. Vitter, engaged the services of a prostitute), the knee-jerk reaction among the conservatives was to respond with "Spitzer-Edwards-Clinton did it too!" even if no one had brought up the former Governor of New York, the former Senator from North Carolina and presidential candidate, or the former president. It was a preemptive attempt to inoculate them from accusations of hypocrisy by distraction. It's a juvenile response and it really doesn't work because a) it's irrelevant, and b) why would conservatives, who make a living bashing liberals or anyone who doesn't toe their line of granular morality, want to compare themselves to people they view as moral degenerates?

There are a couple of reasons I can think of. For one thing, the Republicans have branded themselves as the party of morality and personal responsibility and held up the Democrats as advocates of "divorce, illegitimacy, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality and pornography." And yet the Republicans have supplied us with ample examples of their own "moral degeneracy," as Joe Conason delineates in

The supposed depravity of the Democratic Party has long been a favorite theme of conservatives, dating back to the rise of Newt Gingrich, who distributed an official campaign lexicon to Republican congressional candidates that featured such defining insults as "decadent," "permissive," "sick," "selfish" and, of course, "liberal." Back then the Georgia Republican was on his second marriage and carrying on a clandestine affair with the young Capitol Hill clerk who would eventually become his third wife (after he converted to Catholicism and had his union with wife No. 2 annulled). In 2007, he admitted on James Dobson's radio show that he was cheating on wife No. 2 with future wife No. 3 while he was publicly chastising President Clinton for consorting with Monica Lewinsky. Gingrich has remained a consistent favorite among his pious comrades.

Today, in fact, Gingrich is fully rehabilitated as a party spokesman, still nurturing presidential ambitions. So why should any other Republican fear the wrath of the righteous? The disappointment in Sanford and Ensign among the devout must be particularly keen, since they have so rigorously aligned themselves with the most fervent elements of the religious right.

For more than a decade, Ensign lent his name to Promise Keepers, the all-male Christian prayer movement run by a former Colorado football coach, whose mass rallies highlighted men's integrity, purity and uncompromising domination of family life. Both he and Sanford have worked closely with the Family, a secretive Christian fellowship on Capitol Hill that maintains a brick townhouse where Ensign and other members of Congress have resided. Over the years both men have won the highest marks from the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association -- and until the other day, Sanford was featured as an invited speaker at the Family Research Council's upcoming Values Voters Summit 2009. (As Pam Spaulding and Think Progress noted, however, the FRC removed his photo from the summit Web site immediately following his confessional press conference.)

Certainly there is considerable pressure for Sanford to resign in South Carolina, and perhaps he will surrender. But he might well ask whether that is fair when Ensign is hanging on and Vitter appears to be in the clear. For a while, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins had threatened to challenge Vitter in the Republican primary next year, but last March he announced that he won't run after all -- and instead endorsed Vitter for reelection. Amazingly, Perkins then hosted a radio broadcast with Vitter as his guest, where they tut-tutted over the alleged ethical problems of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Nobody had the poor taste to mention the infamous black books in which Vitter's friendly madams in Washington and New Orleans had inscribed his name and phone number.

That brings up another element in the equation. The conservatives are remarkably forgiving of their own transgressors. Mr. Vitter, Mr. Ensign, and Mr. Sanford still have their jobs, and the idea of quitting -- at least voluntarily -- doesn't get much traction with them or with their party. (The one exception was Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), who, when caught e-mailing sexually explicit messages to teenage boys, was out of a job and out of town before sundown. The difference, of course, was that he is gay. Gov. Mark Sanford's e-mails to his mistress are the stuff of bad romance novels, but he still has a job. There are even double standards in incriminating evidence.) Democrats are not so lenient. Mr. Spitzer resigned his office (as did Gov. Jim McGreevy (D-NJ) when he came out of the closet and admitted to an affair with his driver) and Mr. Edwards will never hold political office again.

Why is that? You could probably chalk the Republicans' ability to forgive and forget up to their Christian charity, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that they're just big old hypocrites who hold everyone else up to a higher standard than they are willing to hold themselves up to. (Either that or if they ran out everyone in the party who was divorced or had a fling, there would be even fewer of them than there are now.) And you can also assume that they will find someone else to blame for their own failings; back when Newt Gingrich was going through his divorce, his allies blamed it on Bill Clinton's culture of permissiveness, and now Rush Limbaugh is blaming Mr. Sanford's fling on Barack Obama and the struggle he had with the South Carolina state legislature accepting federal stimulus funds (bringing a whole other meaning to the term "stimulus package," I guess). So much for the "personal responsibility" party.

Moral failings and human frailties are oblivious to party allegiance. We all have them. So trying to exploit someone else's while holding yourself up as the paragon of virtue is destined for epic failure. That's harder to forgive and forget.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Emily Haines, Metric, and the joys of indie rock fusion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The album with the heaviest play on my iPod at the moment is Metric's marvellous Fantasies, released earlier this year. Fronted by Canadian singer-songwriter Emily Haines -- who has also done some impressive solo work (as Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton), and who, with guitarist and fellow songwriter James Shaw, is a member of Toronto's Broken Social Scene -- Metric is a sort of fusion indie rock band, New Wave synth pop combined brilliantly with guitar-oriented alt rock, with Fantasies leaning much more towards the latter than previous efforts.

Highly recommended. If you don't know Metric or the wonderful Emily Haines, give them a listen.

One of the real stand-outs on Fantasies is the opening track, "Help I'm Alive," a repetitive yet undeniably compelling, even hypnotic, song. Here is an accoustic version that, while not as good as the album version, conveys some of what makes it so good.

The second clip below is the video for another of Fantasies' best tracks, "Gimme Sympathy," with Haines in top form.



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Friday, June 26, 2009

The Reaction in Review (June 26, 2009)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Craziest Conservative of the Day: Gary Schmitt (for attacking soccer)" -- To quote: ". . . this is just yet another example of the right's deluded view of American exceptionalism: Americans are different. They're winners. To make the case that soccer proves this point is just silly. . . "; Michael makes his own case, point by point.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Michael Jackson (1958-2009)" -- This thoughtful and personal piece brings together all the contradiction, admiration, adulation, "embarrassing nostalgia" and downright sadness that was the man-child, Michael Jackson.


By (O)CT(O)PUS: "Clownfish of the week: Gov Mark Sanford" -- Our Contributor intersperses song lyrics with his own take of the Sanford saga.

By Carol Gee: "A bit of perspective on Iran" -- A compilation of news items from foreign sources covering the Iranian government's election crisis.

By Hamid M. Khan: "A genuine Islamic revolution" -- One of our Truman Project guest authors provides very significant -- a must read -- set of clarifications of the history, theology and politics of the Iranian people's struggles against their dictatorial "Supreme Jurist," or "Supreme Leader," to us.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "The humanity and hypocricy of Mark Sanford" -- Michael looks back at the week's coverage of the Sanford saga, with all its unanswered questions, and concludes with a wonderfully written, thoughtful and measured piece that reestablishes perspective on what the criticisms might need to be about.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "The right side of history: Obama stands up for 'the courage and dignity of the Iranian people' " -- Michael lauds President Obama's press conference comments about the struggle of Iran's people against their repressive government (See also Real Mousavi, Conservative contradictions).

By J. Thomas Duffy: "Governor Gaucho" -- Duffy, as only he can, cleverly frames the Governor Mark Sanford story within a 1927 Douglas Fairbanks movie; includes lots of Duffy's famous Bonus Riffs.

By Carl: "Linkage" -- Carl's made a very interesting connection between a couple of Iranian news items, resulting in an intriguing speculation about what Obama, the poker player, may be doing , if anything, regarding possible covert operations.


By Carl: "Why gun laws must be made harsher" -- Carl takes on "greedy" gun dealers who are selling firearms to people on terrorist watch lists. (See this post's interesting comment thread and the other side of this argument by Capt. Fogg "If . . . McCarthy" below).

By Mustang Bobby: "It's not about us" -- Bobby's made a very thoughtful argument against the demands from the right "that President Obama 'do more' about the turmoil in Iran."


By Capt. Fogg: "If Joe McCarthy were a Democrat" -- Fogg takes on NJ Senator Lautenberg's introduction of legislation regarding people on terrorist watch lists (whether justified or not, with due process or not) "that would give the U.S. Attorney General 'authority to stop the sale of guns or explosives to terrorists.'

By Anonymous (Guest post): "Who are Iran's security forces? And whose side are they on?" -- The author begins,"The regime's security apparatus is not a unified entity -- and each of its constituent parts has different responsibilities as well as different allegiances." [Michael's intro" The author, a Truman National Security Project fellow, travels regularly to Iran. For the sake of his/her security, his/her name cannot be revealed at this time.]

By Capt. Fogg: "We're so vain, we probably think Iran is about us" -- Fogg concludes, "when it comes to handling touchy and dangerous world affairs, Obama seems almost like a genius compared to the man the Republicans would have had as president, strutting about a stage like an overweight, underpowered Mick Jagger, singing 'bomb
bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.'"

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "The latest from Iran" -- Michael does a very useful roundup of what the leading news sources can report of the Iran election crisis, adding a few of his own reactions; several comments followed. See also Neda video.

Creature Feature: Who gets points? -- Jay Rockefeller, Arlen Specter, Time's Joe Klein on McCain, and The Big Picture's Barry Rithholtz on unemployment.

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Mark Sanford, you're no King David

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't written anything on the Mark Sanford saga since Thursday morning, when I commented on his humanity and hypocrisy -- what he did was all-too-human, however bizarre the contortions of his trip to Argentina and the lies of those close to him, but also, given his conservative Republican moralism, deeply hypocritical as well.

Since then, more has come out. For example:

-- His wife, Jenny, now says she's known about the affair since January.

-- Fox News, hardly a media outlet to pass up sensationalism, whatever its partisan leanings, reported that the mistress, a 43-year old resident of Buenos Aires, is professional, passionate, and beautiful -- and a brunette.

-- Politico reported that Sanford had initially booked a 10-day trip.

-- found the bar Sanford and his mistress went to, the owner of which noted that the two were "all over each other," "kissing, holding hands and drinking wine."

-- The woman's name, apparently, is Maria Belen Chapur. And, apparently, she's hot.

-- And then there was Dear Leader Rush, once again proving himself to be a top blowhard among blowhards, and spewing his usual partisan venom, blamed Obama for Sanford's demise.

In that last post of mine, I said I felt sorry for Sanford -- and certainly more so for his family, especially his wife. Do I still? Yes, I suppose I do. I may not agree with him on, well, anything, but I am not without compassion. I recognize that what he has done is not just all-too-human but all-too-common, and maybe he truly is remorseful. I hope so.

But it's hard to feel sorry for him when he's comparing himself to King David.

Yes, that's right. King David:

I have been doing a lot of soul searching on that front. What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very very significant ways. But then picked up the pieces and built from there.

May I say it again?

Mark Sanford... you're no King David. (Not that I knew King David, but I think I'm right.)

Now, I realize that the Bible is full of fictional(ized) stories meant to be edifying. And I realize, though I am neither Jew nor Christian (nor anything else of the kind), that those stories are not without value to all of us. They can say a lot to us, if we keep our minds open, and we can learn from them, Jew or Christian or not.

But come on... King David? Really? Is that the best comparison to be making at this point?

Sanford is saying many of the right things, and following the standard script -- confession, apology, determination to heal, dismissal of the story, hope that it fades from the media's attention -- but this wasn't one of them.

Now, should he resign? Well, that's not for me to say... ultimately, Sanford is answerable to the people of South Carolina, not to the rest of us onlookers and commentators. And South Carolinians are divided. A poll that was conducted shortly after his Wednesday press conference has it 50-42 in favour of resignation.

But Mark Sanford, to Mark Sanford, is King David, and he's not about to resign. (One of his advisors has said that resignation is not an option. Of course, that's what they always say.)

We shall see.

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A New York minute

By Creature

On the streets today I saw a person wearing a white glove in honor of MJ and another person wearing a green arm band in honor of the Iranian uprising. I'm not sure of the societal significance of the juxtaposition but I'm sure there is one (and I'd say it's not good).

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Rockefeller gets serious points

By Creature

The Charleston Gazette [via Benen]:

On Thursday, Rockefeller admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

The unfortunate part is that this should be obvious to all Democrats and it should be the mantra across the board (from the president on down). The public option is the point of reform. We need a big pool for the public to swim in together, otherwise we will continue to drown. If Republicans think the public pool is icky, and would rather swim with their exclusive, lobbyist friends, then they can stay out. We don't need them pissing in our pool any longer.

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The Torturer of Tehran

By Capt. Fogg

Saaed Mortazavi is sometimes called the “Torturer of Tehran,” but probably not to his face. The man also known as “Butcher of the press” has been given authority by the Iranian government to "interrogate" people involved, or said to be involved, in the demonstrations in Tehran.

Mortazavi earned his nicknames for his role in the death of a Canadian-Iranian photographer who was tortured, beaten and raped during her detention in 2003, says the Times Online. The TOT was behind the detention of more than 20 bloggers and journalists in 2004, held for long periods of solitary confinement in secret prisons, where they were allegedly coerced into signing false confessions.

I expect to be hearing a great deal about how Iranian concern over the strange results of the recent election are the products of American propaganda and the protest sponsored, choreographed, and financed from Washington, DC.

Of course, such things are more effective in terrorizing the locals than in convincing them that these confessions don'e have more to do with cattle prods and genitals than with American interference, but isn't it too bad that the US has lost any ability to deplore enhanced interrogation? Isn't it too bad that the US must remain silent about starting wars and killing people based on information extracted by torture?

Thank you, George W. Bush and all the other cowards who dragged our proud country down to the level of these savages!

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Craziest Conservative of the Day: Gary Schmitt (for attacking soccer)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For this post at the American Enterprise Institute's blog attacking "the beautiful game," soccer. It includes this remarkably inane passage:

As someone who didn't play soccer growing up, but had a dad who did and whose own kids played as well, I can say unquestionably that it is the sport in which the team that dominates loses more often than any other major sport I know of. Or, to put it more bluntly, the team that deserves to win doesn't. For some soccer-loving friends, this is perfectly okay. Indeed, they will argue that it's a healthy, conservative reminder of how justice does not always prevail in life.

Well, hooey on that. And, thankfully, Americans are not buying it.

That's right. His case against soccer is that it rewards losers. This is why it's still so unpopular in the U.S., which conservatives like Schmitt think of as some brutally Darwinian playing field, and yet is so popular in Europe and Latin America, where, apparently, losers prevail.

Of course, on one level, this is just yet another example of the right's deluded view of American exceptionalism: Americans are different. They're winners. To make the case that soccer proves this point is just silly, and hardly worth a response.

But let me make a few points anyway:

First, even if you accept Schmitt's point that soccer is for losers, it is simply not the case that soccer is the only popular sport in Europe and Latin America. Track and field is also popular in Europe, much more so, relatively speaking, than in the U.S. Is being able to run faster, jump higher or further, and throw further simply for losers? Furthemore, rugby is highly popular in the U.K. and France, as well as in South Africa and Oceania. Is rugby a sport for the losers who live there? In short, Schmitt's claim that the huge popularity of soccer in other parts of the world allows us to judge those parts of the world, both relative to the U.S. and in absolute terms, just plain stupid. Yes, soccer can help explain the world, as TNR editor Franklin Foer explained in his wonderful book, but not in the way Schmitt imagines. It certainly doesn't explain a world in which it's America versus everyone else.

Second, contrary to Schmitt, soccer is hugely popular in the U.S. The MLS, the professional North American league, is growing, but where it is truly popular is not at the professional level but at the amateur one, especially with youth. Does this mean that America's children are losers?

Third, Schmitt obviously doesn't know soccer. (How can he "unquestioningly" conclude anything without ever having played himself?) It can be a sport that rewards defence -- consider, for example, Italy's success at the international level, in World Cup after World Cup -- but it is simply not the case that the team that dominates usually (or often) loses. What soccer has he been watching? Has he ever seen Brazil play? Or Spain? (Yes, I suppose he saw Spain lose to the U.S. at the Confederations Cup, a stunning victory for an outmatched U.S. squad, but in recent years Spain has been one of the most exciting and, yes, most dominant teams in the world. And is it not possible for a team to dominate with defence, or with a system, as Italy often does? The Steelers won the Super Bowl this year largely because their historically great defence made up for a mediocre offence. They were hardly a dominant team, yet they triumphed. Schmitt wants "excellence" to "prevail," but excellence comes in many forms, and there is certainly excellence in soccer, excellence that prevails, even if Schmitt is too (willfully) ignorant to understand the sport, or to emerge from the depths of his ideological prejudices.

And that is what comes through here: ignorance. There may be some smart conservatives out there -- George Will on baseball, for example -- but with this one atrocious post Gary Schmitt makes himself look like an idiot and the rest of them, who may or may not agree with him, look bad.


For more on this, see Matthew Yglesias, as well as a fine rebuttal from Alex Massie (who makes the case that European sports leagues are actually more Darwinian than American ones).

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, what more is there to say? One of the genuine icons of our time, which says a lot about our time (more for bad than for good, I would argue), has died at the age of 50.

Like him or not, there is no denying Michael Jackson's significance in global popular culture. He was a star above stars, as outsized a celebrity as we have ever seen. He was an artist, I'll give him that, but he was so much more, and over the past twenty years or so his art, his music, receded further and further into the background, eclipsed by a life descending into sordid decay and the media frenzy that covered his salacious demise.

In this sense, he was one of the truly towering figures of our time -- and, speaking personally, one of the towering figures of my life. I was almost ten when Thriller came out -- and it was an event. I remember it well. It was right as I was growing up and into popular culture, as I was first listening to popular music in a serious way. The album was that touchstone that everyone needed to own, and I had my copy, and I listened to it, and loved it. "Beat It," "Billie Jean," "The Girl is Mine," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" -- these were the soundtrack of my life for a time.

The love soon faded. In my Grade 6 class, a year later, everyone seemed to adore him but me. I had moved on, notably to The Police. For some reason, in my mind, you were either a fan of one or the other, and I preferred a far greater album, Synchronicity, to Thriller -- even now, Synchronicity holds up as some of the best music of the '80s, as music that transcends that musically appalling decade and continues to be relevant, whereas Thriller remains very much of that time, a remnant of a time that evokes embarrassing nostalgia, the '80s version of what the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever meant to the '70s.

Of course, Michael Jackson was far superior to the Bee Gees, and much of what he did was quite good -- even if I now find almost all of it to be awful. Thriller was solid, Bad had its moments (like "Man in the Mirror," "Dirty Diana," and "Smooth Criminal"), and there were what I thought were good songs elsewhere (like "Say Say Say," a duet with Paul McCartney that was once, I am almost ashamed to admit, one of my favourites.

Bad came out in 1987. By the time the terrible Dangerous came out -- and it was already his eighth solo album -- it was 1991, and he was already something of a joke, if not yet quite the freakshow that he would become. The rest, of course, is history, and it didn't go well. The music was nothing memorable, and it was Jackson's personal life, and alleged criminality, that took over. He was still an icon, bigger than ever, the mystery only heightening the appeal (to many, if certainly not to me), but he was an icon to be gawked at, sensationalist tabloid fodder, not to be admired.

I don't know what he did or didn't do, but what is clear, I think, is that he was, through it all, a child, a developmentally stunted human being. There was something he had lost as a child -- his innocence, perhaps, or even the entirety of a normal childhood -- and he was looking for it. It is easy to conclude that what he may have done was despicable -- and, again, who knows? -- and that he was a pathetic monster hiding behind a plastic mask and a life of abject weirdness, but, in the end, I think it just comes down to this: The life of Michael Jackson was a life of sadness, a life that evokes sadness (in me, at least, looking back, thinking about his decline and fall, and about the culture that enabled the arc of his star, from childhood stardom to global megastardom to final implosion).

And now it's over.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Specter gets points

By Creature


Speaking moments ago to a large and animated crowd of union organizers and health reform advocates in a brewing house just North of the Capitol, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he supports a public insurance option.

"Schumer has it right about having a public component," Specter said.

Specter's is the ultimate political opportunist, but the public option needs all the senatorial help it can get, so good for Arlen. Now let's see how he actually votes.

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Clownfish of the Week: Gov. Mark Sanford


Photoshop credit: AZrainman

He disappeared from plain sight. When asked of his whereabouts, his cohorts refused to answer. Security, they said. His wife knew nothing. Reporters spotted his car at the airport. Rumors swirled. Something about taking a hike in the Appalachians. Finally, an admission, a clandestine trip … Yeee Haah … to Argentina!

Can’t you hear me, baby, rappin’ on your door?
Can’t you hear me, baby, rappin’ on your door?
Now you hear me tappin’, tappin’ across your floor.

For seven days and seven nights days, Governor Mark Sanford of South Caroline was missing. This is the same Governor Mark Sanford who refused to accept federal economic stimulus funds ... for the State of South Carolina that has among the worst unemployment stats in the nation … and failing grades in education.

Feel like a broke-down engine, ain’t got no drive at all,
Feel like a broke-down engine, ain’t got no drive at all.

This is the same Governor Sanford whose own legislature voted to accept the stimulus money and override his veto, whose own State Supreme Court upheld the state legislature that demanded the governor take the stimulus money; the same Governor Sanford from the same great state of South Carolina, rumors say, who wants to run for president of these even greater United States of Aye!

Lordy, Lord, Lordy, Lord, Lordy, Lord.

After seven days and seven nights, we discover Governor Mark Sanford had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he had been having … an affair! "I've let down a lot of people," said the governor at a news conference where he choked up as he ruminated on God's law, moral absolutes, and following one's heart. His family did not attend.

Feel like a broke-down engine,
ain’t got no whistle or bell,
If you’re a real hot momma,
drive away Daddy’s weeping spell.

At The Swash Zone today, the temperature is 87 degrees and sunny. Visibility is 10 miles, and the surf is calm. All resident clownfish have left our shores … bound for South Carolina.

(Cross-posted at
The Swash Zone.)

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Zero tolerance for zero tolerance

By Capt. Fogg

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

-US Constitution, Amendment IV-

But not if you're in school, not if it's about a commonly used non aspirin anti-inflammatory, not if there's a zero tolerance policy and not if the accusation comes from some other 8th grader who doesn't like your looks.

Did a school principal act illegally by having an 8th grade girl stripped to her underwear while she was searched for "drugs?" (Safford Unified v. Redding, 08-479) Clarence Thomas appears to be the only one on the US Supreme Court who thinks so, who thinks probable cause, a legitimate warrant, a reading of one's rights, and due process is a nuisance and a hindrance to dealing with the "scourge of drugs" by school administrators. He was the one dissenting voice today asserting that equal protection under the law is not equally available and that teachers should have powers the police don't have and far less responsibility and accountability to boot.

“The content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion,”

wrote Justice Souter for the majority and what an understatement it is. Should some schoolteacher be able to subject his charges to his own version of a totalitarian state; subject small children to sexual humiliation ad libidum; should some dodgy accusation be justification for warrantless intrusion and violation of our civil rights? We would be a sorry excuse for a free country, now wouldn't we? Would warrantless wiretapping and the end of Habeas Corpus and secret enemies lists and secret prisons be far behind? And of course we'd still have drugs anyway.

I'm glad Thomas is here to please the conservatives who loathe judicial activism, because this case points out just how necessary that "activism" can be to preserve justice in the face of the inumanity of some Americans.

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A bit of perspective on Iran --

By Carol Gee

Today's post is a compilation of news items from mostly foreign sources covering the Iranian government's presidential election crisis. It begins with how things were before Iran's world turned upside down. I conclude with a bit of perspective on U.S. national security, that reminds us of how lucky we are to have our solid new president around when the Middle East's beset by chaos.

How fast things changed after the election --
On June 15th, Russia's Ria Novosti reported that "the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday he welcomed the U.S. initiative to begin direct talks with Iran without any preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect."

Violence escalates -- This rare information is from The Washington Note, "Guest Blog: Dispatches from Tehran," (6/22/09). Steve Clemons introduces the blogger: "An anonymous student in Tehran who has been writing and speaking in the media under the name, "Shane M." has just sent in some more dispatches." The BBC News of 6/22/09 says that details are emerging about how "hi-tech helped Iranian monitoring" of its citizens during the protests, with the help of Nokia Siemens. The world was galvanized on 6/23/09: Memeorandum headlined, "Family, friends mourn Iranian woman whose death was caught on video," taken from Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times In summary: "Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, ‘was a beam of light’ and not an activist, friends say. The video footage of her bleeding to death on the street has turned her into an international symbol of the protest movement." Next "Fresh street clashes in Tehran" outside of parliament were examined by the Financial Times on 6/24/09.

World leaders responded -- The 6/23/09 BBC News reports that the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "urging Iran to end the violence." Summarizing: "United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon expressed his "dismay" at the use of force against civilians in the wake of Iran's disputed election." The Financial Times of London is of the opinion that President Obama "toughened his stance on Iran" after Monday, June 22. The BBC News (6/23/09) says that President Obama strongly condemned "unjust" violence of Iran clamping down on election protests, saying he respects Iran's sovereignty and that it was "patently false" of Iran to say the West was fomenting the unrest.

Calming worries -- President Obama's handling of the Iranian crisis has been right on point, in my opinion. His "heart broke" along with ours as young women, students and others who want freedom were murdered, beaten and imprisoned. But the deep unrest that might indicate a growing instability in the country is just that. It does not mean we confront a nuclear cloud as might have been the case in a Bush administration. David Morrison, who writes CQ Behind the Lines (6/25/09) said, to quote:
In pondering a nuclear-armed Iran, “no plausible scenarios come to mind where terrorism comes into play, or where Tehran ever would have any reason to share nuclear capability with a terrorist client,” an ex-CIA analyst writes in National Journal.

References -- from Tom Head who writes the Civil Liberties Guide:

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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A genuine Islamic revolution

Guest post by Hamid M. Khan

(You can find Hamid's previous guest posts here, here, and here. His bio is below. -- MJWS)

While history is replete with revolutions, successful ones are able to match a collective will with an endemic philosophy for change. Days ago, Iranians gathered to elect a president, but in the ensuing firestorm from Iran’s electoral results found reason to challenge Iran’s current government. And while there are almost an infinite number of reasons to alter the Iranian Republic, from the perspective of both Islamic thought and current practice, there is perhaps no better focus for a revolution than tearing down the post of “Supreme Jurist” and its current occupant, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

When reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi challenged conservative hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the presidency, a robust debate ensued. The electoral fervor prompted throngs to march into the streets, including a multitude of women and students, most of whom were born after the 1979 revolution. The anticipation, however, turned to outrage when it was announced that Ahmadinejad was the indisputable victor, a dubious claim at best given that authorities, among other things, could not have counted 40 million votes in a couple of hours.

Immediately, crowds challenged the results and quietly began to conclude that the manipulation was the doing of Khamenei. Initial impressions gave way to Khamenei’s pronouncement that the results were divinely inspired, despite the fact he previously asked the Guardian Council to investigate any election irregularities. Finally, after witnessing crowds not seen since the inception of the Iranian Republic, Khamenei mounted the pulpit adorned with Quranic verses at Tehran University during Friday prayers to assert once again the validity of the election (but before the Guardian Council could conclude its supposed investigation) and also to warn dissenters that continued protests would end in bloodshed. For many, it was clear the mandate of the people was being supplanted by Iran’s supreme leader, and pleas for denouncing the results turned into denunciations of a dictator.

While many are familiar with the broadest brushstrokes of the current Iranian regime, it is worth closer inspection. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei’s predecessor, and leader of the revolution, proposed that the Iranian government be divided between popularly elected individuals such as the president and, borrowing a page from Islamic history, a body of un-elected religious jurists. The idea was that popular rule would be moderated by clerics who would ensure the Islamic character of the notion, a role tracing back to early Islam and shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. Khomeini, however, did not stop there, but, using a twisted form Shiite theology, he created a position of unparalleled authority that many Shiites today believe is heretical to Islam itself.

Under Shiite belief, the Prophet Muhammad was succeeded by a finite number of direct descendants, known as the Imams, who were, among other things, infallible and direct interlocutors with God. The last of the Imams, known as the Hidden Imam, was thought to have gone into hiding (or occultation) centuries ago and is prophesied to return to Earth as the Messiah, or “Madhi,” to presage the Judgment Day. It is also believed that upon his return the Madhi will establish the perfect state, or a perpetual Kingdom of God on Earth. Using this Shiite devotion to the Madhi, Khomeini artfully established the position of the Valayat-e Faqih, or Supreme Jurist (misinterpreted as “Supreme Leader”), to sit atop Iran’s government and to act as agent of the Madhi before his return to earth. The heresy (and genius) of Khomeini’s theologico-political theory is that the Supreme Jurist is a parallel to the Madhi and, like the Imams of the past, possesses a divine authority equal to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Thus, when the 1979 Revolution prevailed, it was no coincidence that Khomeini was immediately declared Supreme Jurist. However, in the years following the Revolution, Khomeini invoked the Madhi to his largely Shiite population to usher in constitutional amendments that would turn Supreme Jurist from a religious figurehead into a near-absolute religious monarch. Today, the Supreme Jurist possesses the power to dismiss an elected president along with the power to veto all legislation and assert control over the judiciary, not to mention absolute control over the nation’s armed forces.

It should be noted, however, that a few vigilant followers quickly deemed Khomeini’s government as an aberration of both Islamic history and centuries of Shiite thought, not to mention religiously presumptuous in light of the fact that the only true government would rest with the Madhi. Khomeini, following the path of other dictators, dismissed, arrested, and even executed his detractors. When Khomeini died in 1988, his position shifted to Ali Khamenei, who had been hand-chosen by Khomeini as his successor. Khamenei’s selection, however, added insult to injury because, in theory, the Supreme Jurist was the most senior cleric of the community, who coincidently Khomeini had imprisoned long before. Khamenei, however, was weak to the task and outwardly lacked either religious credentials or the political charisma of his predecessor. For years, he stood in the background and has only emerged to demonstrate the weakness of leadership, all but urging violence upon those who would challenge an election and, ultimately, his authority.

With Khamenei at his weakest, it is time for all of Iran — women and students, old and young, including the clerical elite, who have already shown unparalleled bravery — to struggle in the spirit of Islam against the injustice of their own government and to bring to an end the totalitarian rule of the Supreme Jurist. The theological predicate has been laid as clerics throughout the Shiite ranks (in and outside Iran) have become outwardly skeptical of the religious underpinnings of the Supreme Jurist. And with the bloodshed in the streets all throughout Iran, including the vicious murder of the woman simply known as Neda, it is clear that Khamenei has lost his moral authority to rule.

It should not be forgotten that it was failure of moral authority to lead a nation that brought about the revolution in 1979. Now it is time to usher in a genuine Islamic revolution in 2009.

Hamid M. Khan is a fellow with the
Truman National Security Project, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Law School, where he teaches Islamic Law, and an associate with the law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

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The humanity and hypocrisy of Mark Sanford

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Mark Sanford is no longer missing, but he's obviously lost." So writes Slate's John Dickerson to open an article on the Mark Sanford saga that, in light of what we learned yesterday, adds some much-needed humanity, largely out of respect to Sanford's own humanity, to what has been, in some circles, a case of gleeful Schadenfreude.

It's an article that really got me thinking last night. Hopefully this makes sense.

I and many other bloggers and political commentators were making a big deal out of the Sanford saga. At first, though, it was rather easy to. The man upped and disappeared, ditching his security detail and not even telling his family where he was going over Father's Day weekend. Plus, it seemed like his office was lying, or that he'd been lying to his staff. (His wife said he was off writing. His staff said he was hiking. Surely there was inconsistency there.) And then there was the not-so-small matter of a sitting governor just leaving. It all seemed rather weird, and I think it was only proper to ask questions.

Which is the point that many observers were making, myself included: There were more questions than answers. What was needed was answers.

Well, the answers came yesterday, in an awkward and uncomfortable press conference, a confession in front of the press, and, yes, Sanford revealed himself to be... a human being -- deeply flawed, perhaps, or perhaps even broken, but much like the rest of us all-too-human human beings.

And, yes, I do feel sorry for him. (He and his wife, Jenny, have separated. Read her statement here. I have been through too many personal difficulties of my own over the years not to be sympathetic. I do not envy them.)

Here at The Reaction, there was a difference of opinion with respect to whether even to cover the saga in the first place (with me writing extensively on it, prior to Sanford's return, and Carl arguing yesterday that Sanford's philandering is simply not "within bounds").

The saga remains a huge story, though, and so we continue to cover it, but, now that we know what happened, more or less, we can acknowledge that it's really none of our business. Sanford's personal troubles, I mean. He will have to live with what he has done, and his family will have to try to recover. It doesn't seem quite as funny, though it remains rather disturbing, that he took off for Argentina while his staff, clueless or covering up, put him somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.

Where there is an issue, though, is with the hypocrisy of conservative Republicans who talk family values but don't live up to the talk. It's an old story, yes, and there are many of them: Vitter, Foley, Ensign, Gingrich, etc.

To me, that is the story, or a big part of it, and it is what separates liberals from conservatives. Liberals and Democrats have, to be sure, found themselves at the center of media storms over their philandering: Clinton, Edwards, etc. But neither Clinton nor Edwards was a moralist or a theocrat. They revealed themselves to be flawed human beings, but they didn't promote conservative "family values." There was no hypocrisy.

"The State has no place in the bedroom of the nation," said Pierre Trudeau, one of Canada's greatest prime ministers, and, to me, that applies to all of us. The nation -- the people -- has no place in anyone's bedroom, unless there is harm being done, unless there is just cause to intervene.

In this case, we have no place in Sanford's bedroom, or in the middle of his family. What he did in private, in Argentina or elsewhere, is his business -- and his family's. But what he did in public -- the executive of a state using state property, and temporarily leaving the state on personal business without, it would seem, informing all those who needed to know, as well as what he has said and the policies he has supported as an elected official, namely, the moralism of the right -- well, that's the people's business, too, especially so in a democracy.

Liberals, in particular, should respect the public/private divide and give Sanford space. It makes no sense, and it is just plain ugly, to gloat over the very human failings of another human being. But I think we are right to point to the hypocrisy, and to marvel at the arrogance of one who forces his morality on everyone but himself.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Governor Gaucho!

By J. Thomas Duffy

The 1927 movie, starring the great Douglas Fairbanks (and Lupe Velez), The Gaucho, carried this riveting teaser:

A glorious tale of gay adventure and romantic daring on the wild plains of South America!

Saints and cutthroats! Shrines and robbers' lairs! A madcap mountain lass and a bandit chieftain---the Gaucho! A fiery tale of the most picturesque adventure beyond the Andes!

If Fairbanks was the prototype swashbuckler, then South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford takes the crown for being the seminal "swashbumbler."

We really wanted to stay away from this story as it exploded on the World Wide Web over the past two or three days.

It was clear, from the get-go, that this madcap adventure by Governor Gaucho was FUBAR all the way.

And we do want to give props to Larisa Alexandrovna, who was on-the-money early today -- before Governor Gaucho's pathetic press conference -- with "Did Gov. Sanford go on vacation with a mistress?":

Now, if I remember correctly, Argentina has phones and televisions. Why could his staff or anyone else not reach him for nearly a week? Moreover, his security detail was not with him. So unless the guy actually was in rehab all this time, the only other logical explanation is that he went on an unplanned trip or lied about a planned trip and wanted to keep it secret, to the point of causing national hysteria regarding his disappearance. The only reason to be that secretive is if you are taking a trip with a special friend.

I should note that I am speculating and have absolutely no proof that Sanford was vacationing with a lover. Yet as an investigative reporter I can tell you that his story is not credible.

Yes, Governor Gaucho was "vacationing with a lover."

I will speculate that Team Governor Gaucho would have stuck to the story, that he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail, if only it didn't surface that the first day of summer, this past Sunday, when Governor Gaucho was said to be on-the-trail, happened to be National Hike Naked Day.

Story not credible?

How's this endorsement from his wife, yesterday, as Team Gaucho Governor still was running with the intrepid hiker line:

A CNN reporter tracked down Jenny Stanford at her Sullivan Island vacation home. Sounding less like the wife of a 2012 presidential contender and more like America's favorite reality TV star announcing her separation from her husband, she said: "I am being a mom today. I have not heard from my husband. I am taking care of my children."

Jenny Stanford had helped stoke the story yesterday when she told the AP she didn't know where her husband was.

It's unclear why hiking the Appalachian Trail would be something Sanford would keep from his wife.

What Was Rory Gilmore Doing At Governor Gaucho's Press Conference?

So, all the whispers ended today, when Governor Gaucho stood up to do a rambling press conference (and yes, he has separated from his wife, so, thankfully, we didn't get the Mrs. David-Vitter-Tammy Wynette-Stand-By-Your-Man, Bad-Politician's-Wife-Theater), perhaps attempting to stay ahead of this strengthening tsunami-of-a-story, and the hometown paper that has, and will be printing (drumroll, please), EMAILS!

Two, mutual feelings ... You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details ...

Good call there, Governor Gaucho, don't go there ...

And one more thing about the press conference:

You can watch it HERE (via MSNBC), and, shortly after it starts, behind Governor Gaucho, and, also, a man in a white polo shirt, is a young woman, who uncannily looks like Rory Gilmore.

Was the Yale Bulldog covering this?

Roland Hedley Aiming For A Pulitzer

One of Gary Trudeau's amazing characters, Roland Hedley, on his Twitter account, has been pounding the pavement on the Governor Gaucho story -- thankfully!

A sample:

Prearranged for me to ask second question at Sanford presser. Will be reading question from Argentinian hiker.

Haley Barbour waits 4 mins, then elbows past Ensign, steps over Sanford: "Excuse me, y'all. Comin' through. Excuse me..."

Just terminated 14 email relationships. No more direct messages, please.

Children, elderly banned from Sanford presser over concerns of possible Full Monty.

Sanford story checking out. Campers in Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay report sightings of fast-moving, naked hiker.

Lastly, another bizarre, ironic twist to the Tale of Governor Gaucho:, who pointed to this article, from earlier in the month:

Sanford touts individual readiness ... Governor urges residents to have evacuation plans, emergency kits with proper supplies

We will be hearing, in the days, weeks, and months ahead, all about Governor Gaucho's "individual readiness."

Olé - Bonus Governor Gaucho Riffs

Zachary Roth: Sanford Press Conference Leaves Unanswered Questions

Will Bunch: No one would ever look for OUR governor on the Appalachian Trail!

Blu Gal: Dear Mrs. Sanford

Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo: what is it with these repressed republicans?

Think Progress: Will Republicans ‘Ask Questions’ Of Sanford, Rather Than ‘Circle The Wagons For One Of Our Tribe’?

Joe Gandelman: Two Reasons Why Mark Sanford’s Political Career Is Now Dead

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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By Carl

We may never know for certain the role, if any, the CIA and MI6 has played in fomenting the Iranian protests, but I do think these two items are linked in some way:

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian authorities said Wednesday they have arrested several foreign nationals, some with British passports, in connection with the country's post-election unrest.

WASHINGTON — President Obama hardened his tone toward Iran on Tuesday, condemning the government for its crackdown against election protesters and accusing Iran's leaders of fabricating charges against the United States.

Obama fancies himself a pretty good poker player (by all accounts I've read, he is) and so what I'm seeing here is a classic bluff: caught with his friend's hand in the cookie jar, Obama is trying to fishtail his pursuers by divesting himself of any knowledge of the British nationals in Iran. He attempts this by amping the pressure on his opponent, "upping the ante" as it were.

Despite all appearances, poker is not a card game. It's played with cards, but it is a really good test of one's ability to size up someone else's behavior, and as such is far more psychological than a mere game of chance. You don't win with your hand, you make the other guy lose with his.

Many in the popular press have said this was Obama's capitulation to the Republican party, that the pressure on him to upgrade his rhetoric is his way of getting the GOP off his back.

Bollocks, to continue the British theme. Re-read that article about Obama's poker strengths, and then consider this:

Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. (wish that was original with me, but it's a paperweight on my desk)

In other words, making him lose with his hand.

President Obama has very carefully made the case for supporting the opposition uprising without making any overt attempts at interfering with the democratic process or sovereignty of another nation, no matter how anathemic that nation is towards us. This was the lesson lost on both Bushes (you may recall that Bush the Elder goaded the Kurds into rising up against Saddam Hussein, only to abandon them after Gulf War I).

Thus, Obama has left the patina of propriety against Iran's charges that Obama has meddled in its internal affairs. Ahmadinejad's words carry weight within Iran and to an extent the Muslim world, but beyond that, cooler heads recognize that Obama has been scrupulously careful in his choice of words.

Let's assume that I'm right (usually am) and that the CIA has been operating behind a curtain to instigate an uprising. We would not expect Obama to come out and pre-emptively admit that he has done this based on the capture of some British nationals. On the other hand, not ramping up the rhetoric, particularly in light of the death of Neda Agha Soltani, would have been viewed in many quarters as a singular admission of complicity.

The Republicans, for sure, would have gone after Obama hard on this. After all, millions have witnessed her death on YouTube and the nightly news now. But her death occured four days earlier, certainly in time for Obama to have his posse make the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows to condemn Iran more forcefully.

And yet, he waited. And then the Brits were captured.

I suspect this broadside was fired in order to return attention where it rightfully should be focused: On Ahmadinejad and the Ruling Council, and their attempts to tamp down what is clearly a significant minority if not a majority of Iranians. Ironically, none of this was necessary as Ahmadinejad probably won the election in the first place, albeit not by double digit pluralities.

Politicians make mistakes, especially when they believe they are beyond reproach.

So, under the political cover of his domestic critics (see, they aren't useless idiots!), Obama was able to lash out at Iran with little to fear in terms of repercussions, and should an American turn up in the Iranian net, well, that's just a decoy now, since Obama has raised the stakes.

Another chip in the pot.

It's hard to say where this is headed. For one thing, no matter who won the election, Obama is going to have to deal with the Ruling Council through their stooge. For another, Ahmadinejad would have a strong voice, even a shadow government, should Mousavi prevail, and Ahmadinejad would have to be confronted eventually. Obama's hand seems fixed.

Now, it's just a matter of getting the Iranians to lose with their cards.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Sanford and sun

By Carl

Unlike many of my fellow bloggers (not just here but Blogtopia (©Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo) wide, my attitude towards this story is "I don't give a flying fuck."

Here's why:

1) I believe that in order to fix the very real problems facing this nation, we have to beat the bastards on substance.

2) I don't believe that a person's humanity is within bounds. It wasn't for Clinton and while we had great sport with hypocrisies at that time, that was a different era. There, the Republicans were attacking the very foundation of the nation over a blow job. What's at stake here? Not a goddamned thing.

3) As an erstwhile philanderer myself, I can guaran-damn-tee you this his hurting his wife more than him, and we ought to respect that, unlike the Republicans who went after John Edwards after he dropped out of the race.

Now, issues of substance have been raised, both here and elsewhere. Let me address those.

Sanford ditched his sworn duty to the people of South Carolina. Possibly. That takes into account the stories that his staff and his wife "did not know his whereabouts" and then made up a story.

That is a very, very VERY large assumption on our part. Which is more likely: a high profile governor "abandoning his post", or his staff covering for a very public (
his wife admits she'd known for months) affair?

Occam's Razor and all.

Sanford jeopadized his state. What if an emergency had happened? Now, here is a truly substantive point that has no defense, and should be brought up.

But let's face facts: it's small beer and hardly worth the left getting all giddy over. The state will handle this and that should be all we need to cover.

By the way, now we know why he was able to refuse the stimulus package...

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