Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bring It On

Former NH Governor Jeanne Shaheen has just announced that she will be running for the US Senate seat currently held by John Sununu, Jr. In 2002, Shaheen and Sununu both ran for that same seat, in a hotly contested race that resulted in a controversial victory. We all remember the phone jamming scandal, where the Republican Party paid a consulting group to hire an Idaho telemarketing firm to jam lines that were being used by the Manchester Democrats to make get out the vote calls, and arrange transportation to the polls. We can only speculate as to how much the jamming of phones in NH’s largest city contributed to the Sununu victory. It was an ugly incident in our nation’s political history, and made uglier by the attempts at a cover-up. The investigation into the phone jamming was conducted at the slowest speed possible, rivaled only by the slowness with which the 2001 anthrax investigation is still being conducted.

Back in 2002, the GOP was determined to hang on to the Senate seat that Bob Smith was vacating. Jeanne Shaheen was a popular governor, and a real threat to the GOP entitlement to that Senate seat. Chuck McGee, who was then the Executive Director of the NH Republican State Committee spoke with James Tobin, who was then the New England Regional Director of the Republican National Committee and the Northeast political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McGee told Tobin he wanted to hire a telephone service to jam Democratic phone banks on the day of the election.

The job was outsourced to GOP Marketplace, who in turn outsourced the job to Mylo Enterprises, an Idaho telemarketing firm, for $15,6000, which was paid by the NH GOP. After the story broke in 2003, Allen Raymond of GOP Marketplace and Chuck McGee both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate telephone communications with the intent to annoy or harass. James Tobin was convicted as well. You’d think the GOP would want to distance themselves from such a villain – but that has not been the case. In fact, they’ve paid Tobin’s legal fees, to the tune of over $3 million. Tobin appealed his conviction, and was granted a new trial. He’s now moving for a judgement of acquittal.

There are still many unanswered questions in this case. At the top of the list:
• 22 phone calls were made exchanged between the NH GOP and the White House Office of Political Affairs during the period that the phone jamming took place.
• The Republican National Committee paid over $3 million in legal fees. Why?
• John Durkin, (attorney for the GOP defendents) was told by a Department of Justice prosecutor that all decisions in the phone jamming case had to be approved by the Attorney General himself. This ensured that the case went nowhere until after the 2004 election.

Congressman Paul Hodes has recently called upon the House Oversight Committee to investigate whether the White House was illegally involved in the phone jamming, and whether the Department of Justice intentionally mishandled the investigation. Given all that we’ve learned about the Department of Justice in recent months, this is hardly an outrageous suggestion. One might think that we would all want to know if this scandal goes all the way to the White House. One might think that we would all want to know if the Dept. of Justice deliberately stonewalled the investigation. As is so often the case here in NH, one would be wrong.

The reaction from Republicans around the state has been hilariously predictable. There are the screams of outrage about “wasting the taxpayers dollars” on this investigation. I don’t seem to remember that kind of screaming when Kenneth Starr spent $70 million on his bag of nothing investigation. Best of all are the cries of “this happened 6 years ago – it’s ancient history!!” Please remember that the next time a Republican dredges up Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Gerry Studds, or Bill Clinton for that matter. Apparently the statute of limitations on GOP crimes and misdemeanors is much shorter than the one applied to the rest of us. The bottom line is pretty simple. The GOP does not want this investigation – and not because they have concerns about taxpayer dollars. They have no qualms about spending a billion dollars a day in Iraq. There is only one reason they fear this investigation – they don’t want us to know how far up the ladder the corruption actually reaches.

The Shaheen – Sununu rematch means that the phone jamming scandal will be back in the forefront again. What better time to ensure that the voters of NH finally find out the whole truth? If the White House was not involved, if the Dept. of Justice was not involved, there is no reason to fear investigation. Many of us feel that our election processes have been subverted, beginning in the year 2000, when we were given our first court appointed president. We know that electronic voting machines can be rigged. The voting public is more cynical than ever about the integrity of our elections. We need to restore honesty and transparency to our electoral system, and the best way to begin is by exposing the chicanery of the past.

A common Republican mantra around the Patriot Act goes like this: “if you aren’t guilty, you have nothing to fear.” If that’s the case, the folks in the NH GOP should be telling Congressman Hodes to “bring it on.”

“We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.” Aristotle

Jailhouse Jesus

Few amongst us are saintly enough to avoid a chuckle when those who place themselves high above us take a moral tumble. We’ve all seen plenty of coverage of the bathroom antics of Senator Larry Craig. Some readers will remember TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart blubbering on national television, after getting caught with a hooker, or former Arkansas Representative Wilber Mills, who failed to run for re-election after exotic dancer Fannie Fox (the “Argentine Firecracker”) leaped from his car and jumped into the tidal basin in DC, in an attempt to elude the police who had pulled Mills over for speeding. Let’s not forget Pastor Ted Haggard and his meth buying and male hooker massaging. When those who make a point of sticking their morality in our face are caught with their bathroom stance a little too wide – it’s hard to resist the urge to snicker.

On the subject of Senator Craig – one reason this was all so funny was because his story was often juxtaposed with old footage of him calling Bill Clinton “naughty.” Well, there was also his silly story about the “wide stance.” If you’re sitting with your pants down in a confined space, how big can your sitting “stance” be? And why don’t the Republicans grasp the simple concept that if it were okay to be a gay Republican, they wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep the closet door locked?

We’ve certainly had our share of local cases. Who can forget Walter Preble’s miraculous jailhouse conversion to Christianity? Preble was arrested in the 80’s after being convicted of distributing drugs. He was caught with a whole lot of marijuana on a private plane. While incarcerated, he, like so many, found Jesus. Some readers will recall his letters to the editor, praising the Lord and damning the homosexual. Those letters made many of his former customers laugh their way into clean underwear. The letters tapered off, and so, apparently, did Walter’s connection to Jesus, since he was arrested earlier this year. He must have been sampling his own wares, since he stopped at the police station (always the thing to do when one has outstanding warrants) to report a traffic accident. The police found most of what he owned in the car, as well as his passport and a suitcase full of marijuana. Marijuana is proven to cause short term memory loss – and this case would seem to back that up. Preble forgot about Jesus, and forgot about his outstanding warrants. Now that he’s back behind bars, will he turn again to God – or will he try something more original?

The jailhouse conversion isn’t anything new – as long as there have been prisons, there have been people wailing and moaning that they’d seen the light. The latest celebrity conversion is Michael Vick, the NFL player who is facing federal charges of running a dog fighting operation. Vick has stated that he also executed injured dogs. He may be looking at spending some time in the big house, so before he loses the multimillion dollar salary and endorsements, he’s preemptively asked Jesus for forgiveness and turned his life over to him. I’m sure he really means it – that the money and perks mean nothing to him. *cough*

Paris Hilton was seen toting a Bible around before her jail term for violating probation, but during her 23 day stint in jail, she called Barbara Walters to share how debilitating her experience was, and how God was giving her another chance. She told Walters “I am a changed woman.” It seems to be true. Since she rejoined the party circuit of the idle rich, we have seen no pictures of her without panties. We should all give our thanks to God, Allah, Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that.

Manuel Noriega had a portable baptistery set up in a courtroom, and was given the full immersion by security guards, during his prison stay. Is he sincere, or is this opportunistic? Stay tuned – Noriega has more jail time ahead of him. Finding Jesus may have saved Oklahoma bombing conspirator Terry Nichols from the death penalty. Is Nichols for real, or trying to stay alive? We may never know, since he’s unlikely to ever see the outside world again. To be fair, the conversions aren’t always false – Nixon operative Charles Colson came out of prison and began a prison ministry.

Another local favorite was Kevin Deschenes, who had a lunch truck business called “Daily Manna.” He drove that lunch truck like a lunatic – speeding and running people off the road. Jesus must have been telling him to put the pedal to the metal. Jesus also seems to have told him that he needed to supplement his business by selling marijuana. When he was arrested, the police found over $4000 worth of pot, cash, and drug paraphernalia. At one point he tried to tell the cops that the marijuana was for Christmas presents. I guess it’s possible that all of his family and friends have either HIV/AIDs or cancer. Perhaps I’m too cynical – but invoking Jesus in an attempt to save your bacon has been done to death.

It’s awfully hard to take any of these people seriously. It will be interesting to see if Jesus helps Michael Vick beat the rap, or lessen his sentence. Time will tell how serious any of these conversions are, and in the case of Preble - time and letters to the editor. I can’t wait!

“God: The most popular scapegoat for our sins.” Mark Twain