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Q: Who's Running Against Hastert in Illinois? A: 32-Year Old Vet with Intelligence Credentials You Say?

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 8:41 PM EDT

Our own Josh Harkinson has just put up a story about John Laech, the 32-year-old vet who's running against the embattled Denny Hastert. The NYT has its doubts that he can make a real run this late in the game, but on the other hand, he seems like the perfect candiate for the moment. As Josh writes:

Looking for adventure and a challenge, Laesch joined the Navy in 1995 and rose to a post in Bahrain as an intelligence analyst. His job included monitoring video footage from Iran. At the time, a popular parade route in Iran had been painted with American and Israeli flags so that soldiers could trample them when they marched past. But after Iran's moderate president Mohammad Khatami came to power, Laesch noticed the flags were removed. He saw the move as an opportunity for rapprochement which was later dashed when President Bush dubbed the country part of the Axis of Evil. "Our actions create an equal and opposite reaction on their side," he says. "And this is why terrorism is growing."
Honorably discharged in 1999, Laesch studied history and political science at Illinois State University and was drawn to politics. In 2004 he talked with men who worked at a Maytag factory that was shuttering in the town of Galesburg and moving to Mexico. "That bothered me," he says. That year Laesch managed the congressional race of Democrat David Gill, a doctor running for the 15th district of Illinois on a health care platform. He felt under qualified for the job, but even so, Gill turned in a strong showing. The next year, when Laesch's brother, Pete, was sent to Iraq a week after his wife gave birth to a child, the munitions sergeant urged his brother to run against Hastert. "It hadn't even realistically crossed my mind," Leasch says, "But when Pete got his orders to Iraq, I said, 'I'm gonna do it.'"
tLike many "fighting democrats," Laesch believes the U.S. needs to set a imetable to withdraw from Iraq—arguing that a widespread belief among Iraqis that U.S. forces are on an imperialist mission is fueling the insurgency. He also wants to see a wider peacekeeping role for the United Nations and the Arab league, but doubts the Bush administration possesses the diplomatic resources to pull it off.

Anti-war, anti-pedophilia sentiment isn't the only thing going for Laesch in Illinois District 14. Locally, he says, Republicans have been less outraged by the sex scandal than revelations that Hastert used a federal road project to pad his bank account. A former high school wrestling coach who entered politics a man of modest means, Hastert personally earmarked the highway bill last year with $207 million for the Prairie Parkway, a road that serves about as little purpose as its name implies, many locals say, but which will run within a few miles of land Hastert bought in 2002 near Plano, Illinois. Hastert and his business partners then sold the land to a developer, netting a cool $1.8 million.

And I'm not even reprising Laesch's time in Africa...

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Fox: Republicans in Meltdown! Massive Losses! Hastert Must Go!

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 8:23 PM EDT

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Barely contained hysteria from Fox News, reporting that "House Republican candidates will suffer massive losses if House Speaker Dennis Hastert remains speaker until Election Day, according to internal polling data from a prominent GOP pollster."

"The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss."

In other words, buh-bye.

In the photo accompanying the piece, Hastert looks as if he's about to break Mark Foley and a bevy of apple-cheeked pages over his meaty knee (not to mention Roy Blunt, John Boehner...).

For good measure, the latest AP/Ipsos poll has half of likely voters saying the Foley scandal will be "very or extremely important" when it comes time to vote on Nov. 7.

I think Hastert should hang tough, don't you?

When In Doubt, Blame Soros

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 2:10 PM EDT

As the Foley scandal casts its long, dark shadow over the GOP, embroiling the likes of Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, and Tom Reynolds, among others, no amount of damage control seems capable of containing the fallout. But you have to hand it to the Republicans for trying. Over the last couple days they've dusted off a well worn line, which they never fail to trot out when things are looking particularly bleak for the GOP: George Soros is behind this.

Why Soros? After all, he wasn't the one sending creepy emails or dirty IMs to congressional pages. That was Mark Foley. Nor is he at fault for failing to act after being warned of Foley's lascivious behavior toward the pages. That was Hastert. In the minds of some Republicans, Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who has donated generous sums of his fortune to democratic candidates and causes, is the kingpin behind a vast conspiracy to dismantle the Republican Party. So, in their thinking, it would follow that Soros and the watchdog groups that are funded by his Open Society Institute, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), are pulling the strings on a well-timed effort to taint the Republican Party just before the mid-term elections by leaking Foley's emails to the press.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert (who has previously intimated that Soros' philanthropic efforts may be funded by "drug money") told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. On Fox last night, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were also preoccupied by this prospect. Interviewing Brian Ross, the ABC reporter who broke the scandal, O'Reilly said, "Now the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a far left group. George Soros gives a lot of money to it through his Open Society Institute. They apparently are the ones that drove this thing behind the scenes. Is that what you're hearing?"

"I'm not familiar with them," Ross responded. "They didn't drive us."

Of course, there isn't a shred of truth to the Soros/CREW conspiracy angle (though CREW was in possession of some of Foley's emails earlier this summer and forwarded them to the FBI). As The Hill reported today, the source who provided the Foley emails to several news outlets back in July, via an intermediary, was a House GOP aide. According to The Hill:

That Foley's scandalous communications came to public light during Congress's final week in Washington was largely determined by the media outlets which obtained the suspicious e-mails in the middle of the summer, said the person who provided them to reporters several months ago.

This, unfortunately, is not likely to stop right wingers from dissembling. Unable to scapegoat Soros or CREW, they will simply move onto their next favorite target – the liberal media, led by Brian Ross, who no doubt timed his report to deal a death blow to the GOP.

House Ethics Committee Takes Up Foley Scandal

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 11:58 AM EDT

The Foley scandal lurches into the dormant House Ethics Committee Thursday morning. This committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and hasn't been able to get up the nerve to investigate anything for the last year-and-a-half. The Jack Abramoff scandal was decided in the courts, and the congress was barely able to scrape together a tepid lobby reform in its aftermath. With Bush supporting Hastert, John McCain, an all but declared presidential nominee for 2008, has jumped in to push the ethics committee on and show the Christian Right he is morally correct. Mind you these are the people who smeared McCain in 2000. But in recent months McCain has made every effort to make up with them.

If the Ethics committee actually wants to get anywhere, that is, to conduct an investigation along the lines of congressional inquiries into former Speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, it will need to hire an independent counsel. That might well be the kiss of death for Hastert, if he hangs on that long, since his own top aide is being accused of helping to cover up the scandal. To make matters worse, one of his supporters had proposed he handle the mess by temporarily shutting down the House page program, leading to yet more outcry.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership was dumping on Hastert and blaming the Democrats. George Will this morning scathingly attacks Hastert, quoting his feeble defense of himself on Rush Limbaugh: "We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have — in my view have — put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on the defense." This line isn't going to work. There's a good chance the ethics committee, egged on by the Hastert defenders, will stop attacking Democrats and launch an attack on gays. "Investigators for the House Ethics Committee want to know if gays in the House conspired to protect Foley," Capitol Hill Blue reports today. "We're talking
tip of the iceberg here," one House Ethics Committee staffer tells the website. "This thing will just keep getting worse."

UPDATE: The House Ethics Committee, which convened this morning, just announced that it will handle the inquiry into the page program. Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Howard Berman have been selected to lead the investigation, which Berman said will be concluded in a matter of "weeks, not months." The AP is also reporting that in addition to the Ethics Committee investigation Hastert will also ask former FBI director Louis Freeh to "examine the page system and make recommendations on how to improve the program."

Repeat After Me: "Gay" and "Pedophile" Are Not Remotely Related

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 8:53 PM EDT

Former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida has ironically done more to hurt the gay community by coming out than he did as a Congressman elected in the 1994 Republican revolution. After his salacious e-mails to underage pages were revealed, Foley promptly declared himself an alcoholic—which acquaintances have questioned—and checked himself into rehab. Then—as part of his recovery, according to his lawyer—Foley came out as a "gay man."

Foley apparently includes being gay among the "wrongs" that the fifth step of Alcoholics Anonymous's 12-step program requires him to admit. Foley, however, has yet to admit "the exact nature of [his] wrongs" against the teenagers who worked for him. Even more troublesome is the former Congressman's conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality.

This stereotype is so widespread that even relatively tolerant people don't address its absurdity (for examples, see here and here). But, says psychologist James M. Cantor, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, there is no scientific evidence linking gay identity and pedophilia. That bears repeating: there is no evidence that gay men are more likely to be attracted to or to molest underage boys. Cantor suggests that the Christian right's consistent depictions of "homosexuals" as pedophiles—the same stand the Family Research Council is currently taking—relies on "mere sophistry." To generate these claims, right-wing researchers simply refer to a man who has molested boys as homosexual.

Foley is, however, something of an exception. Most men who molest boys are almost exclusively sexually interested in children or teens. Foley, however, had a "longtime companion"—a Palm Beach doctor—whose existence was essentially an open secret in the political world. It is impossible to know the nature of that relationship, partly because it has been treated like a skeleton in Foley's closet.

Were people less afraid to discuss adult homosexuality under normal circumstances, and less titillated by the fact that Foley's young targets were male, the situation might be much better for pages. Foley's inappropriate attention might have been addressed sooner, because harassing teenage girls is, alas, less newsworthy (unless you're Bill Clinton, whom Foley voted to impeach). And, as a corollary, perhaps there would be more productive dialogue about the female pages who have undoubtedly received unwanted attention from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle.

NLRB Sets New Standards For Who Can Join Unions

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 8:33 PM EDT

In a 3-2 vote (Bush appointees comprising the 3), the National Labor Relations Board has re-defined the meaning of the term "supervisor," with the result that millions of American workers may be barred from joining labor unions. The ruling defined as supervisors any nurses who direct and oversee other nursing staff. These definitions can be--and it is expected that they will be--applied to workers in a variety of industries.

For example, restaurant shift supervisors, who wait tables and run the cash register, could, under the new ruling, be exempt from joining a union. Many large retailers, including Home Depot, Abercrombie & Fitch and Staples, have already been sued by employees for denying them overtime because they were classified as supervisors, despite the fact that they rarely supervised anyone.

The NLRB decision actually came from three different cases, one involving a Michigan hospital, one involving a nursing home in Minnesota, and one involving employees at a manufacturing plant in Mississippi.

The AFL-CIO predicts that as many as 34 million workers--23% of the national labor force--could be affected by this new ruling.

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Turmoil on the Right

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 5:10 PM EDT

The Foley scandal appears to be opening a deep split in the Republican base. Bush so far defends Hastert, and is trying to tie the Democrats to the scandal. But the leaders of the New Right coalition which more than any other group is responsible for the right wing Republican victories over the last quarter century, are flat out demanding Hastert quit as Speaker.
Two of the original New Right leaders, have come down hard against Hastert. Richard A. Viguerie, the direct mail whiz who built up the conservative juggernaut, told the Los Angeles Times Hastert and the leadership were not aggressive enough in getting to the bottom of the emails when they first heard about them last year. Just warning Foley wasn't good enough and was "only the most recent example of Republican House leaders doing whatever it takes to hold onto power."

Paul M. Weyrich, another founder of the New Right, the man who began the Heritage Foundation and was co-founder of the Moral Majority, said he too couldn't understand why the leadership hadn't got to the bottom of the mess when they learned of the first emails."That's the real question, and that's what has the movement people very angry," he told the Times. Weyerich tries to get the Arlington Group, made up of conservative groups holding differing views, to demand the resignation of Hastert and Majority Leader Boehner and anyone else involved in handling the Foley situation. But the executive committee backed away from this stiff version, and the final document did not directluy criticize House leaders or call for anyone to quit.

All in all, Republican House members are bitterly angry at their leadership. Bob Novak writes today, ``The virtually sure loss of one Florida seat following the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and the possibility of a devastating ripple effect pointed to dysfunctional House leadership where the principals do not effectively communicate with each other. The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable.''

But the Christian Right, another leg of the Bush base, is weirdly silent. James Dobson, perhaps the most important figure on the religious right and an ardent supporter of the President, issued a mild statement:

Focus on the Family Action weighed in on the controversy surrounding former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who was forced to resign last week after sexually explicit e-mails between him and a congressional page were made public.

The ensuing scandal has led to calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on the insinuation that he didn't address Foley's behavior quickly or proactively enough.

Tom Minnery, Focus Action's senior vice president of government and public policy, said Foley "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" if he is guilty of preying on boys.

But he added the preoccupation with the political aspects of the incident were unfortunate.

"The lives of real families have been devastated by the conduct Mr. Foley stands accused of —so it's sad that so much of the dialogue today is so political in nature," Minnery said. "Those truly interested in protecting children from online predators should spend less time calling for Speaker Hastert to step down, and more time demanding that the Justice Department enforce existing laws that would limit the proliferation of the kind of filth that leads grown men to think it's perfectly OK to send lurid e-mails to 16-year-old boys."

Minnery added that the public's outraged reaction to the incident "indicates that as a society we do understand there are limits to 'tolerance' of our culture's anything-goes view of sexuality."

"If any lasting cultural good could come out of this awful incident," he added, "it would be Americans discarding the politically correct notion fed to us by those on the left that obscenity is just another form of free speech."

Foley: Who Knew What and When

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 4:17 PM EDT


The New York Times has a nifty infographic timeline thingy showing the Foleygate (time to retire the scare quotes) events in sequence. Click on the image to go see.

Premature "Mission Accomplished" Party Planning

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 2:53 PM EDT

Thom Shanker's story on the front page of today's New York Times reveals that "tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation's capital "for commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Now Congressional Republicans are saying, in effect, maybe next year. A paragraph written into spending legislation and approved by the Senate and House allows the $20 million to be rolled over into 2007.
The original legislation empowered the president to designate "a day of celebration" to commemorate the success of the armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to "issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities."

Following the gaffe that was President Bush's flight-suit clad appearance on an aircraft carrier to celebrate "Mission Accomplished," one would think that lawmakers would have been more circumspect than to let such a provision stand. It's not as if I'm against celebrating the successes (or honoring the sacrifices) of the military, but we are so far away from anything resembling success that authorizing the celebration funds is like booking the DJ for your embryo's Sweet Sixteen party.


After Five Years Al Jazeera Journo Still at Gitmo

| Wed Oct. 4, 2006 1:48 PM EDT

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Muhyideen al-Haj was detained by Pakistani intelligence in December 2001, shortly after the fall of Kabul, as he and his crew attempted to cross the border into Pakistan. Turned over to U.S. authorities, who have accused him both of acting as a bagman for Chechen rebels and of aiding al Qaeda, he has spent close to five years in Gitmo where he, like his fellow detainees, has been held on the basis of secret evidence and with no legal recourse. As the Committee to Protect Journalists' Joel Campagna writes:

The military labels the allegations as "evidence." But a review of the public documents shows that they are assertions of wrongdoing without the documentation or testimony normally considered by a court to be evidence. Supporting evidence, if any, is part of the U.S. military's classified file — off-limits to the public, al-Haj, and his lawyer.

Among the more troubling aspects of al-Haj's detainment is the subject his captors have routinely sought to interrogate him on. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, told CPJ that "virtually all of the roughly 130 interrogations al-Haj has been subjected to have focused on Al Jazeera.... He said military officials have appeared intent on establishing a relationship between Al Jazeera and al Qaeda, questioning al-Haj about prominent network journalists, the station's finances, and how it pays for airline tickets."

Beyond pumping the journalist for information on Al Jazeera, American and British interrogators may have also tried to recruit him to spy on his employer. According to declassified notes of visits between al-Haj and his lawyer, which were obtained by the Guardian last year, he has been offered U.S. citizenship in return for informing on Al Jazeera. "They have said, 'If you work with us, we will teach you journalism, we will get you a visa to live anywhere you want, we will even give you US nationality, we will protect you, we will give you money,'" al-Haj has said. "'We will help you write a book and then we will publish it. This will help make the al Qaeda people contact you, and work with you.'"

If true, the fact that the government wants a mole inside Al Jazeera shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since many military and administration officials regard the network as al Qaeda's de facto propaganda arm. But the government may also have other motivations for seeking to infiltrate and potentially undermine Al Jazeera. As a recent Congressional Research Service report on military information operations points out, the network "is considered by many to be a 'market competitor'" for U.S. propaganda efforts.