Mojo - December 2009

The Rove Divorce

| Tue Dec. 29, 2009 4:40 PM EST

News flash: Karl Rove divorced his (second) wife last week. (And tweeted not one word about it.) Now liberal bloggers and Twitterers are having a field day (or hour), noting that the fellow who engineered George W. Bush's 2004 reelection by pushing anti-gay marriage initiatives in swing states has demonstrated (again) a less than enthusiastic stance regarding the sanctity of marriage.

For those looking for Rove quotes on the importance of heterosexual marriage, here's a useful tidbit from 2004. The weekend after Bush won reelection, Rove appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace and declared that Bush would push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The following exchange ensued:

WALLACE: Explain to me why civil unions can be handled at the state level but marriage can't.

ROVE: Well, marriage is a very important part of our culture and our society. If we want to have a hopeful and decent society, we ought to aim for the ideal. And the ideal is that marriage ought to be and should be a union of a man and a woman.

And we cannot allow activist judges to overturn that. We cannot allow activist local elected officials to thumb their nose at 5,000 years of human history and determine that marriage is something else.

No one ever can know what occurs within someone else's marriage, and people are indeed permitted to preach ideals they cannot meet. (Otherwise, the pulpits would be empty on Sunday morning.) But given that Rove contended that the way to "a hopeful and decent society" is by prohibiting gay marriage and promoting heterosexual marriage, the failure of his own heterosexual marriage is all the more tragic, meaning that this great nation is now one step further from becoming that "hopeful and decent society" Rove and the rest of us yearn for.

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Need to Read: December 29, 2009

| Tue Dec. 29, 2009 2:34 PM EST

2009 refuses to go out with a whimper. Headlines in the pipeline today:

 

We're Still At War: Photo of the Day for December 29, 2009

Tue Dec. 29, 2009 12:20 PM EST

Gunnery Sgt. Terry McElwain, from Burden, Kan., hands out care packages to members of Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard USS Bonhomme Richard Dec. 23. McElwain, the company gunnery sergeant, filled in for Santa and handed out care packages, donated by Springfield, Mo., residents, to the Marines and Sailors of Co. E. (US Marines photo by Sgt. Scott Biscuiti)

Sessions Preaches Accountability While Dodging It

| Tue Dec. 29, 2009 12:18 PM EST

Yesterday, as Pete Sessions' office was heroically trying to spin his "love" note to alleged Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford as an effort to "prevent further tragedy," the Texas Republican, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, blasted out a fundraising appeal to his mailing list. As my colleague David Corn notes over at Politics Daily, the message, laced with harsh rhetoric, slammed "Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and their allies" for putting the country "on a dangerous path toward bankruptcy and strict government control." He added: "Fortunately 2010 offers us a chance to hold the far left accountable and elect Representatives who will stand up for our American values in Congress." The irony, of course, is that while Sessions was preaching accountability he was simultaneously working to avoid it—concocting a pretty weak excuse for why, on the same day the feds accused Stanford of perpetrating a multi-billion dollar swindle, he emailed the following note of encouragement to the disgraced financier: "I love you and believe in you. If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail." As the Miami Herald has reported, this message is now in the hands of federal investigators who are exploring whether congressional lawmakers, including Sessions, did favors for Stanford in exchange for campaign cash and other perks.

Also ensnared in this probe is Gregory Meeks, the New York Democrat, who, according to the Herald, appealed to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Stanford's behalf. Here's the backstory:

The president of his bank in Venezuela had turned on Stanford after being accused of stealing from the company, filing a lawsuit and publicly questioning whether Stanford was orchestrating a fraud.

Enraged at his former executive, Stanford placed a call in March 2006 to Democratic House member Gregory Meeks with a rare request: Go to President Hugo Chávez and seek a criminal investigation of Gonzalo Tirado.

Meeks, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, agreed to carry the message, according to two former U.S. federal agents working for Stanford who were listening to the call on speakerphone.

The politician would travel to Venezuela a month later for a series of meetings with Chávez and other leaders. A year after that visit, Venezuelan prosecutors indicted Tirado on charges of swindling and tax-evasion.

According to the Daily News, Meeks "sometimes accompanied by his wife...took six trips to sun-drenched locales from Antigua to St. Lucia, courtesy of a Stanford nonprofit called the Inter-American Economic Council." Since 2003, the organization spent more than $20,000 on the Meeks' travel, putting them up in such lux accommodations as the Ritz Carleton in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Meeks has yet to speak to these latest charges. If and when he does, don't be too suprised if he has a creative excuse, à la Pete Sessions, for his close ties and suspicous interactions with the man accused of bilking investors of some $8 billion. 

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.
 

20 Things that Happen in 1 Minute

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 6:30 PM EST

Data nerd that I am, I can't help but pass along this interesting graphic. It's crazy to imagine that in the couple minutes it's taking me to post this, all these things are happening several times over.

every minute
H/T goes to Online Education for putting the graphic together.

Need to Read: December 28, 2009

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 3:17 PM EST

Hey readers and holiday revelers, welcome back! Get up to speed on the headlines with today's must-reads:

For more good reads, follow Mother Jones on Twitter! You can check out what we're tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

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Sessions to Stanford: "I Love You..."

| Mon Dec. 28, 2009 2:03 PM EST

Last February, the office of Rep. Pete Sessions initially claimed the congressman wasn't personally acquainted with alleged Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford, who'd donated generously to the Texas Republican's campaign over the years. Then pictures surfaced of Sessions with Stanford during a junket to Antigua in 2005. But how close were the pair really? Close enough for Sessions to use the L-word in an email he sent Stanford on February 17, 2009, hours after US Marshals raided Stanford Financial's Houston headquarters and the SEC charged the financier with bilking investors of some $8 billion. "I love you and believe in you," Sessions wrote, according to the Miami Herald. "If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail."

The disclosure of this sympathetic missive—which appears to suggest Sessions was willing to use his influential "voice" on Stanford's behalf—suggests that Sessions, along with other members of Congress, could be in for an unpleasant 2010. The Herald reports:

The message from the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee represents one of the many ties between members of Congress and the indicted banker that have caught the attention of federal agents.

The Justice Department is investigating millions of dollars Stanford and his staff contributed to lawmakers over the past decade to determine if the banker received special favors from politicians while building his spectacular offshore bank in Antigua, The Miami Herald has learned.

Agents are examining campaign dollars, as well as lavish Caribbean trips funded by Stanford for politicians and their spouses, feting them with lobster dinners and caviar.

For Sessions, this isn't the first time his ties to unsavory characters has been called into question. In 2006, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Justice Department complaint against Sessions accusing him of doing favors for the clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for donations to his political action committee, Pete PAC.

UPDATE: Sessions' office has provided TPMMuckraker with the following statement regarding his email to Stanford:

From the government that knighted him to Barack Obama and John McCain, Allen Stanford had everyone fooled, and as Mr. Stanford's scheme has become clear Congressman Sessions has worked to ensure that the investors Mr. Stanford swindled receive the justice they deserve - including signing a letter to the SEC requesting SIPC coverage for the victims.

While the referenced email cannot be authenticated, Congressman Sessions believes that its contents resemble language he would use to communicate with a person in crisis to encourage right decisions and prevent further tragedy.

With that being said, the Congressman maintains the position that Mr. Stanford should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Bravo. This heroic attempt at spin should really win some kind of award.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 28, 2009

Mon Dec. 28, 2009 12:44 PM EST

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. displays some holiday spirit Dec. 21, as he speaks to the Soldiers of 1st Armored Division in Germany, about their role in their upcoming deployment to Iraq and how the Afghanistan troop surge will affect it. (US Army photo.)

Senate Passes Health Care Reform

| Thu Dec. 24, 2009 12:49 PM EST

So, after much scare mongering, hand wringing, and deal making, and pork slinging, the Senate has just finally passed its version of health care reform. Now the battle to reconcile the House and Senate bills starts, and that's where the real fun lies. Meanwhile the circular firing squad has begun. Kevin fills you in on what you need to know.

AIDS: Top 10 Humanitarian Crises of 2009

| Thu Dec. 24, 2009 9:00 AM EST

World leaders who promised to support universal AIDS treatment coverage at the G8 summit back in 2005 are backing out, causing the pandemic to rank in as one of 2009's top ten humanitarian crises, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced Monday.

HIVs relation to tuberculosis snagged it a spot on the 12th annual list last year. What insured its placement on the roll this time around is a lack of funding that is foiling AIDS eradication in developing countries by threatening to leave an estimated 10 million infected people without treatment.

G8 governments made specific commitments in support of Africa at the 2005 summit, with the U.S. pledging to lead the battle against HIV/AIDS with programs like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Led by Bush, the program thrived, but it's Obama who's tightening the purse-strings on PEPFAR's reach. His "five-year strategy" for the program sets the bar at 4 million people on antiretroviral drugs by 2014. Sounds good, but the program has put 2.4 million people on the drugs since 2004, or almost 500,000 a year on average. Adding only 1.6 million over the next five years means just 320,000 additional cases each year. This isn't enough to curb the spread of the epidemic; nearly 3 million people got infected with HIV in 2008, according to UNAIDS.

One passage from the MSF AIDS report is especially alarming:

In some African countries disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, people seeking treatment are being turned away from clinics. Patients already seeking [antiretroviral] therapy are being forced to interrupt their treatment because they can no longer afford it, thus increasing their chances of becoming sick and developing resistance to drugs.

News like this is disheartening since the inability to afford treatment discourages many people, in places like Ghana for instance, from even getting tested. I investigated poverty's link to the spread of HIV/AIDS in that country for The Spectator, a Ghanaian weekly, and here's a sample of what I found:

The inability of many people living with HIV to afford antiretroviral treatment is also causing the virus to spread. Ninety-five percent of people living with HIV in Ghana are unemployed, according to the PLWHA. The treatment cost 5 Ghana Cedis a month, causing many people not to take it. This is dangerous since the treatment makes the disease less infectious, according to UNAIDS. “Unfortunately for us the number of people who are supposed to do antiretroviral therapy, we are unable to support because of lack of funding and the need for facilities that do that,” [Dr. Robert Mensah, Reproductive Health Programme Officer at the UNFPA] says.

Due to the high unemployment rate and lack of accommodations faced by people living with the virus, [Clement Azigwe, National President of the Association of Persons Living with HIV (PLWHA)] urges the government to provide more social services to people who are positive as a means of defeating the disease.

“We want the government to empower people living with HIV, to do more income generating activity to help support our funding,” Azigwe says. “We have to look at those infected to give them care, empowering them economically.”

Since PEPFAR's new goal limits the availability of free ARV therapy, the know-your-status propaganda that spot many African streets may be met with even more public cynicism, marking 2010 as a tumultuous year for AIDS fighters yet. Let's hope AIDS drops off this Top 10 list next year.