Thursday, June 18, 2009

Letter From the Editor: New Blow to the Right as Sex Scandal Takes Down Ensign

Nevada Senator -- a Darling of Social Conservatives -- Resigns GOP Leadership Post After Admitting He Had an Extramarital Affair; Latest Sex Scandal to Rock Republicans Is Making Mincemeat Out of Social Conservatives' Holier-Than-Thou Moralism

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Another one bites the dust: Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada) speaks to reporters in Las Vegas Wednesday after announcing that he was resigning from his post as head of the Republican Policy Committee. On Tuesday, Ensign stunned his Republican colleagues by admitting that he had an affair with a former staffer in his 2006 re-election campaign -- whose husband works in the Senator's Nevada office. (Photo: Isaac Brekken/AP)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, June 18, 2009)


When the news broke on Tuesday that Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), a conservative "poster boy" for the Religious Right, had admitted to having an extramarital affair, the first thing that popped up in my mind was the chorus to Queen's 1980 hit, "Another One Bites the Dust:"

(Boom, boom, boom) Another one bites the dust (Slap!),
(Boom, boom, boom) Another one bites the dust (Slap!).

And another one gone,
And another one gone
And another one bites the dust (Slap!).

Hey, they're gonna getcha, too,
Another one bites the dust! (Slap!)

The song certainly fits the Republicans -- especially those Republicans who have made names for themselves as guardians of public morality. Darlings of the Religious Right, these Republicans have built their careers on opposing pornography, abortion, same-gender marriage and (incomprehensible to this writer) stem-cell research.

Yet, one by one, these high-and-mighty moralists seem to have a problem with practicing what they preach -- especially in matters pertaining to their own sex lives. They've developed a rather nasty habit of preaching one thing and doing the exact opposite. To say that these men are hypocrites would be an understatement.


Already, Ensign’s political career crashed and burned Wednesday as he announced his resignation from the chairmanship of the GOP Policy Committee. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere almost immediately began to distance themselves from the Nevada senator, amid growing fears that even more damaging details about the scandal are about to be made public.

Ensign on Tuesday admitted that he carried on an affair with Cynthia Hampton, who worked on Ensign's 2006 re-election campaign, from December 2007 to August of last year. Her husband, Douglas Hampton, was a member of Ensign's Senate office staff at his Nevada office.

Both resigned last spring, but the circumstances of the Hamptons' departures -- and why Ensign decided now to come clean over his affair -- remain the subject of speculation.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Hamptons, through their attorney, complained bitterly that Ensign chose to make the affair public now -- 10 months after it ended.

"It is unfortunate the senator chose to air this very personal matter, especially after the Hamptons did everything possible to keep this matter private," attorney Daniel Albregts said in a statement released to the media in Las Vegas. "It is equally unfortunate that he did so without concern for the effect such an announcement would have on the Hampton family."

Albregts said that the Hamptons will eventually "tell their side of the story."

Hampton might not be the only person with whom Ensign had an affair. The AP, citing a source close to the senator, also reported that Ensign abruptly dropped from public view for two weeks in 2002 to deal with "a personal family matter." That "matter" may have been an extramarital relationship between the senator and another former aide. A spokesperson for Ensign strongly denied the report.


L'Affaire Ensign is only the latest in a series of sex scandals that have rocked the GOP since 2004. It's been almost two years since we witnessed the spectacular fall from grace of Larry Craig, a conservative Republican senator from Idaho, who got busted for soliciting sex with an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at the Minneapolis Airport.

Craig insisted that "I am not gay," yet Craig -- who made a name for himself as one of the most staunchly anti-gay members of the Senate -- pleaded guilty to a charge of "disorderly conduct" in connection with a police sting operation aimed at busting men who solicit sex with other men in a public place.

Then there's the pedophilia scandal in 2006 of disgraced former Representative Mark Foley of Florida, a Republican who co-authored a law aimed at shielding children from sexual predators on the Internet, but was caught sending sexually explicit text messages to teenage Capitol Hill pages. And a former page told the Los Angeles Times that he had a sexual encounter with Foley.

At the same time, another conservative Republican, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, was forced to admit that he patronized a business operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey that was busted by the FBI as a prostitution ring. Palfrey became known as the "D.C. Madam."

Vitter's telephone number was found among the telephone records of Palfrey's company, Pamela Martin and Associates, dating back to Vitter's days as a member of the House of Representatives.

Ironically, Vitter was elected to the House in a special election in 1999 to replace yet another conservative Republican, Bob Livingston, who resigned amid -- you guessed it -- a sex scandal. Vitter won't face charges in the "D.C. Madam" case, however, because the statute of limitations to prosecute him has expired.


The Ensign scandal comes at a particularly bad time for the Republicans, who have seen their membership decline dramatically to barely 20 percent of the nationwide electorate and their job-approval ratings in Congress at an anemic 36 percent, according to the latest Gallup Poll, although that's an improvement from their record-low 25 percent job-approval rating in December.

It is a particularly nasty headache for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Kentucky) -- the third sex scandal to take down a fellow Republican in the 2 1/2 years since McConnell was elected to the leadership post.

As chairman of the GOP's Policy Committee, Ensign was quickly emerging as a major player in opposition to the policy agenda of the Obama administration. The Nevada senator was the subject of speculation that he was mulling over a possible run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

A staunch social conservative, Ensign -- who voted in favor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- spoke on the Senate floor in 2004 in favor of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have barred states from recognizing same-gender marriage (The amendment failed to muster the two-thirds majority required for passage).

Ensign is an outspoken opponent of abortion. Both the National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America identify him as having a "pro-life" voting record. Yet Ensign opposed the Prevention First Act, co-authored by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), which aimed to reduce the number of abortions by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place, chiefly through improving information about and access to family planning.


That these sex scandals have been, one by one, bringing down social conservatives also lays waste to their credibility as guardians of the public morals. Part of the reason is that the social conservatives -- both inside and outside the GOP -- set unrealistically high standards for themselves and for others that are almost impossible to keep up with, because they defy human nature.

And it's not limited to conservative politicians. Prominent members of the Christian Right have also been taken down by sex scandals. Who can forget Jimmy Swaggart's tearful confession to God ("I have sinned against you!") on national television after he was caught consorting with prostitutes?

Who can forget Ted Haggard caught in flagrante delicto with a male hustler and drug addict?

Even the late Jim Bakker -- whose day of infamy was a financial scandal that brought down his multi-million-dollar PTL Club -- was rumored to have had homosexual liaisons while in prison.

The more that the social conservatives stubbornly cling to those impossibly high moral standards, the more its members are likely to fail -- not to mention suffer recriminations from their own kind when they do fail.

To err is human. To forgive is Divine.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The'Skeeter Bites Report

# # #

Volume IV, Number 48
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, June 15, 2009

An Election Night That Shocks the World -- and Plunges Iran Into its Worst Crisis in 30 Years

Re-Election of Ahmadinejad -- Openly Challenged by the Opposition as Fraudulent -- May Have Been Iranian Voters' Rejection of Western Expectations of an Iranian Replay of Obama's Election Victory in the U.S. and a Direct Snub of His Conciliatory Speech to the Muslim World in Cairo

These two men on a motorcycle speed past a burning bus in Tehran Sunday, as protests against the hotly-disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued into a second day. While the results stunned the world -- and prompted opposition charges that the election was so fraught with irregularities that Ahmadinejad's victory is tainted -- they might reflect a direct rejection by Iranians of U.S. Western hopes for a detente between Tehran and Washington. (Photo: Shahram Sharif/Inter-Press Service)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, June 15, 2009)
(Updated 6:30 a.m. EDT Monday, June 15, 2009)



TEHRAN -- By 3 a.m. local time on Saturday (6:30 p.m. Friday EDT), it was clear that the hopes of Iran's "green army" -- and the anticipation of the international media -- had been thoroughly dashed.

What was not clear was quite what had happened in those few hours between the close of voting and the announcement of the initial results, how an enormous wave of sentiment had vanished so completely when faced with the ballot box.

Was it just the failing of the world's press, allowing themselves to become unwitting victim to a clever marketing campaign or allowing itself to be ruled by its own prejudices and preferences?

Or was something else at work?

A walk through the timeline of events might shed some light.



Associated Press

TEHRAN -- Iran's state television says the supreme leader has ordered an investigation into claims of fraud in last week's presidential election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ordering the powerful Guardian Council to examine the allegations by pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims widespread vote rigging in Friday's election. The government declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner in a landslide victory.

It is a stunning turnaround for Iran's most powerful figure, who previously welcomed the results.

Mousavi wrote an appeal Sunday to the Guardian Council, a powerful 12-member body that's a pillar of Iran's theocracy. Mousavi also met Sunday with Khamenei.

Mousavi's backers have waged three days of street protests in Tehran.



From the opening of the polling stations on Friday morning, the length of the queues suggested something unusual was under way.

By the time the Guardian Council began speaking in the early evening of a turnout approaching 70 per cent, most people had concluded even this was a low-ball estimate.

Opinions having long gelled around the proposition that high turnout equals reformist victory, the mood among journalists gathering at the interior ministry -- roads blocked, access restricted, riot police in evidence -- was of anticipation and bemusement.

Could it be that, yet again, an outside candidate had come from behind to win in the first round?

Word was circulating that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main reformist challenger, would be giving a press conference late on Friday night when, at 11 p.m. (2:30 p.m. EDT), the ministry press room was told to expect Kamran Daneshjou, the elections chief.

Few people anticipated much more than general background information, and perhaps some hints as to the progress of the count; it was assumed to be far too early for any definitive results.


Daneshjou failed to appear. Instead, a buzz spread around the room. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) had a new lead story: Ahmadinejad was streaking ahead in the vote in the countryside.

IRNA is a government-controlled agency, and some of the local media were openly skeptical of the story.

But the pro-Ahmadinejad camp was lifted in particular by the claim that the city of Rafsanjan -- hometown of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- had voted 90 percent in favor of Ahmadinejad.

They were relishing the symbolism of such a heavy rejection of Ahmadinejad's arch-foe.

Moments later, word came through that Mousavi had held a news conference to declare outright victory. A senior member of Mousavi's campaign told al-Jazeera that their election monitors at polling stations were certain that the trend strongly favored their candidate.

Moments later, at 11.50 p.m. (3:20 p.m. EDT), Daneshjou appeared.

We were told there would be no questions. The counting so far, he said, involved 8,000 ballot boxes, some five million votes, and the returns showed Ahmadinejad with 69 per cent of the vote and challenger Mousavi with less than 30 per cent.


The pattern had been established. As in presidential elections in the United States, it would be the television stations and news wires that led with figures that would only later be confirmed by the interior ministry.

The state-run TV station is regarded as a reliable reflection of official numbers, and the news from sources inside was that they were close to declaring outright victory for Ahmadinejad.

At 12.20 a.m. Saturday (4:50 p.m. Friday EDT), Daneshjou had an update.

A further 8,000 boxes had been counted in the past 30 minutes, and the president was still leading with almost 69 per cent of the vote.

At this point, one of the more alert journalists pointed out that the initial announcement had spoken of baazshomari -- the Farsi word for recounting.

The numbers we were hearing were not a running tally, but a reconfirmation of what was an already established result.

Indeed, not long after, the Ahmadinejad camp not only declared outright victory, but framed its claims in historic terms: this victory erased the record turnout that had swept Mohammad Khatami, the previous reformer, to power in 1997, and confirmed Ahmadinejad, a conservative, as the most popular leader in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic.


Breakdown of the vote in individual districts was still patchy, but there were a few results that raised eyebrows. Ahmadinejad had apparently taken the northwestern city of Tabriz with some ease.

Tabriz is the heart of East Azerbaijan, which borders the former Soviet republic, and Azeris are among the tightest ethnic groups in the country, unfailingly voting along ethnic lines.

In the 2005 presidential election, Mohsen Mehralizadeh was a largely unknown and wholly unsuccessful candidate. He came in seventh and last nationwide, yet he still won the Azeri vote in the Azerbaijani provinces.

Mousavi is an Azeri from Tabriz, making Ahmadinejad's apparent victory in the opposition leader's hometown a severe blow.

Elsewhere, reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi failed to take his home state of Lorestan; in Khuzestan, Mohsen Rezai, a local scion, was expecting at least two million votes. His total for the entire country has failed to breach one million.

And with each updated count, Ahmadinjad's lead did not waver from a very stable range of 66-69 per cent, irrespective of which districts were reporting.

After 3 a.m. Saturday (6:30 p.m. Friday EDT), the Interior Ministry went quiet for the night. Out on the streets, some groups of youths were driving the streets in celebration. But not 69 per cent of them.


Ahmadinejad's victory is likely to be a blow to hopes for A U.S. rapprochement with Iran.

Washington has had no official ties with Tehran since shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979, but Barack Obama, the American president, has expressed his openness to dialogue since coming to power in January.

Analysts said on Saturday that victory for Ahmadinejad, who has crossed swords repeatedly with the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions and his criticism of Israel, could stall any attempts at improving relations.

"In Washington there was a severe wish to make sure Mousavi [Ahmadinejad's reformist rival] would be the winner because of the atmospherics and the comfort level in not dealing with Ahmadinejad and dealing with him," Trita Parsi, the president of National American Iranian Council, told al-Jazeera.

Before the results started to come out, Obama said that he was excited about the debate taking place in Iran and he hoped it would help the two countries to engage in new ways. "Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways," he said.


However, Rami Khoury, the editor-at-large of Lebanon's English-language Daily Star newspaper, told al-Jazeera that Ahmadinejad's decisive victory could have been a reaction to widely-stated Western hopes for a reformist win.

"They probably didn't like the fact that this was being portrayed in the international press . . . as though Obama's speeches were changing the Middle East," he said.

"This tells us that Tehran is not Tennessee, there is a difference in how things happen," Khoury said. "The U.S. doesn't know what is going on in Iran because it doesn't have anybody there. It has no officials, it has had no contact with Iran officially for 30 years, so there is a huge gap in knowledge of the basic sentiments of the Iranian people or the leadership."

Ahmadinejad has previously said that Iran would welcome talks with the U.S., but only if there was mutual respect between the two nations. Officials in Tehran have said that means the accusations that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons and supports terrorism must stop.

In March, Obama made a speech to mark Nowruz, the start of the Persian New Year, in which he called for a "new beginning" to relations and stressed his respect for the Iranian people. But Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, dismissed the message, saying that the U.S. still had to show it had changed its attitude towards the country.

Hady Amr, a political analyst at the Brookings Institute, told al-Jazeera that he expected the Obama administration to give Ahmadinejad's second-term government another chance to respond to such overtures.

"If they don't respond, the policy could change around the new year," he said.


Meanwhile, Washington's main ally in the region, Israel, said that the re-election of Ahmadinejad underlined the fact that the international community must act to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

"If there was a shadow of hope for a change in Iran, the renewed choice of Ahmadinejad expresses more than anything the growing Iranian threat," Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, said in a statement.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry, told al-Jazeera: "The challenge that Iran poses to the international community does not rest on personality.

"It stems from its policies. A policy of obtaining at all costs nuclear weapons, a policy of promoting violence and terrorism throughout the region... This is something that should stop. It really doesn't matter who the president is.

"All the international community should concentrate on making Iran a friendly country ... to its neighbors and the region."

However, Afshin Molavi of the New America Foundation think tank told al-Jazeera that there were many in the Israeli government who might welcome the outcome. "In many ways, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for many folks in Tel Aviv who would like to see a serious confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, is a gift because of his outlandish statements about the Holocaust," he said.

"I would imagine that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is not unhappy with these results."

Israeli officials have repeatedly stressed the need for the U.S. and its allies to act to prevent Iran from building atomic weapons. Tehran says that its nuclear program is purely to meet civilian energy needs.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 47
Special Report Copyright 2009, al-Jazeera.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Saners. All rights reserved.


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