November 16, 2006
THE REAL SKINNY ON NANCY PELOSI
Today's Democratic Congressional Caucus vote electing Steny Hoyer of Maryland as House Majority leader was, as The Hill (the Washington weekly newspaper covering Congress) put it in a special bulletin, " stunning rebuke to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi."
Pelosi (left) and one of her closest advisers, veteran California liberal Rep. George Miller (right), twisted arms and threatened committee chairs with the loss of their posts and perks if they didn't support Pelosi's candidate for Majority Leader, Pennsylvani'a Rep. John Murtha, whom Pelosi surprised everyone by endorsing. But the caucus bitch-slapped Pelosi with a lopsided vote today that wasn't even close -- 149 for Hoyer to 86 for Murtha. As one veteran Congressional insider told me on the phone today, "the caucus simply wasn't going to vote for an old sleaze-bag like Murtha" -- who, just the day before the vote on Majority Leader, in speaking to the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, called the Democratic ethics package "total crap."
Notorious as a water-carrier for the military-industrial complex and a battler for obsolete or badly-performing weapons system the arms-and-aviation lobbyists love (especially those made by firms represented by his brother, a hired-gun lobbyist), Murtha (right) was also caught up in Abscam, the famous FBI sting operation that targeted corrupt congressmen 26 years ago.
Indeed, Murtha was caught on videotape back then telling the FBI agents posing as Arab sheikhs that two other congressman "expect to be taken care of." Here's what Murtha said next, in a summary by Washington Post editorial page staffer Ruth Marcus in her syndicated column proclaiming that Murth'a Abscam conduct "disqualified" him from being considered for the Majority Leader's post:
"' I'm not interested — at this point,' he [Murtha] says of the dangled bribe. 'You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't, you know.' Indeed, he acknowledges, even though he needs to be careful — "I expect to be in the (expletive) leadership of the House,' he notes — the money's awfully tempting. 'It's hard for me to say, just the hell with it.'"
"This," Marcus wrote, "is John Murtha, incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi's choice to be her majority leader, snared but not charged in the Abscam probe in 1980. "The Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history," Pelosi pledged on election night. Five days later, she wrote Murtha a letter endorsing his bid to become her No. 2.post."
Not that Steny Hoyer is any prize, mind you -- he's a not very talented hack, and a died-in-the-wool DLCer to boot. But how could Pelosi fool herself into thinking she could put over Murtha? How could she so badly misread the mood of the Democratic caucus she's supposed to be leading? This wasn't the first time Pelosi misread her own caucus -- she did the same thing back at the time of the House vote approving George Bush's invasion of Iraq, when -- as then minority leader of the Democrats -- she dragged her feet and only finally came out firmly against the invasion after it became clear that a significant majority of the Democratic caucus would vote against it.
Just who is Nancy Pelosi, the lawmaker from San Francisco with an exagerrated reputation for liberalism? She's an opportunist and a trimmer, who -- just two days after the Democrats re-took both houses of Congress and her Speakership was assured -- proclaimed, "We must govern from the center." When she was first elected to lead the House Democrats six years ago, I investigated Pelosi's background for the L.A. WEEKLY. And one of the things I found out in my digging was that she just ain't all that smart.
In view of today's debacle for Pelosi, I thought those who don't know where she came from and what she's really all about might profit from a reading of my L.A. Weekly report on Pelosi, so I'm reprinting it here -- this background helps explain why we shouldn't expect very much from the first woman Speaker:
The San Francisco Democrat carries baggage of money and special interests
By Doug Ireland
L.A.Weekly, Wednesday, November 13, 2002
IS NANCY PELOSI THE ANSWER TO THE Democrats' problems? Forgive me for having a few doubts.
Certainly, it's long past the time when one of the two major parties should have placed a woman in a position of real political power — and by choosing Pelosi as their new leader, House Democrats have punched a hole in the glass ceiling which many other democracies around the world have already punctured. But is that enough?
There's precious little room left for legislative maneuvering by the minority party, especially under the more draconian rules in the House, where Tom DeLay enforces an iron control over what is permitted to come to the floor for a vote. This means — after a midterm congressional campaign in which the Democrats lost by serving up a themeless porridge of accommodationist me-tooisms — that what the party needs more than anything else is a "great communicator" in its House leader (as The New York Times editorialized the other day). And, of course, one with a solid alternative message to communicate.
Pelosi, however, has long been plagued by reservations about her intellectual capacities. She's a dogged inside player whose canny climb up the pole of politics has been greased by money — but she's never been known as a policy innovator and has only a slim record of legislative accomplishment. Moreover, despite an effective White House campaign to portray her as a "left-wing San Francisco Democrat," Pelosi's progressivism often seems more rooted in circumstance than in deep conviction.
Unlike Paul Wellstone, who had an organic connection to the issue-oriented citizen activism whence he came, Pelosi's career is a classic example of checkbook politics. She married money — her husband, Paul, is a former banker who became a wealthy real estate developer — and the Pelosi fortune makes her the richest member of California's House delegation. Her political largesse and fund-raising skills brought her to the attention of the late Congressman Phil Burton, a powerhouse of a man who took her under his wing and guided her ascendance to chair the California Democratic Party. She lost a campaign for Democratic national chairman, but — after serving as fund-raising chair for the Democrats' 1986 U.S. Senate campaign — Pelosi was tapped by Phil Burton's brother John to take over the family House seat which Phil's widow, Sala, had occupied after her husband's death. Her opponent was San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, who'd been picked by the gay community as successor to the assassinated Harvey Milk. Pelosi buried Britt in money, and ran a nasty campaign that portrayed him as a "gay socialist." (Years later, her money-raising practices sometimes get her in trouble. Last month, she was forced to shut down one of ä her two political-action committees, which had been operating illegally as a double-dipping laundry, and candidates were asked to return its contributions.)
Before winning the House seat, her only real hands-on electoral experience had been helping Jerry Brown win the 1976 presidential primary in Maryland, where her father had been a congressman and mayor of Baltimore. But in 1992, as chair of the Democratic National Convention's platform committee, she slavishly toed the Clinton/New Democrat line and prevented the dissident Brown — who'd again won several primaries — from speaking to the committee.
Most profiles of Pelosi note her advocacy of AIDS issues and gay civil rights, and her bucking the Clinton administration by opposing most-favored-nation trade status for China on human-rights grounds. But given the huge Chinese-American and gay populations in her district (and lingering resentment in the latter over her defeat of Britt), these positions were a nearly obligatory reflection of local politics.
Aside from those two issues, Pelosi's most notable accomplishment was to spearhead the first privatization of a national park. Under legislation passed by her mentor Phil Burton as part of his legacy to San Francisco, the militarily useless Army base at the Presidio was turned into a national park when it closed. But Pelosi expended her political capital while pushing through a bill that turned the Presidio — 1,500 acres of the most valuable real estate in the world — over to an unelected private trust dominated by her corporate and real estate cronies in the business of raising campaign cash; and the Presidio, with Pelosi's blessing, is now being developed by producer/director George Lucas as headquarters for his film company (with $60 million in tax breaks to finance it). Pelosi even used her clout with Clinton to smother Mayor Willie Brown's plan to convert the former base's 466-unit Wherry Houses into homes for low-income and homeless families, victims of San Francisco's acute housing shortage. That's why, ever since, The Bay Guardian — San Francisco's progressive alternative weekly — symbolically has always refused to endorse Pelosi for re-election to her supersafe seat.
As assistant minority leader and a member of the House's Human Rights Caucus, at the height of Ariel Sharon's bloody offensive in the West Bank this spring — denounced by Amnesty International for criminal violations of human rights — Pelosi chose to ignore the Nobel Prizewinning organization and instead supported a hard-line DeLay-sponsored GOP resolution endorsing Sharon's blind use of military force, backing a resolution praising George Bush's "leadership" in tilting toward Sharon, and voting for a GOP initiative to increase military aid to Israel (at a time when the Gallup Poll showed 60 percent of Americans favored suspension of that aid). There are, quite coincidentally, of course, many pro-Israeli fat cats in Pelosi's Rolodex of contributers.
Pelosi is capable of convenient political pirouettes. Right after Dick Gephardt's Rose Garden sellout to Bush on Iraq, Roll Call reported that Pelosi was considering sponsoring an alternative to the Gephardt blank-check resolution giving Bush sole authority to decide on war. That would have shown some real leadership. But Pelosi dropped the plan, apparently because she thought it would hurt her in the inevitable contest to succeed Gephardt. Two weeks later, after it was clear a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote against war, Pelosi joined them — but, of course, her district is overwhelmingly anti-war. Then there was Pelosi's surprising endorsement of scandal-plagued Representative Gary Condit for re-election — an endorsement she was forced to withdraw after a firestorm of protest from women's groups.
Pelosi went ballistic a few years ago when the head of the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE), in opposing her bid to chair the national Democrats, referred to her as an "airhead." But, says a senior liberal Democratic strategist today, "Pelosi is simply not very articulate. She tends to talk too much — like many people who have limited confidence in their intelligence and tend to make up in verbosity what they lack in veracity." That's why the San Francisco Chronicle recently commented tactfully that in her noteless speeches Pelosi "tends to get sidetracked," that she has a reputation for avoiding the press, and in her infrequent TV appearances she lacks the spontaneous authenticity of, say, Barney Frank or John McCain.
In Bay Area politics, Pelosi is considered an establishment figure. Says S.F. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the once and future mayoral candidate who's built a successful progressive coalition against the Willie Brown pro-business machine, "I've rarely ever had her support," adding, "We could do worse than Pelosi — but we could also do better." And her close ally Representative Anna Eshoo accurately describes her pal as "first and foremost pragmatic."
Pelosi got her new job as minority leader the old-fashioned way — she bought it, raising some $8 million for House Democrats in the last election cycle and criss-crossing the country handing out the checks. Now, the top staffers who ran the leader's office for both Tom Foley and Gephardt have been asked to stay on by Pelosi. That's more of a signal of continuity than of the sharp break with its past lethargy the Democrats need to win.
November 15, 2006
NEW IRAN "GAY" HANGING CASE MURKY
The following article was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly newspaper -- which publishes it tomorrow:
According to a translation of the IRNA dispatch made for the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) by Hossein Alizedeh of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, "Shahab Darvishsi, a delinquent person was executed in the Azadi Square of Kermanshah on Tuesday evening. According to the Communications Department of the Justice Department of the Kermanshah Province, the above-mentioned was found guilty [ by the court of law] of forming a coterie of corruption rings, physical assaults , and the despicable act of sodomy."
A report by the website Iran Focus -- an exile Iranian website that is not considered 100% reliable by many Iranian experts, Iranian scholars-in-exile, and human rights groups -- claimed that a "gay man" was executed, but this reporter has been unable to independently confirm that information from my own Iranian sources. The Iran Focus version of the case has been flying around the Internet in the last 36 hours. At press time, Jessica Stern of the LGBT desk at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told me that HRW had not been able to confirm from its own sources that the executed man was homosexual.
Arsham Parsi (left), Secretary-General of the PGLO -- who is now headquartered in Toronto after having been granted political asylum as a sexual refugee by Canada -- told me he has received an e-mail from an underground PGLO gay activist in Kermanshah
whose nick-name is "Raha" (his real name cannot be used for security reasons) who said he had attended the execution, and who reported that people he spoke to in the crowd appeared to be pleased that the man was being punished because he was a known criminal.
"Raha" said it was his understanding, after talking to police at the public hanging, that Darvishi, the hanged man, had participated in an assault and rape on a heterosexual couple, who were also murdered. But no independent information with details of the hanged man's alleged crimes has as yet become available from non-police or non-governmental sources. Nor was the alleged murder mentioned in the Iranian Justice Ministry's release on the Darvishi execution.
A rough translation of the e-mail from "Raha" in Kermanshah says:
"I’d like to give you some info on the execution of this person, and I should tell you that I was present during the last execution. As the security officials mentioned, this man was accused of numerous crimes, including lavat [sodomy]. His story is as follows: he was the leader of a gang that included 3 others. With his gang he kidnapped a recently married couple (man and woman) from Kermanshah, and after sexually assaulting both of them, they killed them. His other crimes included, kidnapping, killing someone while in prison, and forming a corrupt gang. These are things that I myself have heard. At the same time, many people were happy with his sentence, and said that heshouldn’t have been executed so soon, but rather, should have been turned over to the hands of the people so they could kill him. As a homosexual and a resident of Kermanshah I am telling you these things honestly, and hope that it will be helpful for you."
Reporting on events inside Iran, in which the media and the press are tightly controlled and censored by the government, is always difficult -- and this is even more true in any case involving homosexuality.
The Iranian government has been waging a vicious campaign against Iranian gays and lesbians, including entrapment via the Internet, raids on private gatherings in the homes of gay people, abductions of gay people, arrests, imprisonment, and the widespread use of torture and violence, both by the police and by the basiji (a paramilitary police force that enforces religious moral strictures, does the Tehran regime's strong-arm work, and is under the control of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.)
Iranian gays who are arrested are routinely tortured or blackmailed into giving the names of everyone they know who engages in homosexual sex, and those named are then in turn arrested.
The Interior Ministry maintains a computerized list of homosexuals, and those on the list are prevented from leaving the country because the government does not want them telling the story of the sometimes-lethal anti-gay campaign of oppression taking place inside Iran. Still, a steady stream of gay and lesbian refugees has managed to flee the country, and a number of them have related their tragic experiences at the hands of the homophobic authorities, including torture, in the pages of this newspaper.
In the past the Iranian government has used trumped-up criminal charges to execute gay people, and extracted "confessions" from gays by torture to crimes they never committed.
It is not clear why the Iranian government chose to make public the charge of "sodomy" against Darvishi, nor why the alleged murder of which police informed "Raha" was not mentioned among the charges laid to Darvishi in the Iranian Ministry of Justice's announcement. Since the world-wide protests over the hanging of two gay teenagers in the city of Mashad on July 19 2005, the Iranian government has refrained from announcing executions for homosexual acts, which are a capital crime under Iranian law. On the first anniversary of the hanging of the two boys in Mashad this year, world-wide vigils and demonstrations were held in 29 cities around the world, from Mexico City and Moscow to London and Warsaw, including in eight American cities.
Underground gay activists in Iran, like the editors of the clandestine Persian-language gay 'zine MAHA, have previously told this reporter that executions of homosexuals have taken place in secret since the hangings of the two lads in Mashad. Why, then, announce this one--and leave out the alleged murder?
In conversations this reporter had with PGLO activists, human rights group staffers, and Iranian scholars, speculation was rife as to the possible motive of the government in making public the "sodomy" charge against Darvishi. "It could have been to excite public approval of the execution and draw a large crowd, since homosexuality is detested by very religious Iranians," Parsi told me. Others speculated that the "sodomy" charge might have been tacked on to the other criminal charges in the hopes of dividing public opinion in the West, or that the government hoped to draw protests by the international LGBT community that could then be discredited inside Iran because of Darvishi's alleged criminal record, to the detriment of the cause of oppressed gay Iranians.
The hanging of Darvishi was the 117th execution carried out by the Iranian government this year, according to a count established by Agence-France Presse based on both government statements and eyewitness accounts.
The Iranian government has become very clever and Machiavellian in its attempts to manipulate public opinion and discredit its critics -- as in, for example, the Ramin Jahanbegloo affair (my friend Danny Postel unraveled the Jahanbegloo controversy in a sharp-eyed article for Open Democracy. Postel is the author of the forthcoming book, “ Reading Tehran Iran
This reporter has been covering the Iranian government's anti-gay campaign for nearly a year and a half in dozens of articles, and my conclusion is that extreme caution must be exercised before jumpting to conclusions about the public hanging of Darvishi -- although that execution is certainly to be deplored by all of us who oppose capital punishment, and who find public executions staged as entertainments shocking and barbaric. But, in the absence of hard, independent information, it is certainly premature to conclude that -- unlike the hanging of the two young gay teens in Mashad -- Darvishi was hanged, as Iran Focus claimed, because he was a "gay man." This case is too murky at this point to reach any definitive conclusions -- except to deplore Iran's continuing widespread use of capital punishment. We will continue to try to bring you more independent information from Iran on this troubliing Darvishi case.
For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 5 --"Shocking New Photo of Hanging of Gay Iranian Teens"; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks"; January 4, 2006 -- "Iran's Anti-Gay Pogrom"; January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran." February 9, 2006--Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, 2006-- "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, 2006-- "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, 2006-- "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, 2006-- "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, 2006-- "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; May 31, 2006-- "Iran Exports Anti-Gay Pogrom to Iraq"; June 14, 2006-- "An Iranian Gay Activist's Moving Plea." June 25, 2006 -- "Iran's Gay Refugees Find a Safe Haven in Canada." ; July 4, 2006 --"Global Protests July 19 To Commemorate Hanging of Two Iranian Gay Teens." July 5, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, An Underground Gay Activist Speaks: 'If I'm Found Out, No Physical Sign of Me Will Remain'" August 3, 2006 -- "Iran: Setting the Record Straight" ; August 6, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, a Message from the Gay 'Zine MAHA"; August 19, 2006 -- "Iran: A Lesbian Torture Victim Speaks" ; October 15, 2006 -- "An Iranian Gay Activist Who Has Fled the Police Needs Your Help"
For my position on a possible U.S. military attack on Iran, see the statement from the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, which I helped write and initiate, and which was signed by hundreds of prominent anti-war intellectuals and leaders, "Oppose War on Iran and Theocratic Repression."
Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."
November 07, 2006
SENATE RACE EXIT POLLS SUGGEST STRONG DEMOCRATIC NIGHT
My spy at one of the Big Three networks, despite the extraordinarily tight security this year imposed on exit poll results before the real polls close, has called in with the 5:00 p.m. cut of the numbers from the network pool exit polls on the Senate races -- DEMS numbers are listed first, REPUBLICANS numbers second.
RHODE ISLAND: D-53, R-47
VIRGINIA D-52, R-47
ARIZONA D-46, R-50
CONNECTICUT Lieberman up 4 points
FLORIDA D-62, R-36
MISSOURI D-50, R-48
NEW JERSEY D-50, R-46
NEW YORK D-68, R-30
OHIO D-57, R-42
PENNSYLVANIA D-57, R-42
MARYLAND D-53, R-46
MONTANA D-50, R-48
My network analyst suggests that the Missouri Senate race is definitely too close to call, and that Montana could yet tighten considerably.