Saturday, January 21, 2012


The scene: Four radically conservative women get together for a political chatfest. They include a young black woman who says things like this, with a straight face: "The scripture tells us how to vote"; a non-descript librarian type who is, shall we say, not camera-ready; a blonde Heather Locklear-alike who is committed to her belief that Barack Obama is a Muslim; and, one-time, SNL not-ready-for-prime-time player Victoria Jackson, who inexplicably appears to be morphing into Shelley Winters. Today, the ladies tackle the all-important question, Can a Christian vote for a Mormon?

Friday, January 20, 2012


Way back in 1992 Joseph Ozment entered a convenience store with another man and committed a robbery. His cohort shot the clerk, Ricky Montgomery and disabled him long enough for the two to make their escape. Still, Ozment fired two shots into Montgomery’s head. He was caught, prosecuted and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. Today, Ozment is not only free, but he is missing.

One man who is not concerned about Ozment’s whereabouts is former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who issued Ozment a full pardon just as he was about to exit the governor’s office on his last day. Not only did he pardon Ozment, but he pardoned 202 others, including at least 20 more convicted murderers. Watch:

That report was on January 12. The next day, Barbour held a news conference. He defended his clemency decisions by saying 189 of those pardoned were already out of jail. He said 26 were in jail, but 13 were released strictly for medical reasons. About the murderers, Barbour said they had been found guilty of crimes of passion, and according to the former governor, “experts” say those who commit crimes of passion are the most unlikely to commit another crime. He also said he is an evangelical Christian who believes in second chances. He proclaimed he is “totally at peace” with his decisions about the pardons.

One wonders why Barbour does not show more concern for the people of Mississippi who are quite uncomfortable knowing the murderers are free. I was in Mississippi the night news broke of Barbour’s eleventh hour pardons. I can safely say that everybody I came in contact with that night and the next day was dumbfounded, somewhat frightened and outraged. They were blindsided by Barbour’s callous disregard of their trust. They wanted an explanation, and they wanted Barbour to be held accountable for what they considered the careless abuse of his last moments of power. That may be why he caved to public pressure and held the press conference, at which he only managed to dig himself in deeper. About the five murderers who had worked as trustees at the Governor’s mansion, Barbour said he trusted them so completely that he even allowed his grandchildren to play with them. That simply served to make him further appear as the old, out-of-touch Southern white guy that he really is. Here is how he tried to justify his inexcusable decisions to compromise public safety in Mississippi:

Haley Barbour has a history of questionable, if not unacceptable behavior while in power. Last year, for example, Barbour said the civil rights era “was not that bad in Mississippi,” and that he “had a great childhood” in the state. Also last year, he was way too slow to veto a proposal to issue a state vanity license plate honoring a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Barbour, in fact, has a history of somewhat muted racism in his rhetoric. He also has a questionable history regarding immigration. When he worked as a lobbyist, he actually represented Mexico and reportedly made rather covert efforts to enable Mexicans to enter the U.S. and not have to fully live up to immigration laws.

What matters now is that Barbour was elected Governor of Mississippi twice, and for the most part operated in the traditions of the old South. One who spends time in Mississippi and who did not grow up there is quick to see the state has its own self-contained, early American culture. Natchez, for example, is a place that seems never to have accepted that the South lost the Civil War.[Exhibit A: At right is Mammy's Cupboard restaurant] So Barbour is a product of his environment. It so happens he amassed a certain amount of power and respect among the citizenry, so that when his term as Governor ended, he felt autonomous enough to simply let convicted first degree murderers back into the streets. What about respect for their victims, one might ask. What about their victims’ relatives, friends and associates? Are they at risk of bodily harm now?

Haley Barbour is a piece of work who has probably held Mississippi back, single handedly, from advancing into the 21st century, but his latest clemency disaster may be his worst act yet. Only time will tell if those crimes of passion he speaks of were isolated incidents or if they truly were precursors of a pattern of life-threatening criminal acts.

Friday, January 6, 2012


This week, in one of his first appearances in New Hampshire, before a group of college students, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was confronted about his views against marriage equality. Reportedly, he asked the student what the difference would be between allowing two men to get married and allowing more than two men to marry. Essentially, he compared gay Americans getting married to polygamy. This is from a guy who has in the past compared gay people getting married to bestiality and sex between dogs.

Reports are showing up that bigger money is starting to bolster Santorum’s surprisingly emerging candidacy. Just yesterday, Foster Freiss, a megabucks-rich Wyoming financier, revealed that he dropped a half million dollars on Santorum’s Super PAC. This news comes right as it is revealed that Santorum, in a proactive sweep, is planning a major media blitz in South Carolina. While he preps for South Carolina, polls have him pulling up to third in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, he continues his unabashedly bigoted remarks about black Americans, gay Americans, pro-choice Americans, poor Americans, and even Mormons (who he says are members of a dangerous cult”). Rick Santorum is a bigot. Just reading those words right now on the page, I can’t help wondering why I haven’t read them anywhere else. Not only is he a bigot, but he tries mightily to convince you and me that he is not, even backtracking on his own words. Watch:

The ultimate danger is an exclusionary, closed-minded bigot gathering steam in the race to be the leader of the free world. What kind of a world would happen with a President Santorum? I envision a world under Santorum where America is at war with Iran. He has as much as said it. I envision a world in which girls raped by their fathers are forced to give birth; a world in which fully trained doctors in the best medical facilities in the country are legally compelled to allow a woman to die rather than abort the fetus that is killing her. Santorum would even like to legislate sexual behavior between men and women; he recently said contraceptives are “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” His views on contraception are nothing new; they’ve just gotten louder. Here is what he said as far back as 2006:

Those who still remain unconvinced of Santorum’s ignorance should take note of the fact that somehow he speaks of birth control only in terms of pre-marital sex. The truth is it is a multi-faceted, life and death issue. He makes no mention of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection, teen pregnancy rates or any other issue associated with a lack of birth control. Again, Santorum’s narrow view of the world ignores inevitable consequences and asks the citizenry to subscribe to his own lack of understanding of vital issues.

Santorum’s rhetoric is positively Bachmannesque in its ignorance, but there is quite a distinction between him and Michele Bachmann. She was a flake who fizzled out of the public’s consciousness faster than you can say “Iowa.” He, on the other hand is rising. By some estimates his support nationwide quintupled after Iowa. He is reported to have raised $2 million in the 48 hours following the caucus there. As the money pours in, Santorum is steadily elevating his rhetorical swagger. On Thursday he actually dissed Ronald Reagan in a speech about social security. Try to remember the last time you heard a GOP candidate who was bold (or stupid) enough to denigrate Reagan. Santorum’s getting perilously cocky.

The danger here is the precedent. If Santorum can rise in America, what ails this country, and what other fringe candidate could garner support? We Americans rarely rally behind extremists who run for president. But people are scared right now. After witnessing the Arab Spring, bloodshed worldwide, the Occupy movement coast to coast – Americans are ripe for a law and order guy. And if the only type of law and order that presents itself is moral law and order in the body of a Rick Santorum, it appears a lot of scared Americans are ready to jump on his highly determined and rigidly conceived bandwagon. He is a man whose rapid ascent is the clear result of national desperation.

That’s no way to elect a president. If I could get one message across to all of those rabid Santorum supporters it would be this: What you are witnessing is the candidacy of an angry man. Inside of his rhetoric is a true rage against freedom. It is the world according to Rick Santorum, and anyone who doesn’t fall in line is simply dismissed and categorized as a sinner.

If you want to witness a teachable moment, this is the big one. Here and now we can learn a lot about what moves people when they’re in trouble. Santorum’s message is resonating among citizens who feel disenfranchised and hopeless. He is playing the God card, and transforming his holier-than-thou attitude into a public rallying cry for his limited version of morality.

Will we buy what he’s selling in the long term? I think not. But plenty of damage can be done in the meantime. As the campaign goes on, attention will likely turn to Santorum’s cozy connections with big business, his uncomfortable alliance with lobbyists, his questionable past business dealings and his hawkish views on foreign policy. But right now, since he seems hell bent on imposing his moral views on America, it’s time for us to ask ourselves if we could truly abide a President who dismisses millions of us simply because we believe in something he does not comprehend – freedom of choice.