Archive for January 10th, 2012
Gingrich has been a jerk for years. (Chris Keane/Reuters)
Reason number something-or-other why the Vietnam-war-era multiple-deferment-getting chickenhawk Newt Gingrich is a pompous ass:
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t an issue of eligibility—Gingrich could have tried to enlist, draft or no—but of will. “Given everything I believe in, a large part of me thinks I should have gone over,” Gingrich told Jane Mayer in 1985. “Part of the question I had to ask myself was what difference I would have made,” adding that “there was a bigger battle in Congress than Vietnam.” As Gingrich put it, “no one felt this was the battle-line on which freedom would live or die.”
This seems a common refrain among conservative political figures of a certain age. The premise is that they are better than the average person; more gifted, more connected, more “elite” in some way, and so while they of course could go shoot at people from a muddy ditch in some miserable, bloody war, they knew that it would be far better for society if they instead were elected to office and could use their enormous, gigantic intellects to help the rest of us peons out of our mess. Fighting is for little people who would otherwise just go off and become doctors or mechanics or concert violinists or something; Newt has the gift of knowing how to preserve our freedomz, which is a far more important position and duty than all the rest of them.
So you go die, and let your conservative intellectual superiors get on with the governing part.
This sense of personal exceptionalism is nothing new, of course, but the current crop of candidates has it in spades. Newt is smarter than anyone else, by his own estimation; Rick Santorum is more moral than anyone else, and isn’t afraid to let you know it; Ron Paul has magical economic powers that allow him to see visions of a dystopian future that the rest of us cannot; Mitt Romney is just plain richer than anyone else, and always has been, and on a daily basis makes it clear that he has no earthly concept of how the little people might go about their daily lives.
Getting preached at by any of them gets very tedious, very fast. I suppose we can take a little comfort in reminding ourselves that Gingrich, in particular, has been an asshole for his entire adult life—so there’s no hint of flip-flopping from him: He’s always known he was better than you. That’s the whole chickenhawk argument in a nutshell.
© 2012, agentleman.
Kansas continues to beg the question: “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Late last week, KansasSpeaker of the House, Mike O’Neil, “apologized” for forwarding a pair of emails that, in turn, calledfor the death of President Obama and then referred to the First Lady as “YoMoma.”
The first email makes a reference to Psalm 109:8 and part of it reads:
“At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!”
If 109:8 sounds familiar, it should. It was quite popular among the right several months ago. Let’s look at the verse, shall we?
Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Well, that’s not too bad. Of course, you would have to ignore the rest of the Psalm, specifically the next line:
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Ah. So that’s why it was so popular! Of course, no one admits that they are praying for the president to die (wink, nudge, hur hur hur). But that’s about as believable as “I’m not racist! Some of my best friends are black!”
Normally, I would find this mildly amusing and move on, but the text of the email just gave it that extra tasty conservative flavor of unnecessary racism:
”I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Mrs. YoMama a wonderful, long Hawaii Christmas vacation — at our expense, of course.”
Of course, one could ask where all this outrage at presidential vacations was when Bush took more than double the time off that Obama has at this point in their respective presidencies. One would not be hopeful of receiving an answer, though. And what, precisely, does her color have to do with anything?
Oh wait, O’Neil is a Republican, they ooze racism like Mitt Romney oozes fake sincerity.
But once his emails came to light, Speaker O’Neil was quite apologetic. For the prayer, O’Neil insists that he was only referring to the presidents’ days in office. As mentioned previously, this is what EVERY person confronted with this quote claims. And yet, despite knowing how it is viewed by everyone that is not a lying weasel, they still keep using it. Kind of undermines the excuse.
© 2012, agentleman.
In a small trailer park in Catoosa, Okla., in 2005, an aging white supremacist made a startling claim to a woman he had met only earlier that day.
He told her he was a serial bomber.
According to federal court records, Dennis Mahon, was thumbing through an album of old pictures for the woman, showing off his Ku Klux Klan robe and other artifacts of his life when he began to tick off a list of places he claimed to have bombed since the early 1980s.
There was an abortion clinic, a Jewish community center and offices of the IRS and immigration authorities. He told the woman he liked to use a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. He said he added powdered sugar to the mix for an extra bang. He would set off the bombs at 2 a.m., he said, so that no one was hurt but a message was still sent.
What Mahon didn’t know was that the woman he was bragging to was an informant working for federal law enforcement. And the trailer she was staying in was rigged with hidden cameras and microphones to catch every word.
Today, the former KKK leader and his twin brother, Daniel, are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Phoenix, thanks to the conversations they had with that informant, Rebecca Williams, over four years.
The twins are accused of sending a mail bomb in early 2004 to a government diversity office in Scottsdale, Ariz., injuring the office’s director and two of his employees. Both are charged with conspiring to blow up a government building while Dennis Mahon is also charged with carrying out the bombing as well as teaching someone else how to make a bomb.
The case is extraordinary for many reasons, not the least of which is that it may be the first time federal investigators have been able to seriously infiltrate a network of so called “lone wolf” extremists, a loose-knit group of racists and anti-government types who seem to always be looking for ways to start or win an ever-coming race war. It’s the same type of network that produced Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Led by a veteran investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the probe into the Mahon twins also targeted Tom Metzger, one of the preeminent leaders of the white supremacist movement in the US, as well as Robert Joos, a Missouri survivalist who stockpiled weapons in caves on his farm near the Ozarks.
“It’s certainly one of those high water mark cases,” said the director of the Arizona office of the Anti-Defamation League, Bill Straus, who has followed the case since its inception. “It reminds the community that guys like this, guys that created and sent that bomb are a threat to the entire community. Period.”
It all began on Feb. 26, 2004 when a cardboard box arrived at the Scottsdale Office of Diversity and Dialogue. It looked like a perfectly normal package, with $3.95 postage paid. It was addressed to the office’s director, Donald Logan. When he opened the box, it exploded, tearing flesh from his arms and nearly costing him his fingers. His assistant, Renita Linyard, was also seriously injured. Another staffer in the office, Jacque Bell, suffered minor injuries.
Scottsdale police immediately called the ATF in for help. The federal agency had more resources and reach to investigate a bombing. The agency put special agent Tristan Moreland in charge of the case. A smart, dedicated investigator in the agency’s Arizona office, Moreland had worked on some of the toughest cases in the state, often going undercover to solve them.
Given the target’s job and race — he is black — Moreland and his team began looking at extremist groups that may have had ideological reasons to carry out the attack.
They didn’t need to look far. A national gathering of white supremacists, neo Nazis and KKK members had taken place just a few weeks earlier at a park about 10 miles north of the city. The event was called Aryanfest 2004.
Dennis Mahon was in attendance, bragging about having known the Oklahoma City bomber. Metzger was there, too, acting the part of an elder statesman.
Metzger ran a group called White Aryan Resistance, or WAR, and was well known in extremist circles. The group has since changed its name to The Insurgent. Metzger is a proponent of “lone wolf” tactics, encouraging his fellow racists to carry on the struggle by themselves or in small cells to avoid exposing the rest of the movement to law enforcement. Mahon was once an organizer for WAR and had been friends with Metzger for decades.
Their attendance at the festival wasn’t the only thing that aroused suspicion. Five months before the bombing, Mahon had called the Scottsdale diversity office and left a disturbing voice mail about the city’s Hispanic heritage week. It was bad enough for the office to call police and report it.
“You guys, you, you, rich white people you really, you really are something else. If, if I had my way I’d sic about hundred thousand illegal aliens right into Scottsdale and see how you like your damn heritage,” Mahon said in the message, according to court records. “The White Aryan Resistance is growing in Scottsdale. There’s a few white people who are standing up. Take care.”
The ATF decided to take a closer look at Mahon and Metzger. The investigators discovered that Mahon and his twin brother had been living in a trailer park in neighboring Tempe, Ariz., in the months before the bombing, but the pair packed up and left just a couple weeks after it occurred.
In the following months, Moreland was able to track the Mahon brothers to the trailer park in Catoosa. But without the ability to get closer, the investigation would have gone cold.
That’s when Moreland decided to have someone go undercover and befriend the brothers. According to court records, in January 2005, Moreland began looking for a confidential informant — a civilian — who would be willing to devote a lot of time to the operation.
Someone else in federal law enforcement pointed him to Williams. Federal court records say very little about her background. She had no real training and had only worked on one previous case. But she was an attractive woman, 20 years younger than the Mahons who seemed to have the wherewithal to handle herself around dangerous people.
In a hearing in September 2010 in federal court in Phoenix, Williams described her job in simple terms. “Just to get information.” The ATF’s plan was to put Williams and an undercover female ATF agent in a trailer near the Mahons at the Catoosa trailer park.
On Jan. 26, 2005, the pair drove the camper, rigged with cameras and microphones, into the park. While setting up in a space, the women placed a confederate flag in a window of the trailer.
Before long, the Mahon brothers came over and introduced themselves.
“I’m a girl and they’re guys and, you know, guys like to talk to pretty girls so they —we just started talking,” Williams said at the 2010 court hearing.
Over the next 10 days, Williams paved the way for a relationship with the brothers that lasted the next four years. She was integral to the investigation, and almost every moment of her interaction with them was recorded by law enforcement. Her pickup truck was wired with cameras and microphones. She kept a microphone on her key chain.
Dennis Mahon bragged about the serial bombings early on, and his brother seemed to verify some of it. Daniel Mahon told her about drive-by shootings and car bombings, according to the court records.
“We thought we were doing the right thing. We were just trying to send a message,” Daniel Mahon told Williams. “When I would take someone’s car out, it wasn’t anger. It was a sense of duty. It is like a military operation. You plan for it, equip for it.”
Williams often egged the brothers on. In one conversation, she asked Dennis Mahon if he ever had any success with sending a package bomb to someone.
Court records say he leaned in close and whispered, “In Tempe, Arizona, Goddamn diversity officer, Scottsdale Police Department, had his fingers blown off.” He then caught himself, paused and told her that he had advised “white cops how to do it.”
It’s clear from the court records that Dennis Mahon liked talking to Williams. He developed a strong emotional and physical attraction to her.
ATF and Williams used this to their advantage. In one example, Williams testified that the investigators got her to pose for photographs wearing a bathing suit with a grenade hanging down from her neck in between her breasts. For the pictures, she stood in front of a pickup truck and a swastika flag. The photos were then mailed to the brothers.
Throughout the investigation, Williams and the ATF were able to document close ties between the Mahons and other extremists, with WAR’s Metzger being the most prominent of them. They were also able to gather enough evidence to make arrests.
On June 25, 2009, agents executed search warrants in three states. They searched the Mahons’ house in Illinois, Metzger’s house in Indiana and the Missouri farm owned by Robert Joos. They arrested Joos on suspicion of weapons charges and the Mahon twins on suspicion of the bombing.
Joos was later convicted and sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison. Metzger, however, remains free. Federal prosecutors never accused him of a crime.
In a recent interview with TPM, Metzger said the ATF let him go him because he hadn’t done anything wrong. He said he didn’t think the Mahons were involved in the bombing, either.
“I have a hard time believing that they did it,” Metzger said by phone from his home in Indiana. “I’ve always cautioned them against going across the line.”
Attorneys for the Mahons did not return phone calls seeking comment. However, in court filings, they’ve criticized the government’s case, saying the informant’s interactions with the twins were “outrageous.”
In 2010, the attorneys asked Judge David Campbell to throw out some of the charges because of the conduct. But the judge declined, saying he would leave those decisions to the jury.
What’s not clear from the investigation is how serious the Mahons were about their claims of long-ago bombings and shootings. At a hearing in 2010, Moreland, the lead ATF investigator, said he looked into the claims. He told the court he could never develop enough evidence to either prove or disprove them.
As for Don Logan, the target of the bombing, he told TPM he’s glad the trial is starting, even though it’s been almost eight years since the explosion.
“I obviously have been waiting a long time for this day to finally come,” Logan said on Monday. “It’s time to move to the next level.”
© 2012, agentleman.
Daley’s Demotion: How Washington Elites Got Obama Wrong By Jonathan Chait
Hiring Bill Daley as chief of staff may not have been the biggest mistake of President Obama’s first term, but it was surely the most obvious one. Now he appears to be reversing it. The official line is that Daley is not being demoted, he is merely handing off more of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the presidency to Pete Rouse. But, of course, managing the day-to-day traffic in the White House is the entire source of the chief of staff’s power. All accounts suggest Daley performed the mechanics of his job in a catastrophically bad way.
But the interesting legacy of Daley’s tenure is not his mechanical performance. It’s that he conducted an experiment based on the Washington elite view of the Obama presidency. That view, shared by business leaders, centrist pundits, and other elites, holds that Obama’s main problem has been excessive partisanship, liberalism in general, and hostility to business in particular. In December, 2009, Bill Daley wrote a Washington Post op-ed endorsing precisely this analysis. After the midterm elections, Obama – pelted by Daley-esque complaints – appointed Daley chief of staff. “His moderate views and Wall Street credentials make him an unexpected choice for a president who has railed against corporate irresponsibility,” reported the Post. Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Karl Rove, and FedEx CEO Fred Smith raved.
Daley, pursuing his theory, heavily courted business leaders. He made long-term deficit reduction a top priority, and spent hours with Republican leaders, meeting them three-quarters of the way in hopes of securing a deal that would demonstrate his centrism and bipartisanship. The effort failed completely.
The effort failed because Daley’s analysis — which is also the analysis of David Brooks and Michael Bloomberg — was fatally incorrect. Americans were not itching for Obama to make peace with corporate America. Americans are in an angry, populist mood — distrustful of government, but even more distrustful of business. In the most recent NBC/The Wall Street Journal poll, 60 percent of Americans strongly agreed with the following statement:
The current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country. America needs to reduce the power of major banks and corporations and demand greater accountability and transparency. The government should not provide financial aid to corporations and should not provide tax breaks to the rich.
What’s more, it may be true that a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit would have bolstered Obama’s standing. The trouble is that Republicans believed the exact same thing. Here’s how McConnell frankly explained his calculation:
“The only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”
Republicans believed that making bipartisan agreements with Obama would make Obama and his agenda more popular. Republicans are not in the business of helping Obama win reelection. And so they refused to sign a bipartisan agreement, and Obama simply looked weak and ineffectual.
Since that debacle, Obama issued a course correction and started pursuing a strategy that’s in line with the realities of public opinion and the Congress, as opposed to Daley’s fantasy version thereof. Recognizing public populism and GOP intransigence, he is outlining the legislation he wants on jobs, under no illusion that Republicans will cooperate, in order to clarify which party is responsible for inaction. Obama’s approval ratings, after sinking under the weight of Daley’s failed gambit, now appear to be rising.
Daley is now a superfluous man. According to the Journal, which broke the story, Daley will now spend more time schmoozing up various esteemed Washington-influence peddlers and frauds:
Lately, Mr. Daley has been trying out his new role, deploying his back-slapping persona in Washington social circles. He recently held a private reception at his Ritz Carlton residence for a small group of D.C. elites, including former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, former Fanne Mae [sic] chief executive Jim Johnson and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S.
Former Senator Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) said an invitation to lunch with Mr. Daley in his West Wing office was the first time he had heard from him. Mr. Bayh said the two men, over tuna salads and Diet Coke, discussed ideas for kickstarting the economy. “I just think they’re just genuinely taking soundings,” Mr. Bayh said.
It seems like a far more appropriate use of Daley’s talents, such as they are.
© 2012, agentleman.