Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupational Hazard

By Capt. Fogg

I first heard of it a few days ago from a blogger noted for outrageous claims, but I have been late to pick up on the ploy, even though it has been used against liberals and liberal causes for some time. Similarly overbearing "conservative" commentators once assured me that of course Bill and Hillary Clinton were obvious anti-Semites and if you're old enough to read this you'll remember that Barack Obama was of the same racist, intolerant and bigoted stripe and perhaps even a Hitler Sympathizer and Muslim terrorist.

Of course there's always an anecdote, a selected collection of irrelevant or even fabricated 'facts' to prove the point -- and of course and strangely, those making the claim aren't often Jews. I've learned to discount these attacks, of course, you should pardon the metaphor, for many reasons including the observation that the accusations most often come from iron fisted defenders of a faith only they call Christian and who have only suddenly and temporarily stopped accusing Jews and other infidels of persecuting them. ( Sorry Muslims, you'll have to wait your turn for forgiveness.)

So for now, this week only and especially for you, I'm offering 99.99% off (what a deal) on the notion that the Occupy Wall Street people are really there to express their anti-Semitic notions about bankers and brokers and not their antiestablishmentarian anger at those who accepted massive and expensive rescue only to continue their shoddy practices to the detriment of the public and national survival.

That's a sentiment strangely similar to the Tea Party disdain for government bailouts, and the strange bed-fellowship implied here is difficult to sweep under the rug for those who need to look like the only ones discontent with the status quo on Wall Street. So how do you make the Tea Party look good and other people with the same idea look bad? You find something or someone atypical or irrelevant and promote it or him as the prototype.

The Jewish Journal today reminds us of the infamous "protocols of the Elders of Zion" that was used by Czarist supporters to identify the feared and hated Jews with socialism, a practice not unknown to this day and a book that was printed by "Christian" organizations around the world until recently -- if indeed they've stopped. I certainly remember the promotion of Abbie Hoffman to leadership of the many disparate and mostly respectable protesters in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I was there and I'd never heard of him until I heard on the news that he was my leader, but of course it was enough to taint the many clergymen, Vietnam veterans and business leaders with the yellow star.

The fear of being labeled a racist of any stripe is, I think, being used quite deliberately to downplay the legitimacy of this protest. It isn't enough to play up the numbers of people who are making a mess of the city and its public and private facilities, particularly for a party trying to wear the mantle of some 18th century destructive, anti-Government protesters. It's hard to convince us that they're really secretly Mexican illegals or African Americans demonstrating their disdain for enterprise and civility, but anyone can be a Jew, or at least accused of it and so the sudden concern by the Religious right that their best friends are being offended on these holiest of holy days, by those unwashed, free loading, anti-Semitic hippies who seem to be gathering around the world calling for regulation.

And of course President Obama we already know to be a Jew hater and if he tries to impose regulations on the Jew-Dominated financial and banking interests, we have additional proof that regulation equals bigotry and not just Communism - just don't think about it too carefully and you won't notice the absurdity -- and if you do, the Tea Party will turn on you too, you bigot!

(Cross Posted from Human Voices)

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Nobody Asked Me, But...

By Carl
(Note to my readers at The Reaction: Simply Left Behind is usually a weekly round up of news you might have missed. Sometimes, like today, I have something to address in depth. I felt this needed a wider audience than my crappy little blog's)
1) Break from tradition. I have something to say.
TO: Occupy Wall Street
FROM: Actor212
RE:  Going Forward
You looked Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties straight in the eye. They blinked.
Good on you. That's the first of many, many victories to come.
My first political involvement was in 1968. It was in sixth grade, so I couldn't have been more than ten years old at the time. A couple of classmates, Kenny, and I think Hank, set up a table on the corner outside our school, and campaigned for Hubert Humphrey. We had a hand-drawn poster, and all the literature we could handle from the local campaign office.
It was cute. I think we even got our photos taken for the Daily News.
We did it because we hated Richard Nixon and all that he stood for. Looking back over the past 45 years or so, it's embarassing to think that Nixon turned out to be the most domestically liberal president in that interim (a case could be made for Carter, I suppose).
And that's what I want to talk about: the past. And how your future as a movement can be shaped by it.
Nixon was as liberal as he was, passing environmental legislation for example, or lowering the voting age to 18, because of the pressure the left put on him (yea, there were other circumstances that he tried to curry favor to prevent, but he went so far as to propose single-payer healthcare!)
We blew it, we old farts. We achieved much in those protests, getting better acknowledgement of the equality of women, of gays and lesbians, and better integration of blacks and Hispanics-- I'm still waiting for Herman Cain to thank us. We ended a war.
To our discredit, we allowed Nixon and Congress to dismantle much of the Great Society that LBJ had worked so hard to put into place, among other things.
What we truly didn't do, and what we could have done, was forge a political movement that would have dragged any conservative who stood athwart the earth shouting "STOP!" to the ground and subdued him. We settled out. We got caught up in the glamour of forcing a sitting President to resign and figured our work was done. We were tired, we were infighting, and frankly, we were growing up and getting jobs and starting families.
Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
What we were too young to notice was the seeds of destruction that the Goldwater campaign of 1964 planted, that were starting to sprout, beginning with Reagan's election to California's governorship. We laughed. He was shitty actor, a former President of SAG and a liberal, spouting all kinds of crazy nonsense about the welfare state.
What we should have been doing, what if we could go back in time we would do, was crush him. We had the bodies still warm from the resistance.
I look at you, and I see that same anger that motivated us.
I see a difference, tho, a big difference. We grew up insulated from the world around us, some of us at any rate. You've had that sheathing stripped from around you, and you're scared and angry. I see the signs you hold, and they don't deviate much from the basic theme that the nation is unfairly benefitting the rich at the expense of the rest of us.
Some would say, "Life is unfair." Some are idiots. Mouthing that bromide is the shortest way to prove you haven't thought through life. “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
That was the great Robert F. Kennedy, who in life and especially in death sparked the anti-war movement to greater heights, and had he been President would no doubt have asked us to do our part for the nation to heal it, to move forward and to help.
There is so much I would say to you, and so little time to say it, if I have your attention this far. You will face challenges. The movement will find critical moments in which it needs strength. There will be conflict. I would say this: there are many paths to take, and all of them, all of them, can lead you to the goal you seek. Some will have dead ends, but don't be discouraged as so many of us were: turn around and find a new way. You're still on the path, that's what counts.
I look at pictures of myself down through the years, and see the promise of infinity within my eyes. I'm older now. Those eyes have dimmed but they still hold the faint glimmer of that promise as I look to you to carry the torch we let fall decades ago.
Let that torch keep ther fire in your eyes burning. Do not give up under any circumstances. They may defeat a person but a truth can never be defeated.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Dear Leader Rush says Romney not conservative, drives wedge deeper into GOP

I've been arguing again and again recently (along with many others) that Romney is no sure thing, no matter what you might be hearing. He appears to have much of the Republican Party establishment coalescing behind him, but conservatives -- the grassroots base that largely decides the primaries, along with conservative elites who reject the moderation (relatively speaking) of the establishment and who have effectively constructed a new GOP mainstream well out on the right -- aren't buying it (or him). His support over the past several months has remained consistent but low for a supposed frontrunner, in the 20-25 percent range. It's not clear if his ceiling is much higher than that. And Republicans are clearly looking for an alternative, any viable, credible alternative, and have been doing so all along, whether it was Bachmann or Perry or now, apparently, Cain. Romney may yet win the nomination, but it would likely be by default, with the conservative, anti-Romney vote divided.

The media, which jumped on the Bachmann and Perry bandwagons, are currently touting Romney as the likely eventual winner of the nomination, particularly after Perry's many stumbles. (They're not really buying Cain as a viable, credible candidate. Yet.) But Romney has a great deal yet to overcome, and he faces obstacles that may be insurmountable. One such obstacle, again, is that conservatives just don't like him. Some even outright loathe him and will do whatever they can to knock him down, and out. Generally, Republicans go for predictable presidential nominations, with the next-in-line anointed without much of a protracted fight. (Bush I in '88, Dole in '96, McCain in '08. Even Bush II in '00, with the establishment (and conservatives generally) throwing their support behind him.) But things are different now, what with the party having moved so far to the right and with the Tea Party a potent force at the grassroots level. It isn't enough just to have the party bigwigs and financiers behind you. You need to appeal deeply to the mob, to have right-wing ideological purity and the approval of the Bolsheviks who determine whether you're in or out, a saint or a heretic.

And, of course, it helps a great deal to have the approval of Dear Leader Rush, who remains enormously powerful within the party. And one of Romney's biggest problems is that Limbaugh just doesn't like him:

Romney is not a conservative. He's not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn't. What he has going for him is that he's not Obama and that he is doing incredibly well in the debates because he's done it a long time. He's very seasoned. He never makes a mistake, and he's going to keep winning these things if he never makes a mistake. It's that simple. But I'm not personally ready to settle on anybody yet -- and I know that neither are most of you, and I also know that most of you do not want this over now, before we've even had a single primary! All we've had are straw votes. You know that the Republican establishment's trying to nail this down and end it. You know that that's happening, and I know that you don't want that to happen, and neither do I.

Do you really think Republicans will choose a nominee of whom Limbaugh does not approve? Romney can hope that Limbaugh changes his mind and accepts Romney as suitably conservative, though he can only do that, only appeal to Limbaugh, by running further and further to the right, endangering whatever general election prospects he has -- not to mention looking more and more like he's just pandering to conservatives, reducing his chances of picking up conservative support. (Conservatives want the real thing, a genuine conservative, someone they have no doubts about. That means Perry, should be able to recover from his current malaise, not Romney. And of course it also means Cain, as we're seeing in the polls.)

The opportunity to beat Obama may ultimately shift Limbaugh's focus away from ideology and towards electability, particularly if no one on the right is able to unite the conservative, anti-Romney vote. But Limbaugh's basic assessment, that Romney just isn't a conservative, is a huge blow. Conservatives don't want Romney in 2012, and, as Limbaugh indicates, they'll continue to search for an alternative, holding Romney's support down. And if Romney does win, they're not exactly going to be enthusiastic about it, potentially holding Republican turnout down.

As long as Romney remains a force in the party, as a contender for the nomination or eventually as the nominee, there won't be Republican unity. And Limbaugh just drove the wedge in a little deeper.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Greed Is Unhealthy

By Carl
I think a large part of the reason Herman Cain is surging in the polls is the lunatic tax plan he's proposed, the so-called "9-9-9" plan:

It was a strategy session at 28,000 feet. Herman Cain, the Republican presidential candidate, and his advisers were on a campaign flight this summer tossing around policy ideas. Cain, a former pizza chain chief executive, wanted a proposal to jolt the economy and give his candidacy some definition.

"I said, 'The first fundamental, guys, is we have to throw out the tax code,' " Cain said Wednesday in an interview.

From that exchange emerged the plan that Cain calls 9-9-9: a flat 9 percent individual income tax rate, a 9 percent corporate tax rate and a 9 percent national sales tax.

He has uttered the triple digits repeatedly, in speeches and debates, until they have acquired the catchy power of a brand.

Although Cain's rivals have tried to use the plan's simplicity against him -- chiding that it sounds like the price of a pizza -- he has stuck to his message.

Simple is simple. It's neither better nor worse. It can be good or it can be bad.

And let's face facts: in an age when you are a mistake away from being fired, out of money, and out of your house, who wouldn't want their taxes "lowered"? Nine percent sounds very attractive, to be sure. You can accumulate some savings, since your tax rate will effectively be cut by two-thirds or more, and sock away some money just in case you get drunk and molest the boss's admin.

Others, including Teabaggers(!), have done the yeoman work of dissembling this abomination to the working people of America.

And it ought to concern ALL of us that the man who dreamed up this debacle is a banker of the same mold as the asshats who got us into this glue: Rich "Fapping For Palin" Lowrie.

Right there, it ought to be suspect.

I want to discuss the rather disturbing fact that this obviously deluded man with his obviously destructive plan has any credibility in American politics whatsoever. A child of government assistance, from the federal funds his alma mater received to the affirmative action acceptance at Purdue University (...presumably. Cain has not released his college transcripts. There must be a reason, right?) to the job he obtained working for the Navy, he stands foursquare against a hand up to anyone else.

You'd think a man with the background of Cain would have a certain fealty towards people struggling to get by, but apparently not.

How has this emotional Scrooge has captivated so many spiteful, hateful people? Well, for one thing, there's the whole Baptist minister-- Cain is an assistant minister-- theme, with the cadences and rhythms that go with that position. It has a more powerful effect on the delusional than you might think.

And its undeniable that his life story...assuming he's told the truth about a compelling one, growing up in the deeply segregated south, suffering the abuses of the white people around him, rising to become first head of Burger King (after a rather...impressively entrepreneurial...start of going from fry cook to regional manager in only seven months! *snark*) and then rebuilding the Godfather's Pizza chain...after putting hundreds of people out of work in a leveraged buyout in the 1990s. The chain has not recovered since, shrinking from over 900 locations to just over 400, and now back up to 600 ten years after Cain left.

You might recall that it was in this tenure that Cain challenged the Clinton health care reform initiative. I wonder how many of those poor laid off employees would have enjoyed adequate healthcare these past twenty years after they were screwed twice by Cain?

And yet, somehow this greedy vicious little man is a serious contender, tho likely not a finalist, for the Republican nomination for President.

Could it be....greed?

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Rick Perry ain't no historian

I was going to blog about this, but Mustang Bobby beat me to it with a great one-liner. Here's his post:

After last night's debate, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) explains why the Americans revolted against the British in 1542:

Reason we fought the revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.

Then Ponce de Leon freed the slaves and opened a casino outside of Fort Lauderdale.


Oh, Rick Perry. The narrative of you as way too stupid to be president just keeps getting deeper. And it's sticking because... well, because it seems to be so very, very true.

(More here.)

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thomas at twenty

By Mustang Bobby

Nina Totenberg of NPR had a long piece on the twentieth anniversary of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Aside from the fact that his confirmation hearings and the testimony of Anita Hill turned it into an incredible circus, his tenure on the court has been marked by the fact that he is the most right-wing radical justice to serve since time out of mind. His views make Antonin Scalia sound like William O. Douglas:

He is the only justice willing to allow states to establish an official religion; the only justice who believes teenagers have no free speech rights at all; the only justice who believes that it's unconstitutional to require campaign funders to disclose their identity; he's the only justice who voted to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act; and the only justice to say that the court should invalidate a wide range of laws regulating business conduct and working conditions.

Though his defenders shy from calling his views radical, they trumpet Thomas as the only justice to consistently return to what they see as the original meaning of the Constitution when it was adopted in 1789.

Which is ironic, to say the least; as an African-American, the Constitution of 1789 defined Mr. Thomas as three-fifths of a person in terms of the census. And while the people who work with him in the Court describe him as very friendly and accessible, the rage over the accusations by Ms. Hill that we saw during his confirmation seems to be a part of his make-up as well; he has a chip on his shoulder about affirmative action -- which probably had a part in getting him into Yale Law School -- and he refuses to acknowledge that he even went there.  And is there any doubt that when Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, President George H.W. Bush basically told his staff to find him the best conservative judge they could find to fill the seat... as long as he was black? Mr. Thomas may despise the cynicism and presumptuousness of affirmative action and the patronizing of white liberals who think that African-Americans cannot make it on their own, but he has no problem using the system that it provides.

It seems that Justice Thomas has done everything to shut out the ugliness of the real world that he grew up in and now lives in. He only hires clerks that agree with his political and judicial philosophies, and only socializes with people such as Rush Limbaugh, who feel that any point of view to the left of the John Birch Society is commie-pinko talk. It's interesting that a man who railed against being singled out for a high-tech lynching by the white male upper class and who holds such a powerful dislike for elitist snobs, has become one himself.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Herman Cain's poll boost matters -- for Mitt Romney

By Nicholas Wilbur 

It's an exciting time for the Herman Cain campaign.

The pizza company CEO has jumped into second place in the Republican presidential race, according to several new polls, and he's up 20 points over "frontrunner" Mitt Romney, according to Zogby.

Sadly, Cain's actual odds of winning even a single primary race, to say nothing of his chances of securing the GOP nomination, let alone the White House, are no higher than Sarah Palin's odds of being selected U.S. ambassador to Russia under a Rick Santorum administration.

Despite the media hype surrounding Cain's meaningless straw poll victory in Florida, his recent surge in the public opinion surveys actually says more about Mitt Romney and Rick Perry than it does Cain.
In a perfect summarization, as usual, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine wrote, "They Don't Like You, Mitt. They Really Don't Like You": 

I don't think Cain can win the nomination, and I'm not sure he really wants it (as opposed to a nice Fox News gig.) Saying you might vote for Herman Cain for president – of the United States, not of a pizza chain – can only be read as a cry of protest.

I don't see how Republicans could be making this any more plain.
They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.

That is why Republicans were so desperate to recruit New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose recent announcement that he would forgo the 2012 GOP presidential race is not unrelated to Cain's rise. The 15 percent of likely voters who backed a hypothetical Christie candidacy represented the growing "anyone but Romney" voting demographic, and in light of Perry's decline, Cain was the next-next-next best option.

Similar to Michele Bachmann's brief rise this summer, and Rick Perry's surge in August, Cain too will fade.

"By traditional yardsticks of measuring a presidential candidate's potential success, he falls short," Charlie Cook says of Cain (although he could just as easily be talking about Romney):

For hard-charging conservatives who have become disillusioned with Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and now Perry, and who have resisted the appeal of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, Cain may be the new flavor of the month. But without the apparatus, money, or expertise in actually winning a party’s nomination, it’s doubtful that he can go very far. The current flurry won’t keep the titans of business and finance on the sidelines; their skepticism will likely mirror that of the political pros and pundits.

Which is to say, let us not kid ourselves about Cain's chances of winning anything in 2012. As I noted already, "Republican voters won't vote for a black man as president. They didn't in 2008, and they won't in 2012." Why? Because, as history shows, George Bush isn't the only Republican who doesn't like black people. 

"Please, someone, anyone, LIKE ME!?!" – photo: Reuters
The more interesting revelation about the latest poll numbers is that while Cain has surged and Perry has fallen, Romney hasn't moved. He remains the undesirable frontrunner.

In the Zogby poll, 15 percent of all likely voters said they wouldn't vote, were unsure who they would vote for, or would choose "someone else" if Perry were the Republican nominee. If Romney were the nominee, this "Other" category rose to 20 percent.

In the next month, it will be this demographic of unsure, unlikely-to-vote, unsatisfied-with-the-current-options voters who will matter. Cain's rise, like Bachmann's and Perry's before him, will shrink, and we'll be back where we were in January, when anyone with a tri-corner hat could have announced their candidacy and overtaken Romney. But time is running out. It's too late for any other candidates to enter the race, and so the base will have to make a choice. Considering that Romney's five-year presidential campaign has done nothing to improve his appeal with the base, the anyone-but-Romney sentiment is evident.

His inability to invigorate the base or rally donors – to say nothing of his failure to have anything more than a survivor's presence in the last three debates – will start to grind on those looking for a candidate who can invigorate the base, can rally donors, and, hopefully, with a bit more debate preparation, can get some hopefully-positive press following his upcoming debate performances.

For those reading between the lines, yes, I was referring to Perry.

The Texas governor may be dumb, scary, offensive, and inarticulate, but he's still the only candidate who has the charm, the fundraising capabilities, and the campaign know-how to separate himself from the pack.

As we've seen, this won't happen as a result of his mere presence as a Romney alternative. That ship has sailed. But it can happen if he hits his stride. Romney and Cain are each carrying an 800-pound gorilla on their back. One is Mormonism, which one in five conservative voters says disqualifies Romney as a presidential candidate. The other is race, which is too risky a topic for anyone in the mainstream media to acknowledge but which nonetheless disqualifies Cain as a viable candidate for Republican voters as well.

As Cook said in his column, "It's Perry's to Win": 

Clearly, most Republican voters would much prefer a very, very, very conservative nominee to the more buttoned-down Romney... It's unclear whether they want, or will end up supporting, Perry – but, obviously, they want a Perry-like conservative. But it comes down to Perry's capacity to turn the corner, to become a national, as opposed to a Texas or a Deep South, candidate.

Perry has shown a proclivity to step on his own body parts and will undoubtedly do so again. The question is whether he learns from his mistakes. If he does, he will be the GOP nominee and stands a fair chance of beating President Obama, given the horrific economy and the public's loss of confidence in the president. If he doesn't and isn't more careful about what he says and how he says it, Perry will either lose the nomination, or he will win it and then lose a general election that's there for the taking. Simple as that. 

If the last year's worth of public opinion surveys says anything, it's that the Republican base is not in Romney's corner. And so far, he's done nothing to make the case that they should be, which is why conservative voters are consistently giving a thumbs up to every anti-Romney candidate who joins the race.

So far, Perry has been the only Republican presidential candidate to reach the 30 percent approval mark (an average of all polls). The support is there and the nomination is his to win – if only because Romney still can't find the momentum needed to rile the base.

It may not be easy to predict who will win the GOP nomination, but if it comes down to a black Republican, a Texan, and a Mormon, it's not difficult, given the current Republican electorate, to predict who won't win it. 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Joe the Congressman?

Yes, Joe the Plumber, also known as Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, is running for Congress.

Or rather, let's not get ahead of ourselves, seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur in Ohio's 9th District.

It'll be tough. Even if "Joe" wins the nomination, he'll go up against a highly respected woman seeking her 15th term, the longest-serving woman in the House -- in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that runs along Lake Erie from Sylvania and Toledo in the west past Sandusky in the east

Still, he's got the name and minor celebrity status in Republican circles to make a few waves. And winning the nomination would make him even more of a media sensation than he is already.

Almost makes you want to stop paying attention to politics.


I'm tempted to call this a Sign of the Apocalypse -- haven't done one of those in a long time. But it's not quite at that level yet. Let's wait and see how this goes.

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New Perry ad slams Romneycare

Here's the new ad from Rick Perry, released just in time for last night's GOP debate in New Hampshire.

I must say, it's extremely effective.

I wrote yesterday that it's far too early to count Perry out, and if he's committed to staying in the race he could very well rebound from his recent setbacks and unify the anti-Romney vote. In a way, it's better for him if he's not the frontrunner, let alone the party savior, so early in the race. He wilted in the spotlight, and the media basically declared him unfit to be president, and perhaps rightly so. Yes, it's hard to break free of those narratives, hard to erase them and create new ones, but Perry might just be able to do it, not least because Romney is such a weak candidate and has such a low ceiling of support.

Don't get me wrong. I think Perry is an ignorant extremist. I'm just saying he's got... potential. And this ad, focusing on Romneycare but really hitting at so much of what conservatives dislike about Romney, is the way to go to start climbing back into it.

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By Carl
There are elements of this story that seem....farfetched:

If Iranian government operatives really did try to contract a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama Administration alleges today, then they weren't just being diabolical. They were being fairly stupid.

Granted, the Zetas – the drug mafia that Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar allegedly thought he was dealing with on behalf of Tehran – are certainly Mexico's most bloodthirsty: they are the narcos that brought beheadings and wholesale massacres of innocent civilians to the nightmarish drug war scene south of the border. But even the Zetas, founded more than a decade ago by former Mexican army commandos, know better than to venture north of the border and invite the kind of U.S. law enforcement heat that a political assassination of this magnitude would have brought on them. They're more than willing to murder high and low inside Mexico – the Zetas are the chief suspects, for example, in last year's assassination of Tamaulipas state gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre – but they've rarely if ever directed that kind of mayhem inside the U.S.

And for good reason: they've experienced the vast difference between cops, prosecutors and judges in Mexico, whom they can buy off or kill with impunity, and the U.S. judicial system.

That's exhibit A. Exhibit B?

A friend of a former Texas used car dealer accused of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador in the United States says he never thought of his one-time business partner as politically motivated, much less a key player in a potential terrorist act.

Manssor Arbabsiar was known as "Jack" to his friends because his name was too hard to pronounce, said David Tomscha, who briefly owned a used car lot with him in the Texas Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi. Tomscha said his friend was likable, albeit a bit lazy.

"He's no mastermind," Tomscha told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I can't imagine him thinking up a plan like that. I mean, he didn't seem all that political. He was more of a businessman."

Now, this does not exclude Arbabsiar from potentially initiating and carrying out an attack that apparently was developed within the hierarchy of the Iranian military, the Quds. After all, while several of the 9/11 hijackers had college degrees (Atta was even an architect, if memory serves), several were stooges who were hired as muscle, pure and simple. And you really don't need a college degree to pull a trigger, even if Arbabsiar attended Texas A&I.

I mean, just look at Alabama!

Plus, an ambassador from Saudi Arabia only merits a $1.5 million contract? 

It sounds more like a Tom Clancy plot, complete with paper cut-out terrorists, a link to one of the Axis of Evil powers (next, they'll tell me the bomb was made in North Korea,) and involving unsecure borders and home-grown terrorists. 

And yet, it's a lot less farfetched than a guy lighting his shoe on plane, or wearing an underwear bomb, both plots foiled just short of execution. 

Still, I can't get out of my mind two disparate facts: 1) This involves Iran, a nation that America had long ago painted a bulls-eye on, and 2) the best way out of economic catastrophe is to declare a World War. 

That scares me more than the possibility of a terror attack in a restaurant I might frequent. 

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)


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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

U.S. government alleges Iranian involvement in plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador. But something stinks.

As you've likely heard by now, it is being reported that Iran has been implicated in an assassination plot in the U.S.:

FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a "significant terrorist act in the United States" tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today.

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to the U.S. officials.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an announcement today that the plan was "conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran" by a faction of the government and called it a "flagrant" violation of U.S. and international law.

"The U.S. is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions," Holder said. 

Wait... what? Really? Iran? Terrorism? Against a high-value Saudi target in the U.S.? Something doesn't seem right.

As Max Fisher asks at The Atlantic -- and more people need to be asking this -- "would Iran really want to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.?"

Assuming that Iran is thinking rationally, the answer is obvious: No.

If they would go through all the trouble to organize a bombing attack on U.S. soil -- no easy thing to do -- why target someone so low-level? For that matter, why launch an attack on U.S. soil at all, something Iran has never done in the tumultuous decade since September 11? Why now, as opposed to, for example, during the height of the Iraq war? Why incur the wrath of the U.S. now, so soon after releasing the U.S. hikers detained in Tehran? (Their release was a modest and long overdue concession, but one that suggests the path of Iranian diplomacy.)

And why get involved with Mexican drug cartels? Is that really someplace where Iran has good contacts these days? As Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress asked, "Wiring money into US? Talking about plot on phone? Does that sound like an intel service to you?"

All that said, it really is possible that this is exactly what Holder says it is. Stranger things have happened, and Iran may have simply made an enormous, if out-of-character and obviously self-hurting, blunder. It's also possible that the two Iranian men really were planning to bomb the ambassador, but are either rogue members of the Revolutionary Guards or not really members at all. Clearly, there is much more information in this story that has not yet been made public. Maybe that information, if it ever comes out, will back up the official U.S. version -- which the White House already says it will use to escalate sanctions -- and maybe it will tell a different story. But, either way, the story as we now know it would have been unlikely to persuade Iran's leaders that this was a good idea.

It's just not in Iran's interests to be involved with something like this. And, indeed, there's no evidence -- at least no evidence that has been released publicly -- that Iran's government was behind this alleged plot:

The Justice Department statement notes that two men "have been charged in New York for their alleged participation in a plot directed by elements of the Iranian government to murder the Saudi Ambassador to the United States with explosives while the Ambassador was in the United States."

But what elements? What does that even mean?

One of the men is an Iranian-American. The other is "an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force, which is a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is said to sponsor and promote terrorist activities abroad." Okay, but does this mean the plot was officially sanctioned -- and that therefore Iran needs to be held accountable "for its actions," as Holder put it?

The statement notes that there are "Iran-based co-conspirators." Okay, maybe, but it seems far more likely that these two men and whatever shadowy co-conspirators they had in Iran had gone rogue, perhaps with rogue elements of Qods supporting them, than that this was some officially sanctioned operation. Indeed:

Senior Obama administration officials said the U.S. currently does not have any information indicating that either Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad necessarily knew about the assassination plot and said the U.S. will pursue a path of response that would not include the possibility of an armed conflict with Iran. 

So, then, what? Other countries with whom the U.S. has been on generally good terms (e.g., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) have rogue elements operating within "the government." Iran just happens to be... well, not a friend, and so an easy target. (And let's not forget that the U.S. even kills its own citizens without anything resembling due process. President Obama has made assassination a core component of his ongoing war on terror.) 

As Steve Clemons writes, "[t]his alleged assassination plot simultaneously may indicate both the intensity of anti-Saudi passion among Iran's senior leaders and a greater aggressiveness by Iran against the U.S." But what if there's much less to it than Holder and the U.S. government would have us believe? Even it's not true that the story is pure fabrication, as Iran suggests -- there may very well have been some sort of plot, after all -- what if the allegations are being trumped up for political reasons? Bush-Cheney did that all the time. Do we really think Obama is above such things?

(What possible political reasons? To suck up to the Saudis? To suck up to Israel? -- especially important given 2012, and Obama has already vetoed Palestinian statehood. To vilify Iran even more? For Obama to show that he and his administration are tough on terrorism? Who knows.)

Think Progress has a couple of updates:

-- "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with the AP that the alleged terror plot, which she said 'crosses a line,' also 'creates a potential for international reaction that will further isolate Iran.' The U.S. is in discussions with other countries about potential diplomatic moves to hold Iran to account." 

But shouldn't there be more evidence to justify any such international moves?

-- "'One thing that's important to remember,... these are serious allegations but at this point they are just allegations,' said CNN's Reza Sayah, 'And if you look at this regime's history, it doesn't fit their M.O. Is it possible that they were involved? Certainly. Do these allegations need to be proven, do we need to see more details? I would say certainly before jumping to conclusions.'"

Yes, exactly, allegations. But jumping to conclusions is what people are doing, and how could they not? The Justice Department statement is somewhat qualified in its claims, but the public message is that Iran was directly behind the plot. And the media, needless to say, are running wild with it. Sexy stories like this don't come around every day, after all, and they're in the business of selling fear, not nuance, of engaging in idle speculation, not rational examination of the facts.

Look, I'm not saying there wasn't a plot, and, if there was, I'm not saying Iran wasn't involved in it. Maybe it was, if not officially at least through rogue elements with ties to terrorism, rogue elements either acting on their own or with the unofficial blessing of someone higher up the food chain.

But something stinks here, and it wouldn't surprise me if this just faded away, political points having been made.

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The GOP mob is fickle, but division is the 2012 curse

Republicans go through presidential contenders like Newt Gingrich goes through wives.

Faster, in fact.

The GOP had two years to find, mold, and polish a top-notch Republican challenger who could mount a strong and maybe even successful offensive against President Obama in 2012. They found ten candidates, but, alas, not one of them fits the bill.

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas, not usually the caliber of pundit worthy of being quoted, said Republicans are in danger of catching the same "virus" Democrats caught in 2008: they're looking for a savior rather than a realistic leader.

Like most subjects Thomas takes on, Republicans' dissatisfaction with the current pool of candidates is more complex than their unrealistic expectations, or their "messiah complex," as he puts it.

Thomas has a point, but he misses the underlying problem and the recent historical context that's necessary for making such a comparison between Democrats in 2008 with the current field of Republican presidential hopefuls. While Democrats were united in 2008 against the eight-year reign of George W. Bush, the partisanship in Washington, and the do-nothing attitude of Republicans in Congress, today's GOP candidates, in contrast, are competing for support from a "Republican base" that is split between the ideological conservatives of the Tea Party, who play a large part in determining the outcomes of primary elections, and the moderate or right-leaning independents, who determine the outcome of general elections.

The problem is electability, and electability cannot be defined when part of the base is so staunchly anti-government that the only candidate worth supporting is the one who believes, as they do, that negotiating with Democrats is treasonous – even when "negotiation" means keeping the government from shutting down or preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its loans.

That is the reality of the political divide within the Republican Party today, and that is why no one candidate has what it takes to beat Obama.

It's a Catch-22 between sane Republicans and Tea Party astroturfers. If the candidate isn't conservative enough, he won't win the Tea Party endorsement needed to perform well in enough primary contests to secure the nomination. If he's too conservative, he will lose support among the more moderate Republicans and perform poorly in the general election. But if he performs well among moderate Republicans in the primary but loses the support of the Tea Party in the process, he will lose the most vocal, most active, and most media-hyped demographic within the GOP.

Given President Obama's edge as an incumbent and a powerful campaigner, Republicans may need a messiah to have any chance of defeating him. But that isn't the cause of Republicans' dissatisfaction. They aren't so ardently searching for someone – anyone! – to step in and be the savior of the party. They don't even know what that savior should stand for, because, thus far, it seems impossible to earn the endorsement of the Tea Party and have a chance at defeating Obama.

We've seen it happen already with every "frontrunner" who's entered the race and every "potential" candidate who hasn't.

Michele Bachmann was the first "chosen one" to announce her candidacy. For the most boisterous band of conservatives, she was "it" – the founder of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, a patriotic Constitutionalist, an icon of the Christian pro-life/anti-gay value system, a sexy, Sarah Palin-esque rogue of "Don't Tread on Me" right-wing populism, and a true-blood anti-government conservative who capitalized "Founding Fathers" not only in writing but even while orating.

And then suddenly she wasn't.

When the media's "profile season" launched – when Newsweek put her life-sized, wrinkled, very unsexy face on its cover; when the rumor mill started churning out (purely speculative?) hit pieces on her (gay?) husband; when mainstream pundits began analyzing this alleged Constitutionalist's alleged "knowledge" of American history (about how our Founders "worked tirelessly" to end slavery, about John Quincy Adams being one of those "Founding Fathers," about "the shot heard 'round the world" in... Manchester?) – her presidential prospects crashed. The question that came to haunt Bachmann, and her White House ambitions, was best summed up by the question asked in the syndicated TV show, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

The resounding answer, among both Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans, was an emphatic No.

Then there was Rick Perry, the three-term governor of Texas, the anti-Ivy-League, state-university-educated athlete (cheerleader); the "Texecutioner" who's overseen 235 executions as governor (impressive, but less per year than his predecessor, George W. Bush); the self-admitted "kind of guy" who packs a "Ruger .380 with laser sights loaded with hollow point bullets" and creates "mulch" out of "wily creatures" by blowing coyote brain fragments all over the Austin outskirts when he's out jogging (also athletic).  

As soon as Perry announced his candidacy, the "Bush-on-steroids" three-term Texas governor rose to the top of the polls, making Bachmann look like a bleeding heart lib-rull in contrast.

But then suddenly his macho man persona met reality – in the form of live television. The media critics judged his first three debate performances as "dismal," "toxic," "inarticulate," and "amateurish," and the hype surrounding Perry faded quickly. After going from zero to 32 percent, leading the pack by as much as 12 points soon after his campaign announcement, Perry's approval rating was halved, his temporary frontrunner status lost, in less than three weeks.

Of course, Mitt Romney's been there all along. For whatever (probably purely personal) reason, he's still in the race. And he's still a Mormon. The "objective" mass media won't make an issue of his religious faith because that wouldn't be fair, but they can't help talking about how the other Republican candidates, the incumbent, and the press itself won't touch "the Mormon issue" with a 10-foot pole for fear of being castigated (by the media – ironic?) for pulling the religion card. Romney's faith is a sensitive subject, and Mormon-bashing isn't much different than attacking a candidate's family, but everyone knows it's a valid subject if only because Republicans don't have a history of religious diversity in their presidential nominee selections.

The elections of the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and the first black president, Barack Obama, were historic. But both these men were Democrats, nominated by the Democratic Party and elected by Democratic voters. Republicans have no precedent to speak of when it comes to party diversity.

Instead of going straight at Romney, the media have highlighted "the Mormon issue" by talking about how it's not an issue. This sort of "reporting" is considered safe, a politically-correct Green Zone for reporters covering the campaigns, because they aren't advocating that anyone actually make an issue of "the Mormon issue." But by talking about "the Mormon issue" they're nonetheless making an issue of "the Mormon issue."

Though it's possible for Romney to win the nomination in spite of his religion, it won't be for lack of want or lack of hesitancy over his still very controversial personal faith. And until conservative Christians make a public spectacle of Romney's Mormonism – which they will, soon, as already 20 percent of conservatives say a Mormon candidate won't get their vote – it's not as if the mainstream media's assault weapons cache is empty.

[Texas Gov. Rick] Perry's campaign is targeting Romney's already well-known and highly publicized record of flip-flopping – on abortion, gay marriage, health care reform, the assault weapons ban, auto industry bailouts, stem cell research, campaign finance reform and spending limits, immigration reform, "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the provisions of the American Jobs Act... – from "Is Romney's Campaign Seeking a Texas-style Death Penalty?"

Romney has never been the favorite, and he won't be even if he wins the nomination.

What's interesting, though, is that every candidate who was seriously considered as a potential victor in the 2012 showdown has decided not to enter the race. (For clarification purposes, I'm definitely not referring to Sarah Palin, who's repetitious delays in announcing a potential presidential bid, I believe, were meant purely for publicity purposes. See "The Tragicomedy of Sarah Palin.") 

There was Mitch Daniels, who proclaimed he could beat Obama both before and after he announced he wouldn't enter the race. There was Mike Pence, who was considered one who could flatter Tea Partiers and secure the support of establishment Republicans. 

For a spell, Donald Trump basked in the limelight of a potential presidential bid, but his insistence on Obama's falsified birth certificate blew whatever support he may have had from sane Republicans right out the window. 

William Perlman / The Star-Ledger
Most recently, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the source of inspiration for those left so desperately wanting in this GOP presidential race.

He is a "national hero to the Tea Party" and would have been an "automatic frontrunner" had he entered the race.

Both Nancy Reagan and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger encouraged Christie to run, with Kissinger, who has worked with seven presidents, arguing that what matters is character and judgment, and that "Christie has both."

Unfortunately, what Christie doesn't have is the motivation to lose. Similar to Daniels and Pence, Christie saw the writing on the wall – which was also scribbled in a third-grader's handwriting on a protest sign at a Tea Party rally.

It read: "We hate you unless we love you, and if we love you, our endorsement will make you look like a radical in the general election and you'll lose."

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Cain rises, Romney stabilizes, Perry stumbles: A look at the sad state of the Republican presidential race

According to Gallup, Herman Cain has surged so much he's now a close second to Mitt Romney, just two points back at 18.

To which I say: Go ahead and nominate him, Republicans.


If you're feeling that lucky, go ahead and make our 2012 for us.


A few observations:

-- This is just one poll, obviously, and Gallup is hardly flawless. But there is no doubt that Cain has surged ahead of his right-wing rivals, including Perry, and that he's up near Romney.

-- Rick Perry is third at 15. A lot of people are writing him off, but, well, I think it's far too early to do so. He's been a terrible candidate so far, but he's still the most credible conservative in the race. Unless he quits, a distinct possibility if he and his handlers think the writing is on the wall, he might just be able to gather up all the right-wing opposition to Romney and find his voice, and his purpose, on the campaign trail. This is possible mainly because Romney isn't running away with it and because the field remains incredibly weak.

-- Romney is an incredibly weak frontrunner. He has national name-recognition, extensive on-the-ground campaigns across the country, and the backing of much of the GOP establishment, but he also has a really low ceiling of support. This poll puts him at 20. He was at 27 back in June, but he dropped to 17 in August, when Perry got in. He seems to be stuck in the 20-25 range with a possible ceiling of around 30. Yes, he'd pick up additional support in, say, a one-on-one race against Perry or Cain (even if Ron Paul, at 8 percent, were to stay in, as he very well may), but he appears to be running against the Republican primary base, not with it. He may win, but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

It's hard to imagine him winning with just 20-25 per cent support, but he could possibly boost that into the 30s and hold off his conservative challengers. But then what? Would Republicans really be happy with Romney having won the nomination with well short of majority support, with the right-wing base largely arrayed against him, and with the right divided? How much enthusiasm do you think there would be even within his own party for a Romney-led ticket? Sure, he could try to boost his standing among conservatives by continuing to move to the right and by picking a popular right-wing running mate (Ryan maybe?), but, just as he has never been able to shed his reputation as an opportunistic flip-flopper, would he ever be able to shed the stink of essentially having won the nomination by default? Conservatives still wouldn't like him and by moving to the right he would only weaken his standing among independents. He may get what he so badly wants, the Republican presidential nomination, but it's almost as if he's in a no-win situation.

-- Romney has the same amount of support as there are undecideds: 20 percent. For what that's worth.

-- Newt Gingrich, 7 percent. Still hanging around, probably looking to play kingmaker if he can. And to continue to rake in the millions by keeping up his national profile as long as possible.

-- Michele Bachmann, 5 percent. Hopeless. How the mighty have fallen.

-- Rick Santorum, 3 percent. Even more hopeless. And never mighty.

-- Poor Jon Huntsman, at 2 percent. Not so formidable after all. He may not be a great candidate even in the best of times, but his poor showing proves that Republicans really are too stupid to know what's good for them.

-- Would be GOP saviors Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels are out, never having gotten in. But what about Haley "Boss Hogg" Barbour? He also decided not to run, but I endorsed him way back when and he remains the (almost) perfect Republican (though Marco Rubio may be more perfect and like Nikki Haley looks to have a very bright future in the party).

-- If things don't go well next year... Rubio-Haley 2016?

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