Thursday Reads: Beating the Benghazi Horse to Death and Other News

coffee shop bike

Good Morning!!

I got an e-mail this morning from Dakinikat saying that she arrived safely late last night and is completely exhausted. Hopefully, she’ll get to see her Dad today and give him a great big hug.

Now let’s see what’s going on in the world this morning.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m confused about the latest GOP Benghazi hearings. I have no idea what the fuss is all about, and I really don’t even want to try to figure it out. Apparently, car thief and arsonist Darrell Issa just can’t let go of Benghazi, and is going to keep right on harping on it until someone figures out a way to stop him. I’m going to highlight some articles on this “controversy,” but, as I said, I can’t really explain it.

First, the allegations of wrongdoing:

NYT: Diplomat Says Questions Over Benghazi Led to Demotion

A veteran diplomat gave a riveting minute-by-minute account on Wednesday of the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 and described its contentious aftermath at a charged Congressional hearing that reflected the weighty political stakes perceived by both parties.

During a chaotic night at the American Embassy in Tripoli, hundreds of miles away, the diplomat, Gregory Hicks, got what he called “the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life” informing him that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was dead and that he was now the highest-ranking American in Libya. For his leadership that night when four Americans were killed, Mr. Hicks said in nearly six hours of testimony, he subsequently received calls from both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama.

But within days, Mr. Hicks said, after raising questions about the account of what had happened in Benghazi offered in television interviews by Susan E. Rice, the United Nations ambassador, he felt a distinct chill from State Department superiors. “The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning,” said Mr. Hicks, who has been a Foreign Service officer for 22 years.

He was soon given a scathing review of his management style, he said, and was later “effectively demoted” to desk officer at headquarters, in what he believes was retaliation for speaking up.

BBC News: Benghazi attack: Hicks ‘stunned’ at Rice explanation

After the disrupted phone call with Ambassador Stevens, Mr Hicks said he received calls from Libyans using the ambassador’s phone who said they had the envoy with them.

But Mr Hicks decided not to act on the calls, fearing an ambush.

So the “whistleblower” chose not to do anything? What is his complaint then?

UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been the focus of outrage from Republicans in Congress, for giving the news media what has been acknowledged as an incorrect explanation for the attack.

She said on a Sunday chat show on 16 September that the attack had grown out of an anti-US protest, while other officials have said they knew at the time it was an organised, armed assault, possibly by an Islamist militant group.

“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” Mr Hicks said on his reaction to her interview.

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I guess it’s still about Susan Rice. . . Or more likely, it’s about Hillary Clinton and attempts to hobble any plans she may have to run for president.

Washington Post: At Benghazi hearing, State Dept. officials challenge administration review of attacks

Three State Department officials on Wednesday provided a riveting, emotional account of last year’s fatal attack on U.S. installations in eastern Libya as they accused senior government officials of withholding embarrassing facts and failing to take enough responsibility for security lapses.

The testimony provided new details on the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on U.S. installations in Benghazi and their aftermath. But the new information failed to break the political logjam the attacks spawned, with Republicans and Democrats offering starkly different interpretations of what happened and who within the U.S. government is to blame.

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) opened the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing by saying that panel Democrats had “mostly sat silent” while Republicans tried to wrest the truth from an uncooperative Obama administration.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the senior Democrat on the committee, countered that Issa’s GOP majority had launched a “full-scale media campaign . . . of unfounded accusations to smear public officials.”

But in expanding the narrative of the intensely politicized episode, the witnesses raised fresh questions about whether then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her deputies were sufficiently engaged in assessing the security posture of diplomatic posts last year.

Time Magazine’s Michael Crowley: Terror, Security, and Hillary 2016: Making Sense of the Benghazi Hearings

The hearing by the Republican-led House Government Oversight & Reform Committee was not the first on the events surrounding the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans. Hillary Clinton, who was running the State Department at the time of the attack, testified for hours back in January. But the story was given fresh dramatic life and new narrative details through the testimony of two self-described whistle blowers who had not previously spoken in public: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy of mission in Libya. Joining them was Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya, who had previously testified on the issue.

But “[c]ould the U.S. military have done more to help?”

Not according to the Pentagon – and the hearing’s key witness. Aircraft that might have buzzed the compound where the second pair of Americans died – and scared the militants away — were 900 miles north in Italy. “Time and distance are a tyranny of their own,” Admiral James Stavridis, who responded to the attacks as the NATO commander, told Congress earlier this year. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take as long as 20 hours to get the planes above Benghazi. Hicks testified that he asked the U.S. defense attaché in Tripoli if planes could be scrambled to help those under attack in the CIA annex in Benghazi, a battle that unfolded hours after the initial assault on the nearby U.S. consulate, which killed Stevens, and led to two more American deaths. “He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get on site, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel,” Hicks said Wednesday. “And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and we went on with our work.” Hicks also testified that a four man team of Green Berets in Tripoli were denied a request to deploy to Benghazi the morning after the attack began, though officials doubt they could have arrived early enough to save lives at the CIA annex.

Apparently the complaint is that the State Department didn’t order all military resources to get to Benghazi even though there was no way they could have gotten there in time to do anything to help?

So we’re back to preventing Hillary 2016?

Whether or not Republicans intended it, the shadow of national politics loomed over Wednesday’s hearing. Hillary Clinton completed a generally well-reviewed tenure of Secretary of State, as evidenced by her sky-high public approval ratings. But Benghazi is a clear black mark on her Foggy Bottom record, one that could haunt Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. Conservatives seized on Hicks’s testimony that, in a call with Clinton on the fateful night, he told her that a terrorist attack was underway–a fact that was slow to appear in the administration’s public rhetoric. Still, despite repeated discussion about what Clinton knew and when she knew it, no smoking gun emerged from Wednesday’s hearing, leading one Congressional Democrat to dismiss questions about her role as a “witch hunt.”

Hillary

I guess that’s pretty much what it’s all about . . . A few more links:

Think Progress: Benghazi Review Board Chair Says Notion Of Cover Up Is ‘Pulitzer Prize Fiction’

“I think the notion of a quote, cover up, has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it,” former Ambassador Thomas Pickering said on MSNBC. He also rebutted claims that the review board tried to protect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from scrutiny:

PICKERING: I saw no evidence of it. She did publicly take responsibility for what happened below her and indeed one of the things the Congress did in preparing the legislation that established the Accountability Review Board was to say we don’t want a situation where heads of agencies take responsibility and then nobody who made the decision in the chain has to suffer any consequences for failure for performance. I believe in fact the Accountability Review Board did it’s work well. I think the notion of a quote, cover up, has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it.

Pickering offered to testify at the latest hearing, but Chairman Issa wouldn’t let him.

Think Progress: GOP Star Witnesses Debunk Right-Wing Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

The “whistleblowers” at today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on what really happened in Benghazi, Libya last September were supposed to break the dam that would lead to President Obama’s eventual downfall, in the eyes of conservatives. Instead, these witness actually served to debunk several theories that the right-wing has pushed on Benghazi, leaving the hearing a fizzle for the GOP.

Read the explanations at the link.

TPM: Top Republican ‘Fairly Satisfied’ With White House’s Account Of Benghazi

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) said Wednesday that he’s “fairly satisfied” with the Obama administration’s account of events that led to the deaths of American diplomats in Benghazi last year.

“We need to know were these people culpable or not. If they were, why are they still on the payroll? Other than that, I’ve been able to read all the cables. I’ve seen the films,” Corker told MSNBC. “I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I’m fairly satisfied.”

He cautioned House Republicans to be “respectful” if they probe the issue further.

“Look, if the House wants to have hearings,” he said, “I hope they’re done in a respectful way and hopefully it will shed some light on what happened.”

I guess that’s enough about Benghazi. I apologize for giving it so much space, but I thought if I were confused about this, some of you might be too.

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A bit more news in the form of a link dump:

There has been another factory fire in Bangladesh! Reuters reports: Bangladesh factory fire kills eight; collapse toll tops 900

A DailyKos diary deals with a question that has been rattling around in my head: How did Jason Richwine Get a PhD from Harvard?

WBUR Boston University (NPR): Markey Edges Gomez In WBUR Senate Poll

The Hill on Suffolk University Poll: Markey builds strong lead over Gomez in Mass. Senate race

I realize the media is dying for another Scott Brown surprise, but it’s just not gonna happen.

Politico: Lindsey Graham faces down primary challenge

Unfortunately, it looks like Huckleberry Closetcase will be back in 2014.

Politico: Excessive student loan debt drains economic engine

Chicago Tribune: Cleveland kidnapping: Bond for Ariel Castro set at $8 million

Why is he getting any chance of getting out on bail??

Reuters: Wrigley halts production of caffeine gum following FDA concern

Could there be a worse idea by the candy industry? Kids would be getting that gum!

NYT: Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows

Sooooo . . . what’s new with you? What are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any subject in the comment thread!


Thursday Reads: The Amazing Stupidity of Ron Johnson, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

It sure was fun watching Hillary take on the blithering idiots of the GOP yesterday. She made them look silly and childish. As Charles Pierce wrote yesterday,

the appearance of Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning proved on very salient point: at its upper echelons which, at the moment, praise be, consist of only its congressional delegations, the Republican party has become something extraordinarily unserious. If its domestic policies, laid out clearly in the last election, were fairly well rejected, its notions in the area of foreign policy reside in a spot somewhere between threadbare and obsolete. They are lingering in a fairly brutal hangover between having gone all in on the Bush administrations’s grandiose schemes for imperial reconstruction and having yielded the real power in the party to people with all the gravitas of your drunk uncle who watches Fox all day and sends chain e-mails to the family.

There were so many stupid Republicans competing to be the most obnoxious questioners in the hearings, but I’d have to say that Wisconsin Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson made the biggest ass of himself. Hillary managed to keep her cool through more than five hours of questioning, but she lost her patience briefly with Johnson after he repeatedly argued that the State Department could have easily found out what actually happened in Benghazi by calling people who had been in the consulate and simply asking them (!). Dakinikat posted the video yesterday, but here’s Hillary’s so-called “eruption.”

“Senator, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on,” Clinton said, adding that the State Department was waiting for the FBI to finish conducting interviews.

“I realize that’s a good excuse,” Johnson responded.

“Well, no, it’s the fact,” Clinton said. “Even today, there are questions being raised. We have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on, and why they were doing what they were doing, is still, is still unknown.”

Clinton forcefully insisted neither UN Ambassador Susan Rice nor the Obama Administration misled the public. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. The fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.”

I actually thought that was pretty mild, considering the idiocy of Johnson’s remarks. Joan Walsh had a great summary of Hillary’s day: Hillary faces down the angry men. On the Johnson interchange she writes:

On a morning in which senators vied for the worst moment, Tea Party darling Ron Johnson of Wisconsin stood out. “A very simple phone call to these individuals I think would have ascertained, immediately, that there was no protest prior to this…it was an assault,” he told Clinton condescendingly. The fact that Johnson could envision “a very simple phone call” in the wake of the Benghazi carnage – has he even seen photos of the devastated compound? – shows that he’s a very simple man when it comes to foreign policy. Johnson’s entire point was to ask, again, about Rice “purposely misleading” the Sunday shows five days after the attack.

After his humiliating beatdown by Clinton, Johnson made a bigger ass of himself by claiming to McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed that Hillary Clinton Planned To Get Emotional To Evade Questions

“I’m not sure she had rehearsed for that type of question,” Johnson told BuzzFeed Wednesday afternoon, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me.”

He said it was clear, at other points during the hearing, that Clinton was working off a set of talking points, but that his questions “got under her skin” because “they’re just so common sense.”
“I just don’t think she had an answer to that,” he said. “Maybe it embarrassed her. Maybe she hadn’t thought of it that way.”

He went on to criticize Clinton for ostensibly taking “full responsibility” for the State Department’s handling of the attacks, but then continuing to avoid questions with “theatrics.”
“She allowed politics to trump getting to the facts,” he said.

Yeah, like Hillary needed to get “emotional” to avoid answering questions about Susan Rice!  And get this, Johnson told Politico that Hillary probably never even thought to make those phone calls to people who had escaped the Beghazi carnage.

“Whether she actually never thought of calling them or she was kind of feeling a little guilty that she didn’t, I think the secretary of state had the responsibility to,” the Wisconsin senator said.

This guy doesn’t even realize what a fool he made of himself! BTW, Johnson is the same moron who offered to “mansplain” the federal budget to Tammy Baldwin after she was elected to the Senate in 2012. Johnson has been in Congress for all of two years, while Baldwin served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years and before that was a Wisconsin state representative. Oh, and she graduated from Smith College with a double major in math and government. Johnson worked in his father-in-law’s business until his first run for office in 2010.

In other greatest hits, Johnson believes he knows more about climate change than scientists who have spent years studying it. He said women who can’t afford birth control should just go on-line and google “what if I can’t afford birth control?” He claimed that the great recession ended before Obama took office in 2009.

In April 2012, Johnson became an object of ridicule after Roll Call published an article about his “frustration with his legislative staff.”

Freshman GOP Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) is looking to purge nearly his entire Washington, D.C.-based legislative team, according to multiple Republican sources familiar with the situation.

Johnson’s frustration with his legislative staff has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington for months, those close to Republican Conference politics said.

But the situation in Johnson’s office has escalated in recent weeks. The top brass of the Senate Republican Steering Committee — the Conference’s conservative hub — have connected at least one Johnson legislative aide with another GOP Senate office, and sources indicated they may be helping others find jobs before they are asked to permanently clear their desks.

Johnson denied the charges, but

While top Republican sources expressed exasperation at the internal turmoil in Johnson’s office, they also noted that the Wisconsin freshman has not been diligent in building relationships with other Senators within the Conference and has alienated himself by not reaching out more frequently to colleagues.

“He’s an interesting case study of someone who has talked more than he has listened, lectured more than he has developed relationships with his colleagues, and now he’s having a tough time because of that behavior in advancing his policy goals,” one senior GOP aide said. “It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store.”

“The Senate is still about relationships, and he doesn’t seem to get that,” the aide continued.

Bwwwwwaaaaaaahahahahahahaha!!!!!

How stupid is Ron Johnson? He’s so stupid that some of his constituents started a website called “Our Dumb Senator” to keep track of his ongoing stupidity.

Now look what I’ve done. I’ve wasted most of this post the stupid Senator from Wisconsin–can you believe this guy actually beat Russ Feingold?!

In other news, it’s now confirmed that Beyonce didn’t really sing the National Anthem at the Inauguration.

An inaugural official confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem during Monday’s Inauguration Day ceremony.

“She did not sing live,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN, adding that the singer made the decision herself to go with a pre-recording the night before Monday’s ceremony.

“Because she didn’t have time to rehearse with the Marine Band, she decided to use her recording with the Marine Band,” the official added. “It was all Beyonce.”

Ho hum, just like American Bandstand back in the day. I guess if Obama didn’t care no one else should. I’m not a Beyonce fan, frankly, and I didn’t really care for her rendition of the song. I’ve heard much better. So shoot me.

I have some more interesting reads for you that I’m just going to throw out link dump style. First, some articles about Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney from Boston who drove cyber activist Aaron Swartz to suicide. The consensus seems to be that Ortiz’s career is over.

Who What Why: Carmen Ortiz’s Sordid Rap Sheet

Scott Horton at Harpers: Carmen Ortiz Strikes Out

Blue Mass Group: Not how the news was supposed to go for Carmen Ortiz

A few more links:

HuffPo: Mississippi’s GOP Governor Says No American Lacks Health Care

Alternet: How ‘Stop and Frisk’ Is Too Often a Sexual Assault by Cops on Teenagers in Targeted NYC Neighborhoods

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker: ISOLATED VICTIMS, FROM WILLIAMSBURG TO NOTRE DAME

Andrew Marantz at The New Yorker on the Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” on Super Bowl Sunday

Alex Pareene: The brilliantly stupid new plan to raise the debt ceiling without raising it

Jonathan Chait: Boehner: Let’s Destroy Math Instead of the Economy

LA Times: Carbs were key in wolves’ evolution into dogs

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Thursday Reads: A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Good Morning!!

Now that Congressional Republicans have successfully shot down President Obama’s rumored first choice for Secretary of State–Susan Rice–they are working on nixing the president’s possible pick for Secretary of Defense, Republican Chuck Hagel. Aaron Blake at The Fix:

Former senator Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) potential/likely nomination as Secretary of Defense looms this week amid a growing chorus of criticism over his past comments about Israel and his policy positions on issues including the defense budget.

It seems some are bent on defeating Hagel’s nomination before it can even become official — much as Republican senators did with potential Secretary of State pick Susan Rice just last week. In fact, the same GOP senators who scuttled the Rice pick are now expressing doubts about Hagel.

A battle over Hagel would be highly unusual — both because we just had one over Rice and because both senators nominated to Cabinet posts and Secretary of Defense nominees generally sail to confirmation.

Obama should have stuck with Rice and fought it out. Senate Republicans smell blood now. The only reason John Kerry may be approved for State is that Republicans fantasize that Massachusetts voters will repeat their past mistake of electing Scott Brown to fill an open Senate seat. This president is the worst negotiator ever. He really needs to get someone else to make deals for him. He just can’t accept the reality that Republicans hate his guts and will never give him a break, ever.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa must be drooling over the “scathing report” on the Benghazi attacks

Four State Department officials were removed from their posts on Wednesday after an independent panel criticized the “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi that was attacked on Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, resigned. Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and another official in the diplomatic security office whom officials would not identify were relieved of their duties. So was Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary who had responsibility for the North Africa region. The four officials, a State Department spokeswoman said, “have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

The report by the independent panel has criticized officials in State’s bureau for Diplomatic Security displaying a “lack of proactive leadership.” It also said that some in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.”

The report did not criticize more senior officials, including Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary for management, who has vigorously defended the State Department’s decision-making on Benghazi to the Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a news conference at the State Department on Wednesday, Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador who led the independent review, said that most of the blame should fall on officials in the two bureaus.

But that isn’t going to stop Republicans from trying to hang the blame around Hillary Clinton’s neck.

Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., slated to be the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Wednesday that Clinton “has to come before us. I think it’s imperative.” ‘

Corker and other members of Congress were given a classified briefing on the report and afterwards he insisted that Clinton must testify before she leaves her post and the Senate votes on confirmation of her successor.

The secretary was slated to attend briefings on the Hill this week but has been recovering from the flu and a concussion she suffered in a recent fainting episode.

Of course the right wing conspiracy nuts are accusing Clinton of faking her illness. And in the House:

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the unclassified version of the report “omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources.”

He also said, “In light of the report, I am concerned that the carefully vetted testimony of senior State Department officials at the October hearing was part of an intentional effort to mislead the American people.”

Hey Darrell, have you hot-wired any cars or burned down any businesses lately?

While Pentagon officials struggle to figure out how to protect foreign outposts without using Blackwater-type hired guns, they are dealing with a worldwide Military day care abuse scandal.

The Defense Department has launched a worldwide investigation into hiring practices at military child-care centers after a criminal probe of employees at an Army base near the Pentagon sparked a review that found more than 30 staffers who officials say should have been barred from contact with children.

Two civilian employees at the Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall appeared in federal court Wednesday in Alexandria to face charges of assaulting 2-year-olds in their care.

The president immediately urged a thorough investigation and a “zero tolerance policy when it comes to protecting the children of service members from abuse.”

Two workers at the day-care center at the base known as Fort Myer were recorded by surveillance cameras dragging, pinching, kneeing and taunting toddlers, according to federal court records. The center is the military’s largest day-care center, with more than 400 children ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years old. It is used by Pentagon employees and other service members in the Washington area.

A personnel review at Fort Myer began in the fall after a parent complained about an allegedly abusive caregiver.

The inquiry turned up evidence that at least 31 staffers had potentially disqualifying factors in their records, including history of drug use and past allegations of assault, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said. The staffers have been suspended.

“This is not just one or two or three people,” the official said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of an ongoing inquiry. “This is a severe lapse in the background checks system.”

In police state news, two women in Texas are suing the Texas State Police for subjecting them to an “illegal roadside cavity search.”

A federal lawsuit filed by two Irving women claims that Texas State Troopers humiliated them by performing illegal cavity searches on the side of the road after a cigarette butt was thrown out of their car window.

State Trooper David Farrell called in a female trooper to perform cavity searches of Angel Dobbs, 38, and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley Dobbs, because he said that he smelled marijuana and the women were “acting weird,” attorney Scott Palmer told KTVT on Tuesday.

Angel Dobbs recalled that the female trooper, Kelley Helleson, asked for her permission to perform the search and then told her to “shut up and just listen.”

Unbelievable.

Dashcam video shows Helleson searching the anuses and vaginas of both women with the same latex gloves in full view of other passing cars.

“At this point, I’m in clear shock. I can’t even believe this is happening,” Angel Dobbs explained. Turns me around goes down into the front of my pants into my inner thigh and at which point she goes up with two fingers. I just look at her and say ‘oh my God, I’ve just been violated.’”

And then the trooper performed the same procedure on Ashley Dobbs without changing her gloves.

“She went down, then turned me around, and went down my front and then she actually dug,” Ashley Dobbs said. “I didn’t know what I could say, what I could do. I felt hopeless.”

Is it time for Texas to secede from the union and become part of Mexico (except for Austin, Ralph)? Nah, Mexico probably wouldn’t want to get involved.

The TSA is “Finally Investigating Cancer Risk of X-Ray Body Scanners” now that millions of Americans have been used as guinea pigs in the nation’s airports.

Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency’s X-ray body scanners. But it is unclear if the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or merely review previous studies.

The machines, known as backscatters, were installed in airports nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009 to screen passengers for explosives and other nonmetallic weapons. But they have been criticized by some prominent scientists because they expose the public to a small amount of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The scanners were the subject of a 2011 ProPublica series, which found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even low doses of radiation. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays.

The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

Winter has arrived in the Midwest: Outages in Iowa as season’s first blizzard starts journey in the Plains.

(CNN) — Tens of thousands of people lost power in Iowa on Thursday as the first major storm of the season swept in, bringing blizzards, high winds and severe thunderstorms to the central United States.

The storm prompted the National Weather Service to issue a blizzard warning for a huge swath of the Midwest stretching from eastern Colorado to Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline, including virtually all of Iowa.

The declaration warned of snow accumulations of up to 12 inches, complemented by 25- to 35-mph winds that will occasionally gust to 45 to 50 mph.

Oh goody.

The storm will race into western Illinois, the weather service said. Rain will quickly change to snow as the storm advances northeast, with the heaviest snow occurring overnight.

“Snow drifts several feet deep will be possible given the strong winds,” the blizzard warning states.
Wrapping around the blizzard warning on the north, south and east is a winter storm warning, which will be no picnic either. The winds won’t be quite as strong, but residents should expect a strong dose of rain, sleet and snow, with a few hail-packing thunderstorms thrown in for good measure.

Hmmm…what about my neck of the woods?

The “intense cyclone” will crawl across the Great Lakes region Thursday and slog into northern New England by Friday evening, the National Weather Service predicted.

Ugh…just what I needed.

I have three longer reads for you on the possible motivations behind mass shootings. I haven’t read any of these carefully yet, so I’m not sure if I’ll agree with the conclusions.

Scientific American is highlighting an article from 2007: Deadly Dreams: What Motivates School Shootings? The article focuses on the revenge fantasies of young shooters.

A Time article from July (written after the Aurora theater shootings) asks about “The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide.”

At Alternet: “What Is it About Men That They’re Committing These Horrible Massacres?”

I’ll be reading these articles after I publish this post. Let me know what you think.

Finally, Senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain are “condemning” the new movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty for falsely suggesting that torture led investigators to bin Laden’s hideout.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


The Rice Melodrama

I’ve been searching for some good, definitive articles on Susan Rice since she’s one of those individuals that’s had notoriety thrust upon her by a group of disgruntled susan_rice_83871547Republican losers.  I state this as no Susan Rice fan.  She rubbed me the wrong way through out the 2008 election season. Still, I’m not into witch hunts and it certainly seemed like she’s been the proxy witch of the moment.  Here’s a great article at TDB from 3 days ago that talks how Susan Rice typifies what’s historically been problematic about democrats and their reputation as foreign policy lightweights.    This goes further back than Benghazi and have to do with her waltz around the Iraq issue.

It’s not true, as some left-wing websites claim, that Rice “was a cheerleader for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.” But if, as Rice herself claims, she supported Obama in 2008 because on Iraq he made “the same unpopular choice I had made,” the evidence is hard to find. In fact, what’s striking about the four NPR interviews Rice did in the run-up to war was her capacity to avoid taking a clear position one way or another. At times, Rice does indeed sound skeptical of military action. In November 2002, she warned that there are “many people who think that we haven’t finished the war against al Qaeda and our ability to do these simultaneously is in doubt.” In December, she urged a “more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath.” And the following February, she said that “there are many who fear that going to war against Iraq may in fact in the short term make us less secure rather than more secure.”

But at others times, Rice sounded more hawkish, declaring on Dec. 20, 2002 that “it’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully and that’s the path we’re on and hopefully we’ll bring as many countries as possible with us … even as we move forward as we must on the military side.”

Unable to decipher Rice’s view from these NPR interviews, I called two colleagues who worked with her at the Brookings Institution at the time. Neither was sure if she had supported the war or not.

How could a rising foreign-policy star like Susan Rice, faced with the most controversial foreign-policy issue of her career, avoid taking a clear position? Because avoiding controversial positions is what Democratic foreign-policy elites do. When the GOP holds the White House, and would-be Democratic foreign-policy appointees park themselves at places like Brookings or the Council on Foreign Relations, their primary imperative is to make sure they don’t say anything that would keep them from leaving those halfway houses when their party takes power again.

Was Susan Rice a poor use of political capital at a time when key democratic domestic issues are at stake?

But in another way, this is completely typical Obama – ruthless, pragmatic, cold-blooded. He took a look at the lay of the land in the Senate; decided that he had no appetite for a bruising confirmation battle in the midst of what is shaping to be a fierce fight over the fiscal cliff, and decided instead to push Rice over the edge.

In fairness, Rice didn’t give him a great deal of wiggle-room to work with. Since Obama’s stout defense of his UN ambassador, her reputation took hit after hit – and it wasn’t just over Benghazi. Rice and her allies appeared incapable of mounting an effective PR campaign on her behalf.

There has been a steady stream of news stories that have poked holes at Rice’s qualifications for the top diplomatic job. First, there was this Roger Cohen op-ed in the New York Times, which quoted former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering criticizing her conduct as US assistant secretary for African affairs. Pickering is as highly respected a foreign service officer as you will find in Washington: for him to come out and publicly question her judgment was an eyebrow-raising move.

Since then, there have been more stories: about Rice’s former work at the consulting firm Stonebridge on behalf of Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame; about her financial dealings and potential conflict of interest over the Keystone XL pipeline; and a devastating Daily Beast article about her supposedly suspect diplomatic “temperament”.

Here again, Rice did little to help herself by getting in an undiplomatic contretemps this week with the usually mild-mannered Chinese ambassador to the United Nations. Nonetheless, it was striking how many people were willing to make disparaging comments, off the record, about Rice – a clear sign that it wasn’t just John McCain who didn’t want to see her get secretary of state.

Put all of this together and it raised legitimate questions about Rice’s suitability for the job. None of this is to say that – had Obama fought for her – she wouldn’t have won approval. It’s quite possible she would have gotten through the Senate hearing, but at what cost – both to herself and to the Obama administration?

Instead of waging that fight, Obama cut his losses.

However, is this something that ultimately makes the re-elected President appear weak because he basically caved to hapless loser, John McCain?

After McCain’s first assault on Rice, Obama came to her defense, calling the assault on her character “outrageous” and inviting McCain and the others to come after him. Only a few other Republicans rallied behind McCain. It seemed that Rice, if nominated, would be confirmed with a healthy margin, albeit after some struggle.

But then McCain pulled a very clever gambit, announcing publicly that he would seek a chair on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (while retaining his status as top Republican on the Armed Services Committee). This would give him a direct role in the interrogation and confirmation of Rice or any other nominee for secretary of state and, indeed, the entire tier of assistant secretaries and undersecretaries. It would also allow him to request hearings and to call the secretary as a witness on any number of topics that he and his Republican colleagues might wish to investigate. He could be a constant thorn in the administration’s side on an issue—foreign policy, broadly speaking—that presidents are usually allowed to pursue with great leeway and that this president has pursued with success and high ratings.

In the end, with all the other fights Obama has on his hands in his second term, this one didn’t seem worth the struggle. As Rice herself put it in a letter released this afternoon, “I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly—to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. … Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time.”

A White House spokesman said in an email this afternoon that McCain’s attacks had nothing to do with Rice’s decision. A spokesman on McCain’s staff said in a phone conversation that Rice’s pending nomination had nothing to do with his decision to seek a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Both statements deserve a cocked eyebrow.

It’s obvious this was turning into a political dick size campaign from several vantage points.   Primarily, the several times the President clearly indicated that the fight was him and his statements defending Rice.  Does the proverbial falling on your sword movie really create a solution for the President?

After a series of strikingly unsuccessful meetings on Capitol Hill in which she failed to impress even moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins of Maine, Rice also found herself facing resistance from foreign-policy elites who questioned her temperament and her record. In addition, human-rights critics were up in arms over her behavior toward African dictators, particularly her role in allegedly holding up publication of a U.N. report that concluded the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, with whom she has a long and close relationship, was supplying and financing a brutal Congolese rebel force known as the M23 Movement.

That may have been the tipping point, though an official on Rice’s team declined to say so. As she put it herself in her letter to Obama, the president had some other “pressing national international priorities.… It is far more important that we devote precious legislative hours and energy to enacting your core goals, including comprehensive immigration reform, balanced deficit reduction, job creation, and maintaining a robust national defense and effective U.S. global leadership.”

In other words, the Obama team was quickly coming to realize that, even though it appeared he had considerable leverage over the Republicans following a more-robust-than-thought reelection victory, a Rice nomination was simply going to cost him too much political capital, especially when it came to a long-term budget deal.

Whatever the deal, the optics are not good.  This makes a set of Republican Senators look petty.  It also does not help the Republican cause with blacks or women.  It doesn’t play well into any story of an Obama fighting for his people or beliefs.    Again, I’m not a Susan Rice fan but none of these optics sit well with me.


Sunday Reads: GOP Pigs and Spots in Space…

$(KGrHqEOKnIE44R2dbwLBOWl4kko9w~~_35Good Morning!

It is the first Sunday in December, the year has gone by so damn fast. There has been all sorts of juicy items in the news, and I’ve got plenty of articles to share with you this morning.

Let us start of with several links on foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has been extremely busy in her final leg as Secretary of State.

The recent UN decision to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state has sparked another confrontational response from Israel. After the UN vote was announced an Israeli official made a statement that included the government backed settlement and construction of 3,000 new West Bank units.

The Daily Beast/Newsweek has a post up, Explaining Israel’s Reaction to the U.N.’s pro-Palestinian Vote

Israel’s leaders stayed surprisingly calm last week. In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote on upgrading the Palestinians’ U.N. membership, a few senior Israeli officials drafted a position paper focusing on how the government should respond. The U.N. move, the writers warned, threatened to “severely damage” Israel’s credibility and undermine the Jewish state’s position in future peace negotiations. But more than that, they added, the initiative could open the door to war-crimes prosecutions against Israelis at the International Criminal Court. The five-page paper, dated Nov. 12 and obtained by Newsweek, advised that if the vote went ahead, Israel should “exact a heavy price” from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—a price to include dismantling his Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. “A softer approach would amount to waving a white flag and admitting that the Israeli leadership is unable to rise to the challenge,” the writers concluded.

The upgrade, which the General Assembly approved last week by a huge majority, is a bitter pill for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It includes not only a boost in the Palestinians’ status from (U.N. jargon alert!) “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” but also a recognition of their right to all of the West Bank and Gaza, including territory that Israelis have settled since 1967. Even some dovish Israelis have problems with the resolution’s sweep. And yet Israel’s response—a dismissive statement from the prime minister and the floating of plans to build thousands of new housing units in the West Bank—fell well short of the threats to topple Abbas. “This is a meaningless resolution that won’t change anything on the ground,” Netanyahu said in a handout just before the vote.

Clinton has made it clear that she was not pleased with Israel’s decision to expand settlements further into the West Bank. New Israeli Settlements Set Back Peace, Clinton Says

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israeli plans for new settlements near East Jerusalem do not help efforts to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis.

Clinton told Israeli officials in Washington that plans for new settlements abutting East Jerusalem “set back the cause of a negotiated peace.”

“We all need to work together to find a path forward in negotiations that can finally deliver on a two-state solution. That must remain our goal,” Clinton said.

Clinton continued her remarks,

“President Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week,” Clinton said. “We opposed his resolution. But we also need to see that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance.”

She says Palestinian Authority leaders deserve credit for real achievements on the ground — making their streets safe, overhauling governing institutions and cooperating with Israel to help enhance Israeli security.

“At a time when religious extremists claim to offer rewards in the hereafter, Israel needs to help those committed to peace deliver for their people in the here and now,” Clinton said.

When Israeli and Palestinian leaders are ready to return to direct negotiations, Secretary Clinton says President Barack Obama will be a full partner.

She says the United States stand ready to help Israel make more permanent its cease-fire with Hamas forces in Gaza. But that requires the continued cooperation of the new Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

“We look to Egypt to intensify its efforts to crack down on weapons smuggling from Libya and Sudan into Gaza,” Clinton said. “I am convinced that if more rockets are allowed to enter Gaza through the tunnels, that will certainly pave the way for more fighting again soon.”

After Clinton made this statement she was joined in agreement by the British Foreign Secretary William Hague: Clinton and Hague attack Israel decision to build new settlements both,

…have launched attacks on an Israeli decision to build fresh settlements on occupied territory in the West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu‘s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new homes is widely seen as a response to the United Nations vote earlier this week that recognised a Palestinian bid to be a “non-member observer state”.

The US, with Israel, strongly opposed that move, while Britain abstained in the vote. But now both countries have criticised the Israeli settlement decision, saying it hurts the chances of a two-state solution and the search for peace in the troubled region.

Hague’s comments were the following.

Hague said he was “extremely concerned” at the plans, which have been reported in the Israeli press as including a four-square-mile area just east of Jerusalem that is seen as vital to keeping open a viable land corridor between the city and any future Palestinian state.

Hague asked Israel to reverse the decision and said the prospect of a successful two solution was receding. “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties,” he said in comments Saturday. “If implemented, these plans would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve.”

Hague added: “They would undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians.”

Sticking with Foreign Policy, I thought this was an interesting piece written by Stephen M. Walt. Never underestimate the power of confusion

If you read this blog, you’ve probably heard about the various “isms” in the field of international relations. There’s realism, of course, but also liberalism, idealism, and social constructivism. And don’t forget Marxism, even though hardly anybody claims to believe it anymore. These “isms” are essentially families of theory that share certain common assumptions. For example, realists see power and fear as the main drivers of world affairs, while liberals place more weight on human acquisitiveness and the power of institutions.

But there’s another major force in world affairs, and sometimes I think it deserves an “ism” all its own. With tongue in cheek and apologies to a famous Chinese sage, I’ll call it “Confusionism.” For Confusians, ignorance and stupidity are the real key to understanding state behavior, not fear, greed, ideals, class interests, or any of those other things that people think drive world affairs. When Confusians seek to explain why states act as they do, they start by assuming that leaders do not understand the problems they face, have only a vague sense of where they want to go, and no idea at all about how to get there. Instead of starting with the rational actor assumption beloved by economists, realists, and most liberals, Confusians hone in on all the reasons why humans typically get things wrong.

Hmmm, “isms” (aren’t those the things right-wing southern secessionist dislike?)

Confusionism is the opposite of the assorted conspiracy theories that you often read about. Some people believe that the world is run by a shadowy network of elites (e.g., the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg, Council on Foreign Relations, etc.). Other people think everything is ultimately the product of some secret Zionist conspiracy, or the machinations of oil companies and the military-industrial complex. Islamophobes are convinced there is some sort of well-oiled Muslim plot to infiltrate Europe and America, impose Sharia law, and stick all our young women in harems. If you read enough Robert Ludlum, watch The Matrix too often, or spend enough time patrolling the nether regions of the blogosphere, you might find yourself thinking along similar lines. If that happens, get help.

Okay, that is the first three paragraphs, just go read the whole thing will ya?

There is one thing I am grateful for these last four years, and that is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. I will miss her tremendously when she retires at the start of Obama’s second term, and personally, I would feel more comfortable with John Kerry as SoS…but that is another story. Anyway, Clinton’s replacement will reveal new US foreign policy direction

With the imminent retirement of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, much speculation has arisen in Washington concerning her replacement. No matter whom the president chooses to nominate for the post, the political process of confirmation by the US Senate is sure to reveal much about the mindset of Republicans and Democrats entering Obama’s second term, and will certainly indicate the direction of US foreign policy in coming years.

Following President Barack Obama’s reelection, it was widely believed that US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice would be the president’s nominee to succeed Clinton.

With impeccable academic credentials, and experience as an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton White House, Rice is more than qualified. Rice is known for her direct and idealistic style of negotiation, and her less conciliatory, more confrontational style would likely take the practice of US foreign policy in a different direction than that charted by Clinton’s more pragmatic approach.

A greater and more direct US role in Middle Eastern affairs, and more emphasis on the role of foreign governments in human rights abuses and issues of social justice would likely mark the tenure of Rice.

Supposedly, there are rumors that Hillary is not thrilled with the prospect of Susan Rice replacing her at the Department of State. According to  Michael Sneed: Hillary Clinton no fan of Susan Rice, prefers Kerry for State

The big question: Who would Secretary of State Hillary Clinton like to get her job?

It ain’t embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who is dealing with the way she handled the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Sneed is told if Hillary had to choose between Rice and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who is head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, she would prefer Kerry.

“Hillary is not close to Rice, who is tough — but is not the friendliest person,” said a top White House source. “And Hillary’s brief comment recently that Rice had done ‘a great job’ was considered underwhelming and tepid,” the source added.

Yes, that bit of gossip is followed by a story on Kate Middleton, but it does go along the lines of how I think many of us perceive the situation…that Kerry would be a better fit after Clinton.

Okay, enough on Foreign Affairs and Policy, before we go on to other stories…take a quick look at this from Tommy Christopher: Persistent Romnesia: Former Mitt Romney Chief Strategist Says ‘Nobody Liked Romney Except Voters’

If the recent fiscal cliff/Susan Rice piñata party news doldrums have got you down, take a break with what has to be the first published example of a resignation letter from every future job. Former Romney campaign chief strategist Stuart Stevens has penned the most deluded piece of writing since Norma Desmond filled out an order for new headshots. In a hilarious op-ed for The Washington Post, Stevens explains, among other things, that “Nobody liked Romney except voters.”

I know that BB wrote a great post on the “delusions” of the GOP and Romney’s camp, but anything that can make a reference to Sunset Blvd is too good to ignore.

And when it comes to the GOP, not only are they delusional…they are cruel. How One GOP Plutocrat Helped Make 20,000 Kids Homeless

Homelessness in New York has skyrocketed, thanks in part to years of conservative policy predicated on right-wing ideology.

There are   20,000 kids  sleeping in homeless shelters in New York City, according to the city’s latest estimate, a number that does not include homeless kids who are  not sleeping in shelters because their families have been turned away. Up to 65 percent of families who apply for  shelter don’t get in , and their options can be grim.

“Some end up sleeping in subway trains,” Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless, tells AlterNet. “Some go to hospital emergency rooms or laundromats. Women are going back to their batterers or staying in unsafe apartments.”

Families that make it into shelters are taking longer to leave and move into stable, permanent housing. Asked by reporters why families were staying  30% longer than even last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “… it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”

“Is it great?”  He elaborated a day  later in response to outcry over his comments. “No. It’s not the Plaza Hotel … but that’s not what shelter is supposed to be and that’s not what the public can afford or the public wants.”

The above alternet story has many pages, it is important that you read them all. I have one more story related to the homeless. Winter problem: More homeless are living in cars

Phil Bell sleeps under three sleeping bags and two blankets in the back seat of his 1998 Buick. He parks outside truck stops and stores that are open 24 hours and rarely turns on his engine.

“You can’t leave the car running because it calls attention to you and burns too much gas,” he explains. “Being in the car is better than being outside or in a tent, but it gets really cold.”

Bell, 39, has been homeless since September. He was laid off by a Detroit auto parts maker and couldn’t pay his rent. He loaded his possessions into his car and took off. He made it this far and is looking for work here.

“I’m lucky,” Bell says. “At least I’ve got the car. Most people out here on the streets don’t have anything.”

I know these are long reads…if you can’t read them all in one shot, book mark them for later.

Now let’s get on with the easy Sunday reads, after the jump.

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