The Ledes

Sunday, March 29, 2015.

AP: "Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen will continue until Shiite rebels there 'withdraw and surrender their weapons,' a summit of Arab leaders decided Sunday, as they also agreed in principle to forming a joint military force. The decision by the Arab League puts it on a path to potentially more aggressively challenge Shiite power Iran, which is backing the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis."

Baltimore Sun: Protesters show up outside Bill Cosby's Baltimore performance, and one interrupts his show.

The Wires

Weekly Address

The President's Weekly Address

White House: "In this week’s address, the President highlighted the progress made protecting American consumers since he signed Wall Street reform into law five years ago, including an important new step taken by the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this week toward preventing abuses in payday lending":

The Ledes

Saturday, March 28, 2015.

Washington Post: "Arab leaders vowed Saturday to back the embattled Yemeni president as a Saudi Arabia-led coalition intensified airstrikes on Shiite rebel targets across Yemen, escalating a conflict that many residents fear could lead to a land invasion.... The Saudis and their allies think that the Shiite rebels are backed by Iran and that Tehran is trying to exert control over a country that had been an ally of Riyadh and Washington."

Telegraph: "A close media aide to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has sought political asylum in Switzerland after travelling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West.Amir Hossein Motaghi, who managed public relations for Mr Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any 'sense' in his profession as a journalist as he could only write what he was told."

Public Service Announcement

Reuters: "Scientists believe they may have found a new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease – not in the form of a drug but in focused beams of ultrasound. While the approach has only been tested in mice, researchers said on Wednesday it proved surprisingly good at clearing tangles of plaques linked to Alzheimer’s in the animals’ brains and improving their memory, as measured by tests such as navigating a maze."

White House Live Video
March 26

4:10 pm ET: President Obama speaks about the economy in Birmingham, Alabama

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

***********************************************

In Case You Were Wondering... Megan Garber of the Atlantic examines multiple theories on why "men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left (to the wearer)."

Oliver Knox of Yahoo! News: "Inside the elaborate, surprisingly unglamorous world of presidential hotel stays." Or Why President Trump Would Resign Shortly after His Inauguration.

New York Times: "After three days of viewing by thousands who lined up for hours to file past the bier in Leicester’s Anglican cathedral, Richard’s skeletal remains, in a coffin of golden English oak with an incised Yorkist rose and an inscription giving the sparest details of his life — 'Richard III, 1452-1485' — were removed overnight from beneath a black cloth pall stitched with colorful images from his tumultuous times. With the solemn ceremony laid down for monarchs through the ages, the coffin was borne to a marble tomb adjacent to the cathedral’s altar by a party of 10 British Army pallbearers...." ...

... The Guardian has a full page of stories about Richard III.

Twenty percent more people trust Bill O'Reilly now than trusted O'Reilly before the press reported he was a serial liar:

East Wing Mystery. Washington Post: "There’s still no official comment on why [White House head florist Laura] Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday Feb. 13." ...

     ... UPDATE. Thoroughly Modern Michelle. "Dowling ... left because her 'fussy style' was not in line with the first lady’s emerging modern and clean aesthetics, several sources said.... Recently the first lady has debuted a different aesthetic at the executive mansion. Last month, the White House revealed the newly refurbished and now decidedly modern Old Family dining room.... Mrs. Obama unveiled her 'thoroughly modernized' mark on the White House, featuring a custom-made 1950s-inspired rug and bold artwork, to surprised tourists on Feb. 10. Dowling is said to have been escorted from the White House three days later." ...

Reuters: "Whether it's the earnest Josiah Bartlet from 'The West Wing' or the manipulative Frank Underwood in 'House of Cards,' Americans prefer television presidents to their real-life POTUS, President Barack 'No Drama' Obama.'"

Washington Post: Scientists believe they've found the world's largest asteroid impact zone in Australia.

Washington Post: "King Richard III may have been buried quickly and without pomp the first time, but 530 years later, England is reveling in a final farewell to its long-lost monarch. On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon on the battlefield where Richard III fell in 1485 — he was the last English king to die in battle — throngs of well-wishers, some dressed in medieval costume and blowing trumpets, gathered to honor England’s last Plantagenet king."

Out of the Parking Lot & into the Cathedral. Guardian: England is preparing to (re)inter a king today (Sunday, March 22). "... the coffin will be transferred to a horse-drawn hearse, to lead the way to a service of compline, with a sermon from a Roman Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nicholls. It will then lie in the cathedral, guarded night and day, until the reburial service on Thursday."

Politico: "The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it has granted Amazon Logistics, a subsidiary of the Internet retail giant, approval for a drone design that the company plans to use for research, development and training."

David Rackoff: "Things people say that irritate Republicans." Click thru. CW: I'll have to try to remember these. So I can say them. To Republicans. I hope I drive them all Rumpelstiltskin. Then I will ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster to forgive me for being so mean.

Prince Charles & the Duchess of Cornwall are in Washington, D.C., & environs.

President Obama hosts a St. Patrick's Day reception:

... CW: Somebody explain to me why apparently-intelligent people don't actually participate in events they attend but instead spend their time taking crappy cellphone videos, even when they know said events will be recorded by professionals & posted online. I get why a person would want to record some side-conversation with, say, the President, but the main event? It baffles me.

Patrick LaForge of the New York Times: "Welcome to a parallel universe. It is a world of tired news language where the verb 'stir' is bound to be followed by 'debate,' where those debates are always 'heated' or 'bitter.' In this world, anything newsworthy is automatically 'controversial,' and a 'hike' involves taxes, not a trail up a mountain. It is often a 'hardscrabble' place, sometimes 'densely wooded,' sometimes graced with 'manicured' lawns and 'leafy' streets. 'Landmark' agreements are 'hammered out' there, while adversaries are 'lambasted' and 'assailed.'” Meet journalese: a strained and artificial voice more common to news reports than to natural conversation." LaForge cites numerous examples of NYT reporters' use of these cliches.

Contact the Constant Weader

Click on this link to e-mail the Constant Weader.

Sunday
May122013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Maureen Dowd is right about this much:

... in this hottest of hot spots, the State Department’s minimum security requirements were not met, requests for more security were rejected, and contingency plans were not drawn up, despite the portentous date of 9/11 and cascading warnings from the C.I.A., which had more personnel in Benghazi than State did and vetted the feckless Libyan Praetorian Guard. When the Pentagon called an elite Special Forces team three hours into the attack, it was training in Croatia — decidedly not a hot spot.

Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Chris Stevens were rushing to make the flimsy Benghazi post permanent as a sign of good faith with Libyans, even as it sat ringed by enemies.

The hierarchies at State and Defense had a plodding response, failing to make any superhuman effort as the siege waxed and waned over eight hours.

This isn't new or newsy. In December,

an outside accountability review board has released its report on the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.... Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired the outside accountability review board.... Overall, the report found that, 'Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies resulted in a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.' ...

In a letter that accompanied the full report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it 'a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix.' She said she accepted all of the recommendations. The report didn't single out specific individuals, but three State Department officials ... resigned....

(The unclassified version of the report is here.)

Dowd goes on to theorize about the Benghazi talking points, and here too her suppositions may be partially right:

In the midst of a re-election campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote the mythology that the president who killed Osama was vanquishing terror. So they deemed it problematic to mention any possible Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.

Looking ahead to 2016, Hillaryland needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar secretary of state. Prepared talking points about the attack included mentions of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group, but the State Department got those references struck.

But Dowd undercuts her own hypothesis when she reveals that the State Department staff who "got those references struck" was "Victoria Nuland, a former Cheney aide." Raise your hand if you think a former Cheney aide was totally into bolstering Hillary Clinton's presidential creds. No, I don't think Nuland was a Cheney mole determined to undermine Hillary's future political career. But Nuland's first inclination, having worked on the dark side, would certainly be toward more opacity, not less.

However, since we're looking for motivations, we should acknowledge that the talking points are a subject of discussion whose sole purpose is political. They were first an issue Fox and Friends raised to undermine President Obama's chance for re-election in 2012. Mitt Romney's debate meltdown put an end to that. (And thanks again, Candy Crowley.) So now, the National Republicans Congressional Committee and Karl Rove are moving on dot org to 2016:

Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg News explains, at least in part, why Darrell Issa, et al., have been so enamored of Susan Rice's talking points:

Unlike Whitewater, a convoluted, shady-sounding and quite possibly greasy real-estate investment deal, Benghazi consists of a discrete event, a brief aftermath and not much of a paper trail. After all, how much paper is produced in the course of a frantic night of violence in a faraway place?

So paper production is the first order of business. We will need lots and lots of documents citing multiple sources whose large and small discrepancies in memory, perspective and testimony can subsequently be magnified, scrutinized and exploded into controversies.

What's a scandal without a paper trail? A Congressional scandalmonger needs something to subpoena, preferably something that the executive branch can claim is privileged or too classified for the likes of Darrell Issa to view. Hooray! More wrangling with the administration. More facetime on Fox!

Forget all that. The real question goes back to the beginning: WTF was Ambassador Chris Stevens doing at an unsecured consulate in Benghazi -- "this hottest of hot spots" -- on September 11? It suits no one's political purpose to lay the blame where it belongs, so Stevens is portrayed, even in the Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report, as an heroic martyr to Libyan democracy and American values.

In fact, Chris Stevens was a hotdogger who put himself, his staff and his security personnel at undue risk. He is a tragic figure only in the classical sense: he was directly reponsible for his own death and -- the deaths of three others. The ARB obliquely acknowledges this: "Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi" and describes the facility as having an "insufficient ... security platform." The Benghazi staff consisted of

relatively inexperienced American personnel often on temporary assignments of 40 days or less.... Plans for the Ambassador's trip [to Benghazi] provided for minimal close protection security support and were not shared thoroughly with the Embassy's country team, who were not fully aware of planned movements off compound. The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature....

Notice how the report employs the passive voice and substitutes "Embassy Tripoli" for "Stevens." What the Board means is that Stevens put inexperienced temps in a dangerous facility with an "insufficient security platform," then popped off to join them (or whatever) without a proper security detail and without even telling staff where he was going and what he was doing because, you know, he just didn't think anybody in an unstable Muslim country would want to kill an American ambassador on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The evidence is that Chris Stevens saw himself as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, with "his knowledge of Arabic, his ability to move in all sectors of the population, and his wide circle of friends, particularly in Benghazi." Well, maybe not "all sectors" and maybe his circle of friends was not quite as wide as he imagined. As the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Stevens had a primary responsibility to protect Americans in Libya. But that responsibility conflicted with his dream of a horde of enthusiastic Libyans shouting, "Ste-VENS! Ste-VENS! Ste-VENS!" He put his personal ambitions before the safety of those in his charge. Stevens -- and other Americans -- are dead only because Stevens himself was woefully irresponsible.

The real scandal is the one that dare not speak its name.


P.S. Please feel free to use the Comments section to vehemently disagree with me.

Reader Comments (9)

Marie, I can't disagree, since from the first I reached the same basic conclusion. As Chief of Mission, Stevens had the best on-site information concerning the security situation in Benghazi, and he used his judgment to go there, then, with the protective detail he took. He got caught short on a bad night and died, with others.

Had he lived and others died that night, he would be squarely in the GOP/Fox sights. But we make heroes of our dead, and of those whose jugment is overcome by their optimism while engaged in national leadership. General Custer was surprised at the number of Sioux who came at him even though he had been told. Audacity and self-confidence had worked for him the past. He had a hard time imagining it would not work again.

In Stevens' defense: Foreign Service Officers expose themselves to danger every day. The long odds are that some will die. And when they do, the public finds it remarkable. Note that Ms. Smedinghoff's name and face were well-publicized after her tragic death in Afghanistan -- but her military colleagues who died from the same VBE were not. I suppose people expect soldiers to die for their country (i.e. are not surprised when they do) but still don't understand that civilians do, too.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

On this Mother's Day this mother and her husband are sitting side by side in their study both on their computers, both reading the real scandal that dare not speak its name. The husband who reads faster than his wife says, "Wow, Marie nails it!" and continues to read how exactly Marie has done that, but the wife says, shhhh, she wants to read it herself which she has and agrees that indeed Chris
Stevens, the darling of a small circle of Benghazi fans, evidently thought he was invincible thereby putting himself and others at risk. But for the Republicans who will grab at any straw even though slippery saw an opportunity to not only fault the administration, but Hillary–-their real target. And the nail that Marie hammers in is the simple fact that the dead ain't fodder for the fuckers, is it?

P.S. Victoria Nuland is married to Michael Kagan, the historian, whom if I remember correctly was touting the Iraq War and agreeing with Bush/Cheney on some issues.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPD Pepe

Re: Woulda', coulda', shoulda' theory. Catastrophic failure in infrastructure is almost always chained. There is no one thing that goes wrong, two or three or more things fail at the same time or like a zipper one link fails, followed by another at increasing speeds until collapse.
I look at the Benghazi disaster in the same way. If any two of the conditions had been different would the outcome be the same?
Patrick mentions ol' "yellowhair" as a classic example of things going bad. "No, General; I didn't see an Indian for miles; well, maybe a few." "Let's go get those pesky redskins, home by dinner."
The three orphans nobody wants to claim the parentage of; Woulda'; Coulda'; and little sister, Shoulda'; that's the spawn of Benghazi.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJJG

I’ve been thinking for the past number of days since Marie said that I was, “about as cold-hearted & self-absorbed as one can get” because of my opinion against gun registration.
I have a couple of observations, if you’re willing to post them, or read them.
A lifetime ago I hitchhiked around 50,000+ miles through the flyover states and Canada. I came to the conclusion by the introductory offer of generosity that my rides displayed in picking me up, that most people are decent and mean well. A lot of the people who picked me up hitching were politically a whole lot more conservative and Republican than I am. They weren’t bad people, they had political elements to themselves, which I discovered in talking with them, I totally disagreed with.
Upon thinking the last number of days, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people in the pro-gun registration groups are just like me: I won’t vote for anyone anti-choice for abortion rights and to me that is the same thing as someone who won’t vote for a politician who is against gun registration. Both of us have the same inflexibility toward one political position.
On the front page of RealityChex recently was an article from Atlantic Monthly, What Really Sank Gun Control: Distrust of Government . For me, in a nutshell that’s what it is. I don’t accept that my distrust of government means I’m cold hearted and self-absorbed.
More important than your opinion of me, is that as I grow older I don’t lock myself into a way of thinking and neglect new information. Otherwise, learning and developing are just words. One commenter on RealityChex wrote something to the effect that they wouldn’t want to know someone with a different opinion against gun registration. I do want to know people with different views than my own. One of the great blessings I’ve had in my life is to work all over the world with lots of different people who don’t think like I do on all subjects. I try to listen to people. Most people are decent and mean well. Muslims, former Soviets, Scandinavians, South Americans, Canadians, hell even Texans mean well most of the time. Your opinion about me, says something about you. Even if I don’t speak your language, I got your vibe. Whether it is air-conditioning, automobiles or cable teevee, we’ve created a world where you can throw shit and not deal with neighborly consequences of unneighborliness.
The London Review of books article about Niall Ferguson calling Keynes “gay”, referred to in RealityChex, got me thinking about where you all gun registration supporters can go from here. Huh, you say? That whole give and take written in the LRB just seemed like perfect talking points about the refutation of a twit with a scholastic pedigree. I happen to own the “The Life of John Maynard Keynes” by R.E. Harrod, I’m a long time fan of Keynes. I’m not a DNC guy; I’m a guy who works in an occupation twice as dangerous as mining. When you work in a small insular environment and have to ‘go along to get along’ the blather of your opinion becomes secondary to the needs of the group. When you spend your life in a blue collar occupation some of that ‘get ‘er done’ thinking is bound to drive you. The pro-registration folks need to go outside their group for talking points to sell their point of view. And they need separation from the political parties and their machinations. All of the blather of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are talking points waiting to be exploited and developed and target marketed. Instead of that, you address my heart temperature and the status of my ego vis-à-vis the outside world.
One talking point in support of registration is the ratio of car accident deaths to gun deaths. I didn’t know how many people die every year from guns. Repeat that ratio or relationship. The statistic that “90% of Americans supports gun registration” doesn’t fly where I live. This is the Internet Age: tailor your remarks accordingly. Here’s a suggestion: under 18 year car drivers have many different driving restrictions they didn’t have years ago: why not not compare the lack of gun regulations with car driving ones? I’m one person here. Where are the political people who do this messaging stuff every day? Or is this another case that as long as it is a problem, the political parties can raise money from it?

When you shut off discussions with those with whom you share 85% of your political views, you neglect using the faculties of give and take to sustain civil society and you do both people a disservice by removing yourself from review or critique of dialogue. Also, you are ultimately less effective at progress because the 15% of disagreement consumes a becomes the focus. So with all the aforementioned as explanation, this is my response. And labeling someone who disagrees with you as “about as cold-hearted & self-absorbed as one can get” brings you not one iota closer to your desired political resolution.
I hope to continue to believe that “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet” and I enjoy your website.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercitizen625

Marie this is a great clear-eyed logical view of the Benghazi situation. I hope you can find a wider audience for publication of an article on your thesis. I have been there with you in re: Stevens from day one. It should have been a gymnastic exercise in the 9.5 to 10 range to keep the subject away from Steven's role in his own demise as well as 3 other people. Instead it was all silent, all the time. I have commented on a few other sites and even sent an email to Rachel Maddow, shortly after the incident, urging her to explore Steven's role. Surprisingly, there was no one else commenting in this vein on other sites, as I have always felt the question was obvious.

As I indicated yesterday, the talking points obsession is completely irrelevant, not probative as the legal minds say. Speculation, in those 1st hours, which would name specific terrorists, is of no importance to anyone except those who have to find them. Benghazi is a tactic for a desperate pathetic, ignorant mob of mostly old white men who want to use it to disgrace and eliminate a whip smart black president. Not to embrace hyperbole, but its quite easy to see the constant vicious pursuit of this President as a contemporary metaphor for the doings of the Klan without the burning cross.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

As Patrick noted in his comment: "In Stevens' defense: Foreign Service Officers expose themselves to danger every day. The long odds are that some will die."

Yes, for sure that is true, and in certain countries that danger is obviously extremely high—that of Libya cannot be denied. Knowing this and going in to a country - especially after an uprising/turmoil - one would think that all precautions would be taken to assure that U.S. personnel would have proper security for their protection. It is stunning to view Google maps and see exactly where the American Consulate in Benghazi is/was located. It is absolutely and totally unfathomable that such a vulnerable site was selected.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

Re: Oh, what the fuck; I was going to add a little bit to my previous comment by asking the question; If you have over a thousand offices the world over; many in extremely dangerous locations, and those offices are the targets of hatred; would you not think that incidents like Benghazi would be prepared for and expected and avoided at most cost? To place the responsibility on Clinton or Obama is to ignore the realities of government work.

BUT; instead I got dragged back in...I swore I would write no more about guns because I think all the words in the world can't describe or influence the true believers. I gotta write; damn to hell...
Cit625 you seem like a reasonable man; "I’m a guy who works in an occupation twice as dangerous as mining." Cool; I like dangerous jobs; wonder if he's a roofer, maybe lumberjack; junior high bus driver, crabbing in the Arctic; he's OK. and; he likes other points of view. So, 625; you're heartless because your individual rights trump the society's rights when it comes to guns. C' 625 I don't give a damn if you have an Abrams tank in your garage; But when it's stolen and used to flatten a Seven-eleven I want the cops to know where it was stolen from. If by having your guns and WMDs listed somewhere saves one crazy ass from shooting up a school and you claim invasion of privacy; I say; not heartless; but not attuned to the times. Again, I don't know of a plan to take your guns away except in the minds of the NRA but if the weight of the Federal Government landed on your lawn; even your Abrams tank won't save you. So who cares? You register your car, your dog, your boat, all the tools you buy, register your guns; so?
Self-absorbed because you don't see the over-all picture. I have often times wondered why responsible gun owners wouldn't want guns to be registered. Why not have unlicensed cars and car drivers on the road? Because it's dangerous, duh.
I'm a registered driver with a registered truck; I don't fear my government on this point. Guns are mystical in the minds of many like you; 625; I don't want your guns taken away; or your myths. But if you don't like being called out on your selfishness you need to explain how unregistered guns help in todays world for us all.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJJG

@Marie: I thought the same thing about Stevens from the get go. I saw the same "I'm invincible" attitude in Vietnam. I was guilty of it at times, too. If you escape unscathed many times, after awhile, you get the feeling "They can't get me. " Unfortunately, sooner or later, they will. Lucky for me that I left in time. I met a fellow in Germany who was trying to match Audie Murphy's medal count, They got him before he got the Medal of Honor--blew up his jeep with him in it. Not killed but too severely wounded to continue.

May 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarbarossa

@citizen625,
If I can get the gist of your lengthy post, its that you don't believe in gun registration because you don't trust the government. Exactly what government is it that you don't trust and what about it don't you trust? Government is nothing more than a collection of individuals doing jobs they've been hire, elected or appointed to do. Can you name me specifically which of these individuals you don't trust, and what that has to do with gun registration? Do you register your car? Do you get hunting licenses? Do you pay your taxes? These all require that we entrust our "government" with certain information. What is so special about your gun that exempts it? The fear that the government will take away your gun is an irrational one, which is a shame, because you sound like you could be a rational person. Except that you don't seem to care who gets killed with what guns. And if I'm wrong about that and you do care, than what is your suggestion to end gun violence. And please don't say more guns, because that is NOT a rational argument.

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercakers
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