The Ledes

Monday, May 23, 2016.

Washington Post: "A wave of bombings in Syria killed at least 65 people Monday in a coastal area where Russian troops are based, Syrian state media reported. The attacks struck at one of the key strongholds for President Bashar al-Assad outside Damascus and the hub for Russian military operations backing his government." -- CW

The Wires

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (May 22): "An outbreak of a life-threatening illness that has been linked to foods packaged by a processing plant in Washington State has prompted a large-scale voluntary recall of frozen fruits and vegetables marketed under 42 brand names. The scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products, said Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

... Washington Post: The White House goes Scandinavian for a state dinner for the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

New York Times: "Morley Safer, the longest-serving correspondent on '60 Minutes' who was known as much for his hard-hitting reporting as the quirky stories he covered, will formally retire this week after a career in broadcast news that lasted more than 50 years, CBS said on Wednesday. Mr. Safer, 84, served on '60 Minutes' for all but two of its 48 seasons. He started scaling back his appearances on the show after he turned 80; his last segment, a profile of the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired in March.... An hourlong program on Sunday, “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life,” will, among other highlights, recall an investigation by Mr. Safer that resulted in the freedom of Lenell Geter, a black man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Texas. In an appearance on the special, Mr. Geter credited Mr. Safer with saving his life."

U.K. Telegraph: "A Canadian schoolboy appears to have discovered a lost Mayan city hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico using a new method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth....In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.... Studying 22 different constellations, [William Gadoury] found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched. William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it."

Politico: "Fox News chief White House correspondent Ed Henry will not be appearing on the channel for the time being, following a report in In Touch Weekly that he cheated on his wife with a Las Vegas hostess. 'We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,' a Fox News spokesperson told Politico in a statement."

New York Times: “'Hamilton,' the groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the nation’s founding fathers, has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the most in Broadway history." ...

... Here's the full list of Tony Award nominees.

MIT News: "For the first time, an international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liège in Belgium, and elsewhere have detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, just 40 light years from Earth. The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus, and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. The results are published [Monday, May 2] in the journal Nature.... The scientists discovered the planets using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liège, based in Chile."

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

New York Times: "The Pulitzers are in their centennial year, and the winners announced by Columbia University reflected in part the changes sweeping the media landscape." Here's the full list of the prize winners, via the New York Times.

CW: The AP produced this video in January 2015, but I just came across it:

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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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