Slatest PM: American Killed in Algerian Hostage Standoff

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 18 2013 5:08 PM

Slatest PM: About That NRA Ad Featuring Sasha and Malia's School ...

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The Latest Out of Algeria: Associated Press: "One American worker at a natural gas complex in Algeria has been found dead, U.S. officials said Friday as the Obama administration sought to secure the release of Americans still being held by militants on the third day of the hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in the Sahara. The officials identified the dead American as Frederick Buttaccio, a Texas resident, but said it was unclear how he died. They said U.S. officials recovered Buttaccio's remains on Friday and notified his family. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter."

Not Over Yet: Reuters: "More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants. More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information. Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for." You can find the latest updates over at the Wall Street Journal's live-blog on the story.

Al-Qaida Ties: Politico: "Defense Sec. Leon Panetta said that the attack and hostage-taking at a BP facility in Algeria is being carried out by terrorists with links to al Qaeda, something the White House has so far declined to say. 'I don't think there's any question that, based on what we do know, that this was a terrorist act and that the terrorists have affiliation with Al Qaeda,' Panetta said in an interview with ABC News's Martha Raddatz. He said he doesn't know if the attack is related to al Qaeda-related violence in Mali."

Why Details Are So Sketchy: The Ain Amenas plant is remotely located, near the Libyan border, in the middle of the desert. But more importantly, as the New York Times explains in their piece rounding up what we know so far, the Algerian government has been "tight-lipped" with information on the hostage situation, releasing few tallies of those captured, killed, and escaped. They even began their military operations on the plant, jointly controlled by BP, without alerting the governments whose citizens are among those held hostage. Right now, there are reports that the hostages come from 10 countries, including Algeria, the United States, Great Britain, and Japan.

It's Friday! Welcome to The Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees and the whole team at @slatest.

No, The School Obama's Daughters Attend Doesn't Have Armed Guards: Washington Post: "The National Rifle Association is airing a television ad (and has on its website this four-minute video) that says the private school that President Obama’s daughters attend, Sidwell Friends School, has 11 armed guards. It doesn’t. In fact, it has no armed guards. My Post colleague Glenn Kessler, who writes The Fact Checker column, wrote about the issue here and quoted Ellis Turner, associate head of Sidwell Friends, as saying: 'Sidwell Friends security officers do not carry guns.' Parents and students say they have never seen one either. The president’s children are protected by Secret Service agents, which is required by federal law, but that is not the same thing as armed school resource officers."

GOP Blinks on Debt Limit: New York Times: "Backing down from their hard-line stance, House Republicans said Friday that they would agree to lift the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to clear the way for negotiations on long-term deficit reduction. The agreement, reached in closed-door negotiations at a party retreat in Williamsburg, Va., was a tactical retreat for House Republicans, who were increasingly isolated in their refusal to lift the debt ceiling. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio had previously said he would raise it only if paired with immediate spending cuts of equivalent value. The decision by Republicans seemed to significantly reduce the threat of a federal government default in coming weeks and was welcomed by Senate Democrats."

Instant Analysis: Weigel: "Since yesterday, Republicans had been describing a possible short-term debt limit increase which could include a number of sweeteners for their party. They couldn't say what those sweeteners were. Budget cuts equal to the new debt? A Balanced Budget Amendment? I've asked for more details, because—and no offense meant here—Eric Cantor saying "We will pass something" does not mean "we have the votes to pass something." (Remember Plan B for the fiscal cliff?) But it's hard to read this as anything but the GOP blinking and thinking it can fight harder if it gets the Senate Democrats to pass their own budget." More on why House GOP leaders decided to surrender on the debt ceiling—for now.

So You're Saying We'll Still Be Getting Those Emails?: Washington Post: "The former Obama campaign will become a non-profit that will advocate for the president’s policies, the first such transition for a major political organization, First Lady Michelle Obama announced Friday. ... The new group will accept donations from individuals and corporations but not from lobbyists or PACs, the AP reported. ... Since the election, Obama’s team has been debating what to do with its vast campaign apparatus. Democrats have pressured Obama for America to share its sophisticated and massive compilation of voter data with other Democratic candidates. But no existing group has the technical resources to manage the data, which the campaign took great care with and wanted to protect." Hey.

Inauguration Day: Associated Press: "President Barack Obama plans to use a Bible that belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he takes his oath of office on the holiday honoring the slain icon, marking what some say is an inextricable tie between the nation's first black president and the civil rights movement. It's only the second time Inauguration Day has coincided with the King holiday. Some say it's only fitting the celebrations are intertwined."

Programming Note: There will be no PM newsletter on Monday because of the federal holiday, but we'll be back in action on Tuesday. Try not to miss us too much.

Also M.I.A. on Monday: The Bushes. ABC News:  "Former President George W. Bush does not plan to attend President Obama’s second inauguration on Monday, joining his father, former President George H.W. Bush, among the living former presidents who are sending regrets, according to several officials with knowledge of inaugural planning. The decisions mean Obama’s second oath of office will occur with only Democratic former presidents sharing the stage. Both former President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter plan on attending. The younger President Bush is citing his father’s health in declining the invitation to attend, according to the officials. ... Monday’s partial ex-presidential attendance will stand in contrast to Obama’s first inauguration, in 2009. All four living presidents attended that event—including, of course, President George W. Bush, who was turning the office over to Obama. ... No former vice presidents are currently expected to attend Monday’s festivities."

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.