New, Previously Secret Map of Military Assets Restarts #Benghazi Scandal (for a Few Seconds)
It can be tricky to keep the strains of the #Benghazi scandal separated, or remember which one is an outrage at any given moment. Currently, the strain doing the most political damage to the Democrats is "where was Hillary?" Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes start their new biography of the former secretary of state, HRC, with a scene of Clinton watching in horror as a consulate comes under attack. In what used to be called an M. Night Shyamalan twist (before people stopped liking his movies), the authors reveal that Clinton was actually watching an attack in Peshawar, two years before the attack in Benghazi. Why wasn't she ready? The question sits awkardly on the page.
An offshoot of the "where was Hillary?" question—one that's far more unsettling—is "why wasn't there backup?" That question gets amplified (sometimes) by angry relatives of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, and (more often) by Republicans furious that Tyrone Woods and his compatriots were left to fend for themselves. What could have been done?
That's the focus of the new release from Judicial Watch, the FOIA-happy conservative watchdog group that has been publishing anything it can get about Benghazi. Today's find, just now circulating on the right, is a Navy map that proves (according to JW) that the "U.S. military had a multitude of forces in the region surrounding Libya when terrorists attacked the Special Mission in Benghazi and murdered four Americans."
That's not what the Navy says in its summary of the map. It pegs the locations of surface vessels and says that no ship was close enough to respond effectively.
ENTERPRISE was approximately 3350 nautical miles from Benghazi. Assuming a 20 knot transit speed and no Suez Canal delays, the transit would take approximately 168 hours or seven days. EISENHOWER would require additional transit time from its position in the Arabian Gulf. USS IOWA JIMA (LHD 7) was the closest large amphibious ship, which was underway in the Gulf of Oman.
So where do we get the claim that the military could have responded, and didn't? From retired Air Force Lt. Col. Randall R. Schmidt, who filed the FOIA, got it, shared it with JW, then explained that "destroyers could have responded to the attack" but the DOD has denied his request for info on Air Force assets that day. All we know, we know from then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: Armed UAVs couldn't be deployed in Benghazi for 9 to 12 hours after the attacks started. The failure to respond was preordained, not concocted on the day. The congressional investigation cited by JW in this very same report says the same.
Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn Save America, Vote to Raise Debt Limit
Anyone who listened to Republican senators yesterday could tell they were unhappy to be stuck with a "clean" debt limit increase. Oh, not that most of them didn't want to pass it and move on. They did! But it was going to be tough to sell back home. It got tougher after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, shocking absolutely no one, said he'd demand a cloture vote on the bill, one that would require every Democrat and independent and at least five Republicans to suspend the debt limit through the 2014 election.
The plus: A filibuster would put the squeeze on vulnerable Democrats. Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, John Walsh, and Mary Landrieu would have to vote for a no-frills debt limit hike—none of them could take a powder. (In 2006 Democrats didn't ask for cloture, and two Republicans on the ballot that year got to vote "no." One of them, Montana's Conrad Burns, lost.)
The minus: See above, re: "five Republicans." The vote was held open for 45 minutes as Harry Reid struggled to break past 58 votes for passage. Finally, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn arrived to vote "aye" and push the bill through. This has been received as a huge risk, by both men.
But was it, really? McConnell and Cornyn have both cast plenty of votes to raise the debt limit. If they didn't do it this time, an opponent could just pull the old file and dust it off. And neither senator's main primary challenger (respectively: Matt Bevin, Steve Stockman) is scaring him right now. McConnell's still feeling the vibes from a Politico scoop that revealed Bevin had once supported the effects of TARP.
Barack Obama’s Second Cousin Is Running for Senate and Has the Attack Ad of the Day
Five days ago the New York Times’ roving political correspondent Jonathan Martin reported from Kansas on the hitherto unknown weakness of Sen. Pat Roberts. The senior senator, who won Bob Dole’s old seat in 1996, did “not have a home of his own in Kansas,” and his voting address was actually a friend's home at a country club.
“Across town at the Inn Pancake House on Wyatt Earp Boulevard,” wrote Martin, “breakfast regulars say the Republican senator is a virtual stranger.”
It took a while, but the story has been chewed and digested into an ad from Roberts’ long-shot opponent, Dr. Milton Wolf, a radiologist who won Tea Party fame in 2010 thanks to his familial relationship to the 44th president. (He’s a second cousin of the Obama’s, on the mom’s side.)
Notice how Wolf credits “reports,” and not the feared NYT by name, even when cribbing the “virtual stranger” quote. Notice also the crimes Roberts is accused of—votes for “Kathleen Sebelius, 11 debt limit increases, and Obama’s fiscal cliff tax hike.” When I interviewed Wolf last year, he revealed a strong talent for turning every question back to Roberts’ 2009 vote to put Sebelius atop HHS. Doesn’t matter that Roberts has spent the last four months calling on Sebelius to quit—now, that’s seen as a grab for conservative credibility. Roberts’ office won't say how many days he’s spent in the state, for fear that no number would be high enough to rebut the out-of-touch charge.
Rand Paul’s Lawsuit Against the NSA
The modern period of Rand Paul, Republican leader, began on what was supposed to be a cold, snowswept day in D.C. Opponents of Paul remembered that—they claimed the media showed up to cover his drone filibuster because other news, and events, had been canceled.
But if it works, work it. Today, the Kentucky senator filed the civil suit he'd been collecting signatures for via his RAND PAC. Alongside FreedomWorks, the libertarian Tea Party group, and represented by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Paul revealed his class-action complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. It asked the U.S. District Court in D.C. to "declare that the Mass Associational Tracking Program violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution" and order the state to "purge ... all of the telepohone metadata collected, stored, retained and searched about Plaintiffs and class members." The picture above shows maybe one-fourth of the media that showed up, and doesn't even show the British reporters who wanted this senator to weigh in on that country's spying scandal.
The lawsuit is readable here.
(Photo by me)
Who Will Miss Crisis Budgeting? Republican Senators.
My piece from last night traced the three-odd-year history of government-by-debt limit, pronouncing its end for the rest of 2014 (no huge risk there) and maybe for even longer. But you'll notice that Lindsey Graham, not ever seen as a radical Republican, appears in the piece as a very, very concerned observer who wishes the House GOP could agree to demand something in the debt limit. Maybe an infrastructure bank?
This is part of the new normalcy, same as the old normalcy—the debt limit restored as something the opposition votes against, because it can, while it criticizes the big spending of the party in power. But is there more to it?
"I suppose that's the most John Boehner could do," shrugged Ohio Sen. Rob Portman when asked about the "clean" debt bill. "I suppose he tested other ideas. I was always focused on a very simple solution—do some spending reform as part of the debt limit. It's the only way Congress has ever put spending reform in place. Every significant spending reform of the last 30 years was through the debt limit."
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who had loudly and frequently criticized the government shutdown strategy of 2013, sounded a bit like Portman. "Most of us said from the beginning, we don't want to monkey around with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government," he said. "By the same token, there's no reason that you can't find other solutions at the same time, whether they're incorporated or they ride separately."
There's just a pervading sense that, but for the shutdown, crisis economics might still be with us.
"The shutdown had a lot to do with it," said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. "Yeah. There was a piece yesterday about how those of us concerned with the deficit have not had a good couple of months. Now people are talking about undoing parts of the agreement it just did."
San Diego’s New, Republican, Pro-Bike, Pro-Gay Mayor
Yesterday, San Diego voters chose Republican City Councilman Kevin Faulconer to replace resigned and disgraced ex-Mayor Bob Filner. David Alvarez, a 33-year-old councilman who attracted some national attention (he would have been the city's first Hispanic mayor), lost by 10 points. Party labels don't appear on San Diego mayoral ballots, but President Obama had endorsed Alvarez, and the outcome ushered in a period of conservative gloating. (For whatever it's worth, the polls never showed Alvarez competing strongly and I assumed he'd lose.)
The gloating doesn't seem to have inspired any What This Means for Republicans columns. This is probably because columnists, whatever their sins, know a little about San Diego. Oh, yes, the labor movement (nationally and locally) blew millions of dollars in an attempt to save the mayor's office, but they were trying to buck the tide in a city that had just watched a Democratic mayor become a slavering, harassing national embarrassment.
Until Filner won, on the Obama-Biden coattails, Republicans had controlled the mayor's office for a generation—they won every election from 1992 to 2008. Republicans typically took San Diego with moderate candidates, and Faulconer fit the mold. In a party that's grown increasingly skeptical of green initiatives and urban planning, Faulconer took credit for a 24-mile bicycle route, a bike share program, and electric vehicle charging stations. Last year, Faulconer flipped his stance on gay rights and celebrated the demolition of Prop 8. Becoming pro-gay, he told Voice of San Diego, "was the best personal decision for me."
So, Faulconer might be an interesting national figure; he might become a credible statewide candidate in a party that's starved for them. But the model of victory in San Diego isn't going to be copied in many competitive races this year. Dive-bombing Democrats with Obamacare ads will probably do the trick.
Only 28 Republicans Vote for the “Clean” Debt Limit Hike
Close, but not clutch-your-chest-and-panic close. Republicans got a total of 221 votes for their last-ditch bill to raise the debt limit without conditions. Only two Democrats voted no: Georgia Rep. John Barrow (whose district gave 55 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney in 2012) and Utah Rep. Jim Matheson (who's retiring but expected to make a run for statewide office). Only 28 Republicans voted "aye." Among them:
The leadership. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Peter Roskam, all in the leadership, helped get the bill over the line. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and James Lankford did not—no coincidence that Lankford is now running for U.S. Senate.
The swing-district guys. Chris Collins, Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Mike Grimm, Richard Hanna, Frank LoBiondo, Gary Miller, and David Valadao all represent districts where the president won or was competitive in 2012.
The retiring guys. Howard Coble, Jon Runyan, and Frank Wolf, all calling it quits this year, voted aye, though a bunch of their fellow retirees (Michele Bachmann, Spencer Bachus, Jim Gerlach, Tim Griffin) voted no.
The other important no votes? Every 2014 Senate candidate, of course, but also Paul Ryan, whose decision to go red or green can move dozens of colleagues.
Democrats celebrated their total victory by trolling:
Republicans took solace in the fact that, at least, the Democrats had made a spelling error.
Melissa Harris-Perry and Rand Paul Agree on One Thing: Hillary Clinton's “Appalling Choice”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has started responding to questions about a Republican "war on women" by baiting the perceived 2016 Democratic front-runner. What authority did Hillary Clinton really have, given her husband's "predatory behavior" regarding a 20-year old White House intern? The attack is ready-made for cable news, but it hasn't been discussed at all on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry. The eponymous host, an academic whose segments about race, poverty, and gender are roughly 20 grade levels above the rest of TV, hasn't touched the Paul line.
Here's one possible reason why. In Big Girls Don't Cry, her book on the gender politics ramifications of the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister notes that "it was fallout from the Lewinsky scandal that did in Hillary with some feminists." Yes, her overall popularity surged—it made her a stronger candidate for New York's open Senate seat. But for a second opinion, on Page 23, Traister quotes Harris-Perry (née Harris-Lacewell).
I don't doubt that Harris-Perry still feels that way, or would refrain from saying so when the issue came up. But she's not forcing it. And Rand Paul is not wrong that the issue makes some progressives queasy.
The Conservative Man-Crush on Putin
A few months ago, the wonderful Marin Cogan noticed a subculture of Americans, most of them right-leaning, who admired the manliness of Vladimir Putin. They meme'd photos of the Russian president shirtless or hunting or hunting while shirtless. Often, they tried to imagine America's own "metrosexual black Abe Lincoln" doing the same, and collapsed with laughter.
Earlier this year, when Putin supposedly caught—and kissed—a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Republic, a major grassroots message board for the Right, were overwhelmingly pro-Putin:
"I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurper show us? Maybe clipping his fingernails I suppose or maybe hanging some curtains. Yep manly. I can't believe I'm siding with Putin," one wrote. "I have President envy," another said. "Better than our metrosexual president," said a third. One riffed that a Putin-Sarah Palin ticket would lead to a more moral United States.
Now, most of the Putinphilia on the Internet is nonideological—it's only as deep as "hey, this grumpy-looking Russian guy poses shirtless a lot." (Some Putin observers attribute this to overcompensation. The president is 5-foot-7, shorter than many of his world leader peers.) Conservative appreciation for Putin has, generally, tended to move away from the visuals and toward Putin's social conservatism.
In the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell contrasted Putin quite favorably with leftists who "have lately shifted power from legislatures to executives and from voters to bureaucracies," and sided with Islamists on issues of censorship. In his syndicated column, Pat Buchanan wrote with admiration that "Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian," and noted that most of the world—175 of 190 nations—sided with Putin over the "un-elected judges" who approved of gay marriage.
In his National Review column, Victor Davis Hanson has finally blended the two genres. Putin's problem with America, writes Hanson, is that our leadership is so weak and vacillating. In Iraq, for example, "he despised us for not quickly dealing with the insurgency and then for pulling out abruptly once we did." According to Hanson, the manliness plays out in other ways that should make us feel ashamed.
Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns — what Obama dismisses as “tough-guy schtick.” Perhaps. But Putin is almost saying, “You have ten times the wealth and military power that I have, but I can neutralize you by my demonic personality alone.” Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport. It reminds us of Stafford Cripps being played by Stalin during World War II. “Make no mistake about it” and “Let me be perfectly clear” lose every time. Obama’s subordinates violate the law by going after the communications of a Fox reporter’s parents; Putin himself threatens to cut off the testicles of a rude journalist.
That last line might include a Freudian slip. Putin never "threatened to cut off the testicles" of a "rude journalist." Twelve years ago a journalist for Le Monde asked Putin (then in his first term) about the use of heavy weapons in operations in Chechnya. "If you want to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision," said Putin, "then I invite you to Moscow. We are a multidenominational country. We have specialists in this question as well. I will recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that after it nothing else will grow." That's been interpreted as a mention of "castration," for some reason—but the journalist was hardly "rude" in the question that set it up.
Congressman: CFPB Is Practicing “Gestapo-Style” Data Collection
Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., is not a fan of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (In the Florida state Senate, Webster was known for unsuccessfully pushing legislation to keep Terri Schiavo alive.) At a House Rules Committee hearing, he compared the CFPB to the Gestapo:
"So this is far more than the NSA. Far more than their metadata, which only collects phone numbers but not names, far more because they have no re-authorization, far more because there is no appropriation restrictions placed on it. This is more than just NSA-style, this is more Gestapo-style collection of data on individual citizens who have no clue that this is happening.
The hearing concerned a bill that would, among other things, require the CFPB director "to consider a rule's impact upon the financial safety or soundness of an insured depository institution." In other words, the bill they were discussing has little to do with data collection, but was a great excuse for House GOP members to harp on Elizabeth Warren's brainchild.
Here's the video of Webster:
The "Gestapo-style" data collection Webster took issue with is the CFPB's credit report data on mortgage borrowers. According to hearing testimony, every federal employee has access to the database, which has credit report data on 53 million American borrowers. Someone giving testimony also compared the CFPB to the IRS, and said it's "totally unaccountable to the American people."
The CFPB could be the Republicans' new whipping boy since the IRS peccadillo has died down. Webster has already proven himself as phobic of government data collection. In 2012 he worked to end the Census American Community Survey, which randomly surveys 3 million households every year, calling the ACS "intrusive" and "unconstitutional." The ACS is used to determine how to distribute federal and state funds for things like hospitals and school lunches. But what of our freedoms?