IPS Blog

Benghazi: Conservative Concerns May Be Reality Based for Once

Mitt Romney embarrassed himself at the second presidential debate when he tried to score points against President Obama over the attack on the U.S. Benghazi consulate. As you no doubt recall, he claimed that the president didn’t label it an “act of terror” for two weeks. However feeble a “gotcha” it would have been, as debate moderator Candy Crowley informed Romney, the president used the words in a press conference the day after the attack.

Romney supporters then mounted a brief campaign in an attempt to kill the messenger (Crowley) by insisting that correcting Romney showed partisanship on her part. The right has continued to make the case that the president and his administration were unprepared for the attack and responded poorly. In fact, some thought this would be critical to election results.

Specifically, the right asked:
1. Why wasn’t the consulate more secure, especially with al Qaeda in the region?
2. Why weren’t U.S. forces able to fend off the attackers?
3. Why is the Obama administration hiding the truth about the attack?

Obama supporters brushed them off. But is there any truth to the right’s concerns about the Benghazi attack? At Counterpunch, Melvin Goodman, who writes about the decline of the CIA [I'm not exactly sure what constituted its peak -- RW], answers in the affirmative, but for reasons more complicated than the right believe.

It’s now apparent that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was no ordinary consulate; in fact, it probably was. … the diplomatic cover for an intelligence platform and whatever diplomatic functions took place in Benghazi also served as cover for an important CIA base.

Furthermore

Any CIA component in the Middle East or North Africa is a likely target of the wrath of militant and terrorist organizations because of the Agency’s key role in the global war on terror waged by the Bush administration and the increasingly widespread covert campaign of drone aircraft of the Obama administration. … The U.S. campaign to overthrow Gaddafi didn’t clean the slate of these abuses; it merely opened up the opportunity for militants and Islamists to avenge U.S. actions over the past ten years.

In other words, speaking as the former CIA analyst that he is, Goodman writes

Americans are devoting far too much attention to whether a so-called proper level of security in Benghazi could have prevented the attack, instead of trying to learn the motives and anticipate the actions of these militant organizations.

The CIA should have learned from a previous incident.

The CIA failure to provide adequate security for its personnel stems from degradation in the operational tradecraft capabilities of the CIA since the so-called intelligence reforms that followed the 9/11 attacks. Nearly three years ago, nine CIA operatives and contractors were killed by a suicide bomber at their base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan in the deadliest attack on CIA personnel in decades.

Virtually every aspect of sound tradecraft was ignored in this episode.

But not much improved between then and the Benghazi attack.

The security situation in Libya, particularly Benghazi, was obviously deteriorating; the consulate was a target of a bomb in June. … Overall security for the consulate had been in the hands of a small British security firm that placed unarmed Libyans on the perimeter of the building complex. The CIA contributed to the problem with its reliance on Libyan militias and a new Libyan intelligence organization to maintain security for its personnel in Benghazi.

On the night of the attack, the CIA security team was slow to respond to the consulate’s call for help. [Also] Ambassador Christopher Stevens was an extremely successful and popular ambassador in Libya, but he had become too relaxed about security in a country that had become a war zone.

Meanwhile, at GQ, Sean Flynn, who recently wrote the definitive account of the Utoya kilings, also provides one for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s final days. He concludes:

Even the apparently important operational question—namely, was there enough security—seems irrelevant, because there can never be enough to prepare for every scenario. “The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented—there had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya,” a senior State Department official said. “In fact, it would be very, very hard to find an attack like that in recent diplomatic history.”

But we’ll give Goodman the final word.

The Benghazi failure is one more reminder of the unfortunate militarization of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, in the wake of 9/11 that finds our major civilian intelligence service becoming a paramilitary center in support of the war-fighter.

Now, Will Obama Break His Climate Silence?

Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.

Climate scienceYou didn’t have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn’t taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don’t change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.

And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama’s victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.

After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term “climate change,” he’s signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” as he did in his acceptance speech.

In the past four years his “all of the above” approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.

And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of “low-carbon” energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.

“The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote,” Obama said in his acceptance speech.”America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together.”

We can’t sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can’t abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.

Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren’t waiting for our leaders to take action. They’re already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.

Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org

This Week in OtherWords: After the Superstorm

As authorities in the Northeast order new evacuations and the airlines cancel hundreds of flights in anticipation of another fierce storm, OtherWords is taking stock of the many ways in which Sandy may prove a teachable moment.

Daphne Wysham and John Talberth show how this latest bout of extreme weather exposes the shortcomings of relying on GDP to measure economic progress. William A. Collins, one of the 8.5 million people who lost power last week, asks whether Mother Nature was disciplining Wall Street for its dirty-energy finance. Michael Brune, who grew up in one of New Jersey’s hardest-hit towns, calls for bigger investments in clean energy. Ryan Alexander calls for a more responsible approach to the nation’s flood insurance system. And Khalil Bendib’s cartoon can accompany any of these commentaries.

Be sure to visit the OtherWords blog, where many of our writers are parsing the elections. And please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. How Sandy Reveals the GDP’s Twisted Logic / John Talberth and Daphne Wysham
    Extreme weather doesn’t boost the economy.
  2. Hurricane Sandy’s Wakeup Call / Michael Brune
    Sandy is only the latest and most devastating incident in a pattern of extreme weather that’s become impossible to ignore.
  3. Social Security: It Ain’t Broke / Elizabeth Rose
    It’s a basic part of what makes America run, like our national highway system.
  4. Rebuilding Resilience / Ryan Alexander
    We have to stop subsidizing people to live in harm’s way.
  5. The Invisible Hand Won’t Stop Inequality in Its Tracks / Sam Pizzigati
    We’ll have more economic and climate disasters on Sandy’s scale unless our political systems intervene.
  6. Why the Chicken Crossed the Road / Jim Hightower
    Factory farms are animal concentration camps.
  7. Shivering in the Land of Climate Denial / William A. Collins
    If Wall Street doesn’t get Mother Nature’s hint, it will become the entire world’s tragedy.
  8. Sandy Trumps Romney’s Climate Joke / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
  9. Sandy Trumps Romney's Climate Joke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Sandy Trumps Romney’s Climate Joke, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Inequality-Fighting Lawmakers Win Big

Members of Congress who earned good marks in an Institute for Policy Studies “report card” on inequality fared well on Election Day.

Inequality Report CardWe awarded “A+” grades to the 12 House members who did the most to narrow America’s economic divide over the past two years. Eleven of these lawmakers won:
Robert Brady (D-PA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), John Conyers (D-MI), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Only one of these A+ lawmakers, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) lost his seat to a Democratic challenger — making him a notable casualty to California’s top-two primary system.

Three of the five senators who nailed top marks for their legislative actions to reduce inequality in America were up for re-election. They all won: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Republicans identified as the most “99% friendly” within their party also did well. The IPS report card rated three senators and nine House members at a “C” level for doing the most to reduce extreme inequality over the past two years. All seven of the House members on this list who ran for re-election won. None of the three most “99% friendly” Senators was up for re-election this year.

Our report card gave failing grades to 59 lawmakers who consistently favor the interests of the wealthy instead of looking out for the needs of everyone. Of the 45 who were up for re-election, two lost. One was Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), who was the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires corporations to disclose the ratio between what they pay their CEO and their workers.

This new metric could encourage a narrowing of the staggering inequality gaps within companies. In the midst of Hayworth’s two-year crusade against that provision, the SEC has failed to implement it.

The other House member who received an “F” grade and lost her seat was tea party-backed Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, another New York Republican.

The IPS report card also identified the 17 Democrats who have done the least to fight extreme inequality and rated no better than a “C: Of the eight House Democrats on this list who were up for re-election, two lost (Representatives Ben Chandler of Kentucky, and Larry Kissell of North Carolina). Mike McIntyre, another North Carolina House Dem, appeared to be headed for a recount.

Sarah Anderson is a co-author of this Institute’s first annual inequality report card, released in September. It rates lawmakers on the basis of their voting records and co-sponsorships of 40 different legislative actions over the last two years. The bills considered range from legislation to establish a “Buffett Rule” minimum tax rate that all wealthy Americans must pay to a measure that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

The Nail-Biter that Wasn’t

Obama wins

It was the nail-biter that wasn’t
…not even close.
By just after 11,
the GOP gave up the ghost.

Turns out voters are smart —
they knew just what to do.
They knew who was for many
and who was for few.

The tea party is over,
the real work is at hand.
And we all gotta push
whoever’s in command.

You can get high,
you can marry your mate,
you can get an education,
we can overcome hate.

But the job’s just beginning
to transform how we live.
What we do to the planet,
what we take, what we give.

Don’t make a grand bargain,
that slashes and burns
a safety net that we need,
so our kids eat, thrive and learn.

Tax Wall Street, cut waste,
end wars, tax the rich.
Turn green with great haste,
Frankenstorms are a bitch.

The people have spoken,
we’ve chosen our path.
Now get to work Mr. President,
look at the math.

America’s not broke,
the resources are there.
We’ve gotta be bold,
and create for all a fair share.

Among other things, Karen Dolan is the Institute for Policy Studies’ deadline poet. IPS-dc.org

A Better Way to Run Elections

Once upon a time there were at least nine Republicans running for president. It turns out that almost every Republican in the country thought that Tim Pawlenty would be a pretty good president. Indeed, he was everyone’s second choice.

But everyone had one other person they thought would be even better, so they voted for that person. The result was that all the other candidates split the vote, each getting about 13 percent, and poor Pawlenty got almost nothing. So he dropped out. One by one, so did the other candidates, leaving us with Mitt Romney.

About 13 percent of the Republicans had Romney as their first choice, so they are happy. But the other 87 percent of Republicans, who had someone else as their first choice, had Pawlenty as their second choice. He might have won in a landslide if he hadn’t dropped out.

bjmccray/Flickr

bjmccray/Flickr

OK, so I made all this up — or did I? The fact is, no one knows who was the second choice of the voters, because no one asked. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could ask, and if we did, we might find ourselves with very different candidates on the Democratic and Republican tickets.

The point is, our vote-for-one electoral system isn’t designed to choose the best or the most popular candidate. It’s designed to reward the candidate who can survive the longest, even if he or she is not the favorite of the electorate. Remember, until the competition dropped out, there were no primaries in which Romney won the majority of the votes. More people were against him than for him.

The same thing happened in Egypt. With multiple candidates running, the top two vote getters turned out to be the most extreme candidates. Most of the people chose someone in the middle, but not the same someone, so in the second round, the majority had to choose between two candidates, neither of whom they wanted.

There are easy ways around this. One is, instead of voting for one candidate, you rank them. Here’s my first choice, here’s my second, and so on. You can stop whenever you like, no need to rank them all. When counting, simply give points for each level of vote. If there are nine candidates, a first-place vote is worth nine points, second is worth eight, and so on. Anyone unranked on your ballot gets no points.

A second approach would be to allow negative votes: My vote goes for Smith, but I definitely do not want Jones. Smith gets +1, Jones gets -1 vote. Anyone voting for and extreme left candidate will probably vote against an extreme right candidate, with the result that they would cancel each other out, leaving the middle standing.

Another effect of this system would be to reduce the effect of outside money in local races. After all, when an extreme Republican is running against an extreme Democrat, outside groups care who wins and pour money into the race. If the candidates were moderate, the outside groups might care less and allow the locals to decide.

If Egypt used one of these methods, the candidates from the middle would have received more points than the candidates from the fringes. Runoff elections might happen anyway, but this time between the two candidates with the most overall points, not the most first place votes. The people would be more likely to get the leader they want.

Back home, the major political parties might actually nominate better candidates.

This would be good news for politicians like Tim Pawlenty.

So what’s stopping us from doing this? As far as I can tell, nothing. Each state’s Secretary of State gets to decide how their primary will be run. All they have to do is choose one of these systems.

David Reingold is a retired chemistry professor at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Election Night Party with IPS

Live at IPS

Join the Election Night Party with the Institute for Policy Studies to hear from our team of experts for thought and analysis that you won’t hear in the mainstream media. IPS invites you to tune into the livestream of our Election Night Party, 8 PM to 11 PM ET.

CLICK HERE TO TUNE INTO THE LIVESTREAM.

We’ll feature a discussion with IPS drug policy expert Sanho Tree on the marijuana legalizations initiatives and how legalization will impact the drug war and our drug policy toward Latin America. You’ll hear a rundown with IPS inequality and economy guru Sarah Anderson on the “inequality vote,” the pro-99-percent candidates versus those whose Congressional actions favor the rich. We’ll have a frank and informative talk with IPS organizer Netfa Freeman on the private polling service that is used by most major broadcast news stations to forecast election winners, and how electronic voting machines may affect democracy.

And we’ll have discussion on much, much more. We’ll talk about Proposition 37, the California ballot initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food. We’ll break down how marriage equality initiatives are faring four states. We’ll review the presidential candidates’ foreign policy positions. And there will be more.

You won’t hear our experts repeat the same old phrases or analysis that you get on network news. The Institute for Policy Studies is a Washington-DC-based think tank speaking truth to power for 50 years. Tonight, we’ll be speaking the truth on livestream.

Join us for our Election Night Party, 8 PM to 11 PM ET, on our UStream Channel: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/live-at-ips

Once More Into the Breach for the “Savior of Pakistan”

AQ KhanThere’s only person who’s less worthy of being referred to by cool initials than A.Q. Khan. That’s Khalid Sheik Mohammed: KSM sounds way too familiar, creepy, even in its coziness.

Before interviewing him for a September 5 piece at Foreign Policy, Simon Henderson reminds us that

Abdul Qadeer Khan is the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program — and, according to Washington officialdom, the architect of the greatest violation to the nuclear non-proliferation regime that the world has ever seen. Starting in the 1980s and continuing for roughly two decades, the nuclear scientist oversaw the transfer of crucial nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Why interview him now? It seems

… the controversial nuclear scientist is entering Pakistan’s political arena. He recently announced the formation of the Movement for the Protection of Pakistan … which he conceives as an organization that will back worthy candidates in the country’s upcoming national assembly elections.

And why launch the party now? AQ Khan responds:

At the moment Pakistan is in an extremely precarious and dangerous condition – no law and order, widespread load shedding [planned rolling blackouts -- RW], a high crime rate. … In short, it has gone to the dogs thanks to our most incompetent and corrupt rulers and their Western patrons. … I can’t simply sit back and see it destroyed. I feel that I must do something to try to save the situation,

In fairness, Khan claims to partly motivated by preventing the spread of anti-Islamist extremism. Khan said he is concerned about “target killing on religious, sectarian or provincial bases” (the plural of basis, that is). He adds:

I have noticed that Western countries are nervous about my Movement, possibly suspecting that I might be a fundamentalist or a jihadi. They forget that I studied in Europe, lived there for 15 years, have a foreign wife, have two daughters who studied in the UK and have two granddaughters studying abroad, one in the UK and one in the USA. … I seek … sanctity of our sovereignty, non-participation in mercenary activities or allowing our country to be used for terrorism, either from within or from outside.

To the West, Pakistan presents national-security concerns that can be distilled thusly: that it will use nuclear weapons on India, that it’s a breeding ground of extremist Islamists, and that said extremists might seize the nuclear weapons. Asked about their safety, Khan — never less than quoteworthy — replies:

Pakistan’s nuclear assets are as safe as President Obama’s black box. Nobody can even steal a screw from them. … The world should worry about their own problems, not about ours.

That last statement does not bode well for his grasp on reality. Nor does this.

Nobody in Pakistan doubts my integrity, honesty, sincerity or patriotism. … Pakistani historians will remember me by the nickname they have given me: “Mohsin-e-Pakistan” (Saviour of Pakistan).

His remarks can even be construed as delusional. He claims it’s not national office he seeks.

I am just a guide — some sort of Lee Kwan [sic] Yew, the former PM of Singapore, Mahathir [of Malaysia] or, hopefully, Mandela.

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is known as the “founding father” of modern Singapore; Mahathir bin Mohamad was the prime minister under whom Malaysia experienced modernization and growth. Meanwhile the narcissism of comparing oneself to Nelson Mandela speaks for itself.

Investing in Voting Machines

Less than two weeks after Halloween, many Americans may wind up casting their ballots on haunted voting machines.

When they enter voting booths, millions of citizens in Texas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Washington, Colorado, and Virginia, along with a few counties in the pivotal state of Ohio, will make their choices on eSlate and ePollbook machines made by an Austin-based company called Hart InterCivic.

Last year, an $8.5 billion investment fund known as HIG Capital acquired a “strategic” stake in Hart, which gave it at least three of the five board seats for the nation’s No. 3 voting machine company.

And why does the HIG connection matter? HIG’s directors are among the Romney campaign’s top supporters. HIG cofounder Anthony Tamer and eight of its managing directors once worked for Bain & Co., the private equity firm that Mitt led during his corporate plundering career.

But the enigma within these machines goes even deeper than these cozy partisan ties suggest. Yet another private equity outfit called Solomere has a small stake in HIG. And Solomere was formed by Tagg Romney, and financed by Mama Ann Romney and Uncle Scott Romney, with Papa Mitt himself chipping in $10 million and personally pitching Solomere to other rich investors.

Like father, like son — Tagg cloaks the fund’s operations within a dark maze of offshore tax shelters. And, now, the son has slipped out of Solomere to be a top campaign manager for his father. This slippery guy gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “playing Tagg.”

One wonders if Tagg’s campaign duties include “monitoring” voting machines. Can the Romneys even spell “conflict of interest”?

What are we to make of a multimillionaire presidential candidate with shady financial and crony ties to the machines that can decide the outcome? I ask you: Of all the things the Romneys and their buddies could invest in — why voting machines?


Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown and he writes a short weekly column distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Is Obama Taking Climate Voters for Granted?

Obama Climate Courtship - Is he taking climate voters for granted? - Photo by Newscom

My relationship with President Obama has been getting a bit strained lately. I really like Obama, and I know he likes me, too. But I feel like he’s taking me for granted… as a climate voter.

I know it sounds like something out of an afterschool special, but back in 2008 it looked like we were headed somewhere significant. Obama the presidential candidate said he cared about the environment. He wooed me with his talk about rebuilding the U.S. economy with a combination of renewable energy and clean manufacturing, and vowed to be a global leader in the international fight to halt climate change. He won me over as a green voter and a progressive. Obama was my guy.

But ever since Super Tuesday, when Republicans cast their ballots for Governor Mitt Romney as presidential favorite, Obama’s been acting funny. The more Romney veered from his climate protecting past — and the more supporters cheered when he did — the further Obama distanced himself from me and my friends.

By the time debate season rolled around six months later he was pretending he didn’t even know me. And I didn’t feel like I knew him either.

Obama and Romney were almost indistinguishable on climate and energy policy, practically going to the mat to prove who loved dirty coal more than the other guy. Romney’s energy platform rested on expanding extreme energy like deepwater oil drilling, toxic natural gas fracking, and tar sands production. Obama said he wanted to do all that, too, and throw in some wind and solar. It was the first time since the 1980s that neither the right or left candidate talked about climate change.

Where was my guy?

Some of my friends said I shouldn’t be so hard on him. They hinted that it might even be my fault that Obama’s been acting like he doesn’t know me. He told us when he won the election four years ago that he wanted to fight for clean energy and community resilience, but that we needed to make him do it.

Many of us tried. We rallied our friends and families — and members of congress — behind a comprehensive climate bill, shut down dirty power plants in major cities like his home town of Chicago, and got arrested outside his front door demanding that he reject permits for the Keystone XL pipeline to pump in tar sand oil from Canada. Environmentalists and climate change activists waited patiently during health care reform, the financial crisis, bank bailouts, immigration discussions, and fights over taxes. And we’re still waiting.

I admit, we weren’t perfect. We didn’t build enough public pressure to keep king coal and big oil from turning the American Clean Energy and Security Act into Swiss cheese, for example, but Obama didn’t exactly walk boldly into the political space that we did make for him either.

And now he wants my vote again.

Call me a sucker, but I know Obama really cares about me. I’m convinced he believes the science of climate change, knows that we have to reduce America’s greenhouse gas pollution (just look at the new vehicle standards and coal power plant rules put in place during his first term) and wants to do right by people in the United States who care about climate. I also know that he’s trying to play to the middle of the road in a country where a third of the population still doubts the existence of global warming.

So the choice seems to be between Governor Romney, who’s promising to lead the nation as a climate denier, and President Obama, who’s been doing his best impression of one.

I may be a glutton for punishment, but I will cast my vote for Obama tomorrow because from inside the beltway the political optics signal a concrete difference for the state of the environment if we have a second Obama administration or four years of Romney.

Still, I’m not going to let Obama hold my hand in public until he starts acting like the man who courted the climate community before the last election.

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