Trump’s Entitlement Problem

 

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US special forces told not to fly to Benghazi in wake of attack – diplomat

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US special forces told not to fly to Benghazi in wake of attack – diplomat” was written by Dan Roberts, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th May 2013 22.22 UTC

Republican critics of Hilary Clinton have released selected testimony from a forthcoming hearing on the Benghazi embassy attack which appears to show that special forces and fast jets could have arrived in time to protect US diplomats.

As the political fallout from the September 2012 incident continues to dog Clinton, the former secretary of state, a witness due to speak before the House oversight committee on Wednesday alleges that military commanders blocked deployment of troops or planes for fear of offending the new Libyan government.

Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, told a congressional interview in pre-prepared testimony that he believed the arrival of special forces or jets could have saved lives or even prevented the attack, which led to the death of ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

The White House declined to comment, stressing that it was an interview it had not yet been able to view. It was also not possible to verify whether the selected testimony from Hicks released on Monday was a partial version designed to emphasise critical aspects.

It does, however, shed important new light on attempts to dispatch troops to Bengazi:

Hicks: So, Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, who is the Socafrica commander, his team – you know – they were on their way to the vehicles to go to the airport to get on the C-130 when he got a phone call from Socafrica, which said: you can’t go now, you don’t have authority to go now. And so they missed the flight. And, of course, this meant that one of the …

Questioner: They didn’t miss the flight. They were told not to board the flight.

Hicks: They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it. So, anyway, and yeah. I still remember Colonel Gibson – he said: "I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military." A nice compliment.

The testimony also raises questions about whether US officials in Washington and Libya were too cautious in responding to the attack, which is thought to have been carried out by fighters close to al-Qaida.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged that there had been mistakes made before the attack, but insisted these had been dealt with in subsequent investigations.

"There was an accountability review board chaired by two of the most distinguished experts in our national security establishment, nonpartisan experts – Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering – who oversaw this review," said Carney.

"And it was unsparing. It was critical. And it held people accountable. And it made a series of recommendations for action that could be taken to improve security to reduce the potential for these kinds of events from happening in the future. And every single one of those recommendations has been or is being implemented by the State Department."

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s hearing looks set to re-open the issue both for the White House and for Clinton, who is still widely tipped to be planning a presidential run at the next election.

Pressure is likely to focus on what steps the US took once it was aware the embassy was under attack, an issue the selected Hicks testimony suggests was badly handled:

Questioner: But do you think, you know, if an F-15, if the military had allowed a jet to go fly over, that it might have prevented [the second attack]?

Hicks: Yeah, and if we had gotten clearance from the Libyan military for an American plane to fly over Libyan airspace. The Libyans that I talked to and the Libyans and other Americans who were involved in the war have told me also that Libyan revolutionaries were very cognizant of the impact that American and NATO airpower had with respect to their victory. They are under no illusions that American and NATO airpower won that war for them. And so, in my personal opinion, a fast-mover flying over Benghazi at some point, you know, as soon as possible might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night.

Questioner: The theory being, the folks on the ground that are doing these – committing these terrorist attacks look up, see a heavy duty airplane above, and decide to hightail it?

Hicks: I believe that if – I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.

The hearing will also include testimony from Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.

In October 2012, the Oversight committee held the first hearing on the Benghazi attacks, which it says exposed denials of security requests and forced the administration to acknowledge that the attacks were not sparked by a protest of a YouTube video, contrary to claims made by Obama administration officials.

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Why Tina Fey’s Mean Girls is a movie classic

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why Tina Fey’s Mean Girls is a movie classic” was written by Priya Elan, for The Guardian on Tuesday 29th January 2013 11.28 UTC

Tina Fey may be planning a timely return to her 2004 film Mean Girls with a musical adaptation. “I’m trying to develop it with my husband, who does all the music for 30 Rock. And I think Paramount’s on board,” she said at the Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday. Timely because nine years after its release the film remains a by-word for pop-culture savviness. In recent months it has been referenced by everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Barack Obama (his official Tumblr features a gif from the film in which Lindsay Lohan mentions “October 3rd”, to notify followers of the date for a presidential debate). So what accounts for its longevity?

The plot is simple. Previously home-schooled 16-year-old Cady Heron (Lohan) attends high school for the first time. She falls in with a Heathers-like gang, called the Plastics, who tutor her in the bitchy mores of the teen clique. But Cady has a plan of her own …

For the high-school genre, Fey’s hilarious script was unusually astute and provocative. Replicating teen doublespeak with brilliant authenticity, the dialogue was full of zingers, accounting for its continued life online. Not only has it spawned a huge number of memes and gifs, phrases like “fetch” and “word vomit” have fallen into common parlance. Its cyber-life has afforded the film a special cachet. Which is why when Mariah Carey asked Nicki Minaj to name all the film’s characters on American Idol a few weeks ago, Carey was subtly questioning Minaj’s own authenticity. It was a pointed exchange that would have made the film’s own queen bee, Regina George, proud. Only last week Amanda Seyfried, in the news for Les Mis, said that Mean Girls was her “best work”.

Fey gave us some real moments of societal commentary in the film too. Subjects such as the early sexualisation of children (Regina’s little sister grinding along to Kelis’ Milkshake on the TV) and body dysmorphia (the ritualistic cries of “man shoulders” as the girls examine themselves in the mirror) were tackled with wit. One key plot device, the Burn Book – a scrapbook that features a photo of a person you hate with a single-line diss (“Grotsky little byotch” and “made out with a hotdog”) – today looks like the precursor of internet trolling and cyberbullying.

The main theme, though, was girl-on-girl crime, from passive-aggressive takedowns to real physical violence. This battle for “social acceptance by any means necessary” is something that continues to be played out in real life, and duplicated in shows like Gossip Girl and The Real Housewives in the US.

Mean Girls continues to be relevant and, to misquote the film, is more grool than ever.

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‘Mint the coin’: why the platinum coin campaign doesn’t even work as satire

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘Mint the coin’: why the platinum coin campaign doesn’t even work as satire” was written by Heidi Moore, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 4th January 2013 18.59 UTC

Twitter is a great news source and a hotbed of idea generation. But one of its major downsides is that it allows cranks and trolls to quickly and efficiently coalesce around ridiculous ideas. The latest bored-financial-nerd meme is this: the minting of a trillion-dollar platinum coin to save the US economy from the dithering of Congress.

There is a Twitter hashtag – #mintthecoin – and a wan, spindly White House petition created on January 3 that needs around 25,000 signatures and currently has just under 2,000, which makes it resemble the winsomely pathetic Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Here is the background behind this inane, yet media-consuming, project.

The US is coming up to its debt-ceiling limit soon. The debt ceiling is the amount the US Treasury is allowed to – and has already – spent. Raising the debt ceiling means allowing the US Treasury to pay its bills; if the debt ceiling is not raised, the US will default on its financial commitments and put at risk its credibility as well as the health of the bond and stock markets. The US already went through a bruising debt-ceiling fight in 2011, which resulted in a downgrade. Members of Congress, mostly led by the hapless and disorganized Tea Party, are preparing to do exactly that: hold the debt-ceiling vote hostage and refuse to raise the debt ceiling until they get a giant package of spending cuts.

This is a real problem, and in a couple of months – when we hit the debt ceiling – every American will be so sick of the insane discussion that we may all collectively vomit. But the fact remains: how to get out? What to do?

A small but relentless group of impish bloggers and columnists – including Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider and Josh Barro of Bloomberg, as well as hapless Congressman Jerry Nadler – have created a large-scale trolling project that is meant to pressure the US Treasury into creating a trillion-dollar platinum coin to solve this problem. (The former head of the US mint, Philip Diehl, says it is legal, but legal, of course, doesn’t mean something is a good idea. It just means no one in legislative circles anticipated this particular idiocy.)

Their reasoning is this: the US Treasury has the power to create platinum coins of any size and denomination. It could easily print one with a face value of $1tn and deposit it at the Federal Reserve, thus immediately adding $1tn to the Treasury’s bank account and giving it breathing room to avoid the debt ceiling fight.

This is an elegant solution – if you are a cartoon villain given to sitting in a vast underground bunker and innovating plans for world domination while petting a white cat. It makes less sense for real mortals. In fact, it has all the aspects of a group of well-financed mad scientists plotting to create a giant slingshot to avert an asteroid hurtling towards the earth.

The #mintthecoin project is not meant, of course, to be completely serious, although they may play at it on TV. In the minds of its creators, is supposed to be a kind of Swiftian Modest Proposal that highlights the ridiculousness of the recurring debt ceiling hostage-taking by offering an equally ridiculous solution.

Even as satire, it does not work. Leave aside the strange hashtag and the stringy petition. Leave aside the somewhat science-fiction-like idea of a magic coin, as if the US economy is a video game.

Here is one big problem: the US Treasury spends approximately $100bn per month. A trillion-dollar coin would buy the Treasury only about 10 months of breathing room. It is dubious at best that a Congress full of reckless legislators will surely come to their senses in only 10 months, given that they haven’t for the past 18 months since the same last debacle. Delaying the Debt Ceiling Reunion Tour will not achieve the primary goal here, which is ending it.

Another problem with the trillion-dollar coin is that the US mint probably doesn’t have the capacity to create one out of real bullion, which will likely be required for something with such a historical importance. The US mint no longer produces platinum coins, except in collector’s editions that retail for $1,892 at the moment. A real platinum coin – the American Eagle – that was produced as recently as 2009 contains 31.12 grams of platinum and has a face value of $100. There is not enough platinum in the US in a year’s supply to create that. The US produces all of 3,700 kilograms of platinum a year.

The mint could, on the direction of Treasury, just make a platinum-finished coin that bears the face value of $1tn, but that would just create a nonsensical level of inflation in the value of the US dollar.

Another point, perhaps, is that it’s no worse for the Treasury to print a trillion-dollar gold coin than it is for the Federal Reserve to buy trillions in mortgage securities to save banks and the bond market. There is more meat to this – the US government is not nearly done meddling in the world of the economy and the markets, and minting a new coin is very much in the interventionist mold of the past four years. But the Fed’s programs don’t require scouring the US reserves for platinum and creating some unnatural currency beast. It can at least masquerade as an intellectual exercise.

The most insulting thing about the campaign to mint the trillion-dollar platinum coin is this: there are some – a few! – in the financial world who do not have the memory capacity of goldfish. Those people who can think as far back as 2011 remember that we went through the drill on the platinum coin back then – all the commentary, the punditry, the absurd speculation about it was first created at the time of the last debt-ceiling fight. Then, as now, it attracted the efforts of bored bloggers, chattering among themselves. And guess what? It didn’t impress upon Congress the recklessness of their approach. The US came within hours of default anyway. If anything, we have a more unreasonable and humorless Congress, even less likely to be swayed by satire or ridicule. The platinum joke, played once last year, is played out now.

But the biggest disadvantage of the platinum coin campaign is that it is frivolous, when there is a serious failure of US governance at stake. Allowing the “mint the coin” campaign to take over the news cycle may be good for the media exposure of the bloggers involved, but it does nothing to dissuade stubborn lawmakers from a silly path they chose once and are likely to choose again.

A Congress like this doesn’t need to be reminded of how ridiculous it is; it already knows that. It needs to be reminded of the nobility and dignity and importance of the offices they agreed to hold, and which they are now dragging through the mud.

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