What’s Up: October 29, 2012?

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· CIA operators were denied request for help during Benghazi attack, sources say

Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command — who also told the CIA operators twice to “stand down” rather than help the ambassador’s team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to “stand down.”

Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The rescue team from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators. Story Continued:

· NBA’s David Stern: Obama always goes left – For all the buzz about President Barack Obama’s skills on the basketball court, the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern, thinks the hype is overblown.

“He’s not that good,” Stern, who announced Thursday he is retiring in 2014, said in an interview with Reuters. “He’s a lefty, he goes the same way every time.”

Stern’s critique, good-natured as it was, wasn’t simply some partisan swipe.

“I’m a loyal Democrat, a passionate Democrat. He’s not as good as he thinks he is.”

More seriously, Stern explained the effect of having a hoops fan in the White House.

“He relates well to our players. He’s got a lot of people around him who are b-ball fans. I think the politics of it is the players appreciate him for who he is and what he’s accomplished and those that support him, support him because of that.” Story Continued:

· Spending on White House dinners soars under Obama – President Obama has spent far more lavishly on White House state dinners than previous chief executives, including nearly $1 million on a 2010 dinner for Mexico’s president, according to documents obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Presidents have long used formal dinners to court foreign heads of state and to dish out fine food and wine to reward political, financial and show business celebrities and supporters.

But current and former government officials said the documents obtained by The Examiner point to an unprecedented upsurge in White House spending on such events.

The Obama extravaganza two years ago for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, which included a performance by pop star Beyonce, cost $969,793, or more than $4,700 per attendee, the documents show.

The Calderon dinner was held on the South Lawn in a massive tent adorned with decorated walls, hanging chandeliers, carpeting and a stage for Beyonce’s performance.

Guests rode private trolley cars from the White House to the tent. Celebrity guest chef Rick Bayless from Chicago’s Topolobampo restaurant was imported to prepare Oaxacan black mole, black bean tamalon and grilled green beans.

The dinner for the prime minister of India — which was famously crashed by Virginia couple Michaele and Tareq Salahi — cost nearly half a million dollars. Dinners for Chinese President Hu Jintao and British Prime Minister David Cameron were of the same level of extravagance.

A knowledgeable government official who made the documents available to The Examiner said the extravagant spending seemed unfair with so many Americans out of work.

“It just kind of takes your breath away to see the expenditure of money that has occurred since 2009,” the official said.

Gary Walters, who ran presidential household operations for 21 years during Democratic and Republican administrations, before retiring in 2007, told The Examiner the costs reflected in the documents were “excessive. They are high.”

The chief usher of the White House from the Reagan to George W. Bush presidencies, Walters consulted a former White House colleague and said neither of them could recall entertainment costs anywhere near those revealed in the documents provided to The Examiner.

“The highest [cost] event we could remember was $190,000 to $200,000 range, and that was for a very large dinner outside that was probably somewhere in the vicinity of 500 people with two different tents,” Walters said, noting that the event was held under President Clinton. Story Continued:

· Petraeus Throws Obama Under the Bus – Breaking news on Benghazi: the CIA spokesman, presumably at the direction of CIA director David Petraeus, has put out this statement: “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. ”

So who in the government did tell “anybody” not to help those in need? Someone decided not to send in military assets to help those Agency operators. Would the secretary of defense make such a decision on his own? No.

It would have been a presidential decision. There was presumably a rationale for such a decision. What was it? When and why—and based on whose counsel obtained in what meetings or conversations—did President Obama decide against sending in military assets to help the Americans in need? Story Continued:

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· President Obama Begs Off Answering Whether Americans in Benghazi Were Denied Requests for Help – In an interview with a Denver TV reporter Friday, President Obama twice refused to answer questions as to whether the Americans under siege in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, were denied requests for help, saying he’s waiting for the results of investigations before making any conclusions about what went wrong.

After being asked about possible denials of requests for aid, and whether it’s fair to tell Americans that what happened is under investigation and won’t be released until after the election, the president said, “the election has nothing to do with four brave Americans getting killed and us wanting to find out exactly what happened. These are folks who served under me who I had sent to some very dangerous places. Nobody wants to find out more what happened than I do.”

President Obama told KUSA-TV’s Kyle Clarke large that “we want to make sure we get it right, particularly because I have made a commitment to the families impacted as well as to the American people, we’re going to bring those folks to justice. So, we’re going to gather all the facts, find out exactly what happened, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again but we’re also going to make sure that we bring to justice those who carried out these attacks.”

Clark pressed again.

“Were they denied requests for help during the attack?” he asked.

“Well, we are finding out exactly what happened,” the president again said. “I can tell you, as I’ve said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to. Number two, we’re going to investigate exactly what happened so that it doesn’t happen again. Number three, find out who did this so we can bring them to justice. And I guarantee you that everyone in the state department, our military, the CIA, you name it, had number one priority making sure that people were safe. These were our folks and we’re going to find out exactly what happened, but what we’re also going to do it make sure that we are identifying those who carried out these terrible attacks.”

Earlier today, Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin reported that CIA agents in the second U.S. compound in Benghazi were denied requests for help.

In response, CIA spokesperson Jennifer Youngblood said, “We can say with confidence that the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi. Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. In fact, it is important to remember how many lives were saved by courageous Americans who put their own safety at risk that night-and that some of those selfless Americans gave their lives in the effort to rescue their comrades.” Story Continued:

· Biden visit to cheese shop irritates woman – KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — A word of advice to candidates campaigning in Wisconsin: Don’t get between voters and their cheese.

Vice President Joe Biden seemed to irritate a shopper at the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha on Friday when he caused a disruption with a quick visit at the famous landmark just off Interstate 94.

As Biden cheerily greeted customers, a 30-something woman tried to explain what was happening to her young daughter. The woman said — quote — “This is a battleground state. They’re trying to win it. I just need some limburger cheese.”

Biden was shown such delicacies as chocolate cheese and 13-year-old cheddar.

Biden commented to general manager Tyson Whermeister, “That’s great, man.” Story Continued:

· Gallup: Obama’s Job Approval Drops 7 Points in 3 Days – In the most precipitous decline it has seen in more than a year, President Barack Obama’s job approval rating has dropped 7 points in three days, according to Gallup.

In the three-day period ending on Oct. 23, says Gallup, 53 percent said they approved of the job Obama was doing and 42 percent said they did not.

On Oct. 24, that dropped to 51 percent who said they approved and 44 percent who said they do not.

On Oct. 25, it dropped again to 48 percent who said they approved and 47 percent who said they do not.

On Oct. 26, it dropped yet again to 46 percent who said they approved and 49 percent who said they did not.

In May 2011, Obama’s approval dropped 7 points in four days, sliding from 53 percent on May 24 to 46 percent on May 28. Story Continued:

· House elections spell a Republican story and victory

By Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe, Published: October 27

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President Obama remains at least an even bet to win reelection. Democrats are favored to hold on to the Senate — an outcome few prognosticators envisioned at the beginning of the year. And yet, with a little more than a week to go, the party holds almost no chance of winning back the House.

“They called the fight. It’s over. We’re going to have a House next year that’s going to look an awful lot like the last House,” Stuart Rothenberg, the independent analyst who runs the Rothenberg Political Report, said.

The outlines of a comeback for Democrats seemed possible. From its opening act, the 112th Congress was dominated by a raucous class of House freshmen who pushed Washington to the brink of several government shutdowns and almost prompted a first-ever default on the federal debt. It became the most unpopular Congress in the history of polling and, by some measures, the least productive.

Analysts cite several factors why the Democrats haven’t been able to take advantage. First was a redistricting process that made some Republicans virtually impervious to a challenge and re-election more difficult for about 10 Democrats. A few Democratic incumbents have stumbled in their first competitive races in years. And Republicans have leveraged their majority into a fund-raising operation that has out-muscled the Democrats.

That means that regardless of who wins the White House, the Republican caucus of Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) will remain a critical player in the coming showdowns over tax and spending cuts. Such a result will have defied the chorus of prognosticators who saw so many of these inexperienced freshmen as beneficiaries of blind political luck — swept up in the 2010 wave of sentiment against Obama and presumably poised to be swept back to sea when the tide went out this November.

First among those critics was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), labeled the “face of defeat” after overseeing the loss of 63 seats two years ago. Defying recent precedent, Pelosi gave up the speaker’s gavel but stayed on as party leader. She vowed that “the tea party Congress” was so unpopular that Democrats would ride Obama’s coattails back to the majority.

Now, with a second straight election about to leave Democrats in the minority, Pelosi, 72, has not signaled whether she will remain in office. She delayed her leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, prompting more speculation about her future than about next year’s House majority.

Rothenberg predicted modest gains for Democrats of about a handful of seats, a symbolic victory but well short of Pelosi’s “Drive to 25” for the net gain needed for the majority. Privately, Democrats do not dispute those estimates but contend the gains will set the stakes for a 2014 campaign in which they will shoot for the majority, particularly if Mitt Romney wins the presidency and is facing his first midterm election.

Republicans, however, believe they have used congressional redistricting to shore up enough of their seats to remain in power for years to come. Rather than aggressively seek more seats, Boehner’s leadership team counseled Republican-led state legislatures to fortify those Republicans already serving on Capitol Hill.

The result has been that House Republicans start off with 190 districts that have a historic performance safely in their corner, while Democrats begin with just 146 such districts, according to an analysis by the independent Cook Political Report.

That leaves just 99 districts viewed as regularly competitive, an all-time low. Democrats will likely have to carry 72 of those 99 seats to reach the bare majority of 218.

“That’s a really bad omen for Democrats, not just this year but in future years,” said David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook report.

Though more than 80 GOP freshmen are standing for reelection, just two dozen are facing tough challenges and only 15 are in significant danger of losing. Take Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), whose 2010 victory over a Hispanic Democratic incumbent defied the odds because the district was nearly 75 percent Latino. Legislators drew him into a new district running north of Corpus Christi along the Gulf of Mexico, which tilts 60 percent toward Republicans.

Rather than a one-hit wonder, Farenthold, 50, could now serve in Congress for decades to come.

Similarly, the Philadelphia suburbs have served as political ground zero for past House majority battles. In 2006, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent a combined $5 million battling over the 7th Congressional District to the west of Philadelphia, followed by another $1.3 million in 2010.

Now, that district snakes across five suburban counties, encompassing the most Republican-leaning sectors of each, allowing freshman GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan to cruise to re-election.

Neither party committee is devoting resources to the Philadelphia media market for the first time in more than 20 years. With a delegation that boasted a dozen Democrats two years ago, Pennsylvania will send five or six Democrats to the House next year depending on Democratic Rep. Mark Critz’s tight battle outside Pittsburgh.

Democrats have put a few high profile tea-party lawmakers on the defensive. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), whose confrontational style made him a YouTube sensation and a regular on Fox News, is running behind in his suburban Chicago district.

In Florida, Rep. Allen West (R), a former Army lieutenant colonel, moved north of his previous Palm Beach-based district but still faces stiff competition, even as he declines to tone down his rhetoric.

“It’s about two different ideologies going forward. It’s the opportunity society against the dependency society. It’s the constitutional republic against a socialist egalitarian nanny state,” the conservative icon, one of just two black Republicans in Congress, said in an interview in St. Lucie.

Beyond the freshmen, Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Steve King (Iowa) are fighting for their political lives. Bachmann’s Quixotic presidential campaign left her open to charges of ignoring her district. King is facing Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a still-popular former governor. She is also focusing on local issues rather than King’s national conservative platform.

“If you’re truly focused on the people of your district, if you’re making it local, you should be concerned about the 750,000 not about the ideology that my opponent is talking about,” Vilsack said in a recent interview.

Democrats believe that such high-profile victories could send a signal that hyper-partisanship is not the route to reelection, giving hope for more bipartisan work in 2013. Story Continued:

· After Bush v. Gore, Obama, Clinton wanted Electoral College scrapped – President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among the politicians whose past criticisms of the Electoral College system would draw new scrutiny if there is a split verdict in this year’s presidential election.

National and swing state polls suggest it’s possible Republican Mitt Romney could win this year’s popular vote while Obama triumphs in the Electoral College — potentially marking the second time the rare split in outcomes has occurred in the last 12 years.

The last time it happened was in 2000, when Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote but lost where it mattered. George W. Bush won Florida’s disputed recount, propelling him to 271 electoral votes — one more than he needed to take the White House.

The outcome triggered an intense — if short lived — debate over reforming the Electoral College. Today, lawmakers in Washington are no closer to agreeing on whether to change the rules of how someone wins the presidency.

Here’s a snapshot of where top lawmakers have come down on a controversial issue that’s once again in the political spotlight.

SUPPORT REFORM

President Obama — Obama said he supported eliminating the Electoral College as a Senate candidate during a WTTW television debate against Republican Alan Keyes in 2004.

When asked, “Yes or no, eliminate the Electoral College?” Obama responded, “Yes … I think, at this point, this is breaking down.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — Shortly after the 2000 election, as a newly-minted Senator-elect, Clinton called for direct elections of the president. She argued the country has changed since the Electoral College was put in place.

“We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,” Clinton said at a news conference.

“I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — Five days after the 2000 election, Schumer called the U.S. voting system “antediluvian” and called for a study of simplified procedures. He, too, favored scrapping the Electoral College but said three-fourths of the states would never ratify an amendment.

“It won’t happen,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — The minority whip acted as soothsayer for the split-ticket election results in 2000.

A week before the Nov. 7 election that year, Durbin announced his plan to introduce legislation to do away with the Electoral College process, calling it a “dinosaur.”

“Our current system disenfranchises millions of voters who happen to vote for the losing presidential candidate in their state,” Durbin said. “The electoral college is an 18th century invention that never should have survived to the 21st century.”

He announced the proposal with then-Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who is now Obama’s Secretary of Transportation.

Former Vice President Al Gore — After the 2000 election, Gore continued to support the current system. But Gore reversed course during this year’s Democratic National Convention, criticizing the process that ignores voters outside of swing states and cost him the election.

“I’ve seen how these states are written off and ignored, and people are effectively disenfranchised in the presidential race. And I really do now think it is time to change that,” Gore said on Current TV, an independent cable network that he co-founded.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and 29 Democratic cosponsors signed on to a bill during the current Congress that calls for the direct election of the president and vice president.

“The Electoral College is a relic, a throwback largely due to the slave-owners who dominated the politics of our new nation at its beginning,” Jackson wrote in a 2008 editorial.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, this week proposed a constitutional amendment that would give 29 extra electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.

AGAINST REFORM

Vice President Biden — A 36-year veteran of the Senate, Biden voted against a resolution in 1979 providing for “the direct popular election of the president.” The resolution fell short of the two-thirds majority needed.

It was the last resolution of its kind to make it to the floor.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also voted against the 1979 resolution while a number of current Democratic Senators voted for it — including Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

During prior years, the Senate and House had both approved separate proposals, but never in the same Congress. Story Continued:

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