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The Ohlone People Were Forced Out of San Francisco. Now They Want Part of Their Land Back.

| Sat Nov. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EST

"There are only three ways to get land," said Tony Cerda, chairman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, in 2010. "You can buy it, have it given to you, or steal it." It's clear which one of those applies to his people, the Ohlone, who lived in the central California coastal region for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 1700s. The Ohlone once numbered as many as 15,000 on lands stretching from the San Francisco Bay to Big Sur. But following years of enslavement under the Spanish mission system and, later, persecution by settlers, they are now largely a people in exile.

Cerda's tribe—about 2,000 people living in the Pomona area east of Los Angeles—are now the largest contemporary Ohlone group in the state. They're leading the push for cultural recognition in the city of San Francisco. Specifically, they're asking the city for land to build a cultural center as part of a proposed shoreline redevelopment project in the Hunters Point Shipyard area. The area was once the location of a historic Ohlone village and burial site—one of over 425 in the San Francisco Bay region.

Ohlone leaders say a cultural center would highlight the oft-overlooked history of California's native people while serving as a permanent place for today's tribes to continue their song, dance, language, and art traditions. And they're also hoping to rebuild their cultural presence through community events like the annual Big Time Gathering, which took place in October in San Francisco's Presidio National Park. This year's gathering was the biggest yet, drawing more than 100 Native Californians from seven different tribes. Their goal is to honor their roots, says Neil Maclean, one of the event's organizers: "Through hearing them sing, seeing them dance, and joining with them in ceremony, the Ohlone will tell their side about what it is like to survive."

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Republicans Finally Admit There Is No Benghazi Scandal

| Sat Nov. 22, 2014 1:02 AM EST

For two years, ever since Mitt Romney screwed up his response to the Benghazi attacks in order to score campaign points, Republicans have been on an endless search for a grand conspiracy theory that explains how it all happened. Intelligence was ignored because it would have been inconvenient to the White House to acknowledge it. Hillary Clinton's State Department bungled the response to the initial protests in Cairo. Both State and CIA bungled the military response to the attacks themselves. Even so, rescue was still possible, but it was derailed by a stand down order—possibly from President Obama himself. The talking points after the attack were deliberately twisted for political reasons. Dissenters who tried to tell us what really happened were harshly punished.

Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, they issued their findings. Their exoneration of the White House was sweeping and nearly absolute. So sweeping that I want to quote directly from the report's summary, rather than paraphrasing it. Here it is:

  • The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi....Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support....
     
  • Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
     
  • Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa'ida, participated in the attacks....
     
  • Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration's initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate....There was no protest. The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)....
     
  • Fifth, the Committee finds that the process used to generate the talking points HPSCI asked for—and which were used for Ambassador Rice's public appearances—was flawed....
     
  • Finally, the Committee found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress, or polygraphed because of their presence in Benghazi. The Committee also found no evidence that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria.

It's hard to exaggerate just how remarkable this document is. It's not that the committee found nothing to criticize. They did. The State Department facility in Benghazi had inadequate security. Some of the early intelligence after the attacks was inaccurate. The CIA should have given more weight to eyewitnesses on the ground.

But those are routine after-action critiques, ones that were fully acknowledged by the very first investigations. Beyond that, every single conspiracy theory—without exception—was conclusively debunked. There was no stand down order. The tactical response was both reasonable and effective under the circumstances. The CIA was not shipping arms from Libya to Syria. Both CIA and State received all military support that was available. The talking points after the attack were fashioned by the intelligence community, not the White House. Susan Rice followed these talking points in her Sunday show appearances, and where she was wrong, it was only because the intelligence community had made incorrect assessments. Nobody was punitively reassigned or polygraphed or otherwise intimidated to prevent them from testifying to Congress.

Read that list again. Late on a Friday afternoon, when it would get the least attention, a Republican-led committee finally admitted that every single Benghazi conspiracy theory was false. There are ways that the response to the attacks could have been improved, but that's it. Nobody at the White House interfered. Nobody lied. Nobody prevented the truth from being told.

It was all just manufactured outrage from the beginning. But now the air is gone. There is no scandal, and there never was.

Brazil's Dietary Guidelines Are So Much Better Than the USDA's

| Sat Nov. 22, 2014 12:00 AM EST
Say no to pyramid schemes.

As anyone who has read Marion Nestle's Food Politics or Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food knows, the US Department of Agriculture's attempts to issue dietary advice have always been haunted by industry influence and a reductionist vision of nutrition science. The department finally ditched its silly pyramids a few years ago, but its guidelines remain vague and arbitrary (for example, how does dairy merit inclusion as one of five food groups?).

In Brazil, a hotbed of sound progressive nutritional thinking, the Ministry of Health has proven that governmental dietary advice need not be delivered in timid, industry-palatable bureaucratese. Check out its plain-spoken, unimpeachable, and down-right industry-hostile new guidelines (hat tip Marion Nestle):


1.    Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
2.    Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
3.    Limit consumption of processed foods
4.    Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
5.    Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
6.    Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
7.    Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
8.    Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
9.    Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
10.   Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Meanwhile, over on Civil Eats, the dissident nutritionist Andy Bellatti places Brazil's new approach on a fascinating list of five food-policy ideas the US could learn from Latin American nations.

 

Native Children Have the Same Rate of PTSD as Combat Veterans

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 3:22 PM EST

Here's the most sobering statistic you'll see today: American-Indian and Alaskan Native children experience PTSD at the same rate at veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a new report from a Department of Justice advisory committee, 22 percent of American-Indian and Alaskan Native juveniles have PTSD—three times higher than the national rate. Among other proposals, the committee recommends Congress grant tribes the ability to prosecute non-Indians who abuse children. Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Congress empowered tribes to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence, but left other crimes, like sexual abuse, untouched.

You can read the full report here:

 

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 November 2014

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 2:55 PM EST

Here in Drumland we have a new version of the Second Commandment. Here's the rewrite:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to any other cats: for I, the Lord thy Hilbert, am a jealous cat.

Here's the backstory. Last week I got slightly concerned that Hopper was getting a bit less sociable. It was nothing big. She was still perfectly friendly, but she never jumped into our laps anymore. She's always had too much energy to be much of a lap cat, but when we first got her she'd occasionally get tuckered out and curl up with us.

Long story short, my concern was completely misplaced. It turns out the reason she was avoiding our laps was because of Hilbert. Even if he was three rooms away, his spidey sense would tingle whenever she curled up with us, and he'd rush over to demand attention. Eventually he'd push her off completely, and apparently Hopper got tired of this. So she just stopped jumping into our laps.

But as soon as we began restraining Hilbert, it turned out that Hopper was delighted to spend a spare hour or so with her human heating pads. This was easier said than done, since Hilbert really, really gets jealous when he sees Hopper on a lap. There's always another lap available for him, of course, but that's not the lap he wants. He wants whatever lap Hopper is sitting in. Keeping him away is an endless struggle.

But struggle we do, and we figure that eventually Hilbert will learn there are laps aplenty and Hopper will realize that sitting in a lap isn't an invitation to be abused by her brother. Peace and love will then break out. Someday.

In the meantime, here's this week's catblogging. On the left, Hopper is curled up in a sink that just fits her. Like so many cats, she's convinced that we humans might not know how to use the bathroom properly, so she always likes to come in and supervise. On the right, Hilbert is upstairs surveying his domain. Probably checking to ensure that no one else is sitting in a lap.

Republicans Finally Sue Over Obamacare -- And There's Even a Surprise Included

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 12:55 PM EST

House Republicans finally filed their long-awaited lawsuit against President Obama today, and it actually contained a surprise:

The suit also challenges what it says is President Obama’s unlawful giveaway of roughly $175 billion to insurance companies under the law. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the administration will pay that amount to the companies over the next 10 years, though the funds have not been appropriated by Congress. The lawsuit argues that it is an unlawful transfer of funds.

....If the lawsuit is successful, poor people would not lose their health care, because the insurance companies would still be required to provide coverage — but without the help of the government subsidy, the companies might be forced to raise costs elsewhere. The subsidies reduce the co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs that consumers incur when they go to doctors and hospitals.

Long story short, it turns out there are two parts to the suit. The first part challenges Obama's delay of the employer mandate, and it's entirely symbolic. After all, it's only a delay. Even if Republicans win, by the time the case makes it all the way through the court system it will be moot. The delay will be over by then and the employer mandate will be in place.

But this second part is unexpected. Republicans are arguing that a provision of the law called Cost Sharing Reduction wasn't automatically funded, as were most parts of the law. The law authorizes CSR, but no appropriation was ever made, so it's illegal to actually pay out these funds.

Do they have a case? This is a brand new allegation, so I don't think anyone has yet had a chance to look into it. But if I had to guess, I'd say it's probably about as specious as every other allegation against Obamacare. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't mean the Supreme Court won't uphold it. You never know these days. In the meantime, conservatives are likely to be dizzy with excitement over the whole thing since (a) it involves a clear constitutional question about appropriating funds, and (b) it would hurt poor people. That's quite a twofer.

Of course, the suit still has to survive challenges to Congress' standing to sue in the first place, and that might kill it before any court even begins to judge the merits of the case. Wait and see.

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President Obama Acted Unilaterally on Immigration and the Right Is Predictably Outraged

Fri Nov. 21, 2014 12:25 PM EST

President Barack Obama, who has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Grover Cleveland, issued a set of directives this week to protect 5 million undocumented residents from deportation. The new executive actions will allow undocumented parents of US citizens to stay in the country, and allow children who were brought to the United States by their parents to apply for employment visas. It also, according to various Republican critics, cements Obama's status as a dictator, a king, an emperor, and maybe even a maniac bent on ethnic cleansing:

Obama is a king. "The president acts like he's a king," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said. "He ignores the Constitution. He arrogantly says, 'If Congress will not act, then I must.' These are not the words of a great leader. These are the words that sound more like the exclamations of an autocrat."

This will lead to anarchy. "The country's going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it's going to be a very serious situation," retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told USA Today. "You're going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence."

He could go to jail. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told Slate that the president might be committing a felony: "At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America. That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."

Is ethnic cleansing next? When asked by a talk-radio called on Thursday if the new executive actions would lead to "ethnic cleansing," Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said it just might:

What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course. And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a President who disregards the law when it suits his interests. And, so, you know, while I normally would answer that by saying, 'Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,' I wonder what could happen. I still don't think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, that things are, things are strange and they're happening.

Kobach is hardly a fringe figure. He was the architect of the self-deportation strategy at the core some of the nation's harshest immigration laws.

Winnie the Pooh Banned From Playground For Wrong Reason

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 11:23 AM EST

Goodmorning. Here is something stupid:

Winnie the Pooh has been banned from a Polish playground because of his “dubious sexuality” and “inappropriate” dress.

The much-loved animated bear was suggested at a local council meeting to decide which famous character should become the face of the play area in the small town of Tuszyn. But the idea soon sparked outrage among more conservative members, with one councillor even denouncing poor Pooh as a “hermaphrodite”.

“The problem with that bear is it doesn’t have a complete wardrobe,” said Ryszard Cichy during the discussion. “It is half naked which is wholly inappropriate for children."

“The author was over 60 and cut [Pooh’s] testicles off with a razor blade because he had a problem with his identity,” she said.

Here's the thing, Winnie the Pooh should be banned but not because he doesn't wear pants. He should be banned because he glamorizes stealing honey and tells children to play with bees. It's like he's never even seen My Girl.

Obama's Immigration Plan Is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 10:29 AM EST

There are questions about whether President Obama's immigration plan is legal. There are questions about whether it's good policy. And then there are questions about whether it's smart politics. On the latter point, I'd say that Obama has been unusually shrewd, almost single-handedly demolishing the plans of Republican leaders for the next two years:

All but drowned out by Republicans' clamorous opposition to President Obama's executive action on immigration are some leaders who worry that their party could alienate the fastest-growing group of voters, for 2016 and beyond, if its hottest heads become its face.

They cite the Republican Party's official analysis of what went wrong in 2012…"If Hispanics think that we do not want them here," the report said, "they will close their ears to our policies."

…"Clearly with Republicans not having gotten to a consensus in terms of immigration, it makes it a lot more difficult to talk about immigration as a unified voice," said David Winston, a Republican pollster who advises House leaders. "There are some people — because there's not a consensus — that somehow end up having a little bit louder voice than perhaps they would normally have."

Among them is Representative Steve King of Iowa…

Ah yes, Steve King of Iowa. The odds of shutting him up are about zero, and with primary season approaching he's going to become the de facto leader of the anti-immigration forces. In the same way that Republican candidates all have to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ring and swear eternal loyalty to Israel if they want access to his billions, they're going to have to kiss King's ring and swear eternal hostility to any kind of immigration from south of the border—and they're going to compete wildly to express this in the most colorful ways possible. And that's a big problem. Expressing loyalty to Israel doesn't really have much downside, but effectively denouncing the entire Hispanic population of the United States is going to steadily destroy any hopes Republicans have of ever appealing to this fast-growing voting bloc.

And that's not all. Republican leaders are not only fearful of next year's primaries branding the GOP forever as a bunch of xenophobic maniacs, they're afraid it's going to wipe out any chance they have over the next two years of demonstrating to voters that they're a party of adults. Here's the LA Times:

The strong reaction by Republican leaders has less to do with opposition to the nuts and bolts of the president's immigration policy and more to do with fear and anger that the issue will derail the agenda of the new Republican majority before the next Congress even convenes.

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president's healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they've tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

…To many, stark warnings from Boehner and McConnell sound more like pleas to the president to avoid reenergizing the GOP's conservative wing, whose leaders are already threatening to link the president's immigration plan to upcoming budget talks.

For what it's worth, I think Obama deserves credit for an unusually brilliant political move here. Some of this is accidental: he would have announced his immigration plan earlier in the year if he hadn't gotten pushback from red-state Democratic senators who didn't want to deal with this during tough election battles. Still, he stuck to his guns after the midterm losses, and the result seems to be almost an unalloyed positive for his party.

The downside, after all, is minimal: the public says it's mildly unhappy with Obama using an executive order to change immigration rules. But that's a nothingburger. Outside of the Fox News set that's already convinced Obama is a tyrant bent on shredding the Constitution, this simply isn't something that resonates very strongly or for very long. It will be forgotten in a few weeks.

The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don't want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it's quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it's likely to turn next year's primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand.

And that's not even counting the energizing effect this has on Democrats, as well as the benefit they get from keeping a promise to Hispanics and earning their loyalty for the next few election cycles.

Is there a price to be paid for this? If you think that maybe, just maybe, Republicans were willing to work with Obama to pass a few constructive items, then there's a price. Those items might well be dead in the water. If you don't believe that, the price is zero. I'm more or less in that camp. And you know what? Even the stuff that might have been passable—trade authority, the Keystone XL pipeline, a few tweaks to Obamacare—I'm either opposed to or only slightly in favor of in the first place. If they don't happen, very few Democrats are going to shed any real tears.

That leaves only presidential appointments, and there might be a downside there if you think that initially Republicans were prepared to be halfway reasonable about confirming Obama's judges and agency heads. I kinda doubt that, but I guess you never know. This might be a genuine downside to unleashing the tea party beast.

So: the whole thing is politically pretty brilliant. It unifies Democrats; wrecks the Republican agenda in Congress; cements the loyalty of Hispanics; and presents the American public with a year of Republican candidates spitting xenophobic fury during primary season. If you're President Obama, what's not to like?

Has Obama Gone Too Far? 5 Key Questions Answered About the Legality of His Immigration Plan

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 12:27 AM EST

I've been paying only moderate attention to the whole issue of President Obama's executive order on immigration, and it's only over the past few days that I've started trying to learn more about the legal issues involved. And I confess that I've been a little surprised by what I've discovered. As near as I can tell, both liberal and conservative legal scholars—as opposed to TV talking heads and other professional rabble-rousers—agree that Obama has the authority to reshape immigration enforcement in nearly any way he wants to. Here are answers to five key questions about the legality of the immigration plan Obama announced tonight:

  1. The linchpin of Obama's executive action is the president's inherent authority to engage in prosecutorial discretion, and just about everyone agrees that this authority is nearly unconditional. Speaking to a meeting of the conservative Federalist Society, Christopher Schroeder said: "I think the roots of prosecutorial discretion are extremely deep. The practice is long and robust. The case law is robust." Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner agree: "It has always been within the president’s discretion to decide whether to have the Department of Justice enforce a particular law. As the Supreme Court declared in United States v. Nixon, 'the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.'"
     
  2. OK, but exempting entire categories of people from prosecution? It turns out that current immigration law explicitly recognizes this. Margaret Stock, a Republican immigration lawyer and a Federalist Society member, says: "The Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws are chock-full of huge grants of statutory authority to the president. Congress gave the president all these powers, and now they are upset because he wants to use them. Other presidents have used the same authority in the past without an outcry."
     
  3. But are those grants really broad enough? Apparently so. In fact, immigration law provides the president an unusually broad scope for executive action. Eric Posner writes: "The president’s authority over this arena is even greater than his authority over other areas of the law....In 2012, the Supreme Court recognized the vast discretion of the president over immigration policy. In the case Arizona v. United States, the court struck down several Arizona laws that ordered state officials to enforce federal immigration laws, on pain of state penalty....As [Adam] Cox puts it, in a recent academic article, the court’s reasoning "gives executive branch officials near complete control over the content of immigration law.'"
     
  4. Still, even if this is true in theory, is it really true in practice? As it turns out, yes, there's plenty of prior precedent for exactly this kind of thing. As the LA Times reports, "Obama would not be the first president to push through immigration reform by working outside of Congress." In fact, presidents from FDR through Bill Clinton have issued executive orders that deferred deportation for various categories of undocumented immigrants. And while it's true that Obama's action will likely affect more people than any of the previous ones, that's a political issue, not a legal one. From a strictly legal viewpoint, Obama is doing something that has plenty of past precedent.
     
  5. Finally, what about work permits? Even if Obama can legally defer prosecution—a right conferred by both constitutional authority and statutory language—does that also give him the right to issue work permits to immigrants affected by his order? Surprisingly, perhaps, that has a long pedigree too—one that goes back not just to DACA (Obama's 2012 mini-DREAM executive order), but well before that. David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explains: "The federal regulations governing employment under immigration law existed well before DACA. Under those regulations, any undocumented immigrant granted deferred action — under programs that preceded DACA or coincide with it — had already been able to apply for employment authorization....The president’s authority to grant work status long precedes DACA, and while it does apply to DACA and would apply to its expansion, it is not a direct outgrowth or creation of either."

It's an open question whether Obama's actions are politically wise. It might force Republicans into an uncomfortable corner as they compete loudly to denounce Obama's actions, further damaging their chances of appealing to Hispanics in future elections. Alternatively, it might poison any possibility of working constructively with congressional Republicans over the next couple of years, which might further degrade Democratic approval ratings. There's also, I think, a legitimate question about whether liberals should be cheering an expansion of presidential power, whether it's legal or not.

That said, Obama's actions really do appear to be not just legal, but fairly uncontroversially so among people who know both the law and past precedent. Republicans may not like what Obama is doing, and they certainly have every right to fight it. But they should stop spouting nonsense about lawlessness and tyranny. That's just playground silliness.