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Media Goes Wild Over Hagel Firing But Not Obama's Secret Afghanistan Reversal

| Mon Nov. 24, 2014 11:03 AM EST
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

There's little the Washington-centric political-media universe loves more than the story of a fallen star. The defenestration of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reporters and pundits in a schadenfreude-driven tizzy. Was he fired? Was he in over his head? OMG, look at how the White House is dumping on him, as he departs! Who's passing nasty notes in class about him?

The presumably forced resignation of Hagel is indeed big news. The Obama administration is confronting a host of new national security challenges: ISIS, Ukraine, Ebola. So the guy (or gal) in charge of the Pentagon has to be nimble and able to handle this expanding and shifting to-do list. And Hagel, ever since his underwhelming performance at his confirmation hearing, has not been (at least in public) a confidence-inspiring Cabinet member. So perhaps President Barack Obama can do better—though the elbowing Hagel is receiving on the way out seems poor manners.

Yet here's a useful exercise. Compare the red-hot media reaction to Hagel's bye-bye to the response to the New York Times' eye-popping report that Obama signed a secret order to expand the US military mission in Afghanistan next year. The story about one man—yes, one of the cool kids in DC—is at least an order of magnitude higher on the MediaReax-ometer. Any tidbit from an anonymous source about de-Hagelization gets immediate attention from tweeting journos. But the story about this significant policy shift has prompted mostly a yawn.

In case you missed it—the story was posted online on Friday but appeared in Saturday's dead-trees edition—the Times revealed that Obama, who last May said the United States would have no combat missions in Afghanistan in 2015 (and only train Afghan forces and hunt Al Qaeda "remnants"), had secretly authorized American forces

to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

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Chuck Hagel Resigning as Secretary of Defense

| Mon Nov. 24, 2014 10:36 AM EST

President Barack Obama is expected to announce the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday. The New York Times reports that the president's decision to ask Hagel to step down follows a series of meetings, which concluded that a change in leadership was needed in order to deal with international threats including the Islamic State.

Candidates for Hagel's replacement reportedly include former Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) Hagel, the only Republican in the president's national security team, is expected to remain until a successor is named.

Less than two years on the job, this is the first major resignation from Obama's cabinet following the Democrats' disappointing midterm elections. From an administration official:

Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready. Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola. In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the President about departing the Administration given the natural post-midterms transition time.

Earlier this month, Hagel announced the country's nuclear weapons program would be undergoing a massive overhaul after the Pentagon released a review citing antiquated equipment and poor leadership plaguing the nuclear forces. 

One Man Should Not Dictate Immigration Policy

| Sun Nov. 23, 2014 3:31 PM EST

You know, the more I mull over the Republican complaint about how immigration reform is being implemented, the more I sympathize with them. Public policy, especially on big, hot button issues like immigration, shouldn't be made by one person. One person doesn't represent the will of the people, no matter what position he holds. Congress does, and the will of Congress should be paramount in policymaking.

Now don't get me wrong. I haven't changed my mind about the legality of all this. The Constitution is clear that each house of Congress makes its own rules. The rules of the House of Representatives are clear and well-established. And past speakers of the House have all used their legislative authority to prevent votes on bills they don't wish to consider. Both the law and past precedent are clear: John Boehner is well within his legal rights to refuse to allow the House to vote on the immigration bill passed by the Senate in 2013.

Still, his expansion of that authority makes me uneasy. After all, this is a case where poll after poll shows that large majorities of the country favor comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill over a year ago by a wide margin. And there's little question that the Senate bill has majority support in the House too. So not only is the will of Congress clear, but the president has also made it clear that he'd sign the bill if Congress passed it. The only thing stopping it is one man.

That should make us all a bit troubled. John Boehner may be acting legally. But is he acting properly?

Chart of the Day: Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States

| Sun Nov. 23, 2014 12:19 PM EST

Matt Yglesias linked today to a map from the Pew Hispanic Center showing which states had the highest populations of unauthorized immigrants. It was interesting but unsurprising: the biggest states (California, Texas, Florida, New York) also have the most unauthorized immigrants. This got me curious about which states had the highest percentages of unauthorized immigrants—which the Pew map also provides. The answer is in the chart below.

For what it's worth, I thought the most striking thing was the fact that for all the sound and fury illegal immigration provokes, it turns out that there are only seven states in which unauthorized immigrants make up more than 4 percent of the population. In the vast majority of the country, they're a vanishingly small group.

Benghazi Is Over, But the Mainstream Media Just Yawns

| Sat Nov. 22, 2014 11:42 PM EST

After two years of seemingly endless Benghazi coverage, how did the nation's major media cover the report of a Republican-led House committee that debunked every single Benghazi conspiracy theory and absolved the White House of wrongdoing? Long story short, don't bother looking on the front page anywhere. Here's a rundown:

  • The Washington Post briefly moved its story into the top spot on its homepage this afternoon. In the print edition, it ran inside on page A12.
  • The New York Times ran only a brief AP dispatch yesterday. Late today they finally put up a staff-written story, scheduled to run in the print edition tomorrow on page A23.
  • The Wall Street Journal ran a decent piece, but it got no play on the website and ran in the print edition on page A5.
  • USA Today ran an AP dispatch, but only if you can manage to find it. I don't know if it also ran anywhere in the print edition.
  • As near as I can tell, the LA Times ignored the story completely.
  • Ditto for the US edition of the Guardian.
  • Fox News ran a hilarious story that ignored nearly every finding of the report and managed to all but say that it was actually a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration. You really have to read it to believe it.

I get that the report of a House committee isn't the most exciting news in the world. It's dry, it has no visuals, it rehashes old ground, and it doesn't feature Kim Kardashian's butt.

Still, this is a report endorsed by top Republicans that basically rebuts practically every Republican bit of hysteria over Benghazi spanning the past two years. Is it really good news judgment for editors to treat this the same way they would a dull study on the aging of America from the Brookings Institution?

UPDATE: Late tonight, the LA Times finally roused itself to run a non-bylined piece somewhere in the Africa section. MORNING UPDATE: Actually, it turned out to be just a condensed version of the AP dispatch. It ran on page A7.

I should add that the stories which did run were mostly fairly decent (Fox News excepted, of course). In particular, Ken Dilanian's AP report was detailed and accurate, and ran early in the morning. The problem is less with the details of the coverage, than with the fact that the coverage was either buried or nonexistent practically everywhere.

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.