Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en The Looming Olive Oil Apocalypse <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The world's most celebrated olive oil comes from sun-drenched groves of Italy. But Italy is also a hotbed of olive oil subterfuge, counterfeit, and adulteration&mdash;and has been since Roman times, as Tom Muellar showed in an eye-opening <a href="">2007 New Yorker piece</a> (which grew into a book called <a href=""><em>Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil</em></a>.) &nbsp;Next year, getting real olive oil from Italy is going to be even harder than usual. Here's the <em>LA Times' </em>Russ Parsons:</p> <blockquote> <p>As a result of what the Italian newspaper <em>La Repubblica</em> is calling &ldquo;The Black Year of Italian Olive Oil,&rdquo; the olive harvest through much of Italy has been devastated&mdash;down 35% from last year.&nbsp;</p> </blockquote> <p>The reason is a kind of perfect storm (so to speak) of rotten weather through the nation:</p> <blockquote> <p>When the trees were turning flowers to fruit in the spring, freezing weather suddenly turned scorching, causing the trees to drop olives. Summer was hot and humid, leading to all sorts of problems. Then in mid-September, there was a major hail storm, knocking much of the fruit that remained onto the ground.</p> </blockquote> <p>Other major olive oil-producing nations suffered similar calamities; Parsons reports that in Spain and Mediterranean neighbors, production is also "forecast to be far below last year's." And California, that big chunk of Mediterranean-like climate on our west coast, where excellent olive oil is produced? Parsons says the epochal drought is pinching production, and he quotes Muellar to the effect that "frankly, I hear about a lot of games being played there too, with labels and quality alike." Sigh.</p> <p>I find all of this distressing. I came of age as a cook in an era of olive oil hegemony. I treat it like the oil that powers my car, as something to be relied on casually, as if it appeared by magic from nowhere. (Nearly all my Tom's Kitchen columns feature it.)</p> <p>Once a staple of Mediterranean polyculture&mdash;farms and households would feature olive trees in mixed groves along with a multitude of other crops&mdash;olive oil production has long since industrialized. Here is <em><a href="">The Ecologist</a></em> from 2008:</p> <blockquote> <p>Industrial olive farms grow their olive trees, planted at high densities, in massive irrigated orchards on lowland plains. The olives are harvested by machines that clamp around the tree&rsquo;s trunk and shake it until the olives fall to the ground. Oil is then extracted by industrial-scale centrifuge, often at high temperatures. In contrast, small, traditional farms are often ancient, their trees typically planted on upland terraces. The farmers manage their groves with few or no agrochemicals, less water and less machinery. Olives are picked off the ground by hand and the oil extracted by grinding the olives in a millstone and press. Demand for cheap, mass-produced oil is making it a struggle for the smaller, traditional farms to be economically viable, however.</p> <p>&hellip;.</p> <p>Intensive olive farming is a major cause of one of the biggest environmental problems affecting the EU: widespread soil erosion and desertification in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal. In 2001, the European Commission ordered an independent study into the environmental impact of olive farming across the EU. The report concluded: &lsquo;Soil erosion is probably the most serious environmental problem associated with olive farming.</p> </blockquote> <p>I fear that next year's olive oil crunch is a harbinger of things to come. I am officially in search of alternative cooking fats. One I've come to appreciate: lard from pasture-raised hogs. Lard's rotten nutritional reputation is the result of <a href="">outdated and discredited science</a>. And it makes food taste really good, too.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:02:09 +0000 Tom Philpott 265546 at Thanksgiving Films, Ranked <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Ho ho ho and merry Thanksgiving! Here is a ranking of twenty Thanksgiving films. What is a "Thanksgiving film"? For the purposes of this post it is a film that is both a) on <a href="" target="_blank">Wikipedia's list</a>, and b) one I, Ben Dreyfuss, immediately recall seeing and have an opinion about.</p> <p>1. <em>Hannah and Her Sisters</em></p> <p>2. <em>Rocky</em></p> <p>3. <em>Scent of a Woman</em></p> <p>4. <em>Rocky II</em></p> <p>5. <em>Planes, Trains, and Automobiles</em></p> <p>6. <em>Home for the Holidays</em></p> <p>7. <em>Avalon</em></p> <p>8. <em>The Ice Storm</em></p> <p>9. <em>The Morning After</em></p> <p>10. <em>For Your Consideration </em></p> <p>11. <em>Grumpy Old Men</em></p> <p>12. <em>Addams Family Values</em></p> <p>13. <em>Funny People</em></p> <p>14. <em>Spider-Man</em></p> <p>15. <em>The Object of My affection</em></p> <p>16. <em>The Other Sister</em></p> <p>17. <em>Bean</em></p> <p>18. <em>Son in Law</em></p> <p>18. <em>Tower Heist</em></p> <p>19. <em>Unknown</em></p> <p>20. <em>Jack and Jill</em></p> <p><em>Disclosure: I haven't actually seen </em>Jack and Jill<em> but I'm pretty confident it's the worst. Also, </em>The Last Waltz<em> was not included in this ranking because though it is on the Wikipedia list of Thanksgiving films, it shouldn't be.</em> <em>Still pretty good though!</em></p></body></html> Mixed Media Film and TV Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:04:21 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 265541 at We Fact Checked Aaron Sorkin's Climate Science on "The Newsroom" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>I watch too much TV drama, so I can say this with a degree of certainty: It's rare that climate change comes up. (Television news programs also contain "tepid" coverage, in general, <a href="" target="_blank">according to watchdog group Media Matters</a>). That's why it was so weird/exciting for this climate reporter when global warming received its very own subplot on Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama <em>The Newsroom</em> over the last two episodes.</p> <p>First, a little context: Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) is the show's once daffy news producer whose role this season seems exclusively designed to reverse earlier <a href="" target="_blank">charges of sexism against Sorkin</a>. She's now good at her job! During a convoluted scene on a train from Boston to New York, Maggie overhears and records a top EPA official talking shit on the phone about President Obama to another journalist, off-the-record. Even though that agreement of confidentiality doesn't extend to the other Amtrak passengers, she eventually tells the official she won't use his juicy Obama-dissing quotes. So impressed by her ethics, the official, Richard Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein), rewards her with a scoop: <em>an embargoed EPA report</em>. WHOA! WHAT A SCOOOOOP! (For the uninitiated, while a heads-up about a study is great to get a jump on your competition, reports are circulated and embargoed all the time). Anyway... Maggie also gets an exclusive interview with the official, the deputy assistant administrator of the EPA (WHAT A GET!) and in the most recent episode, she produces a segment for host Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) about the report's dire warnings.</p> <p>The scene is odd for a number of reasons.<em> The Newsroom </em>packages its drama based on last year's events, and at that time, the news that the world was approaching 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been publicly anticipated for weeks. So, not a scoop in any way, or anything that anyone following the science didn't already know.</p> <p>But putting that aside, let's take a look at Sorkin's&nbsp;"facts", as presented in the episode. How do they measure up? Let's go line-by-line through the scene above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact1-630px.jpg"></div> <p>In the weird parallel universe of <em>The</em> <em>Newsroom</em>, I'm not sure&nbsp;<em>when</em> these "latest measurements" were meant to have been taken. But he's right. <a href="" target="_blank">We covered this at the time</a>: The world passed that 400 ppm threshold&nbsp;for the first meaningful way in May 2013, when the&nbsp;daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide was higher than at any time in human history, according to&nbsp;the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The measurements are indeed taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii; you can follow what's known as the "Keeling Curve"&mdash;a measurement of atmospheric concentration of CO2&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">on Twitter</a>, naturally, thanks to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact2.jpg"></div> <p>Depends what you're defining as catastrophic failure, I suppose.&nbsp; Say you were born last year, when I assume this episode was meant to be set. If we follow along current emissions trends, the planet will be 3.96&deg;F-8.64&deg;F (2.2&deg;C&ndash;4.8&deg;C) hotter than preindustrial times by your retirement. (You can type your birth year <a href="" target="_blank">into this cool interactive</a>, driven by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to check how hot it will be when you're old). That's above temperatures recommended to be in the supposedly "safe" zone by the IPCC, and could definitely result in a variety of "catastrophes" and "failures". As deaths increase due to things like extreme weather, droughts and wildfires, this statement seems true enough when applied to individual episodes of calamity, which will surely increase. (The number of annual deaths in the UK due to heat, <a href="" target="_blank">for example</a>, is predicted to rise by 257 per cent by 2050.) The EPA official is right, in one sense. But it's also arguable that deaths are <em>already</em> and <em>will continue</em> to be linked to climate change events. The line in the script infers the failure of the planet as a whole, which I think is artful flourish to illustrate just how glum this fellow is feeling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact3-630px.jpg"></div> <p>Yup. That's what the science says. The last time the atmosphere clocked 400 ppm it was 3 million years ago&mdash;the "Mid-Pliocene"&mdash;when sea levels were as much as 80 feet higher than today (see this 2007 <a href="" target="_blank">research</a> paper authored by a group led by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University.) I'd probably add an "around" or "about" before the "80 feet higher" in the above statement; the studies leave a margin of error. But this statement checks out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact4-630px.jpg"></div> <p>His point is sound, but I'd like to see the writers' sourcing&mdash;these numbers seem to date to <a href="" target="_blank">around the late 1990s</a>. According to a more recent <a href="" target="_blank">2011 NOAA report</a>, 55 percent of the world's population lives within 50 miles of the coast. The UN has a slightly different number: Over 40 percent of the world's population, or 3.1 billion, lives within 60 miles of the "ocean or sea in about 150 coastal and island nations." In the US, 39 percent of the nation's population lived in counties directly on the shoreline <a href="" target="_blank">in 2010</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact5-630px.jpg"></div> <p>That seems right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact6-630px.jpg"></div> <p><a href="" target="_blank">There's consensus amongst 97 percent of climate scientists that global warming is happening and that's it's a manmade disaster</a>. And I've heard climate scientists use this analogy before. (For what it's worth, there are other things that can influence the boiling point of water, including altitude.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact7-630px.jpg"></div> <p>He's talking about the "carbon budget", and again this is sound, despite Newsman Will's growing anguish at a pretty devastating interview. The 565 gigaton number was popularized by Bill McKibben in a <a href="" target="_blank">2012 <em>Rolling Stone </em>article</a> that <em>Newsroom </em>writers seem to have read. The number is "derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades" (done by financial analysis firm Carbon Tracker) and is what we can <em>add</em> into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have a reasonable chance of success of staying below that safe two degrees warming threshold. Our grumpy scientist is so despondent because, yes, 2,795 is the number of gigatons of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves in the hands of fossil-fuel companies and petrostates. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn, writes McKibben. Carbon Tracker says <a href="" target="_blank">80 percent of these assets need to remain unburned</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Newsroom-Fact8-630px.jpg"></div> <p>All of these things are predicted by the IPCC&mdash;I mean, not the permanent darkness thing, I don't think that's meant to be scientific. But yes, <a href="" target="_blank">as we reported in May this year</a>, Europe faces freshwater shortages; Asia can expect more severe flooding from extreme storms; North America will see increased heat waves and wildfires, which can cause death and damage to ecosystems and property. Especially in poor countries, diminished crop yields will likely lead to increased malnutrition, which already affects nearly 900 million people worldwide.</p> <p>So, in all, well done <em>Newsroom</em>. Informative, accurate, if a little heavy-handed on the doom and gloom.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Video Climate Change Climate Desk Media Wed, 26 Nov 2014 17:29:36 +0000 James West 265381 at Europe Wants To Make Its Memory Hole Global <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Europe's infamous right to be forgotten is <a href="" target="_blank">on track to become truly Orwellian:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Europe&rsquo;s privacy regulators want the right to be forgotten to go global. In a new set of guidelines agreed Wednesday in Brussels, the body representing the EU&rsquo;s 28 national privacy regulators said that search engines should <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_memory_hole.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">apply the bloc&rsquo;s new right to be forgotten to all of their websites.</p> <p>....Google may consider a way to apply the ruling on without applying it globally [...] by returning different results depending on whether the person is searching from an Internet Protocol address located within the EU. But it is unclear if such a move would satisfy regulators, as it would only make it harder to sidestep the ruling inside the EU, not globally.</p> <p>&ldquo;These are fundamental rights. My rights don&rsquo;t go away at the border,&rdquo; one data-protection official said of the idea of using IP addresses to apply the rule.</p> </blockquote> <p>I understand that the EU has a more expansive view of personal privacy than the US and other countries. What's more, I'm generally on their side in this battle when it comes to truly personal information. Both corporate and government collection of personal buying habits, internet browsing patterns, and so forth deserve to be reined in.</p> <p>But here we're talking about largely public information. It's bad enough that the EU is insisting that people not only have a right to control genuinely personal data, but also have a right to shape attitudes and perceptions that are based on public record. It's even worse that they're now trying to impose this absurdity on the entire planet. If they insist on having a continent-wide memory hole, I guess that's their business. But they sure don't have the right to foist their insistence on artificially altering reality on the rest of us. Enough's enough.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Tech Wed, 26 Nov 2014 16:51:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 265531 at Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Undergoes Heart Surgery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is "resting comfortably" after undergoing a coronary catheterization procedure, a <a href="" target="_blank">press release</a> from the nation's highest court announced Wednesday morning.</p> <p>Ginsburg, who at 81 is the Supreme Court's oldest member, is expected to be discharged in the next 48 hours. From the <a href="" target="_blank">release:</a></p> <blockquote> <p class="rteindent1">Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a coronary catheterization procedure this morning at MedStar Heart &amp; Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center to place a stent in her right coronary artery. The coronary blockage was discovered after Justice Ginsburg experienced discomfort during routine exercise last night and was taken to the hospital. She is resting comfortably and is expected to be discharged in the next 48 hours.</p> </blockquote> <p>Ginsburg has pushed back against suggestions she step down while President Barack Obama is still in office. In an interview with <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Elle</em></a> last September, she defended her resistance to such calls. "Anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they&rsquo;re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam&hellip;. I think I&rsquo;ll recognize when the time comes that I can&rsquo;t any longer. But now I can."</p></body></html> MoJo Supreme Court Top Stories Wed, 26 Nov 2014 16:14:14 +0000 Inae Oh 265526 at Under Pressure From Obama, France Delays Warship Sale to Russia <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I confess that I'm <a href="" target="_blank">surprised to read this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>France has put on hold a controversial deal to supply Russia with two high-tech amphibious assault ships following international concern over Moscow's military involvement in Ukraine</p> <p>....After months of wait-and-see messages from the French, Hollande's declaration Tuesday was at least clear: It would not be appropriate to deliver the control-and-command vessels given the current conflict between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, he said.</p> <p>....In June, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, had insisted that the contract had been signed and sealed and had to be honored. <strong>On Tuesday, following months of pressure from the United States, Fabius appeared to have changed his mind.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. I guess the weakling Obama really is working quietly behind the scenes on stuff like this, and really does still have some clout on the international stage. Who knew?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Obama Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:38:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 265521 at Tom's Kitchen: Gratin of Hearty Greens <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm a greens fanatic: mustards, kale, collards, chard, you name it. I eat them in some form more or less every day, sometimes more than once. At this point, a meal&mdash;even (or especially) something as simple as a fried egg for breakfast&mdash;just seems naked, incomplete, without them. Their ubiquity in my daily life can make them seem unexciting for a special feast like Thanksgiving. Really, <em>again,</em> greens made like I always do them,&nbsp;saut&eacute;ed with onion until tender and then finished with a lashing of vinegar? At the same time, there was no way I could imagine Thanksgiving without leafy greens&mdash;especially since they reach their peak of flavor in the fall.</p> <p>So rather than forsake them or serve them the same old way, I decided to dress them up into something richer and more elegant: a <em>gratin</em>. To get ideas on how to pull it off, I dug into James Peterson's excellent 2002 tome <em>Glorious French Food.</em> Along with recipes for the three classic <em>gratins</em>&mdash;potatoes, leeks, and squash&mdash;it also includes advice on how to improvise one: merely pour cream and cheese over the desired vegetable, and bake in the oven until a "savory crust forms on top." That's when I knew that I not only had a winning side dish for the holiday table, but also something dead simple and yet tasty: perfect fodder for a Tom's Kitchen column.</p> <p>Peterson advises that in most cases, vegetables should be cooked before the baking stage, "so that the moisture they contain is released during the precooking instead of remaining in the gratin, where it would dilute the surrounding sauce." So I started the dish in the same way I usually cook greens&mdash;which gave me the chance to work in onions and garlic&mdash;before finishing in the oven with cream and cheese. The result was magical&mdash;sweet, creamy, tender greens, mashed up with a snap of caramelized cheese. Note: there's also a vegan variation below.</p> <p><strong>Gratin of Hearty Greens</strong></p> <p>Enough extra-virgin olive or butter to generously cover the bottom of a large pan<br> 3 medium onions, halved and sliced thin<br> 3 bunches of hearty greens such as kale or collards (I used two kale, one collards)<br> 4 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced<br> Sea salt<br> 1 pint heavy cream<br> 4 ounces grated cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano (which I used) or Gruy&egrave;re<br> Plenty of freshly ground black pepper</p> <p>Place a large heavy-bottom pot over low-medium heat, add the onions, and let them saut&eacute;, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft.</p> <p>Meanwhile, prep the greens. Remove the stems that run down the center by holding the leaf in one left hand and slicing down each side of the stem with a knife. By the time you're done, you'll have two piles: one of stems and one of leaves. I apply a whole-beast ethos to vegetables, and consider greens stems to be highly flavorful. So bunch the stems in a pile and slice them finely, crosswise. Set aside. Now chop the greens and set them aside, too. The point of separating them is to give the stems a head start cooking, as they take a little longer.</p> <p>Preheat the oven to 350 F.</p> <p>Now the onions should be soft. Add the chopped garlic and stir for a minute or so, until it has released its fragrance. Add the chopped stems and a pinch of salt, stir to mix them with the onions and garlic, and cover the pot. Let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add the greens and another pinch of salt, using tongs to carefully mix in with the saut&eacute;ed veggies in the pan. Add about a half cup of water (or stock) to the pan, and turn heat to high until the water begins to boil. When it does, turn heat down a little bit, and let the greens simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until they're nearly tender but still a little <em>al dente.</em> At that point, remove the lid and let them cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated.</p> <p>Turn off the heat, taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Arrange the cooked greens in a casserole dish large enough to comfortably fit them all. Pour the cream over. Sprinkle the cheese all over the top. Give it a vigorous lashing of black pepper. Bake until the top is well-browned (30-45&nbsp; minutes). Serve hot. This dish can be made a day or two in advance and reheated in a 350 F oven just before serving. Better yet, cook the greens until they're tender and then store them in the fridge until the big day, when you bake them off with cream, cheese, etc.</p> <p><strong>Vegan variation:</strong> Replace the cream with coconut milk and replace the cheese with bread crumbs (or slivered almonds) .</p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:22:54 +0000 Tom Philpott 265461 at Obama Has Really Gotten Inside the GOP's Head <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jeremy Peters writes in the <em>New York Times</em> today that the tea party has morphed from an enraged bunch of economic populists to an enraged bunch of anti-immigration zealots. And by cracky, they want Republicans to crush the tyrant Obama for his immigration insolence <a href="" target="_blank">and they want them to do it <em>now</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Satisfying the conservative base will be difficult. Tea Party activists are not likely to sit patiently while a lawsuit works its way through the courts. And many have already expressed skepticism about the Republican <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Party_Cranks.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">leadership&rsquo;s willingness to see through a fight over appropriations.</p> <p>....&ldquo;Yes, there&rsquo;s a risk to overreacting, but there&rsquo;s a risk to underreacting as well,&rdquo; said Rich Lowry, the editor of <em>National Review</em>. &ldquo;And I fear that&rsquo;s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.&rdquo; Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. &ldquo;If I were John Boehner,&rdquo; he said, referring to the House speaker, &ldquo;I&rsquo;d say to the president: &lsquo;Send us your State of the Union in writing. You&rsquo;re not welcome in our chamber.&rsquo; &rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Oh man, I can't tell you how much I wish they'd actually take Lowry up on his suggestion. Can you imagine anything that would strike middle America as pettier and more pointlessly vindictive than this? Anything that would seem feebler and more futile? Anything that could possibly be more evocative of a five-year-old throwing a tantrum?</p> <p>I guess you could if you put your mind to it. But it would be hard. Obama is really inside their heads, isn't he?</p> <p>(<a href="" target="_blank">Via Steve Benen.</a>)</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration The Right Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:50:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 265511 at GOP Takes Revenge Over Immigration Order in Tax Bill. Obama Tells Them to Pound Sand. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Danny Vinik describes the tax extender package <a href="" target="_blank">currently wending its way through Congress:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Imagine somebody asked you to imagine the worst possible deal on taxes. It'd probably have the following qualities:</p> <p>It would be bad for the environment.</p> <p>It would be bad for the deficit.</p> <p>It would give short shrift to the working poor.</p> <p>And it would be a bonanza for corporations.</p> <p>Unfortunately, you don&rsquo;t have to conjure up such a package. Congressional Republicans already have. And for some unfathomable reason, Senate Democrats including Harry Reid seem inclined to go along&mdash;although the White House <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pigs_trough.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">has vowed to veto such a deal if Congress goes ahead and passes it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Actually, there's nothing all that unfathomable about what's going on. The tax extender bill may be a dog's breakfast of legitimate tax provisions running interference for a long laundry list of indefensible giveaways and corporate welfare, but it's always been supported by both parties and it would have passed long ago if not for an outbreak of routine sniping over amendments and 60-vote thresholds last spring. That aside, the whole thing is a perfect bipartisan lovefest. Republicans and Democrats alike want to make sure that corporations continue to get all their favorite tax breaks.</p> <p>In fact, the only thing that's really new here is the nature of Obama's veto threat. He's made the threat before, but primarily because the extenders weren't being paid for and would add to the deficit. The fact that middle-class tax breaks might not also be extended was sort of an afterthought. Now, however, <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">that's front and center:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The emerging tax legislation would make permanent 10 provisions, including an expanded research and development tax credit....a measure allowing small businesses to deduct virtually any investment; the deduction for state and local sales breaks for car-racing tracks....benefits for racehorse owners.</p> <p>....<strong>Left off were the two tax breaks valued most by liberal Democrats:</strong> a permanently expanded earned-income credit and a child tax credit for the working poor. <strong>Friday night, Republican negotiators announced they would exclude those measures as payback for the president&rsquo;s executive order on immigration,</strong> saying a surge of newly legalized workers would claim the credit, tax aides from both parties said.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it. This bill is the first victim of Republican frothing over Obama's immigration order. As revenge, they left out Democratic tax priorities, and Obama is having none of it.</p> <p>This is all part of the new Obama we've seen since the midterm election, which seems to have had an oddly liberating effect on him. Over the course of just a few weeks he's been throwing sand in Republican faces with gleeful abandon: cutting climate change deals with the Chinese; demanding full net neutrality regulations from the FCC; issuing an executive order on immigration; and now threatening to veto a Republican-crafted bill unless they include expanded EITC and child tax credits. It's as though he's tired of their endless threats to go nuclear over every little thing and just doesn't care anymore. Go ahead, he's telling them. Make my day.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Corporations Economy Wed, 26 Nov 2014 04:59:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 265506 at A Nuclear Deal With Iran Probably Won't Happen <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at <em>Foreign Affairs</em>, Aaron David Miller and Jason Brodsky run through four reasons that we failed to reach a nuclear deal with Iran by this weekend's deadline. <a href="" target="_blank">This is the key one:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An internal IAEA document that was prepared in 2009 detailed an April 1984 high-level meeting at the presidential palace in Tehran in which Khamenei&nbsp;&mdash; then president of Iran&nbsp;&mdash; championed a decision by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to launch a nuclear weapons program. According to the account, Khamenei said that "this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel."</p> <p>....The fact is that Iran knows what it wants: to preserve as much of its nuclear weapons capacity as possible and free itself from as much of the sanctions regime as it can. The mullahs see Iran&rsquo;s status as a nuclear weapons state as a hedge against regime change and as consistent with its regional status as a great power. That is what it still wants. And that&rsquo;s why it isn&rsquo;t prepared&nbsp;&mdash; yet&nbsp;&mdash; to settle just for what it needs to do a deal. Ditto for America. And it&rsquo;s hard to believe that another six months is going to somehow fix that problem.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is why I'm skeptical that a deal can be reached. Iran wants to have nuclear weapons capability. The United States wants Iran to verifiably abandon its nuclear ambitions. Everything else is just fluff, and it's hard to see a middle ground here.</p> <p>This doesn't mean an agreement is impossible. Maybe there really is some halfway point that both sides can live with. It sure isn't easy to see it, though. The disagreement here is just too fundamental and too definitive. One side wants to be able to build a bomb, and the other side wants exactly the opposite. How do you split that baby?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 25 Nov 2014 22:56:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 265501 at Watch Killer Mike's Passionate Speech on Michael Brown <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Moments before a scheduled performance in St. Louis Monday night, Killer Mike of the rap duo Run The Jewels delivered an i<a href="" target="_blank">ncredibly forceful speech</a> about the news of a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown more than three months ago.</p> <p>"Tonight, I got kicked on my ass when I listened to that prosecutor. You motherfuckers got me. I knew it was coming, I knew when Eric Holder decided to resign, I knew it wasn't going to be good."</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>"I have a twenty-year-old son and I have a twelve-year-old son and I am so afraid for them," Killer Mike told the crowd, his voice cracked through held-back tears. "When I stood in front of my wife and I hugged her and I cried like a baby, I said 'These motherfuckers got me today.'"</p> <p>The impassioned speech ended with a powerful reference to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights leader's tragic death at the age of 39.</p> <p>"I promise if I die when I walk off this stage tomorrow, I'm going to let you know it's not about race, it's not about class, it's not about color. It is about what they killed him for: It is about poverty, it is about greed, and it is about a war machine. It is us against the motherfucking machine."</p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Music Race and Ethnicity Ferguson Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:43:09 +0000 Inae Oh 265436 at Is Obama Trolling Republicans Over Immigration? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jonah Goldberg is unhappy with President Obama's immigration order, but he's not steaming mad about it. And I think this allows him to see some things <a href="" target="_blank">a little more clearly than his fellow conservatives:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Maybe President Obama is just trolling?</p> <p>....As Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution notes, Obama "could've done all this quietly, without making any announcement whatsoever." After all, Obama has unilaterally reinterpreted and rewritten the law without nationally televised addresses before. But doing that wouldn't let him pander to Latinos and, more important, that wouldn't achieve his real goal: enraging Republicans.</p> <p>As policy, King Obama's edict is a mess, which may explain why Latinos are underwhelmed by it, according to the polls. But that's not the yardstick Obama cares about most. <strong>The real goal is twofold: Cement Latinos into the Democratic coalition and force Republicans to overreact.</strong> He can't achieve the first if he doesn't succeed with the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_immigration_pros_cons.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">second. It remains to be seen if the Republicans will let themselves be trolled into helping him.</p> </blockquote> <p>Don't get me wrong. I'm pretty certain that Obama did what he did because he really believes it's the right thing to do. Goldberg just isn't able to acknowledge that and retain his conservative cred. Still, somewhere in the Oval Office there was someone writing down pros and cons on a napkin, and I'll bet that enraging the GOP caucus and wrecking their legislative agenda made it onto the list of pros. So far, it looks like it's probably working. But if Republicans are smart, they'll figure out some way to follow Goldberg's advice and rein in their worst impulses. If they go nuts, they're just playing into Obama's hands.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Immigration Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:07:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 265441 at Map: Here's How #Ferguson Exploded on Twitter Last Night <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Monday evening, news of a grand jury's <a href="" target="_blank">decision</a> not to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown erupted across social media. The announcement was made shortly after 8:20 PM CT and sparked massive protests around the country. The situation was particularly violent in and around the St. Louis area, with more than 60 people <a href="" target="_blank">arrested</a> overnight.</p> <p>Using the hashtag&nbsp;#Ferguson, Twitter has mapped out how the conversation took place:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="520" mozallowfullscreen="" msallowfullscreen="" oallowfullscreen="" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>Following the announcement, Wilson's full testimony was released. One of the most controversial remarks included a description of Brown as looking like a "demon."</p> <p><iframe height="354px" src="" width="630px"></iframe></p> <p><strong>More from the chaotic scene:</strong></p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/AP762329691737.jpg" style="height: 354px; width: 630px;"><div class="caption"><strong>Police gather on the street as protesters react after the announcement of the grand jury decision. </strong>Charlie Riedel/AP</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/AP113152107546.jpg" style="height: 420px; width: 630px;"><div class="caption"><strong>Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown's mother, is comforted outside the Ferguson police department as St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch conveys the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of her son. </strong>Robert Cohen/AP</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/AP766558858094.jpg" style="height: 450px; width: 630px;"><div class="caption"><strong>People watch as stores burn down. </strong>David Goldman/AP</div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Mixed Media Maps Race and Ethnicity Tue, 25 Nov 2014 16:24:42 +0000 Inae Oh 265426 at Economic Growth Starting to Show Real Signs of Life <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">The latest numbers from the Commerce Department</a> show that GDP increased faster than we thought in the third quarter of 2014. Growth clocked in at 3.9 percent, an increase from the original estimate of 3.5 percent. "The economy expanded at its <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_growth_moving_average_2014_q3.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">fastest pace in more than a decade," <a href="" target="_blank">says the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>.</a> "The combined growth rate in the second and third quarters was 4.25%, the best six-month reading since 2003."</p> <p>This is true, but a bit misleading since both quarters were making up for a dismal first quarter in which GDP fell by 2.1 percent. Still, even if you look at things in a more defensible way, economic growth is unquestionably picking up. The chart on the right uses a 5-quarter moving average to smooth out individual quarters that might be unusually high or low, and the trajectory of the economy is clearly on the rise. You still can't really say that things are booming, and it continues to be true that the labor market is loose and wages are pretty stagnant. Nonetheless, since 2011 growth has increased from about 1.8 percent annually to about 2.8 percent annually. Things are picking up.</p> <p>If Europe can ever manage to get its act together, we might finally start really digging ourselves out of the Great Recession. I'm not sure I see any signs of that happening soon, though.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:48:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 265431 at More Patents Does Not Equal More Innovation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via James Pethokoukis,</a> here's a chart from a <a href="" target="_blank">new CBO report</a> on federal policies and innovation. Needless to say, you can't read too much into it. It shows the growth since 1963 of total factor productivity (roughly speaking, the share of productivity growth due to technology improvements), and there are lots of possible reasons that TFP hasn't changed much over the past five decades. At a minimum, though, the fact that patent activity has skyrocketed since 1983 with no associated growth in TFP suggests, as the CBO report says dryly, "that the large increase in patenting activity since 1983 may have made little contribution to innovation."</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_patents_productivity_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The CBO report identifies several possible innovation-killing aspects of the US patent system, among them a "proliferation of low-quality patents"; increased patent litigation; and the growth of patent trolls who impose a substantial burden on startup firms. The report also challenges the value of software patents:</p> <blockquote> <p>The contribution of patents to innovation in software or business methods is often questioned because the costs of developing such new products and processes may be modest. One possible change to patent law that could reduce the cost and frequency of litigation would be to limit patent protections for inventions that were relatively inexpensive to develop. For example, patents on software and business methods could expire sooner than is the case today (which, with renewals, is after 20 years), reducing the incentive to obtain those patents. Another change that could address patent quality, the processing burden on the USPTO, and the cost and frequency of litigation would be to limit the ability to obtain a patent on certain inventions.</p> </blockquote> <p>Personally, I'd be in favor of limiting software and business method patents to a term of zero years. But if that's not feasible, even a reduction to, say, five years or so, would be helpful. In the software industry, that's an eternity.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Regulatory Affairs Tech Tue, 25 Nov 2014 04:18:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 265416 at Are Term Limits a Good Idea? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jim Newton, a longtime local politics reporter in Los Angeles, wrote his final column for the <em>LA Times</em> today. In it, he offered up "a handful of changes that might make a big difference," and the one that resonates with me is his suggestion that <a href="" target="_blank">both LA and California do away with term limits:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Elected officials who were popular with their constituents once held their seats for decades, building up experience and knowledge; now, with term limits in place, they're barely seated before they start searching for the next office. That's brought new faces but at great cost. Power has shifted from those we elect to those we don't, to the permanent bureaucracy and to lobbyists. Problems get kicked down the road in favor of attention-grabbing short-term initiatives that may have long-term consequences.</p> <p>Case in point: Why do so many public employees enjoy budget-breaking pensions? Because term-limited officials realize it is easier to promise a future benefit than to give raises now. The reckoning comes later; by then they're gone.</p> <p>Term limits locally were the work of Richard Riordan, who bankrolled the initiative and later became mayor. I asked him recently about them, and he startled me with his response: It was, he said, &ldquo;the worst mistake of my life.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Term limits always sound good. The problem with the idea is that being a council member or a legislator is like any other job: you get better with experience. If your legislature is populated solely by people with, at most, a term or two of experience, it's inevitable that (a) they'll have an almost pathologically short-term focus, and (b) more and more power will flow to lobbyists and bureaucrats who stay around forever and understand the levers of power better.</p> <p>For what it's worth, I'd recommend a middle ground. I understand the problem people have with politicians who win office and essentially occupy sinecures for the rest of their lives. It's often a recipe for becoming insulated and out of touch with the real-world needs of constituents. But short term limits don't solve the problem of unaccountable power, they simply shift the power to other places. The answer, I think, is moderate term limits. Something between, say, ten and twenty years. That's long enough to build up genuine expertise and a genuine power base, while still preventing an office from becoming a lifetime of guaranteed employment.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Mon, 24 Nov 2014 18:44:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 265351 at Obama's Immigration Order: Lots of Sound and Fury, But Not Much Precedent <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In the <em>New Republic</em> this weekend, <a href="" target="_blank">Eric Posner warns that President Obama's recent executive action on immigration may come back to haunt liberals.</a> Obama's order was perfectly legal, he says, but "it may modify political norms that control what the president can do." And since most of the regulatory apparatus of the government is fundamentally liberal in nature, a political norm that allows presidents to suspend enforcement of rules they don't like benefits conservatives a lot more than it does liberals.</p> <p>This is not something to be taken lightly, and Posner makes his point pretty reasonably&mdash;unlike a lot of conservatives who have been busily writing gleeful, half-witted columns about suspending the estate tax or dismantling the EPA. Political norms matter, as Republicans know <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_regulation.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">very well, <a href="" target="_blank">since they've smashed so many of them in recent years.</a> Still, there are a couple of reasons that there's probably less here than meets the eye, and Posner acknowledges them himself.</p> <p>First, although the core of Obama's authority to modify immigration law lies in his inherent power to practice prosecutorial discretion&mdash;which is rooted in the Constitution&mdash;the <em>specific</em> actions he took are justified by statutory language and congressional budgeting priorities that are unique to immigration law. <a href="" target="_blank">As conservative lawyer Margaret Stock reminds us,</a> "The Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws are chock-full of huge grants of statutory authority to the president." <a href="" target="_blank">And Posner himself agrees.</a> "The president&rsquo;s authority over this arena is even greater than his authority over other areas of the law." He reiterates this in his TNR piece, explaining that immigration law "falls uniquely under executive authority, as a matter of history and tradition."</p> <p>So Obama's actions may be unusually broad, but that's largely because immigration law is written to give the president considerable latitude. That's much less the case for things like the tax code or the Clean Air Act. So even though it's true, as Posner says, that most regulatory statutes "contain pockets of vagueness," there's less precedent here than it seems, and less breaking of political norms than Posner imagines.</p> <p>But there's a second reason that Obama isn't seriously breaking any political norms: they were already broken years ago. Posner himself tells the story:</p> <blockquote> <p>In 1981, Ronald Reagan entered the presidency vowing to deregulate the economy. But because the House was controlled by Democrats, Reagan could not persuade Congress to repeal as many regulatory statutes as he wanted to.</p> <p>So Reagan sought to undermine the regulatory system itself. He forced agencies to show proposed regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, a White House agency, and empowered the OMB to block or delay regulations that did not satisfy a cost-benefit test. Although OMB was told to obey the law, liberals howled that the effect of the cost-benefit test was to undercut regulation since no such test existed in the statutes under which agencies issued regulations. And when the Reagan administration could not change or repeal the rules, it cut back on enforcement. The Justice Department famously reduced enforcement of the antitrust and civil rights laws. More howls ensued.</p> <p>But the Reagan administration exhausted itself fighting against political distrust of an imperial executive and overreached by trying to deregulate in areas&mdash;like the environment&mdash;that people cared about. Republican successors&mdash;the two Bushes&mdash;did not pursue deregulation through non-enforcement with such zeal. Obama&rsquo;s deferral actions, by further normalizing non-enforcement, may reinvigorate the Reagan-era push for deregulation through the executive branch.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's become traditional that when a new president takes office he immediately suspends any of his predecessor's executive actions that have been recently implemented. At the same time, his own team begins beavering away on regulatory changes that are part of his campaign agenda. At a different level, orders are written that make it either easier or harder for agencies to implement new rules and enforce old ones. And while Reagan may not have gotten all the deregulation he wanted, the OMB has become a permanent part of the regulatory landscape, which is yet another avenue for presidents to affect the enforcement of rules. It may not get a lot of attention, but when you fiddle with the cost-benefit parameters that OMB uses, the ripple effect can be surprisingly extensive.</p> <p>In other words, agency regulations and executive orders are already major battlegrounds of public policy that are aggressively managed by the White House, regardless of which party is in power. Has Obama expanded this battleground? Perhaps. But I don't think the change is nearly as great as some people are making it out to be. Immigration law is fairly unique in its grant of power to the executive, so we don't really have to worry about President Rand Paul rewriting the tax code from the Oval Office. We do need to worry about all the other executive actions he might take, but for the most part, I don't think that's changed much. The kinds of things he can do are about the same now as they were a week ago.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Regulatory Affairs Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:28:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 265346 at Finland Starting to Think Hard About Joining NATO <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_finland_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Behold the results of Vladimir Putin's brilliant strategy of scaring the hell out of <a href="" target="_blank">every single country within bomber range of Russia:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As Russian-backed separatists have eviscerated another non-NATO neighbor this year &mdash; Ukraine &mdash; <strong>Finnish leaders have watched with growing alarm.</strong> They are increasingly questioning whether the nonaligned path they navigated through the Cold War can keep them safe as Europe heads toward another period of dangerous standoffs between West and East.</p> <p>....The palpable anxiety in this country that many in the West consider a model of progressive and stable democratic governance reflects how unsettled Europe has become since Russia&rsquo;s annexation of Crimea in March. Many in Helsinki are convinced that Russia will not remain deterred for long and say Finland needs to fundamentally rethink elements of its security policy that have been bedrock principles for decades.</p> <p>....<strong>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s going in a terrifying direction,&rdquo; said Elisabeth Rehn, a former Finnish defense minister who favors NATO membership.</strong> &ldquo;It&rsquo;s only been 100 years since we gained our independence from Russia. Crimea was a part of Russia, too. Will they try to take back what belonged to them 100 years ago?&rdquo;</p> <p>Rehn said she doubts Russia would go that far but said the fear of Russian military aggression is real.</p> </blockquote> <p>Will Finland join NATO? Probably not anytime soon. But just think about what Putin has accomplished here. Finland stayed out of NATO for the entire four decades of the Cold War, but is now so unnerved by Russia's actions that it's seriously thinking about joining up. If Putin is truly afraid of Russia being fully surrounded by the West, his worst fears are about to come true thanks to his own actions. No one wants to be the next eastern Ukraine, and right now NATO membership is probably looking mighty appealing to a lot of people who were OK with the status quo a few years ago.</p> <p>Putin's bellicose nationalism may play well at home, but it sure isn't doing him any favors anywhere else.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:05:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 265341 at Media Goes Wild Over Hagel Firing But Not Obama's Secret Afghanistan Reversal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>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?</p> <p>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&mdash;though the <a href="" target="_blank">elbowing</a> Hagel is receiving on the way out seems poor manners.</p> <p>Yet here's a useful exercise. Compare the red-hot media reaction to Hagel's bye-bye to the response to the <em>New York Times</em>' <a href="" target="_blank">eye-popping report </a>that Obama signed a secret order to expand the US military mission in Afghanistan next year. The story about one man&mdash;yes, one of the cool kids in DC&mdash;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.</p> <p>In case you missed it&mdash;the story was posted online on Friday but appeared in Saturday's dead-trees edition&mdash;the <em>Times </em>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</p> <blockquote> <p>to carry out missions against the <a class="meta-org" href="" title="More articles about the Taliban.">Taliban</a> 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 <a class="meta-classifier" href="" title="More articles about unmanned aerial vehicles.">drones</a> to support Afghan troops on combat missions.</p> </blockquote> <aside class="marginalia related-coverage-marginalia nocontent robots-nocontent" data-marginalia-type="sprinkled" role="complementary"><div class="nocontent robots-nocontent"> <p>This is a quasi-BFD&mdash;and the result of what the <em>Times </em>called "a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country."</p> <p>In other words, Obama, for good or bad, has decided to extend the war he said he was ending. This report did not produce a cable news frenzy or a storm of tweets. But it's just as important as who's going to be in charge of implementing this major change of plans&mdash;if not more so.</p> </div> </aside></body></html> MoJo Afghanistan Foreign Policy Military Obama Top Stories Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:03:40 +0000 David Corn 265336 at Chuck Hagel Resigning as Secretary of Defense <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Barack Obama is expected to announce the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday. <em>The New York Times</em> reports that the president's decision to ask Hagel to step down follows a series of meetings, which concluded that a <a href="" target="_blank">change in leadership</a> was needed in order to deal with international threats including the Islamic State.</p> <p>Candidates for Hagel's replacement <a href="" target="_blank">reportedly</a> include former Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.)&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">Hagel, the only Republican in the president's national security team, is expected to remain until a successor is named.</span></p> <p>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 <a href="" target="_blank">official:</a></p> <blockquote>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.</blockquote> <p>Earlier this month, Hagel announced the country's <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear weapons program </a>would be undergoing a massive overhaul after the Pentagon released a review citing antiquated equipment and poor leadership plaguing the nuclear forces.&nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Military Obama Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:36:30 +0000 Inae Oh 265331 at One Man Should Not Dictate Immigration Policy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>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 <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tyranny.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>That should make us all a bit troubled. John Boehner may be acting legally. But is he acting properly?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Sun, 23 Nov 2014 20:31:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 265321 at Chart of the Day: Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Matt Yglesias linked today</a> 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 <em>percentages</em> of unauthorized immigrants&mdash;which the Pew map also provides. The answer is in the chart below.</p> <p>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.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_unauthorized_immigrant_share_population.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 5px 1px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Immigration Sun, 23 Nov 2014 17:19:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 265316 at Benghazi Is Over, But the Mainstream Media Just Yawns <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>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 <a href="" target="_blank"><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_house_intelligence_benghazi.jpg" style="margin: 33px 0px 15px 30px;"></a>House of wrongdoing? Long story short, don't bother looking on the front page anywhere. Here's a rundown:</p> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank">The <em>Washington Post</em></a> briefly moved its story into the top spot on its homepage this afternoon. In the print edition, it ran inside on page A12.</li> <li><a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">The <em>New York Times</em></a> 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.</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">The <em>Wall Street Journal</em></a> ran a decent piece, but it got no play on the website and ran in the print edition on page A5.</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank"><em>USA Today</em></a> 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.</li> <li>As near as I can tell, the <em>LA Times</em> ignored the story completely.</li> <li>Ditto for the US edition of the <em>Guardian</em>.</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Fox News</a> 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.</li> </ul><p>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.</p> <p>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?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Late tonight, the <em>LA Times</em> finally roused itself to run a <a href="" target="_blank">non-bylined piece</a> somewhere in the Africa section. <strong>MORNING UPDATE: </strong>Actually, it turned out to be just a condensed version of the AP dispatch. It ran on page A7.</p> <p>I should add that the stories which <em>did</em> 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.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress International Media Sun, 23 Nov 2014 04:42:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 265311 at The Ohlone People Were Forced Out of San Francisco. Now They Want Part of Their Land Back. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>"There are only three ways to get land," said Tony Cerda, chairman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, <a href="" target="_blank">in 2010</a>. "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 <a href="" target="_blank">thousands of years</a> 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.</p> <p>Cerda's tribe&mdash;about 2,000 people living in the Pomona area east of Los Angeles&mdash;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 <a href="" target="_blank">shoreline redevelopment project</a> in the Hunters Point Shipyard area. The area was once the location of a historic Ohlone village and burial site&mdash;one of <a href="" target="_blank">over 425</a> in the San Francisco Bay region.</p> <p>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."</p></body></html> MoJo Video Race and Ethnicity Regulatory Affairs Religion Top Stories Sat, 22 Nov 2014 11:00:08 +0000 Prashanth Kamalakanthan 265066 at Republicans Finally Admit There Is No Benghazi Scandal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>For two years, ever since Mitt Romney <a href="" target="_blank">screwed up</a> 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 <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_house_intelligence_benghazi.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">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&mdash;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.</p> <p>Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee&mdash;controlled by Republicans&mdash;has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, <a href="" target="_blank">they issued their findings.</a> 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:</p> <ul><li>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 <strong>no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support....</strong><br> &nbsp;</li> <li>Second, the Committee finds that there was <strong>no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.</strong> 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.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa'ida, participated in the attacks....<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>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. <strong>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)....</strong><br> &nbsp;</li> <li>Fifth, the Committee finds that the process used to generate the talking points HPSCI asked for&mdash;and which were used for Ambassador Rice's public appearances&mdash;was flawed....<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>Finally, the Committee found <strong>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.</strong> The Committee also found no evidence that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria.</li> </ul><p>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.</p> <p>But those are routine after-action critiques, ones that were fully acknowledged by the very first investigations. Beyond that, every single conspiracy theory&mdash;without exception&mdash;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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>It was all just manufactured outrage from the beginning. But now the air is gone. There is no scandal, and there never was.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress International Military Sat, 22 Nov 2014 06:02:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 265306 at