Benghazi Is Over, But the Mainstream Media Just Yawns

Mother Jones - November 22, 2014 - 10:42pm

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 somewhere inside, though I don't know where.
  • 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 to treat this as about 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.

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.

Mother Jones - November 22, 2014 - 5:00am

"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."

Republicans Finally Admit There Is No Benghazi Scandal

Mother Jones - November 22, 2014 - 12:02am

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

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 11:00pm

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.

 

You Might Not Know Where Chad Is, But the US Military Has Big Plans For It

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 2:59pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Admit it. You don't know where Chad is. You know it's in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you'd probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here's a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.

Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the US military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it's building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.

That the US military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn't be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.

Continue Reading »

Native Children Have the Same Rate of PTSD as Combat Veterans

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 2:22pm

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:

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If You're White and Feel Discriminated Against, Jose Antonio Vargas Wants to Talk to You

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 2:21pm

"Do you think some people treat you unfairly because you're white?"

"Do you feel you're missing out on an important job, school, or other opportunity because you're white?"

These questions were included in a recent casting call for an MTV documentary in Washington DC. It swiftly raised eyebrows across the internet: Do white people really need yet another medium to showcase, well, white people problems? 

But when it came out that the man behind the documentary was actually journalist and prominent immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas and his organization Define American, the initial scorn quickly disappeared; the questions suddenly became legitimate.

Thought this was a joke saw @joseiswriting name & it became interesting: MTV Casts Documentary On Hardships Of Anglos http://t.co/Y9oXM5vEHR

— Kristian Ramos (@kramos1841) November 18, 2014

"Race is uncomfortable for everybody," Vargas told Mother Jones. "But when you bring in race and whiteness, I think you're really laying it on thick for people. And that's why I think we're getting the reaction we're getting."

Vargas says he expected the Craigslist post to elicit some controversy—indeed, it's exactly this tendency to immediately call out others for racial bias, without attempting to seek understanding, he hopes to explore. "I'm not interested in that 'gotcha' moment, where in the age of Twitter we over-communicate without ever actually connecting." he said. "I am going to let the work speak for itself." 

In recent years, those "gotcha" moments have dominated countless headlines. And the news cycle is a familiar one: It starts with the internet discovering a person doing something, at best, racially insensitive, and at worst, blatantly racist. Outrage moves to social media where users are quick to ridicule the offender in question. The mounting anger is only quelled by a forced apology, firing, etc. But what happens after the hashtags stop trending? The conversations that follow don't exactly have the same viral potential and are rarely discussed.

"Critical analysis is of utmost importance whenever we talk about race in America," he said. And for Vargas, the way Americans currently discuss race is "superficial and oversimplified." But in a time when race is such a loaded topic, this is increasingly problematic. That's exactly where the "Untitled Whiteness Project" comes in.

The film is currently in its beginning stages and aligns with MTV's larger "Look Different" campaign, which explores hidden prejudices among millennials. The campaign recently partnered with David Binder Research for a study to examine how young people view their own identities and biases. Among the white 18 to 24 year-olds who participated in the study, 48 percent said discrimination against white people has emerged as just a serious problem as discrimination against people of color. Only 39 percent believed white people had more advantages than people of color.

Vargas wants to discuss these perspectives, shed light on hidden biases, and perhaps even more importantly, create an open discourse for young people to talk comfortably talk about race and their own identities without judgment.

"This isn't about making anyone feel bad, "Vargas said. "I want to create a safe place where people can actually explore this conversation."

"It's so easy to hate something you don't know. What's harder is to actually scratch the surface."

So expect to see similarly uneasy Craigslist posts to emerge all over the country—Vargas is here to shake things up and get young people to start talking.

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 November 2014

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 1:55pm

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.

Must-reads of the week

Columbia Journalism Review - November 21, 2014 - 1:45pm
Culled from CJR’s own stories, plus the frequently updated “Must-reads from around the Web,” our staff recommendations for the best pieces of journalism (and other miscellany) on the internet, here are your can’t-miss must-reads of the past week: Virtual reality is journalism’s next frontier (CJR) - Why newsrooms need to consider telling stories in a different way. Jack Shafer on...

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

Mother Jones - November 21, 2014 - 11:55am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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