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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon, Feb. 7, 2014.

Hagel forced out from Pentagon post

11/24/14 10:00AM

Chuck Hagel, the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as the nation's Defense Secretary, is reportedly leaving his post after nearly two years on the job. Based on preliminary assessments, this is not a "spend more time with the family" departure -- this appears to be more of a dismissal.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down amid criticism of the president's national security team on a series of global issues, including the threat posed by the militant group known as ISIS.
 
Senior defense officials confirmed to NBC News Monday that Hagel was forced to resign.
 
The officials say the White House has lost confidence in Hagel to carry out his role at the Pentagon. According to one senior official, "He wasn't up to the job."
In early 2013, Hagel struggled through confirmation hearings, but the Nebraskan overcame criticism from his former GOP colleagues in the Senate to join President Obama's cabinet.
 
His tenure at the Pentagon seems rather brief, but by modern standards, it was about average.
 
But what's striking about Hagel's sudden departure are the circumstances. The New York Times reported that Obama held a series of meetings with his Defense chief over the past two weeks, and the president asked for the secretary's resignation because Hagel's skills simply did not meet the task at hand.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) walks on stage before speaking at the 2014 Values Voter Summit September 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty.

Rand Paul equates immigration action, internment camps

11/24/14 09:30AM

For proponents of President Obama's executive actions on immigration policy, it's become easy to draw parallels to similar actions taken by several modern presidents from both parties.
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), however, has a very different kind of comparison in mind.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) likened President Barack Obama's decision to take executive action on immigration to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order authorizing putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.
 
Paul made the comments on Friday, a day after Obama formally announced the executive actions, at the Kentucky Association of Counties conference in Lexington, Kentucky.
In his remarks, the Republican senator said, "I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious. Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people, 'We're going to put you in a camp. We're going to take away all your rights and liberties and we're going to intern you in a camp.' We shouldn't allow that much power to gravitate to one individual."
 
The problem with the comparison, whether Paul appreciates this or not, is that by his reasoning, practically all executive actions taken by any president on any issue are the first step on the road to internment camps.
 
Indeed, it's quite possible the senator actually believes this. Paul said in September that he supported repeal of every executive order ever issued, which would include policies created by George Washington. Apparently, the Kentucky Republican's hostility towards executive power really is that strong.
Ira Hansen

Nevada Speaker-designate steps down amid controversy

11/24/14 09:00AM

As recently as Saturday, Republican Ira Hansen, the Speaker-designate in Nevada's state Assembly, sounded a defiant note. The public learned last week about inflammatory remarks he'd made about African Americans, women, Latinos, and gay people, but the GOP leader suggested he'd persevere.
 
Hansen told supporters, "I have gotten an overwhelming amount of emails and phone calls to my cell and business phone asking me to not give up because in doing so the politics of character assassination win."
 
A day later, however, that posture had become unsustainable. The Las Vegas Sun reported yesterday:
After facing a firestorm of criticism for racist comments he made publicly, incoming Assembly Speaker Ira Hansen announced that he would not lead the chamber during the upcoming legislative session.
 
After announcing to his legislative colleagues that he was stepping down, Hansen issued a news release today saying the controversy surrounding him had been an "orchestrated attack."
"Politics of personal destruction win," he wrote in a message to Nevada lawmakers. "I need to step down. I hope that you all know that the Ira that you have known through these years and weeks is the real Ira and not what the media is painting me to be."
 
It's not yet clear whether Hansen intends to resign from the Nevada Assembly or whether he'll remain in office in a lesser role.
 
Either way, the far-right lawmaker seems eager to present himself as a victim. In a press release, Hansen blasted the "deliberate character assassination and the politics of personal destruction" for his difficulties. The Republican added, "The powers that be are planning a massive, more than $1 billion, tax increase and I stood in the way as speaker."
 
Apparently, everyone is to blame for Hansen's problems except Hansen.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks on his way to the House Chamber for a procedural vote on the House floor September 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Mo Brooks and the power of denial

11/24/14 08:30AM

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was confronted with new evidence, put together by his House Republicans allies, that Benghazi conspiracy theories are completely wrong, the Republican senator was angrily dismissive. The evidence, he said, must be "crap."
 
Denial can be a powerful emotional response, can't it? If the right believes President Obama's economic policies have failed, and they're confronted with evidence of a falling unemployment rate, then there must be a conspiracy involving the jobless numbers. If the right believes Benghazi conspiracies are real, and they're confronted with proof to the contrary, then the proof must be rejected.
 
But on Friday's "All in with Chris Hayes," Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) took this to a whole new level.
 
Brooks, you'll recall, believes President Obama's executive actions on immigration may be criminal acts that could land the president in prison. With this in mind, Chris asked a good question: "When President Reagan granted deferred action from 200,000 people from El Salvador who come here illegally, was he breaking the law in the same way?" It led to this exchange:
BROOKS: I have not examined what Bill Clinton did. This is a very serious manner. The Constitution imposes a heavy burden on us--
 
HAYES: No, no, no, I'm sorry. President Ronald Reagan. President Ronald Reagan, sir?
 
BROOKS: I think the individual facts are important, the mental intent of the actor. That case, Bill Clinton, now Barack Obama, those factors are important.
At a certain level, the cognitive dissonance must be disorienting. Republicans are convinced Reagan was a man without flaw. Republicans are then confronted with the fact that Reagan relied on executive actions to change immigration policy when Congress' efforts fell short. That creates a problem: either Reagan took steps the right now finds abhorrent, or Obama's actions are neither shocking nor unprecedented.
 
What to do? Decide that Ronald Reagan's name is pronounced "Bill Clinton" when it comes to immigration policy.
A burnt out vehicle sits smoldering in flames after it was set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi, Sept. 11, 2012.

House Intel panel demolishes Benghazi conspiracies

11/24/14 08:00AM

The substance of a story is what matters, but sometimes, when a story breaks is nearly as important. The Republican-run House Intelligence Committee, for example, waited until late on a Friday afternoon, the week before Thanksgiving, to announce the results of a two-year investigation into the deadly attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
 
For the right, the findings were simply devastating: all of the Benghazi conspiracy theories, the GOP-led committee found, are completely, demonstrably, and unambiguously wrong. From the Associated Press account:
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.
 
Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
The report, which is available in its entirety here, is an unflinching summary of the available evidence, which utterly destroys everything right-wing conspiracy theorists have been pushing for more than two years about the deadly attack. For conservatives, there's no sugarcoating any of this -- literally every accusation has been debunked. No exceptions.
 
And for Republicans, who've invested so much in the ugly exploitation of the terrorism for partisan gain, that obviously posed a problem. For House GOP lawmakers, the solution was to release the findings late on a Friday, shortly before a major national holiday, in the hopes the American public wouldn't hear the facts. For the most part, the tactic worked exactly as intended: much of the national media overlooked the findings, which were also largely forgotten on the Sunday shows.
 
Which is a shame, because this seems like an important accountability moment.

Declaration of War and other headlines

11/24/14 07:59AM

Pres. Obama defends his executive actions on immigration. (ABC News)

Kris Kobach to pursue lawsuit against Pres. Obama's immigration action. (Washington Post)

Sen. Rand Paul declares war on ISIS--and allows boots on the ground. (Daily Beast)

Sen. Lindsey Graham thinks the Benghazi report is 'full of crap.' (TPM)

Thousand of lost Lois Lerner IRS emails found. (Politico)

Pres. Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom today. (AP)

Letter that inspired Kerouac's 'On the Road' is found. (AP)

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Week in Geek: Bowling ball vs. feather, falling

11/23/14 09:36AM

Have you ever wondered about all those famous thought experiments famous scientists come up with? Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Einstein and his trains, Schrodinger and his cats. While we can't yet reenact what Einstein and Schrodinger had in mind, we can test Galileo's idea.

Galileo theorized that objects fall at the same rate (regardless of their mass, size, shape) when they are subject to the same gravitational acceleration (on the Earth, Moon, etc.) and air resistance is negligible (i.e., in a vacuum). Essentially, this means that in these conditions, any two objects will fall at the same velocity and land at the same time. Building an experiment to drop pairs of objects is no big deal, but building one to drop them in a vacuum is.

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U.S. President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, November 20, 2014. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Pool/Reuters)

This Week in God, 11.22.14

11/22/14 08:49AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a curious reaction from the right to President Obama quoting Christian scripture in his national address on immigration policy this week.
 
If you missed it, referencing Exodus 23:9, told Americans, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too."
 
In an interesting twist, conservatives who generally push for more mixing of religion and politics, and who complain that the president isn't more overtly religious all the time, began complaining after Obama's speech about the Biblical reference. Emily Arrowood noted yesterday:
The hosts of Fox & Friends were incensed that President Obama quoted scripture in a primetime address detailing his upcoming executive action on immigration, challenging him to a "scripture-showdown" and claiming it's "repugnant" for Obama to "lecture us on Christian faith." [...]
 
According to [co-host Elisabeth] Hasselbeck, Obama used the Bible to guilt people into supporting his executive action, and that's "not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use, perhaps."
Because no one's ever used Scripture to guilt someone into supporting a position, right?
 
It was, incidentally, the co-hosts of "Fox & Friends" who also complained just 48 hours earlier that the president doesn't espouse Christian values often enough.
 
But they weren't the only ones complaining. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) also wasn't happy. "I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is President, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby's Wikipedia entry," Huckabee wrote on his Facebook page.
 
Fox's Bill O'Reilly also said of Obama, "He is one of the most secular presidents, perhaps the most secular president we have ever had, yet, he invokes scripture in the speech."
 
For what it's worth, Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible to remove references to Jesus' divinity, so I don't think Obama, who's made countless public references to his Christian faith, is in the running for any Most Secular Presidents awards.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Important veteran suicide bill poised to pass

Important veteran suicide bill poised to pass

11/21/14 10:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a little noticed, genuinely bipartisan bill named for a heroic veteran who took his own life, and designed to address the challenges of treating returning war veterans. watch

Ahead on the 11/21/14 Maddow show

11/21/14 06:06PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Alan Gomez, USA Today immigration reporter
  • James Makawa, former NBC news correspondent who applied for amnesty in 1987

And here's executive producer Cory Gnazzo with what's coming up...

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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.21.14

11/21/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* POTUS hits the trail: "President Obama reaffirmed his plan to take executive action to reform the nation's immigration laws but said he will keep working with Congress to reach a legislative solution. 'I will never give up,' Obama said at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas."
 
* At least for now, the deadline is Monday: "Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to leave the nuclear negotiations [in Geneva] Friday following marathon talks that lasted into the night."
 
* Signs of hope in Liberia: "The international response to West Africa's Ebola epidemic, coupled with more effective action by local communities, has stopped the exponential spread of the disease in one of the hardest-hit countries, Liberia, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday."
 
* Terror divisions: "Escalating a war of words between terrorism's old and new schools, an Islamic scholar with al Qaeda's Yemen-based offshoot on Friday accused ISIS of 'planting ... disunity' among the various Islamic extremist factions fighting to topple the Syrian government and rejected the authority of the Iraq- and Syria-based group's self-declared caliphate."
 
* Ukraine: 'Vice President Biden abruptly canceled a wreath-laying ceremony Friday at a memorial marking Ukraine's pro-Western revolution after an angry crowd gathered to demand justice for those killed in the unrest."
 
* Ferguson: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has expressed concerns privately to Missouri officials this week about their recent actions in advance of a grand jury's decision in the Michael Brown case."
 
* Tunisia: "Less than a month after electing a new Parliament, Tunisians will vote Sunday in their first-ever open democratic presidential election, completing a tumultuous democratic transition begun with their revolution nearly four years ago."
 
* A not-so-lame duck: "The government transferred five low-level Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Eastern Europe on Thursday. Four of the men were Yemenis, and their resettlement was a significant policy change in the Obama administration's effort to close the prison at the naval base in Cuba."

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