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What's next in Ferguson and other headlines

11/25/14 07:38AM

Here's why Michael Brown was killed, according to Darren Wilson. (NY Magazine)

What's next? Ferguson officer not out of the woods yet. (NBC News)

Missouri Governor orders additional guardsmen to Ferguson. (KSDK)

Congressional Black Caucus slams grand jury decision on Ferguson. (BuzzFeed)

Thousands rally across the U.S. after Ferguson decision. (AP)

Inside Sec. Hagel's sudden firing. (Daily Beast)

Rep. Trey Gowdy reappointed to lead House Benghazi inquiry. (NY Times)

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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.24.14

11/24/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Tonight in Missouri: "A St. Louis County grand jury has reached a decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown and the decision will be announced later Monday, according to a spokesman for the county prosecutor's office."
 
* Afghanistan: "President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year."
 
* Extending the diplomatic window: "A yearlong effort to reach an enduring accord with Iran to dismantle large parts of its nuclear infrastructure fell short on Monday, forcing the United States and its allies to declare a seven-month extension, but with no clear indication of why they think they can ultimately overcome the political obstacles that have so far blocked a deal."
 
* Kenya: "The Somali terror group Shabab on Saturday claimed responsibility for the massacre of 28 bus passengers, killed in an early morning attack near the Somali border in northern Kenya."
 
* Israel: "Three Arab men were arrested on Monday on suspicion of stabbing two Israeli Jews in the Old City an Israeli police spokesman said, extending a spate of violence that has roiled Jerusalem for a month."
 
* Ohio: "A grand jury in Cleveland will decide whether to charge an officer who shot and killed a 12-year-old boy holding a toy gun at a park over the weekend, officials said Monday."
 
* Sounds definitive: "US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, answered with an emphatic 'no' when asked Monday whether he was interested in becoming defense secretary."
Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani stokes controversy with comments on race

11/24/14 03:22PM

The context of the "Meet the Press" discussion was ostensibly about Ferguson, Missouri, and the circumstances that helped create the heightened conditions. But as Anna Brand noted, Rudy Giuliani took the discussion in a curious direction.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Sunday stunned audiences when he explained how he is "disappointed" that the focus in Ferguson, Missouri, is on the majority of the police force being white, rather than violence between African-Americans.
 
The conversation erupted when "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd began discussing the disproportion of white police forces to the communities they serve in areas across the U.S. aside from Ferguson, including Newark, New Jersey and El Paso, Texas. "All of those places could become future Fergusons," Todd said.
Giuliani had his own concerns, largely ignoring the importance of local law enforcement helping reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. "[T]he fact is, I find it very disappointing that you are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks," the former Republican mayor said. "We're talking about the exception here [in Ferguson]."
 
Georgetown's Michael Eric Dyson tried to set the record straight: "First of all, most black people who commit crimes against black people go to jail. Number two, they are not sworn by the police department as an agent of the state to uphold the law. So in both cases, that's a false equivalency that the mayor has drawn which has exacerbated tensions that are deeply embedded in American culture."
 
The back and forth continued, with Giuliani eventually concluding, "The white police officers won't be there if you weren't killing each other, 70 to 75 percent of the time." Dyson cited the sentiment as an example of "a defensive mechanism of white supremacy at work" in Giuliani's mind.
 
At which point Chuck Todd intervened and changed the direction of the conversation.
 
Of course, Giuliani wasn't quite done.
A road-widening project in Florida City, Florida, funded by the stimulus bill.

Former DOT chief: 'Our infrastructure is on life support'

11/24/14 12:50PM

There was an interesting segment on "60 Minutes" last night on one my favorite topics: infrastructure. Steve Kroft told viewers:
"Business leaders, labor unions, governors, mayors, congressmen and presidents have complained about a lack of funding for years, but aside from a one-time cash infusion from the stimulus program, nothing much has changed. There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem or where to get the massive amounts of money needed to fix it, just another example of political paralysis in Washington.
 
"Tens of millions of American cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America -- one out of every nine -- is now considered to be structurally deficient."
Kroft talked to Ray LaHood, the former Republican congressman who served as President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, who did his part to raise the alarm. "Our infrastructure is on life support right now," LaHood said. "That's what we're on."
 
He's right. The United States had a reputation for the finest infrastructure in the world, but as investments drop to their lowest level since 1947, the CBS segment added that we now rank 16th according to the World Economic Forum.
 
It's the sort of thing that hurts the economy, hurts U.S. competitiveness, and poses potential hazards to the public. The problem includes everything from highways to seaports, runways to railways. We've neglected infrastructure, and the more we delay investing, the more expensive the problem becomes to fix.
 
The "60 Minutes" segment was quick to characterize this as "a bipartisan failure," and in context, there's some truth to that -- the Highway Trust Fund, which plays a central role, has dwindled because no one wants to raise the gas tax that provides the resources for the fund.
 
But in the bigger picture, there's a clearer way to assess responsibility.
Chuck Hagel, center, R-Neb, and John McCain, right, R-Ariz, share a laugh on the Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004 in Washington.   (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

On Hagel, McCain struggles to make up his mind

11/24/14 12:03PM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has changed his mind quite a few times when it comes to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
 
Back in 2008, McCain not only liked Hagel, the Arizona Republican said he'd like to see Hagel join the cabinet in a McCain administration. Five years later, when President Obama nominated Hagel for his own cabinet, McCain joined an unprecedented filibuster against Hagel -- even after McCain had promised not to.
 
Over the summer, McCain went so far as to call for the president to replace his entire national security team, which would presumably include Hagel's ouster.
 
But now that Obama has accepted the resignation of the Defense Secretary that McCain didn't want at the Pentagon anyway, the Arizona senator is outraged all over again. Dave Weigel reported this morning that McCain appeared on a radio show this morning to push back "at the idea that Hagel was incompetent, or that he was the problem with the administration."
The incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee ticked off the crisis regions around the globe, from the ISIS-occupied sections of the Levant to China, and reiterated that Hagel was a good man who could not fix an Obama policy that was blundering and making the country weaker.
 
"Believe me," said McCain, "[Hagel] was up to the job."
Maybe, maybe not, but it was McCain who said pretty much the exact opposite about Hagel's abilities two years ago, and it was McCain who wanted to see Hagel step down from the Pentagon five months ago.
 
So what's going on here?
Razor wire is seen near the guard tower at the entrance to Camp V and VI at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on June 26, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama moves forward on Guantanamo releases

11/24/14 11:20AM

The traditional rules say a president whose party struggles in a midterm election is supposed to act a certain way in the aftermath: chastened, meek, and conciliatory, preferably while hanging his head in a way pundits find satisfactory. President Obama just doesn't seem to care about those rules.
 
He's governing on immigration; he's talking to Iran; he's striking historic deals with China; he's taking the lead on net neutrality; and he's even quietly reducing the population of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
A Saudi citizen who has spent the past 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released, the Pentagon said Saturday, amid a push to whittle down the prison population at the U.S. base in Cuba.
 
Muhammad al-Zahrani was sent to his homeland based on the conclusion of a U.S. government board that has been re-evaluating the need to continue holding some of the men as prisoners, the Pentagon said in a statement. He will take part in a Saudi program to rehabilitate militants.... The board cleared him for release in October, citing a number of factors including his willingness to participate in the Saudi rehabilitation program. He left Guantanamo on Friday.
As Carol Rosenberg reported, Muhammad al-Zahrani had been categorized as a "forever prisoner," held at the prison for a dozen years without ever being charged with a crime.
 
Republicans, not surprisingly, aren't happy -- House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon called the administration's policy "dangerous and, frankly, reckless" -- but the White House is moving forward anyway.
 
Indeed, Zahrani's departure came on the heels of a U.S. decision to send five other Guantanamo detainees to Europe -- three to Georgia and two to Slovakia -- with more on the way. Rosenberg's reporting added, "More transfers are in the pipeline, including another six captives who can't go home to Middle East trouble spots and are approved to go to Uruguay, perhaps in December."
 
According to the Associated Press' tally over the weekend, 13 prisoners have left Guantanamo Bay this year -- seven in the last two weeks -- leaving 142 men at the facility. Roughly half of them have already been cleared for release.
 
All of this seems especially relevant today.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 8, 2014.

'Shame on us as Republicans'

11/24/14 10:45AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) appearance on CNN yesterday morning probably won't help his burgeoning presidential ambitions, but at least on the narrow point about his party and immigration reform, the Republican senator raised a fair point.
 
Gloria Borger noted that the GOP-led House has refused to act on immigration policy, and she asked Graham whether the lower chamber as a responsibility to legislate. His response was quite candid.
"Shame on us as Republicans. Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that it's national security, that's cultural and it's economic. The Senate has done this three times. [...]
 
"I'm close to the people in the House, but I'm disappointed in my party. Are we still the party of self-deportation? Is it the position of the Republican Party that the 11 million must be driven out?"
Of course, if we treat that question as non-rhetorical, the answer is entirely unknown. Republicans may have been riding high after their big election wins a few weeks ago, but right now, President Obama has put immigration on the national front-burner and the GOP appears lost, confused, and at odds with one another.
 
Indeed, in recent days, everyone from Jeb Bush to John Kasich to Jeff Flake has said the Republican Party can complain about Obama's efforts, but the GOP still needs to pursue policies of their own. At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued again on Friday that the president hurt Republicans' feelings, so the likelihood of the GOP majority governing on the issue remains remote.
 
In case it's not obvious, it's simply impossible to take Boehner's line seriously. Republicans are outraged by executive actions, and to demonstrate their disgust, they'll refuse to pass legislation that would cancel and supersede the executive actions. Why? Because the president has proven himself to be a big meanie using the same powers previous presidents have relied on under nearly identical circumstances.
 
But just beyond the surface, there's a more glaring problem: Republicans are afraid to even try to govern because they haven't the foggiest idea what to do about immigration.
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.

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