The nature of the American discourse!

MONDAY, MAY 12, 2014

Paul Krugman, Benghazi and you: Right as increasingly heavy rain, Paul Krugman closes today’s column like this:
KRUGMAN (5/12/14): [T]he coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate—just as there isn’t a genuine debate about climate science. Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.
It’s very hard to doubt the highlighted statement.

In fact, there isn’t “a genuine debate” about any topic in our pitiful public discourse. To demonstrate that fact, let’s start with something Kevin Drum posted over the weekend—something we don’t understand.

Drum’s post—it concerned “Benghazi fever”—was extremely short. Headline included, here’s the whole shazam:
DRUM (5/10/14): Here Are the Origins of Benghazi Fever

Read what Martin Longman says today about Benghazi. If you want to understand the origins of Benghazi fever in the fever swamps of the right, I think he has it right. It was basically born out of shame at the initial conservative reaction to the attacks combined with rage that they finally got called on their vile behavior, which ended up helping Obama win reelection.

If you need to refresh your memory about the details—which you really should—see my real-time reaction here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 2.1, Day 2.2.
Drum includes links to Longman’s piece and to his own original posts on Benghazi.

We don’t understand all the mind-reading about “the origins of Benghazi fever.” Was it really “born out of shame at the initial conservative reaction to the attacks combined with rage that they finally got called on their vile behavior?”

Maybe! But Drum makes no attempt to explain why he feels he knows this.

To us, the story-line seems a great deal simpler. On September 16, Susan Rice went on all five Sunday shows. On four of them, she discussed the attack in Benghazi.

Immediately after she appeared on Face the Nation, John McCain came on the same show and invented the narrative which has never really disappeared. To see how crazy our discourse is, let’s revisit what occurred on Face the Nation that day.

Rice cautioned Bob Schieffer, about ten times, that she was giving him a preliminary estimate. After her repetitive warnings, she told Schieffer this:
RICE (9/16/12): ...Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what—it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.

But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.

SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with [the Libyan president] that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?

RICE: We do not—we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.

SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?

RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
According to Rice, “extremist elements” armed “with heavy weapons” came to the scene of an ongoing demonstration. “It spun from there into something much, much more violent” as those “extremist elements”—which might have been “al Qaeda itself”—“escalated the violence.”

By now, everyone agrees that there was no pre-existing demonstration. Extremists armed with heavy weapons simply came to the site and launched the killing attack.

That said, Rice didn’t say that a group of protestors somehow staged this deadly attack. She said it was extremists armed with heavy weapons who may have been al Qaeda.

That’s what Susan Rice actually said. But immediately after her appearance, on came McCain, spewing this world-class nonsense:
SCHIEFFER: And joining us now for his take on all this, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain.

Senator, you’ve got to help me out here. The president of Libya says that this was something that had been in the works for two months, this attack. He blames it on al Qaeda. Susan Rice says that the State Department thinks it is some sort of a spontaneous event. What do you make of it?

MCCAIN: Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration. That was an act of terror. And for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.

Now, how long it was planned and who was involved, but there was no doubt there were extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons and they used pretty good tactics—indirect fire, direct fire, and obviously they were successful.

Could I just say our prayers are with Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith who gave their lives. I met Chris Stevens in Benghazi during the fighting. He was putting his life on the line every day. He was living in a hotel. I was with him on July 7 when the Libyan people voted and he and I were down where thousands of people were saying to him, "thank you, thank you, America, Thank you."

So the last thing that Chris Stevens would want the United States to do is to stop assisting Libya as they go through this very difficult process of trying to establish a government and democracy

SCHIEFFER: Why do you think—is there something more going on here than a difference of opinion when the administration spokesman today says that she believes and the administration believes this was just a spontaneous act?

MCCAIN: How spontaneous is a demonstration when people bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons and have a very tactically successful military operation?
Right from the start, Schieffer’s performance was weak and very snarky. Misstating several things Rice said, he seemed to assume it must be true if the Libyan president said it.

McCain, though, behaved like a clown.

“There was no doubt there were extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons,” McCain insisted at one point, thereby repeating the very things Rice herself had just said. He then introduced a snarky joke which his side would repeat for at least the next year:

“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he said, acting as if Rice has said this, the stupidest thing in the world.

Rice never said that people staging the presumed demonstration had brought grenades and heavy weapons to the event. Quite plainly, she said the “extremist elements” who arrived later brought the heavy weapons.

Just that quickly, Saint McCain was mocking Rice for something she hadn’t said.

McCain was disgraceful this day. In part, he repeated Rice’s account, almost word for word, while acting as if he was contradicting her presentation. In part, he invented a snarky joke based upon a mischaracterization of what she had said.

Schieffer prompted McCain in this, then swallowed every word. Here’s our question:

Have you ever seen a major journalist or major news org criticize McCain for what he said and did? Have you ever seen a major Democrat or major liberal inform the American people about the way they got conned that day by this most honest of men?

Simple story! We have no “genuine debates” within our clownish political and journalistic discourse. Virtually all our debates take the form we see in this instance.

Routinely, powerful pols make claims which are clownishly wrong. Journalistic elites routinely decide to play along with such tales.

When this happens, your very bravest liberal warriors head for the high grass. During the fall of 2012, Rachel Maddow didn’t say a single word in Rice’s defense until President Obama finally spoke on behalf of Rice after the election was over. For two solid months, Rice was crucified by this ludicrous clowning as Rachel sat and watched, along with everyone else at The One True Liberal Channel.

(It’s also true that Candidate Gore didn’t say he invented the Internet, didn’t say he inspired Love Story and didn’t say he discovered Love Canal. In the crucial month of September 2000, he didn't lie about his dog’s arthritis pills or about the union lullaby. But all your favorite fiery liberals kept their pretty traps shut about those bogus tales too. This is not an aberration. This is the fundamental way your national discourse works.)

The professors could have spoken up in defense of Rice, of course—Professors Goldstein, Pinker, Lightman and Greene among so many others. The logicians could have spoken up—but they never dirty their hands with such trivia, plus they’re likely to be in the south of France. Beyond that, they wouldn't know what to say even if they wanted to serve. Simply put, they lack the most elementary skills, a point we’re trying to help you see in our weekend posts.

We don’t know where Drum got his theory about Benghazi, which seems complex to us. To us, this is a much simpler story. It basically started with McCain’s instant, unchallenged nonsense.

That episode of Face the Nation should never be forgotten. But alas! The sheer stupidity of that transcript was well beyond the grasp of our journalists and our professors.

McCain behaved like a clown that day; Schieffer was every bit as bad. But their clowning was light years over the heads of our honored elites.

There “won’t be a genuine debate,” Krugman said—but then, that’s true in every instance. Thanks to people like those we’ve named, that’s how our discourse works!


  1. Krugman is partially right about climate science. There is no debate about the fact that the earth has been warming and that man's CO2 emissions contributing to the warming.

    However, there is nothing but debate about the rate of warming and the magnitude of man's impact. The IPCC gives an enormous range of uncertainty about what the true value of climate sensitivity is. Furthermore, they admit that the true value may not even lie in their range. There is debate about the cost and value of various steps that might reduce greenhouse emissions. There is debate about the harm and the good done by climate change. There's little scientific evidence that climate change has increased extreme weather events (other than heat spells), but nevertheless there is debate about this point, also.

    1. He says there will not be a real debate conducted in our media. He is not saying there is nothing to debate -- he is saying people will not be seriously talking about it.

    2. David, the climate change debate has never been so trivial as to be about "extreme weather events." That's just your right-wing puppet masters trying to change the argument.

      It's about mass extinctions.

      Let me repeat that. It's about changes so drastic in the climate that there will be mass extinctions, even including the human species.And should the human species survive, it will be on a much, much different planet.

      And there is plenty of evidence of that, which your puppet masters will also find easy to deny.

    3. So, you actually believe that an increase of 100 parts per million will lead to mass extinction? When does your common sense kick in?

    4. AnonymousMay 12, 2014 at 3:42 PM -- The actual fact is that since 1979, the satellite temperature record of the lower troposphere shows that
      the earth has been warming at a rate of about 1.2 degrees C per century.

      That rise in temperature includes the impact of all the greenhouse gases. If temperature keeps rising at that pace, the earth will eventually have a problem, but the problem is hundreds of years away. We have plenty of time to figure out how to deal with the slow-paced global warming.

    5. Sounds like an epitaph to me.

    6. Dave in Cal: The satellite temperature is the least reliable, as is known. For that reason, Spencer dwells on it (because it supports his contrarian argument). Further, the IPCC does not believe that the that the problem is hundreds of years. If away. If you want a real debate, why not visit Skeptical Science, rather than dump a lot of superficial talking points in a forum not fit to answer them.

    7. why not visit Skeptical Science, rather than dump a lot of superficial talking points

      A rhetorical question, I'm assuming.

    8. Paul, the IPCC scientist admit that they don't know how far away any problem is. They say climate sensitivity is probably between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees C, but it could be lower or higher than that range. If the true value is less than 1.5, then problems are far, far in the future. If the true value is 6, then kiss your ass good-bye.

      Paul, what evidence do you have that satellite temperature is the least reliable?

      I think the weather stations are less reliable because of the urban heat island effect. It seems that the climatologists don't think the weather station data is fully reliable, because they keep adjusting the figures for both recent and older readings.

    9. David you seem to know your stuff really well. I'm guessing you are a scientist, and a darn good one. I thank you for your service, true experts are rare indeed.

    10. David is an actuary not a climate scientist.

    11. But David certainly has a cousin or an in-law who just happens to be a climate scientist. As well as cousins or in-laws who are constitutional attorneys, computer software designers, career educators, and second basemen for the New York Mets if the subject ever turns to baseball.

    12. You're welcome, AnonymousMay 12, 2014 at 9:08 PM. Being retired, I've used my spare time to follow climate science as best I can. There are several blogs that follow the science, particularly Dr. Judith Curry, Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology Dr. Curry is not on either side of the debate. She presents current climate news from a scientific POV. Many of her commenters are also scientists, so one can learn from the discussions.

      Another blog that presents quite a bit of science is Watts Up With That? The moderator of this blog is a skeptic, but he presents lots of scientific papers on all sides of the question and he allow full discussion by commenters who disagree with him.

    13. "there will be mass extinctions"

      "it will be on a much, much different planet"

      "And there is plenty of evidence of that"

      Is there generally such a thing as evidence of events that have not yet occurred? Just curious.

    14. Go familiarize yourself with the history of the planet.

    15. "If temperature keeps rising at that pace, the earth will eventually have a problem, but the problem is hundreds of years away. We have plenty of time to figure out how to deal with the slow-paced global warming."

      And we will NEVER figure it out with that extremely selfish attitude.

      Yeah, David. Let future generations worry about it, as we go on our merry way burning up carbon that the earth locked up millions of years ago

    16. "Go familiarize yourself with the history of the planet."

      Which involves looking at evidence for events that have *already* occurred.

      I ask again: Is there generally such a thing as evidence of events that have not yet occurred? Are there any specific examples? This may be no more than Anonymous May 12, 2014 at 3:42 PM using a poor choice of words. Just curious.

    17. And we will NEVER figure it out with that extremely selfish attitude.

      Exactly! Human beings are too selfish to cut fossil fuel emissions adequately so that atmospheric CO2 actually reduces. That's the reality. What should be do about this reality? Here are five possible approaches:

      1. Hold conferences, make pronouncements, exaggerate the danger, and criticize other people.

      2. Spend vast resources on efforts that we know are too puny to actually result in reducing atmospheric CO2

      3. Deal with various impacts of climate change as they occur. E.g., build dikes, improve infrastructure, add air conditioning, adapt agriculture to a changing climate, etc.

      4. Commit resources to finding practical geo-engineering approach to cooling the planet.

      5. Commit resources to finding a source of vast amounts of cheap energy, so that people will be happy to switch away from fossil fuels.

      We are mostly doing #1 and #2. IMHO #3, #4, and #5 make more sense.

      P.S. Even if all human beings were all unselfish angels, we wouldn't know what to do, since the rate of the climate change is entirely unknown. Most of the consequences are also still speculative. Nobody can way what actions today would be sufficient to deal with climate problems that might arise at some unknown time far in the future.

    18. Generosity, charity, altruism, are all nice and should be encouraged even, but they don't drive the economy. Selfishness drives the economy.

  2. John McCain was just supporting Republican spin. The evil-doer who began Benghazi Fever was Mitt Romney. Click on Kevin Drum's Day 1 link.

  3. Another one cares for black kids:


    Former George Zimmerman defender now says he was guilty, racially profiled black men

    Frank Taafe, who served on the neighborhood watch with Zimmerman, told News13 he believes Martin was racially profiled by Zimmerman and would not have been followed if he “had been a white kid on a cell phone.”

    “What I know of George and his tendencies and also my opinion is that he racially profiled Trayvon Martin that night because if that had been a white kid on a cell phone, walking through our neighborhood, he wouldn’t have stayed on him the way he did and that’s a fact and I believe that in my heart,” said Taaffe.


    1. Was Taafe's home recently burglarized by Hispanic teens?

    2. Cue the TDH post "Taafe appears to have changed his story"

    3. No; the blogger will pretend this didn't happen.

      At least the Martin family can go ahead with a civil case based on this testimony (assuming he is willing to swear to this).

    4. Nice of Taffe to state the obvious.


    5. How credible is someone who changes his story?

    6. Who cares? Private citizens may "profile" whom they wish.

    7. 812: They may. However, Zimmerman denied doing that numerous times, so his credibility is suspect.

    8. Zimmerman's credibility was shaky from day one. That's not the issue. Read carefully:

      Former George Zimmerman defender now says he was guilty, racially profiled black men

      Taafe, the former Z defender, was not a witness to the tragedy, so his change of opinion on Z's guilt means nothing today and would have meant nothing during trial. Since private citizens may profile as they please, even if we take Taafe's word for this and even if his word had been timely, it wouldn't have affected the trial either.

    9. Anonymous @3:17,

      TDH won't have any comment, but why would he? Taffe's changing tales of Zimmerman's prejudices didn't figure in what TDH thought was journalistic bumbling of the story.

      And no, it's unlikely that Martin's family will file a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman on the basis of testimony from someone who changed his story. The law in Florida makes that a potentially very expensive move.

    10. As deadrat points out, Taafe wasn't a witness, and even if Zimmerman racially profiled, that wouldn't justify anything Martin did.

      Two other points to consider: Even if Taafe had been a witness, Taafe still wouldn't know how Zimmerman would have reacted to a non-black person behaving as Martin did. Taafe calls Zimmerman's hypothetical behavior a "fact", but it's purely a conjecture.

      Also, sadly, profiling is not entirely unreasonable. In the real world, the burglary rate among young black men wearing hoodies is higher than the burglary rate among Asian Americans wearing tuxedos.

    11. ". . . that wouldn't justify anything Martin did."

      And how do you know what Martin did? Oh, that's right. You got Zimmerman's story.

    12. "Also, sadly, profiling is not entirely unreasonable. In the real world, the burglary rate among young black men wearing hoodies is higher than the burglary rate among Asian Americans wearing tuxedos."

      Assume all bankers have committed fraud!

  4. The origins of Benghazi: The US State Department requested more security funding for American sites (mostly embassies, but in the case of Benghazi, a CIA site). Congress, trying to score political points and convince the people that the richest nation in the history of mankind was flat broke, voted to reduce overseas security funding. Four Americans were killed.

    The moral to the story of Benghazi: There are deadly repercussions to making believe the richest nation in the history of mankind is broke just to score political points.


    1. "voted to reduce overseas security funding"

      There are much better angles to try. 3 out of 4 pinnochios:

    2. Yet the moral of Benghazi still stands.


  5. You want a professor who comments on public affairs?


  6. Behngazhi is importatnt. But on balance, we think most people are ready to continue moving into the all-American future. We think most people would like to be inspired and challenged about our all-American future rather than propagandized and taught to hate, the way we get taught about Benghazi.

  7. Yes, Drum just makes stuff up so he can slime his political enemies. Congrats on finally noticing this.

  8. To understand the Benghazi hearings by ringing our hands over the collective inability of our country to hold a genuine debate, and to claim it is as simple as understand the silliness of the flap itself is a rather dishonest attempt to avoid the sharp, easily recognized design of the big picture: our conservative party, utterly bereft of tangibles to offer voters and sporting a rancid record on foreign and domestic programs, has embraced scandal politics by default.
    Obviously, the great Republican moment of the last generation was Monica Lewinsky. What else are they going to talk about, how they brought Democracy to the Middle East? How wonderful it will be when they take the concentration of wealth even further? A scandal was needed and Benghazi was the best they had. Jesus would have them turn a Democratic President out of office, just like they did to poor Dick Nixon, and they have to play the hand they were dealt. They have the even worse IRS scandal waiting in the wings. For them, this is the only game in town.
    So, we don't need to rehash the morning show nonsense once more
    or pretend that it is all McCain's fault, idiot that he is. One of our parties is much, much worse and more broken than the other, it has been that way since at least the end of WWII. And this is what Bob can't accept. So, may we call the next witness?

    1. Greg - can't both ideas coexist? 1. Republicans bad 2. Understanding the origins of the fake Benghazi scandal and media's (including liberal media's) part in letting the false narrative take hold

      This is a blog about media.

    2. "This is a blog about media."

      Uh, no.

      This blog is about whatever random thought crosses Somerby's mind while reading the work of other people so he can rush to the board and show his sheep how much smarter he is.

      Interspersed with endless retellings of his "greatest hits" and he thinks his take on Benghazi is one of them. So be prepared to keep reading about it as long as you read this blog.

    3. I've been reading it every day for 14 years.

  9. OMB (Question for fans of the OTB)

    BOB sez: "Have you ever seen a major journalist or major news org criticize McCain for what he said and did?"

    What McCain said and did occurred on a press program on September 16, 2012. What he said or did was prompted by and advanced by Bob Schieffer of CBS on that program, according to BOB.

    When did BOB first criticize McCain or Scheiffer?