2012 - %3, November

Quote of the Day: The Bizarre Semiotics of Benghazi

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 7:11 PM PST

From a "senior U.S. official," commenting on talking points from the intelligence community that blamed the Benghazi attacks on extremists:

The controversy this word choice caused came as a surprise.

That's a nicely understated way of putting it. In a normal world, of course, this word wouldn't cause any controversy. It's a perfectly good word. But in a world where, um, political extremists are desperate to gin up a scandal, it's taken on an almost surreal quality.

Today's Benghazi news revolves around David Petraeus's appearance before Congress this morning. Most of the descriptions of his testimony have come from Democratic members of Congress, and they've emphasized that Petraeus signed off on the talking points that were given to Susan Rice before she taped her TV interviews a few days after the attacks. Why haven't we heard more from Republicans about this? I assume it's because Petraeus didn't really help their coverup narrative much. However, Dave Weigel points out that Peter King has talked to reporters, and to his credit, was skeptical of Petraeus's testimony that he had called it a "terrorist" attack from the start:

King said Petraeus had briefed the House committee on Sept. 14, and he did not recall Petraeus being so positive at that time that it was a terrorist attack. "He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement," King said. "That was not my recollection."

Later, King talked to CNN about the final interagency talking points that used the word extremist rather than al-Qaeda terrorist:

Q: Did [Petraeus] give you the impression that he was upset it was taken out?

KING: No.

Q: You said the CIA said “OK” to the revised report —

KING: No, well, they said in that, after it goes through the process, they OK’d it to go. Yeah, they said “Okay for it to go.”

King still insists, along with everyone in Fox-land, that we need to get to the bottom of who changed the word. This is stupefyingly dumb, since everyone knows this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when talking points go through a bureaucratic approval process. Still, if Congress wants to dig into this, I guess that's fine. In fact, I should make clear that although the scandal/coverup narrative is, if anything, getting even more ridiculous over time, there are plenty of legitimate questions for Congress to address. For example:

  • Why did the talking points end up referring to extremists rather than terrorists? (It's dumb, but if they want to interrogate the interagency process, I guess that's fine.)
  • Why did it take so long to figure out what happened in Benghazi?
  • Should the attacks have been anticipated?
  • Who was responsible for the response to the attacks? What went wrong? Were troops available that weren't used?
  • Was security in Benghazi inadequate based on what we knew before the attacks?

This is all perfectly reasonable stuff for Congress to investigate. It's not likely to uncover any kind of deep scandal, but if it's done seriously it might help us avert attacks like this in the future, or respond to them better when they do occur.

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"Super PAC" Makes It Into the Dictionary

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:24 PM PST

It finally happened: The term "Super PAC" will be added to the dictionary. Politico reports that the term is expected to appear in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. The publication also talked to the woman responsible for the coinage:

/Shutterstockanaken2012/Shutterstock

Eliza Newlin Carney, the reporter who first coined the term in print on June 26, 2010, while working at National Journal...never imagined that a word she made up would find its way inside the big book. "I had a feeling it'd catch on, but not like this," said Carney, now with Roll Call...The term replaces the far more technical "independent expenditure-only political action committee."

"Super PAC" will appear along with other recently approved words, including "energy drink," "sexting," "mash-up," "game changer," "gastropub," "man cave," the Oprah-coined "aha moment," and "f-bomb."

Super-PACs have spent upward of $700 million during the 2012 elections, and have attracted nearly endless controversy. Here's a frame of reference to demonstrate just how relevant they were to this election season: In 2012, the New York Times published the term "super PAC" 1,126 times between January 1 and November 15. In 2010, the paper only published it three times.

8 Months After Trayvon: "Stand Your Ground" Law Deemed Just Fine by Florida

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:22 PM PST

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in February turned a national spotlight on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Following widespread outcry about the killing—in which George Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin allegedly in self defense—Florida Gov. Rick Scott convened a task force to evaluate the 2005 law. This week, the group came back with their report. Their conclusion? The controversial law is just fine as it is. But there's just one problem: That verdict flies in the face of much troubling evidence to the contrary.

Stand Your Ground essentially makes it legal to shoot one's way out of any situation that feels threatening: Unless law enforcement authorities can prove that's an invalid explanation from a shooter, a resulting homicide can be deemed justifiable under the law, and the shooter is immune from criminal and civil prosecution. As Mother Jones reported in June, Florida's Stand Your Ground law kicked off a wave of such legislation across the country, with 24 of them passed elsewhere since, thanks to much backing by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The evidence to date indicates it is terrible public policy. Since the spreading of the law, multiple studies have found that Stand Your Ground laws:

But after six months of review, it looks like Gov. Scott's task force took little of this into account. The first recommendation in their final report is a firm endorsement of the Stand Your Ground law: "[A]ll persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner."

The few recommendations for change that the report offers are vague. They recommend more training for law enforcement on the meaning of self-defense laws, that the legislature better define a shooter's criminal immunity, and that it fund study of the correlation between Stand Your Ground laws and diversity variables, including race. (Nevermind that such studies on race already exist.)

Welcome to America's 10 Worst Immigration Detention Centers (Map)

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 2:49 PM PST

Polk County Detention Facility, in eastern Texas

Rotten food, limited access to sunlight, and even arbitrary solitary confinement: For undocumented immigrants in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, detention could mean all that and more.

According to the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition pushing for changes in immigration detention, ICE holds more than 400,000 immigrants in 33,400 jail beds across the United States. On Thursday, DWN released a report highlighting what it calls the nation's 10 worst immigration detention centers and calling for their immediate closure. Among the abuses at these jails and prisons—most run by county prison systems, but some by private firms like Corrections Corporation of America—the report claims: 

At all ten of the facilities, people reported waiting weeks or months for medical care; inadequate, and in some cases a total absence, of any outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; minimal and inedible food; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and the extreme remoteness of many of the facilities from any urban area which makes access to legal services nearly impossible.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Frontline's excellent "Lost in Detention," which focused on the fallout from Obama's deportation-heavy first term. Still, the 2009 death of 39-year-old Roberto Medina Martínez at Georgia's Stewart Detention Center—one of the facilities called out by DWN—is a graphic reminder of what can happen when more and more immigrants are rounded up for deportation and sent to overwhelmed and inadequate facilities, where they're often treated like prisoners even though they're not serving criminal sentences. (Rather, they're undergoing administrative immigration proceedings that usually result in deportation.)

Immigration reform may be a post-election topic du jour—with everyone from President Obama to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pledging to push legislation posthaste—but hardly anyone is talking about fixing our broken detention system. As Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said in a Thursday press call, "Taxpayers shouldn't be asked to continue to support this waste of money and resources."

Click on our map below to learn more about each of DWN's worst offenders:

2 People Missing After Gulf Oil Platform Explosion

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 2:39 PM PST

A day after the Department of Justice and BP reached a settlement on criminal charges related to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, another rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

An oil platform owned by Black Elk Energy exploded and caught fire 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La. on Friday morning. Two people are still missing, and at least four are in critical condition. The Associated Press reports:

The fire had since been extinguished, Coast Guard spokesman Drake Fore said. He said Coast Guard aircraft and boats were searching for two missing people. Nobody was believed killed in the fire, but [Coast Guard Capt. Ed] Cubanski said 11 people were flown from the platform to area hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers.
Taslin Alfonzo, spokeswoman for West Jefferson Medical Center in suburban New Orleans, said four injured workers were brought to the hospital in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns over much of their bodies.

According to the Coast Guard, an oil sheen half a mile long could be seen extending from the platform, but they did not think it was an uncontrolled leak, as the platform was not currently producing oil. Here's video of the Coast Guard press conference from earlier today:

GOP Repudiation of Romney on "Gifts"? Don't Be Fooled

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 2:17 PM PST
Gov. Jindal speaks at a November 3 rally for then-presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney initially called his remarks on the 47 percent video unearthed by my colleague David Corn "inartfully stated." But since his defeat, he's returned to a political theory that divides the United States into makers and takers, arguing that President Barack Obama only succeeded by providing young people, women, and minorities with exhorbitant "gifts" to buy their support, in the form of things like health care coverage and help with student loan debt. (Jon Stewart piled on with some gifts of his own devising.)

"What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked," Romney said on a post-election conference call with donors.

A better example of an unearned "gift" is being born the son of a wealthy, famous politician.

My colleague Kevin Drum has already addressed why Romney's remarks are ridiculous—political parties reward their constituencies, and Romney would have pursued goodies for GOP backers had he been elected. Financial institutions would have been very happy with a Romney administration that repealed Dodd-Frank, military contractors would have been delighted with Romney's plan to raise military spending to astronomical levels, and Romney's wealthy donors would have been delighted with his tax cuts for high earners. These are all "extraordinary financial gifts," and unlike student loans or health care coverage, they do nothing to help ensure that being born into a family of modest financial means doesn't prevent a person from succeeding. Help with student loan debt doesn't mean you didn't have to work hard to get good grades. A better example of an unearned "gift" is being born the son of a wealthy, famous politician so that you'll never have to worry about student loan debt. 

The more interesting phenomenon, however, is the oppobrium from Romney's fellow Republicans. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who likely has his own presidential ambitions, called Romney's remarks "absolutely wrong," and said "We have got to stop dividing American voters." Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backed up Jindal, saying that the GOP is the party that "helps people find a pathway to live the American Dream." Conservative writer JP Freire, echoing a theory that Romney's conservatism didn't sell in part because it was not genuine, wrote "I think Romney's saying what he thinks a conservative would say."

Jamelle Bouie: "If there's a problem with Romney's statement, it was the language, not the sentiment."

My former American Prospect colleague Jamelle Bouie, writing at the Washington Post, has a different theory, namely that Republicans are rejecting Romney's remarks because they're politically harmful—not because they see them as incorrect. "If there's a problem with Romney's statement, it was the language, not the sentiment." 

I think Bouie has it right. If Romney is saying "what he thinks a conservative would say," it's probably because there are so many conservatives saying it. Rush Limbaugh, whose influence on conservatism dwarfs Romney's, explained the 2012 election results by saying "People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus." The sentiment was repeated on Fox News incessantly, with on-air personalities like Eric Bolling saying "people voted to continue to get free stuff," and Bill O'Reilly saying Romney was "right on the money." This notion is deeply flattering to conservatives who would like to imagine themselves as rugged individualists, and those who disagree with them politically as lazy moochers.

As with the 47 percent tape, several conservative intellectuals have rejected Romney's statements and explained why they were incorrect. In both cases, however, Romney's problem was not diverging from conservatism so much as expressing it in ugly and unappealing terms. The Republican reaction from party leaders like Jindal is not a rejection of the worldview underlying Romney's remarks, which is extremely popular in right-wing media. It's an expression of political opportunism from politicians who want to leave their footprints on Romney's back as they chase their own ambitions. If it were anything else, you'd see Jindal telling Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, not Romney, to shut up.

But you aren't.  

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Story of Stuff's Black Friday Mayhem Video

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 1:56 PM PST

Look, it's a new Happy Black Friday PSA from the good folks at Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff Project.

I, for one, avoid shopping whenever I possibly can. I'm planning to spend my Black Friday playing soccer, practicing the fiddle, hiking with my peeps, making some killer granola, and finishing Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

Tom's Kitchen: Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Chili Pepper

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 1:23 PM PST

When you're cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner, you want at least one super-easy side dish to create time for wrestling with the turkey and making complicated desserts. I've got one for you: It's simple, quick, involves a vegetable that's in season across much of the the country, and really delicious (so I think). I'm referring to roasted broccoli.

Broccoli is a somewhat loathed vegetable, probably because it's often steamed to the mush phase and spiced with little more than a squeeze of lemon. This is a dish to convert the broccoli-skeptical. In this technique, you roast the humble crucifer until it still retains some crunch, but it is lightly browned in spots. The caramelization concentrates the sugars, bringing out broccoli's hidden sweetness. You balance that sweetness with plenty of garlic, hot pepper, olive oil, and a dash of something acidic, either lemon juice or vinegar.

And while it works well as a side, you can also turn it into dinner by tossing it with pasta, parsley, toasted walnuts, and grated hard cheese.

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Chili Pepper
Serves four as a side

2 big heads of broccoli
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 fresh red-hot chili pepper; or a good pinch of crushed chili flakes
A lemon for squeezing; or red wine vinegar

The whole beast, vegge style: don't toss the stems—they're really good. The whole beast, veggie style: don't toss the stems—they're really good. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the broccoli florets into more-or-less bite-sized pieces, and add to a bowl large enough to comfortably accommodate them. You'll have plenty of stem left over—and the stem has good flavor. So thinly slice a bit of the stem, starting from the floret side (see picture), and add it to the bowl with the florets. About an inch's worth of sliced stem from each broccoli head will do.

Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to the bowl, and then a good pinch of sea salt and several grinds of black pepper. Using your hands, toss the broccoli pieces well, making sure they're evenly coated with the olive oil and seasonings.

Add the seasoned broccoli to a roasting pan or oven-proof skillet large enough to accommodate them in a single layer. Place it in the preheated oven and roast for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely mince the garlic and (if using) the fresh chili pepper. When the florets have just begun to brown, remove the pan from the oven and add add the minced garlic and chili pepper (or dried chili flakes). Toss well with a spatula, and return pan to the oven for another couple of minutes. The broccoli pieces are done when the florets are browned in spots but still slightly crunchy. Finish with a few dashes of vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, and taste for salt. This dish can be made ahead several hours and is just fine served room temperature.

Jon Stewart on Romney's 47 Percent Comments: "Unfairly Caricatured By His Own Words"

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 1:14 PM PST

On Thursday night's episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart laid into Mitt Romney for the former Massachusetts governor's recent comments blaming his defeat on "gifts" with which President Obama bribed his voting base.

Stewart replayed a clip of Mother Jones' now-famous "47 percent" video in which Romney says almost half the country sees themselves as victims entitled to government handouts, and expressed shock that Romney would reiterate those sentiments, even after having walked them back. "You can imagine my surprise when this man, so unfairly caricatured—by his own words—as an out of touch plutocrat who sees the lower classes as government leeches, yesterday blamed his campaign loss on said leeches."

"As it turned out," Stewart said, "much to Mitt Romney's disappointment," the president ended up getting votes from some non-47 percenters, too. "Barack Obama was somehow also able to pick up four more percent of real America."

Friday Cat Blogging - 16 November 2012

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 1:05 PM PST

Hey look! Domino is up on the fence today. She used to follow Inkblot up there whenever he got the urge to explore, but I think this is the first time she's done it since he died. I guess she's finally feeling a little more independent.