Laquan’s killing wasn’t cop’s first go-round with misconduct

Perp walk time: Jason Van Dyke as he enters the courthouse.

Perp walk time: Jason Van Dyke as he enters the courthouse.

When Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, it was one more step in the 14-year veteran officer’s history with the Chicago Police Department. Van Dyke was charged with misconduct 20 times, 18 of which were apparently carried through to a disciplinary hearing. In every case, he got off, including the complaint about Laquan’s killing.

Until he was charged with murder.

Chicago has more than 13,000 police officers for its 2.8 million citizens. According to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, a database compiled by the University of Chicago and the journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, there have been more than 56,000 allegations of misconduct of police in the times reported on the database. Few of those complaints go anywhere, and most of the complaints go against a small group of officers.

“Repeat officers — those with 10 or more complaints — make up about 10 percent of the force but receive 30 percent of all complaints,” a summary of the database shows. “They average 3.7 times as many complaints per officer as the rest of the force.”

Ironically, all of this information was released only a week before Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in Laquan’s killing and a video of the killing was released to the public.

The public release of the data about police complaints was a long time coming. The information comes from reports spanning 2002 to 2008 and 2011 to 2015, and was only released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and a legal battle that took years. In the latter time period, there were 28,567 allegations of misconduct. Less than two percent of those cases resulted in disciplinary action.

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There’s a racial disparity in what happens to the complaints. “Black Chicagoans filed 61 percent of all complaints in the database, but make up only 25 percent of sustained complaints,” the summary says. “White Chicagoans — who filed 21 percent of total complaints — account for 58 percent of sustained complaints.” One reason for that disparity is that not all black citizens follow through with the entire complaint process by filing an affidavit.

There’s also a racial disparity in officer discipline. “Although very few officers were disciplined in the years covered by the data, African-American officers were punished at twice the rate of their white colleagues for the same offenses,” says a story in The New York Times.

“The allegations against Van Dyke include 10 complaints of excessive force, including two incidents where he allegedly used a firearm, causing injury,” says a story in the Washington Post describing the database and some of the cases against Van Dyke. “He was also accused of improper searches and making racially or ethnically biased remarks. Four of the allegations were proven factual, but Van Dyke’s actions were deemed lawful and appropriate. In most of the other cases, there was either not enough evidence to prove or disprove the complaint or the allegation was proven unfounded.”

At a news conference before the release of the now infamous video, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to imply that Van Dyke was not like the vast majority of police officers — he was a “bad apple.” But if most of the complaints go against the “bad apples” in the CPD, why are those officers still on the job? That’s a question that Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy haven’t answered yet.

Also unanswered is why it took more than a year to charge Van Dyke and why the city was willing to pay Laquan’s family $5 million when they hadn’t even filed suit yet.

The Citizens Police Data Project gives information on how to file a complaint and includes a searchable database for all of the complaints in that database, which it admits is just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s where you can read the complaints against Van Dyke specifically.

The protests in Chicago after the release of the video were mostly peaceful. We hope that Chicago police don’t commit any other actions that result in more allegations of misconduct — allegations that most likely wouldn’t result in any meaningful action anyway.

GOP hits new low with hysteria against Syrian refugees

President Obama with one of the refugee children the GOP is so scared of at the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama with one of the refugee children the GOP is so scared of at the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

To score cheap political points after the terrorist attacks in Paris by the Islamic State, Republicans across the country, from governors to those in Congress to several running for president, are trying to gin up fears against refugees trying to get into America to escape oppression elsewhere.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder started the ball rolling by saying he didn’t want any Syrian refugees in Michigan — a state with a large population from the Middle East in the Detroit suburbs — because he “only wants answers” about the refugees coming here. Yet in an interview on NPR, he couldn’t name any issues or problems with the current screening process of refugees, a process that can take as long as two years.

Sensing a political opportunity, other GOP governors couldn’t race each other to the microphones fast enough to say that they, too, didn’t want refugees. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also running for president, said he wouldn’t even take a 5-year-old orphan.

Most Democratic governors are saying the opposite, except for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running a competitive race for Senate in 2016. When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wouldn’t allow a Syrian family to come to Indiana, the family that had fled the Middle East conflict in 2011 was welcomed by Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy. “I told them that people in the United States were generous and good people but sometimes things happen elsewhere that cause people to forget about their generosity,” Malloy said diplomatically at a press conference, according to a CNN story.

The House of Representatives rushed to vote to “pause” the refugee program, a verb that really means “stop” in this case. Even 47 Democrats went along with the vote, although Senate passage is doubtful, and President Obama issued a veto threat. Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck blamed the fearfulness on (what else?) Benghazi. Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks claimed that refugees were just looking for a “paid vacation.”

The Republican presidential candidates keep amping up the rhetoric. Real estate mogul Donald Trump first suggested shutting down mosques in the U.S. Now he’s gone so far as to suggest a registry and ID cards for Muslims. (He’s now backtracking and denies he said such a thing, but of course, there is tape to prove it.) There was no word on whether all Muslims would be forced to wear a yellow crescent on their clothing, as Jews had to wear yellow stars in Germany during World War II. How’d that work out?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had his own take: Let’s shut down anywhere Muslims meet, not just mosques. “It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired,” Rubio told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is sounding more confused as his campaign continues, seemed to think the U.S. already had a universal database of foreigners. “Hopefully, we already have a database on every citizen who is already here,” Carson said Friday, according to a video posted by ABC News. “If we don’t, we’re doing a very poor job.” Of course, this confusion came after his campaign published a map of America that put most of the New England states in Canada and he compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.”

After the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people (the death toll is now 130), the media have gone all-terrorism, all-the-time. They arrived en masse to Paris for on-the-spot, after-the-fact reporting, with lots of scared rhetoric. While most of the reporting has been excellent, as has some of the analysis, the usual over-saturation is generating xenophobia. Polling now shows that a majority of Americans are fearful of refugees and favor sending troops back to the Middle East. And some in the media are taking the simple way out, playing into Americans’ fears about the “other.”

Take CNN. CNN anchors Isha Sesay and John Vause harshly questioned a Muslim guest from Paris, Yaser Louati of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, demanding to know why French Muslims hadn’t stopped the terrorists and insisting that all French Muslims “take responsibility” for the attacks, according to an account from Raw Story.

“What is the responsibility within the Muslim community to identify people within their own ranks when it comes to people who are obviously training and preparing to carry out mass murder?” Vause demanded of Louati.

Of course, the Muslim community didn’t know who the terrorists were. “Sir, they were not from our ranks!” Louati exclaimed. “We cannot accept the idea that these people are from us, they are not. They are just byproducts of our societies exporting their wars abroad and expecting no repercussions back home.”

Sesay and Vause continued to insist that the Muslim community has to be “preemptive” about terrorism. That’s like saying any white Christian in America is responsible when a white supremacist like Dylann Storm Roof shoots up a prayer meeting in South Carolina, killing nine, or when Timothy McVeigh kills nearly 200 people in the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building, both citing twisted Christian theology.

Yet a simple tweet from a CNN global affairs correspondent pointing out the futility of throwing aside the American tradition of sheltering refugees got her suspended.

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Apparently CNN doesn’t tolerate its reporters having a “partisan bias.” But if the comments from Sesay and Vause weren’t partisan, I don’t know what is.

We have to give CNN some credit, though. The cable network is joining many media outlets that are now detailing the long and tough screening process those applying for refugee status must go through, starting with applying to the United Nations or a U.S. Embassy. If you had any doubts, here’s the headline on the CNN story: “Entering the U.S. as refugees would be the hardest way for would-be terrorists.” The big question is: Will people in the U.S bother to read these details, or will they just listen to the quick fearmongering of politicians?

We’ll give the last word to a U.S. Marine veteran, Sgt. Tayyib Rashid. Here’s what he tweeted to the multi-deferred Trump:

 “I’m an American Muslim and I already carry a special ID badge. Where’s yours?”


What’s the least bad option on ISIS? Let’s ask a French Muslim 12-year-old

Watch this Vox video for a cogent explanation of the mess we're in (

Watch this Vox video for a cogent explanation of the mess we’re in.

Note the question is not “what’s the best option” for the U.S. in response to the Paris attacks by the Islamic State that left 129 people dead. Because there are no good options. There never have been. But the worst option is overreaction, whether that involves fear, a stepped-up military response, or closing U.S. borders.

In his column in The New York Times, Paul Krugman reminds readers that the Paris attacks represent “an organized attempt to sow panic.”

“Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness,” Krugman writes. ISIS “isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.”

ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh) has a habit of taking credit for any and all acts of terrorism to make it look more powerful. On Australian television, Waleed Aly, host of a show called The Project, called ISIS “weak.”

“There is a reason ISIL still want to appear so powerful, why they don’t want to acknowledge that the land they control has been taken from weak enemies, that they are pinned down by air strikes or that just last weekend they lost a significant part of their territory,” he said on The Project. “ISIL don’t want you to know they would quickly be crushed if they ever faced a proper Army on a battlefield.”

Instead, ISIS wants people to fear them and get angry, he said. “If you are just someone with a Facebook or Twitter account firing off misguided messages of hate, you are helping ISIL. They have told us that. I am pretty sure that right now none of us wants to help these bastards.” You can watch his analysis here.

It’s easy for presidential candidates to spout off about how tough they’d be if they were in charge. Real estate mogul Donald Trump thinks we should “seriously consider” closing mosques in the U.S. and said having more people carry guns would have avoided bloodshed, as if any Jack Bauer wannabe with a handgun could counter a military assault by gunmen with AK-47s. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson talked about using “big frontal lobes” to formulate a solution, even though in a Fox News interview, he couldn’t name a single U.S. ally to call on to form an international coalition. Former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush called the attack a “war on Western civilization” and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the attack a “clash of civilizations.” Oh, and tearing up the Iran nuclear deal will help, too.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says he sees “another 9-11 coming” and wants to send U.S. troops to the Middle East, calling for President Obama and Congress to act. Gee, Senator, last time I checked, you were still in Congress. How about sponsoring a war resolution yourself? Oh, that’s right — everyone in Congress is too chicken to take an actual war authorization vote.

We do have to give Graham some credit. At least Graham said on the Today show that “I’m running for president, but I’m here today to tell the president that if you need my help you have it.” (No wonder he’s running so poorly in the GOP presidential race when he says he actually would be willing to help Obama.) Graham also referenced funding cuts to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. “We bear some blame for creating the perfect storm for another 9-11,” Graham said. “I’m urging members of Congress [to] up our budget so we can have better intelligence and hit them before they hit us.”

Republican governors are tripping over each other to announce that under no circumstances will their states accept any Syrian refugees. So far we have governors from Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, and Texas slamming the door; it’s hard to keep up with the list. It’s worth noting, however, that these GOP governors are whistling in the dark. The Refugee Act of 1980 gives the federal government the authority to accept refugees under the president’s discretion, and it spells out terms of local and state governments’ “sponsorship.” UPDATE: The governor total (it includes one Democrat) is now up to 27.

Several GOP candidates have called for closing U.S. borders to any Syrian refugees. Ted Cruz wants to establish a religious litmus test to let only Christians in. President Obama, in remarks from the G-20 Summit, was having none of it, saying “we don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

“Slamming the doors in [refugees’] faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said. Syrian “refugees are the victims of terrorism. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism … they are parents, they are children, they are orphans. It is very important that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”

Middle East expert Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, suggests that there’s an element of piracy in ISIS’ Paris attacks. He describes his analogy in a post on his blog, Informed Consent.

“If we think of the armored vehicles, Humvees, and other conveyances Daesh captured from the Iraqi army at Mosul as analogous to pirate ships, and of the towns they have taken over as island settlements, we can see that Daesh functions as desert pirates,” Cole writes. “They captured oil refineries and smuggle gasoline and kerosene (black gold) to Turkey. They take hostages for ransom and store them in their desert ports until they receive payment.

“With regard to foreign hostages, if they aren’t paid, as is typically the case with U.S. hostages, they execute them very publicly so as to increase the likelihood of payment for the next hostages. They actively seek hostages as a means of money-making. They also capture young women and engage in human trafficking and forms of sex slavery, just as the pirates used to. And, they loot conquered populations, just as the pirates did.”

But there’s a big risk, Cole points out. “The Paris attacks are clearly a dangerous tactic for a state with territory and a return address.”

The U.S. and its allies have launched over 7,000 air strikes against ISIS. One U.S. serviceman was killed in the rescue of 70 ISIS prisoners who were reportedly going to be killed soon. U.S. forces are trickling into Iraq and Syria. These are not the actions of a disengaged administration.

But more boots on the ground? Who’s going to sign up for that? Which children of which senator or congressman?

Take away ISIS’ oil revenues? U.S. and now French forces are already bombing ISIS oil supply lines, but underground sales through Turkey still go on.

Increased intelligence? Certainly, although that will always trigger a backlash in the area of privacy rights. We’ll never hear about what has been stopped because of intercepted intelligence about ISIS.

Stop the flow of refugees? That would be like putting a black hood on the Statue of Liberty.

An American friend who lives in Paris shared an experience of a teacher friend in Paris, whose 12-year-old Muslim student, Fatima, gave her opinion in class today.

“I’m sad and angry,” Fatima said. “Sad because of all the dead, sad because they attacked innocent people who weren’t doing anything wrong just living, having fun, and talking to each other. Angry because yet again there’s going to be an amalgam about Muslims and terrorists. I’m a Muslim. I have nothing to do with these crazy people who kill and therefore who sin because life is sacred.”

Another student said France needed to be “ruthless” in bombing Syria in response, although “we can never kill them all.” Fatima’s response: “The Republic shouldn’t be ruthless, that’s not what it’s about. It should educate and protect. I don’t like the word ruthless — it’s like we’re saying that the Republic was going to become terrorist, too.”

Here’s Krugman again: “So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult trade-offs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.”

So there’s the dilemma: No good options. Politicians who claim to have easy answers are speaking in ignorant sound bites. Listen to them at your peril.

Bright future for renewable energy around the globe

duurzame energie_

The world’s sources of renewable energy — solar, wind, hydro, and more — are on a path to overtake coal as the world’s most used energy.

A new report from the International Energy Agency, “World Energy Outlook 2015,” predicts that “renewables will overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation by the 2030s.”

“Renewables contributed almost half of the world’s new power generation capacity in 2014,” says the report’s executive summary. “The coverage of mandatory energy efficiency regulation worldwide expanded to more than a quarter of global consumption.”

The report advises that as world leaders get ready to meet in Paris on Nov. 30 for the UN Conference on Climate Change, aka COP21, or the 21st Conference of the Parties, “it is more important than ever for policy-makers, industry, and other stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the state of the energy sector today, to see which changes are transient or cyclical, which are here to stay, what risks and opportunities might lie ahead — and what can be done to put the energy system on a more secure and sustainable footing.”

The bad news, of course, is that China has been under-reporting its coal consumption by up to 17 percent, according to a story in The Guardian. The revelation may mean that China “has emitted close to a billion additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.” China remains the world’s largest consumer of coal. China has pledged to hit “peak emissions” of coal and make 20 percent of its energy mix renewable by 2030 — and it promises to try to reach that goal more quickly.

Yet China also is No. 2 in the world in the use of solar power, at 18.3 gigawatts, behind only Germany, which leaves all other nations in the dust at 35.5 GW of power. These figures are derived from the amount of installed photovoltaic solar  (PV) energy capacity in each country and come from the blog of Pure Energies, a part of NRG Home Solar.

For those keeping score, Italy is in third place at 17.6 gigawatts (no surprise to me, given the miles of solar farms I saw in southern Italy on a recent trip). Japan is fourth at 13.6 GW (much of it from floating solar farms off Japanese coasts), and the United States is fifth at 12 GW. Last summer, Germany reached a point where it got 78 percent of its daily energy usage from renewable sources.

The use of solar power has increased so much that energy usage measurement had to change from megawatts to gigawatts in just five years. That’s how quickly the solar industry has grown.

The IEA report warns that current low oil prices shouldn’t lull the world into a sense of complacency when it comes to the future of energy. “An extended period of lower oil prices would benefit consumers but would trigger energy-security concerns by heightening reliance on a small number of low-cost producers, or risk a sharp rebound in price if investment falls short,” the report says.

“It would be a grave mistake to index our attention to energy security to changes in the oil price,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, a Turkish economist and energy expert. “Now is not the time to relax. Quite the opposite: a period of low oil prices is the moment to reinforce our capacity to deal with future energy security threats.”

The full report contains much information on current and future energy usage projection and production in the two countries with the largest populations — China and India. Both are making major strides in renewable energy but are striving for the proper balance of economic growth and energy production. India, for example, needs $2.8 trillion in energy investment, as its power structure needs to quadruple by 2040 to keep up with the needs of the population. Currently, 20 percent of the Indian population, or 240 million people, lack access to electricity.

While the report projects that world energy demand will grow by nearly one-third between 2013 and 2040, it makes some recommendations that can be done at no net economic cost, repeating those from a report given months ago:

    • Increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings, and transport sectors.
    • Progressively reducing the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning their construction.
    • Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030.
    • Phasing out of remaining fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030.
    • Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production.

“The framework for climate action agreed at COP21 needs to provide a procedure which will secure progressively stronger climate commitments over time,” if the world is to keep to an emissions trajectory consistent with the goal of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the report concludes. “A clear and credible vision of long-term decarbonization is vital to provide the right signals for investment and to allow a low-carbon, high-efficiency energy sector to be at the core of efforts to combat climate change.”

The 7 craziest things Ben Carson has ever said

Sorry, Dr. Carson, not much room for grain in there.

Sorry, Dr. Carson, not much room for grain in there.

How many nonsensical utterances does a GOP candidate have to make before people start backing away from his candidacy?

Ben Carson, who was a respected pediatric neurosurgeon with an inspiring backstory of working his way up from poverty (albeit with plenty of government help), has a history of saying crazy stuff. Lately, it’s just been getting weirder and weirder. And when people dig up wacko things he’s said in the past, he doesn’t deny them as a “youthful indiscretion.” He doubles down on the crazy.

A 1998 video unearthed by Buzzfeed has a younger Carson claiming that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store seven years of grain. When asked about it now, Carson doesn’t deny the claim — he says “secular progressives” are free to ridicule him, but he stands by his theory.

Never mind the fact that archaeologists who have been inside Egyptian pyramids tell a different story — they’re not empty warehouses, they’re solidly built, with burial chambers within. But since “secular progressives” are the good doctor’s latest version of the boogeyman, well, there’s nothing to discuss.

Even worse, he compounded his lie by saying “scientists” said pyramids were built by aliens. Look, we all know many Republicans don’t believe in science. But don’t make it even worse by laying these outrageous claims on science.

Here’s another one to wrap your head around: In a 2011 video, Carson claimed that NASA was successful in putting men on the moon because “God was included in the Declaration of Independence,” according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times. Um, actually, author Thomas Jefferson was a Deist who rejected much of established Christianity. And I doubt those NASA scientists had God on their minds when they were designing Apollo 11.

I can understand that some Americans, frustrated with Congress and still refusing to accept the fact that there’s a black family living in the White House, want an “outsider” candidate for president. Someone like Carson appeals to evangelical conservatives with his constant references to God, even if they’re nonsensical. But he’s now leading in some national polls, listed as a first choice by more than a quarter of GOP voters. So let’s look at his history of nonsense:

Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” He made this pronouncement at the 2013 Values Voters Summit, and the crowd (showing they had no value for anyone else) ate it up. So getting over 10 million more people onto the health insurance rolls is worse than picking cotton?

“I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating” than taking away 2nd Amendment rights. Carson gave this answer in a Facebook Q&A with supporters, and he said it right after the mass shooting at an Oregon community college. Go up to the parents who lost sons and daughters at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dr. Carson, and say that to their faces. I dare you.

God gave him the answers to his college chemistry final. He told a story at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast that he got the answers in a dream, and that he aced the test, according to an account from Right Wing Watch. Carson claims that a “nebulous figure” came to him in a dream and wrote out chemistry problems on a blackboard, and those same problems were on the test the next day. “When I went to take the test the next morning, it was like The Twilight Zone.” Look, I think nearly everyone has said a prayer before taking a hard exam, but most of us know that God wants us to study, not just pray. No, Dr. Carson, I think your candidacy is like The Twilight Zone.

Anti-gay bakers might poison same-sex wedding cakes. At the Iowa Freedom Summit in January, Carson defended the “religious freedom” idea that businesses could refuse to serve all comers, based on their beliefs. According to an account by The Bilerico Project, Carson joked that it’s not smart to force a business to bake you a cake if the bakers don’t want to, “because they might put poison in that cake.” Carson’s staff reportedly thought that was hilarious.

Prison proves that being gay is a “choice.” In a 2015 CNN interview, Carson told host Chris Cuomo that “a lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay.” Actually, getting raped in prison doesn’t make you gay, Dr. Carson. He actually apologized for that comment and walked it back somewhat, but still claimed science about homosexuality is “murky.”

There are a lot more, but I have to stop before my head explodes. There are the constant references to Hitler, the stabbing story, the claim that none of the Founding Fathers ever held political office. UPDATE: Now we find that he lied about being accepted to West Point — turns out he never even applied.

Please, America, pick someone for president who’s not making a mockery of knowledge.

GOP candidates’ war on debates is backfiring

Cartoon by Dana Summers, Tribune Content Agency

Cartoon by Dana Summers, Tribune Content Agency

Republican candidates for president are complaining loudly and often about the unfairness of their televised debate process. They’re beginning to sound like the the kid who said he didn’t get enough candy on Halloween.

Whatever the problems of the recent CNBC debate — and there were many, starting with the opening job-interview question of “What’s your biggest weakness” — Republicans now seem to think they have the right to dictate the terms of future debates.

Good luck with that.

Representatives from the GOP campaigns drew up a draft letter of what the candidates wanted to see — and what they insisted be removed — from future televised debates. The list included a demand for opening and closing statements by all of the candidates (seems reasonable); a requirement that the temperature be 67 degrees (so no one could see them sweat, presumably); candidate “pre-approval” for any campaign graphics or candidate biographies; no “frivolous” or “lightning” rounds with “gotcha” questions (meaning, no questions with any real journalism); and a demand that no reaction shots from audience members be shown (so the TV audience couldn’t see the in-person audiences laughing at candidates — or sleeping?). There were even specific demands about camera angles and bathroom breaks.

It took less than a day before the entire effort fell apart. Several candidates, realizing they would look like whiners if they backed such a list, said they would refuse to sign the letter. Real estate mogul Donald Trump announced that he would be negotiating directly with TV outlets on his own.

Even Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who bore the brunt of attacks by Trump for some of her tough questions at the first debate, openly mocked the candidates’ demands. She read through the list of demands on her show, practically rolling her eyes. “And then maybe like a foot massage?” she suggested sarcastically.

Other conservatives are worried about a backlash. “At some point, the Republican candidates are going to look weaselly and weak if they continue on this parade,” said Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr.

The biggest problem facing Republicans in these televised debates is the sheer number of candidates on stage. In a two-hour window, there isn’t enough time for candidates to fully explain the rationale for their candidacies and their policy positions (even though several either don’t have such policies or don’t want them to get much scrutiny). Yet candidates at the bottom of the pack stubbornly refuse to drop out of the race, some because of sheer ego, some propped up by rich sugar daddies with super PAC money, some hoping to juice book sales, and some hoping for an eventual spot in a Republican administration.

Republican primary voters deserve a chance to see their possible choices and hear what they would do in a Republican administration. Up until now, however, the debates have been mostly substance-free, and candidates who looked good and sounded at least somewhat comprehensible on TV were said to have “won” the debates.

Of course, the biggest applause lines at the CNBC debate came when candidates dragged out the tried-and-true attacks about the “liberal media,” something that exists only in the eyes of conservatives. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” complained Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Not to be outdone, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had a dig of his own: Democrats had “the ultimate super PAC — it is called the mainstream media.”

Republicans will never disappoint a partisan audience by attacking the media, but their debate demands are turning into an overreach, making them look churlish. The suggestion that a future debate be moderated by the likes of blowhards Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity is laughable. Ex-Fox host Glenn Beck offered to moderate a debate. Have fun watching that debate online, GOP voters.

The candidates need TV as much as TV needs the candidates. These demands are going to fizzle.

Let’s give the last word to President Obama, who brought down the house at a Democratic fundraiser when he mercilessly tore into the usual GOP complaints that the president looked “weak” in the face of the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Have you noticed that everyone of these candidates say, ‘Obama’s weak. Putin’s kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin, he’s going to straighten out.’ Then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate.

“Let me tell you, if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.”

Who’s looking weak now?

Worst job in journalism: Moderating a GOP debate


Conventional wisdom seems to agree that in the most recent debate of hopefuls seeking the Republican nomination for president, the biggest loser was CNBC.

GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said the debate host network “should be ashamed.” The Drudge report, never one to miss a chance to exaggerate, called the CNBC moderators the “shame of the nation.”

Fellow journalists weren’t any kinder. Consider this tweet from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, describing the commentary between the kids’ table debate and the main event: “CNBC does underscore that the only people sometimes more vapid than candidates are journalists talking about candidates.”

I’m not going to give a pass to those asking the questions. When a debate starts with the insipid question of “What’s your biggest weakness?” — a question that any job seeker encounters from the beginner HR representative before he or she gets to the hiring manager — you know it’s going to head downhill from there. Moderators quickly lost control of lines of questioning, as candidates shouted over one another as well as the moderators.

But the way the candidates twisted the moderators’ words turned what actually were some substantive questions into seeming attacks on the candidate. It’s a lot easier to accuse the media of asking “gotcha” questions than it is to give a substantive answer.

Consider this exchange between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and moderator Becky Quick, who “asked him about what she described as poor bookkeeping skills, including facing foreclosure on a second home he bought and liquidating a $60,000 retirement account,” according to a story in the Washington Post. “Rubio responded by accusing Quick of parroting attacks of his political opponents, and then recounted his personal story as the son of a bartender and a maid who grew up poor. ‘I’m not worried about my finances,’ Rubio said. ‘I’m worried about the finances of everyday Americans.’ ”

Actually, asking candidates about how they handle finances seems like a pretty legitimate line of questioning for a guy who ultimately would be responsible for the nation’s economy. But apparently not to Republican candidates, who find it easier to earn cheap audience applause complaining about media bias than by answering questions. Ask real estate mogul Donald Trump about his four bankruptcies, and you get a “business as usual” response. Ask retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson why his flat tax plan wouldn’t leave the country with a trillion-dollar hole, and you get vague ramblings that it “works out very well.” But Republicans are quick to call such questions unfair, even as the journalists attempt to pin down candidates on empty promises.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” crowed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as he avoided answering a real question with a pre-scripted answer, leaving him no time to address the substance of the question. “This is not a cage match.”

Of course, he’s right. According to a Gallup survey, only 40 percent of the American public trust the media in this country — tying an all-time low set the year before. A majority of Americans haven’t trusted the media since 2004, and the trust percentage always seems to dip in election years. Wonder how low it will go in the heat of the election next year?

Trust is lower among members of the Millennial generation than among older Americans, and lower among Republicans than among Democrats. No surprise there, as right-wing media and politicians have blasted the so-called “liberal media” for years.

Brian Steel, CNBC’s senior vice president for public relations, stood by the moderators’ performance, according to a CNN story. “People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions,” he said in a statement.

Another defender of CNBC was Ezra Klein in a piece on Vox. “The problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.”

During the debate, Rubio tried to paint former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi as a win for Republicans. Reaction from conservative as well as mainstream pundits and politicians told a different story — that Clinton basically had all her GOP questioners for lunch — but Rubio claimed that just showed that the media favor the Democrats. “Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It’s called the mainstream media.” It was a huge applause line for a GOP audience, even if it’s not based in reality.

After the CNBC debacle, John Harwood, one of the debate’s moderators, tweeted: “Moderating GOP debate in 2015 enriched my understanding of challenges @SpeakerBoehner has faced and @RepPaulRyan will face.” No kidding.

The third co-moderator, Carl Quintanilla, summed up his night with a tweet of his own: “I’ll say this much: everyone should moderate a debate, once. It’s like yelling at the TV from home, except they talk back.”

There are eight scheduled GOP debates to go in this campaign season, on various networks, with several sponsors. Some, like the Nov. 10 debate on the Fox Business Channel, already have chosen moderators, while most moderators are TBA.

The Nov. 10 moderators just might decide that they have family emergencies, or that they have to wash their hair that night. Good luck finding poor slobs for the rest of them.

Benghazi hearing changed perception of Hillary Clinton. What took so long?


“Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards … and in high heels!”

That line is often mistakenly attributed to the actress Ginger Rogers herself, although it actually came from a 1982 Frank and Ernest cartoon and was used as a line in a speech by Texas Gov. Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. But the message is unmistakable: Women have been succeeding at accomplishing great things, often facing greater odds than men, and often in men’s shadows and in the face of criticism. The list of those women includes (but obviously isn’t limited to) Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Much already has been written about how former Secretary of State Clinton decimated her Republican inquisitors during her appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Chairman Trey Gowdy developed the worst case of flop sweat since Richard Nixon faced John F. Kennedy in a 1960 televised debate. The other GOP representatives, looking less like statesmen and stateswomen and more like smarmy middle schoolers as the day wore on, became fixated on her emails, Sidney Blumenthal, and what was said at what time on what day. They demanded to know why she didn’t control every single aspect of the State Department and why she couldn’t be in contact 24/7 with diplomatic staff in 270 countries.

In the 11-hour marathon, Clinton calmly explained how the State Department worked; how she needed to delegate tasks to other professionals; and how the Obama administration and the state department used bits of information to piece together the complete story of what happened to U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans the night of Sept. 11, 2012. She had to repeat the same answers over and over, telling her questioners that “I’m sorry if the facts don’t fit your narrative.” She was poised, prepared, and positive.

As the day wore on, Clinton never lost her cool (let’s admit it; most of us would have been glaring, raising our voices, and throwing things). After the session was over, a frazzled Gowdy admitted that he hadn’t heard anything new from Clinton and that he would have to “check the transcript.”

(Side note: Tell me you don’t think Trey Gowdy looks like Draco Malfoy.)

No one figured there would be any new information. The GOP representatives were hoping for an “AHA!” moment that could be used in a negative campaign ad. They hoped to make her look angry, flustered, tired, and probably “too old” to be president. They failed miserably at all of those of those aspirations. The widespread opinion on Clinton’s success came from right-wing as well as mainstream media, from Republican operatives as well as Democrats. The one laughable reaction came from Drudge, which played a clip of Clinton coughing, claiming that it raised health concerns about the candidate.

If anything, Hillary Clinton looked — dare we say it — presidential. Like her or hate her — and there are those on the right who will never get over Clinton hatred — you’ve got to admit that your view of Clinton is different today than it was before her Benghazi hearing appearance. Those who would swallow glass before voting for a Democrat are looking on her with new respect. Democrats who are “feeling the Bern” for the Vermont senator saw an opponent that many say they could vote for if their candidate doesn’t win. Small-dollar donations to her campaign skyrocketed in the hour after the hearing ended, as did her number of followers on social media.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she thought Clinton’s appearance before the committee had won her the election, even though it’s a year away. Eric Erickson of Red State opined that the hearings were a waste of time.

Clinton remained calm for 11 hours of questions, while GOP presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Donald Trump complained that three hours was too long of a debate for them, demanding that it be shortened. Can you imagine any of the GOP candidates lasting for 11 hours before such scrutiny?

The most amazing reaction to the Benghazi-a-thon has come from members of the media, many of whom just now seem to be noticing, “Hey, that Hillary Clinton is pretty competent.” A CNN opinion piece by someone who describes herself as a “lifelong Republican” has the headline, “Benghazi hearing: The high-tech lynching of Hillary Clinton.”

“I can state unequivocally after watching Thursday’s Benghazi House committee hearing and considering the email transcripts, media statements, debates and intense partisan focus on the former secretary of state for the past few years that she has been treated unfairly,” writes lawyer Sophia A. Nelson. “Unprofessionally. And frankly, disrespectfully. … In the final analysis, I believe that history will record that Hillary Clinton was one of the brightest and most patriotic women ever to serve in public life. Whether she becomes president, or whether she is found to have violated the law on how she handled her emails at the State Department, Clinton is one tough cookie.”

All of a sudden, pundits and reporters who used to dismiss her and claim that her campaign was in a downward spiral are saying that Clinton stood tall while the GOP committee members looked small.

It wasn’t that long ago that the GOP meme — often repeated in the media — was “Yeah, but can you name any actual accomplishments during Clinton’s time at State?” During the course of her testimony, the former secretary listed them, including developing the Libya policy. Other accomplishments, despite what you hear from former Hewlett Packard executive and GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who loves to use that line, include developing the sanctions against Iran that brought the country to the bargaining table. The reason she visited so many countries as secretary of state was to re-establish relationships that had been broken during the George W. Bush administration. More than once, she offered to send her book, Hard Choices, to the GOP representatives so they could learn more about Benghazi. I think the Republicans are going to have to develop a Plan B to go after Hillary Clinton. And it’s not going to be easy.

Hillary Clinton will never match Ginger Rogers’ dancing skills, but she’s certainly dancing around her GOP opponents today.

(Note: I could have posted a photo from Clinton at her Benghazi grilling, but how often do you have a chance to run a photo of Fred and Ginger in Top Hat?)

Testimony from Hillary Clinton Benghazi hearing — in advance!


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi to find the “truth” behind the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. Despite the fact that seven other congressional panels already have investigated the tragedy and have found no serious negligence, House Republicans felt the need for an eighth panel once it was clear that Clinton was running for president. Through the magic of time travel, we can see today how some of the testimony went:

PANEL CHAIRMAN TREY GOWDY (R, S.C.): Good morning, Madam Secretary.

CLINTON: Good morning.

GOWDY: I’m going to start this hearing by saying, on the record, that nothing about this hearing is political. Anything you’ve heard from three different Republicans that the purpose of the hearing is an attack on Secretary Clinton is wrong. They all just need to shut up.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D, MD.): I suppose that’s why you had to return the donations from the super PAC that ran attack ads against the secretary? They ones that showed the graves of the four dead Americans? The ones that ran during the Democratic debate?

GOWDY: That had nothing to do with this hearing … This investigation is nonpartisan and fact-centric. Facts are neither red or blue.

CUMMINGS: Yeah, all that’s red here is your face.

GOWDY: (Glaring at Cummings) Well, Secretary Clinton, never before has a U.S. ambassador been killed before Ambassador Stevens was killed by terrorists in 2012.

CLINTON: Actually, that’s not true. I’d like to remind the committee that eight U.S. ambassadors have died in office, and five of them were assassinated by terrorists or rebel groups. Two died in suspicious plane crashes.

GOWDY: That can’t be true … (huddles with staff) Nevertheless, none of them died in an attack on an embassy or consulate.

CLINTON: Actually, they did. Three were killed at a U.S. or other country’s embassy, despite attempts at protection by military staff.

GOWDY: (Desperately) They were all appointed by Democratic presidents, right?

CLINTON: Do you really want to go there, Congressman? It’s half and half.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R, TEXAS): (Barging into hearing room and interrupting) Yes, Benghazi was about politics! And I would love to know what the president was doing that night. … Apparently there was plenty of rest before he went to the fundraiser in Las Vegas the next day. Yes, my colleague is right: Benghazi was about politics! And we need to get to the bottom of why those four people were killed, while nobody in Washington that knew what was going on lifted a finger!

GOWDY: (Sighing) Rep. Gohmert, you’re not even on this committee. You want the Planned Parenthood hearing down the hall.

GOHMERT: Well, I already said all of that at the Planned Parenthood hearing, but nobody paid me any attention. (Gohmert is led away by staff)

REP. MIKE POMPEO (R, KAN.): Benghazi is worse in some ways than Watergate! All that happened there was a Nixon aide erased 18 and a half minutes of hours of recordings. But your emails …

REP. PETER ROSKAM (R, ILL.): Right! The last time we saw a high government official seeking to edit their own responses was President Nixon, and at least then he enjoyed the benefit of executive privilege.

CLINTON: You’re comparing me to Nixon? I’ve told the State Department to release all of my emails to the public.

POMPEO: This administration has fought us at every turn. No one in this administration can imagine what that attack in Benghazi was like. Why, when I was an Army captain–

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D, ILL): Excuse me? I’m the only one on this committee who has ever been attacked in combat, and I think I know better than anyone here what that’s like. (Indicates wheelchair)

GOWDY: I’d like to remind everyone who the real victim is — me. In some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life. Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are one thousand times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically — at least it is for me.

CLINTON: Buddy, you have no idea.

Note: Much of the dialogue comes from actual quotes from GOP members of the Benghazi committee. And Louie Gohmert, who apparently felt he needed to talk about Benghazi during a hearing on Planned Parenthood.

Past isn’t prologue in 2016 presidential race


We have entered new, uncharted political territory in presidential politics. Any time a politician, pundit, or pollster makes a “sure” prediction about next year’s presidential contest, you can give it as much credibility as a story about a Kardashian entering a nunnery.

Take a new story by Reuters, claiming that there are “two simple reasons” a Republican will win the presidency in 2016. The evidence, based on “models, not polls” comes from two assumptions: When a party has held the Oval Office for two straight terms, voters pick the other party; and when a current incumbent’s approval rating is below 50 percent, voters pick the other party.

Sorry to burst Reuters’ bubble, especially when it claims it “created” a “data model” that is based on historical precedent. I’ve got news for Reuters: 2016 isn’t anything like 1976, 1992, 2000, or 2008.

The 2016 presidential election is a little more than a year away, and voting in the first caucuses and primaries starts in a few months. It’s true that current horse-race polling is meaningless, except that it determines which Republicans make it to the next grown-up debate instead of sitting at the kids’ table. Candidates’ standings will continue to rise and fall, especially on the crowded Republican side, until voters actually start casting ballots.

The Reuters story, using an analysis of data in 300 polls across 40 markets going back to 1980, shows that 12 months before an election, the average error in polls is 7.9 percent. By one week before the election, the error rate is only 1.9 percent.

So what happened in 2012, when every major poll was calling the presidential race “too close to call,” and President Obama beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney by more than four points? Romney’s total was symbolically close to 47 percent — the same percentage he mentioned in his infamous remarks at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are “takers.” Gallup’s polling was so bad that it decided to abandon presidential polling altogether.

Reuters model also disregards the changing demographics of the country; the red state-blue state divide, which favors Democrats; and the fact that the Republican Party’s favorable rating is low and heading lower. (Not that the Democrats’ favorables are all that much higher…)

Let’s face it. The media aren’t doing very well in calling the shots this election cycle.

Almost immediately after real estate mogul Donald Trump announced his candidacy, the media nationwide started pronouncing that it was only a matter of time before his presidential run collapsed. Those predictions were based on who Trump insulted (just about everyone, at this point — too many to list); his lack of organization (he’s now hiring more people in different states); his lack of religiosity (he’s still leading in Iowa, home of ultra-conservative evangelical Republican voters). How’d those predictions do? Oh, yeah — Trump is leading by anywhere from a few points to double digits, depending on the day and the state.

The media all but anointed former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush as the eventual GOP nominee at the start of the campaign because of his huge cash advantage. Despite the fact that his super PAC is spending $24 million in television ads, Bush has dropped to single digits — and stayed there.

Hillary Clinton was the “inevitable” Democratic candidate to everyone in the media. Then Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders started drawing tens of thousands to his rallies. By the time the media started paying attention to Sanders and his supporters, they were the ones feeling the Bern burn.

The next meme was that Clinton was washed up because of the “scandal” involving her use of a private server for her government email when she was secretary of state. Vice President Joe Biden to the rescue, wrote political reporters nationwide.

One good debate later, plus the fact that three Republicans have admitted that the House Benghazi investigation committee is basically a political witch hunt, and all of a sudden Clinton is inevitable again.

Please. Can we put the emphasis on substance and policy — what candidates actually would do for the country — and relegate the polling and predictions to the bottom of the story?


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