Political murder is in vacanza!

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We at Politicalmurder.com are taking a break for two weeks. We are traveling through Italy, drinking wine, eating pasta and gelato, and seeing sights from ancient ruins to timeless artwork. And (we hope) avoiding stories about Donald Trump.

So you will see no new posts at this site. But I’ll try to update the Political murder of the day every day (unless we’re having too much fun), so look over to the column on the right to see who died on this day in history, then click the link above.

If you missed some posts from the past, click above on Complete list of posts. You can revisit past opinions on the news of the day. I’m always surprised to see what posts still get read, such as When — and why — did the U.S. become so gun-crazy? and Other movies did assassination better than The Interview. Other timeless posts seem to be You want less gun violence in Chicago? Hire somebody and Why is voter turnout so low? Why don’t people vote?

Posts making fun of Donald Trump are high on the list, too, such as Donald Trump’s bubble: How much expansion before it pops?, Clickbait trumps all: Why media are all in on Donald Trump, and 3rd-party Trump candidacy could make 2016 a Wild West show. And I still think the Republican National Committee, Fox News, and the rest made a mistake when they didn’t take my suggestion: Let’s run GOP debates like NCAA tournament.

If you’re looking for something on the non-political side, try Why did we love Spock? A Leonard Nimoy tribute from a Star Trek nerd. Or see what I’m “predicting” for the Crawleys’ last hurrah: Downton Abbey final season: Molesley becomes prime minister.

Finally, don’t forget about reading The Political Blogging Murder, a funny mystery set at a Netroots Nation-type of convention, available at this site for a mere $2.99. You can read an excerpt here or by clicking the excerpt link above. Or check out how to order the book here or at the Now available link above.

So go ahead. Read. We’ll be back with a new post in mid-September.

Trump, the GOP, and the shrinking white voter problem

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Donald Trump, apparently running for racist-in-chief as well as narcissist-in-chief, has committed outrages during his campaign that would have disqualified any other politician. Yet his poll numbers keep rising, and he never seems to pay a price for his insults.

It’s more than just being “Teflon Don.” He’s tapped into the id of the “ugly American” stereotype. And there seem to be a lot of them, which is causing problems for the Republican Party, particularly against a field of candidates too large to distinguish themselves individually when the media are still all Trump, all the time.

Trump is appealing to the kind of voter who, as a Trump supporter did, will tell Jorge Ramos, one of the most popular television hosts in the United States and the undisputed king of Spanish-language media, to “Get out of my country.” Even though, as Ramos pointed out, he’s an American citizen, too. This was after Trump ordered Ramos out of a news conference, telling him to “Go back to Univision.”

Many media outlets have been describing the problems Trump-ism is creating for the Republicans. And he is causing problems, despite the assurances of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that Trump is a “positive” for the GOP, which Priebus said was a “young, diverse party” that gave voters a “whole slew of options.” The “slew of options” might be there in numbers but not in policies.

Trump’s policy positions, such as they are, are laughable. His immigration “plan” of mass deportations, a never-ending border fence, and an end to birthright citizenship has been described as totally unworkable, prohibitively expensive, and unconstitutional (which hasn’t stopped other GOP candidates from embracing it). As the candidates are forced to run to the right and defend/explain comments on “anchor babies,” the rabid GOP base is pleased, but too many other voters ultimately will be driven away. Trump is at a negative 51 rating among Hispanic voters, according to a Gallup Poll.

A National Journal story points out that courting the white supremacist vote as Trump does leaves little but the Republicans’ shrinking white electorate. “As Trump’s rise shows, many of those voters militantly oppose the policies (like immigration reform) that might help the party expand its coalition,” the story said. “By demonstrating that dynamic so viscerally, Trump’s ascent has further weakened the Republicans who contend the party must bend to, rather than resist, demographic change.”

But why stop with just insulting Hispanics? At the campaign event after the news conference where Trump ordered Ramos to be thrown out, Trump also imitated Asians with poor English skills, implying that all they could say was, “We want deal.” Ha-ha.

Makes you wonder what ethnic group he’ll go after next. Surely Trump can think of new insults and slurs for Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and a host of nationalities in Europe and Africa, too. Will he say the N-word? The possibilities are legion. But Trump-ites will just slam critics for being “too politically correct.”

Some of those who attend Trump rallies — and there are lots of people there, even if some have come solely out of curiosity — have shouted, “WHITE POWER!” or passed out copies of a white supremacist newspaper. One woman in a GOP focus group gushed that “His goal is to make America great again! It’s on his hat!” (Well, if it’s on his hat, it must be true.) There’s also a ringing endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and white supremacist David Duke, saying that Trump is the best candidate around, that he “understands the real sentiment of America.”

In a recent post, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed Duke’s endorsement and those of other known white supremacists, who are praising the Donald and his immigration plan on their racist websites. In what the SPLC called Trump’s “war on immigrants,” the post warned that “specifically targeting minority communities and whipping up a climate of fear and bigotry can have very real negative results,” such as the recent beating of a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, whose two white attackers then urinated on him. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” one of the attackers told police. One white supremacist even wants to name an all-white town in North Dakota after Donald Trump.

Will there be a point of no return for Trump and his campaign? A point where he gets so insulting to so many that his candidacy will finally implode, left only with those on the far right? And where will the other Republican candidates be then?

It doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. But I have a feeling it finally may happen on Monday, Feb. 1. That’s the night of the Iowa caucuses, when actual voters will look at themselves and their neighbors and say:

“What the hell were we thinking? We can’t actually vote for this clown.”

Black Lives Matter offers 10-point plan to curb police killing

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The Black Lives Matter movement has finally announced what many have been waiting for — a specific national platform aiming to curb police violence and reform the criminal justice system.

The complete policy outline is detailed at a new website called Campaign Zero. Here are some of the specifics from the site:

  • More than 1,000 people are killed each year by police in the U.S. Of those, nearly 60 percent were unarmed.
  • There have been only nine days this year when police did not kill anyone.
  • The numbers of people killed by police in the U.S. aren’t even comparable to statistics in other countries — 1,100 killed in the U.S., and fewer than 10 people killed by police in other Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and Japan.

The site offers a 10-point plan to integrate recommendations from communities, research organizations, and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which issued a final report in May. The points are:

End broken windows policing. This calls for an end to the decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities, especially in neighborhoods with people of color. Also addressed are the need for different approaches to those with mental health issues and an end to racial profiling.

Community oversight. This calls for an all-civilian oversight structure with discipline power that includes a Police Commission and Civilian Complaints Office. Both offices would have specific responsibilities and across-the-board power.

Limit use of force. This solution seeks to establish standards monitor how force is used.

Independently investigate and prosecute. Among other recommendations, this point seeks a permanent Special Prosecutor’s Office at the state level to investigate any police shooting.

Community representation. This calls for officers to be a more accurate representation of the communities they serve.

Body cams/film the police. This would require and fund body cameras as well as dashboard cameras. All citizens would have the right to record police interactions on a cell phone, and police would not have the right to confiscate that phone, as is the case in some states.

Training. This calls for rigorous and sustained training, especially about racial bias.

End for-profit policing. This calls for an end to quota systems and limits fines for low-income people.

Demilitarization. This seeks the end of the sale of military weapons to the nation’s police forces.

Fair police union contracts. This seeks to rewrite police union contracts that create a different set of rules for police, and asks that disciplinary records be open and accessible

It’s an ambitious list but one with a lot of common sense. No doubt it will face a backlash from some police groups, but many police also are seeking solutions.

Many have been waiting for these kinds of specifics from the Black Lives Matter movement amid complaints of disruptive behavior at Democratic campaign events, especially those by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Well, now we’ve got those specifics. And I think the movement will be stronger for it.

The Black Lives Matter campaign is asking for action at the federal, state, and local level. It also offers charts on which presidential candidates are backing the proposed solutions. We can only hope that more proposals will gain support, at least on the Democratic side. After all, many Republican candidates, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and real estate mogul Donald Trump, are dismissing the movement out of hand. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is on board with one idea — ending for-profit policing.

“We can end police violence in America,” the website says. “Together, we will win.”

 

 

Media sexism starts early with female candidates in 2016 race

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While too much of the political world breathlessly awaits the next meaningless poll on the 2016 presidential race — still almost 15 months away — it’s worth taking a look at how sexism has already crept into coverage of the contest.

Consider: A story on CNN.com on Clinton’s impassioned speech at the Democratic Wing Ding dinner at the Iowa State Fair described her criticism of GOP candidates as “harsh.” Adjectives used for male candidates included “spirited,” “fiery,” “tough-talking,” etc.

Consider: A Politico story on a press Q&A in Las Vegas described Clinton as “testy” when she gave the same answer to multiple yet similar questions about her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, a topic that she says never comes up when she meets with voters. “Nobody talked to me about it — other than you guys,” she told the reporters.

Tweeted former Clinton adviser Peter Daou: “Bush was ‘firm’ when he was telling reporters off. But @HillaryClinton is ‘testy’ when she puts them in their place on emails.” He followed that up with: “NEW: The 2016 Gender Bias Thesaurus: T is for Testy (Hillary), F is for Firm (Bush).” Daou is cofounder of #HillaryMen, which has the described purpose of providing “actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics.”

Clinton isn’t the only one on the receiving end of this media double standard. Republican Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, has received her share of sexist coverage and questions on the campaign trail, too, with reporters remarking on her pink nail polish and asking her if she thought hormones would prevent a woman from serving as president. During the Aug. 6 early debate, other candidates were addressed as “Senator” and “Governor,” but she was addressed by the Fox News debate moderators as “Carly.”

“Being a woman is about lot more than our bodies and what we look like,” Fiorina told reporters before a speech in June. In that speech, covered in a story by the International Business Times, Fiorina recalled the sexism she faced in the business world, both at AT&T and HP. “My [AT&T] boss introduced me to my new team as the ‘token bimbo.’ When I started at HP, I was also called a bimbo — and a word that also starts with B and rhymes with witch — words that definitely weren’t used to describe male CEOs at other, similar companies.”

There was no shortage of sexism in media coverage or attitudes during the 2008 presidential contest, either of Clinton or of Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin. Remember when a man in New Hampshire held up a sign asking Clinton to “iron my shirt”? Remember the focus on Palin’s looks, and the questions about whether she would be able to serve as vice president while taking care of a child with Down syndrome? As if male candidates ever get questions about how they’ll handle work-parenting balance.

There’s an eye-popping compilation of sexist remarks in the media about Hillary Clinton at Policy.Mic, recalling remarks during the 2008 campaign and things said more recently. “She isn’t compassionate; she’s ‘nagging.’ She isn’t outspoken; she’s ‘shrill.’ She isn’t tough; she’s a ‘bitch,’ the piece said. One of the worst examples was from Pat Buchanan saying, “When she raises her voice … It reaches a point where every husband in America has heard it one time or another.”

And then there’s real estate mogul Donald Trump’s defense of his sexist and childish insults to women, hiding behind the veil of attacking “political correctness.” Megyn Kelley, normally a popular host on Fox News, received torrents of critical emails and tweets — even threats — from Trump supporters after her tough questions to Trump in the debate. That didn’t diminish even after his hints about the toughness of her questions being tied to her menstrual cycle.

Now that Fiorina has risen somewhat in national polls, Trump has decided to attack her in sexist terms, too, saying that “listening to her for more than ten minutes can give you a massive headache.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t afraid to call it as he sees it, suggesting that much criticism toward Clinton, especially about her trustworthiness, is rooted in sexism. “I don’t know that a man would be treated the same way that Hillary is,” Sanders was quoted as saying in a CNN story. That was after he answered a reporter’s question about Hillary Clinton’s hair with one of his own: “Do you have serious questions?”

An opinion piece in Huffington Post asks the question, “Is It Going to Be Open Season on All Women in Politics in 2016?”

Let’s hope not. But it seems that the pattern already has been set.

 

Presidential hopefuls give Iowa a try at #IowaStateFair

The official Iowa State Fair Butter Cow, who has her own Twitter account.

Even the official Iowa State Fair Butter Cow has her own Twitter account.

Between the frozen lemonade, the foot-long corn dogs, the deep-fried Oreos, the deep-fried pickles, the deep-fried ice cream, the deep-fried just about everything else, and the pork chops on a stick — one of 75 state fair food options available with a handle — Democratic and Republican candidates braved the sweltering sun at the Iowa State Fair to woo Hawkeye state voters.

Crowds were large and raucous. They cheered and swarmed candidates and listened to speeches at the Soapbox site run by the Des Moines Register. Democrats gave rousing speeches at the Democratic Wing Ding dinner. Hillary Clinton had a huge crowd follow her to see the Butter Cow. A few kids got to ride the Trumpcopter, just outside the fairgrounds, since fair officials nixed landing it at the fair itself. Bernie Sanders joked that he left his helicopter at home.

The nation’s political reporters descended on the fair, trying to get close to candidates to ask the same questions they asked just yesterday. They tried to out-tweet each other with such observations as quoting a voter saying, “I can’t wait to see Trump! I want to hear who he insults today!”

Yes, it’s silly season in presidential election politics. So with apologies to Meredith Willson, here’s a political version of “Iowa Stubborn” from The Music Man. Sing along if you want.

Oh, there’s nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to vet you
To vote for you,
Which we may not do at all.
There’s an Iowa kind of special
deep-fried Twinkies attitude.
We’ve never been without.
That we recall.
We can be cold
As our freezing caucuses in February
If you ask who we will vote for come July.
And we’re so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin’ candidates
For six months at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
But what the heck, you’re welcome,
Join us at the state fair!
You can eat your fill
If you fill our coffers with your bucks.
You really ought to give Iowa a try.
You know we all are contrary,
We can be cold
As our freezing caucuses in February
If you ask who we will vote for come July.
And we’re so by God stubborn
We can stand touchin’ candidates
For six months at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
But we’ll give you our shirt
And a yard sign to go with it
If your campaign should happen to die.
So, what the heck, you’re welcome,
Glad to have you with us.
Even though we may not ever vote for you again.
You really ought to give Iowa
Hawkeye Iowa
Clinton, Sanders, Huckabee,
Perry, Santorum, Bush, Trump, Carson
Ought to give Iowa a try!

One thing should be noted: Donald Trump did not visit the butter cow. He might as well drop out of the race right now.

Jobs for unemployed youth? They’re hiring in Chicago

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A business consortium is pledging to hire 100,000 workers between the ages of 16 and 24 who aren’t employed and aren’t in school.

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative has a goal: “To create the nation’s largest employer-led private sector coalition focused on helping young people build skills and attain credentials, while connecting them to employment.” The plan is to make all of these hires by 2018.

The coalition is led by the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions. Its founding members are private-sector companies, funders, and youth-focused organizations. Its first event is in Chicago, whose many segregated neighborhoods are plagued with high unemployment as well as violence.

The 30 hiring companies include hotel chains, an airline, fast-food restaurant chains, department stores, and many more. These are paying jobs, not internships.

The effort is being launched at Chicago’s McCormick Place. About 4,400 Chicagoans ages 16-24 were expected to converge for the first in a national rollout.

“Prepared to offer interviews and jobs on the spot are about 30 major corporations,” says a story in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The youths — all pre-registered — have gotten skills training, professional development, resume help, and mentoring from dozens of Chicago groups that work on the coinciding issues of violence and lack of jobs for youths.

“Companies committed to hiring for full-time, entry-level jobs include Starbucks, CVS, Walgreen’s, Hilton, Hyatt, JP Morgan Chase, Prudential, Macy’s, JCPenney, Target, Wal-Mart and many more,” says the Sun-Times story. “The new employees will be paired with mentors.”

Not a weekend goes by without a report of the toll from Chicago gun violence. So far in 2015, there have been nearly 1,800 shootings. This map from the Chicago Tribune shows the preponderance of shootings in Chicago neighborhoods. This map from Chicago Magazine shows the unemployment rate in Chicago neighborhoods. Notice the overlap.

The Chicago youth unemployment rate is 27.6 percent, according to a report from the Chicago Community Jobs Plan. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to bring down the violence rate with a series of anti-violence initiatives, in part “based on a 2013 University of Chicago study that found that jobs, therapy, and mentoring yielded significant reductions in youth violence,” according to the Sun-Times story. Emanuel called the 100,000 Opportunities project “the perfect combination of public-private initiative. The challenges are bigger than either one of our individual capacities.”

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which aims to expand the program to offer jobs to its target hirees nationwide, has links on its website for both companies and youths to sign up.

Giving jobs to 4,400 unemployed youths who aren’t in school, including some with minor criminal records, won’t solve all of Chicago’s gun violence or unemployment problems. But it’s a pretty good start.

Trump resonates with voters’ inner Howard Beale

It’s hard to find a fitting analogy for the candidacy of Donald Trump, or for the voters who continue to support him no matter who or what he attacks. We’re in uncharted territory, but with some hauntingly familiar refrains.

No matter who Trump insults — immigrants, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, other Republican presidential candidates, women in general — Trump, the real estate mogul, former reality TV host, and professional blowhard, is still ahead in the polls. He’s Teflon with a subset of voters. Every time Trump makes one of his remarks that would sink anyone else’s campaign, the political punditry class — especially those in the Beltway media — declares that the latest outrage is the beginning of the end of Trump’s candidacy.

Except it never is. Trump keeps sailing along at the top of the GOP polls. Voters who tell pollsters they back Trump keep supporting him. And nothing he says or does, no matter how offensive, how ridiculous, how contradictory, how obviously false, how empty of substance, seems to dissuade them.

Tweets from Trump supporters repeat the same general message: He “tells it like it is.” He “isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect.” He’s not afraid to “take on the politicians.” It’s the Tea Party, and it’s also the distrustful American voter.

I’m reminded of Howard Beale, the mentally disturbed news anchor played by Peter Finch in the 1976 film Network. Beale’s network capitalizes on his illness by letting him rant on the air with his famous line, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” He sparks a national anger movement and drives up his network’s ratings. (Spoiler alert: Things don’t end so well for Beale. Or for Finch, who died and won a posthumous Oscar.)

Beale rants that things are awful in today’s America, mentioning many things on the Trump checklist. He cites crime (check; Mexicans), losing jobs (check; the economy), punks running wild in the streets (check; thugs), and other general complaints. I hadn’t seen the movie in decades, but watch the clip. It holds up well.

Of course, as a news anchor, Beale (even if he were mentally stable) wouldn’t be expected to come up with solutions. Apparently Trump isn’t, either; there are literally no policy proposals or positions on his campaign website.

The normal rules of covering presidential campaigns seem to have gone out the window. Trump has very little staff and isn’t making the usual multiple visits to early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. He doesn’t have to bother to actually go on a show to be interviewed — he’s reached by phone, and the hosts are glad to have him. Instead of even pretending to give other candidates equal coverage, whenever reporters do ask questions of other candidates, those questions are often about the Donald.

The new line of reasoning by the political chattering class is that, well, sure, those people might say they like Trump now, but when it comes time for actual voting in six months, they’re not going to be so likely to cast their ballots that way.

Remember: Billionaire H. Ross Perot got more than 19 percent of the vote in 1992. And pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998.

It would be much harder for Trump to run as a third-party candidate in 2016 (see this story from Vox that highlights “sore loser” laws in several states). But if we’ve learned one thing from this crazy election cycle, it’s this: Never discount the overpowering ego of Donald Trump.

GOP debate: Fox tries to dump the Trump

Debate moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier did their best to trap Trump.

Debate moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier did their best to trap Trump.

Clown car, political reality show, Roman circus. There’s no shortage of derisive and colorful descriptions of the first official Republican debate.

Every pundit and political consultant is weighing in about “what it all means.” Who’s up, who’s down, who won, who lost, who failed, who succeeded (besides Fox News, with a reported 24 million viewers). The biggest takeaway I can see is that Fox seems to realize that it (and the Republican Party as a whole) has unleashed a monster in frontrunner Donald Trump and is trying to put it back in the bag. But just like Pandora’s Box, once it’s opened, there’s no closing it again.

The debate started with a Trump trap: What candidates would consider an independent run? Only Trump raised his hand, all the while claiming he thinks he’ll be the GOP nominee anyway. Fox’s Megyn Kelly kept stirring the pot with a question about Trump’s repeated use of insulting and sexist Twitter language about women. He tried to sidestep his insults with his usual complaints about “political correctness,” and many in the GOP-friendly audience applauded him.

There were more tough questions from the three moderators, to Trump (and other candidates, too). Chris Wallace pressed Trump about his multiple bankruptcies, which he shrugged off with a “business as usual” kind of answer. Trump was queried on why he had given money to Democrats and when he actually became a Republican. The moderators demanded answers and evidence of Trump’s claims about criminals crossing the Mexican border.

Trump’s answers were nonsense, empty of actual policy, and full of falsehoods, but that’s nothing new. What is new is that, after years of letting Trump blow off steam, running off at the mouth when he called into Fox & Friends on a regular basis or during his many appearances on the cable news network, Fox has finally realized that he’ll be a losing entity in the general election. As the Republican nominee, he would lose to any Democrat. As a third-party candidate, he likely would draw more votes from the eventual GOP nominee.

So what is Fox to do, with its symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party? Hit him hard. But did it do any good? No doubt we’ll have a plethora of polls before you can change the channel.

I reached my quota of Fox News exposure toward the end of the debate, once Kelly started on the “God” question, which reached a new low even for Fox. During talks with a voter panel afterward, GOP consultant Frank Luntz framed everything about the Donald in negative terms. And even then, many on the panel of GOP voters were still pro-Trump.

If anything, the debate exposed even more how thin-skinned Trump is. His Twitter account let loose with a flurry of anti-Kelly tweets: “Wow! @megynkelly really bombed tonight.” Trump called Luntz a “low-class slob who came to my office looking for consulting work and I had zero interest.”

Will any of this matter in the short run? People who liked Trump before may still like him now, although you’ve got to think that his true nature was exposed to some women voters.

Some other candidates exceeded expectations, such as Carly Fiorina in the JV debate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who apparently drank enough water ahead of time, sounded like he had done his homework. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, buoyed by a hometown crowd in Cleveland, sounded like a reasonable adult, especially in his answers about marriage equality and Medicaid expansion. Even if that might alienate GOP voters.

Others got into snippy shouting matches, like Tennessee Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sounded underprepared. Former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush didn’t blow it, but he sounded muddled and muted.

Rick Perry solidified his “oops” reputation by not remembering how long he served as governor and calling the 40th president “Ronald Raven.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks fetuses have constitutional rights, wants to introduce a “pimp” tax, and said, “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Neurosurgeon Ben Carson apparently wants to start up the torture program again.

So what did we learn? Not much. No candidates revealed much of anything in the way of policy or proposals; it was too tempting to bash former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Iran nuclear deal, and pretend that President Obama hadn’t rescued the economy that Jeb!’s brother trashed.

Many on the left complained about the lack of questions about issues of income equality, the Black Lives Matter movement (there was a half-hearted one toward the end, with a half-hearted answer from Walker), and other issues that progressives care about. Hello? This was a debate on FOX NEWS. You really think they’re going to ask if CEOs should be paid less?

At least we have a month until the next debate. And, in case you were wondering, most of the news stories about the debate focus on — Donald Trump.

Media fixation with GOP presidential race a national embarrassment

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Every new presidential election brings new opportunities for the ever-growing number of political journalists to become preoccupied with the horserace — and not the issues. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything as worthless as the amount of coverage devoted to a partisan debate a full 15 months before the election.

Just about every news outlet, every blog, every tweet delivered the “breaking news” of which Republican candidates made the Fox GOP debate. The lucky top 10 will join the main debate in the evening while the also-rans will air their views in the earlier junior varsity event.

You would think, from the over-reporting of this debate makeup — and the whines from those who didn’t make it — that someone had discovered a cure for cancer, solved world hunger, or beaten ISIS into submission. But no, it’s just a list of which 10 people will speak on a GOP-friendly network.

“The list is in,” CNN reported breathlessly on a banner on its website, complete with photos of the lucky 10 and the unlucky seven. And just in case you don’t have enough details, the cable network will be glad to tell you “what you missed from Monday’s GOP forum.”

“GAME ON” screamed the Huffington Post, with photos of the big 10.

Fox News, of course, which is hosting the debate(s), blared out the big announcement with five accompanying follow-up stories.

Is there a doubt what any of the candidates will say about President Obama, Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton, immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, or the Affordable Care Act? Nope. Instead, reporters, pundits, and hangers-on will report every nuance, every perceived stumble, every attack on front-runner Donald Trump. Will former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush be asked to explain what he would replace Medicare with, since he wants to “phase it out,” and how that would help rather than hurt America’s seniors? Doubtful. Will Trump be asked for specifics about his seat-of-the-pants pronouncements about Mexico paying for a multi-billion-dollar border fence, or repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with something “terrific”? Unlikely. Will any of them be asked to explain their references to Obama and the Holocaust? Oh, please.

How about the junior leaguers? Even though several candidates fell within the margin of error, I guess Fox thought that America had grown tired of retreads like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. And maybe North Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s video of the many ways to destroy his cell phone, including throwing it into a blender, reminded too many people of a Bass-o-Matic.

Friends from other countries, like the U.K. and France, always react with bemusement at the saturation coverage of U.S. political races. In other countries, of course, elections are limited to months or even weeks. What a concept. I mean, just because the media trumpets coverage of the latest in a series of non-stop polls, that doesn’t mean most Americans know any more about any of the candidates. Because the media aren’t bothering to talk about that.

Once again, the media have fallen into the trap of letting Fox News set the tone and the topic of coverage. Fox will have millions and millions of pairs of eyeballs tuned in, while its ad rates keep getting higher.

I’m as much of a political junkie as anyone, and I’ll pay attention to what candidates are saying, even ones I would never vote for. But would it be too much to ask that once — just once — the media actually covered an election with the aim of telling the electorate about policy instead of just politics?

Obama’s bold steps on climate change can’t wait

The new rules call for U.S. power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

New rules call for U.S. power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

With his new Clean Power Plan, President Obama is taking his boldest action yet on the issue of saving the planet.

The new rules are the first ever to impose limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The approach aims for a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030.

“We’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” Obama said in an event in the White House’s East Room, citing stronger storms, more severe droughts, and longer wildfire seasons as evidence that the climate is changing. The entire plan is detailed at a White House website.

Don’t forget that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2007 that the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal obligation to issue standards on carbon pollution from mobile sources like cars and stationary sources like power plants, once those sources are found to be endangering the public health. That’s a big reason that the Clean Power Plan stresses the health benefits from cutting carbon emissions: Each year, lower greenhouse gas emissions will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed work days and school days because of illness.

“We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” Obama said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

Obama stressed that power plants are the largest source of emissions in the United States, accounting for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas pollution. The new rules set individual state goals for reducing emissions and will require each state to develop a plan for meeting specific targets.

States can change over to renewable energy sources, improve energy efficiency, and shut down heavily polluting coal-fired units. New EPA final rules for new power plants call for phasing out new coal-fired units unless there is technology in place that can capture and store carbon emissions.

Several presidential hopefuls from both parties weighed in on Obama’s Clean Power Plan. First out of the gate was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called it a “good plan, and as President, I’d defend it.” Similar sentiments came from Vermont Sen. Bermie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush, of course, called it a “disaster” and “unconstitutional.” He told donors at a (surprise!) Koch network summit in Orange County, Calif., that the climate rule will “hollow out our industrial core.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state of Kentucky depends on coal, went even further. He is advising states to “ignore” the requirement for them to develop a state implementation plan to meet the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards.

Actually, the Clean Power Plan is something that the world can’t wait any longer for. An online post by Joe Romm, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and the founding editor of Climate Progress, says the plan “might be just enough to stave off a climate catastrophe.”

Saying the country has the “moral imperative to act,” Romm adds, “We know with unusually high scientific certainty that the near-term choices we as a nation and a species make about carbon pollution will determine whether or not we will destroy our livable climate in the coming decades.” He calls the Clean Power Plan a “bare minimum” for the United States.

There’s no question that these new rules are an attempt for Obama to cement his environmental legacy and add to the other successes by his administration in the area of slowing global warming. The website for the Clean Power Plan ticks off a long list of items where progress has been made, including stronger fuel economy standards, a tenfold increase in solar power, and a tripling of wind power since he became president.

Obama didn’t mince words in his remarks at the White House. “This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids.”

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