Ferguson no-indictment call: Travesty of justice or fair shake?

Justice for Michael Brown never really had a chance.

As a rule, police don’t get charged with a crime when they shoot and kill someone. In one sense, that’s fair, since they’re putting their own lives on the line trying to serve and protect, and they do have a right to defend themselves. But when a case is handled as poorly and in such an obviously biased way as the Michael Brown case was handled, it’s clear that there was only one outcome the prosecutor wanted — no indictment for the officer who shot and killed Brown. And St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch got what he wanted.

The variance in stories from the police side since August is stunning. Within a few days, Ferguson police played up the story of Michael Brown stealing cigars. They admitted that Officer Darren Wilson didn’t know that Brown was a suspect in that theft until after he had killed him. By the time of the 20-minute McCulloch press conference, all of a sudden the story was that Wilson stopped Brown precisely because he matched the description of the cigar-stealer.

Numerous eyewitnesses came forward to give accounts. As many lawyers on cable news shows said, eyewitness accounts don’t always agree. Yet McCulloch and his assistants played up the accounts that fit into the scenario of Michael Brown “charging” at Darren Wilson — a scenario that he no doubt settled on after he heard some of these eyewitness accounts — and discounted the ones that didn’t meet their test. Never mind that multiple witnesses said Brown was shot over 100 feet away, with his hands up.

In his bizarre press conference performance, McCulloch actually attacked the eyewitnesses who told a story that didn’t fit his prearranged scenario. He claimed those witnesses had “changed their story” and that their testimony “didn’t match the autopsy evidence.” This, despite the fact that he admitted some of the autopsy evidence was inconclusive. He claimed that some witnesses said Brown was standing still with his hands up, some said his hands were down, and some said he was running toward Wilson.

Late in the press conference, before McCulloch actually announced the non-indictment, the ONLY story he was repeating was that Brown was “charging” at Wilson. Why, exactly, should we believe that to be the case? Yet, since there was no police report about this incident, Wilson was able to pick and choose his details and tell a story that would exonerate him.

The photos released of Wilson’s supposed injuries from Brown don’t show much in the way of injuries. There is some slight redness in his cheeks, but no evidence that the “demon,” as Wilson described Brown, did much damage. Why should we believe Wilson?

There were a series of leaks throughout the “secret” grand jury proceedings. (Gee, wonder where those came from, Prosecutor McCulloch?) And all of those carefully leaked details served to bolster the outcome McCulloch wanted. And although McCulloch’s office was willing to leak those details throughout the proceedings, he refused to say if the decision not to indict was unanimous — claimed he couldn’t do it. How is it that so many of these details, including Wilson’s tailored testimony, are fair game, yet how the jurors voted isn’t?

According to reports from those who have started looking into the thousands of pages of documents from the grand jury, including the testimony from Wilson himself, McCulloch’s assistants bullied the eyewitnesses and treated Darren Wilson with kid gloves.

The oddest and most disturbing thing about the press conference was the timing. The grand jury issued its non-indictment and was dismissed. First the decision was to be revealed at 4 p.m. Central time. Then, inexplicably, that was postponed until 8 p.m. And then McCulloch started 20 minutes late anyway. Why?

Certainly it gave McCulloch prime time TV exposure. But it had the worse effect of announcing the decision late at night — a time when protestors who had been stewing all day waited in the dark. Is it any surprise that there was a violent reaction? A diary on Daily Kos suggested that the evening release of the non-indictment was done on purpose, to ensure a violent reaction from protestors. The prosecutor’s office wanted riots, so they would look good and the heavily African-American crowd would look bad.

“Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin in an online opinion piece. McCulloch’s “tone was icy and divisive. His sympathy for the Brown family was perfunctory. He seemed more angry at the news media than about the death of a young man.” That anger also seemed directed at social media and eyewitnesses who didn’t fit his preordained outcome. What kind of prosecutor treats eyewitnesses that way? Not one I want in my county.

So Darren Wilson walks free. No doubt someone will give him a lucrative ghost-written book deal, and he’ll be the darling of conservative media.

Some of the leaks about this case suggested that Wilson will resign from the Ferguson Police Department. For the sake of the town, I certainly hope he does. He’d probably be much happier living in an all-white community anyway.

So Obama took executive action on immigration. What now?

President Obama has announced a series of limited steps he is taking to partially fix the country’s broken immigration system. The big question is, what happens now — legally, politically, morally, and practically?

The predicted reaction from Republicans has been, well, predictable. Varying degrees of outrage, possible impeachment, lawsuits, even jail time for the president. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann claims that “illiterate Hispanics” will vote Democratic. Some, like Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, even have predicted violence, anarchy, and “ethnic cleansing.” So a group of white Republican voters is going to commit an act of violence against the women who clean their houses, the men who mow their lawns, and the children who pick their fruits and vegetables? I don’t think so.

Republicans are masters at expressing outrage, but less so on offering any ideas of substance. The earlier talking point was “poisoning the well.” Now it seems to be claiming that Obama is offering “amnesty” to all immigrants here illegally, although that clearly isn’t what he told the country. It’s also clear that few Republicans actually understand what “amnesty” actually means. Even Fox News’ Megyn Kelly admitted that Republicans just use the term to get people riled up. And let’s not forget that GOP Saint Ronald Reagan was the biggest amnesty-giver of them all.

In one interview, a Republican lawmaker was repeatedly asked what the GOP would offer to tell those in other countries that the borders were NOT wide open. His answer was “I don’t understand your question,” and then he launched into how these new executive actions tell those in other countries that the borders ARE now wide open. Even though that’s the opposite of what Obama said — these actions do not apply to those who arrived recently and do not apply to future illegal immigrants.

It would have been better for the networks to give Obama the ten minutes the administration asked for so people could listen to the actual outline of his actions, but I guess 1) they’re too afraid of being labeled the “liberal media” and 2) it’s Sweeps month, and God help anything that postpones finding out who killed Sam on “How to Get Away With Murder.”

As responsible journalists have pointed out and as Obama said last night, the limited executive actions follow the same steps taken by other recent presidents, both Democratic and Republican, since Dwight Eisenhower. So legally, Obama is covered. Republicans won’t say it out loud, but those with brains in their party know so. Even some conservative members of the Supreme Court have said so.

On the moral front, most reasonably thinking people would say it’s a good thing if families can stay together, and that parents shouldn’t be deported if it means leaving children behind in this country.

Politically? This could be a tinderbox. Obama threw down a gauntlet to the GOP, saying that if they don’t like him taking action, “pass a bill.” Let’s see a show of hands: Who thinks they’ll do it? I didn’t think so. The bipartisan Senate bill that passed with a wide margin in the Senate has been sitting in the House all year, and House Speaker John Boehner refuses to bring it to a vote, even though it likely would pass with a majority of all Democrats and some Republicans. It’s more important for the GOP to deny Obama a victory, despite that fact that immigration reform has wide support from the American people, business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc., etc.

Why should we think Republicans will all of a sudden find religion on immigration? The low voter turnout in the midterm election of 36.4 percent shows that their side turned out, and the Democratic side — which ostensibly would contain more Hispanic voters — didn’t. So the GOP isn’t paying a political price. It won’t work in the long run, but no doubt Republicans will think of new ways to suppress voting to try to ensure election night victories. And the cowardice of too many Democrats in persuading Obama to delay his actions on immigration no doubt helped to suppress the Hispanic vote.

As far as the well being poisoned, which party started poisoning the well on election night in 2008? Hint: It wasn’t the Democrats.

On the practical side of things, these executive actions will be good for the country. Those earning wages will be paid legally and will pay their share of taxes, boosting state and federal coffers. More unified families mean more stable families — families that can spend more money, boosting the economy.

Of course, the third time is the charm for something — the House GOP finally found a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Obama for doing something they wanted him to do anyway. The lawsuit, passed a full four months ago in the GOP-led House, goes after the president for acting on his own to delay the employer mandate for health insurance for a year. Which the House had passed before. And it doesn’t ask for any relief or change, it only asks for a ruling. No doubt the court will make quick work of throwing it out, since those suing can’t claim that it has damaged them, and thus lack standing to bring the suit.

So get out your popcorn and get ready to watch. But don’t expect Congress to do anything — they’ve already left for Thanksgiving vacation.

Truth about 2015 Obamacare rates the GOP won’t like

The Affordable Care Act health exchanges are again open for business, and it’s good news for consumers. And bad news for Republicans, no matter how they try to spin it and no matter how many votes they take to repeal the law.

According to an intelligence brief by the respected and impartial McKinsey Center for Health System Reform, Americans buying health insurance through state and federal exchanges won’t see their premiums go up very much, contrary to the claims made by the GOP during the mid-term elections and on Fox News. In some areas, premiums are actually lower than they were last year. And Americans will have a lot more choices when it comes to policies: Only five health insurance companies have withdrawn from the exchanges, while 57 carriers have been added. The number of carriers increased by 26 percent, McKinsey says.

The McKinsey brief states that in 2015, “enrollees could see a median increase of only 4 percent when they receive their renewal notifications. However, the actual increase they pay could be less than half that amount, given that many people will have the option of switching to a lower-price plan.”

An online article in Forbes — hardly a bastion of left-wing thought — pointed out the good news about Obamacare rates. “When was the last time we saw insurance premiums experience an annual increase of less than 5 percent?” the article asks. “All in all, it is going to be quite a stretch for Obamacare opponents to turn this data into bad news.”

A story in Bloomburg News — also not usually quoted by those darn liberals — shows a similar trend. That story put the average premium increase slightly higher — six percent — and said that 77 new insurance plans would be competing for customers in 2015.

Since the new round of open enrollment began, things have gone smoothly on the government website. At least 100,000 people started the process of signing up for health care the first weekend, and there are few reported glitches. Of course, when things go smoothly and websites work like they’re supposed to, that’s not news to cable news channels.

Instead, the latest right-wing talking point about the ACA is from a year-old video featuring Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who wrote the Massachusetts health care law (aka “Romneycare”) and was a technical consultant on the federal law. In the video, Gruber talks about the “stupidity” of the American voter and that the ACA was written in such a way as to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from scoring the fines generated from health insurance mandate as a tax.

Fox and other conservative media have promoted Gruber to the role of “architect” of the ACA, even though he didn’t write the law itself — he had a contract for modeling the economics of various proposals for the bill. The cable network seems obsessed with Gruber’s comments, and some Republican House members are (of course) calling for hearings. Over eight days, there were 779 mentions of Jonathan Gruber on Fox, according to a compilation by the Poynter.org for the Poynter Institute. That contrasts with 79 mentions by MSNBC and even fewer by CNN. I guess we can call this “Gruber-gate,” or “Gruber-ghazi.”

Here’s the thing, though. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the ACA is constitutional, it dealt with that whole tax/not-a-tax issue. And when it came to scoring the bill, the CBO decided that it didn’t matter if it counted the penalty as a tax or a fine — the law still would generate $4 billion in health care expenditure savings in 2016. But Republicans are hoping that the Gruber brouhaha will add fuel to the fire facing the Supreme Court when it hears arguments in a case about the matter of subsidies for policies bought from the federal exchange rather than state exchanges. Which was basically a typo in the law — the law’s writers say the intent was to provide subsidies for both.

Irony is rich, but at least one Republican has apparently seen the writing on the wall. In Oregon, the losing GOP candidate for Senate, Dr. Monica Wehby, spent much of her campaign railing against the ACA. Now, according to a story in The Oregonian, she’s reportedly applying to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to be director of the Oregon Health Authority — the agency that is responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act and overseeing the Oregon health exchange.

Obama’s immigration stance against GOP: Crazy like a fox

President Obama seems to be on the verge of following in the footsteps of two Republican presidents. He is poised to issue the same kind of executive orders shielding immigrants from deportation that were issued by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Of course, when Reagan and Bush issued those same orders, it was seen as a humanitarian gesture to keep families together. According to an AP story, “Two of the last three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.”

But when Obama talks of doing the same, it must be an impeachable offense, right? If Obama takes such action, he will “poison the well” so that there can be no cooperation between the White House and Congress.

Please. As if Republicans haven’t been poisoning the well for six solid years. Don’t forget that a group of Republicans met on election night 2008 and decided then and there not to support the new president on ANYTHING. They all heeded the directions from radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh, who said at a conservative talkfest in January 2009 that he “wanted Obama to fail.”

Instead, Republicans have spent six solid years trying to stymie every accomplishment; voting against every initiative, even if it started as a GOP idea, like the health insurance mandate; and attacking him from every direction, even when those attacks are in the opposite direction of previous attacks. They’ve questioned his very legitimacy as president. (He’s a Kenyan! He’s a Muslim! He wasn’t born in Hawaii, and he must have traveled back in time to insert a birth notice in a Honolulu newspaper. Whatever he is, he’s not a “real ‘Murrican.”)

Obama took a big — in hindsight, probably a misguided — gamble before the mid-term elections and held off on issuing an executive order about immigration and deportations. Senate Democrats feared they would lose seats because such an action would drive up turnout by tea-party and other anti-immigration types of voters.

Well, the election is over, and we know what happened. Those Democrats lost anyway — Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Most likely Mary Landrieu will lose in the runoff election in Louisiana, too. The tea party voters turned out in droves anyway, and Obama’s lack of an order when he promised such action could have suppressed Latino voters who decided to sit out the election rather than reward a party that was too scared to support immigrant families. Total voter turnout was only 36.4 percent — the lowest turnout in modern history in a U.S. election. When will Democrats learn that voters support positive action, not hiding?

All of that is the proverbial water under the bridge. The important thing is to consider the right course of action now. According to the AP story, Obama wants to “extend protection from deportation to millions of immigrant parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and expand his 2-year-old program that shields immigrants brought illegally to this country as children.”

Lawmakers such as Rep. Steve King (R, Iowa) are already apoplectic. “The audacity of this president to think he can completely destroy the rule of law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me.” Other Republicans bring up the possibility of impeachment over such an order. Gee, why didn’t they take the same impeachment vote against Reagan and Bush 1?

Some Democrats such as Rep. Joaquin Castro (D, Texas) are describing the GOP threats as “pure political theater” and saying they should be treated as such. “It’s clear that it’s fully within his legal authority to issue these orders,” Castro said.

Will there be a government shutdown over this? Will there be an impeachment vote if Obama issues such an order on immigration and deportations? I’ve given up trying to predict what the looniest of the loonies in the right wing will do. Those who have bothered to actually read the Constitution they claim to love so much know that it takes two-thirds of the votes in the Senate to remove a sitting president from office. Not gonna happen. One GOP congressman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, S.C.) gave this argument against impeachment: “Have you met Joe Biden?” Vice President Biden, of course, is next in line to the presidency. Fox News thought his one-liner was just hilarious.

President Obama has nothing to lose now. No more elections for him, no chance of a different Congress for the last two years of his presidency. I say go for whatever he can get done on his own, since he’s not going to get any cooperation from the other side of the aisle anyway. Many progressive Democrats are wondering what took him so long.

And the American people — and the beltway media — have started to notice. Before the election, the accepted media narrative was that Obama was “an unpopular president” and that Democrats didn’t want him to campaign for them. Of course, the Republican party polls much lower — 30 percent approval, if they’re lucky, and approval ratings for Congress itself hover just over 10 percent. And you wonder who those people are who say they approve of Congress, outside of, as Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.) said, “blood relatives and staff members.”

Now the new narrative about Obama is that he’s turned into a man of action, and he’s not going to let the GOP stop him. Nothing to lose, and everything to gain with a chance for some good policies. His approval ratings are starting to inch up again, too.

It’s as if you could almost hear Obama saying, as he did in a debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, “Please proceed, GOP.”

U.S.-China pact best hope of global climate agreement

The agreement between the United States and China gives the best chance in a long time of forming an actual world plan to combat climate change.

This pact is more than nine months in the making. U.S. and Chinese officials have been working behind the scenes to develop an agreement in which each country promises to cut greenhouse gases. There are new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and — even more important — a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing past 2030.

The agreement is historic on many levels. The U.S. and China are the biggest polluters on the planet, and demonstrating a commitment by these two leading nations could very well produce a pact during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015. The U.S.-China pact also includes a letter President Obama wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping proposing the joint agreement.

The U.S. has a new target for 2025: to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26 percent to 28 percent from its 2005 levels. China is committing to peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, and will try to reach that peak earlier. It also promises to boost its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 20 percent. China is already in second place when it comes to generating solar power. (Germany still leads all countries in that regard; the United States is fifth, behind Italy and Japan.) As a matter of fact, according to a report by the Earth Policy Institute, China is set to double its solar panel production by 2017. China installed a world record amount of solar photovoltaics (PV) capacity in 2013, the institute says.

Now other countries are on notice. If the United States and China can cut emissions and are willing to do so, other countries will be pressured to do the same.

According to a story in The New York Times, the U.S.-China pact “is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord. Unless Beijing and Washington can resolve their differences, climate experts say, few other countries will agree to mandatory cuts in emissions, and any meaningful worldwide pact will be likely to founder.”

So what’s the next step? Unlike a treaty, this agreement with China does not need congressional approval. But wIth the Republican takeover of the Senate, we shouldn’t expect any cooperation on that end. After all, the new head of the Senate committee overseeing environmental concerns will be Sen. James Inhofe (R, Stone Age), the king of the climate change deniers. He constantly calls the concept of man-made global warming a “hoax” and a “conspiracy.” The GOP certainly could stand in the way of regulations that will achieve the goals of the agreement.

In the long run, though, the Republicans’ new favorite way to avoid talking about climate change — the “I’m not a scientist” excuse — is going to wear thin. Indeed, Inhofe’s outrageous statements about the climate should prove fodder for Democrats in 2016. According to an online story by Politico, some environmental groups see a silver lining in Inhofe’s chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. They figure that the worse he comes off — and he’s going to come off poorly; there’s no doubt about that — the easier it will be to attack Republicans on the issue of climate change for the next election.

“Leave it to today’s GOP to put someone who doesn’t believe in basic science at the helm of the committee that oversees environmental protection,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin. “It’s unfortunate that Republicans continue to put more stock in their rigid ideology than science and what’s best for the country.”

So thank you, President Obama and President Xi. Now let’s see if those who truly care about the future of the planet can move this effectively in the right direction.

Why is voter turnout so low? Why don’t people vote?

Another election with lopsided, disappointing results. Not too disappointing for the Koch brothers, who were finally able to buy the U.S. Senate they apparently wanted for their $100 million in dark money from Koch-related groups. But certainly disappointing for the majority of the American people who, in opinion poll after opinion poll, list the things they want the government to work on and fix, like immigration reform, health care, and the economy as a whole. And those items don’t seem to be high on the checklist of what is now the majority party in Congress — they’re already talking again about repealing the Affordable Care Act, as if the 50-plus votes the House has taken haven’t been enough. So much for cooperation.

It was not a friendly election map for Democrats, and voter suppression tactics passed by Republican-led legislatures in some states surely led to lower turnout in some areas. There has been ample anecdotal evidence of people who couldn’t vote because they didn’t have the correct form of ID. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Let’s do a breakdown of the electorate in the Nov. 4 election. To be sure, it’s too early for a complete look, but there are some startling numbers and facts.

First of all, the electorate was OLDER than usual. This chart from NBC News shows a stark contrast between older and younger voters in the last several elections:


So older voters made up 37 percent of the electorate, while voters younger than 30 made up only 12 percent — the same percentage in the last three midterms (other sources gave a figure of 13 percent). In presidential years, younger voters are more engaged; in midterms, not so much.

Why is that? The lines are actually shorter during midterm elections. Ballots may be shorter, too; activists in some states load up on ballot initiatives during presidential years to drive people to the polls and to gain their votes when they’re actually AT the polls.

On election night, I was interrupted in my return-watching (I am a self-admitted political junkie, after all) by a call from a young woman asking for donations to my college alma mater. I listened for about 30 seconds before I finally politely told her that the university should send me a request in the mail like they do every year; I always send them a check then.

“Besides, you really shouldn’t be calling on election night — people might be watching the returns,” I said.

“Oh — yeah,” she answered vaguely. “The election.” Guess she didn’t make it to a polling place that day or vote absentee. Too busy binge-watching Parks and Recreation or Brooklyn Nine-Nine? I saw a statistic that more young adults watched reruns of The Big Bang Theory than watched returns on election night.

According to an online article in U.S. News and World Report, average voter turnout was down in all but twelve states. Turnout numbers in Washington, Delaware, Missouri, South Dakota, California and Indiana dropped by more than 10 percentage points if you compare the 2010 and 2014 elections. At least two states — New Jersey and South Carolina — reported record low turnout. The turnout nationwide for the 2014 midterm elections was a paltry 36.9 percent. (UPDATE: A week later, that total is 36.3 percent.)

That rate is the lowest turnout in any election in modern history. According to a report on voter turnout from the group FairVote.org, elections in presidential years have an average turnout of around 60 percent, while midterm turnout averages around 40 percent. The lowest previous turnout in midterms was 39 percent. So America didn’t do itself proud this time around.


How about racial breakdowns? The U.S. News article tells us that “more than 40 percent of likely nonvoters in the 2014 elections identified as Hispanic, black or other racial/ethnic minorities, compared with 22 percent of likely voters.” No Obama on the ballot, no meaningful action on immigration — fewer voters from the affected groups.

An opinion piece on Talking Points Memo gives more voting breakdown: “What did change is that Republicans boosted their percentage among African-Americans from 6 percent won by Romney to 10 percent yesterday; from 27 percent to 35 percent among Latinos; and from 26 percent to 49 percent among Asians.” Age demographics had some impact on Republican minority performance, particularly among Latinos. The older the voter, the more conservative, no matter the ethnicity.

We all have the right and the responsibility to vote, even if someone enters the voting booth with ideas we disagree with or ideas we think are just plain crazy. And let’s face it — many voters are poorly informed. We’ve spent a solid two months of nonstop media coverage of Ebola, with enough misinformation that people think you can catch Ebola if a person somewhere in your city was somewhere in Africa sometime in the last year. According to a devilish 2013 poll, more voters in Louisiana — 29 percent — blamed President Obama for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina than blamed President George W. Bush — 28  percent. A full 44 percent weren’t sure. Hint to Louisiana idiots: Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. Who was president? Bush. When was Obama inaugurated? 2009.

(Of course, what can you expect from voters in a state that elected a governor, Bobby Jindal, who told doctors and scientists heading to New Orleans for a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene — a group that knows a heck of a lot more about the Ebola virus than he does — to stay away from his state if they’ve been treating Ebola patients? Otherwise, he’ll quarantine you. At least ten medical experts were forced to miss the meeting. But we digress.)

If you were on the receiving end of the countless emails begging for money from some form of the Democratic Party — the DNC, the DCCC, the DSCC, or individual candidates — no doubt you also received an email touting how successful their voter outreach was. One email bragged that in 2010, there were 16.9 million phone calls and door knocks; in 2012, there were 24.3 million; and in 2014, the total number of phones called and doors knocked on totaled 40 million. (Note: The 40 million total is from the DCCC, or D-Trip, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DSCC, or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a similar email, claimed 30 million. They really should make their numbers agree, don’t you think?)

Oh, please. If the voter outreach was that successful, the outcome would be different. No matter what the numbers are of increased voter registrations, door knocks and phone calls, the fact is that Democrats lost, and lost badly. And the big reason they lost was that too few people on their side voted. And that too many Democratic candidates lacked a coherent message on improving the economy. And that too many were too chicken to present a unified front that included the head of the party — President Obama. And the fact that they spent way too much on ineffective TV ads. And gee, maybe the 50-state strategy developed by former Gov. Howard Dean for 2006 was a good idea after all. But those observations should be the subject of other postings.

No one underestimates the importance of actual voter contact and get-out-the-vote effort, but it has got to be meaningful, and it has to be done the right way. People start clicking away from stations the umpteenth time they’ve seen the same ad. Robocalls are useless; most people hang up the minute they realize they’ve got one. Our home got four separate calls from the same organization about voting, and only two people live here. I remember making calls in the 2008 election. A voter in Iowa told me that this was the fifth time he had received a call from the Obama campaign, and could we PLEASE STOP, ALREADY?

This year, the DSCC started a program to increase voter turnout called the Bannock Street Project, named for the street that held the Democratic Party headquarters in Denver. The name was chosen in honor of the successful get-out-the-vote push in Colorado in 2010, in which John Hickenlooper was elected governor (he was narrowly re-elected in 2014) and Michael Bennet was elected senator. Alas, it didn’t work for Mark Udall, who lost to Sen.-elect Cory Gardner. So maybe the focus was off, and it’s back to square one.

What does all of this mean for the 2016 election? How does it affect getting people to the polls, and making voting easier? How can more voters — especially young voters — become more engaged? Where will new and better candidates come from, and what should they be talking about? I don’t have the answers. But it seems like the Democrats have a lot of work to do.

Aren’t we all tired of Ebola media and political idiocy?

I admit — my eyes start to roll when I hear another member of the news media or politician tell a lie about Ebola or try to score a political point with a ridiculous policy that will do nothing to stop the spread of the disease. But they keep going, and call them out we must.

The latest examples come from the East Coast, where recently Dr. Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola in New York City. A volunteer for Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, he returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa. He followed the strict protocols set by MSF, self-monitoring his temperature twice a day. When it reached 100.3 degrees, he called MSF, which set in motion the correct response: He was taken by special ambulance to the Ebola treatment unit in New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He tested positive for Ebola and is now under treatment. As of this writing, his condition was serious but stable.

Dr. Spencer had eaten out at a few restaurants, gone bowling, ridden the subway, and taken a ride in an Uber taxi. But the city didn’t go into a panic — guess it takes more than that to ruffle New Yorkers.

But that was enough to ruffle the Chicken Little feathers at Fox News. Host Megyn Kelly reported that Dr. Spencer had a 103-degree fever and called him “irresponsible.” (Note number difference: Kelly has a law degree but apparently missed some classes in basic math.) “He doesn’t tell anybody and if he starts to feel symptomatic before his 103 fever, he’s still out there bowling and taking taxis and not quarantining, not just self-quarantining?” she harrumphed self-righteously. Pardon me if I don’t provide a link.

Once again: Ebola is contagious and is spread ONLY when a person is exposed to bodily fluids of an infected patient, such as vomit or diarrhea. No symptoms, no contagion. That’s why health care workers are the ones at highest risk, but they’re also the ones who know how to self-monitor. End of story.

Kelly’s idiocy wasn’t as dumb as statements from Fox contributor George Will, who claimed he had seen mythical research that Ebola can be airborne. Challenged to produce the experts, he grabbed an institution out of the air — the University of Minnesota, which quickly stated publicly that no one there had said any such thing.

A nurse returned from treating Ebola patients for a month in Sierra Leone — something she called “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Kaci Hickox tested NEGATIVE for the Ebola virus. Nevertheless, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decided she should be isolated for 21 days. In this case, her isolation meant living in a tent attached to a hospital with a Porta-Potty and no running water. She was left for hours before being fed. And this unnecessary isolation was for someone who already had tested negative.

Christie went on no fewer than five Sunday talk shows, spouting off how he had “no second thoughts” on his decision to isolate Hickox, whom he called “obviously ill.” This was even though medical experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said the move was unnecessary and could hinder volunteers from going to Africa to help fight Ebola. Hickox wrote a stinging opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News and secured legal counsel.

Suddenly Christie seemed to have second thoughts and allowed her to leave, to go back to her family in Maine. Oh, and Hickox was only ill in Christie’s mind — she is doing the twice-a-day monitoring and has no symptoms.

Christie’s policy in New Jersey was duplicated by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He, too, backed down, after coming to his senses. The proper approach, say all health experts, is monitoring, not automatic quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making needed tweaks about quarantining and monitoring and issued some revised policy today.

The list of politicians who have made idiotic statements about Ebola is seemingly endless. But today’s winner is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R, Texas), who seems to be trying to outdo himself in stupidity. First it was his claim that the Ebola diagnosis of the two Dallas nurses (who are now fine, by the way) was proof of “Democrats’ war on women.” He somehow had “inside knowledge” that President Obama had “cut a deal” with African countries to “bring in people with Ebola” to infect Americans. Oh, and Obama must hate the military, because the reason the president sent troops to Africa was not to build hospitals to try to contain the epidemic; it was to “infect the troops.” The “silver lining,” Gohmert claimed, is that Ebola makes Latinos “too scared” to want to cross the border and will thus cut illegal immigration. Again, pardon me if I don’t provide links; your computer could explode from all of the stupidity.

Maybe after the Nov. 4 election, some people will return to their senses. Ya think? Me, neither.

UPDATE: Now comes word that U.S. troops who were building hospitals in West Africa to fight the epidemic have been isolated in Italy. U.S. UN Ambassador Samantha Power is on a trip to West Africa to meet with officials about the epidemic; I suppose people will want her quarantined, too. Sigh.


Too late, but media backtracks on Ebola hysteria

Irony, thy name is CNN.

After weeks of all-Ebola, all-the-time coverage on cable news channels, some cooler heads are starting to realize the news channels were more than a little over the top in their reporting.

“Ebola hysteria: An epic, epidemic overreaction,” claimed the headline on CNN.com. In an interview with CNN commentator and legal analyst Mel Robbins, CNN credited Robbins with coining the term “Fear-bola,” defined as “an airborne disease that spreads through conversation, entering your brain through your ears. Fear-bola is so contagious that some victims have contracted it by seeing images and videos about Ebola. Once inside your body, Fear-bola attacks that part of the brain responsible for rational thinking.”

Robbins talked about friends’ and family members’ irrational fears that she might catch Ebola if she flew anywhere. “Unless someone barfs or poops on me on the plane, I’m not getting sick,” Robbins said.

Gee: I wonder where so many people got the idea that Ebola was a major threat to the country? Could it have been through constant clamoring by cable news channels, led by CNN, that Ebola was a threat? Could it have been through the breathless reporting about the two nurses diagnosed with Ebola? Up-to-the-minute reports about round trip air travel by one of the nurses from Dallas to Cleveland and back alternately reported, “CDC TOLD HER NOT TO FLY!” “CDC SAID SHE COULD FLY!” “SHE WAS SYMPTOM-FREE!” “SHE MAY HAVE HAD SYMPTOMS!” And now, a TSA agent who patted down that nurse in Cleveland is on paid administrative leave.

There are way too many examples of hysteria throughout the country. A teacher in Maine went to a conference in Dallas — nowhere near Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, mind you, where Thomas Duncan was treated for Ebola and which apparently came up short in its use of universal safety protocols for its health workers. But back in Maine, parents were scared enough to complain, and the school was foolish enough to put that teacher on paid administrative leave for 21 days. A Dallas lab worker who MAY have handled one of the specimens from Duncan went into isolation during a cruise. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Students and faculty from Oklahoma who were on the same cruise with the lab worker have been asked not to come to public school for 21 days.

Navarro College not far from Dallas is rejecting applicants from Nigeria, calling it “the responsible thing to do.” Nigeria had 19 cases of Ebola, had a successful quarantine of patients there, and has had no cases in the last 43 days. In fact, the World Health Organization has declared it Ebola-free. Yet too much of the public — and too many members of Congress — are calling for a travel ban on flights from Ebola-infected countries. Even though there are NO direct flights from those countries to anywhere in the U.S.

A friend from Philadelphia was on a trip to Africa in Kenya, thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. Yet his dentist canceled his appointment, asking him to reschedule 21 days later. A passenger who vomited on a recent flight had to stay in the plane’s bathroom the whole time. (She was tested and doesn’t have Ebola.) Hey, she was an an airplane. People do get motion sickness on airplanes.

Perhaps the saddest case was in Nazareth, Pa., where a West African high school soccer player was taunted with chants of “Ebola” by players of the opposing team during a game earlier in October. Luckily, the teams’ coaches, obviously not passing on any semblance of sanity or sportsmanship to their charges, have resigned, and the students might face disciplinary action, according to an online report in The Morning Call.

You want to think the American people are smarter than to fall for this hype, but it’s hard to think rationally when you get all of your information from cable news. Thought has gotten so irrational that nearly two thirds of those queried in a Washington Post/ABC News poll said they’re concerned about an epidemic in the U.S. Not “cases,” not “outbreak,” but “epidemic.” And this is about a disease that is passed ONLY through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. A major and serious concern for health workers, but not for the U.S. population as a whole.

Even worse than the over-reporting were some discussions led by right-wing commentators. On Fox News, where some commentators used the Ebola cases to bash (who else?) President Obama, regular contributor and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama’s “affinities and affiliations” were with Africa. The worst example may have been from radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that Obama was letting Ebola into the U.S. because Obama thinks people in the U.S. “deserve” it as a payback for slavery.

Toward the end of her interview, Mel Robbins said there could be a few more cases in Dallas. As of now, all of the other health care workers who treated Thomas Duncan have been cleared — no Ebola. And Robbins’ advice to Americans, which has been echoed by health professionals everywhere: “If you’re scared about Ebola, you better go get yourself a flu shot.” Flu, of course, kills thousands of Americans every year. Flu, 49,000; Ebola, 1.

At the same time this interview with Robbins was being aired, the headline on the screen behind the CNN host still said “EBOLA EPIDEMIC.”

I guess CNN just can’t let it go.



Media’s Ebola hysteria deadlier than disease itself

“The president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, attempted on Wednesday to defuse the brewing controversy over his decision to change the network’s official slogan from ‘The Most Trusted Name in News’ to ‘Holy Crap, We’re All Gonna Die.’ ”

That’s not a real news story, of course — it’s political satire written by the brilliant Andy Borowitz and published in The Borowitz Report online through The New Yorker. But you would be forgiven if you thought it was real, given the fevered frenzy members of the media have been spewing lately.

These illness-related figures of speech are done on purpose, as is the hyperbole in the headline. Use whatever imagery you want. So many members of the media — especially cable channels — are out of control with Ebola coverage.

News 24/7 means all-Ebola, all the time. We’ve seen interviews with doctors all around the country, government officials, nurses, and many others. Nearly all of the health professionals are giving thoughtful, measured, serious responses to Ebola questions. It’s still highly unlikely that the U.S. will see many other cases — except for possibly some health care workers. But the anchors and talking heads are driving fear into the hearts of ordinary Americans.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a “widespread” Ebola epidemic in the United States. There’s no reason for such fears, but when that’s what you’re bombarded with constantly, people tune out the real answers and listen to the fear-mongering. Forty-three percent of those polled are worried that they or someone in their family will contract Ebola. Unless you’re caring for an Ebola patient and there was a slip-up in the infection control protocol, that’s just not going to happen.

Nurses — the unsung heroes of the health care system — are rightly concerned. Caregivers are those most as risk for being exposed to the Ebola virus, and the only two cases of people contracting the disease in this country are two nurses. According to a CBS report, the largest nurses union, National Nurses United, has been staging protests calling for more training and better protective gear since summer. Nurses are calling on President Obama to invoke his authority to protect health care workers. “Without action at a very high level, how can we expect the nurses to do this on their own?” asked National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which treated the Liberian man who died and which employs the two nurses now infected, has apologized for mishandling the protocols. So listen to the experts, listen to the caregivers, and move on. Don’t spend hours of news coverage every day wondering if people who rode on a plane with a nurse should be worried.

It also would help if budgets to the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health departments hadn’t been cut. The CDC can’t call every hospital, doctor, and nurse in America to deliver information on the best way to handle a possible Ebola patient — that’s the responsibility of local public health entities. But they can’t do their jobs when they’re underfunded and understaffed.

It would help if the U.S. had a surgeon general to be the public face of what the government is doing about Ebola, and to work to spread public health messages. That way, the CDC director could spend more time working on disease response and not testifying before House committees. But we don’t have a surgeon general, because the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy, the highly qualified candidate recommended by just about every medical organization in the country, remains blocked in the Senate because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association — Dr. Murthy publicly backed the same common-sense gun restrictions supported by most Americans and most doctors and medical associations. Ironically, Fox News, which had led some of smears against Dr. Murthy, recently said the nomination was “tied up in politics.”

And speaking of politics — this being an election season and all — certain politicians are wringing out every drop of fear they can. According to GOP Senate candidates like Tom Tillis (North Carolina) and Scott Brown (New Hampshire), Ebola could come across the border by illegal immigrants and/or terrorists — it depends on which way they’re spinning the silliness. According to Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner, the CDC is “wasting” money on certain programs that aim to cut obesity — why aren’t they spending that money on something important, like Ebola? I hate to tell you, Rep. Gardner, but one in five deaths in the United States is tied to obesity, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

What else kills more Americans annually than Ebola, which has claimed one life? How about heart disease (over 590,000 deaths), cancer (over 570,000), or stroke (nearly 130,000), according to figures from the CDC? How about smoking, flu, or measles from people who aren’t vaccinated, just to name a few others? How about guns, which kill more than 30,000 people in the U.S. every year?

One moment of sanity came from one of the more responsible journalists at Fox News — Shepard Smith. According to a report in New York Magazine, he delivered a message on his show like the Angel Gabriel: “Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online. The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible.”

It would help if more of his colleagues listened to him. More of his colleagues, and more of America, too.

GOP candidate contest: Silliest ISIS claim (with poll!)

The chutzpah of some Republican candidates in this election cycle seems to know no bounds.

ISIS is at the borders, infiltrating the country. We’re all going to die of Ebola. And of course, they blame it all on President Obama and whatever Democratic opponent they happen to be facing.

One of the new claims is by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R, Ark.), who is Arkansas’ GOP candidate for Senate. According to a report in the Washington Post, Cotton told a tele-town-hall meeting that terrorists from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) are infiltrating Mexican drug cartels to invade Arkansas.

“Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism,” Cotton said in answer to a constituent’s question. “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”

Scary stuff, indeed — all without a shred of evidence. When asked by the Post for evidence to back up his claim, Cotton’s office cited reports in conservative right-wing media, reports that have been repeatedly debunked.

Another recent trip to crazytown was by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif.). He told Fox News (where else?) that he has “inside knowledge” from a “high-level official” that border security agents have captured 10 ISIS members at the Mexican border. Even Fox host Greta van Susteren looked skeptical. How did Hunter know? she asked. “Because I’ve asked the Border Patrol,” he answered. (The complete — and very entertaining — story is in a report at MaddowBlog for The Rachel Maddow Show.)

Hunter might as well be riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland — after all, his Southern California district isn’t far from Anaheim. According to a statement from the Dept. of Homeland Security, “The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.”

The fact that DHS has to waste time even answering questions about such a stupid claim shows how ridiculous the election has become. Duncan and his office have doubled down on his claim, saying that DHS was “actively discouraging” any talk about ISIS on the border.

So, the MaddowBlog report said: “Hunter has no proof, but he has a source he won’t identify, who gave him information that literally no one else can verify, about an important claim unsupported by facts.” Hunter’s only backtrack was that the 10 individuals he mentioned should probably be referred to as “foreign nationals” with ties to terrorist organizations.

Perhaps the most fun example might be from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R, Texas), who, in a report from Talking Points Memo, hit what the report labeled a trifecta when he combined Ebola, ISIS, and climate change into one complaint about the Obama administration.

In an interview with Newsmax (I’m sure you’ll pardon me if I don’t link to the story), he said, “This President, and this secretary of state, think that more deadly to this country than Ebola is climate change, more deadly than the Islamic State to Thomas Foley is climate change.” Of course, he meant James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS. But why get details right when you’re a Republican doing a political smear job?

But wait — there’s more! According to an online report from TIME, a scary-sounding voiceover in an ad from the National Republican Campaign Committee claims that “Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day. Their entry into our country? Through Arizona’s backyard.” The source for that ad was a right-wing newspaper misquoting a DHS official talking about social media. Several Republicans have used images of ISIS in campaign ads, some even using the image of the ISIS thug wielding a knife over James Foley.

So go ahead — which is the worst? SO FAR? (Cue scary music here.)

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