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Obama's Cuba Plan Turned Some Folks Into Wind-Up-Toys Of Outrage

Jason Linkins   |   December 20, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would make an effort to normalize relations with Cuba, ending a decades-long policy of distance that had been surprisingly effective in doing nothing in particular. We'll talk about the new plan, and the people who are hopping mad about it.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"Those two, when they got the news, I don't know. It was like they became weird wind-up-toys of outrage." -- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, a Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy has been canceled, because North Korea apparently now dictates what movies we watch in our spare time? How did something so simple get so out of hand?

"Films that relate to things in North Korea will not be made now and that is just outrageous. Something has got to give." -- Arthur Delaney

And finally, we're taking a look back at 2014 -- a great year for garbage monsters. What are our least-favorite things about the past year? Well, this is going to take a while.

"2014 has been f*cking terrible and at least in the world of public affairs, there have been almost no redeeming aspects to this terrible year." -- Zach Carter

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

So You Want To Run For President? Congratulations! Here Are The Stages Of Your Quest

Jason Linkins   |   December 18, 2014   10:06 AM ET

As you may have heard, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced that he was going to “actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.” This may cause you to wonder, “What does actively exploring a presidential run mean?” Is it like actively exploring your body? Or taking a semester off to, I don’t know, get a Eurorail pass and visit other presidential runs? And isn’t “active exploration” redundant? I mean, you can’t “passively explore” something, can you? Like, you’re just living your life until one day you realize that you’ve somehow thoroughly vetted the possibility that you should run for president?

These are all excellent questions, probably. But the key thing to focus on here is that Jeb Bush has proceeded from one stage of running for president, which we’ll call “not actively exploring a presidential run,” to a new stage, “actively exploring a presidential run.” What you want to get a sense of are things like: What is the level of Bush’s presidential ambitions? What trajectory is he on as a potential candidate? And, of course, how soon can we expect him to get to the next stage of this decision-making process, which is “resigning yourself to spending the winter in New Hampshire, and ordering the requisite outerwear online"?

In order to get a fix on where Jeb Bush is, on this long and winding road to the White House, we have to enumerate the many stages of running for president. We are going to be ridiculously exhaustive in this enumeration, because running for president is a ridiculous and exhausting thing to do. Seriously, in America it’s probably easier to just become one of the billionaires who then buy their own presidents. Why not just do that? You get to own yachts and stuff!

The Stages Of Running For President Of The United States Of America

Actually Not Running For President: You have no interest in running for president. You don’t need to do anything. If anyone asks, “Hey, are you thinking of running for president?” you say, “Nah” and go about your day. Naturally, this stage is considerably easier if you’re the sort of person who would not, in a million billion years, be thought of as presidential material. Then you don’t even get asked the question in the first place. If you are in the U.S. Senate, this stings a little!

Being Encouraged To Run For President: Some people out there in the world really like you, and they’ve formed a little posse, and maybe created a website or something, called “Draft [Your Name Here] Dot Tumblr Dot Com,” and maybe Politico has written a thing about that effort and now it’s well beyond your control. Obviously, this year we’ve seen the emergence of “Ready For Hillary,” but it hardly stops there: Ben Carson has the “National Draft Ben Carson For President Committee” behind him, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has “Ready For Warren itching for her to jump into the race. Also: Mitt Romney’s “backers” seem to have a near-galactic gluttony for punishment.

Not every “Draft A Candidate” campaign is realistic or capable of capturing the popular imagination -- just ask the person who started the “@Sebelius2016” Twitter account, in a truly cockeyed bout of optimism. But once your draft movement becomes a thing, you naturally have to proceed to some new stage of running for president or become much more convincing in your attempts to clarify that you don’t want to be a candidate. Which leads us to ...

Aggressively Not Running For President: You had no interest at all in running a presidential campaign, but the people who keep asking you if you’re considering it just don’t want to take a “no” for an answer. So now you’ve got to run a “campaign for not running a campaign for president.” This is a lot like running for president, only it’s more tedious, and most of the time it seems like you are surrounded by morons.

This is the stage of running for president where Elizabeth Warren currently finds herself. (Or does she?) This week, after NPR became the 34,763rd news organization to ask three separate times if she had presidential ambitions, Warren replied, “I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?” This was not nearly enough to convince anyone that she is not running for president. Sometimes you have to stand in front of reporters for hours, repeatedly telling them that you aren’t running for president, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) did in October 2011.

elizabeth warren

“Seriously Considering” A Presidential Run: At this stage, you are someone who cannot legitimately answer “no” to the question of whether you are running, because hey, maybe that’s something you’d like to do. You could be someone who’s strongly favored to win the eventual nomination, like Hillary Clinton. You could be someone who lost the last time out and thinks things might be different this time, like Rick Perry. You might be any number of candidates who everyone hoped would run the last time, like Chris Christie. Or you might genuinely have nothing better to do with your life, like George Pataki.

RELATED: You Are Donald Trump: You have cultivated this schtick in which you always say that you’re considering making a presidential run, but you are never going to do so. Maybe because for all your boastfulness, you understand that deep down, you're too thin-skinned to put yourself out there like that. On the other hand, one can’t rule out the possibility that you're a long-running, Andy Kaufman-esque performance art piece designed to identify the most hilariously credulous political reporters in America. Either way, at the intersection of "You" and "Running For President" is a pile of hot garbage.

donald trump

Passively Exploring A Presidential Run: It’s only been done once in history, but it was executed to near perfection:

Pawlenty went from passively exploring a presidential run to passively participating in campaign events. He even made some passive appearances at a couple of presidential debates. Eventually, however, he did get around to making an active choice about the presidential race (he dropped out).

Actively Exploring A Presidential Run: So this is the stage Jeb Bush officially reached this week. You should take this to mean that Bush understands people are interested in his possible candidacy. He is now on a sort of vision quest. He could decide that he sees a future in which he runs for president, in which case further “explorations” will primarily focus on answering questions like, “Who will fund this campaign?” and “What elite support am I likely to garner?”

But bear in mind that Bush’s “active explorations” might not mean any of this. As Republican strategist Liz Mair recently wrote in The Federalist:

There is also plenty of evidence to back up the conclusion that Jeb wants to look like he might run for president and scare the crap out of the entire rest of the prospective field and make them listen to what he’s got to say and heed his advice and instincts on things like education and immigration and the importance of executive leadership. However, looking like you’re running is not the same as running, and people close to Jeb know it. Jebites who would -- if Jeb were seriously considering running -- be staying away from other candidates like the plague are engaging in a lot of candidate dating. In fact, some of them have even already put a proverbial ring on it.

jeb bush

Significantly, however, there is talk about forming a presidential exploratory committee.

Thus, at some point Bush may find himself arriving at the next step, which is ...

“Laying The Groundwork” For A Presidential Run: At some point, you have to stop thinking about running for president and you have to either test your viability as a candidate, or create an official campaign. People who arrive at this step are said to be “laying the groundwork,” because it’s amusing to imagine a bunch of affluent elites digging post-holes and laying concrete and stuff.

But the key word here is “concrete.” At this stage, you’re not simply pursuing a thought exercise, you’re doing tangible things to advance a presidential campaign. At the late stage, “groundwork laying” involves some of the more boring but necessary tasks -- forming a presidential exploratory committee, getting your ducks in a row with the FEC, building your campaign staff and infrastructure, and winning the support of top donors and party elites.

But there are lots of things you can do even prior to this that constitute “groundwork.” For instance, are you going on a “listening tour”? That probably means you are about to run for president, because who goes on a “listening tour” without hearing what they want to hear? It should be called a “hearing tour.” Actually, if you want to save a lot of money, the “listening tour” can simply be done with a Ouija board and a bottle of scotch.

Other examples of groundwork-laying include: publishing a gauzy biography that only campaign reporters will read, producing a 14-minute video at the local cable-access studio, suddenly deciding that the theory of evolution looks fishy, and traveling to Iowa or New Hampshire for basically any reason whatsoever.

Announcing That A Future Announcement About Running For President Will Be Happening: This is one of the new stages of running for president that former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich invented in an effort to inject even more pointless tedium and high weirdness into the process of running for president.

newt gingrich

Announcing That You Are Running For President: Your groundwork is laid and your infrastructure is built and now it’s time to stand behind a lectern and tell the world about your intention to seek the highest office in the land. Reporters will confuse the lectern for a podium.

Then, Actually Just Running For President: It’s all happening! Look at you, you’re a real live presidential candidate.

Now things are about to change. Any illusion you had that the process of running for president was going to be a glamorous, high-minded exercise in which you get to experience the gorgeous tableaux-vivant that is American life while conducting a campaign of big ideas will be shattered about a week into the effort. That’s when you realize this is about traversing the country in a wretched bus, showing up to county fairs to eat whatever foodstuff they’ve impaled on a stick, constantly intruding on people in diners who just want to eat lunch in the half-hour they have, and periodically being called away to participate in what seem like hundreds of debates, each more ludicrous -- but potentially game-changing! -- than the last.

You’re also going to start to notice the way the media covers you. Back when you were a lovable mensch with an outside shot at the White House, the press wanted to be your buddy. This is only because they never, not even for a minute, imagined that you might actually end up winning this thing. If that changes -- if you suddenly emerge as a contender -- that’s going to change, and you won’t like it.

You also won’t like the fact that back when you were just thinking about running for president, reporters and pundits seemed to want to engage with your ideas and your biography. You thought big, and reporters treated your ideas as things worthy of contemplation. When you were quoted, you were quoted in paragraphs. You maybe even started to believe that this campaign was going to be about substance.

Now that you’re in the thick of it, however, it’s like the average IQ of every reporter just dropped by 40 points. Now everyone is looking for that moment you fumble a pronoun or mess up a verb tense, so they can rush out a story about how you gaffed it up. You’ll show up for a debate and discover that the whole thing is being presented as if it’s some reality show. If you struggle, every cable news panelist is going to inundate you with a hot idea for turning things around.

This is basically hell.

for president

RELATED: Running For President In The Hopes You Will Get Something Else: Blessed are they who, in the midst of running for president, aren’t really running for president. And there’s always a couple of these guys in either party -- not just “long shots,” but the “really, come on now, what are you doing heres” that are plainly only in this for the side benefits of a presidential campaign.

And they are pretty sweet benefits! Your presidential run might net you a job as a Fox contributor, or some other place in the media firmament. Maybe you secure a perch on a corporate board or a foundation. Whatever your speaking fee was prior to running for president, it’s going to get a nice goose.

Really, when you think about it, those who are fortunate enough to be able to mount a presidential campaign but lucky enough to not end up responsible for running this screwed-up country are the most #blessed people on any campaign trail.

Running For President But Then Going On A Long Vacation For Some Reason: This is another stage of running for president that Newt Gingrich invented in 2011, when he inexplicably left the campaign trail to go on a Mediterranean cruise, during which time his campaign staff resigned en masse.

Announcing That You’re Not Dropping Out Of The Race Despite The Fact You’ve Got No Shot At The Nomination: At some point, it’s going to become clear that you’re not going to end up as your party’s nominee. That moment is now, but for some reason, you don’t see it. Why don’t you see it, man? It is basically obvious to everyone.

You’re coming off your most recent terrible finish in a primary, and the road ahead is only looking bleaker, so you’ve called a press conference and every reporter assigned to your campaign (now dreaming about getting assigned to a better campaign) is there, and the moment is freighted with wistful solemnity. It looks like this is it. Only -- no! The reason you’ve called this press conference is to announce you are sticking it out! All the assembled reporters roll their eyes and grit their teeth, knowing that they now have to file a non-story: “Area candidate doesn’t get the hint.”

This might also be the stage where you start telling people that you’re going to “pour all your efforts into South Carolina,” or “build a firewall in Florida,” or “get the game changed in Guam.” Will this work? Check out the next stage:

Announcing That You Are Dropping Out Of The Race Because You’ve Got No Shot At The Nomination: Yeah, your zany plan to alter reality didn’t pan out. Time to bow out gracefully; you had a good run.

RELATED: Dropping Out Of The Race But Calling It A Campaign 'Suspension': Once more, we have a stage of running for president that Newt Gingrich came up with because he just can’t not be weird. As he told reporters in May of 2012: “Today I am suspending the campaign, but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship." Whatever, Newt!

RELATED: Running For A Vice Presidential Nod: Maybe this whole time that you were running for president, what you actually revealed was you’d make an excellent vice presidential candidate. It’s possible, so it pays to be nice to the people who vanquished you, because that’s one way of getting onto a vice presidential shortlist. (Note to Republicans in the 2016 cycle: This is probably not an option you should count on, because “running for vice president” is something that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is already doing, and he is really good at it.)

Actually Becoming President: Well, look at you! Congratulations! After a long hard slog through every battleground state in the country, every debate, every trumped-up controversy, every moment of despair, you have made it to the White House. Now you have about eight weeks to actually do stuff before you have to start running for president again and life becomes even more hellish and ridiculous than you ever thought possible. It will all be worth it after you leave office and your regular access to billionaires whose desires you enabled, and they return those favors with plum appointments that require neither work nor merit for the rest of your life.

the white house washington

Ebola Panic Wins 'Lie Of The Year,' But The Real Culprit Goes Free

Jason Linkins   |   December 16, 2014    3:00 PM ET

As is their wont, the folks at PolitiFact have gone back and conducted a thorough review of a year of lies and falsehoods to offer readers their "Lie Of The Year" -- trusting, with the faith of a small child, that here in these last two weeks of 2014, no one will offer up the sort of reality-capsizing deception that has earned this distinction in the past.

Previous winners of this dubious honor have been lies that stood out as zeitgeist-marauding deceits whose distortions reverberated across the political landscape. 2009's honoree, Sarah Palin's claim that the Affordable Care Act called for "death panels," set the woolly-eyed tone that would come to define conservative opposition to Obamacare. Last year's Lie Of The Year, President Barack Obama's assertion that "if you liked your plan, you can keep it," blew a gaping hole in the president's approval ratings, which subsequently played a major role in the Democratic Party's midterm wipeout.

This year, PolitiFact returns once again to that intersection of politics and public health, attaching its shameful accolade to all of the nonsense that occurred after Thomas Eric Duncan -- a Liberian man who traveled to Texas in September -- became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States:

Duncan’s case is just one of two Ebola-related fatalities in the United States, and since Duncan traveled to Dallas, more Americans -- at least nine, and likely many more -- have died from the flu.

Yet fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims -- all wrong -- distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014.

PolitiFact says that one of the factors its researchers weigh when determining the "Lie Of The Year" is the extent to which "a myth or falsehood infiltrates conventional thinking." There's no doubt that America's first Ebola outbreak provided a fertile space for the paranoid style in American public health crises, a space in which outsized panic and conspiracy flourished.

So why does this feel oddly unsatisfying as a "Lie Of The Year?" Maybe because lots of what was wrong about the way people talked about Ebola was less about an active attempt to deceive, and more about people simply being complete idiots.

Take, for example, George Will, one of the people PolitiFact singles out for making false claims about the virus. As PolitiFact itself reported at the time, Will went on "Fox News Sunday" in October and said a bunch of wrong things about Ebola, including likening it to an airborne disease. It turns out that Will got his information from a commentary posted by two University of Illinois professors on the website of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Per Politifact:

The commentary, co-written by Lisa Brosseau and Rachel Jones, argued that health care workers treating patients with Ebola should wear respirators. Face masks, they said, are not enough.

We asked Brosseau if Will had correctly relayed her work. Brosseau said her views had nothing to do with Ebola spreading among the public at large. The focus was on health care workers treating people in the isolation wards.

"We were concerned about aerosols generated by infected patients in the most severe stage of the disease," Brosseau said.

Will had mistakenly connected the pathway of infection in a hospital room with someone coughing or sneezing in public.

The key phrase here is "mistakenly connected." See, when George Will actually wants to misrepresent scientific research in order to concoct an elaborate lie, he knows how to do it and he goes for it. (He also knows that he has a cretin of an editor who sees the controversy created by misinformation as nothing more than a monetization opportunity.)

In this instance, however, I'm not sure if you can call Will a "liar." Rather, he's just being vastly stupid -- a descriptor I'd attach to many of the people PolitiFact blasts in its "Lie Of The Year" examples:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as "incredibly contagious," "very transmissible" and "easy to catch." Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

A Georgia congressman claimed there were reports of people carrying diseases including Ebola across the southern border. Pants on Fire. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Americans were told the country would be Ebola-free. False.

See, that, to me, is a piquant mix of people who are utterly clueless about Ebola and yet still bent on talking about it, and fever-swamp denizens, lost to reality, doing what comes naturally to them.

Of course, when it comes to the elaborate fearmongering about Ebola potentially coming over the border -- which nested public-health paranoia within nativist fears of immigration amnesty -- it's worth questioning whether the people enunciating this sort of demented wrongness are doing so because they're actively operating in bad faith, or because they're just nimrods. Having examined this phenomenon myself, I can tell you it's not perfectly clear whether the people who spread these fears were truly seeking to deceive, or whether they were simply swept up in genuine -- if uninformed -- concern. With that in mind, I might have given Sen. Mark Pryor's (D-Ark.) willfully false Ebola attack ad against his Republican opponent (and eventual conqueror), Rep. Tom Cotton, higher billing than multiple examples of Rand Paul just not knowing what he's talking about.

PolitiFact does note that politicians became much less concerned about Ebola after the midterm elections were over -- which suggests that many of the political figures peddling Ebola-paranoia may have done so simply to win an election. But what that decline also suggests is that there's a target more worthy of blame. As PolitiFact notes:

Over the course of November, Ebola mentions on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC dropped 82 percent, according to a review of closed caption transcripts. Mentions on the three cable networks dipped another 35 percent in the first week of December.

At the same time, at least 3,578 more people contracted Ebola, according to the World Health Organization, and another 1,119 people died. Overall, the death toll has crept near 6,400.

"Look where we are now, do we hear much about the epidemic in Africa any more? Do we hear about the effective measures that hospitals have put in place? The list goes on and on," said Adam Lauring, assistant professor at the University of Michigan Medical School’s division of infectious diseases. "Perhaps some of it is the 24-hour news cycle, the Twitter-verse, etc. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact that this all hit right before the election and it was easy to politicize."

Here, Lauring bring us closer to identifying the actual culprit behind the Great Ebola Lie: a media -- especially a cable news media -- that went out of their way to amplify whatever Ebola nonsense came along. If anything, the media gets off very lightly in PolitiFact's retelling of the Ebola scare. But make no mistake, it was the media that turned "being obviously wrong about Ebola" into an airborne, infectious disease. Without them, this is a story about isolated idiots being incorrect in the privacy of their own homes.

It's a pity that this only gets glancing mention in PolitiFact's round-up, but that's probably the nature of things. PolitiFact exists to police what is true and what is not on a case-by-case basis, not necessarily to criticize the means by which wrongness becomes transmissible. And taken as a whole, our brief interaction with Ebola in 2014 did feel like we were swimming upstream in a river of misinformation -- and we're lucky that we didn't pay a higher price for being so misinformed.

Still, it's strangely unsatisfying to have a "Lie Of The Year," that points its harshest finger at the idiots and the dupes, and not at an actual liar.

Could there have been a better example of a "Lie Of The Year?" Perhaps! I'm guessing that "Rolling Stone rigorously and vigorously fact-checked Sabrina Rubin Erdely's story" and "torture was an effective means of extracting critical information from suspected terrorists" came in too late in the year to qualify for consideration.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

The CIA Torture Report Was A Chronicle Of Depravity And Incompetence

Jason Linkins   |   December 13, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, a summary of the Senate's report on CIA torture was released into the wild, and while the redactions were thick, it nevertheless read as a thoroughgoing chronicle of depravity and incompetence that will, at the very least, ruin hummus forever. National security reporter Ali Watkins is here to walk us through the report.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"It plays into every stereotype you think of with the CIA. Something's going okay and then like a bull in a china shop, they bust in there."-- Ali Watkins

Not to mention that ...

"You put all this together and you remember that this was supposed to be about protecting America. To me, it seems to represent a huge opportunity cost to protecting America. All this wasted time, all this wasted effort and what do we have to show for it?"-- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, last week we introduced you to the cromnibus -- the lame-duck budget bill that needed to be passed to keep the government working. This week, legislators got lathered up about a Wall Street poison pill that came along with the bill, leading to new fractures and strange alliances that may come to define the legislative fights ahead.

"Obama ended up getting his policy and Wall Street got their policy. But Obama looks terrible. He looks like the guy who is in bed with Jamie Dimon and John Boehner. Elizabeth Warren looks like the populist folk hero who stood up and tried to keep this from hitting mainstream consumers." -- Zach Carter

And speaking of the cromnibus, the bill also contained language that may scuttle the efforts of the District of Columbia to decriminalize weed. It's another blow to a group of Americans who have never had fair representation in Congress.

"If D.C. officials fight this as aggressively as it seems like they're willing to do, it will put Republican leaders in the House in the position of having to affirmatively thwart the local law." -- Arthur Delaney

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Can The Cops Be Stopped Before They Kill Again?

Jason Linkins   |   December 6, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, hard on the heels of the Ferguson grand jury decision, a grand jury in New York City returns no indictment on the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death on the streets of Staten Island. Can the cops be stopped before they kill again? 

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"What's really frightening about white cops killing black men with impunity is that it's not a new problem for the United States. If you want to tell the history of the United States, one way to do it is to talk about hundreds of years of racial oppression." -- Zach Carter

Meanwhile, America's first brush with an Ebola outbreak has been resolved, but President Barack Obama wants to do more to prevent the next one. Will Congress come through, or has interest with Ebola faded now that it's no longer a sexy, midterm election issue?

"Now, this effort by the Obama administration -- he could be a victim of his own success, because they're trying to get Ebola money out of Congress. Members of Congress, who themselves might have been acting all panicky, will now be like 'What Ebola? Why do we have to spend more money?'" -- Arthur Delaney

And finally, we would like to introduce a new word to your political lexicon: CROMNIBUS. We'll tell you what a cromnibus is, and how it could totally screw up your life.

"It's one of John Boehner's steam valve release moves. It's just all this anger, and he has to let it out in a productive way." -- Jason Linkins

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

This Is Your Conservative Media Penny-Stock Scam...On Weed

Jason Linkins   |   December 3, 2014    2:50 PM ET

If you want a good conservative investment, listen to me and put your money into a nice index fund. If you want a bad conservative investment -- something that will very quickly send your hard-earned income straight to Money Heaven -- listen to conservatives. Specifically the conservatives who run media outlets with a sketchy sideline business of grifting you with goofy nonsense in sponsored emails. This is a very old story, but the fun new thing in right-wing grift is that now it's all about weed. Per Media Matters' Eric Hananoki:

Numerous conservative media outlets are scamming their followers with paid promotions for dubious marijuana stocks. In one instance, a promoted stock had its trading temporarily halted and was part of an FBI-investigated pump-and-dump scheme. In another, fine print acknowledged the promoters had "a direct conflict of interest" that would "negatively" affect "your shares."

Erick Erickson's RedState, Dick Morris, Newsmax, Townhall, and Human Events have all recently pushed the shady investments.

The SEC issued warnings about these sorts of marijuana-related penny stocks proliferating after legal weed became a reality in places like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia. As Politico's Patrick Temple-West reported last week, "Wall Street cops are scrambling to weed out fraudsters preying on the fledgling world of corporate marijuana as voters legalize the drug in more states and cities." First of all, I see what you did there in your lede, nice work. Secondly, the penny-stock scams were specifically cited as a looming problem for gullible investors:

Most of the focus is on pump-and-dump schemes, which involve attempts to inflate a company’s share price and then sell, or dump, the stock before unsuspecting investors get wise to the scheme.

These scams work best with “penny” stocks traded over the counter, where even a small change in price can yield big returns. Earlier this year, the SEC temporarily halted trading for five of these stocks that had ties to the marijuana industry.

Pump-and-dump scams may involve company executives or board members looking to unload their shares. In a different variation, a penny-stock company is targeted by outside traders who will publish false information about a company to juice the share price.

And one of the ways that false information proliferates is through sponsored emails sent to devotees of conservative media outlets. For example, as Hananoki reports, readers of RedState, Newsmax or Human Events may have been lucky enough to receive this advertisement from "Undervalued Quarterly," which bills itself as the "#1 Financial Newsletter." The ad touts "MediJane Holdings" as an investment "that's poised to ignite a frenzy of profits." Readers are promised the possibility of a staggeringly high return on their investment and urged, "You must get in the game now!"

Only those who stick around for the fine print discover that the whole purpose of this mailer is to "enhance public awareness for MediJane" on behalf of shareholders who "hold a large amount of shares ... and intend to sell them," which will go on to "affect the value of your shares (negatively)." The truth of what this enterprise is actually all about is literally placed at the bottom, in teensy letters, and stuffed within parentheses.

Per Media Matters, you won't believe what happened next:

Readers who took the financial advice would have made a bad call as the stocks have plummeted. For example, conservatives sent sponsored emails recommending a company called MediJane at an entry point of $0.85. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.03. Dick Morris sent a sponsored email promoting Cannabis-Rx, Inc. on April 14, when it was trading at around $1. The stock's closing price on December 2 was $0.17.

And yes, of course Dick Morris is mixed up in all of this. I warned you back in August that Morris was deep into this penny-stock scam scheme. Did you listen? I hope you listened. I really care about you.

At any rate, I guess the joke here is some variation on "you'd have to be high to invest in these stocks," except that people who are actually high are probably too busy living their best lives -- procuring cheese sticks and arguing about how long the new Flying Lotus record has been playing -- to read scammy sponsored emails. Meanwhile, if you're looking for an explanation as to how a conservative movement somehow retains the affection of people they are outright bilking, well ... I'm afraid I just don't have an answer for you. Can't con an honest John, I guess.

READ THE WHOLE THING:
Conservative Media Scam Followers With Dubious Marijuana Stocks [Media Matters]

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

Let's Draft Fewer Wall Streeters Into Washington For A Change

Jason Linkins   |   December 3, 2014    7:35 AM ET

Public service -- should we do more to encourage people to participate in it? Absolutely, yes. America's strength is derived from a citizenry of diverse talents, histories and backgrounds, and when they come together to place a hand on the tiller of this great enterprise, our nation can accomplish amazing things.

So wouldn't it be great if we could get more people from Wall Street to take government jobs? Whoa, hold up now -- that's a different question entirely, you guys!

Obviously. To most Americans.

However, the idea that more Wall Streeters in Washington is not the shiny golden answer to our national ills is actually "provocative" to Dealbook's Wall Street pompom captain, Andrew Ross Sorkin:

The boards of Wall Street’s biggest banks recently received a letter posing a provocative question.

Why, the letter asked, do banks routinely pay out special compensation packages to executives who leave to take government jobs when those packages were intended to retain them?

“Unless the position of these companies is that this is just a backdoor way to pay off a newly minted government official to act in Wall Street’s private interests rather than the public interest, it is very difficult to see how these policies promote long-term shareholder value,” the letter declared.

Sorkin says the letter in question was penned by the AFL-CIO's investment director, Heather Slavkin Corzo, although the organization notes that it was sent by its president, Richard Trumka. The labor union federation perceives this system of compensation as one that isn’t in financial sector shareholders' best interests and which just might foster a teensy bit of corruption. You see, when an investment bank like Lazard tells executive Antonio Weiss that it will happily hand him a cool $20 million if he's fortunate enough to secure a top Treasury Department post, it suggests that Lazard explicitly understands that this future arrangement will be of some exclusive benefit to, first and foremost, Lazard. Otherwise, it would not make such a significant investment in Mr. Weiss’ future as a Treasury bureaucrat. The Trumka letter identifies this arrangement as one that could potentially do harm to both shareholders and country.

This isn’t hard. It should not take folks like Corzo and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to point out what is baldly obvious: Lazard is offering Weiss a retention package because the firm expects to retain his services, even as he goes to work at the U.S. Treasury.

But, as you might surmise, Sorkin greets the news of this $20 million without even a trace of secretion from his skepticism gland:

While this topic may make for juicy headlines about the “revolving door,” the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and others seem to be deliberately overlooking important issues, and the entire debate appears to be based more on a populist shakedown than on good public policy.

Let’s start with a basic question: Do we, as a country, want our most highly qualified employees from the private sector to pursue public service?

The answer, I would imagine, should be yes.

The idea that someone is performing a “populist shakedown” is, in and of itself, adorable. Generally, a “shakedown” is a crime in which a person of ill repute takes something from another person using the threat of violence. The word is used metaphorically to describe bills that lawmakers introduce to generate campaign contributions, without any intention of actually enacting those bills. But it's always used to talk about someone taking stuff that she has no legitimate claim to.

How does the AFL-CIO stand to benefit from this supposed "shakedown"? Well, as citizens, union members might hope to get a Treasury Department that isn't beholden to the whims of Wall Street banks! But do they stand to gain financially, in the traditional sense of the word "shakedown"?

Why yes, they do! But the way they do cancels out Sorkin's slur entirely. The AFL-CIO owns stock in banks -- all seven of the banks, in fact, that received a letter from the AFL-CIO about Weiss and public service "bonuses." The AFL-CIO is, in other words, a partial owner of the companies in question. That's why Corzo and Trumka could submit shareholder proposals on this issue to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley. And it makes the shakedown metaphor rather curious, since you cannot steal something from yourself.

Now if we’re being realistic, it must be said that shareholder activism has a terrible track record on changing America or altering the landscape of power. Shareholders, after all, often reap the rewards of corporate management's rapacious behavior.

By bashing a letter from a shareholder as a "populist shakedown," however, Sorkin is suggesting that corporate executives ought to be immune not only from the demands of the public at large, but even from the demands of their very owners. He's arguing that the interests of CEOs and top corporate performers be placed above the petty requests of even the people who ostensibly pay their salaries. It's a call to eradicate the inconveniences of democratic governance in the name of elite management.

And in this respect, Sorkin's disrespect for shareholder accountability is perfectly consistent with his disdain for political governance more generally. Bankers only. Peasants need not apply.

The issue goes beyond Weiss himself. The AFL-CIO's financial team may have noticed a trend. Stefan Selig received more than $9 million from Bank of America after he left for an international trade post at the Department of Commerce, while Michael Froman took home over $4 million from Citigroup when he became the U.S. trade representative.

Here’s the thing: Everyone wants “our most highly qualified” citizens involved in public service. Some of us just reject the notion that Antonio Weiss meets the standard of “most highly qualified.” And we submit that Sorkin seems insufficiently open to the possibility that a human being of greater qualification might exist or that there may be someone equally qualified who is not an obvious agent of regulatory capture.

What exactly, the public might ask, qualifies Weiss to be the Treasury Department's top financial guru? He makes a lot of money working at a bank, so that’s good enough for Sorkin. Frankly, it’s good enough for most Beltway elites as well.

Most, but not all. Sen. Warren has laid out a bill of particulars to argue that Weiss lacks the necessary attributes to do the job to which he’s been nominated. Broadly, she suggests that Weiss’ “career working on international transactions” makes him a poor choice to serve as the Treasury’s domestic economic manager. More incisively, she points to the role that Weiss played in engineering the tax-dodging inversion merger between Burger King and Canadian coffee-and-doughnut concern Tim Hortons.

Sorkin is not convinced that the Burger King/Tim Hortons deal stands as an example of a “cynically constructed deal” to avoid taxes. Of course, it’s not clear that Sorkin finds any such deal to be cynical, given that he has previously depicted such tax-dodgers as deeply reluctant, noble patriots acting out of woebegone desperation.

That’s all well and good for a New York Times Dealbook columnist, but it becomes more problematic if the Obama administration shares the same pathology. Especially when you consider how self-defeating it is for a president whose daily battle to get his congressional opposition to accede to any revenue-raising, agenda-funding tax policy has been as epic as Barack Obama’s has. To turn around and enshrine an expert in tax-dodging to run the domestic economy from Treasury would seem to be a splendiferously surreal decision, until you consider one thing that Sorkin points out about Weiss: He’s a “staunch supporter -- and campaign donation bundler -- for President Obama." (Sorkin -- God only knows why -- presents this information as a reason to be less skeptical of this appointment. To which we say, “#SMDH.”)

In fairness to Weiss, he is cut from the same cloth as many of those who previously held the position of Treasury's undersecretary for domestic finance. During the George W. Bush administration, we had such stalwarts as AIG’s Brian Roseboro, Goldman Sachs’ Robert Steel and Davis Polk lawyer Randal Quarles. These folks sure did an outstanding job applying their elite expertise to protecting America from financial apocalypse. The Obama administration, for its part, went straight to the same well in filling that position with T. Rowe Price’s Mary Miller.

With that in mind, here is something worth considering: Perhaps the average Wall Street executive is spectacularly unqualified to serve in government.

Doesn't it feel good to just consider this as a possibility? The tension just leaves the body.

And for good reason! After all, the recent track record of Wall Streeters-- coming within a hair’s breadth of destroying the global economy and demonstrating an inability to show either remorse for their mistakes or gratitude toward the millions of American taxpayers who donated their money to preserve the financiers' businesses and lifestyles at the expense of any number of initiatives that might have benefited the country -- speaks for itself. (It’s not like those who previously made their way from the Financial District to Capitol Hill exactly covered themselves in glory, either.)

Based on this record of performance, if there’s an argument for Wall Streeters to sign up for public service, it would be founded in the idea that they owe America a tremendous debt, which they should pay off in a demonstration of sufficient humility. There’s really not a place in that scenario for seven-figure paydays.

And really, doesn’t this $20 million compensation package that Lazard is lining up for Weiss’ goodbye party just give away the game? People aren’t supposed to go into public service because they’re seeking to move up the ranks of plutocratic society. Public service is about duty. It’s about serving something larger than yourself. It’s about forfeiting some short-term personal ambitions to play a role in maintaining America’s greatness. It's about service and sacrifice, not about pocketing a private-sector windfall.

To be dead honest, the biggest reason Weiss is unqualified for this nomination is that a guy who aids and abets tax-dodgers, and who needs $20 million of Lazard’s boodle before he’d consider serving, just doesn't love his country enough. Let's find someone who does!

Obama Administration Preaches 'Human Dignity' While Covering Up Torture

Zach Carter   |   November 24, 2014    6:16 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- As the saying goes, some things are easier said than done. That is especially true here in the nation's capital, a company town upon which is constructed a spare-no-expense infrastructure predominantly organized to provide posh venues for articulating values, shifting paradigms, and ideating meditatively. The language of the D.C. conference circuit isn't just silly or annoying -- it often obscures and minimizes rather obvious iniquities and abuses of power.

But every now and again, a simple, important idea emerges from the Beltway's vague swamp of technocratic happy talk. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, uttered one of those minor breakthroughs in mid-November. And you will totally believe what happened next: Washington made a mockery of it.

Power appeared at the Center for American Progress' annual "Making Progress" policy conference at the Mayflower Hotel -- a venue that’s known among Mayflower Hotel marketers as "Washington’s Second Best Address" (after the White House itself) and among locals as the chic setting for the star players in various political sex scandals. CAP is D.C.’s pre-eminent Democratic Party think tank, its output representing the most up-to-the-minute convolution of salable liberal thought. As such, the conference featured a dozen or so marketable Democratic Party players, organized to create the illusion of harmony in an event featuring one of Wall Street’s best friends -- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- on the same stage as one of Wall Street’s worst enemies -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Power closed out the first third of CAP’s festivities with a conversation about “America Around the World” with former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), now fully ensconced in the third act of his life as a celebrity lobbyist-but-not-really-wink-wink and sagacious Beltway-lifer from another era. Daschle led Power in a broad discussion about "what America's role in the world should be in this day and age" and the extent to which America can and should lead the rest of the world in the establishment of diplomatic norms and a baseline definition of human rights. But it didn’t take long for the talk to wend its way around to one of those "easier said than done" moments:

Senator Daschle: This conference, as you know, is about making progress, and that applies both domestically as well as in our international efforts in our agenda. We talk a lot at conferences like this about core progressive values. How would you say core progressive values align with American interests internationally today?

Ambassador Power: Well, I think probably people would define core progressive values in different ways. For me, it would start with regard for human dignity, the dignity of work, the dignity of a fair wage, the dignity to be treated with respect by your neighbors or respect for your own preferences in the way you live your life. And I think President Obama has really urged us to inject concern for human dignity in our policymaking, whether that’s being hugely generous in the face of ethnic violence in South Sudan or in the face of the horrible displacement out of Syria or wanting to close Guantanamo, recognizing again that that is -- remains even -- a recruitment tool and something that terrorist movements use as a way of mobilizing their base and so forth.

But I think dignity is one piece of it. And then I think not only looking to make sure that you have domestic legal authority, but also being very conscientious and very dedicated to international norms and international law, while of course always pursuing U.S. interests. So I think that those: dignity and recognizing that we live in a broad, we live on a planet where our interests also depend on having other people play by the rules, so we are stronger when we lead ourselves by playing by the rules of the road.

Power isn't just spouting buzzwords here. She’s presenting an actual set of principles to guide both war and humanitarian relief. And it's essentially Not Being A Neocon For Dummies. Plenty of international relations theories can work within Powers' framework, but the basic idea is simple: Peace doesn't come from the willingness of a superpower to police the entire world by exercising overwhelming force against its enemies. The use of American force requires some kind of international moral legitimacy, a cause furthered by international norms and institutions.

This is a politically useful principle, because it doesn't restrain the United States from engaging in very many activities (including advancing American interests) so long as they involve international cooperation. It's also a not-so-subtle reminder of the failures of the Bush-Cheney approach to foreign policy.

It’s unfortunate then that at the time of Power’s discussion there was an even more overt reminder of those failures looming -- the upcoming release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. While that report won’t be getting down into the prosecutorial weeds of actually holding individuals responsible for the torture regime that troubled the world during the Bush administration -- we’re well past the point where anyone’s willing to do anything other than “look forward” -- the report is supposed to serve a purpose: to press the reset button on America’s “regard for human dignity.”

Funny thing, though! The CAP conference was held on Wednesday last week. That same day, the White House was working to block efforts by Senate Democrats to release that report on the "enhanced interrogation" programs initiated during the Bush years. By Thursday, negotiations over the report had broken down into chaos. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) openly accused Obama officials of negotiating in bad faith:

“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it," Rockefeller told HuffPost last week.

"It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future," he said. "The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it."

The torture report that Senate Democrats are trying to release isn't even the full report. It's a redacted 500-page executive summary of a study totaling over 6,000 pages. And the executive summary will not on its own hold anyone accountable for the actions that took place. It won't even name any names. The Obama administration, in fact, is objecting even to using pseudonyms to refer to lower-level individuals involved in the torture programs. Nobody is going to The Hague over this stuff. They aren't even having their name read out loud.

"Human dignity," "international norms" and "international law" can mean a lot of things. But one thing they surely cannot mean is exactly what the Obama administration appears to be doing: covering up for torturers.

The United Nations seems to agree. Earlier in November, members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture excoriated the Obama administration for failing to punish anyone over the torture programs, with at least one member accusing the U.S. Department of Justice of whitewashing abuses.

Amid all of that, it's hard to see Power's veneration of human dignity and the importance of international norms -- whatever her own personal intentions may be -- as anything but another coat of idea-babble prettying up a war machine that can't find its moral compass.

Jason Linkins   |   November 22, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, after several months of "will-he-or-won't he" wonderings, President Barack Obama went ahead on his own and issued new executive actions to fill the space where a comprehensive immigration reform bill should be. We'll sort this out with HuffPost immigration reporter Elise Foley.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

Some highlights from this week:

"An activist was saying, 'We got the most powerful man in the world to listen to us and to do what we asked him to do.' That just makes them more motivated to keep going forward." -- Elise Foley

Meanwhile, the Senate came one vote shy of approving the Keystone XL pipeline -- all because Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) got the notion that willing the pipeline into existence might rescue her all-but-doomed re-election prospects. HuffPost environmental reporter Kate Sheppard is here with her observations on this strange week in the life of the Keystone debate.

"It doesn't go into Louisiana. It goes into Texas. They like oil and gas in Louisiana, but I don't know that this pipeline is the thing that is going to sell them on Mary Landrieu." -- Kate Sheppard

To which Zach Carter added:

"The oil and gas industry likes it, but not everybody in Louisiana works for Exxon-Mobil."

Finally, have you heard about this CIA torture report? This long-awaited investigation of the troubled period in the War On Terror was supposed to be nearing its release. But that's now in doubt as legislators and the White House fight over redactions. We'll find out what secrets we can with HuffPost's national security reporter Ali Watkins.

"There's always been a lot of questions around it. The issue of publicly releasing parts of the document has obviously inspired everybody to get a lot more angry about it." -- Ali Watkins

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

The Heroes And Zeroes Of America's Brief Ebola Outbreak

Jason Linkins   |   November 20, 2014    8:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- It's been three weeks since the White House event where President Barack Obama shook hands with doctors and nurses who treated Ebola patients in West Africa, and the president apparently does not have Ebola.

The disease still rages in West Africa, where more than 5,000 people have died since March, though new transmissions have apparently slowed in Liberia and Guinea thanks to concerted public health efforts. Officials will need to remain vigilant here and abroad, but let us use the occasion of the president's not having Ebola to reflect on the Great American Ebola Panic of October 2014 and its most panicky personages.

GETTING IT RIGHT

President Barack Obama: An Ebola outbreak is a situation that brings a dire sense of necessity and purpose, but it’s nowhere near as complicated as -- say -- reforming Medicare. So Obama did the smart thing: Keep his head while everyone around him was in the process of self-decapitation. Obama opted to calmly stick with the experts, imposing no draconian quarantine conditions or counter-productive travel restrictions, and let medical professionals do their jobs.

The only real sop he offered to those who insisted that “something” had to be “done” beyond calmly containing the outbreak, was the appointment of Ron Klain to the position of Ebola czar. As of this writing, it’s not entirely clear what this accomplished. As many pointed out at the time, Klain was not a medical professional -- a fact that led to no end of hand-wringing. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Obama already had this thing called “the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention” to perform the effort of centrally controlling the disease.

Since that means the only extant problem was one of political perception, Klain was perhaps ideally suited to the task. At the very least, Klain’s appointment led Obama’s rabid political opposition and the nitwits in the media to take some time off of their Ebola panic-mongering to indulge in several days worth of seeking a Klainsplanation.

Basically, with the Klain appointment, Obama accomplished the same thing that you get when you wave a laser pointer around in a room full of dumb kittens. (Only in this case, the kittens were irresponsibly panicking a nation over Ebola.)

Obama even managed to take something he’s not normally good at -- the “theatrics” of being president -- and do it well. He went out of his way to hug, kiss, and shake hands with Ebola survivors and people potentially exposed to Ebola. Because public health experts say you can only get the disease from contact with a sick person's bodily fluids, Obama's commitment to intimate encounters with these health professionals and patients helped project a needed confidence, while also helping to recognize those fighting Ebola on the front lines. Looks like experts were right about that, since Obama doesn't appear to be sick after his last Ebola handshake session on Oct. 29.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC can’t be said to have gotten everything right during the U.S. Ebola scare. One of its most notable mistakes was giving Dallas-based Ebola nurse Amber Vinson the all-clear to take commercial flights to and from Cleveland -- trips that occurred mere hours before she began to show symptoms from Ebola. At a time when a top priority was keeping the spread of the disease out of the population at large, the CDC was lucky it didn’t lose containment. Additionally, the CDC managed to give the Ebola conspiracy theorists some fodder after sneakily editing its website and altering some information about the virus’ transmissability.

Nevertheless, faced with the first potential U.S. outbreak of Ebola, the CDC did way more things right than wrong, successfully leading the effort to stamp out the spread of the disease. CDC Director Tom Frieden maintained a studied calm on multiple media appearances, helping to extinguish mini-pandemics of hype and fear wherever they threatened to become viral. The organization sits atop an infrastructural effort that collectively makes the U.S. the nation where your chance of surviving Ebola is the highest. And unlike the media and your Congress, the CDC has not taken its attention from the real problem: Ebola’s outbreak in West Africa.

The CDC will benefit from the fact that its few mistakes were given a high amount of scrutiny. Meanwhile, the organization can essentially declaim: “Look Ma! No Ebola outbreak in the United States!”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry: As with the CDC, Perry (R) won’t be able to claim that he got through the Ebola crisis error-free. Like the CDC, Texas’ health officials under Perry’s bailiwick played a role in causing “Panic In The Skies: The Amber Vinson Story.” After taking the correct stance on travel bans, Perry reversed himself and came out in favor of epidemic-enabling restrictions. And Perry wasn’t quite able to distance himself from his political point-scoring instincts.

Still, in the aggregate, Perry arguably compares favorably to a lot of public officials -- especially when put alongside other governors who bungled their response to Ebola. Perry set a calm and positive tone at the outset of the crisis, imparting crucial information with ideal accuracy. In the wake of mistakes, Perry included himself in his assessment: “We must admit, along the way, we have seen ample opportunity for improvement.” To that end, Perry announced that he would impanel a new Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which potentially may aid in the containment of future outbreaks.

Shepard Smith: "You should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. ... 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."

Thus spake Fox News’ Smith, at a time where all around him -- notably, at his workplace -- the media was descending into a depraved, nonsensical insanity over the Ebola outbreak. Smith’s words helped to start turning the tide in the media discourse.

There are others who deserve to be lauded for remaining sensible at a time when everyone else in the media seemed to be turning into a werewolf. Media giant Gannett made a company-wide decision to use its platform as a proactive tool to aid the effort to halt both the disease and misinformation about the disease. The Dallas Morning News -- located at the epicenter of Ebola in the U.S. and sitting on a unique opportunity to harvest the fervor for coverage in a profit-maximizing way -- decided to slow itself down, passing on quick revenue-generating scoops and the opportunity to break news in favor of being reliable. And Harold Pollack wrote a masterful, soup-to-nuts-and-spare-nobody piece for Politico Magazine that analyzed every avenue of Ebola-response, just when it seemed like the world needed a dose of reassurance.

Nevertheless, we return to Smith’s pledge to his viewers: “I report to you with certainty this afternoon that being afraid at all is the wrong thing to do." There was nothing stopping anyone else on cable teevee from saying the same thing.

America’s Medical Professionals: Beyond the pundits and bureaucrats and policymakers, the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in America -- just like the front lines of the larger epidemic in West Africa -- are manned by a select group of mostly anonymous health professionals -- doctors, nurses, and technicians -- who do all the invisible work of treating patients and containing the disease. They labor under tough conditions, even in the U.S. But the ideal outcome of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is that the disease remains contained to the patients being treated and the professionals providing the treatment. America’s health care workers weren’t able to save every Ebola patient. But they successfully kept the disease from leaping into the larger population, and they managed to successfully treat one another, so that those who ended up stricken with the virus themselves all lived to fight the disease another day.

GETTING IT WRONG

The Idiot Governors: A good definition of "leading from behind" would be doing what is popular, even if the popular thing is contrary to what is right.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) briefly attempted to impose a set of unnecessarily draconian quarantine protocols, mandating that any health professional who had contact with Ebola patients in Africa would have to spend 21 days in isolation without regard for symptoms. As health professionals attempted to point out, this was bound to accomplish nothing more than discouraging the people desperately needed in West Africa to aid in the effort to contain the outbreak. In short, it was as close to a “pro-Ebola” policy as you could get.

Nurse Kaci Hickox ended up getting caught up in this idiotic dragnet, forced to spend three days in a tent behind a New Jersey hospital after she returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa. Christie backed down after Hickox threatened to sue, all the while still insisting he hadn't backed down. (At the moment, it looks like Christie has “quietly dumped” his zany plan.)

Unfortunately for Hickox, she soon found herself subject to the whims of Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), the gubernatorial equivalent of getting drunk and running with scissors. LePage attempted to force Hickox to stay inside her home in Maine. Hickox’s response was basically, “Nah.” This all lead to insane scenes on television of police lurking outside her house and reporters chasing after her any time she went for a bike ride. Three weeks passed and she never came down with Ebola -- not that there had been any special reason to think she had Ebola in the first place, nor any reason to quarantine her.

At the same time as Christie, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) implemented a similar three-week hospital quarantine protocol that drew the similar ire of epidemiologists and public health professionals. Then, like Christie, Cuomo un-implemented it. He advised people riding out home quarantines that they could read his book, just in case they actually want to feel sick.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was one of the first big Republicans to demand an Ebola travel ban. It's an idea that polls very well, though experts say discouraging volunteers from traveling to West Africa will not help contain the Ebola outbreak that is exclusively located in West Africa.

So Jindal did the next-best thing: He told some doctors to get lost. In October the state of Louisiana advised the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which had booked its annual conference for New Orleans in November, that anyone who had recently traveled from West Africa shouldn't come. No word on whether any discouraged attendees later came down with the virus, but Jindal surely prevented at least a few tourist dollars from infecting the local economy.

By the way, Jindal has a biology degree from Brown University and he specialized in health policy while pursuing a post-graduate degree at Oxford. So he’s really squandered an expensive education that probably should have gone to someone more deserving.

Syracuse University: Syracuse really forced America to consider whether the words “institution of higher learning” deserved to be used to describe the school in October, when its leaders lost their minds and disinvited Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille from a workshop intended to benefit journalism students. Du Cille had been in Liberia, closely covering the Ebola outbreak in that country, but had been demonstrably Ebola-free during the 21-day incubation period after returning to the U.S. Syracuse essentially decided that it was dangerous to have someone who did not have Ebola around its students.

Du Cille told the Washington Post’s Lindsay Bever: “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

Syracuse’s feebleminded response to the Ebola crisis was chief among many examples of educational institutions failing the public and their employees.

Opportunists and fearmongers of 2014: The greatest trick that Ebola ever pulled was making its stateside debut in the midst of an election cycle -- a time at which the typically irresponsible stewards of our public policy and discourse would be at their greatest levels of personal debasement. Numerous politicians stoked fears about Ebola-infected ne’er-do-wells coming across the United States’ southern border, presumably because they wanted a super-complicated and costly way of committing suicide, despite the urgings of experts, who said these scenarios were at Narnia levels of far-fetchedness. As you might expect, these threats slowly transformed into even more fantastical ideas, such as “terrorists will infect themselves with Ebola and bring their death-poop to these shores.”

Politicians on the campaign trail performed as badly you can imagine -- at one point, it seemed as if candidates from both parties were having a local competition with one another to see who could back the most irresponsible travel ban policy the hardest. And when Ebola showed up in campaign ads -- as it did in this spot from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) that stopped only inches short of suggesting that his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was “pro-Ebola” -- it was reliably gross.

The Media: Finally, let’s talk about who was responsible for willfully, wantonly, spreading Ebola-failure far and wide across the country.

There’s really no nice way to put this -- the news media handled the Ebola mini-outbreak with all of the intelligence and responsibility you’d expect from a room full of toddlers given a leaky gasoline can and a pack of “strike anywhere” matches. At a time that demanded calm, reasonable, and reassuring voices, the media instead plunged into the Ebola story with its adrenal glands raging and its sense of purpose shot and left dead on the side of the road.

This was an epic cock-up with every irresponsible ingredient. There was CNN’s famous comparison of Ebola and the terrorists from the Islamic State, a purposeless endeavor designed for the sake of panic-infused, ratings-boosting synergy. CNN also introduced disease-freak pulp novelist Robin Cook as “the man who wrote the book on Ebola.” Fox News gave airtime to a dotty conspiracy theorist whose claim to fame was wandering around Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport dressed as an extra from “Contagion” emblazoned with the words “CDC is lying.”

We could go on. Joe Scarborough went full nitwit on “Meet The Press.” There were a steady stream of know-nothings calling for travel bans. Congenital liar Betsy McCaughey, who should have been dumped in the wilderness ages ago, was regularly presented as some sort of expert. All of this and much more.

What’s especially galling about all of this is that the media, by and large, never even approached the Ebola story as a public health matter. It was, essentially, just a shiny object embedded in the already vapid coverage of the 2014 election cycle. Fed, like coprophiles, on a steady diet of excrement produced by fearmongering politicians, cable news’ anti-intellectual jihadists spat up panic and folly until Election Day, after which Ebola suddenly became a whole lot less interesting. Seemingly overnight, Ebola became a non-story -- closely paralleling the way Ebola suddenly became a non-issue in Congress.

As noted above, there were many laudable exceptions to the media’s overall binge of dangerous, desperate cluelessness. But it was a shameful period, best summed up by Roll Call editor-in-chief Christina Bellantoni, who during the most recent edition of HuffPost's “Drinking and Talking” (click the video above) opined, “The Ebola stuff was gross. ... Just watching the media being responsible for people freaking out. ... It was so frustrating because you realized that this was an actual shift in perception, and it was inaccurate, and it’s our fault.”

Thus Endeth Mary Landrieu's Keystone Pipeline Theatrics

Jason Linkins   |   November 19, 2014    5:24 PM ET

The Keystone pipeline, which would funnel the spoils of Canadian tar sands to refineries in Texas if it were a thing that actually existed, currently resides legislatively in what amounts to a decorative holding pattern, upon which various constituencies hang their hopes and dreams and watch them whiz in circles in the sky. This week, it was weighed down mainly by the hopes of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), whose career is coming to what is, from her perspective, an untimely end. Let's talk about this nonsense time in our nation's life.

Virtually every lawmaker who is on the take from corporate petrochemical interests is for the pipeline. Republicans in particular have long attempted to sell the pipeline's paltry employment yield as some sort of dynamic, job-creating enterprise. President Barack Obama has, for many years, tipped and tapped around the issue, giving little indication where he stands on the matter (though lately it's looked like a project he would endorse if he could get something in exchange). In all likelihood, Obama's acted coy on Keystone to line up the other key elements of his environmental agenda, knowing that he'll have to have a lot on offer to offset the environmental impact of the pipeline. That's not without good cause, given that the popular sentiment among environmental activists is that Keystone would be "game over" for the climate.

Well, all things do eventually come to an end, including life on planet Earth. But in the past few weeks, Keystone found its way back into the political consciousness because of another thing that had a good run, but is now dying and cannot be saved: Landrieu's political career. I doubt anyone on any side of the long-simmering Keystone debate would have predicted even four months ago that Congress would ride up right to the brink of passing a Keystone pipeline bill solely because an obscure Senate runoff briefly conjured up some hallucinatory stakes. But that's where we are, on the backside of a cheap melodrama, the air redolent of the smell of desperation and regret.

To be fair to Landrieu, neither her support for Keystone nor her calculations that being a darling of the petroleum industry would help her electoral prospects appeared out of the blue. Back when she was installed as the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the move was widely seen as something that would protect her re-election vulnerabilities. Also aiding and abetting those ambitions were hundreds of thousands of fossil fuel dollars. Per Oil Change International:

According to Oil Change International's Dirty Energy Money database, Senator Landrieu has taken $1,548,323 from the fossil fuel industry since she was first elected to office, averaging over $500,000 each election cycle. By comparison, the Senate average is $392,698 per Senator.

Senator [Lisa] Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, has taken $1,212,733 during her career. The 22 person Senate Energy Committee has taken a combined total of $9,422,101.

But none of this helped. On election night, Landrieu ended up eking out a popular-vote win, but didn't have a large enough percentage of total votes to avoid a runoff with her GOP counterpart, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). She will lose that Dec. 6 contest, barring a miracle.

It was in search of just such a miracle that Landrieu's hyperdrive stunt to will a Keystone bill over the goal line was born, in order to give Landrieu some slight opportunity to demonstrate to voters that she had some sort of clout after spending the bulk of her time presiding over the Energy and National Resources Committee as a virtual nonentity.

It's not as if there were tangible, real-world signs that getting the Senate to pass a Keystone bill had even the thinnest potential to change the course of the Louisiana Senate runoff. This was all just a crazy, desperate theory that led to what Gawker's Hamilton Nolan accurately termed a "vapid political charade."

But man, did we ever all get caught up in this fabricated pseudo-event! Cassidy was even the co-sponsor of the House's Keystone bill, which passed even as Landrieu was attempting to wrangle filibuster-proof support for her own bill. So even the guy who had no objective reason to worry about any of this instead took it super-seriously.

These efforts fell one vote shy of success Tuesday in the Senate, as a breathless Washington watched these enormous exertions toward a nonexistent payoff reach their inconsequential end.

Afterward, as The Huffington Post's Kate Sheppard reported, all the people who had backed Landrieu's play unleashed the stale talking points they had pre-drafted.

"I was proud of Mary, the fight she led for us," offered Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). "Mary got that debate for us. This day would have never come without Mary leading the charge."

TransCanada President Russ Girling offered Landrieu and her Republican co-sponsor Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.) his commendation "for leading a bipartisan coalition in support of a legislative solution to the protracted regulatory process Keystone XL has languished in for six years."

These people deserve some sort of similar plaudit for maintaining, in the face of onrushing obviousness, the notion that what had transpired had any context outside Landrieu's electoral desperation.

How comical was all of this? My favorite part of this story comes courtesy of Ashley Parker and Coral Davenport's after-action report in The New York Times:

But despite cajoling and browbeating her colleagues during a private lunch -- which one attendee described as "civilized but pretty contentious" -- Ms. Landrieu, who has so often bulldozed her way to success, was not able to produce that elusive final vote.

At the lunch, Ms. Landrieu made an "impassioned plea" that at moments verged on tears, according to a Democrat. Ms. Landrieu, according to the Democrat, focused part of her pitch on how the legislation would help her back home, though at one point she argued that Democrats should send the bill to Mr. Obama's desk because it would help him politically by giving him something to veto.

"The president could really benefit from the opportunity to veto this bill that I am making a gigantic public show of fighting to pass, you guys," is not the sort of sentiment that earns you a place in the next edition of "Profiles In Courage."

At any rate, that's the sad end of the costume drama version of "The Keystone Pipeline Debate," which will probably be rejoined in a few months once Landrieu has departed Washington for what's sure to be a lucrative career in lobbying for the oil industry.

In other "bills that failed to clear a cloture hurdle" news, the USA Freedom Act, written to reform the National Security Agency's libertine ways, fell two votes shy of overcoming a filibuster. Helping to kill the bill was noted NSA critic and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who offered up his distaste for various Patriot Act reauthorizations as his rationale for pulling his support. As the Daily Beast's Tim Mak and Olivia Nuzzi pointed out, however, Paul's mind may have been more geared toward positioning himself for a presidential run than it was about the legislative principles.

I guess one way of looking at all of these legislators acting out of self-interest instead of the merits of legislation is that things are basically back to normal around here.

[This article originally, and mistakenly, identified Senator John Hoeven as the senator from South Dakota. He is actually a senator from North Dakota, and the post has been updated accordingly. We apologize to all Dakotas.]

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Howard Kurtz Doesn't Understand Why People Might Be Put Off By Bill Cosby

Jason Linkins   |   November 19, 2014    1:43 PM ET

Comedian and pudding pop addict Bill Cosby was accused of rape on Tuesday by model Janice Dickinson, who joins a growing number of women who have said that Cosby raped them. His response has been to deny, deflect and, on one occasion, literally refuse to speak about these claims. As a result, Cosby is grossing out many of the brands that have hitherto shown a willingness to be associated with him. This has given Fox News' media thought-haver Howard Kurtz the occasion to goofsplain "Why liberals are turning on Bill Cosby." The correct answer, by the way, is that it seems that Cosby is a creepy sexual predator.

But Kurtz doesn't really care for the obvious answer, preferring instead this balderdash:

And one of the most striking things about Cosby’s refusal to comment on a rising tide of rape allegations is that the reactions are breaking down along political lines. Conservatives, who admire the way that Cosby has spoken out against dysfunction and lousy parenting in black families, are skeptical. Liberals, who view themselves as champions of women’s rights, are abandoning him.

So as new questions swirl around America’s dad, the television icon, the guy who broke a racial barrier on prime-time TV, they are also being filtered through a political lens on the African-American superstar who dared take on his own community.

Kurtz's contention here is that "liberals" have abandoned Cosby because they do not care for his brand of racial respectability politics, while "conservatives" aren't so sure whether to believe the rape allegations. That's pretty unkind to "conservatives," from whom no mass movement has arisen to leave their daughters alone with the doddering former "Cosby Show" star. It's also unkind to "liberals," whom Kurtz assumes are rejecting Cosby because of his racial politics rather than because he seems to be a rapist.

I've put "liberals" and "conservatives" in scare-quotes here not to belittle either liberals or conservatives, but to merely point out that these concepts exist solely in Kurtz's imagination as straw men. While Kurtz does provide some background on the changing responses to Cosby's politics over time, he cites only Rush Limbaugh on the right and Salon columnist Brittney Cooper on the left as evidence of how the two sides have responded to the rape accusations against Cosby. That's really not enough to assert a claim of consensus opinion on the part of either liberals or conservatives. (Kurtz would be well-served to examine some of the events that precipitated this controversy -- namely, comedian Hannibal Burress' remarks about Cosby that gave this long-moribund story new life, and the Jian Ghomeshi scandal in Canada that forced that nation's creative industry players into a searing period of soul-searching and self-scorn -- if he'd like to get to the bottom as to why this is all happening now. The tidal forces of "left-versus-right" politics have nothing whatsoever to do with it.)

But, yes, as Kurtz points out, it's true that many liberals (really, many black Americans) have bridled at Cosby's brand of respectability politics.

What I would point out, though, is that there's been a similar resistance to another prominent black American who's made a point to spread the gospel of respectability politics -- President Barack Obama. Many of the same arguments that have been applied to Cosby's racial politics have been advanced against the president. And this is a worthwhile debate that's going to persist among perfectly decent and thoughtful people on all sides long after both Cosby and Obama quit the public stage.

Yet while Obama's prescriptives for the black community will continue to be debated and perhaps resisted, we've not yet seen Obama treated with the same widespread revulsion that's recently embroiled Cosby.

Why is that? Well, it's because Obama didn't allegedly drug and rape a bunch of women. This stuff isn't hard to figure out.

Kurtz, however, has somehow come to find it fascinating that people who have always failed to embrace Cosby's brand of racial politics continue to not embrace Cosby now. This does not make sense. Why on earth would multiple rape allegations inspire people to rethink their previous rejections of Cosby? "You know, I've always been deeply skeptical of Cosby's paternalistic approach to the problems faced by the black community, but now that I'm hearing about how he forcibly penetrated a bunch of sedated young women I'm beginning to see his point of view," is not a thing that any human being outside of the sociopath community says.

There's a far more interesting question that Kurtz missed. Namely: Why would anyone who does embrace Cosby's brand of racial politics even want to continue to stick by Cosby? They're the ones who are in need of a new spokesmodel.

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Ted Cruz Knows Exactly What To Say To Cause An Obama Internet Freakout

Jason Linkins   |   November 14, 2014    6:25 PM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama announced his full-throated support for "net neutrality," a term that basically means "don't let Comcast turn the Internet into a dystopian mess" -- unless you're Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and then you think it's "Obamacare for the Internet."

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

Some highlights from this week:

"He is either taking the stupid pills, or more likely knows what to say to get the rubes all freaked out about Obama changing the Internet." -- Jason Linkins

Speaking of, this weekend marks the beginning of another period of Obamacare enrollment. Health care reporter Jeff Young joins the podcast to tell consumers -- old and new -- what they need to know about buying insurance from the health care exchanges. (Starting at around the 14:15 mark.)

"We're just talking essentially about helping big companies win some more customers and making sure that a few million people don't have to live in constant fear of being bankrupt if they get sick." -- Zach Carter

Finally, we'll talk about the latest threat to the Affordable Care Act: a daffy legal case that threatens to end the subsidies that Obamacare customers are using to -- you know -- continue staying alive. (Starting at around the 23:48 mark.)

"It doesn't help that we're still politicking and arguing about the merits of something that's been law for four and a half years." -- Jeff Young

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Man Agrees To Do Thing

Jason Linkins   |   November 10, 2014   12:25 PM ET

Joe Lieberman, a former senator from Connecticut, has agreed to serve as the co-chairman for No Labels, a loosely codified set of vaguely defined sentiments organized to convince affluent donors to part with money. Lieberman takes over from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who up until last week was the man doing this thing, until he decided not to do it anymore.

In an announcement, Jon Huntsman, the other No Labels co-chair, former Utah governor and Dadaist candidate for president in 2012, said: "Joe was a proven leader and an undisputed problem solver in virtually every area of public policy when serving in the U.S. Senate ... His vision of a new culture in Washington, D.C. -- where the politics of point-scoring is replaced by the politics of problem solving -- is a great fit with our organizational goals, and I look forward to collaborating with him as we develop our National Strategic Agenda."

That Huntsman calls Lieberman an "undisputed problem solver" who is averse to the "politics of point scoring" indicates that today is the first day Huntsman met Lieberman.

"Joe will play a key role in attracting presidential hopefuls to our growing club of problem solvers," Huntsman said.

No Labels' club of "problem solvers" is interesting in that no club member is required to solve a problem. As Yahoo News' Meredith Shiner reported in July, "The 'Problem Solver Seals' granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship."

There is no aspect of this story in which anything can be said to be "at stake." There are literally no stakes.

Manchin almost made it a year as the organization's co-chairman, ultimately parting ways with it over its decision to endorse Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in last week's Senate contest in Colorado, a race Gardner won. The group's decision to back Gardner was part and parcel with a new organizing strategy in which the avowedly anti-congressional-gridlock organization was hoping for an increase in congressional gridlock, in the hopes that its point of view would finally find some degree of salience that had previously failed to materialize.

Reached for comment, Irony told The Huffington Post, "As you can see, I'm not dead by a damn sight."

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