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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.


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.


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.

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

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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Even KSTP's Response To Its Racist 'Gang Signs' Story Is Racist

Jason Linkins   |   November 7, 2014    5:28 PM ET

About a week and a half ago in Minneapolis, a man and a woman posed for a picture together, as men and women do all across this great land of ours. But what began as a thoroughly commonplace event in our society ended in a Charlie Foxtrot of garbage journalism, courtesy of the local Minneapolis ABC affiliate, KSTP.

kstp gang signs

In the photo above, you see Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and a man named Navell Gordon. Gordon is a convicted felon who is currently on supervised probation. He works for an organization called Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. He does so because, having lost his voter privileges to a criminal past he regrets, he now spends time teaching others the hard lesson his mistakes taught him, about how the precious right to vote was part of the cost he paid. Hodges, along with Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, are supporters of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. (Here is a picture of Harteau posing with Gordon, one piece of information among many that didn't make KSTP's report.)

Speaking of that report, here is how KSTP covered this "man and woman pose for a picture" story:

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has obtained a photo of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges posing with a convicted felon while flashing a known gang sign.

Wait wait wait wait, hold on ... gang signs?

Yes, apparently the fact that Gordon and Hodges pointed at one another somehow ended up being characterized as throwing gang signs. KSTP's report goes on:

The photo was taken a week before the November election while the mayor canvassed neighborhoods with a nonprofit group in a get-out-the-vote event. Hodges declined repeated requests for interviews. But, her spokesperson told us the mayor enjoys meeting with many people who are organizing on the North side.

The spokesperson also says the man in the photo is well regarded by the nonprofit that employs him and the mayor is simply "pointing at him" in the photo. Retired Minneapolis Police officer, Michael Quinn, who also managed the department's Internal Affairs Unit, says the photo is "disappointing because it puts police officers at risk."

When asked to respond to the mayor's statement that she is just "pointing at him." He said, "she can't be that naive. I cannot imagine."

"She is legitimizing these people. She is legitimizing gangs who are killing our children in Minneapolis and I just can't believe it. It hurts," Quinn said.

Quinn says law enforcement agencies are "going to be pissed about this. They're going to be angry and they should be."

The two main problems with this report are that it is wrong, and the sources for the report are also wrong. No one in this story belongs to a gang, and no one is repping a gang with some complicated hand gestures. People are allowed to point at one another in photographs. And even if there is some gang out there that uses "pointing at someone" as a gang sign, it does not delegitimize pointing. The story becomes, "Area Gang So Basic That They Can't Even Come Up With A Good Gang Sign, #SMH." The story is wrong and bad and the people who facilitated its creation should feel bad.

KSTP has subsequently been mocked by the whole wide world, and with good reason.

Earlier today, KSTP released a statement in response to the torrent of criticism. Suffice it to say, its response was not, "The entire premise of the story we produced was 100 percent garbage. We apologize for this ridiculous journalistic pratfall and we humbly submit ourselves to the righteous beatdown that we have earned with our disgraceful actions."

Instead, it went like this:

Law enforcement sources alerted KSTP-TV to a photo they believed could jeopardize public safety and put their officers at risk, especially given the recent increase in gang violence. Multiple sources from several law enforcement agencies told 5 Eyewitness News the photo had the potential for undermining the work they are doing on the streets. 5 Eyewitness News blurred the individual's face and did not name the group he was working for because police called into question only the judgment of Mayor Betsy Hodges.

KSTP's statement, far from being clarifying, is a classic in the "raises more questions than it answers" genre. One big one is this: Why does KSTP insist that the assertion has merit after other journalists did the due diligence that KSTP failed to do, and found the footage that absolves all parties of "throwing gang signs," which we'll leave right here:

no gang signs here

But that's not where the questions end. Let's focus for a minute on this part of KSTP's statement: "5 Eyewitness News blurred the individual's face and did not name the group he was working for because police called into question only the judgment of Mayor Betsy Hodges."

There are two things worth mentioning here. First, that when KSTP describes the steps it actively took in reporting this story -- the blurring of Gordon's face and the omission of the fact that he works for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change -- they are admitting that they purposefully occluded two vital pieces of information that might have allowed the public to come to a more informed judgment about this story. This was a man, after all, working for a nonprofit on an effort to get out the vote. Which is why he was with the mayor. Oh, and the chief of police. We nearly forgot that she was there, too, and she hasn't expressed any outrage about purported gang signs flashed in her presence.

Second, if the station is really concerned about gang activity, why only call Hodge's judgment "into question"? Surely if the station genuinely believes Gordon was in a gang, it would be worth calling his judgment into question, as well. If Gordon is, in fact, a gang member, that calls into question not just his own rehabilitation but the judgment of the nonprofit that employs him. Now that we think of it, it would also call into question the judgment of the police chief for palling around with him.

But they didn't call Gordon's judgment into question. And that's a far more pernicious admission from KSTP: that in its estimation, a white woman interacting with a black man with a criminal record is a de facto display of "poor judgment." The black man, in this instance, comes to this story pre-judged. The station treats as a given that Gordon is a man of irredeemable low character, serving in this instance only as a vehicle for criticism of Hodges. We're no lawyers, but how it has chosen to represent Gordon sounds like it showed a reckless disregard for the truth.

The bottom line here is that this is a story with no content (though it is inadvertently more revealing than many things you'll see this year). There are no gang members in this story. There are no gang signs in this story. What you see here is nothing more than a woman and a man posing for a picture together. Absent KSTP's journalistic malpractice, there is no other fair and plausible interpretation of the event you see depicted above.

The story here is that KSTP blew this story badly, and needs to admit it and take its lumps. Then the people at KSTP need to ask themselves how they'd like to live in the kind of world they have constructed for Gordon.

We called KSTP for comment and here's what its recorded answering service advised us: "If you have a tip and suspect welfare fraud, press 4."

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

Area Press Corps Wants To Know Why Obama Won't Flog Himself For Its Amusement

Jason Linkins   |   November 6, 2014    2:30 PM ET

On the afternoon after the Democratic Party's dramatic drubbing, which briefly threatened to wholly redistribute the American Internet's stockpile of action verbs that we usually apply to particularly incisive "Last Week Tonight" bits, President Barack Obama held a press briefing so reporters could ask him to supply a synonym for the word "shellacking." (That's what press briefings are now, I guess: the brief opportunity to turn elected officials into on-demand thesaurus services.)

Naturally, all those who observed the proceedings came away with the impression that Obama was, perhaps, taking the bad news of the previous evening rather coolly, with the seeming insistence that he would continue to suggest he has a valid point of view about what policies should be put forward and such. It's an open question as to what would have sufficed as the "correct" reaction to the previous night's returns. Perhaps weeping? A recitation of King Lear's "O, reason not the need" soliloquy? Some metaphorical death-bed conversion to Rep. Paul Ryan's economic philosophies? Whatever it was, the Beltway's louche thought-havers did not receive it in the abundance to which they felt entitled.

I can't really fathom the need to acquire some sort of emotional content from Obama, but then, that's because the underlying fundamentals of the election results are more than sufficiently interesting to me. The president will now have to operate with both legislative houses arrayed against him. There's very little that both sides will agree on, and the will to even proceed on those measures without some dose of inflammatory trolling from a GOP-led legislative branch seems to be uniquely lacking in this instance.

But this is a thing that we've previously observed in nature. Newt Gingrich brought the hurt to the Clinton administration in 1994 (and to his credit, he at least had a codified governing agenda at the time). More recently, in 2006, the Democrats routed the GOP and forced President George W. Bush into similar straits. I did not commit Bush's emotional reaction to the House loss to memory at the time, because I didn't find it sufficiently important to remember. But it's not as though Bush suddenly gave up his own point of view to become more accommodating to the opposition.

Over at The Washington Post, Dana Milbank remembers things differently:

President George W. Bush was rarely one to admit error, but on the day after the midterm "thumpin' " Republicans received eight years ago, he responded dramatically. Bush announced the ouster of defense chief Donald Rumsfeld and set in motion a new Iraq policy. He also offered a frank acknowledgment that everything had changed: "The election's over and the Democrats won, and now we're going to work together for two years to accomplish big objectives for the country."

Nah. While it's true enough that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld drew the short straw in the contest to determine who would be the symbolic fall-guy for Bush's midterm beat down, it's important to be clear about what "new Iraq policy" was subsequently "set in motion," and not shine people on by pretending that this was a product of a president duly subdued by a grim midterm defeat. The "new Iraq policy" was a flamboyant doubling-down on the old one: a larger troop commitment and another billion-dollar buy-in. Bush laid all of this out in a lengthy address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2007. That oration contained minimal acknowledgement of the recent elections, save for a half-hearted assurance that alternative Iraq War plans proffered by Congress were "carefully considered" before being summarily rejected. This was not a humbled or chastened president, reacting by rethinking his approach. (Neither was it a president with a renewed commitment to competence, as it turned out.)

While we're pondering these recent midterms, however, there is something worth noting about how the world changed as a result of the 2006 elections. Or, rather, failed to change.

Despite being brought back to power with an urgent mandate from America's voters to end the aforementioned Iraq War, the Democrats went on to essentially flop about in a dormant haze and let Bush do whatever he wanted. If you want to re-examine that period of time for insight into the here and now, I'd say this illumination of the basic character of the members of the Democratic Party is a far more instructive observation to poach from that era. All I can do is look at the efforts of Democrats -- who, mind you, succeeded in their generational mission to pass health care reform and then fled from the sight of their accomplishment -- and feel nothing but a big sense of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Far be it from me to suggest Obama should feel differently.

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

What Democrats Can Learn From Their Election Night Red Wedding

Jason Linkins   |   November 5, 2014    4:19 PM ET

So that happened: And we mean this literally just happened. The 2014 midterm elections are in the books, and for the Democratic party, it was one big coast-to-coast Red Wedding. "Drinking and Talking" host Sam Stein joins the podcast to pick through the wreckage and answer some questions: What are the next two years going to be like? What can Democrats learn from this historic waxing? And can they manage to flip this script in 2016?

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

An index of key moments in the discussion:

1:00- Dems Got Waxed. What Happens Now Under GOP Rule?


12:00- How Dems Can Fix Things For 2016

hillary clinton

19:20- The Lessons We Learned In 2014

mitch mcconnell

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 2014 Election Was About The Economy, And Democrats Have Only Themselves To Blame

Jason Linkins   |   November 5, 2014    2:41 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- If you want to examine the gnarled roots of the Democrats' 2014 election-night mollywhopping, you should cast your mind back to the fall of 2008.

Let’s set the scene: The air is thick with the acrid stench of ruined financial institutions. Economic indicators portend something potentially apocalyptic in the offing. Multiple CNBC hosts are setting their faces on fire on live television. And at the White House, President George W. Bush has found himself in a room full of legislators, trying to come up with a plan to arrest the hellward descent of America’s economic handbasket.

At the time, a unique alliance of conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats in the House had stymied the effort, balking at Bush's plan to bail out big banks without also helping troubled homeowners. Without a major change in the political winds, Wall Street would collapse.

It was at that point that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president at the time, provided just that. He told reluctant Democrats that as president, he would pursue major foreclosure relief efforts, vowing to change bankruptcy laws to allow borrowers to discharge mortgage debts. These promises were enough to soothe the frayed nerves of Obama's colleagues on the left, though many Republicans remained unconvinced. A few days later, the bailout passed amid continued opposition from hard-line conservatives. Liberal Democrats saved the banks.

After Obama won the 2008 election, foreclosure aid became a major tenet of the incoming administration's economic agenda. In January 2009, when Obama wanted Congress to release the second round of bailout money, his top economic advisor, Larry Summers, wrote a letter to congressional Democrats. In the letter, Summers made a lot of firm commitments, promising both legal changes and lots of funding to fight foreclosures. Here’s the key part of that letter:

The Obama Administration will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis. We will implement smart, aggressive policies to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners, while also reforming our bankruptcy laws and strengthening existing housing initiatives like Hope for Homeowners. Banks receiving support under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act will be required to implement mortgage foreclosure mitigation programs.

But those promises were betrayed. The administration decided that changing bankruptcy laws, which would upset banks and bank-friendly politicians, wasn't worth a hit to their "political capital." To make matters worse, Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner let big banks run the administration's mortgage modification program, converting a relief plan into an incubator for abuse.

This is all to say: When Republicans crow that the 2014 midterms were a referendum on Obama's failed policies, guess what? They're right, albeit unwittingly so. After all, these are also the failed policies of the GOP. Despite all of the gridlock and obstruction of the past six years, Washington continues to be dominated by a thoroughly bipartisan economic agenda -- one that favors the plight of wealthy elites well above the plight of ordinary human Americans. (You know, the very people that ponied up the boodle to fund all of these bailouts!) As the American economic ship was sinking into the icy deep, Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hewed to a strict “bankers and brokers first” lifeboat policy. Then they squinched up their faces and talked about how it sure would have been nice if there had been some more lifeboats for everybody else.

Foreclosures were more than an optics problem. There's increasing evidence that housing help would have been among the most efficient ways to boost the overall economy, particularly a recent study from Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. The excuses that Obama's economic team has offered for not acting -- Summers' bemoaning the hit to "political capital" -- seem pretty stupid in light of the hit they took for bailing out Wall Street.

And Tuesday's exit polls suggest that this was at the heart of the Democratic rout. Almost two-thirds of voters said the American economic system favors the rich, while only a third said it is "fair to most Americans." The economy, as in every election since 2008, remained the top issue on voters' minds.

This wasn't a big problem for Democrats back in 2012, when the unifying theme of the election was a high-profile tilt between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. It wasn’t a difficult trick to create an organized, coherent economic case against Mr. Bain Capital. Romney’s platform was demonstrably more slanted in favor of wealthy elites than Obama’s. All Obama had to do was define Romney as a wolf of Wall Street. He did, and he won.

But the 2014 battle between an Obama-led Democratic Party and McConnell didn’t offer the same easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy contrast. McConnell got away with overt and unprecedented obstructionism in the 2014 midterms in part because ... well, what can you say? Obama's economic platform just doesn't help very many people. Median household income is stuck at Clinton-era levels, while corporate profits are through the roof.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Obama hasn't exactly run the table on economic policy. Republicans have prevented him from raising the minimum wage, and they killed off extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Still, on a host of administrative fronts where the GOP has no power, Team Obama has been siding squarely with the wealthy against the downtrodden, and he’s forcing the rest of his party to make some kind of sense out of it.

But Democrats can hardly be blamed for not being able to sell some of this nonsense on the campaign trail.

Take, for instance, Obama's Education Department. The department has been turning a massive profit on student lending for years, as well as renewing lucrative contracts for abusive contractors that take advantage of former students. And while the department is raking in all this lucre, it's simultaneously pursuing aging seniors with defaulted student loans with the fury of Edmond Dantès -- and driving “tens of thousands of them into poverty” for no good reason.

Just last week, the Education Department gutted a proposal that would have reined in predatory for-profit colleges. In nearly every conceivable international venue, the Obama administration has pressed to protect high prescription drug prices charged by big pharmaceutical firms. During the various debt ceiling crises of 2011 and 2012, Obama repeatedly offered to cut Social Security, and to cut it in the manner that polling data deemed least popular. He was only thwarted by the political miscalculations of House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

And do you guys remember what happened with the Bush-era tax cuts? Well, during the period when Congress was resolving the "fiscal cliff," Obama enraged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) by cutting a deal with McConnell to shield people making $250,000 to $399,999 from a modest tax hike. Reid’s position was understandable. Democrats held all the leverage and a clear path to repealing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Obama got nothing in return for this valentine to fans of the tax cuts, aside from lower revenues to fund a Democratic agenda.

Voters may or may not be hyper-aware of all of these details. But they do feel the incoherence. They understand, feelingly, that the economy is still in the tank after six years with Obama as president. We are living in an Endless Recovery Summer in which the surf is always up but beach access is restricted for a lucky few.

Of course, there are two major Obama policies that could let Democrats legitimately claim to have done something significant for working people to the chagrin of entrenched corporate elites: Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. But Democratic candidates basically spent the midterm cycle running away from both of these as fast as their little feet could carry them. In large part, this was because Obama had screwed them on both. The rollout was a political catastrophe, and the party of bailouts doesn't really want to talk about its relationship with Wall Street while the banks are raking in money in a weak economy.

It's not fair to pin the blame for the entire mess on Obama. The Democratic Party's economic agenda has been dominated by this kind of thinking since the late 1980s. Even stalwart liberals in Congress are often eager to chip away at Wall Street regulations.

But as the post-mortems start coming in, detailing the way Democrats faced a bad map, bad messaging and bad political management, remember this: They invested fairly seriously in a lot of bad policies, too. Bill came due.

2014 Campaign Ads: The Best, The Weirdest, The Worst

Jason Linkins   |   November 4, 2014    5:15 PM ET

With another midterm election very nearly in the books, it's time to take stock of the cycle's campaign ads. The best of the best inspired us with full-hearted positivity, shrewd arguments and personal stories that humanized the candidates. The worst of the bunch featured easily punctured deceptions, shameless exploitation of tragedies real and imagined, and desperate measures undertaken by justifiably doomed competitors. Meanwhile, somewhere in the space between respectable and reprehensible, some of your bravest ad-makers rolled the dice with talking chickens, sharknadoes, dream ballets, and half-naked men staggering out of the water to yell at you for seemingly no reason.

This is where most of the money spent by goofy billionaires trying to buy this election went.


The best campaign ad of the year is “In A Box,” from Darius Foster, Republican running for the Alabama State House. It’s possibly one of the the most positive campaign ads you'll ever see: Foster neatly presents himself as community-oriented and hopeful, brimming with heart, good humor and a dose of brio. You’re probably going to want the guy to win after watching it.

This ad, from Alaska's Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, uses footage to remind voters that his father, who served in the House of Representatives, went missing in a plane crash in 1972. The pivot here is the message, offered by Begich’s wife, depicting Begich as carrying his late father’s spirit and bringing it to his constituents.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and his dad stick up for Obamacare in this ad, "Cancer." This was a rare instance of a Democrat in a tight race standing behind the Affordable Care Act, and expertly highlighting the stakes.

People mocked this ad from Iowa’s Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, featuring mention of castrating pigs, when it first came out. Could be that Ernst has the last laugh, because weird as it may be, it put Ernst on the map and emphasized some common ground with Iowa farmers.

The success that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has had in keeping her race with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) close is encapsulated in this ad, in which she uses Walker's words -- specifically his pledge to create 250,000 jobs -- against him.

"For Janey" explains one of Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan’s discrete accomplishments as a legislator -- in this case, fighting for the families of veterans affected by water contamination at Camp LeJeune -- in a way that reveals the importance of the work that legislators do in Washington.

Undeniably great ad from the GOP’s candidate for the Oregon Senate seat, Monica Wehby, detailing how she helped reconstruct the spine of infant Lexi LIebelt, who’s 12 years old today. As Lexi’s mother retells the story, she wells up with tears of happiness. They are earned.

This ad actually isn’t that great, but everyone loves a good callback, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bringing back the bloodhounds from an ad he cut back in 1984 will make the political junkies crack a smile.

Anne Armstrong is running for the Rhode Island statehouse as a member of the Rhode Island Compassion Party. Hey, you do you, Anne. You do you. (Also: She is right!)


Hey, here’s a couple of chickens having a bro-down in this attack ad against Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley (D), no big deal.

Mitch McConnell's campaign team discovers auto-tune four years after it was a thing, proceeds to create an aural war crime using Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’ last name.

No one really knows what the Michigan Republican Party was thinking when they created this insane "Sharknado"-themed attack ad against Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, but I have a feeling it was, “Hey, we’ve got 60 bucks, and my brother’s kid is studying digital animation at the University of Phoenix.”

This ad, in support of failed Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, starts out badly enough: terrible, awkward “acting,” a mention of Mark Levin’s nutball book ... but then one of the characters says, “I had a dream about that,” and the next three minutes are lost in the fabric of someone’s deeply weird imagination.

What if weird billionaires from out of state cut an ad accusing other weird billionaires from out of state of cutting ads? Welcome to the future, a snake devouring its own tail forever.

Kelly Kutala is a former Democratic member of Kansas’ state senate who’s now running for the U.S. House in Kansas’ 3rd district. But if that’s too hard to remember, you can just say, “Kelly Kutala is the one who cut the ad with all the naked people in it.”

J.D. Winteregg: ever heard of him? He’s one of two Republicans to challenge Speaker of the House John Boehner in the 2014 primary. He’s best known for this dick joke. He lost, obviously.

The spirit of Mike Gravel lives on in this ad, which is titled, “Oh, hey, that’s nice. I think -- wait. What is that? What is happening? Who is that guy and why is he yelling, and why is he in swim trunks and WHAT IS THAT ABOUT STRIP CLUBS?”


Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) also cut one of the worst ads of the cycle, this Ebola-fearmonger-y spot that all but accuses Rep. Tom Cotton (R) of being pro-Ebola.

Several candidates used footage of James Foley's ISIS executioner -- including Allen Weh, GOP Senate candidate in New Mexico. Foley’s understandably aggrieved family had to demand that they stop doing this.

The College Republican National Committee produced a series of ads themed around "Say Yes To The Dress" that went out of their way to flamboyantly insult the intelligence of women. Not a good look, guys!

Virgina Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie could have spent the last remaining dollars of his doomed campaign’s war chest on anything. Instead, he chose to throw this Hail Mary pass of an ad, focusing on the controversy surrounding the name of Washington’s NFL team. (He’s fine with it, in case you were wondering. Republican candidates for the Virginia statehouse do love their racial slurs!) His donors, whoever they are, thank him, I guess.

Speaking of doomed campaigns, here’s California Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari rescuing a drowning child. The child is drowning because of Jerry Brown and teachers' unions. The ad was widely considered to be a disgraceful stunt, because it was.

In this ad, Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes accuses Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of “pocket[ing] $600,000 from enemies of coal, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.” If that sounds strange to you, well, that’s because it isn’t true. (Embed unavailable, view ad here.)

It's not every day a campaign ad features the candidate getting hit in the crotch, but that day came for the GOP’s candidate for the Minnesota Senate seat, Mike McFadden:

Current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst will soon be Texas’ former Lieuenant Governor -- he lost his primary to state Sen. Dan Patrick. Part of Dewhurst’s desperate efforts to hold on to his job involved this ad, which ruined “Frozen” for everyone. (Embed unavailable, view ad here.)

When all else fails, hire a Morgan Freeman impersonator and compare yourself to Nelson Mandela. (Hey, this actually works for some candidates!)

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

By The Time Election Night Ends, The Race May Only Be Getting Started

Jason Linkins   |   November 1, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So that's about to happen: Tuesday Nov. 4 is Election Day, and we've enlisted HuffPost Pollster's own Mark Blumenthal to set the table. We'll take a look at the key question of the election: which party will end up controlling the Senate. Mark will tell us whether and how the polls we've been paying attention to are wrong. Most importantly, we'll discuss the reasons why we may not actually know all the results by the time election night ends.

Listen to this week's "So That's About To Happen" below:

An index of key moments in the discussion:

1:00- - Why The Elections Might Not Be Decided On Election Night

mitch mcconnell

11:27- - Let's Talk About The Senate Races

mary landrieu bill cassidy

22:27- How The Polls Are Wrong, Maybe?

greg orman

35:37- The Science Of Exit Polling

obama pat quinn

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!

Ask A Canadian: Explaining The Jian Ghomeshi Scandal To Americans

Jason Linkins   |   October 31, 2014    2:16 PM ET

Over the past few days, many of you non-Canadian humans may have noticed the emerging -- and seemingly endlessly sordid --story centering on a man named Jian Ghomeshi flooding your social media feeds. What began as Ghomeshi, a Canadian musician and radio host, losing his job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has spiraled into a much more disturbing story entirely, with multiple women accusing Ghomeshi of crimes and misconduct ranging from sexual harassment to outright violent abuse. On Friday, the police got involved, launching an investigation into the claims.

The story has ravaged the psyche of Canadians for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there is the fact that Ghomeshi is a media icon in the Great White North. From his perch at CBC Radio, Ghomeshi presides over the crown jewel of Canada's cultural programming, "Q" -- a show that shepherds highbrow and lowbrow together in an accessible, eclectic celebration of popular culture. (The show is syndicated on some American radio markets through Public Radio International.) In the past few days, Canadians have not only watched as the beloved host of their favorite radio show has been harshly unmasked as a debased cretin, they've also come to find out that Ghomeshi's transgressions were, in some ways, well-known within his social circles.

There's probably a lot more that you haven't heard about this story. And whenever a story in Canada breaks that may be of particular interest to Americans, we ask HuffPost Canada News Editor Michael Bolen for answers:

So, let's back up one day before the fateful CBC announcement that touched off this series of events and explain to Americans who suddenly started seeing news related to Jian Ghomeshi pop up in their social media feeds who Ghomeshi is (or at this point, maybe "was"), exactly.

Ghomeshi was the host of one of our public broadcaster's most popular radio shows, "Q." Think of him as a cross between Ira Glass and Charlie Rose, except much more important to Canadians than either is to Americans. The show is (and it's still going post-Ghomeshi) an arts and culture program that airs each morning in a storied and coveted time slot on CBC Radio One. It features interviews with celebrities and cultural heavyweights and panel discussions on the media, arts and social issues. It somehow manages to occupy the dual poles of pop and high-brow, hip and brainy. It's important to note that CBC radio is a revered institution in Canada and in recent years Ghomeshi became its brightest star -- the son of Iranian immigrants who positively bled the Canadian dream of a multicultural and progressive society.

Before Ghomeshi was a radio star, he was the most visible member of the quirky, cerebral and downright dorky rock group Moxy Fruvous, which had minor hits like "King of Spain" and "Stuck in the '90s" back in -- well ... the '90s.

His rise to prominence at the CBC after Moxy Fruvous petered out coincided with hard times for the public broadcaster. Its budgets have been slashed and it has faced criticism for being out of touch with younger Canadians. Ghomeshi appealed to millennials with his carefully cropped stubble and calculated cool. A Gen X hipster who made stodgy CBC radio seem relevant again. Many have pointed to this as one of the reasons rumors of his creepy behavior with women may have been brushed aside by managers at the CBC and other powerful people in media and music.

So, on Oct. 26, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. announced that "information came to our attention recently that in CBC's judgment precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian." That touched off four days of harrowing -- and, it should be said, credible -- accusations against Ghomeshi of sexual misconduct and violence against women. What are the allegations that have been levied against Ghomeshi, and do they track with what we know about the "information" that the CBC alluded to in its announcement?

Well, things actually got started on Friday the 24th when media critic Jesse Brown, host of the media criticism podcast "Canadaland," tweeted that Ghomeshi was on "indefinite leave." A CBC spokesperson then tweeted a denial. But shortly after, news came down the wire that Ghomeshi was taking an "undetermined leave for 'personal issues.'"

Brown plays a pivotal role in the story. A former CBC radio host himself, he had hinted earlier in the week on his podcast that he was about to break a "monster" story that he predicted would lead people to question his credibility. Later we would learn that he had been working on building a case on Ghomeshi and allegations that he has physically abused and harassed a string of women. (I recently interviewed him. You can read that here.)

On Sunday, news broke that CBC had parted ways with Ghomeshi and the broadcaster put out that cryptic statement suggesting something bad had led them to sever the relationship.

Then the story blew wide open. First Ghomeshi took to Facebook and posted a long statement alleging that he was wrongfully dismissed by CBC on the basis of his sex life and a campaign by a "jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer [Brown]." Ghomeshi then detailed his BDSM [for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism] sex life while maintaining that he always used safe words and obtained the consent of his partners. It also broke that Ghomeshi would be suing the CBC for tens of millions of dollars. Ghomeshi garnered sympathy by lamenting the recent death of his father. The statement is a fascinating read, especially if you're interested in how a crisis PR firm gets out in front of explosive revelations and sets the narrative of a story.

And for a brief moment, it looked like Ghomeshi was winning the public relations battle. Many Canadians expressed support for a man who had come to be viewed as a national treasure, and his post racked up more than 100,000 likes.

But then, late Sunday night, those explosive revelations started to roll in. Brown partnered with the Toronto Star, and its lawyers, and published a bombshell story written with Kevin Donovan, a veteran investigative journalist who had his hands all over the reporting on the Rob Ford crack scandal.

The accusations were damning. Three women, all unnamed, alleged that Ghomeshi had physically assaulted them on dates -- closed-fist punches, bites and choking. Truly shocking stuff. Another woman, a former staffer who worked with Ghomeshi at CBC, alleged that he had told her, "I want to hate fuck you" and, on another occasion, groped her rear end.

At first, many Canadians remained either ignorant of the story's allegations or unwilling to accept the word of unnamed sources. A lot of people, including prominent politicians and columnists, continued to voice support for Ghomeshi.

That was until Wednesday evening, when a new flood of allegations rolled in. First the CBC's top news show, "As It Happens," interviewed another unnamed woman who graphically detailed physical abuse by Ghomeshi. Then the Star published a new story, this time with allegations from eight women, including one who was named -- "Trailer Park Boys" actress Lucy DeCoutere.

Many of the stories shared common themes: young women who either messaged Ghomeshi on social media or met him at events. Ghomeshi would, according to the women, court them, impress them with his charm, and then introduce them to his penchant for violence and verbal abuse. All of the women said Ghomeshi did not have their consent.

The story also introduced another dark wrinkle: Big Ears Teddy, a stuffed animal that Ghomeshi would turn around before assaulting two of the women. "Big Ears Teddy shouldn't see this," is a quote a lot of Canadians wish they could unread.

And it got darker. Soon after the Star published, news emerged that a Twitter account under the name @BigEarsTeddy had posted allegations of abuse back in April, including that Ghomeshi "keeps an impressive anthology of videos and photos of the young girls he chokes out." Given that Ghomeshi had written on Facebook that he had "voluntarily showed evidence" to the CBC that his relationships were consensual, the unearthed tweet set off a wave of speculation about the extent to which Ghomeshi has been documenting his alleged abusive behavior. Carleton University has launched an investigation on behalf of students who may have had contact with Ghomeshi.

And just as we became sure we didn't want to know more about Big Ears, we learned that Ghomeshi had spoken publicly about having a bear of that name as a child and that his therapist encouraged him to get a replacement to help deal with an anxiety disorder. He even included the bear in the acknowledgments of a 2012 book he wrote about his life.

The tide of public opinion was now turning decisively against Ghomeshi. Another interview with an alleged victim on CBC radio on Thursday morning only added to the mounting case against him. And then on Thursday afternoon, a second woman put her name behind allegations of abuse. The Huffington Post Canada published a prominent author and lawyer's story of abuse at the hands of Ghomeshi:

"I distinctly remember the jarring sense of suddenly being abruptly shaken out of my reverie. I remember thinking 'what the fuck is going on here? What's wrong with him?' Jian had his hands around my throat, had pulled down my pants and was aggressively and violently penetrating me with his fingers. When it was over, I got up and it was clear I was really angry. My sexual interactions until then had always been consensual, enjoyable and fun," Reva Seth wrote.

And now, new details and revelations seem to be coming in every hour, a rolling nightmare unfolding live on Twitter and Facebook. Ghomeshi has been dropped by his PR and publicity firms. It's becoming nearly impossible to defend him and sound reasonable. So, yes, if CBC even knew a sliver of what the public knows now then it's understandable why it wanted to end the relationship. The broadcaster has now ordered a third-party investigation into Ghomeshi's actions and is facing tough questions about what it knew and when.

Police confirmed that they had launched a criminal investigation into Ghomeshi after two women came forward with complaints, the Toronto Star reported on Friday.

Ghomeshi's immediate response was on his Facebook page, where he alleged that the source of the looming scandal was simply a vindictive ex-girlfriend who'd participated in bondage/submission role play with him. But this story has clearly slipped past the boundaries that Ghomeshi wanted to impose on it, leading to the obvious question: What was the point of this Facebook post? A hackneyed effort to "get out in front of the story?"

Most people think the post was written by the PR firm Navigator, which specializes in managing the crises of the 1 percent. Its motto? "When you can't afford to lose."

And, for a little bit, it worked. The initial debate really did center on BDSM and whether employers have any business in the bedrooms of the nation. Incidentally, the word "bedroom" appears three times in the Facebook post, a thinly veiled allusion to a famous statement by a former prime minister that "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." In fact, Ghomeshi's lawsuit against the CBC, which many lawyers have decried as nothing more than a publicity stunt with virtually no chance of success, explicitly quotes former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's declaration about sexual privacy.

The only problem is these allegations aren't about sex. They're about violence. Brutal violence that these women say came without warning and without consent. Assaults went unreported for all the myriad reasons most violence against women goes unreported: fears of retribution, of drawn out and embarrassing court cases that rarely lead to conviction, of vilification by those in society who always take the word of a man over that of a woman.

Ghomeshi's suit is a total non-starter. He was a unionized employee at CBC and so his claim needs to go through the private arbitration process first before he can take it to court. Ghomeshi has set this in motion, but this suit is almost certainly going to get dropped.

At first the Facebook post shaped the narrative. It was likely read and shared far more widely than the allegations of the first four women. But the allegations just continue to roll in. And now even Navigator has jettisoned Ghomeshi. Some have even mused that the PR game was perhaps aimed more at keeping him out of jail than at keeping him employed.

After the story broke, I went back and read Carla Ciccone's story on xoJane, in which she described her interactions with Ghomeshi. (Ciccone's account does not explicitly name Ghomeshi, but it's full of clues.) Since then, I read this post -- "Do You Know About Jian" -- on a site called Nothing In Winnipeg. Reading these pieces leaves me with the impression that within Ghomeshi's social and professional circles, there was a sort of whispered awareness that the guy was trouble. Does this impression track with reality? Was it as pervasive as these accounts make it out to be? (True story, by the way: My wife reminded me this week that we'd actually met him on two occasions ourselves, and that she caught the distinct whiff of Eau de Red Flag from him.)

In media and music circles, rumors have circulated for years about Ghomeshi. I've heard them. People I know and work with have heard them. People I know have been on dates with him. So yes, it was an open secret that there was something fishy about Mr. Ghomeshi. But I think, as is so often the case, many dismissed it as just another case of a powerful man with a taste for younger women.

Clearly many knew things were much more sinister than that. While most people I know have expressed surprise about the violence, it's evident from the reaction on social media and in blog posts like "Do You Know About Jian" that many people knew much, much more. When the story first broke, most Canadians expressed disbelief and dismay while many in music and media exchanged knowing looks.

This is really becoming a huge part of the story now as we move beyond the "did he or didn't he" part of the story and on to the "how the hell did we let this happen?" part. Because a lot of people in media and music are asking themselves that question right now and talking with their partners and co-workers about it. This story is truly triggering some soul-searching about how and why we dismiss the signs of abuse -- "Oh, sure he's a bit creepy but he's great as his job." "Oh, these women wouldn't be with him if they didn't think they could get something from him." "Oh, it's not worth making a fuss about this. It's probably nothing and it's not worth losing your job over." The list goes on and on and on. If something good is going to come from this, it's that it's going to force our industry, and others, to really start to address the cultural and structural prejudices that could allow something like this to happen (allegedly).

Ghomeshi was obviously an important figure in the Canadian media firmament, and also had some fairly significant ties to the Canadian music industry. How have these communities reacted to this news? Does Ghomeshi have any allies left?

Ummm, Amanda Palmer? Kind of? No, even she seems to be backing down now.

At first plenty of people close to Ghomeshi, such as the musician Lights, whom he mentored, backed him. Lots of columnists expressed skepticism about the allegations. But as more and more stories have rolled in, pretty much everyone who has spoken publicly about this has abandoned him. In one startling Facebook post, his friend Owen Pallett wrote things like: "Just ten days ago, I helped him find musicians for his father's funeral. Three women have said that Jian beat them without their consent."

So, whatever allies he has left are either keeping quiet or voicing their less-than-cogent arguments in the comments on the article you're reading, or on your Facebook page or in the darker corners of the Internet. The PR game seems totally lost at this point.

Where does this story go from here?

Well, beyond the soul-searching I mentioned earlier, the major narrative is obvious: Is this guy going to go to jail? Police in Toronto have pretty much ruled out an investigation without a woman coming forward to them. And that hasn't happened yet.

And if he doesn't go to jail, then what does he do next? Right now he's radioactive to any prospective employers in Canada. The Toronto Star's top editor has already hinted that he's skipped town for Los Angeles. Who knows, maybe he'll become a Canadian hybrid of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.

But that's all speculation. What seems certain is that many more allegations are going to roll in. Many more questions are going to be asked about what happened behind the scenes at the CBC. Many more stories will be written cataloging every crack and crevice of Ghomeshi's life.

In an interview published Thursday in Toronto Life, Jesse Brown sent this message: "Stay tuned. We've only just begun."

Here in the states, we've long been having this Beltway-centric conversation about the "war on women" that typically deals with things like pay equity and reproductive rights. We've also seen an emerging conversation (that's recently gaining urgency) dealing with a deeper, darker strain of cultural sexism that reveals itself in phenomena like street harassment and online threats -- spaces and places made unsafe for women because of virulent misogyny. With the acknowledgement that having two dudes talk about this stuff means we sacrifice some vital perspective, let me ask you: What's the state of gender politics in Canada like, comparatively? Are you guys having the same sorts of discussions?

I think the common thread you see in all these discussions is (and I'm wincing just thinking it because I've heard this answer in seemingly every interview I've done in the last seven years) social media and the Internet.

Believe it or not, we've got Facebook and Twitter in Canada too. That's where these discussions start and we're definitely having them. I watch every day as women more eloquent and intelligent than me on these issues work to dissolve the prejudices calcified in the hidden caverns of our hearts and minds. Women who put up with all manner of abuse online to do the unpleasant work of pointing out the injustices we would prefer not to see and hear.

So I don't think there's a big difference between Canada and the U.S. when it comes to gender equality. We've got plenty of pernicious prejudice and predation of our own.

Canadians like to see ourselves as kinder, gentler and more progressive than our southern neighbors. But just this year we've lived through a hurl of headlines about Rob Ford, Justin Bieber, and Jian Ghomeshi -- cruelty, violence and bigotry writ-large on the international stage.

So yeah, I think there's ample evidence Canadians are talking about the way men treat women and I think there's plenty of evidence, much of which we've seen this week, that we should be doing even more of it.

[CORRECTION: This article originally stated, incorrectly, that Ghomeshi had been a student at Carleton University. This has been corrected. We regret the error.]

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Fake Morgan Freeman Rides Again In Another Campaign Ad

Jason Linkins   |   October 23, 2014    7:40 PM ET

Everyone knows that if you want to really class up your #brand, you've just got to bring in Morgan Freeman and his much-beloved dulcet tones and have him lay down those sensuous but sincere vocal tracks for which he's best known. But what happens if you're some obscure political figure and you're running for governor of Massachusetts and your polling numbers peaked at 8 percent and have steadily slid since? Well, if you're Saturn Partners co-founder Jeff McCormick, you reach for the next-best thing -- Fake Morgan Freeman.

And then you cut an ad that has EVERYTHING. Nelson Mandela footage! Nelson Mandela quotes! "Hey, Jeff! Jeff! Hey! Here's an idea!" said whoever helped McCormick with this. "Let's throw one of those fake, green-band movie trailer things right at the top!" And so they did.

Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible, until it is done." Since moving to Boston with $800 in his pocket, Jeff McCormick helped build successful companies, like Boston Duck Tours, and Constant Contact, creating thousands of jobs. Now, as the outsider running for governor, Jeff McCormick is the only candidate willing to fight the status quo. Sometimes, an opportunity for change can seem impossible. But for Jeff McCormick, that's the greatest opportunity there is.

This isn't Fake Morgan Freeman's first time at the rodeo. Back in 2010, an ad from "Friends of [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker," attacking his opponent, Tom Barrett, was released, featuring Fake Morgan Freeman doing voiceover. As Abe Sauer reported at the time, the agency that produced the ad said that "there was no conscious decision to use the talent because he sounded like Morgan Freeman, we chose him because he always does a great job of delivering a message because he is a very talented announcer." By "talent," they probably meant, "sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman." Chances are, the idea got in their head because the ad had to do with a promise Barrett had made about sewage, and someone remembered Freeman narrating Andy DuFresne's crawl through "a river of shit" from "The Shawshank Redemption."

Later that same year, Fake Morgan Freeman showed up in another ad, this time for B.J. Lawson, who was running as as the Republican candidate for North Carolina's 4th Congressional District seat. Lawson's campaign actually told Politico's Ben Smith that it was the real Morgan Freeman. But real Morgan Freeman said that he never did any such thing. The controversy ended with Lawson campaign manager Martin Avila telling Politico, "We’re pulling our ads, obviously, if Morgan Freeman says it's not him. ... This is obviously not what we want to talk about” with one day looming until the general election.

In 2011, Fake Morgan Freeman returned to Wisconsin, this time in support of Republican state Sen. Sheila Hasdorf, who at the time was facing a recall election challenge in public school teacher Shelly Moore.

So Fake Morgan Freeman has been around the block a few times. (And campaigns that use Fake Morgan Freeman in the state of Wisconsin are undefeated! Fun fact!) Jeff McCormick's campaign, however, marks the first time that Fake Morgan Freeman has been asked to draw an explicit comparison between ending apartheid and starting a duck boat tour business.

Why would McCormick do this? You could argue he'd done it to curry favor with the voters. Or, maybe make a few friends among political elites. Me, I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.

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