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Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It’s Friday, Oct. 23. The election is 11 days away. COVID-19 is setting alarming records across the United States. Interesting times, these.

Let’s get right to the news:

• A new study out of Columbia University says that between 130,000 and 210,000 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented with a better response by the federal government. Key quote from the study, via CNN: “Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.”

• Related: Today was the worst day of the pandemic in the U.S., as far as coronavirus cases are concerned, with nearly 80,000 new cases reported nationwide. The New York Times is calling it the third surge.

• However, California, thank goodness, is the exception to the rule, as cases in the state overall are NOT surging. As a result, as our partners at CalMatters point out, the state government is receiving praise for its handling of the epidemic: “California ‘holds a lesson for all of us,’ Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, recently tweeted, praising ‘strong leadership’ from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s health and human services chief, Dr. Mark Ghaly. Jha credited the state’s ‘huge boost’ in testing and county-by-county ‘micro-targeting’ as ‘smart policies’ that have helped control the virus. California has averaged nearly 124,000 COVID-19 tests each day for the past two weeks.”

The Palm Springs District 4 City Council race has gotten rather ugly, with some online trolls saying horribly sexist things about incumbent Christy Holstege—and accusing her of lying about her sexuality. As a result, three LGBTQ groups have issued a joint statement condemning the attacks. Read that statement here.

Our partners at CalMatters examine possible reasons why Proposition 16, the affirmative-action ballot measure, may go down in defeat, if recent polls are correct—despite a number of high-profile endorsements. Spoiler alert: Voters find the concept of affirmative action to be confusing, apparently.

Remdesivir has become the first COVID-19 treatment to receive full FDA approval. (It had previously received emergency authorization from the FDA for use.) Of course, because this is 2020, the approval came right as a new study showed that the drug does not seem effective at preventing deaths.

Uber and Lyft suffered a big loss in court yesterday. Per NBC News: “A California state appellate court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an ‘overwhelming likelihood’ Uber and Lyft had misclassified their drivers as contractors rather than employees in violation of a landmark state law.” However, because of holds and likely appeals, nothing will change for now—and, of course, Prop 22 could REALLY change things.

The Washington Post offers up this update on the confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Despite the squabbling, it’s likely she will be installed on the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as Monday.

An expert in nonverbal communication, writing for The Conversation, watched the presidential debate last night. Click here to read his rather fascinating observations.

The CDC is planning on using an app to keep tabs on the safety of people who receive COVID-19 vaccine(s), if and when it/they is/are ready. CNN Reports: “Through V-SAFE, which stands for ‘vaccine safety assessment for essential workers,’ health checks can be conducted via text messages and email daily in the first week after a person receives the vaccine and then weekly thereafter for six weeks, according to the CDC’s website.”

• The Washington Post delivers encouraging news about the Moderna vaccine trial: The full number of participants have enrolled, and those participants are fairly diverse: “The coronavirus vaccine trials have been closely watched to ensure they reflect the diversity of the U.S. population at a minimum, and Moderna’s enrollment was slowed in September to recruit more minorities. A fifth of the participants are Hispanic and 10 percent are Black, according to data released by the company. People over 65, a population also at high risk for coronavirus, make up 25 percent of the study population.” 

• Also from The Washington Post: The newspaper followed up a bit on The New York Times’ reporting on the president’s finances—specifically the fact that Trump has a LOT of debt coming due, which leads to a whole lot of conflict-of-interest and even national-security concerns: “In the next four years, Trump faces payment deadlines for more than $400 million in loans—just as the pandemic robs his businesses of customers and income, according to a Washington Post analysis of Trump’s finances. The bills coming due include loans on his Chicago hotel, his D.C. hotel and his Doral resort, all hit by a double whammy: Trump’s political career slowed their business, then the pandemic ground it down much further.” 

One more thing from the Post: Less than two weeks before Election Day, “President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.” Wow.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “A controversial new law that takes effect next year will dismantle the state’s current juvenile justice system and transfer responsibility for convicted youth back to counties.” Even advocates of the plan, which is being pushed by Gov. Newsom, admit it has problems.

Well this is a horrifying headline from NBC News: “Minnesota AG investigates company accused of recruiting armed guards for Election Day.”

• Finally, I returned as a guest to this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, where I chatted with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr about drama in downtown Palm Springs, our November print edition, Taco Bell’s unforgivable elimination of the Mexican pizza, and more.

Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone. Please, if you can afford it, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; all the news we do is free—but it costs a lot of produce, publish and distribute. The Daily Digest will return next week.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s common practice for media organizations to prepare coverage of certain events before said events have actually happened.

Take obituaries, for example. The Associated Press, The New York Times and other large media organizations have files upon files of pre-written obituaries for prominent people. (Reporters once worked on them on what used to be called “slow news days,” a concept that the year 2020 has completely and totally obliterated.) This way, when a death does occur, all editors need to do is pull out the pre-written obit, add in a date and a cause of death, and perhaps update a few details before quickly publishing. This practice is sometimes called “preparedness.”

Sometimes, this preparedness can cause weirdness. The New York Times, for example, has a long and storied history of publishing bylined obituaries penned by writers who themselves have been dead for years.

Then there’s the problem of obituaries making their way to the wire or the internet before the subject has actually died. My favorite example of this happened back in 1998, when someone working for the AP hit the wrong button, more or less, and sent out Bob Hope’s obituary. The obit was clearly not complete—a bunch of x’s were in the places where Hope’s cause of death and his age would have been—but the story got the attention of an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, which led to Hope’s death being announced on the House floor. Which led Reuters to report Hope’s death. Which led ABC Radio to report Hope’s death. And so on.

Hope would live five more years.

Today, in an effort to get things published online quickly after they happen, some news websites will pre-write stories, just in case something, which may or may not happen, actually happens. And this brings us to the big mistake Deadline made yesterday.

The background: Vice President Mike Pence cancelled an event scheduled for today in his home state. Even though a Pence spokesman said at the time that COVID-19 was NOT the reason for the change, the fact that the White House is now confirmed to have been the site of a super-spreader event led to all sorts of speculation—and apparently led Deadline to write up a piece announcing that Pence had tested positive for COVID-19, so it was ready to go in case that actually happened.

But then someone at Deadline actually published the piece. And then the piece was shared on Deadline’s Twitter page.

As with the AP’s premature Bob Hope obit, it was clear to anyone paying attention that the Deadline piece was published prematurely, given “PREP. DO NOT PUBLISH UNTIL THE NEWS CROSSES” was in the headline before the actual headline. But that didn’t stop people from jumping to erroneous conclusions —even though as of this writing, the vice president appears to be COVID-free.

Sigh. I miss slow news days.

Please, if you can, become a Supporter of the Independent by clicking here; we need help to continue producing quality local journalism.

Today’s news:

The second presidential debate is officially cancelled. The Commission on Presidential Debates wanted to make the scheduled Oct. 15 debate a virtual event, because one of the two participants was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. However, that participant refused to participate in a virtual event, so the debate was cancelled. As of now, the Oct. 22 debate remains on the schedule, but who in the hell knows what the 13 days between now and then will bring.

And then there’s this headline from The New York Times: “Trump plans to hold a rally for thousands on the White House lawn Saturday, raising new concerns over possible virus spread.” He also has a rally planned in Florida on Monday. Yes, really.

Related, from Reuters: “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of President Donald Trump’s most powerful allies in Washington, has avoided visiting the White House for more than two months because of its handling of the coronavirus, he told reporters on Thursday.” Holy cow!

• Oh, and the White House last month blocked the CDC from requiring masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation, according to the Times. My god.

• Hey, who needs a drink? We’re only the intro plus three stories into this Digest, but I sure do … and a Manhattan sounds amazing! But did you know the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan is just as important as the whiskey? So here’s a Thrillist piece on some good sweet vermouths.

• Before we get to more despair, let’s share some good news on the COVID-19 battle. First: Two drug-makers have requested emergency-use authorizations for antibody therapies to battle SARS-CoV-2—including the one the president received. Per NBC News: “The announcements from drug manufacturers Regeneron and Eli Lilly came within hours of Trump making public pleas to drum up support and enthusiasm for the medicines—referring to the antibodies as a ‘cure,’ despite a lack of evidence backing up such a claim.” Still, the therapies show promise.

Fingers crossed regarding this CNBC lede: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday the U.S. could have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for every American as early as March, a more optimistic estimate than President Donald Trump has publicly said.”

Also from CNBC comes the news that the FDA has granted emergency authorization for a rapid test that can screen patients for both the flu and COVID-19—plus other viruses and bugs.

• Hey, another silver lining! COVID-19 is making us filthy Americans wash our disgusting hands more frequently.

The New York Times today published yet another piece regarding portions of President Trump’s taxes where the numbers don’t really add up. This story involves a mysterious $21 million in payments to Trump in 2016 that largely “went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees.”

Yet another NFL team was in limbo today after a positive COVID-19 test. (It turned out that the test was apparently a false positive.) As CNBC points out, the NFL is likely to keep playing, no matter what—because too much money is at stake.

• Did you know that the rich have access to private firefighting crews? The Los Angeles Times points out that not only does this raise serious questions about societal inequities; “when private, for-profit groups come in and don’t follow protocol, they can confuse residents, get in the way of firefighting activities or even require assistance themselves.”

• Why in the world are rolling blackouts still a thing in 2020? According to our partners at CalMatters, the preliminary results of an investigation into the blackouts earlier this year show the state did a bad job at planning and preparing.

Also from CalMatters, via the Independent: Proposition 24 is one of the most confusing questions on the ballot this year. It’s supposed to protect citizens’ privacy on the internet … but leading privacy advocates disagree on whether the proposition would actually do that.

Happy Friday, everyone. We made it through another crazy week! Be safe, and have a great weekend. The Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Before we get to the complete mess that is … uh, everything, I’Il start off by sharing with you a news story from yesterday that caused me to nearly shoot coffee out my nose. I figure you could possibly use a laugh.

Here are the first three paragraphs of that story, compliments of CNN:

Five parrots have been removed from public view at a British wildlife park after they started swearing at customers.

The foul-mouthed birds were split up after they launched a number of different expletives at visitors and staff just days after being donated to Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in eastern England.

"It just went ballistic, they were all swearing," the venue's chief executive Steve Nichols told CNN Travel on Tuesday. "We were a little concerned about the children."

The paragraph that follows those three is what almost caused me to shoot coffee out my nose. It may be the single greatest 13 words in journalism thus far in 2020.

And with that, let’s get on with the shitshow:

• So, as you might have heard, the first presidential debate happened last night. As you might have also heard, it was appalling—so appalling, in fact, that the Commission on Presidential Debates is planning on making format changes moving forward. Key quote, from CNBC: “A source close to the Commission on Presidential Debates told NBC News that no final decisions have been made on the changes. But the source also said that the group is considering cutting off a candidate’s microphone if they violate the rules.” Yes, please.

• One of the many lies—verifiable, provable lies, no matter one’s politics—told by the incumbent last night was a claim that the sheriff in Portland, Ore., supported him. Nope: Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese took to Twitter shortly after Trump’s statement to say: “I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him.” Then there’s this quote, which is good for an LOL: “Donald Trump has made my job a hell of a lot harder since he started talking about Portland, but I never thought he’d try to turn my wife against me!

• Related, sort of, comes this lede from The Conversation, on a piece penned by two experts: “Fox News is up to five times more likely to use the word ‘hate’ in its programming than its main competitors, according to our new study of how cable news channels use language.

• Investigators still don’t know what sparked the Glass Fire, which has devastated wine countryalthough they have figured out where it started. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Glass Fire so far has destroyed 80 homes, and is threatening 22,500 structures.

• On the local COVID-19 front: Riverside County Director of Public Health Kim Saruwatari, in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors yesterday, cited grocery stores as one of the biggest sources of local COVID-19 outbreaks. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “There were 88 business outbreaks with at least four cases and 53 business outbreaks with at least five cases. … Grocery stores, she reported, led the way with 48 outbreaks between July and September, followed by retail settings, which had 31 outbreaks. Warehouses were third with 20 outbreaks, restaurant/food settings were fourth with 11 and health-care settings were fifth with eight outbreaks.” It’s not clear whether those outbreaks were among employees, or members of the public, or both.

• Here’s this week’s county District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Case numbers and hospitalizations are holding steady; deaths and the weekly positivity rate are down—but still too high, at one and 9.5 percent, respectively. Let’s see how this all goes in the coming weeks, as we see how the latest round of reopenings is affecting things.

• The Washington Post is reporting: “The Trump administration is preparing an immigration enforcement blitz next month that would target arrests in U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have adopted ‘sanctuary’ policies, according to three U.S. officials who described a plan with public messaging that echoes the president’s law-and-order campaign rhetoric.” The raids are slated to begin right here in California.

COVID-19 has caused its first regular-season disruption in the NFL: The scheduled Sunday game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans has been postponed for at least a day or two after four Titans players and five team-personnel members tested positive. So far, no Minnesota Vikings—the team the Titans played last Sunday—have tested positive.

• The University of Hawaii football team became the latest college team to suspend activities after four players tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Operation Warp Speed, the government effort to get a vaccine available ASAP, is using shenanigans to avoid public scrutiny, according to NPR: “Operation Warp Speed is issuing billions of dollars' worth of coronavirus vaccine contracts to companies through a nongovernment intermediary, bypassing the regulatory oversight and transparency of traditional federal contracting mechanisms, NPR has learned. Instead of entering into contracts directly with vaccine makers, more than $6 billion in Operation Warp Speed funding has been routed through a defense contract management firm called Advanced Technologies International, Inc. ATI then awarded contracts to companies working on COVID-19 vaccines.”

Homicides have increased in Los Angeles and other cities across the country in 2020. According to the Los Angeles Times: “A new national study shows that the number of killings, while still far lower than decades ago, climbed significantly in a summer that saw 20 cities’ homicide rates jump 53 percent compared with the three summer months in 2019.

• Juries may soon become more diverse in California, after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate Bill 592, which will mandate that everyone who files income tax returns go into the jury pool. As of now, jury pools are made up of registered voters and people who have state IDs; according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “supporters of the bill say people of color and poorer residents are less likely to register to vote or drive a car, leaving the pool overstocked with white jurors who are better-off financially.

• Our Kevin Fitzgerald spoke to the five candidates for the two Indio City Council seats up for election this November, for the latest installment in our Candidate Q&A series. Learn what the two District 1 candidates had to say here, and what the three District 5 candidates said here.

• The next time a climate-change denier tells you that the planetary warming we’re enduring right now is merely a cyclic thing, you can share with them this piece from The Conversation with the headlineThe Arctic hasn’t been this warm for 3 million years—and that foreshadows big changes for the rest of the planet.”

The New York Times offers a primer on the latest science regarding the coronavirus and pets. The takeaways: Dogs don’t spread the virus, but cats do—although not necessarily to humans. Neither dogs nor cats are likely to get sick from SARS-CoV-2. And there’s this: “Cats … do develop a strong, protective immune response, which may make them worth studying when it comes to human vaccines.”

• Also from the NYT comes this exploration of the problems the U.S. government’s Indian Health Service is having in its battle against the coronavirus. As the subheadline says: “Few hospital beds, lack of equipment, a shipment of body bags in response to a request for coronavirus tests: The agency providing health care to tribal communities struggled to meet the challenge.”

• After all this crappy news, consider going outside and pondering the nighttime skies. Here’s our October astronomy guide to help you do just that.

Finally, we bring you this public service announcement: If you have any cause to visit Northern California, beware of horny elk.

Be safe, everyone. Please go vote in the final round of our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll if you haven’t done so already. And if you value these Daily Digests, our Candidate Q&As and the aforementioned astronomy column, please help us continue producing quality local journalism by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Digest will be back Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's electorally divided weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson analyses the presidential debate analyses; The K Chronicles appreciates a subtle costume at a comics convention; This Modern World exposes the truth behind Donald Trump's hair; and Red Meat refuses to get rid of the meat.

Published in Comics

The “protest pit” outside of the Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., on Saturday evening was a fenced-in area in a field about a quarter mile down the road from the main entrance to the campus.

Bumper to bumper traffic ran in front of the pit—odd, given that NH State Police were letting few cars on the campus. Most were told to turn around. No one that Republican leadership didn’t want in was getting anywhere near the Carr Center, where the debate was taking place.

Powerful lights shone down on the scene from one side—lending it an eerie cast. Behind the fence facing the road were a couple hundred supporters for a few of the Republican candidates. But that was just the first layer: Behind them were about 500 activists with the Fight for 15 campaign—organized and bankrolled with $30 million as of last August by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Union leaders had bused in SEIU staff and members; student activists; and allies from other unions and immigrant organizations from around the region—at least 13 busloads from southern New England overall, according to the campaign’s registration form for the event. It was a respectable showing, if not the “massive crowd of underpaid workers” that SEIU’s press release had promised.

So there they were. Supporters of a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, a fairly diverse group, standing in a snowy field on a back road, enthusiastically waving banners—some quite creative, cylindrical and glowing from within like Japanese lanterns—and periodically trading chants with the mostly white right-wing activists in front of them.

Their presence was part of the tactic to raise the profile of the Fight for $15 campaign by protesting presidential debates and other high-profile events like the Super Bowl in recent months. That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is why SEIU pulled out 500 people onto a chilly windswept hill in suburban New Hampshire to protest for a laudable reform that their chosen presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, absolutely does not support.

Clinton, like Barack Obama, has come out in favor of a $12 an hour minimum wage. Bernie Sanders, the only candidate whose politics are in line with labor unions like SEIU, is also the only candidate who publicly supports the Fight for $15 campaign’s main goal—a $15 an hour minimum wage. That’s barely a living wage at all in many parts of the country, and hardly the huge ask that opponents make it out to be, especially given the wage freeze imposed on most Americans by corporations and our political duopoly since the 1970s.

Yet the leaders of the 1.9 million member SEIU backed Clinton last November, joining the heads of a number of other large American unions in supporting the candidate with a proven record of pushing policies completely antithetical to union demands. They have already pumped millions to Clinton super PACs over the heads of their largely voiceless members.

In response, a coalition of progressive unions and activist union members has formed Labor for Bernie to win as many union endorsements for Sanders as possible, even as Sanders has amassed a $75 million warchest from mostly small donations—without the truckloads of cash that labor unions have traditionally lavished on Democratic candidates over the past few decades.

With Sanders doing very well in the NH polls and possibly capable of staying in the race all the way to this summer’s Democratic National Convention, it appears SEIU leadership made a serious miscalculation this election. The fallout from that miscalculation is already playing out in the very state where they organized the standout for their Fight for $15 campaign over the weekend, and where a key primary is taking place today.

Two New Hampshire SEIU locals—560 (Dartmouth College workers) and 1984 (NH State Employees’ Association)—broke ranks with SEIU leadership last fall and backed Sanders for president. Both locals were present in Goffstown on Saturday.

Whether Bernie Sanders wins the nomination and election or not, current SEIU leadership—and the leadership of every union marching in lockstep with the worst elements of the Democratic Party—is going to face increasing pressure from its rank-and-file members to stop supporting pro-corporate anti-labor candidates like Clinton. Likely culminating in major grassroots insurgent campaigns aimed at removing union leaders perceived as sellouts—as has happened on many occasions in labor history. It remains to be seen whether such internal reforms will happen before the major unions collapse under the death of a thousand cuts being inflicted on them by their traditional political enemies and their erstwhile allies alike.

SEIU and less democratic unions like it could forestall the looming civil war in their own ranks—and increase the American labor movement’s chance of survival—by learning from the more democratic practices of the 700,000 member Communication Workers of America (CWA)—whose leadership stepped aside last year and let their members directly decide: a) If they should endorse any candidates for POTUS, and b) Which candidate they should endorse.

CWA members, some 30 percent of whom are Republicans, voted to back Sanders in December.

Jason Pramas is the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s network director. He has been a member of three SEIU locals (925, 285 and 888) over the past 18 years, and helped lead a successful union drive with SEIU Local 509 last year—at the cost of his job.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

This report was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and is part of their “Manchester Divided” coverage of the madness leading up to the 100th New Hampshire presidential primary.

Published in Politics

There has been a relentless stream of town halls, meet-and-greets, panel discussions and rallies in New Hampshire in advance of the Jan. 9 primary—but we were probably at the only event where “Party in the USA” blared from the speakers as the crowd filed into their seats.

We were definitely at the only happening hosted by Trevor Noah.

A disembodied voice asked us to kindly turn off our cell phones, though the request was blatantly ignored by a crowd full of people who were furiously Snapchatting the scene as Noah and correspondents from The Daily Show—Jessica Williams, Ronny Chieng and Hasan Minhaj —took to the stage. It was an off-air event, after all, so how else would we prove to friends that we were there?

Podium Pandemonium was “a debate about debates,” and the festivities found Fusion’s Alicia Menendez, DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile, Howard Dean, New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza and MSNBC’s Michael Steele attempting to answer questions about our modern political process. While there were jokes—Noah opened by thanking “all of the college kids we lured with free pot,” and “all four” of the black people in the audience for showing up—there wound up being a surprisingly substantive discussion wrapped up in a shiny Comedy Central package.

“That is what a debate needs: a good amount of laughter and honesty,” Noah said, almost too earnestly for someone standing at a podium.

Because they’re not campaigning, these panelists were likely among the most honest, candid people making appearances in the Granite State this week. Brazile wanted to get one thing out of the way up front: From a campaign worker perspective, debates are awful. There are too many; they’re a bear to prepare for; and candidates don’t like them—they prefer town halls and one-on-ones.

Too bad, says Dean. “Politics is a substitute for war,” the former Vermont governor and presidential hopeful said. “We used to kill each other over succession of power and the distribution of resources, and debates are the modern equivalent of throwing gladiators in the ring.”

Dean may have missed the memo about this being a humorous debate, but he was right that everybody following along at home is always hoping for a moment comparable to “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” They’re spectacles that exist at the intersection of entertainment and politics—much like, dare we say, an evening with The Daily Show.

Still, there’s plenty we could fix, and the panel had a few ideas. Why, for example, can’t we fact-check candidates? Asking a question, getting an answer, and moving on seems silly in an age when we can access endless information at any time. There’s more accountability during NFL games, where at least there’s a review of calls made on the field.

As for the number of debates: Dean thinks the endless debate cycle is part of the reason Romney lost in 2012, as the Republican had to move to the right with each subsequent faceoff.

They also discussed questions in debates culled from Twitter and Facebook, most of which seem canned and pre-decided: Pathetic, pandering, toothless attempts to appeal to young people, who for some reason rarely ask about things like student debt? All of which raised the meta question of why the people in New Hampshire speaking most thoughtfully about reforming the debate process were doing so at the behest of comedians.

There was some progress in deciding what a better debate might look like: two candidates, one hour, no moderator—a real discussion of the issues. If we’re going to have moderators, said Brazile, we need more diversity, but added that what’s most valuable about debates are the candid moments, and the chance to see politicians as they are, having conversations.

“What you just described,” said Noah, “was Twitter.”

This report was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and is part of their “Manchester Divided” coverage of the madness leading up to the 100th New Hampshire presidential primary.

Published in Politics

On this week's seasonably chilly Independent comics page: This Modern World puts together the GOP's dream debate; Jen Sorenson doesn't want to go to arbitration; The K Chronicles applauds some athletes who did the right thing; and Red Meat declines a sporting offer.

Published in Comics

Politicians are corrupt. Voters base their votes on marketing and money. Politics is not the same as “real” work. The media as a whole has a liberal bias.

If only it were that simple.

I ran for Congress in 1996. I’d never run for public office before, and there were many things I had to learn. One key skill was how to respond to reporters. Since I had little money for my campaign, most of my exposure was via free media, as opposed to paid ads. That meant something would be in the news, and I would be asked to comment, or I would call a press conference to make an “announcement,” followed by questions.

When I ran, most local media sources were pretty conservative. The majority of registered voters in this area were Republicans. Democrats could be found in pockets here and there, but most locals then—even in the gay community—were self-described “economic conservatives,” concerned primarily about the economy while being non-dogmatic on social issues. Oh, sure, we had those few rabid pro-life factions, or critics of “liberal” education (like sex education in schools), but mostly, local voters wanted the economy to keep working, with the underlying belief that smaller government was in people’s best interests, and government should work effectively but be non-intrusive.

When most reporters pose questions on a specific issue or news story, they generally already know what slant they expect to give the story. The questions they pose are intended to get a response that fits that narrative.

If you only catch politicians on the news, you’re lucky to get, at most, 15 seconds of their response to a question. So how does the candidate make sure you get their best sound bite, regardless of how the piece is edited? Politicians have a bottom-line message they want people to walk away with. What I learned was that no matter what questions were asked, every answer had to include my sound bite, because I never knew which 15 seconds would make it onto the air. The reporter might ask five or six questions; each answer must sound responsive, but you still need to get the sound bite in there. While you’re doing it, it seems horribly repetitive, but it’s the only way to overcome whatever slant the reporter may have.

Students who want to go into media take courses to learn how to interview. Business people and public figures join organizations like Toastmasters to learn about eliminating “um” and “er” and “ya know” from their speech patterns. But who teaches politicians about the ability to be responsive in a way that will actually inform?

Debates are clearly different than interviews, if only because candidates are up against others who may be more skilled at the techniques. Those trained as lawyers, for example, are good at jousting with questioners, but they can also come across as argumentative. Educators can come across as pedantic. Business executives can come across as clueless about the difference between being “the boss” and leading a government.

The most recent GOP presidential debate, on CNBC, was roundly criticized for political bias, badly framed questions, poor research and a lack of follow-ups. It’s not that smart, probing questions weren’t asked; it’s that questions were clearly framed to generate controversy rather than inform. Even when good questions were asked, the participants went after the panelists rather than responding to enlighten voters.

As an example, when Donald Trump was asked whether his campaign might be described as a “comic-book campaign,” that was an opportunity for Trump to talk about the substance of his campaign (which is not always readily apparent). A good communicator would have easily made that pivot.

Let’s face it: When you’re president, reporters shout out questions all the time, often slanted to push a specific narrative or challenge a decision. If the president can’t handle that, how is that individual going to resolve intractable conflicts, both domestic and foreign?

I like to separate policy and politics, and I believe either is an appropriate subject for inquiry in a debate—they just should not be confused as being equivalent. The idea that candidates should only be questioned by people who share their ideology is ridiculous—but that is what’s currently being demanded by the candidates. I would think the opposite would be more enlightening: Only those who disagree with the candidates should ask questions: Let’s really see how they deal with having their ideas challenged.

Here are the kind of questions I would ask if I were running a presidential debate:

  • What is the very first action you will take as president that will make the clearest statement about your administration’s focus?
  • You claim one of your highest priorities is to create jobs, yet you also say that government itself doesn’t actually create jobs. How do you reconcile those two positions? What specifically can government do to create jobs without controlling the private sector?
  • You may not have a Congress run by your own party or one that agrees with your priorities. Is bipartisan support something you would pursue? How?
  • On what issues are you not willing to compromise, no matter the result?
  • Is the threat of America as a superpower more important than soft power—the ability to negotiate and convince? Or does one require the other?
  • How can we influence other nations toward peace in areas of the world that are plagued with violence and political upheaval? Would you ever act alone?
  • What is government’s role in addressing homelessness and extreme poverty?
  • With some states not as concerned as others with expanding access to medical care, what is the federal government’s role, if any?
  • Education has always been seen as a locally controlled system. What exactly should be the federal role be in education?

Since the debate formats have been challenged, here are my suggestions for a format that should be followed regardless of party:

  • No more than eight candidates should be onstage at the same time. Have a lottery to decide which candidates take part and hold as many as necessary.
  • Limit total debate time to two hours.
  • Allow each candidate to make 30-second opening and closing statements. 
  • Have a red light to let candidates know when they have 10 seconds left, and a buzzer that goes off when their time is up. Moderators should be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone if they go more than 10 seconds over their time.
  • Answers that are nonresponsive to the question, or that stretch the truth, should be exposed with immediate follow-up questions. Moderators need to do their homework and cite sources.
  • Audiences should withhold the temptation to cheer or boo once the debate begins. Perhaps there should not be an audience.
  • Candidates should not know the questions in advance.

“We get the government we deserve” has long been the mantra of those who aren’t happy with electoral results. It shouldn’t be up to politicians and political parties to decide what we do and do not have the right to know, or how questions are asked. How candidates handle both policy and political questions is crucial information for voters.

We not only need good debate panelists and fair formats; we also need to hold politicians accountable for practicing their profession responsibly. When we tune in hoping for outrageous sound bites, we end up voting for entertainers, not leaders.

It’s not the “biased media” at fault; it’s us!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

Published in Know Your Neighbors