Before we begin, we promise we'll get to that rather-provocative subtitle later, as we turn this week's talking points section over to an attempt at providing campaign advice for Team Clinton. We've been long wondering why Hillary hasn't made some sort of effort to put these two large issues behind her on the campaign trail, and our frustration has led us to offering up what she should say in order to achieve this goal.
But we'll get to all of that in a moment. First, let's take a look at this week's political news. Conservative anti-feminist hero Phyllis Schlafly died this week, guaranteeing nobody will ever have to type her name again (we are always respectful of those with difficult last names to type, personally, since our own gets misspelled so often). Schlafly rose to prominence fighting the Equal Rights Amendment and was an unreconstructed "keep 'em barefoot and pregnant" type of gal (being an anti-feminist, we're sure she wouldn't take offense to being called a "gal"). Think this is exaggeration? Salon helpfully put together a list of her most cringeworthy quotes on the role of women in society, in case anyone's liable to forget just how odious her views were.
Speaking of odious views, the Vast Right-Wing Anti-Clinton Conspiracy is now operating at full steam, pushing the theory that Hillary Clinton is liable to drop dead before she can even take office, because she is so ill. How do they know this? They don't. But how do they think they know this? Because Clinton has coughing fits every so often. You see, if someone travels around the country breathing airplane air for weeks and weeks on end, shaking the hands of thousands of people in dozens of cities, they are not allowed to cough even once. Clinton herself blamed allergies -- she's allergic to mentions of Donald Trump. Heh. Nice one.
But the conspiracy kind of had the rug yanked out from under it this week when lil' Newtie Gingrich (remember him?) tried to launch into his own doctorly diagnosis of what was so obviously wrong with Clinton having a coughing fit, but then had to stop -- because he had a coughing fit. No really -- you just can't make this stuff up, folks! Gingrich blamed airplane air for his dry throat, but in doing so undermined the entire conspiracy theory altogether. Note to other conservatives pushing the "Hillary so sick" meme: take a drink of water before you do. Ask Marco Rubio about the importance of staying hydrated, perhaps.
Enough of the minor stuff, though, Last week's political news was clearly dominated by one event: the non-debate debate orchestrated by NBC News. NBC thought they'd scored a real coup by setting this event up, since it was the first time Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were on the same stage for the same event in the general election season. They weren't simultaneously on the same stage, which is what made it a "non-debate debate." But it was supposed to be a big preview of the real debate season, scheduled for kickoff later this month. What it turned into, in the words of one anonymous NBC News executive afterwards, was a "disaster."
It's not like anyone couldn't see the disaster coming. It was akin to the Titanic seeing an iceberg in broad daylight -- with plenty of time to maneuver the ship -- and then inexplicably turning directly towards the iceberg and ordering: "Full speed ahead!" Seriously, what network genius was it who looked over the entire roster of NBC News and MSNBC and decided: "Matt Lauer is the obvious choice"? Was it the same genius who kept David Gregory as the host of Meet The Press long after his due date had expired? Inquiring minds want to know.
Matt Lauer? I mean, seriously, Matt Lauer?!? The guy who just interviewed Ryan Lochte? That guy? That's who you think can handle Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton best? Really?
Sigh. The results were predictable, although the scorn heaped on Lauer was a lot more scathing and widespread than we had expected. NBC "Lauered the bar," there is no doubt about that. But we choose to remain optimistic, which is why we are hopeful that all of the ridicule will have a big silver lining. Lauer's disaster might be the most effective warning for all the real debates' moderators, in fact, beginning with NBC's own Lester Holt. Lauer was a very good bad example, to be blunt. He showed in painful detail what not to do.
This whole episode should put the debate moderators on notice: don't make the same mistakes Lauer made. Be prepared to ask followup questions. Know when to ask followup questions. Do some fact-checking on the spot when bald-faced lies are uttered. Press for details when none are forthcoming. And let the candidate answer the question before jumping all over them.
One can only hope that the four official debate moderators (three presidential debates, one for the veep candidates) learn the lesson that Lauer just painfully taught. Being entrusted with hosting a candidate debate (or forum) is serious business (which should not be handed to political lightweights, of course). Don't embarrass yourself -- instead, do your homework!
This week, the government issued a record fine on a big bank, for essentially running a scam operation at the expense of its own customers. Just like cops writing lots of traffic tickets at the end of the month to fill their quota, employees of the bank were found to have created thousands of customer accounts that the customer never actually applied for. They were judged on how many new accounts were opened, which is why the employees had such a strong incentive to create them.
This widespread gross chicanery was brought to the attention of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who just levied the record $100 million fine against Wells Fargo (you can read their own press release for all the details). The Bureau, which was the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren, is now headed by Richard Cordray, who is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.
Republicans have fought the very idea of the C.F.P.B. from the very beginning. They still fight tooth and nail to either defund or disband altogether this government agency whose sole purpose is to stand up for the little guy against Wall Street. Nothing could further define the parties' stance towards the big banks than support for this department, in fact. Democrats, on the side of the consumer; Republicans on the side of the banks. It's a wonder more Democrats don't make this a campaign issue, in fact, because it seems like "consumers don't deserve protection against getting screwed by their banks" should be a losing position for a politician to take, these days. Hint to Democrats running for Congress: "My opponent stands firmly against consumers having any advocate against the big banks on Wall Street running roughshod over them and their rights. How can anyone support that position with their vote?"
Politics aside, Richard Cordray is the obvious MIDOTW choice this week, not just for exposing Wells Fargo's bogus account scheme and for levying such a hefty fine, but for his ongoing work heading the agency Elizabeth Warren created. Without doubt, Richard Cordray is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray doesn't have direct contact information on his official webpage, but the White House does have a link stating he wants to hear from you, if you'd like to congratulate him and let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We have no Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, because nobody disappointed us all that much. Instead, we have to heap some scorn on the media.
Gary Johnson was finally -- finally! -- in the national political news this week. Despite polling higher than any third-party presidential candidate since H. Ross Perot, Johnson has been almost completely absent from the political news. Until this week, when he made a gaffe.
The gaffe was indeed a doozy, but what was more repellant was the way the media treated it. All of a sudden Johnson's in the news, because: "Hey look, this third-party guy just disqualified himself!"
The media's had a pretty bad week, all around. First, there was Matt Lauer. Everyone in the punditocracy jumped all over Lauer for not fact-checking Donald Trump. What was left unsaid was that none of the people heaping scorn on Lauer has done a much better job at prying facts (or admissions of error or untruthfulness) out of The Donald, so far. It certainly had a pot-kettle-black odor about it, at least to us.
But Aleppogate was even worse, at least for the venerable New York Times. Right after Johnson gave his deer-in-the-headlights admission that he was unclear on what Aleppo even was, everyone in the media universe began writing articles gleefully pointing out his ignorance. The only problem was that in doing so, a whole lot of media ignorance was uncovered as well.
Now, to be fair, Syria is a complicated mess. It is not "us versus them." There are no clearly defined black hats and white hats. There are (at the least, mind you, just by our count) eight major groups warring in Syria. There is the United States and Russia, of course. Recently, Turkey actively entered the fight, too. There is the Assad government's forces. There are the Kurds, who are fighting the Islamic State both in Syria and in Iraq. There are rebels that we have backed which are not Islamist in nature. There are also rebels that are Islamist in nature, but are not part of the Islamic State. And then there is the Islamic State itself.
In other words, it's complicated. Much much too complicated for the average American -- and the average American journalist -- to even comprehend. Such complexity might excuse minor errors in determining who is fighting whom in each city or region.
But none of that excuses the mistakes the New York Times made, in their article sneering at Gary Johnson's ignorance of what Aleppo was. Their story, in fact, had to go through five public revisions before they got it right, and their whoppers were a lot more embarrassing than Johnson just admitting he didn't immediately recognize the city's name. The facts: Aleppo is a large city in Syria, where the government forces of Assad have been fighting rebel forces -- completely unaffiliated with the Islamic State -- for years, now. The city is a disaster zone because the fight has been so fierce. Those are the facts about Aleppo.
The Times, however, got it badly wrong. Here was their first correction notice:
An earlier version of this article misidentified the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It is Raqqa, in northern Syria, not Aleppo.
Got that? The first thing written was that Aleppo was the Islamic State's capital. Then the article was updated to call Aleppo "a stronghold of the Islamic State." This wasn't even remotely true, either. This is why the article had to go through five revisions, because they kept getting their facts wrong in an article making fun of a politician's ignorance on the issue.
The icing on the cake, however, was that that correction notice above also had to be corrected. So not only was the author of the article and their initial editor at fault, the first time it was fact-checked, the author made a further mistake, and so did the editor. This necessitated a further correction notice:
An earlier version of the above correction misidentified the Syrian capital as Aleppo. It is Damascus.
They weren't the only ones with egg on their face, merely the most embarrassing example. Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, was quoted on MSNBC also identifying Aleppo as the "capital of ISIS."
Let this be a lesson to all who gleefully point out the ignorance of politicians: when writing a story poking fun at some hapless politician getting his facts wrong, it certainly would behoove you to make damn sure that your facts are correct before publishing it. The ten minutes you spend on Wikipedia looking up some basic facts will be well-spent.
So while we don't actually have an award category for it, the New York Times certainly deserves some sort of Razzie-type award for trying to ride a high horse and instead winding up face-down in the mud of the very ignorance they're denouncing. Five times in a row.
Volume 407 (9/9/16)
Hillary Clinton gave a press conference this week. This was big news, because it was the first one she'd given since December.
We personally don't understand Clinton's reluctance to appear in press conferences. It's as mystifying as her apparent reluctance to debate Bernie Sanders in the primary season. The reason both of these are mystifying is that Clinton's actually pretty good in either format. She's a confident debater, and she's pretty good at answering questions from the press, as well. Clinton participated in a non-debate debate this week, and she gave a press conference. This is good news, because both these prepare her for the upcoming first real debate. She should use press conferences to sharpen up her answers -- it's really the best debate prep there is, in fact.
There's another big reason why Clinton should hold more press conferences. She's allowed to give a short introduction to these events, and if she's smart she can thus drive the entire day's media cycle. This is something every other candidate (in the primaries) almost universally failed to do when facing Donald Trump. Trump is the media cycle, or at least he was up until he started reading everything off a TelePrompTer. No matter what anyone else said that day, the big question on every reporter's mind was: "What is your reaction to what Donald Trump just said/tweeted?"
Hillary needs to get out in front of that, and one way to do it is to use an opening statement at a press conference to introduce her own game-changing ideas. What follows is a proposal for how she could easily do so in the next few days. Hillary's got baggage, we all know that. She has struggled to get by this baggage for months. She's got to find a way of putting it behind her, and fast. So she should directly address two outstanding issues that she's so far been fairly timid about. Here are our suggestions for two big promises Clinton should make to utterly change the conversation about two of her biggest pieces of political baggage. Both have a finality to them: "this will be the last word on the subject, period." Which is precisely what Clinton really needs right now.
Proposed Hillary Clinton statement
I want to address the American people today about what I will do if I become president. I have two promises to make today so that voters will know exactly what I'll do if they entrust me with the highest office in the land.
My first promise is on the subject of email. Now, you may have heard a story or two in the media with my name and the word "email" in the headline [pause for laughter]. Because this has been such an obsession for so many for so long -- I've lost count of the times I've been investigated over my emails, in fact -- that I feel it is time to now make the following iron-clad promise: I will not send anyone an official email, as president. I just won't use email at all for official business. There are plenty of ways to contact people in today's world, and forswearing the use of one of these will in no way impact my ability to do the job or communicate with anyone I wish.
If an issue is raised over email that I need to respond to, I will either pick up the phone and call that person to tell him or her what I think, I will write a letter on a piece of paper and send it to them, or if it is a more minor issue I will direct one of my aides to answer via their own official email. But I will send no official emails myself. Records will be properly preserved -- whether phone records, physical copies of a paper letter, or email records of my staff.
I made a mistake when I became Secretary of State. I admit that mistake, but what's more important than admitting a mistake -- something my opponent has yet to do on any subject, I might point out -- is making sure it never happens again. I feel the best way to do this is by promising I will never use email for official business as President of the United States. Problem solved -- no one will ever have to worry about my emails ever again. Period.
My second promise concerns the Clinton Foundation. This charitable organization was set up by my husband after he left office, and has performed good works that have positively affected millions upon millions of lives. Both Bill and I are proud of the Foundation, and the works that it does. We just received the highest rating possible from an independent organization that rates charities, and we're proud that over 80 cents of every dollar donated goes to charitable good works. We try to keep the overhead to an absolute minimum to ensure that the Foundation is able to do the most good for the most people, all over the world.
Some have suggested that, should I become president, it would be best to just shut the Clinton Foundation's doors. They say that's the only way to avoid any hint of any conflict of interest. The problem with that is that many of the good works the Foundation does are ongoing, and to just pull the plug would mean great hardship for too many people.
One solution suggested would be to hand the foundation over to some third party to run, if I am elected. But anyone even slightly connected to our family would still be suspected of somehow having undue influence. So Bill and I have decided that there is a perfect steward out there which we can trust to continue the Clinton Foundation's good works -- because they do such a great job on their own. If I am elected, I will immediately direct the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take full control and have full oversight of the Clinton Foundation for the duration of my presidency.
Until I leave office, neither I nor Bill nor Chelsea nor anyone else in my family or circle of close advisors will have anything whatsoever to do with Bill's namesake charitable organization. We will not run it, we will not be on the board, and we will relinquish full control to Bill and Melinda Gates. What happens after I leave office, should I be elected, is a subject for another day. Perhaps Bill and I will want to get involved with the Clinton Foundation again, or perhaps we'll just let it permanently be absorbed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation forever. Either way, all Americans can be confident that nothing that happens to the Foundation will have the slightest influence on my presidency in any way, shape, or form. Period.
Both of the promises I've made today are hard for me to make, on a personal level. I love the convenience of email, for one [pause for laughter]. Perhaps the most famous photo of me is one where I'm checking my Blackberry, in fact. It'll be hard, but I will quit -- cold-turkey -- using email for anything with even a hint of official business in it. There are other ways to communicate, and I will use them instead. No American will have to wonder what might be contained in my presidential emails, because they will not exist.
Secondly, I personally love the Clinton Foundation, first and foremost because it is a big part of Bill's legacy. I also love all the good we've been able to do for so many people all over the world. I would love to continue doing such good while president, but I fully understand the conflict of interest that would set up. Even handing it off to Bill or Chelsea wouldn't solve that problem, and neither would (as the Foundation has already promised to do) merely refusing donations from corporations and foreign governments. But what would be the most painful for me would be to just shut the doors of the Foundation, instead of making good on programs already in place or promises for more good works that have already been made.
I trust Bill and Melinda Gates to continue these good works. I trust them so fully that I promise that neither I nor anyone close to me will have anything to do with the Clinton Foundation for the entire time I am in office.
I think that both of these issues are distractions from the issues that most American voters care most about in this election. People want good jobs, a decent future, and America to be kept safe. People want the real problems this country faces addressed, and not just used as political footballs. People want things to happen in Washington rather than the absolute gridlock that reigns supreme these days.
But at the same time, people need to be able to trust the candidate they vote for. I realize that. This is why I am making these two promises today -- because I want the American people to trust that neither my emails nor the Clinton Foundation will be a part of my presidency. There will be no email problems if I am elected president, and there will be no questions about my husband's namesake Foundation. Instead, let people cast their votes based on more important issues, without these distractions.
Thank you. I will now take your questions.
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