This afternoon, Vicki and I stumbled upon the 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail,” which I’d remembered capturing the discovery of email as an intimate yet secretive new form of communication. But what the film really brought back is how much I miss the big box bookstores, which were then ascendant, as well as the more personal small stores they were replacing.

I recalled growing up with the likes of Kroch and Brentanos in Chicago, a high-quality small store where the best in books and bookish advice could be had, then the advent of Rizzoli’s in Water Tower Place, where they carried beautiful collectible photo and art books, and where I would spend hours soaking them up. When they closed, I recall stopping by Rizzoli’s original store whenever I got to NYC, to again wade among the wonderful books there.

And then there is Barnes and Noble, where I’ve enjoyed the coffee and croissants and magazines and book browsing ever since. When we run off to Naples in Florida in the winter, once we run out of beach and shops to visit, which is pretty fast, we always wind up at Barnes and Noble, wandering among the comfortable rows of books and magazines, and sipping coffee and rolls in the cafe.

Now, in 2016, it seems all the bookstores are increasingly disappearing — both the wonderful big stores and the charming small ones they replaced. I hear that millennials don’t care much for books — one has to find a place to keep them and everything is available online. I guess we are of another time. I have two small libraries of books, one at our Chicago apartment and another at our Wisconsin lodge, and another four rooms between the two places with bookshelves aplenty. As I wrote in a recent essay for the Chicago Literary Club, my books are like walls of old friends. Like old friends, they offer familiar retreats into good times and wisdom, plus new revelations, given a closer look.

Books I’ve read many times, and those as yet unread, all get my respect. Occasionally we sort out the wheat from the chaff among our collections, but, just like the now familiar internet and the ever-present Google-gate to knowledge, books continue to offer insight and intelligence unmatched except by the best of friends. And I miss those increasingly scarce bookstores, like those operated by Meg Ryan and Tom hanks in the movie, like so many homes away from home.

Watching the Chicago Cubs defeat the LA Dodgers last night, playing at Wrigley Field, was a delight, EXCEPT for one glaring, disgusting thing — the constant spitting by the players captured in slimy TV close-ups throughout the game. For modern people, the sight of curling up globs of spit is about tantamount to watching these young super-heroes urinate on the ground.

I’m occasionally reminded of the days of cuspidors (do you even remember that word?) by a quirky brass antique that I inherited from my acquisitory aunt, that sits aside my oak desk at Applewood Lodge. I doubt that it’s been used in at least 100 years, and the only thing in it is a page from Country Living magazine of March 1991 titled “What is it? What is it worth?”

The back of the turtle cuspidor opens when you step on the head to reveal a removable brass container, probably not large enough to contain one innings-worth of spittle from the Cubs game. They say there is a prime example of such a cute spittoon on display at Thomas Edison’s home in Ft. Myers, Florida. I’ve been there but we must have somehow missed it among all the other cherished mementos of Edison’s life.

The story tucked inside our the cuspidor says it was probably manufactured in England in the early 20th century, a time when such grotesque dribbling behavior was perhaps more in vogue. The  article indicates that my aunt’s spittoon might have been worth up to $750, even 25 years ago!

If we took up a collection among the TV viewers of last night’s Cubs triumph, I bet we might have raised enough to either buy one of those cuspidor’s for each spitting player at Wrigley Field, or perhaps raised even more to pay them to keep their torrid excretions to themselves.

Tonight, Lester Holt of NBC-TV, launched a new network political anecdotal series on NBC Nightly News called “Red, White and You,” which immediately reminded me of my 2012 election-eve copyrighted essay for the Chicago Literary Club.”Red, White, Blue and You.” My essay was about the use of colors in political campaigns. Good title; odd coincidence.

Here is my essay:


Or, The Color of Politics

An Essay by Charles Ebeling

Presented at the Chicago Literary Club

Election Eve, November 5, 2012


Copyright 2012 Charles Ebeling


Dedicated to the memory of my good friend and neighbor Marshall J. Goldsmith

Who was my guest at the Literary Club, October 24, 2011


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Some us recall a great 1986 film called “The Color of Money,” and no, cynics, it wasn’t about politics. That film earned Paul Newman the Oscar for Best Actor as a pool hustler and stakehorse, who enjoyed a glass or two of J.T.S. Brown Kentucky bourbon, my favorite beverage from college days.

But, unless I’ve missed a documentary or foreign film along these lines, I haven’t yet seen a dramatization called “The Color of Politics.” Yes, there is such a thing as “The Politics of Color,” but as social commentary, not as a film title.

“The Color of Politics” is equally real though, and has a long history. I first dabbled in the palette of politics on election eve, 2008, when I presented before the club on that occasion an essay I’d titled “One Collage Too Many,” painting a picture of the many problems inherent in the Electoral College system for electing American Presidents, an issue which still haunts us today.

I began that essay by reflecting these thoughts, and I quote myself: “Light begets color. And colors fan emotions. Facts and emotions churn together, and the resulting political party leanings are reflected in a patchwork painting – a colored collage of states on the map of America.” I discussed how that collage of strongly Republican red and equally reliable Democratic blue states left a relative handful of so-called purple battleground states where the election would really be fought out. As we all know from following the news, in this regard at least, over four years, nothing but the candidates has changed.

So now, amidst the final flames of another Presidential battle, I’m inspired to turn on a different political light – and I did say light, not right – and guide us into taking a closer and hopefully non-partisan look at the history and power of color in politics, not the ethnographic “Politics of Color,” but the just plain graphics of the “Color of Politics.”

We learned in school that the primary colors are normally thought of as red, green and blue. And what is color, you may be thinking? Victoria Finlay, author of a recent book called “Color: A Natural History of the Palette,” says this: “Color – like sound and scent – is just an invention of the human mind responding to waves and particles that are moving in particular patterns through the universe –

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and poets should not thank nature, but themselves, for the beauty and the rainbows they see about them.” She goes on, “Just as a prism shows us a multitude of different wavelengths — which our brains call colors – so each color has produced a spectrum of personalities.”

Color psychology is about how color influences human behavior. How people respond to color stimuli varies from person to person. Each of us can think about how we respond to various colors. How about you? One study on the emotional reactions to colors by Americans shows that 35 percent prefer blue, followed by 16 percent green, 10 percent purple and just 9 percent red. The study’s author believes that the dominance of blue and green may be due to a preference for certain beneficial environments in the ancestral world. Other evidence shows that color preference may depend on ambient temperatures. If that is the case, preferences for cool colors like blue and green should have been on the upswing this year of record heat waves across our land, while warm colors like red and yellow could be on the wane. Some research also indicates that women respond more positively to warm colors and men to cool. I wonder if a woman did that study.

Color psychology is based on several key principles. The first is that color can carry a specific meaning, and that is either based on learned meaning, as in use of red for stop signs, or biologically innate meaning, such as studies that show that facial redness is associated with testosterone levels in humans and that male skin tends to be redder than female.

The next principle is that perception of color causes instant evaluation by the person who sees it. Hence the placebo effect in pills. “Hot-colored” pills work better as stimulus and “cool-colored” pills seem to work better as depressants. The evaluation process forces color motivated behavior. Red is believed to increase appetite, and is thus commonly used in fast food restaurants, hence McDonald’s long use of hungry red in its rooftops together with the richness of gold in its architecture. Color usually exerts its influence automatically. Red seems to make time pass more quickly and blue more slowly. Lastly, color meaning and effect has to do with context as well. Red lighting in casinos is part of a strategic

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found to win more often than those in blue, even in the Olympics.

The power of color in politics might have begun with the Roman cult of purple, the hue associated with the ruling elite of ancient Rome. But it didn’t begin there, because the history of color and its association with power politics goes back much, much further.

Color and power go all the way back. Ochre – iron oxide – has been used for its symbolic purposes on every inhabited continent. Forty thousand years ago, natives in Swaziland mined red and yellow pigments for body painting. The word “ochre” comes from the Greek, meaning pale yellow, but somewhere along the way, the meaning shifted to suggest something more robust – earthier, browner and redder. Red became the first colored paint, and the most secret. Royal Aztec mummies were not only painted in ochre, but buried with pounds of it, for its magical power. The first white settlers in North America called the indigenous people “red Indians,” because of the way they painted themselves with ochre as a shield against evil. Red had for many centuries heralded the divine. Red still appears across Europe as a favorite color among the pageantry of the royals.

Mix energetic red with stable blue and there is the Roman or imperial purple, the symbolism of which is as associated with power and prestige as the color of royalty, and of the highest vestments of the clergy. Its presence at the center of both sexuality and power was played out at Cleopatra’s elaborate dinner feast for Caesar in 49BC, marking his victory in a key battle at Pompey. Her whole palace was lined with purple porphyry stone and satiny purple fabrics in what was described as “luxury made mad by empty ostentation.” On returning to Rome, Caesar had designed for himself a totally purple, sea-snail-dyed, full-length toga. Soon anyone else found wearing purple might be killed for their impertinence, and as time went by, at least considered militarily or politically important or perhaps just wealthy.

The Byzantine emperors continued the Roman tradition of the exclusivity of purple. Purple shared with gold the very connotation of triumph. The Greek words for the purple cult of Rome and Byzantium seems, according to author

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Victoria Finlay, to have a double connotation of the words “movement” and “change,” which to me seem to have some odd echoes in the political sloganeering of even today. “Movement,” “Change,” even “Forward?”

Then there is blue, derived from ultramarine, and the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. The stone is found only in Chile, Zambia, a few small towns in Siberia, and most importantly, in what is known as The Land of Blue – Afghanistan. If ever there was to be a country singing the blues, its Afghanistan. Ultramarine paint was so expensive and rare that Renaissance painters, including Michelangelo, had to wait for their rich patrons to give them the paint.

Mohammedan blue replaced the rare celadon in the art of China’s Ming Dynasty. What was called Prussian blue by photographic pioneer John Herschel gave us the modern “blueprint.” By the 1950’s when American children could no longer relate to Prussian history, its namesake blue gave way to what the modern crayon companies called Midnight blue. I repainted my first car, a 1957 Triumph TR3 with three hand-rubbed coats of glimmering midnight blue.

Where does this all lead us? The red, white and blue of the American flag represent our nation. George Washington believed the stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified secession from the home country. The Continental Congress passed the “Flag Act,” which ordained a national flag with thirteen stripes, representing the 13 states, in alternate red and blue, with 13 stars of white on a blue background. Our founding fathers recognized the potential of colors to communicate meaning. The white was symbolic of purity and innocence, the red, hardiness and valor, and the blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice. Americans may not know this lineage, but they respond viscerally as the power of these colors evokes patriotic spirit and unity as a country.

You may already be aware that in most other long-established democracies, unlike in contemporary America, the color red represents left-wing and social democratic parties, and blue represents right-wing and conservative parties.

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That use of red and blue emanated from the same institution that gave us the political terms left and right. At Westminster, England, the government, which is historically the conservative Tory party, sits to the right of the Speaker, and the opposition Whigs, which was first the Liberals and Socialists, later Labor, sits to the left.

Similarly, those who identified with tradition and the monarchy waved royal blue, while the rabble-rousing reformers waved the red flag. Green in most cultures is almost universally associated with environmentalist parties.

The practice of using colors to represent parties in the United States dates back at least to 1908. That year the New York Times and Washington Post printed color maps, using blue, yellow, red and green to represent state leanings.

While there were some bits of historical use of blue for Democrats and red for Republicans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the simple fact is that today’s Republican red and Democratic blue states, that we see, are an invention of the news media. It does not reflect any “official” color choices made by the parties. The advent of color television prompted political news reporters to turn to color- coded electoral maps.

One source says that from 1976 to 2004, the broadcast networks tried to avoid color favoritism by alternating every four years between blue and red for the incumbent party. Another source credits NBC’s John Chancellor for asking for a large illuminated map, and when Jimmy Carter won a state it would light up red and when Gerald Ford won one it would glow blue. All the networks followed, using different approaches. NBC’s David Brinkley made a telling point when he referred to Ronald Reagan’s 1980, 44-state landslide victory as being as blue as “a suburban swimming pool.” The accepted contemporary terms red and blue states, as a sort of shorthand for an entire sociopolitical worldview, were finalized in the 2000 election, not by some cosmic decorator, but by the long-term host of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” the late Tim Russert.

The day of imperial purple may be far from over. The so-called battleground states, lately known as purple states, are swing areas where both Democratic and

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Republican candidates receive strong support, without a traditional overwhelming majority for either. As we know so well, these are the states where the most political capital, in every sense of the word, has been spent.

If it weren’t for the archaic Electoral College, the entire national electorate would be divided into purplish communities and districts that are much, much smaller than states. As Princeton University’s Robert Vanderbei wrote when he unveiled his political map of a Purple America, “The electorate is not so highly polarized by geography. The U.S. is not as divided as the political pundits believe.” The so- called red and blue state standards may well be challenged again in this year’s election.

Cleopatra may have started something good after all, when she introduced Caesar to purple. With any luck, for the breadth and depth of opinions represented in our sprawling American democracy, that sumptuous blend of red and blue called purple could potentially become the newest and dominant “color of Politics.”

Then a bright young Senate candidate, Barack Obama, perhaps put the editorial color chart of America into an appropriately complex context at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he described it this way, “We coach Little League in blue states and we have gay friends in red states. We pray to an awesome God in blue states and we don’t like federal agents sniffing around our libraries in red states.”

So, as modern politics continues to swing through the color spectrum, I hope that tonight’s reflections have shed just a little more eye-opening light on the convoluted and still evolving cultural history of “Red, White, Blue and You,” while adding some much-needed purple into the mix.

Chuck Ebeling has written and spoken on the need to reform the Electoral College. He is retired public relations executive at leading corporations, PR consultancies and not-for-profits, and the founder of the Ebeling PR-ize for cause-related communications at Bradley University and Loyola University Chicago.


Lots of happy faces have turned their smiles upside down thanks to the cynical idiots who have portrayed clowns as evil or frightful characters, in film and out on the streets. Traditional clowns display outsized happy faces and act out the glee of innocent children. They came down to modern generations in circuses and on early children’s television shows as colorful, happy-go-lucky characters, who could juggle and do magic, jump around and entertain in a jolly manner, make characters out of balloons, and even teach kids simple lessons of life.

How very sad that the contortions of humorless cynics are busy taking away that delight from a new generation of kids, and even the adults who recall happier times, but fear those who now sometimes hide behind masks of terror.

Some of the brightest people I have known and worked with created the happy personality, engaging appearance and educational content practiced by one of the world’s best-known and loved clowns, Ronald McDonald.  They brought life to his jolly demeanor, and helped him entertain millions of kids at birthday parties, special events, on TV,in schools and hospitals and even, sometimes at McDonald’s itself.

Now, thanks to the rabble who have turned some clownish smiles into toothy glares, and even threatened people on the streets, even McDonald’s has been forced to keep Ronald at home more often. Spoilsports, nasty adolescents, small criminals and grossly-mistaken people have tried to take the clowns away from a generation that needs small jolts of simple joy and happiness more than ever.

I was lucky enough, some forty years ago, to have been part of a group that put special places of comfort and relief for parents of seriously ill children on the map of America and around the world. They are called Ronald McDonald Houses. How did they get that name? Not because McDonald’s, as a major financial supporter, had recommended the name. Because one of the volunteers thought that the happy environment conjured up by association with Ronald would give these houses an upbeat and hopeful image. The image was a happy one, and kids being treated for serious illnesses could get a smile when they heard their parents or siblings were staying at Ronald McDonald’s house, and even visit them there.

Two generations ago, my family owned part of a circus, and my Dad and Aunt had circus horses to ride, and clown culture was part of family life. My own professional life was filled  with creating events and materials full of upbeat clown content: Ronald McDonald Shows, including school safety and environmental lessons delivered by Ronald, working with the talented comedians and others who trained and motivated those who played Ronald McDonald, naming a major national and international children’s charity after that very clown — Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Today, the explorers of artificial intelligence are creating human-like exteriors for robots, so that people will find it easier to interact with them. A clown face is but an exaggeration of a smiling human, designed to elicit a big smile in return. Anything else is not a clown, but someone’s dark dream. I say, “Bring in the clowns, the real clowns, and let’s smile again!”

As much as I personally admire John McCormick, who heads the Trib editorial board, I have never been more disallusioned by a finding of that august group than by their endorsement of Gary Johnson for President. He seems a dimwit, even by the languishing standards of the 2016 campaigns. As does Donald Trump. Only Hilary Clinton strikes me as having the deep experience, sound judgement and overall character and competence to be worthy of election. SupportingJohnson is a cop out in my mind, and one that could deliver the Presidency to an ill-tempered fool, who might throw away the American dream in some midnight whim of fancy and retribution.

If I read this correctly, it’s somewhere between $117 and 75 cents per share? I like the more generous interpretation…

How Much Is McDonald’s Really Worth?
The fast-food giant has led its industry for decades. Just how big is McDonald’s net worth?

Dan Caplinger (TMFGalagan) Sep 7, 2016 at 1:42PM

Fast-food pioneer McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) has long been the stalwart in its industry, transforming the nature of the restaurant business and creating a trend that has lasted for more than half a century. With more than 36,000 locations around the world, McDonald’s has a global presence, and its golden arches are known the world over as an American icon.

At the same time, long-term investors have earned huge returns by owning McDonald’s stock and holding it over the decades. Yet there are many methods for coming up with a corporate valuation, and many investors are curious whether McDonald’s stock accurately reflects its actual worth. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the net worth of McDonald’s, using several different measures, to see whether the current share price is consistent with the fast-food giant’s true value.

The simplest measure of McDonald’s worth
In the end, the market itself puts the best measure of value on a company. McDonald’s currently has about 853 million shares outstanding. With a share price of around $117 per share, that puts McDonald’s market capitalization at right around $100 billion.

Some investors don’t like the fact that market capitalization doesn’t take into account how much cash and debt a company has. Instead, they prefer enterprise value, which goes beyond those figures to drill down on the value of the actual business that produces profit for the company. When you account for McDonald’s cash and debt, its enterprise value works out to more than $121 billion.

Has the market supersized McDonald’s true value?
However, you get a much different picture when you look at McDonald’s from an accountant’s perspective. The company’s balance sheet provides a different view of McDonald’s, and it’s one in which the fast-food company seems to be richly valued by the market.

McDonald’s most recent financial statements put a value of $33.1 billion on its assets. That includes $3.1 billion in cash and short-term investments, another $1.3 billion in accounts receivable, and $600 million in inventory, prepaid expenses, and other current assets. In addition, McDonald’s plants, property, and equipment make up almost $23 billion after taking accumulated depreciation into account. Long-term investments account for less than $1 billion, and adding in about $4 billion in goodwill and other long-term assets brings you to the total for the restaurant operator.

Against those assets, McDonald’s has substantial liabilities. Debt amounts to $26 billion, all of which is long-term. Accounts payable and accrued expenses add another $2.4 billion, and taxes due and other liabilities amount to another $4 billion or so. All told, liabilities amount to $32.5 billion.

That leaves a scant $640 million in shareholder equity for McDonald’s shares. That works out to a book value of just $0.75 per share, or less than 1% of the company’s current share price. Trading at a premium to book value isn’t all that unusual for a stock, but the extent of the premium here reflects a gradual deterioration in McDonald’s book value in recent years.

For those who believe that investors are rational, it’s easy to conclude that McDonald’s true value clearly isn’t reflected in its accounting statements. For instance, a huge part of McDonald’s worth comes from its brand identity, and in its most recent annual survey of major global brands late last year, Interbrand ranked McDonald’s No. 9. The report put a value of $39.8 billion on McDonald’s brand identity, and even though that was down 6% from year-earlier levels, it still recognizes the lengths to which the fast-food giant has gone to produce a marketing message that puts its competitors to shame.

Is McDonald’s worth its share price?
Finally, you can learn a lot about a company by comparing it to its peers. In some cases, a superior company deserves a premium valuation when you put it side by side with fellow industry rivals. In others, a disparity can reflect short-term factors that can reverse quickly and pull share prices down in the future.

For McDonald’s, the stock’s current valuation puts it in the middle of the pack in terms of trailing price-to-earnings ratios, as you can see below:

Earnings Multiple
Dividend Yield
Anticipated Growth Rate
Yum! Brands

However, a couple of things stand out. First, McDonald’s large size makes it harder to produce meaningful growth, especially in comparison to smaller competitors. Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) and Wendy’s (NASDAQ:WEN) start from smaller bases, so their growth initiatives can produce more visible results.

Yet McDonald’s retains its leadership role in dividends. The company has a higher yield than its peers, and it has a long history of annual dividend increases stretching back for 40 years. If the fast-food restaurant chain sticks with its past practices, another hike in its quarterly payout should come before the year is out.

McDonald’s net worth reflects the fact that it is one of the best-known brands in the market. Even though the company has gone through ups and downs, its staying power makes McDonald’s a stalwart stock that has stood the test of time and should continue to do so in the future.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Clearly now, the U.S. failed miserably in hopes for “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan during and after the recent conflicts there. Both countries, after all the U.S. supposed efforts to stabilize and support a new civilian structure acceptable to the West, remain up for grabs, and may be worse off than before U.S. intervention.

The attached recent article from ProPublica recounts how the U.S. planned for post-war stabilization in Iraq, but then failed to deliver. The expectations of what U.S. civilians might have been able to accomplish in normalizing tribal relationships and related security issues may have been idealistic. How were these U.S. civilians to be protected without the presence of substantial elements of the U.S. military, for example?

I had a personal encounter with such unrealistic expectations in Afghanistan several years ago from a 3-star general about to assume a major command there. He spoke before a leadership group of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs I attended. He spoke about the false nation-building expectations that had been laid at the feet of allied military in that country. He said that his troops were highly trained, not at nation-building, but at killing the enemy. At the time there was much talk about how the U.S. and allies would help Afghans restore community infrastructure, build a farming economy to replace opium production, restore roads, power systems and schools, and build an effective local government system. He said that the military had requested civilian experts be sent in by the State Department to fulfill such roles, but that virtually none had arrived. He was skeptical that the U.S. could or would live up to its political promises and expectations. And, as history has proven, he was sadly correct. It is entirely probable that Afghanistan will descend into chaos after final U.S. troop removals, just as has Iraq.

So, the question is, why isn’t the U.S. willing or capable of spending a few billion on nation-building support to these countries, after spending trillions (not to mention thousands of American lives) on military intervention? Do we blame the Executive branch, Congress, the military, the media or the public? And why? And what have we learned to apply in the future? Do we remain convinced that military intervention is enough? Is it all about spending money on arms? Are we unrealistic in thinking civilian U.S. nation-building support will be accepted or successful?

And, what is America’s course for the future in such unstable geo-political situations?

Here is the ProPublica article:
As ISIS Brewed in Iraq, Clinton’s State Department Cut Eyes and Ears on the Ground
An investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post finds that Secretary of State Clinton initially pressed to keep civilian programs and listening posts after the U.S. troop pullout in 2011, but then her State Department scrapped or slashed them at the behest of the White House and Congress.
by Jeff Gerth and Joby Warrick, Aug. 15, 2016, 12 p.m.55 Comments Print Print
This is part of an ongoing investigation

The Breakdown
How politics and government really work, and why they don’t.
Spur Reform in 2016
Support ProPublica’s mission to expose abuses of power and corruption.


This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

Update, :
This story has been updated to include material from Trump’s speech Monday and to add a dropped word in one quote.

A week before the last U.S. soldiers left his country in December 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Washington to meet the team that would help shape Iraq’s future once the troops and tanks were gone.

Over dinner at the Blair House, guest quarters for elite White House visitors since the 1940s, the dour Iraqi sipped tea while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of how her department’s civilian experts could help Iraqis avoid a return to terrorism and sectarian bloodshed.

Iraq would see a “robust civilian presence,” Clinton told reporters afterward, summing up the Obama administration’s pledges to Maliki. “We are working to achieve that,” she said.

Less than three years later, the relatively calm Iraq that Maliki had led in 2011 was gone. The country’s government was in crisis, its U.S.-trained army humiliated, and a third of its territory overrun by fighters from the Islamic State. Meanwhile, State Department programs aimed at helping Iraqis prevent such an outcome had been slashed or curtailed, and some had never materialized at all.

Clinton’s political foes would later seek to blame her, together with President Obama, for the Islamic State’s stunning takeover of western Iraq, saying the State Department failed to preserve fragile security gains achieved at great cost by U.S. troops. In a speech Monday on how he would deal with terrorist threats, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said, “The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.”

But an intensive review of the record during Clinton’s tenure presents a broader picture of missteps and miscalculations by multiple actors — including her State Department as well as the Maliki government, the White House and Congress — that left Iraqi security forces weakened and vulnerable to the Islamic State’s 2014 surge.

Documents and interviews point to ambitious plans by State Department officials to take control of dozens of military-run programs in Iraq, from training assistance for Iraqi police to new intelligence-collection outposts in Mosul and other key Iraqi cities. But the State Department scrapped or truncated many of the plans, sometimes at the behest of a skeptical Congress and other times on orders from the White House, which balked at the high costs and potential risks of U.S. civilians being killed or kidnapped. Still other efforts were thwarted by a Maliki government that viewed many of the programs as an unwelcome intrusion in Iraqi affairs.

Senior State Department leaders were at fault as well, according to documents and interviews with officials who helped manage Iraqi aid programs after the withdrawal. By early 2012, pressed by the White House to reduce the U.S. civilian footprint in Iraq, the department had begun implementing sweeping, across-the-board cuts that extended to security and counterterrorism initiatives once considered crucial for Iraq’s stability after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a joint investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post found.

Clinton, a member of the administration’s national security team at the time, argued at first in favor of many programs that the State Department eventually cut, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with internal White House deliberations. For the Democratic presidential nominee, U.S. policy misadventures in Iraq, from the initial invasion and occupation to the disasters after the U.S. troop withdrawal, have persistently undermined Clinton’s efforts to tout her extensive record in foreign policy. Candidate Clinton has frequently pushed for more assertive engagement with Iraq’s military and tribal alliances to help repel the Islamic State, essentially arguing for an expansion of programs that were curtailed on her watch after the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.

A State Department team that administered the cuts under White House direction eventually ended up with a $1.6 billion surplus — money initially appropriated for Iraq that was freed for use in other conflict zones, including Libya, officials and documents say.

The downscaling was done over the objections of U.S. military leaders on the ground, who said the slashing of key assistance programs — in a few cases, by more than 90 percent — left the U.S. government increasingly in the dark about developments outside the Iraqi capital. Some former officers who managed Iraqi aid programs say the cuts were a factor in the slow deterioration of Iraq’s security forces in the months before the Islamic State’s 2014 assault.

“Our job was to prevent this from happening,” said retired Rear Adm. Edward Winters, a former Navy SEAL and deputy director of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, a Pentagon organization overseen by the State Department that managed the bilateral security relationship.

“We felt the capability to do that was being taken away.”

‘A Strategic Vacuum’

Current and former Obama administration officials, including some who sparred with the State Department over Iraq policy, defend Clinton as one of the most vocal advocates for a muscular U.S. presence in Iraq after the withdrawal deadline. Clinton argued publicly and privately for keeping a contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq after Dec. 31, 2011, and when that effort failed, she lobbied the White House and Congress for money to fund civilian-run security programs in Iraq, her former aides said. In written memos and in meetings as part of the president’s national security team, she questioned Maliki’s ability to keep the country united and warned that instability could lead to a resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, the terrorist group that later renamed itself the Islamic State, the officials said.

“She was seized with this,” recalled Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who was national security adviser to Vice President Biden and then deputy national security adviser to President Obama during key discussions about Iraq policy. “She recognized that AQI was down but not out, and pressed the Iraqis, and us, to keep taking the fight to them.”

But, in scaling back civilian assistance to Iraq, Clinton’s aides cut aggressively and sometimes unwisely, internal auditors later concluded. The reductions met cost-cutting goals but did not “fully consider U.S. foreign policy priorities in Iraq,” an internal review by the State Department’s inspector general said. Some of the cuts were not fully implemented until after Clinton’s departure in early 2013, though the plans were largely in place, former aides said. The report is silent on Clinton’s role in the reductions, or views about them.

“There was a period of time after the transition from the military-led mission to a civilian-led mission when strategic decisions were not made, with one official calling the period ‘a strategic vacuum,’“ the inspector general’s office said in its 2013 report, citing interviews with department officials in Washington and Iraq. It said the cuts were driven by “Congressional and White House concerns that the Department quickly reduce costs and security vulnerabilities and address [the Iraqi government’s] desire for a more normalized U.S. diplomatic presence.”

Among the casualties was a U.S. Army-run Iraqi tribal reconciliation program with a record of successfully resolving disputes between Iraq’s querulous Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions. Animosity between Sunni tribes and Maliki’s Shiite-led government would become a key factor in the Islamic State’s takeover of Iraq’s Sunni heartland in 2014.

Asked to account for such cuts, a State Department spokesman said in an email that diplomats lacked “the personnel or financial resources” to continue many of the programs begun by the Pentagon during an era when tens of thousands of U.S. troops were serving in Iraq. In any event, the result was “lost trust with the Sunni community” and the abandoning of an important window into what was really happening inside Iraq, said retired Army Col. Rick Welch, who oversaw the program before the military withdrawal,

“No one from the State Department ever contacted me,” Welch said in an interview. Eventually the Baghdad-based reconciliation effort was scaled back “to a trickle,” he said, “and then nothing else happened.”

‘It Was the President’s Directive’

In the first weeks of his presidency, President Obama flew to Camp Lejeune, the sprawling Marine base in North Carolina, to repeat a promise made throughout his election campaign: a pledge to wind down America’s wars in the Middle East. He told the troops that “the war in Iraq will end” through a responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011, the deadline set three years earlier by the George W. Bush administration.

In reality, few within Obama’s own administration expected that the entire U.S. contingent would exit Iraq by that date, current and former aides say. In interviews, State Department and Pentagon officials said they were convinced that Iraq would ultimately negotiate an agreement to leave a modest contingent of U.S. soldiers — perhaps 10,000 or so — in the country to ensure stability and serve as a bulwark against a resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq.
President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leave a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in 2009. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
The presence of even a small American force would have provided a substantial benefit for U.S. diplomats in Iraq after 2011, assuring that the Pentagon would continue to take the lead in U.S.-Iraqi military liaison programs while also helping with mundane but necessary functions such as security, medical care, food service and transportation on the ground and in the air.

But with a deadline looming and no firm decision from the White House, the State Department began to develop plans for hiring thousands of contractors to perform the same services at higher costs. The uncertainty lingered until October 2011, when the talks collapsed just 10 weeks before the deadline for pulling all U.S. forces out of the country.

Throughout this period, Clinton continued to campaign for what several aides called a “robust” mission for American diplomats in Iraq, preferably backed by a significant U.S. troop garrison. Her advocacy was recalled by numerous military and intelligence officials who participated in classified discussions on Iraq. It was also expressed publicly in news conferences and congressional testimony at the time.

“She was very focused on how to apply the full weight of the U.S. government to locking down that residual troop presence,” said Jake Sullivan, the State Department’s director of policy and planning who later became the top foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign. As prospects for U.S. troop garrisons began to dim, Clinton “insisted on a robust contingency planning process, to leave nothing to chance on how we protected our civilian presence and how we made sure that we were supporting the outlying posts beyond Baghdad,” Sullivan said.

State Department officials initially planned for taking control of more than a third of the 1,300 programs and missions run by the Pentagon in Iraq. That alone, as Clinton herself would acknowledge, constituted the “largest transition from military to civilian leadership since the Marshall Plan,” the extensive U.S. aid effort after World War II.

Contingency plans created in 2010 envisioned taking over key security missions, such as the tribal reconciliation program. Another initiative called for building new diplomatic and intelligence outposts around the country to give the United States a presence in cities that once hosted American military bases. These facilities, called “Enduring Presence Posts,” or EPPs, were initially planned for five Iraqi locales: Irbil, Diyala province, Kirkuk, Basra and Mosul.

State Department officials urged Congress to approve funding for the EPPs, saying the listening posts would help “mitigate ethno-sectarian conflict” while allowing the security officials to better “forecast, prevent or contain instability outside of Baghdad.”

“Spotting emerging problems early is going to be critical,” Clinton’s aides wrote in a 2010 staff report to lawmakers. The report raised concerns about the department’s ability to carry out some of its new mandates without U.S. military support, but it urged congressional appropriators to put up the necessary financial backing.

In Washington, both the White House and Congress viewed the plans with deepening skepticism. At a March 2011 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) appeared to scoff at the idea of a civilian force of diplomats and contractors “trying to do business in Iraq all over the place with no troops.

“That is basically a private army replacing the American military,” Graham said to Clinton. “So I’d like us to think long and hard as a nation — does that make sense?”

The cost of building, equipping and securing diplomatic enclaves in Iraqi cities such as Mosul — a hotbed of Sunni terrorism in 2011 — struck senior Obama aides in the meetings as exorbitantly expensive and impractical, even more so because of Maliki’s growing antipathy toward U.S. interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs, according to current and former aides who participated in the private discussions.

The loss of a U.S. troop presence meant the closing of all U.S. military installations, including dozens of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the smaller regional units from which U.S. military and civilian workers administered aid to local towns and tribes. Unable to rely on Iraqi help, State Department officials would have to hire an army of contractors to replicate the functions and services previously provided by the Pentagon. For U.S. diplomats, a routine journey along the 40-mile highway from Baghdad to Baqubah would now be a complicated and dangerous affair in which assassination or kidnapping would be a constant threat.

The decision to scale back plans for the post–2011 civilian mission was made by Biden and a faction of White House officials that included staff members of Obama’s National Security Council, who were given primary responsibility for managing relations with Iraq, according to accounts from current and former U.S. officials who participated. A team led by State Department Deputy Secretary Thomas R. Nides was put in charge of reviewing and implementing the reductions, with support from State Department officials in Washington and Baghdad. Clinton, having lost the argument for a larger force, was briefed about the developments but left it to her subordinates to decide how the cuts would be implemented, several former and current administration officials said.

Biden’s office declined to comment on the reductions, though former aides said the cuts reflected the prevailing view at the White House and on Capitol Hill: that a large civilian force in Iraq would not be sustainable once U.S. troops were gone.

“The president made the decisions on the military drawdown, and it was the president’s directive that we were all executing,” Nides said. “On the civilian side, the White House’s big worry was the security of our people. Once the decision was made that we weren’t going to have the authority to keep our military there — and even before it was made — we knew we not only couldn’t afford to keep growing, but we had to reduce. At one point, we had the biggest civilian footprint in the world.”

Administration officials insisted that a smaller, civilian-led force could continue to provide critical support for Iraq’s transition, but the cuts were demoralizing to State Department and Pentagon officials who saw prized aid programs shrink or disappear. State Department officials tried to persuade other agencies, including the CIA, to split the costs of operating posts in Mosul and other provincial cities, but that idea withered as well.

“The robust presence we envisioned did not survive,” recalled a former State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private White House deliberations about Iraqi policy. “Things kept getting whittled down. We’d come back from each meeting with bad news about the latest thing to get scrapped.”

A Slow-motion Nightmare

Meanwhile, other programs intended to help Iraqis battle terrorism were facing a quiet death.

On Jan. 1, 2012, the first day after the U.S. troop era officially ended, 157 American military service personnel remained in Iraq as part of the State Department-run Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. Pentagon and State Department officials sought and won authorization to expand the number by nearly twofold, from 157 to about 300, to be backed by a supporting cast of thousands of contract workers, according to documents and former officials.

Pentagon budget documents in early 2012 called the unit vital to counterterrorism efforts, facilitating the sharing of intelligence between military and civilian agencies in both the United States and Iraq. Among other missions, it provided support for Iraq’s elite terrorism-fighting unit, known as the Counter Terrorism Service.

But the program began shrinking almost immediately after the troop withdrawal, former Pentagon officials remembered.

“It started going away,” remembered Winters, the former deputy director.
A section of the last American military convoy to depart Iraq from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division arrives in Kuwait in 2011. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A 2013 report by the Pentagon’s inspector general said the cuts amounted to unilaterally slashing such programs to meet budget goals. The department implemented a “primarily top-down directed initiative in which cuts were made based on percentages and targets across assigned agencies without sufficient consideration of their differing missions and resources requirements,” the report said.

An early casualty was direct U.S. support for Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service. The number of embedded U.S. advisers to the elite terrorist-fighting unit dropped from more than 100 before the military withdrawal to just two, according to Winters and other former Pentagon officials who served in Iraq.

Another key Pentagon program that helped the U.S. government collect and analyze intelligence about terrorist activities was scrapped. Charles Bova, who ran the program, said the scuttling of the project resulted in the loss of an important window into Iraq that could have provided Americans and Iraqis with “a better awareness of what al-Qaida in Iraq was up to.”

A training facility in Kirkuk was shuttered, not only because of budget cuts but also because of resistance from Maliki’s Shiite-led government, which had begun to push back against U.S. assistance programs in predominantly Sunni and Kurdish provinces. Immediately after the U.S. troop departure, Maliki began ordering the arrests of rival Sunni politicians while replacing U.S.-trained Iraqi generals with Shiite allies personally loyal to the prime minister. Some of the same Maliki appointees would later abandon their divisions as the Islamic State began its assault on Mosul.

Sunni protests against Maliki erupted in 2012 and, almost in tandem, the number of suicide bombings in Iraq started to rise. The terrorist predecessors of the Islamic State began gaining strength across Iraq, aided by the worsening sectarian tensions as well as the fighting next door in Syria, where the civil war gave jihadist leaders a cause and a safe haven in which to rebuild.

“None of us thought the problem was gone — we thought we were leaving a void there,” Winters said. “We all expected that [al-Qaida in Iraq] would come back and get worse. But we didn’t think it would happen that fast.”

Worried that Iraqi security was unraveling, Clinton and other senior Obama advisers quietly lobbied Iraqi leaders to accept new forms of assistance unfettered by State Department legal and budgetary constraints. Beginning in late 2011, Clinton joined then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus and other White House officials in seeking to persuade Maliki to host a joint U.S.-Iraqi “fusion cell,” consisting of intelligence experts and Special Operations forces from both countries, according to officials who participated in the talks. The White House also offered Maliki non-lethal surveillance drones to help track the movement of suspected terrorists, the officials said.

The Iraqis appeared open to both ideas but made no move to implement them. The possibility of U.S.-supplied drones in Iraq was nixed by Maliki after news of the offer leaked to the media. Both programs were eventually implemented, but only after waves of Islamic State suicide bombings began to threaten security in Baghdad.

“It was like one of those slow-motion nightmares,” said Blinken, the State Department official. “We were moving our own system, trying to move Congress, trying to move the Iraqis. We saw this thing coming, we were acting on it, but the problem outran the solution we were putting into place.”

The budget cuts did achieve one positive, and perhaps unexpected, result: a budget surplus. By May 2012, the State Department was sitting on $1.6 billion in funds that Congress had appropriated for Iraq, but which the department no longer intended to use there. Department officials had the option of redirecting those funds, and did so, shifting some of the money to other conflict zones, including Libya, according to public documents and former officials.

A large chunk of leftover cash was initially earmarked for the construction of a new diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the restive Libyan city which Clinton had planned to visit in late 2012. That idea abruptly ended after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on the Benghazi compounds that left four Americans dead.

Prized Targets

On June 4, 2014, the Islamic State, in a quick strike, captured Mosul. The black-flagged terrorists blew past Iraqi army defenders, aided in many cases by Sunni tribesmen who saw the jihadists as preferable to Maliki’s Shiite-led government.

Whether the additional security assistance could have helped prevent the collapse of Iraq’s security services is impossible to say with certainty. Many current and former administration officials, including some who strongly favored a residual U.S. troop presence, argue that Maliki’s inept management of the military and repression of the country’s Sunni minority inalterably weakened the country and made it vulnerable to collapse. If a few hundred Americans had been stationed in Mosul in 2014, these officials say, they might have become prized targets for the terrorist army that overran the city that summer.

“People have an illusion here,” said Nides, the former State Department deputy secretary. “From a practical perspective, what you actually get is 20 people with a big security footprint. Are they going to be getting in their cars and driving around talking to tribal leaders? I don’t think so.”

In any case, the Islamic State’s takeover prompted a rush by the Obama administration to restore military-led security assistance programs that had been quietly curtailed after the military drawdown. Within weeks, 475 U.S. troops were sent to advise Iraqi security forces. Today, the level is more than 10 times that. The concern over tight budgets has faded as well: Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to deal with the jihadist threat.

Clinton, the presidential candidate, responded to the crisis as well, putting forward a detailed plan for defeating the Islamic State. She has primarily blamed Maliki, the former Iraqi leader and her former partner during the transition, for the resurgence of the Sunni terrorists. Some of her proposed solutions have called for improving tribal liaisons and intelligence collection programs that were cut or abandoned three years earlier.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting back the Sunnis on the ground,” she told ABC News in an interview in 2015.

Clinton has stressed her experience and track record in the national security arena as a key selling point on the campaign trail, echoing themes from her memoir, “Hard Choices,” which chronicled her experiences as secretary of state. The book came out a few weeks after Mosul fell to the Islamic State.

The book made news upon publication because of Clinton’s admission that it was a “mistake” to have voted in 2002 to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq the following year.

On the rest of what happened in Iraq during her tenure as America’s top diplomat, the 635-page book is silent.

Jeff Gerth, a senior reporter at ProPublica, previously worked as an investigative reporter at The New York Times. He has twice been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Joby Warrick covers national security and terrorism for The Washington Post. His book “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

Related stories: Review Hillary Clinton’s career through the best in-depth stories written about her over the years, read about the Great Republican Crackup of 2016 and check out more of ProPublica’s coverage of politics and lobbying in our ongoing series, The Breakdown.






By Chuck Ebeling

Copyright 2016 – All Rights Reserved

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that matters.

The recent death of Gene Wilder reminded me of an incident of some years back involving his sometime partner-in-crime Mel Brooks.

The year was 1985, and McDonald’s was receiving more and more requests to have its restaurants and products appear in commercial films. Hollywood hadn’t yet really figured out how to exploit the full marketing potential in placing commercial locations and other recognizable branded items in films. Prop masters would pour over film scripts for potential commercial tie-ins, as they were responsible for identifying and stocking locations to be used for filming, preferably at little or no cost to the production. McDonald’s had recently retained a Hollywood firm named Unique Product Placement (UPP), to assist in identifying the best and most appropriate opportunities to place their brand. They were paid a handsome annual fee for reviewing scripts, identifying the good opportunities and coordinating between the studios and our company. They knew and worked closely with prop masters and set designers, and in fact, were made up of such former professionals. When they found a good match, they would contact us with their rationale, and send us the scripts where McDonald’s might fit in. This saved us time and money, and helped screen out the potential movie bombs and inappropriate applications from those with high potential exposure for our brand.

As head of corporate communications, I was responsible for managing the relationship with UPP, and coordinating with our own marketing and other operational departments in implementing such movie tie-ins. One day the phone rang, and it was an international call from Spain. It was our Spanish marketing manager, saying the set decorator for a new science fiction film being shot in a desert region of his country under the aegis of Brooksfilm, the production company controlled by Mel Brooks, had referenced a letter, apparently authorizing our Spanish subsidiary to allow its equipment and signage company to cooperate with the film company and loan them a full-sized McDonald’s restaurant outdoor sign. I asked why, and he said he had a copy of the letter from McDonald’s chief marketing officer written to Mel Brooks himself, agreeing to the sign loan. So I called our marketing chief and asked him about it. He said he vaguely remembered a brief call from Mel Brooks that he said he took because of Brook’s Hollywood fame. Brooks had told him he was executive producer of a science fiction movie set a thousand years in the future in a post-cataclysmic Earth and they wanted to use some McDonald’s signage. The story was something about a boy who found a mysterious orb called Bodhi, lost it, searched for it and at the end, the orb helped bring water back to a parched earth. Our guy agreed, saying Brooks suggested the film and scene in question would be creative, and knowing Brooks great reputation for comedy.

That call had apparently been some months back. I called UPP and asked if they had reviewed the project, and they said it was the first they had heard of it, but they would get hold of Brooksfilm and look over a script and get back to me with their thoughts. I put the guy in Spain on ice, though he seemed in a hurry, as they would be filming the scene involving the sign in a few days. UPP was back to me in a flash. They said they were shocked Brooks was backing such a bizarre film, and they described the scene involved as one of a gang of filthy futurists crossing a post-apocalyptic desert and setting up camp in what would in the film appear to be the ruins of an ancient McDonald’s, and include a vulture or some such motley bird landing on a tilted, falling down McDonald’s road sign, while rape and torture were portrayed amidst a bacchanal going on around campfires within this crude setting. I quickly called our marketing chief, and he said “get us out of this!” So I talked it over with UPP and our legal staff, and they agreed that we could refuse to cooperate with the film people in Spain on the grounds that the film had been miss-represented to our marketing chief. Thus, we turned down the request, to the great chagrin of the Spanish production company.

The film, Solarbabies, was released in 1986. Some had predicated it would become Mel Brooks’ “Star Wars.” It had cost $25 million to produce; a giant overrun, and Mel Brooks sold it to the U.S. distributor for just $14 million. The U.S. box office proceeds for the film were only $1.5 million. It has been widely critiqued as Mel Brooks’ worst film and one of the worst movies ever produced, with legendary film critic Gene Siskel crowning it “pure trash.”

Years later, I finally saw the segment of the final film that had been targeted for the demolished McDonald’s, and instead of the bird landing on a tattered Golden Arches sign, he landed on piece of tilted wood hung with rusty cans, amidst a despicable yet unidentified desert campsite. No Golden Arches. Indeed, sometimes it’s what you don’t see that matters. Disaster averted.

Robert Fischell invented the rechargeable pacemaker and the implantable insulin pump — not to mention helped create the precursor to GPS. The 87-year-old shares a peek into his creative process. Perhaps you have a family member who’s alive because of a flexible coronary stent. Or a friend who manages her diabetes with an implantable insulin pump.…

via How to solve problems, from an inventor with 200+ patents —

Chances are, you will be screwed by the Electoral College in this fall’s Presidential election. 1. If you live in a relatively large population state, your vote may count as little as 1/6th of that in a small population state. Why? Because the number of Electoral Votes your state gets is determined by the total number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen you have. thus, smaller population states get a relative bonus of Electoral Votes. 2. If you live in a “non-battleground” state, chances are your vote may not count at all, because all the Electoral Votes of all states but two go to the popular vote winner in a state, and in all but the so-called 13 or so “Battleground States,” the given political majority in those states already means all those state’s Electoral Votes will go to the majority candidate for President. If your candidate is not supported by the majority, your vote is thrown away.
There is no way out for this fall’s Presidential Election, but there is a path to sanity in the future. Go to for the answers.

National Popular Vote
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire U.S. It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when enacted by states with…

October 2016
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