State auditor and Board of Regents looking more deeply into ISU airplane use

Iowa State University President Steven Leath continues to insist his use of university aircraft violated no policies or laws.

We’ll learn more in the coming months, because the State Auditor’s Office is looking into the matter, and yesterday the Iowa Board of Regents approved a plan to audit every ISU Flight Service flight since Leath was hired in 2012.

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Iowa second-worst state for racial disparity in drug possession arrests

The massive racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system have long been recognized as among the worst in the country, spurring calls to action not only by advocacy groups but also by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady and even Governor Terry Branstad.

Yet a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch shows that African-American adults in Iowa are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession—an imbalance second only to Montana.

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Throwback Thursday: Five Russian jokes about rigged elections

Last night’s debate stirred up memories from my "past life." In two of the most spirited exchanges, Hillary Clinton depicted Donald Trump as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential "puppet," and Trump suggested the "corrupt media" and millions of people who don’t belong on the voter rolls could steal the election.

Large scale voter fraud has been more than a losing candidate’s fantasy in Russia. Observers have documented stuffed ballot boxes and other methods of undermining opposition candidates.

Dark political humor shone a light on some of those flaws in Russia’s early post-Soviet elections.

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Trump found yet another way to take American politics to a dark place

Donald Trump proved in his final debate against Hillary Clinton that he hasn’t run out of ways to demonstrate he is unfit to serve as president.

About an hour in, Chris Wallace asked the Republican nominee a simple question: will he accept the result of this election? Trump said, "I will look at it at the time," then rattled off a bunch of bogus talking points. To his credit, Wallace pressed Trump on whether he would honor the tradition of a "peaceful transition of power," with the loser conceding to the winner. "Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?"

Trump responded, "What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense."

Normal candidates may make gaffes. Unorthodox candidates may say things that are shunned in polite company. But before Trump, even the most offensive candidate didn’t refuse to accept the will of the voters. Associated Press reporters Julie Pace and Lisa Lerer conveyed the enormity of Trump’s break with tradition in the lede to their debate wrap-up: "Threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy […]."

Every GOP candidate and office-holder must repudiate Trump and affirm that they will respect the outcome on November 8. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate spoke out on Monday, describing Trump’s warnings about "large scale voter fraud" as "not helpful" and "misinformation." Governor Terry Branstad tried to have it both ways, expressing "confidence" in the election system but claiming Trump has been a victim of media bias, and that Iowa county auditors won’t be able to prevent all attempts at voter fraud.

That’s not good enough. By suggesting the result might be illegitimate, Trump could provoke political violence that is unprecedented following a U.S. election in our lifetimes.

Any comments about the third debate are welcome in this thread. For those who missed it, the full video is here, a full transcript is here, and the Los Angeles Times published transcripts of some noteworthy exchanges. Links to a few good fact checks: NPR, New York Times, ABC,, and Politifact. I enclose below the clip with Trump’s rigged election claims and Clinton’s response to his "horrifying" remarks.

A few other moments stuck out in my mind:

• Clinton’s strong defense of a reproductive rights: "I will defend Roe v. Wade and I will defend women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions." Members of CNN’s focus group liked Clinton’s answer to that question better than any other from the Democrat.

• The exchange over immigration policy, in which Trump referred to some "bad hombres" while Clinton pointed out, "We have undocumented immigrants in America who are paying more federal income tax than a billionaire."

• Clinton saying Russian President Vladimir Putin would "rather have a puppet as the president of the United States" and telling Trump, "You are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do."

• Trump interrupting with "Such a nasty woman" while Clinton answered a question about Social Security and Medicare. Mental health experts say narcissists "project onto others qualities, traits, and behaviors they can’t—or won’t—accept in themselves."

Wallace was a much better moderator than I anticipated from a Fox News personality, despite a few missteps.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purple giant hyssop

This year’s unseasonably warm autumn weather inspired me to feature a plant today that typically blooms in the summer. Several colonies of Purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia) were in peak flower six to eight weeks ago along the Meredith bike trail between Gray’s Lake and downtown Des Moines.

This member of the mint family is native to much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes it as a plant of "special value to native bees, honey bees and bumble bees." The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service guide for this species notes that goldfinches and hummingbirds are also attracted to the flowers, and the plant is a "popular ornamental," since its height (up to five or six feet) "makes it a good choice as a background against fencing." It thrives in moist soil and can handle full sun or partial shade.

Purple giant hyssop is a close relative of blue giant hyssop, also known as anise hyssop, which Bleeding Heartland featured last year. According to the Minnesota Wildflowers website, purple giant hyssop has a green calyx (the "cup-like whorl of sepals" that holds the flower) and green on the underside of leaves, while blue giant hyssop has a blue-violet calyx and a "whitish" color on the underside of its leaves. Iowa naturalist and photographer Leland Searles gave me an easier tip: crush a leaf. If it smells like licorice, you’ve found anise hyssop.

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Latest Iowa polls and election forecasts ahead of the third debate

For reasons I cannot comprehend, few pollsters have surveyed Iowa voters since the first presidential debate. Even fewer Iowa polls have come out since the release of a 2005 videotape sparked the latest Donald Trump meltdown.

Forty years of data indicate that third presidential debates "have had less of an impact on the polls" than earlier debates. (Dan Guild reviewed here how first debates have affected previous presidential races.)

In lieu of a time-wasting "curtain-raiser" about things to watch for at tonight’s big showdown in Las Vegas, let’s look at what the latest opinion polls and election forecasts say about chances for Trump or Hillary Clinton to win Iowa’s six electoral votes. Last time Bleeding Heartland covered this territory, several analysts had shifted Iowa from "lean Democrat" to "toss-up" or from "toss-up" to "lean Republican."

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