Archive

September 26th, 2016

More than usual is on the line in first presidential debate

    No heavyweight prize fight has been more anticipated than Monday night's televised square-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with NBC News anchor Lester Holt as moderator or, perhaps, referee separating them in the clinches.

    For all the expectations of a brawl raised by the obvious mutual dislike of the two nominees, both have been counseled to remain self-controlled in the heat of the 90-minute confrontation, in order to emerge as the more "presidential" or at least disciplined under fire.

    Democrat Clinton seems much more equipped, by sheer policy knowledge and temperament, to meet that test. But Republican Trump has demonstrated himself to be, as he boasts, a superior counterpuncher, having easily mowed down 16 primary opponents.

    Clinton is the policy wonk ever prepared on the facts and tightly wound, to the point her likeability and trustworthiness are widely questioned. Trump, on the other hand, is the policy-deficient loose cannon given to bobbing and weaving on the facts, and often erupting with personal insult and invective.

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The Best News You Don’t Know

    The world is a mess, with billions of people locked in inescapable cycles of war, famine and poverty, with more children than ever perishing from hunger, disease and violence.

    That’s about the only thing Americans agree on; we’re polarized about all else. But several polls have found that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years.

    Fortunately, the one point Americans agree on is dead wrong.

    As world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s 6 million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!

    Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

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Trump to debate moderators: Don't even think about fact-checking me. My supporters are watching!

    This is a remarkable exchange from an interview with Donald Trump on Fox and Friends this morning:

    QUESTIONER: Lester Holt -- should he be a moderator, and just ask questions, or should he be a fact checker, where he asks a question, and if somebody says something that he thinks is wrong, that he's gonna try to correct the record? What would you like to see -- a moderator, or a fact checker?

    TRUMP: Well, I think he has to be a moderator. You're debating somebody, and if she makes a mistake, or if I make a mistake, we'll take each other on. But I certainly don't think you want Candy Crowley again.

    QUESTIONER: [Snickers knowingly.] She was wrong!

    TRUMP: I really don't think you want that. That was a very pivotal moment in that debate. And it really threw the debate off. And it was unfair. So I don't think you want that. No, I think you have to have somebody that just lets 'em argue it out.

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Donald Trump's most excellent tips for moderating a fair debate

    With a big debate coming up on Monday, there has been a lot of talk about how to moderate the discussion. Fortunately, Donald Trump's team has prepared the following list of suggestions so that the debate will be as Fair and Unbiased as possible.

    1) Be a moderator, not a fact-checker. One of those is a good, important person who will be safe in Donald Trump's America, and the other one is a mean little man who spends his whole life banging his head against his keyboard and sending out nonsensical pronouncements such as "Donald Trump has just earned FIVE WHOPPERS!"

    Who even knows what these units are supposed to mean? TRUTH-O-METER? PANTS ON FIRE? PINOCCHIOS? Are these truth ratings or novelty sandwiches? No wonder Americans no longer respect fact-checkers as an institution. They have given up trying to figure out if a Six-Alarm Whopper is a delicious burger or a horrible untruth. And Trump, for one, does not blame them!

    Trump lives in a post-fact world, and he wishes you would join him there. Too scrupulous an adherence to truth makes you no fun to be around.

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The Lying Game

    Here’s what we can be fairly sure will happen in Monday’s presidential debate: Donald Trump will lie repeatedly and grotesquely, on a variety of subjects. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton might say a couple of untrue things. Or she might not.

    Here’s what we don’t know: Will the moderators step in when Trump delivers one of his well-known, often reiterated falsehoods? If he claims, yet again, to have opposed the Iraq War from the beginning — which he didn’t — will he be called on it? If he claims to have renounced birtherism years ago, will the moderators note that he was still at it just a few months ago? (In fact, he already seems to be walking back his admission last week that President Barack Obama was indeed born in America.) If he says one more time that America is the world’s most highly taxed country — which it isn’t — will anyone other than Clinton say that it isn’t? And will media coverage after the debate convey the asymmetry of what went down?

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Scientists know climate change is a threat. Politicians need to realize it, too.

    The climate is changing in dangerous ways, and we are responsible for most of these changes. This is not a matter of conjecture or political opinion - it is the conclusion of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, based on solid evidence that mounts each year. Rising sea levels, extreme heat, increased incidence of floods and drought, ocean acidification and expansion of tropical diseases pose an unacceptable level of risk to our descendants. So do many other climate-related threats.

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What can we expect from Clinton and Trump in the debate?

    If you're a political junkie like me - or, heck, even if you aren't - you have been waiting a very long time for Monday night's presidential debate. Estimates are that 80 million to 100 million people will watch - an amazing number given the splintering of TV viewership over the past decade.

    Considering the expected audience and the perceived stakes - with polls showing Hillary Clinton narrowly ahead of Donald Trump - the amount of chatter around this first debate between the candidates is like nothing I have ever seen before. Cries of double standards, false equivalencies and real-time fact-checking are everywhere. In short, if you like spin, these past 96 hours or so have been a paradise for you.

    Here's the thing, though: There are actual details and specifics we know about both Clinton and Trump as debaters - their approaches, tendencies and weaknesses. Clinton has participated in dozens and dozens of debates over her two presidential bids, and Trump debated a handful of times in his march to the Republican nomination.

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Presidential campaign ads are losing clout

    Even during the presidential primaries it was obvious that traditional TV advertising wasn't working as well as it once did: Four Republican candidates were outspending Donald Trump but losing to him, and Bernie Sanders spent more on TV spots than Hillary Clinton. Now, with the general election campaign in full swing, the efficiency of TV ads remains in doubt.

    The poll results from hotly contested states published since Sept. 15 show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton within one to eight percentage points of each other; each candidate is leading in some of the battlegrounds. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is a distant third with varying levels of support -- 4 percent in Ohio and 14 percent in Pennsylvania.

    Using spending data from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, I added up up the candidates' estimated TV ad expenditures between July 1 and Sept. 15 in nine contested states. I added in shares of national TV ad spending, weighting them by the states' population. On average, one percentage point in polls cost Clinton almost $214,000 during that period. Trump paid an average of about $60,000 per percentage point, and Johnson a mere $4,000.

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Questions that Clinton and Trump should be asked

    The U.S. is still fighting a war in Afghanistan and has troops in Iraq, the Iranian nuclear deal remains controversial, the Islamic State is weakened but continues to be threatening, North Korea is launching missiles, Russia flaunts international norms and China has expansionary designs.

    It's a dangerous world. Yet in the U.S. presidential election the foreign policy debate chiefly involves insults and cliches. None of these issues will disappear by Inauguration Day; the press and public should pressure Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to better define their views over the next six weeks.

    Based on suggestions from six top national security experts, Republicans and Democrats, here are some questions that should be answered.

    Let's start with Clinton. She is more of a foreign policy hawk than President Barack Obama. She voted for the Iraq War in 2003, spearheaded the 2011 Libyan intervention and unsuccessfully tried to get the U.S. more involved in the Syrian civil war.

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Pay the critics for better online reviews

    Many online product reviews aren't especially helpful. Reviews can be manipulated, biased, or even intentionally ridiculous, so it's hard to judge their accuracy. The online review system also puts newer merchants at a disadvantage because they begin with no reviews at all. The Chinese auction site Taobao has an unusual solution to these problems: It lets merchants pay customers to leave detailed transaction feedback.

    That's a risky-sounding strategy. Certainly, if merchants were allowed to reward customers for giving glowing reviews, the feedback system would quickly become uninformative. Likewise, allowing merchants to penalize negative reviews would lead to bias, as well as fiascos. It's already so easy to buy positive reviews that mischief-makers have been able to drive traffic to a nonexistent business. But Taobao's system does not let merchants choose which customers to reward - it only lets them choose whether to reward them.

    Under Taobao's "rebate-for-feedback" mechanism, merchants can commit to pay rebates to all customers who write detailed reviews - positive or negative. (The average cash rebate amounts to about 20 cents.) Commitments are listed publicly, so potential customers can see when they are available.

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