Archive

October 10th, 2016

Interruptology explains the presidential debates

    If the thought of tuning in to the second presidential debate on Sunday fills you with dread, you're not alone. More than 80 million Americans watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar at the last debate, while moderator Lester Holt fired off critical questions that seemed to disintegrate, unanswered. After 90 minutes of noisy word exchange, viewers were left with only the broadest outlines of the candidates' stands on domestic and foreign policy -- the issues presidents are supposed to deal with.

    What trickery do the candidates employ to make the challenging questions or uncomfortable topics disappear? One clear pattern from the last debate was that the candidates interrupted each other almost constantly.

    But as I learned from University of Iowa communications professor Kristine Muñoz, it wasn't just the number of interruptions that made the debate so unsatisfying. It was the type. A study in "interruptology" sheds light on why the last contest was so uniquely exhausting -- and how viewers might glean more information from the next one.

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Fix the debates by making them reality TV

    I really hate the presidential debates. I bet you do too. This isn't the first year they have been all but unwatchable. So I propose a handful of minor but useful reforms (for those who want to fix them) and a radical reform (for those who think them unfixable).

    First among the minor reforms is more time for answers. Granting aspirants to the most powerful office in the world only two minutes to explain complex positions (and less time than that to rebut) is absurd. It tests no actual skill, unless we count the skills of memorizing lines or saying the first thing that comes to mind. Certainly the time limits leave no space for persuading the audience rather than simply stating a view. If we don't let candidates have at least eight minutes -- the standard for most forms of high school debate -- then we're doing more harm than good.

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Debates benefit from voters' easy questions

    The town-hall format for the presidential debate on Sunday night will let undecided voters ask the questions.

    I'm looking forward to it. Journalists are often tempted to ask "gotcha" questions about flip-flops or, even worse, questions about the polls and campaign events that tell us nothing about how the candidates would act as president. Regular voters are far more likely to ask about policy. That's a good thing!

    Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction argues against giving undecided voters so much control over the agenda. True, truly undecided voters are a small and atypical group at this point in the campaign, and they score relatively poorly on tests of political knowledge.

    But town-hall debates have been successful.

    Take the one in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Voters asked 10 questions. Seven were about policy. Some were inelegantly worded, but each introduced a good topic. Here are some examples:

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What About the Planet?

    Our two major political parties are at odds on many issues, but nowhere is the gap bigger or more consequential than on climate.

    If Hillary Clinton wins, she will move forward with the Obama administration’s combination of domestic clean-energy policies and international negotiation — a one-two punch that offers some hope of reining in greenhouse gas emissions before climate change turns into climate catastrophe.

    If Donald Trump wins, the paranoid style in climate politics — the belief that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast international conspiracy of scientists — will become official doctrine, and catastrophe will become all but inevitable.

    So why does the media seem so determined to ignore this issue? Why, in particular, does it almost seem as if there’s a rule against bringing it up in debates?

    Before I get there, a brief summary of the policy divide.

    It’s strange how little credit the Obama administration gets for its environmental policies.

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Trump is devouring Fox News

    Any news outlet wishing to provide solid and comprehensive coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign cannot avoid mentioning Sean Hannity's promotion of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    "Hannity," which airs in the prime-time lineup of Fox News, is influential among conservatives and enjoys a substantial cable news audience, and its more interesting moments have a long tail on the Internet. In violation of any journalistic principle, Hannity has done a video promotion for Trump, hosted him for softball interviews too numerous to recount and even provided advice to the campaign.

    BuzzFeed, the New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the field have reported extensively on this dynamic.

    And last night, another important source of campaign news -- Megyn Kelly's own prime-time show on Fox News -- covered it as well.

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Make colleges pay loans if their graduates can't

    When the U.S. Education Department shut down ITT Technical Institute at the beginning of the fall semester, some people saw it as just desserts for the for-profit college. Given ITT's relatively low graduation rates, alleged use of deceptive job placement figures in its recruiting efforts, and high numbers of loan defaults and delinquencies, the government may have seemed justified in refusing to fund more loans to ITT students.

    Yet, now, 35,000 students are suddenly without a school and 8,000 faculty and staff are unemployed, and the entire episode shows that the government remains fixated on problems in the for-profit sector while virtually ignoring that all of U.S. higher education has long been guilty of what, in another business, might be called price gouging.

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Don't be fooled by Gary Johnson

    In many ways, this has been a disappointing presidential campaign, so I know what you're thinking: I could never vote for Donald Trump. But I'm not that excited about Hillary Clinton, either. So, as a protest vote, I'll vote for Gary Johnson.

    Don't! Please, don't even think about it. By voting for Gary Johnson, you're wasting a vote. You're voting for one of the most dangerous sets of policies ever. And you're just helping elect Donald Trump.

    That's particularly important to understand for those, like me, who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. Attention millennials! If you really believe in Bernie, don't even consider voting for Gary Johnson, because he's against everything Bernie's for. Voting for him would be stabbing Bernie in the back.

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October 9th

A voting system that could save U.S. politics

    The U.S. probably will never be a European-style, multiparty parliamentary democracy. It's not inconceivable, however, that someday it could switch to a system that might have prevented the aberrations of this harrowing election year -- ranked-choice voting.

    Here's how it works. Imagine a presidential race with four candidates -- let's call them Hillary, Donald, Gary and Jill. Voters get a ballot on which they rank the candidates in order of preference. On the initial count, only the first preference matters. Let's say Hillary wins 45 percent of the vote, Donald gets 40 percent, Gary, 10 percent, and Jill, 5 percent. Jill is eliminated as the worst performer, and her votes are distributed among the second choices of her supporters. After the recount, Hillary has 47 percent, Donald gets 41 percent and Gary, 12 percent. Gary is eliminated, and his votes go to the second choices of his backers. Either Hillary or Donald necessarily receives more than 50 percent of the vote and wins.

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In Defense Of The Justice System

    This is not to defend a rapist. Nor is it to critique a movie. It is not to judge the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is purely and simply an attempt to emphasize the real intent of our justice system. After all, for all its faults it is still the best that humankind has been able to devise.

    Yes, our justice system makes mistakes, but still there is none other that comes any nearer to perfection; therefore we must accept the verdicts. With that in mind I was distressed to learn of the publicizing of old accusations regarding the actor-producer of the newly released movie version of "The Birth of a Nation." For the record let it be stated that not being a movie buff I had never heard of the name of the actor/director. Nor did I have any idea that this movie depicting an historical event in our history was being filmed.

    Actually my lack of knowledge matters not except to emphasize that my purpose is only to educate on a Constitutional principle as well as to note that as a nation claiming a Christian heritage there is also the part of forgiveness. Once the system has rendered its verdict the accused has paid her/his debt to society according to the legal system.

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Hillary Clinton’s Poisoned Prize

    Perhaps something extraordinary will happen in the second debate, or in the third. Maybe there’s some other surprise in the offing. Barring that, it really does look and feel as if Hillary Clinton is wrapping this thing up. I expect that on Nov. 9, the morning after the vote, we’ll be talking about the election of the first female president of the world’s most powerful nation.

    And we’ll be breathing an epic sigh of relief: that Donald Trump isn’t bound for the White House; that the ugliness of the campaign is at last behind us.

    But, oh, the ugliness still ahead.

    Trump isn’t going anywhere, nor are his provocations. It was the birther conspiracy yesterday; it will be something else tomorrow. And Clinton isn’t trading war for peace. Her presidency, should it indeed happen, will be a battle royal. The circumstances surrounding it are as politically daunting and inhospitable to accomplishment as those facing any of her predecessors over the last half-century.

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