Archive

November 23rd, 2016

Facebook's algorithms didn't tilt the election

    Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, finds himself in some hot water. His company is being blamed or credited, depending upon your point of view, for Donald Trump's election because its algorithms facilitated the circulation of misleading or false news stories.

    This controversy is misdirected: it should be less about Facebook's algorithms and more about human cognitive issues. Here is yet another lesson for investors.

    Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to seek out news, information and opinion that reinforces existing beliefs. We pay more attention to, interpret more favorably and tend to remember the things with which we agree. The opposite is also true: We tend to not notice, interpret unfavorably and more easily forget that which is at odds with what we already think. Selective attention, perception and retention are part of the broader confirmation bias that afflicts almost everyone. It has been called the "compulsive yes-man" in your head who "echoes whatever you want to believe."

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Clinton lost Pennsylvania more than Trump won it

    I was surprised by the presidential election. I'm still amazed by Pennsylvania.

    Before Nov. 8, I thought that six of the seven battleground states were tossups. The exception was Pennsylvania, where I spent a number of days reporting, made scores of calls and concluded it was in the Hillary Clinton column.

    The conventional wisdom now is that Donald Trump broke the Democrats' blue wall, starting with the Keystone State, with a surge of working-class and middle-class voters. A closer look at Pennsylvania's balloting produces a different conclusion: Democrats of all stripes -- young people, members of minority groups, suburbanites and working-class loyalists -- just didn't turn out the way they did for President Barack Obama. This was less about Trump than about Clinton.

    "He got out his vote but she underperformed their expectations," concludes Terry Madonna who runs the poll at Franklin & Marshall College which, like the Bloomberg Politics October survey, foresaw a Clinton victory.

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A Trumpian Silver Lining

    One of Donald Trump’s big advantages now is that he has so many awful associates. No matter what appointees he foists on us, there’s always another pal who’d have been worse. If he names some federal land-grabbing oilman as secretary of the interior, people are going to sigh with relief and say, “At least it isn’t Sarah Palin.”

    And Reince Priebus — until a few days ago Priebus was just the head of the Republican National Committee, a seriously unexciting guy with a hard-to-pronounce name. Then he got picked to be White House chief of staff at the same time Steve Bannon, the loathsome alt-right cheerleader, was named chief strategy adviser. Everyone fell madly in love with Priebus, who was ... way less bad.

    The whole world is watching the Trump transition — nine weeks and 3,998 appointments to go! If you want to look on the bright side, remember that however horrific you feel about what’s happening in Washington, Chris Christie feels worse.

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November 22nd

The suffragette who helps explain Clinton's loss

    One of the longest lines on Election Day wasn't to cast a ballot. It was to place an "I Voted" sticker, and get a celebratory photo taken, at Susan B. Anthony's in Rochester, New York. But one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the election, failing to realize the suffragettes' ultimate dream, is that she was too much like Anthony, and not enough like Anthony's more daring mentor and partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    Anthony is the patron saint of women's suffrage. Grade-school students learn of her 1872 arrest for casting a ballot (the straight Republican ticket) decades before it became legal for women to do so. She first appeared on a dollar coin in 1979. When President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, he cited Anthony.

    She deserves all the accolades. But Stanton, Anthony's friend and mentor, deserves no less. And if Clinton had more of Stanton's fearlessness, she may well have won the race.

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A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump

    Traumatized by the election results, many Americans are asking: What now? Here are steps that any of us can take that can make a difference at the margins. Onward!

 

    1. I will accept that my side lost, but I won’t acquiesce in injustice and I will gird for battle on issues I care about. I will call or write my member of Congress and express my opposition to mass deportation, to cutting 22 million people off health insurance, to nominations of people who are unqualified or bigoted, to reduced access to contraception and cancer screenings. Better yet, I’ll attend my representative’s town meeting and put him or her on the spot.

 

    2. I will try to do small things in my own life, recognizing that they are inadequate but at least a start: I will sign up on the Council on American-Islamic Relations website, volunteering to fight Islamophobia. I’ll call a local mosque to offer support, or join an interfaith event. I will sign up for an “accompany my neighbor” list if one exists for my area, to be an escort for anyone who is now in fear.

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22 times Michelle Obama endured rude, racist, sexist or plain dumb attacks

    There are many things I will miss about the Obama White House: having a first family that genuinely seems happy to be a family; a president who valued diplomacy; a first lady who was highly educated, stylish, graceful and who tried to be a positive role model. What I won't miss is the seemingly endless barrage of attacks on her for the most mundane things.

    In a list that is by no means exhaustive, here's a roundup of the vitriol I can't wait to say goodbye to.

    1. She expressed some mixed feelings about being proud of America as a black woman, which was obviously unpatriotic.

    2. She's "strikingly ungracious." (Jim Geraghty, writing for National Review)

    3. She doesn't look like a first lady (and she does pushups). (Virginia voter Bobbie Lussier)

    4. She disrespected the flag, as determined by lip readings of Obama whispering something inaudible to her husband during a ceremony. (Washington Times, American Thinker, conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel)

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What Socrates, Aristotle and Leo Strauss can teach us about Donald Trump

            The election of Donald Trump has revived parallels between the United States and the precarious condition of European democracies in the 1920s and early 1930s. Democratic leaders, including President Barack Obama, have expressed hope for reconciliation.

            Other opponents of Trump have been less restrained. Early Wednesday morning, the filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that "The next wave of fascism will come not with cattle cars and camps. It will come with a friendly face." There was no doubt whom Moore had in mind.

            Some scholars are skeptical that Trump can be described as a fascist, arguing instead that he represents populism. But fascism and populism are not the only concepts that might help us understand Trump. The concept of "tyranny" -- and how it was understood by the philosophers of ancient Greece - is particularly helpful.

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We must fight to keep Bannon out of the White House

    As Donald Trump builds his administration, it's important to distinguish between his legitimate decisions on personnel and policy -- even those that differ substantially from mainstream ones -- and the scarier actions that need to be resisted by everyone committed to democracy.

    Take the first big announcements on filling jobs at the White House. As the new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, is not the worst possible choice.

    But the president-elect also has chosen Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor. By announcing the two appointments together, Trump is suggesting the two may have comparable clout. Thus, Bannon is about to become one of the most influential people in the country.

    Bannon is a longtime professional bigot, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center among others. When both the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- two groups that have clashed with each other -- immediately condemn the same thing, you know something is not normal. And, in this case, it is also not acceptable.

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Trump's first right move

    As Donald Trump moves ahead in forming his new administration, his first significant decision has been putting Vice President-elect Mike Pence in charge of his transition team.

    In swiftly replacing his original choice, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Trump has signaled his intent to continue the tradition over the last 40 years or so of utilizing the vice presidency as a governing partner, with duties well beyond the office's original function as the standby for the president.

    Christie played a key role in Trump's winning the Republican nomination by being one of his first challengers to endorse him. But in switching to Pence, who entered the picture later and was not well-known to Trump, the president-elect has already incorporated his new sidekick into his small, family-laden inner circle.

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Trump needs to give up his Trump Hotel lease

    In 2013, the General Services Administration leased Washington's historic Post Office Pavilion to the Trump Organization for $180 million. Before his inauguration on Jan. 20, the GSA must terminate the Organization's lease. The 60-year deal presents unprecedented and intolerable conflicts of interest. Swift action by GSA is necessary to protect the integrity of the federal government contracting process.

    The federal procurement system has a 200-year record of transparency and integrity. As part of the protection of the contracting process from corruption, federal contracting regulations mandate that "government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach . . . to avoid . . . even the appearance of a conflict of interest in Government-contractor relationships."

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