Friday, September 30, 2016

Debate gift keeps on giving:
Market lifted by Clinton’s performance

FOR STUDENTS of politics, Monday’s first presidential debate helped distill the candidates’ perspectives on vital issues; for investors, it set the stage for market reaction, based on their perspectives. If market performance of this week is any gauge, and it is, Wall Street feels more comfortable with the prospect of President Hillary Clinton.

In Politico, Ben White reported on Wall Street’s hearty rally on Tuesday.

“U.S. stock futures rose sharply immediately following the debate, which most pundits and surveys suggested the Democratic nominee won handily. The Mexican peso soared. The currency tends to drop as Trump’s chances rise, with investors betting on the GOP nominee making good on his promise of new trade tariffs.”

The Dow was on a glide path all day, climbing 133 points. White reported that some of that rise “was in response to a very strong consumer confidence number,” but you can't silo confidence. You have to wonder how much of that number had to do with consumers’ confidence in the prospects of Clinton in the White House.

Dollars weren’t the only currency to be affected. “We’re seeing a bit of a ‘relief rally’ today. Equity markets are higher, and the peso, one key anti-Trump barometer, has rebounded from its multi-year low hit yesterday,” said Jack Ablin, chief market strategist at BMO Private Bank, to Politico.

“There was certainly a reaction in the futures, and that was clearly related to the debate,” said Jim Paulsen of Wells Capital Management. “Traders clearly decided before the debate that a Trump win would be bad and a Clinton win would be good.”

On Tuesday, the day after the debate, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened at 18,099.21. When it closed on Thursday, the Dow was at 18,143.45. There was a sell-off earlier Thursday, resulting in a 1.35 percent decline. But the market rebounded, opening Friday morning at 18,268.57 and finishing the day well north of that.

You can’t set your watch by market moves like this. But for Team Trump, it’s just one more thing to have to push back against ... like how bad it looks when the Trump unique selling proposition — I am better for the economy — is thoroughly repudiated by the people who work in the economy.

Image credits: Clinton: via MSNBC. Trump: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.

The realpolitik hallelujah chorus:
Clinton resets the endorsement clock

BY ROLLING back the clock of regional journalistic customs, Hillary Clinton’s making history right now, gaining high-profile newspaper endorsements that could be easily ignored (as some people think all newspaper endorsements are or should be) if it weren’t for the inconvenient fact of where they’re from.

From deep in the heart of Texas:

On July 29, The Houston Chronicle endorsed Clinton:

“The Chronicle editorial page does not typically endorse early in an election cycle; we prefer waiting for the campaign to play out and for issues to emerge and be addressed. We make an exception in the 2016 presidential race, because the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not merely political. It is something much more basic than party preference. ...

“Any one of Trump's less-than-sterling qualities — his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance - is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, "I alone can fix it," should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.”

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The editors of the Dallas Morning News smartly broke its choices into two separate editorials. The paper primed the pump on Sept. 6, with a blistering non-endorsement of Trump — the first time the newspaper has refused to endorse the Republican nominee for president since 1964.

“We reject the politics of personal destruction... Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism.” The editorial reads: “He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.”

"Trump is — or has been — at odds with nearly every GOP ideal this newspaper holds dear,” The News continued. “Donald Trump is no Republican and certainly no conservative."

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THE NEWS editorial board mentioned a few of Trump’s greatest hits, including his kissy-face relationship with the leadership style of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his denunciation of the Trans Pacific Partnership as the "rape of our country."

"It's not easy to offer a shorthand list of such tenets, since Trump flips from one side to the other, issue after issue, sometimes within a single news cycle," the editorial continued. "Regardless, his ideas are so far from Republicanism that they have spawned a new description: Trumpism."
“We have no interest in a Republican nominee for whom all principles are negotiable, nor in a Republican Party that is willing to trade away principle for pursuit of electoral victory.”

"Trump doesn't reflect Republican ideals of the past; we are certain he shouldn't reflect the GOP of the future," the editorial concluded. "Donald Trump is not qualified to serve as president and does not deserve your vote."

◊ ◊ ◊

The next day, Sept. 7, the Morning News took the next step, endorsing Clinton, with some subliminal reluctance (understandable given their track record of endorsing Republicans) but with an embrace of what might best be called civic pragmatism. She was the first Democratic presidential candidate backed by the paper in more than 75 years.

The News editors admitted that Democrats are generally “at odds with our belief in private-sector ingenuity and innovation.”

“We don’t come to this decision easily. This newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for the nation’s highest office since before World War II — if you’re counting, that’s more than 75 years and nearly 20 elections,” the editorial board wrote.

But “[r]ésumé vs. résumé, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest,” The News said. Trump “plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best.”

“His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness,” the News continued. “And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.”

◊ ◊ ◊

IF ENDORSEMENTS are aimed at anyone, it’s the people who read the paper. Some reactions to the Morning News’ backing of Clinton reflect a heartening sense of trust and loyalty, or, if readers disagree, a feeling much like the betrayal of a best friend.

Sarah_Wise disagrees with the endorsement: “I have been a loyal reader of the paper for over 30 years. Even picked you over Dallas Times Herald. ... for the most part I have been very pleased with the job you do. For this I will miss you and will never again be a customer. Never, ever have I been more disappointed in a company I respected. The lack of integrity this reveals is disheartening. Your reasons for this endorsement are foolish and nearsighted.”

◊ ◊ ◊

George_Erhard would beg to differ: “No, HRC would not be the best choice. But Donald Trump is the Worst. Choice. Ever. for POTUS. That is not hyperbole.

“It's time people got past the memes and the insults and woke up, before we elect a pathological liar and professional scam artist to run our country, instead of a Secretary of State and Senator who, quite frankly, could do the job easily, so that most of us could sleep at night.

“As for her 'honesty', wake up, Texas, we've been electing dishonest people to office since the Republic became a State. And we've not batted an eye about it...”

◊ ◊ ◊

OR THERE’S what’s up deep in the heart of Ohio: The Cincinnati Enquirer broke with its own long Republican-leaning tradition to back Clinton in a Sept. 23 editorial:

“The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century – a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.

“That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton. ...

“Trump’s rise through a crowded Republican primary field as well as Sanders' impressive challenge on the Democratic side make clear that the American people yearn for a change in our current state of politics. However, our country needs to seek thoughtful change, not just change for the sake of change. Four years is plenty of time to do enough damage that it could take America years to recover from, if at all.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clinton-Trump I: A study of contrasts

BENE. BY THE ancient laws of combat, we met at that chosen ground, to settle for good and all who held sway over the attention span of 84 million Americans for an hour and a half, give or take. And maybe, just maybe, longer. Just maybe another 44 days.

On Monday we were that far from this thing going down, and now is when Americans start paying attention. Through some application of the unique, quasi-tone-deaf, dogwhistle-attuned, spin-resistant, bullshit-adjusted knowledge information filtration device most Americans employ for just about everything political, those Americans by the millions are slowly starting to decide. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

The tale of the last alphas standing in the 2016 presidential campaign had come down to this, on the stage at Hofstra University in Hempstead, L.I., N.Y. Clinton, the senator and former secretary of state lately rehabilitated from pneumonia; the veteran campaigner, liberal champion ... facing down Donald John Trump, the [x]illionaire attention addict, rookie politician and Republican nominee.

And when the smoke cleared, though actually it happened well before then, Clinton had won the night hands down. People in the habit of fooling themselves thought it was at worst a stalemate and at best a win for Trump. No. At this point in the campaign, voters deserve candidates they can snapshot, as befits the citizens of a digital culture. They’ve earned the distillation of what works for them in a candidate, and what doesn’t, in more or less real time.

On Monday night we found out what didn’t work about Donald Trump — a discovery of the wannabe emperor made at Trumpian scale, in the most-viewed presidential debate in modern history.

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Debates like this have a definite purpose, mainly to give people a chance to compare and contrast the distinctions of the two candidates. The differences between Clinton and Trump, imagistically and philosophically, couldn’t be more stark and well-defined. On Monday, voters found a Hillary Clinton still finding her voice but clearly up for the game: direct, personable, practical, a tad wonkish in some places, annoyingly vague in others, flat-out untruthful on another. But on the whole, Clinton carried herself like someone who brought her A game to a consequential campaign moment.

And by any rational metric of how control, intelligence, rationality, insight and moderation are communicated in a public forum, Donald Trump was the hands-down loser, the embarrassment he was frankly expected to be and more.

Faced with a forum he didn’t pick, a moderator he couldn’t control asking questions he couldn’t know ahead of time, Trump showed us like nothing else could how dazzlingly unprepared he is for the presidency, in a performance that revealed The Donald at his core: small, petulant, spiteful, vain, addled, aggrieved, insensitive, incremental, relentlessly transactional.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE STUDY of contrasts was obvious throughout the debate, as the candidates butted heads on everything that matters:

Clinton on jobs, for example: “The central question in this election is really what kind of country we want to be and what kind of future we'll build together,” she said.

“First, we have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. That means we need new jobs, good jobs, with rising incomes.” Clinton went on to call for clean renewable energy, investments in small business, “because most of the new jobs will come from small business,” as well as equal pay for equal work, and more profit sharing among rank and file employees.

Trump jumped right in, with no perfunctory thanks to Hofstra University or the Commission on Presidential Debates. He went straight to a Chicken Little position paper vis-à-vis trade.

◊ ◊ ◊

“Our jobs are fleeing the country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They're devaluing their currency, and there's nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. Because they're using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing.”

Trump scored some early points on Clinton in exchanges about global trade; for once, his goofily reductive world-view was tailor-made for a surface explanation of something most Americans can’t get their heads around.

“We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs,” Trump said. “And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand, because they're not doing it.

“And all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they're gone.”

◊ ◊ ◊

BUT THEN he drifted back into primary-season speak, re-seizing on a frequent rhetorical target of opportunity, the Carrier air conditioner company, beating up on them again for moving jobs to Mexico.

It was a graphic example of what our economy is up against, but the way Trump automatically rumbled this chestnut out again, it didn’t move the ball on this position. Carrier’s become Trump’s cliché for the need for trade reform, but it’s not much more. Calling them out at the debate didn’t change that.

Clinton dissed Trump on the repatriation of taxes for companies returning to the United States, calling again for “investing in the middle class, building the middle class, those are the kinds of things that will really boost the economy – broad-based growth.”

Trump was stuck in downbeat mode, taking unusual shots at Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: “We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. And we better be awfully careful. And we have a Fed that's doing political things,” Trump railed. “The Fed is not doing their job. The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Want a good example of contrasts, a way of distilling what’s important to who? Here:

CLINTON: Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, "Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money." Well, it did collapse.

TRUMP: That's called business, by the way.

CLINTON: Nine million people -- nine million people lost their jobs. Five million people lost their homes. And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out.

Want another one? Try this, which pivots off the issue of Trump’s tax returns:

CLINTON: [M]aybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

CLINTON: So if he's paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health.

What’s important to who? Distinctions don’t get much starker, any clearer, than that.

◊ ◊ ◊

IF YOU WANT another such distinction between them, go to the racial divide in America. Where Clinton was anodyne but practical, Trump was belligerent and unrealistic.

“Unfortunately, race still determines too much, often determines where people live, determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and, yes, it determines how they're treated in the criminal justice system. We've just seen those two tragic examples in both Tulsa and Charlotte.

“And we've got to do several things at the same time. We have to restore trust between communities and the police. We have to work to make sure that our police are using the best training, the best techniques, that they're well prepared to use force only when necessary. Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A spectacle of yourself:
Snapchat’s vision for everyday people

SNAP INC., the company behind Snapchat, is about to roll out its first hardware product: a line of sunglasses with video-camera technology attached, a possible game-changer in the ease with which we remember the days of our lives, and in the accountability we attach to some of those in society with power to take lives — lawfully or otherwise.

The story was first widely reported in The Wall Street Journal.

The glasses, called Spectacles (they got a trademark for that name?), give viewers the opportunity to make 10-second videos that are then uploaded via wi-fi connection to the wearer’s Snapchat account.

How it works: Spectacles record video when you tap a button near the hinge, with each tap recording 10 seconds of video footage — that consistent with the basic unitary Snapchat time frame. The 115-degree-angle lens was apparently intended to give a wider view than smartphone cameras, one more consistent with human vision, The Journal reported.

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The big factor here is their wearability. As shown on the Spectacles web site home page, the glasses ($130 a pop) are fashion-forward enough to be wearable every day without looking like an escapee from a Kraftwerk video, a la Google Glass. They don’t look that much more outlandish than other, non-video-enabled sunglasses. The video will sync up wirelessly to an iPhone or other smartphone, The Journal reported.

Snap plans a slow rollout of the product, no doubt taking a cautionary page from the Google Glass debacle. Spectacles will launch this fall in three colors: teal, black and coral (if iPhone sales are any guide, look for the black to sell out first).

What Snap certainly achieves short-term is reinforcement of the interoperability of the Snapchat experience (and use of its app) ... and a stronger sense of Snapchatters as their own highly mobile, upwardly-mobile visual community — pretty much consistent with Snapchat’s avowed mission to reshape the way we view photography.

◊ ◊ ◊

Some quarters are already losing their shit about Spectacles. Recode just went into Chicken Little mode about the devices: “Why aren’t people freaking out about glasses that watch everything you do, all the time?” the tech site tweeted Saturday.

The answer is simple: If you’re not wearing them, you’ve made the choice not to use them ... so what is there to freak out about? Like most of the technology that matters in our lives, its ubiquity is often situational. The GPS in your phone can’t track you if you don’t take the phone with you.

◊ ◊ ◊

WHAT'S more provocative in a positive way is the role Spectacles could play in resolving questions and disputes in street encounters between police and ordinary American citizens. They’d be one more easily accessible visual-recording device citizens could use to confirm or deny statements made by police in altercations. Especially the potentially deadly ones.

This year has been especially ugly on that front. Several high-profile encounters have left citizens dead at the hands of police in often disputed circumstances. Imagine a crowd of onlookers, by happenstance at the scene of a potentially deadly encounter, that included two or three people making videos of the event with Spectacles at slightly different times and from different perspectives — in addition to the cellphone videos almost certainly taken at the same time.

Spiegel has called Spectacles a “toy,” in an understatement I hope he uttered in jest. In ways that Snap Inc. may not even envision just yet, Spectacles could play a deadly serious role in police-community interactions as another dispositive visual aid in finding out What Really Happened.

◊ ◊ ◊

Snap CEO Even Spiegel told The Wall Street Journal that he views Snap as a camera company, rather than a social-media company. Sure, he can say that now, now that he’s actually got cameras to sell.

But when Spectacles go on the market, and once the product meets the real world and its myriad applications for this, Snap may find it can’t so easily divorce itself from its social-media identity.

The camera was, in many ways, one of the first true social-media devices. Photography has a built-in purpose of sharing; there's an implicit reliance on community with cameras (and the photos that come out of them). Spectacles won’t end that relationship with social; they’ll enhance it. And what people share with Spectacles will certainly go beyond what their creators intended, in ways that could save more than just memories.

Image credits: Snapchat logo, Spectacles logo, still from Spectacles web site: © 2016 Snap Inc.

A Tale of Two Alphas: PBS Frontline doc explores
past lives of Clinton and Trump

If past really is prologue, there’s much yet to learn about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that comes from examining their respective histories. Stepping up for that task is “The Choice 2016,” the latest of PBS’ Frontline pre-election specials.

If you want to know more about Clinton’s penchant for control and secrecy — reflected in the private email server controversy dogging her current campaign — you might find illumination, as Frontline does, from considering her conservative childhood in a home with an emotionally abusive father.

If you want to get at the source of Trump’s brash, confrontational style of politics, remember that one of his mentors was a take-no-prisoners attorney who advised Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950’s. ...

Over its two hours, “The Choice 2016” tells the story of two supremely confident, ravenously ambitious, self-made political animals, each driven as much by doubt and the fear of humiliation or defeat as by political aspiration. ...

Read the full review at The Wrap.

Image credit: MER photo-illustration from CNN portraits.

Modern bromance: 'Lethal Weapon' reboot
scales down movie formula for TV

In a fall TV season well-stocked with blasts from the past, programmers clearly hope that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Maybe no one’s hopes are higher than the folks at Fox, whose “Lethal Weapon” reboot of the 80’s/90’s-era Mel Gibson-Danny Glover movie franchise is being marketed as a centerpiece for the season.

The original 1987 film, written by Shane Black and directed by Richard Donner, was a template for buddy-cop films to come, generating three sequels and huge box office. Fox’s series stars Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans — a newer face and an established comedic talent — are intended to awaken the “Weapon” for a new generation.

The results on the small screen are about what you’d expect, and exactly what’s necessary; Fox’s small-screen production is a comfortably predictable reboot of the original species — something for the 47 million or so Americans who weren’t around when the last “Lethal Weapon” movie premiered in 1998. ...

Read the full review at The Wrap

Image credit: Photo: Richard Foreman/FOX
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