Do Debates Matter? – by Joseph P. Williams November 13, 2015

Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left and Republican Richard Nixon, right, as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio on Sept. 26, 1960. Moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center.

They’re often described with action words reserved for warfare or contact sports – battles, fights, counterattacks – with winners and losers determined within minutes of completion. Participants come armed with battle plans, self-serving data and talking points intended to create headline-generating heat, not necessarily policy light.

Critics say the televised, speed chess-meets-Mortal Kombat competitions between politicians who want to lead the free world too often turn on stumbles, errors and style over substance. Supporters insist on their value, but want reforms, now more than ever.

[READ: Immigration, Foreign Policy Splits Republicans In Fourth Debate]

Given such high stakes, relatively low expectations and declining overall TV viewership in an era where Twitter is a news source: Why are presidential debates still a thing?

Though they sometimes resemble the reality show “Survivor” more than a serious forum about the nation’s future, presidential debates are one of the top sources of information for voters, according to analyses and TV ratings. They can also determine which candidates can tap the ever-widening pipeline of money in politics – from small donors kicking in a few dollars to wealthy elites deciding which future president, or super PAC, is the best bet for their millions.

Yet the decades-old, gladiators-on-TV format is looking increasingly battle-worn.

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Marco Rubio Is the Nominee in Waiting – By William Saletan NOV. 11 2015 3:18 PM

Marco Rubio turns to face opponent Jeb Bush during the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Nov. 10, 2015. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

Marco Rubio turns to face opponent Jeb Bush during the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Nov. 10, 2015.
Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

It’s good to be Marco Rubio. You’re young, smart, and good-looking. In a party that needs credibility with Hispanic voters, you’re Cuban American. You’re a great talker. You’re a rising star in a party that’s eating its elders. Insurgents admire you, yet the GOP establishment trusts you. Republicans are looking for a new leader, and you seem to be it.

Tuesday night’s GOP debate showed how everything is opening up for Rubio. He’s good, and he’s lucky. He didn’t dominate the conversation, but the dynamics worked in his favor. To begin with, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got bumped off the stage. Christie isn’t a threat to Rubio, but he’s a terrific debater. With Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee banished to the undercard event, the visible field of candidates narrowed to eight.

Jeb Bush, who once again needed to stand out, didn’t. On stage after stage, it has become obvious that Rubio is a much better talker. Bush, sensing the threat, staged a head-on collision with Rubio in their previous debate. And Bush lost it.

Bush was better on Tuesday. But if you’re a Republican donor or undecided voter, you saw the same liabilities you’ve seen before. When Bush tries to look strong, he sounds weak. He repeatedly summarized his foreign-policy vision with the passive phrase, “Voids are filled.” He said carbon emissions were down thanks to “the explosion of natural gas.” At one point, he babbled, “I was in Washington—Iowa—about three months ago talking about how bad Washington, D.C., is. It was—get the—kind of the—anyway.” Bush pleaded for air time, telling Donald Trump, “Thank you, Donald, for allowing me to speak at the debate.” Later, in a succinct display of their alpha and beta personalities, Trump silenced Bush during an exchange by extending an arm and barking, “Hold it.” In his closing statement, Bush promised not to be an “agitator in chief.”

Any viewer looking for a pragmatist was probably more impressed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who seized that role from Bush. Kasich presented himself as the candidate of fiscal responsibility and sensible compassion, particularly with regard to immigration and government assistance. By taking market share from Bush, Kasich can help clear the way for Rubio.

If Rubio stays ahead of the other candidates who have held elected office, he’ll win the nomination. That’s because the candidates who haven’t held office, led by Trump and Ben Carson, don’t have the sanity or skill to endure. Carson is being vetted for the first time, and it shows. Trump, who likes to call other people “low-energy,” delivered his flattest performance of the year.

It’s possible that, having run out of gas in the polls, Trump is losing enthusiasm for the campaign. But the more worrisome sign is that the audience seemed tired of him. He was booed for dismissing Kasich and for belittling Carly Fiorina. The crowd applauded Fiorina as she mocked Trump’s boast about appearing on a TV show with Vladimir Putin. When Trump denounced the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a scheme to help China, Sen. Rand Paul embarrassed him by pointing out, “China is not part of this deal.”

Against this background, Rubio looked good. It started with the debate’s first question, about the minimum wage. Trump botched it, shrugging that people “have to work really hard” instead of expecting a better entry wage. Carson wandered into a sermon about how the government fosters dependency. Rubio, the next man up, rejected Trump’s answer, insisting that people are “working as hard as ever.” He summarized his humble upbringing, pivoted to his generational pitch about emerging economic challenges, and crisply explained the dilemma: “If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine.”

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Ukraine: Cyberwar’s Hottest Front – By Margaret Coker and  Paul Sonne Nov. 9, 2015 9:14 p.m. ET

Ukraine gives glimpse of future conflicts where attackers combine computer and traditional assaults

A woman votes in Kiev in May 2014. A cyberattack ahead of Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election threatened to derail the vote.

A woman votes in Kiev in May 2014. A cyberattack ahead of Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election threatened to derail the vote. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

KIEV, Ukraine—Three days before Ukraine’s presidential vote last year, employees at the national election commission arrived at work to find their dowdy Soviet-era headquarters transformed into the front line of one of the world’s hottest ongoing cyberwars.

The night before, while the agency’s employees slept, a shadowy pro-Moscow hacking collective called CyberBerkut attacked the premises. Its stated goal: To cripple the online system for distributing results and voter turnout throughout election day. Software was destroyed. Hard drives were fried. Router settings were undone. Even the main backup was ruined.

The carnage stunned computer specialists the next morning. “It was like taking a cold shower,” said Victor Zhora, director of the Ukrainian IT firm Infosafe, which helped set up the network for the elections. “It really was the first strike in the cyberwar.”

In just 72 hours, Ukraine would head to the polls in an election crucial to cementing the legitimacy of a new pro-Western government, desperate for a mandate as war exploded in the country’s east. If the commission didn’t offer its usual real-time online results, doubts about the vote’s legitimacy would further fracture an already divided nation.

The attack ultimately failed to derail the vote. Ukrainian computer specialists mobilized to restore operations in time for the elections. But the intrusion heralded a new era in Ukraine that showed how geopolitical confrontation with Russia could give rise to a nebulous new cabal of cyberfoes, bent on undermining and embarrassing authorities trying to break with the Kremlin.

In the last two years, cyberattacks have hit Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the presidential administration. Military communications lines and secure databases at times were compromised, according to Ukrainian presidential and security officials. A steady flow of hacked government documents have appeared on the CyberBerkut website.

Ukraine offers a glimpse into the type of hybrid warfare that Western military officials are urgently preparing for: battles in which traditional land forces dovetail with cyberattackers to degrade and defeat an enemy. It also illustrates the difficulties that nations face in identifying and defending against a more powerful cyberfoe.

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No bums to throw out – The Economist Oct 24th 2015 | PORT-AU-PRINCE

A troubled country has the chance to take a step forward

FOR the capital of a country where recent election turnouts have been low, Port-au-Prince does not lack for political advertising. Lampposts, electricity poles, even the lintels of lottery shops are plastered with toothy photos of the 53 candidates who are competing to be Haiti’s president in elections that begin on October 25th. Hundreds more are vying for parliamentary and municipal seats.

Though teeming with would-be presidents, Haiti barely has any elected officials. Just 11 are in office in the entire country: the current president, Michel Martelly, and ten senators. Elections were delayed twice—in 2011 and 2013—and parliament was dissolved early this year, leaving Mr Martelly, who cannot run again, to govern by decree. This month’s vote is thus a step towards restoring a functioning elected government.

Whoever leads it will face huge challenges. More than five years after an earthquake flattened much of the capital, Haiti is hobbled by corruption and political instability, and still vulnerable to disasters. The biggest shortcomings are in education, electricity and governance, says Gilles Damais of the Inter-American Development Bank. Money to fix them is scarce. Income from foreign donors dropped from 12% of GDP in 2010 to 7% last year. The government’s domestic revenues were a scant $1.1 billion, or 13% of GDP, in 2013.

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Sanders goes on the attack at Iowa Democratic dinner – By ANNIE KARNI and GLENN THRUSH 10/24/15 08:06 PM EDT


He launches a new broadside on Hillary Clinton’s record, caution and character.


DES MOINES — Bernie Sanders is giving Hillary Clinton a pass on her “damn emails,” but he’s giving her hell on just about everything else.

On Saturday night, at the high-stakes Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Bernie Sanders launched a new, frontal attack on Hillary Clinton’s record, caution and character — a direct response to her recent surge in the the polls here and nationally, and fueled by her strong performance at the first Democratic debate earlier this month. The shift represents a gamble: Can a nice-guy candidate publicly dedicated to running on substance turn to attack mode with sacrificing his reputation as an authentic voice of the people?

The skirmish began even before each campaign’s supporters – hundreds of them, each with their own signs, noisemakers and pre-rehearsed chants, began filing into a drafty hall at the Hy-Vee Center in downtown Des Moines where the annual kingmaker’s ball takes place. At a pre-dinner rally, Bernie Sanders’ supporters flew a single-engine plane with the banner “FEEL THE BERN” directly over a Clinton rally headlined by the pop singer Katy Perry — who got more shout-outs from the candidate than Barack Obama, Joe Biden or Bill Clinton. During Clinton’s introduction at the dinner, Sanders supporters — many of them in their teen and twenties — tried to drown out her intro with cheers for the democratic socialist. And they filed out quietly when she took the stage to speak, a hint of how passionately they feel about Sanders and their ambivalence about Clinton.

The Vermont senator, as always, did not go after the frontrunner in a personal way or mention her by name. Instead, he delivered a fiery yet indirect indictment of her entire political career. In his 25-minute speech – backed up by the thundering chants of supporters chanting “Feel the Bern!” — he launched an attack on Clinton’s slowness to take a position on the Keystone pipeline: “this was not a complicated issue,” he said. He lambasted her for now opposing a trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that she once called the “gold standard” of trade deals.

“It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements,” Sanders said. And he reached back to Clinton’s 2002 vote to support the war in Iraq, an issue that plagued her eight years ago when she took the stage here. “When I came to that fork in the road I took the right road, even though it was not the popular road at the time,” he said.

Clinton, fresh off her steady, disciplined performance before the House Benghazi committee, doesn’t tend to shine in big set-piece, theater-in-the-round speeches, and Saturday was no exception. Compared to the passionate populist broadsides delivered by Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Clinton was more measured — except for the moments when she spoke about the struggles of Iowans she’s met while campaigning or her role as a gender pioneer.


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Extremely Iowa – By Jamelle Bouie OCT. 23 2015 3:21 PM

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during church services at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during church services at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

Iowa Republicans do more than endure fringe candidates—they embrace them. In Iowa, factional candidates excel and extremists find ground to run. In 1988, Pat Robertson took a strong second in the Iowa caucuses. In 1996, another Pat—Pat Buchanan—came close to toppling Bob Dole. In 2008, Mike Huckabee won the contest, and in 2012, Rick Santorum won a slim victory over Mitt Romney. And ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential contest, Iowa Republicans are poised to give their votes to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

.According to the latest poll from Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Register, Carson is ahead of the pack with 28 percent of the vote. But more interesting are the facts behind his rise. Iowans aren’t just charmed by his demeanor, his experience, and his inexperience as a politician and policymaker—although that’s definitely true—they also support his most controversial, and entirely ludicrous, ideas.

Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Iowa Register asked respondents which views were “very attractive,” “mostly attractive,” “mostly unattractive,” and “very unattractive.” It starts off as you would expect. Eighty-five percent of respondents say Carson’s lack of experience is mostly or very attractive; 88 percent say the same for his skill as a neurosurgeon, while 49 percent say it’s unattractive that he has little experience with foreign policy. Routine, so far.

But then it goes off the rails. Two years ago, at the Values Voter Summit, Carson said that the Affordable Care Act—designed to increase health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans—was the “worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery,” which trapped millions of people in brutal hereditary bondage for more than two centuries. American slavery was a disgraceful chapter in our history that still shapes the structure of our society. Obamacare, by contrast, has delivered insurance and health services to 17.6 million people.

What do Iowa Republicans think? Eighty-one percent say this makes him a “mostly” or “very” attractive candidate.

Last month, Carson voiced opposition to a hypothetical Muslim president. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said. This, despite the Constitution’s clear dictate on religious tests—they’re verboten. What do Iowa Republicans think? Seventy-seven percent say this makes him a “mostly” or “very” attractive candidate.