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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.6.16

09/06/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Climate: "President Barack Obama has announced the U.S. will formally join a sweeping global emissions-cutting accord reached last year, boosting efforts to bring the plan into effect by the end of 2016. The Paris Agreement could well be remembered as 'the moment we finally decided to save our planet,' Obama said on Saturday in advance of the Group of 20 summit."

* Laos: "Acknowledging the scars of a secret war, Barack Obama on Tuesday said the United States has a 'moral obligation' to help Laos heal and vowed to reinvigorate relations with a country with rising strategic importance to the US."

* Afghanistan: "Twin bombings near the Afghan Defense Ministry killed at least 24 people on Monday, including two security force generals, in an attack claimed by the Taliban."
 
* Syria: "A string of explosions across Syria, most of them targeting government checkpoints, killed at least 40 people on Monday as talks between the United States and Russia on a cease-fire in the war failed."
 
* Someone wants attention again: "North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast Monday, South Korea's military said, in a show of force timed to the G-20 economic summit in China. North Korea regularly engages in missile and rocket tests, especially when international attention is turned to Northeast Asia."
 
* Chicago has already seen more murders this year than all of last year: "Thirteen people were shot to death in Chicago over the Labor Day weekend as the city logged its 500th homicide of the year according to data collected by the Tribune."
 
* Russia: "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said."
 
* Earthquake: "A 5.6-magnitude earthquake rattled Oklahoma on Saturday, damaging buildings and tying for the strongest temblor ever recorded in the state, which has experienced a rash of earthquake activity in the past decade that U.S. seismologists have tied to the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling."
 
* Filipino voters may not have chosen wisely: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed regret Tuesday over his crude remark while referring to President Barack Obama -- a rare display of contrition by a politician whose wide arc of profanities has unabashedly targeted world figures including the pope."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks at a sheet of notes and talking points as he speaks during a rally in Eugene, Ore., May 6, 2016. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP)

Trump campaign's 'black box' leaves key questions unanswered

09/06/16 12:35PM

The Associated Press had an interesting report last week just how little work Donald Trump and his team have done when it comes to "the nitty gritty of outlining what he would do as president."
From the start, Trump has never been the kind of candidate to pore over thick policy books. Indeed, he has mocked Clinton on the subject.
 
"She's got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day. Nothing's ever going to happen. It's just a waste of paper," he told Time Magazine in June. "My voters don't care and the public doesn't care. They know you're going to do a good job once you're there."
 
To date, Trump's campaign has posted just seven policy proposals on his website. There are 38 on Clinton's site, ranging from efforts to cure Alzheimer's disease to Wall Street and criminal justice reform.
It led CNN's Brian Stelter to flag an interesting detail over the weekend that I hadn't seen elsewhere: "Trump's site has 9,000 words of policy proposals. Clinton's site: 112,735 words."
 
Clinton herself is certainly aware of the discrepancy, recently telling voters, "I've laid out the best I could, the specific plans and ideas that I want to pursue as your president because I have this old-fashioned idea. When you run for president, you ought to tell people what you want to do as their president."
 
According to her Republican rival, this is an antiquated model to be avoided.
 
MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a series of tweets on this earlier today, and it's worth checking them out. Chris noted, for example, that Politico ran a fairly routine profile on Clinton's tech policy advisers, which stood out largely because there is no comparable group on Team Trump, which has made a deliberate decision not to build any intellectual infrastructure.
 
"[U]ltimately a Trump Presidency is a complete and total black box," Chris concluded. "No one, probably not even Trump, knows what the hell it looks like."

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.6.16

09/06/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Hillary Clinton's campaign unveiled a new ad this morning, highlighting Donald Trump's rhetoric criticizing veterans and the military. Note the cameo towards the end from former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).
 
* Asked yesterday whether or not he believes President Obama was born in the United States, Trump replied, "I don't talk about it." Apparently, that's supposed to end the discussion.
 
* Trump told reporters yesterday he "expects" to participate in all three debates and believes he has "an obligation" to be there. The Republican added that only a natural disaster or comparable crisis would change his plans. The first debate is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University -- 20 days from today.
 
* In New Hampshire, the latest The WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, found Clinton leading Trump, 43% to 32%.
 
* On a related note, it'll be a four-way contest in New Hampshire: Gary Johnson and Jill Stein have qualified for the ballot in the Granite State.
 
* In a curious choice of words, Trump told reporters yesterday that American jobs "have been taken like Grant took Richmond." Care to wager on whether or not Trump came up with that comparison on his own?
 
* Pastor Mark Burns, a prominent Trump supporter, was caught by CNN wildly exaggerating his professional and academic background, and Burns acknowledged the wrongdoing in a statement issued late Friday.
Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds a rally with US Vice President Joe Biden at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

What does it mean to 'look presidential'?

09/06/16 11:00AM

Campaigning in Cleveland yesterday, Donald Trump unveiled a line of attack against Hillary Clinton that seemed fairly new for him. "Does she look presidential, fellas?" he asked. "Give me a break."
 
Don't brush past the use of the word "fellas" too quickly. It's as if the Republican presidential hopeful believed men in the audience would understand his concern in a specific way -- that women would not.
 
ABC News' David Muir asked the GOP nominee about this last night:
MUIR: Let me ask you. You've often talked about Hillary Clinton's stamina. You even said she doesn't "look presidential."
 
TRUMP: I really do believe that.
 
MUIR: But what do you mean by that?
 
TRUMP: Well, I just don't think she has a presidential look and you need a presidential look.
Muir pressed on, asking if Trump was trying to make some kind of argument about "aesthetics," prompting the Republican to respond, "I'm talking about general." Trump then changed the subject, emphasizing how impressed he is with his own "temperament."
 
Perhaps now would be a good time for a conversation about what a president "looks like."
Voting booths are set up for early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

With Labor Day over, latest polling points to changing 2016 race

09/06/16 10:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was fairly specific about when we'd see Donald Trump catch up to Hillary Clinton in the polls. "[B]y Labor Day or thereafter," he told ABC News, "I think you're going to be back to an even race."
 
Well, Labor Day, sometimes seen as the unofficial start of the campaign's homestretch, was yesterday. Is it an even race? That depends on which polls you're inclined to believe.
Hillary Clinton's national lead over Donald Trump remains steady at 6 points, according to the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll.
 
Clinton currently enjoys 48 percent support while Trump maintains 42 percent -- the same margin as last week.
And while that may seem in line with expectations, these results are at odds with a new CNN poll that shows Trump actually leading Clinton among likely voters, 49% to 48%, in a head-to-head match-up. It's the first major national survey that shows the Republican ahead since mid-July -- when a previous CNN poll also showed Trump with a narrow advantage right after his nominating convention.
 
In this case, the controversial GOP candidate's standing is fueled in part by perceptions that Trump is "the more honest and trustworthy of the two major candidates." No, seriously, that's what the CNN report said.
 
The Washington Post, meanwhile, partnered with Survey Monkey on new state-based polling, unveiled this morning, which pointed to results that should probably be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the report showed Trump leading in Ohio, but trailing Clinton in Texas.
 
There's a reason it's wise to stick to averages, folks.
EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers are seen in Washington, Aug. 24, 2016. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton takes aim at increases in drug prices

09/06/16 09:00AM

The recent controversy over EpiPen price hikes has renewed interest in what, if anything, policymakers can do to help consumers deal with increases in drug prices. To her credit, Hillary Clinton unveiled a new proposal late last week about a larger governmental role. Slate did a nice job summarizing the presidential candidate's plan:
As president, Clinton would create a task force of regulators with the power to decide whether price increases on old, essential medicines and devices were reasonable given product improvements and the amount of competition in the market. If not, the task force would have the power to mete out punishments to companies that were trying to profiteer, potentially with fines.
In fact, as some reports emphasized, the same plan would empower federal officials to purchase alternative versions of the medication, and make it available to consumers at a low cost, if the task force considers a price hike excessive.
 
Why did Slate's report characterize Clinton's proposal as "surprisingly bold"? Because if implemented, her plan would dramatically change the relationship between the public sector and the pharmaceutical industry.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump tries to explain away Florida AG controversy

09/06/16 08:00AM

The story of Donald Trump's improper contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) has been percolating for months, and yesterday, the Republican presidential hopeful addressed the story directly. The Washington Post reported:
Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution in 2013 to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University. [...]
 
"I never spoke to her, first of all. She's a fine person, beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She's a fine person. Never spoken to her about it, never," Trump said Monday while campaigning in Ohio. "Many of the attorney generals [sic] turned that case down because I'll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her."
Let's take a minute to review how we reached this point, because some of Trump's explanation is problematic.
 
In 2013, Bondi, the conservative Florida A.G., briefly considered joining a multi-state suit against "Trump University," but she dropped the investigation after the Trump Foundation made a $25,000 contribution towards her re-election campaign.
 
While Trump insisted yesterday that he never spoke to Bondi directly, there's some evidence to the contrary: as the Post's report noted, a consultant on Bondi's re-election campaign "told the Associated Press in June that Bondi spoke with Trump and solicited the donation herself."
 
Complicating matters is the nature of the contribution: Trump didn't write the check himself; he made the $25,000 donation through his charitable foundation, which cannot legally support political campaigns. Trump's operation then misreported the contribution to the IRS, ultimately having to pay a fine.
 
Consider the series of events:
HI-SEAS, short for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, took place atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.

Week in Geek - Mars on Earth edition

09/04/16 10:45AM

In case you missed it, last Sunday six people walked outside on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii for the first time in a year without wearing a spacesuit. Why would you wear a spacesuit in Hawaii, you ask? Because Mars.

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) experiment is an attempt to simulate a long-duration Mars environment here on Earth. Long before The Martian, scientists and engineers have been researching what it would take for humans to travel to Mars and to live and work on its surface. That means not only what is required physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. HI-SEAS is primarily focused on behavioral research in order to better understand how to select a team of astronauts that can work effectively in an isolated and confining environment.

The six team members of this year-long study (three women and three men) lived in a habitat of only 1,200 square feet with each crew member having only a closet sized area to themselves. To simulate living on Mars, the crew had to go through spacesuit and airlock procedures anytime they wanted to exit or re-enter the facility, just like an astronaut would. They also ate a lot of freeze-dried meat and dealt with a 20-minute delay in all communications with the outside world. The biggest factor they were unable to simulate is the reduced gravity of Mars (roughly 1/3rd of Earth).

Potentially one of the coolest things they had, which current astronauts don't yet benefit from, was virtual reality (VR). Crew members were able to virtually experience messages sent from home as well as construct their own virtual environments. (I can definitely see that coming in handy when you need an escape.)

If you want to read more about HI-SEAS and what this crew had to say about their experience, I recommend this article by Nadia Drake.

Here's some more geek from the week:

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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