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Sept. 26 2016 9:01 PM

Can Trump Resist Showing Up in the Post-Debate Spin Room?

It would be untraditional for a presidential nominee to come to the “spin room” on behalf of himself following a presidential debate.

Sept. 26 2016 8:30 PM

Watch Tonight's First Presidential Debate on CBS Live

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off tonight at Hofstra University in the long-anticipated first presidential debate. The nominees will take the stage at 9 p.m. ET, and you can watch the whole thing on the CBS live stream above.

The debate will mark the first time Trump has had to defend his so-called policies in a group smaller than four. As Slate’s Jim Newell so aptly put it, he will have nowhere to hide. The showdown will be moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who has been advised not to fact check the candidates in real time by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Will Trump say something racist, sexist, or related to the size of his hands? Will Clinton prove that her vocal chords are intact after her recent bout of pneumonia? Stay tuned.

Sept. 26 2016 8:15 PM

Debate Live Blog: Welcome to the Terrordome

As Slate’s Andrew Kahn notes, there are many reasons to be terrified of Monday night’s first presidential debate. In one poll, a full one-third of registered voters said it would be key to helping them decide whether or not they’d cast a vote that might help make Donald Trump the next president of the United States of America. Scary right? Well, we’ll get through this together: Slate’s crack staff of bloggers, on-the-ground reporters, and editors will be chiming in throughout the night with commentary, analysis, and news updates about how doomed we really all should feel. Follow below for full coverage and remember: There’s nothing to fear but the prospect that this man will have the nuclear codes.

Sept. 26 2016 7:57 PM

Colombia Signs Historic Peace Deal With FARC Rebels

After four years of negotiations, the Colombian government and the FARC rebels officially agreed to a peace deal Monday, bringing the end to the 50-year conflict within sight. The agreement will bring the rebel group into the political process, in return for the cessation of guerilla violence that has killed some 220,000 people and displaced millions more in Latin America’s longest running conflict.

The signing ceremony is a big step towards ending hostilities that have waned in recent years, but still simmer in certain parts of the country. There are political hurdles that remain before the pact becomes law. The peace deal now will go before the Colombian people for a vote in a referendum scheduled for October 2. The FARC rebels have voted unanimously in favor of the agreement. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has backed the political compromise that includes amnesty provisions for former-fighters as part of a transitional justice regime, but there are many in Colombia who see the settlement as far too lenient in its handling of the Marxist guerilla group that terrorized the country for decades.

Polls taken in recent months show that the Colombian people signing off on the deal is no a sure thing. “No one should doubt that we are moving into politics without arms," FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez said during the signing ceremony. "Let us all be prepared to disarm our hearts."

Sept. 26 2016 7:03 PM

A Tribute to Debate Moderator Lester Holt’s Passion for Playing the Jazz Bass

There's been a lot of talk, in the lead-up to tonight's presidential debate on Long Island, about whether moderator and NBC anchor Lester Holt should fact-check Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if/when they get a little evasive with the truth about their use of personal email at the State Department (Hillary) or tell grandiose, paranoid lies about everything (D. Trump). For what it's worth, Jonathan Chait makes a persuasive case here that such instant fact-checking would not ultimately help liberal candidates as much as their supporters think it would, but I'm not actually here to talk about Lester Holt's role as a fact-checker. I'm here to say that there has not been nearly enough discussion, in the lead-up to tonight's debate, of the passion that Lester Holt has for laying down tasty licks and grooves as an amateur jazz bassist.

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Screen shot/Making Music

That's our guy! Holt told Making Music magazine that he's self-taught and got his first instrument at a pawn shop. He appears to be comfortable playing multiple styles; here, he's backing some small-combo cats at an intimate event in Harlem:

A beep a bop a doo bop! Here he is spiffing up a spiffed-up and funked-out version of the Nightly News theme song with the legendary Roots crew on The Tonight Show:

Skeedely-dee! And here he is jumping in on some honky-tonk blues in 2014 at Memphis' Sun Studio:

Scat-syllable jokes aside, jazz is fun and music is good and it's good that Lester Holt has fun playing music, in my opinion!

Sept. 26 2016 5:53 PM

Today's Trump Apocalypse Watch: Aaarrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

The polls that are coming out now, with the first presidential debate hours away? They're tied. FiveThirtyEight says that if the election were held today, there is only a 52.4 percent chance that Hillary Clinton would win.

Put another way, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SLKADFLKSADJFLKSLKSDJNFOJROIJ4#$WLKNW823#SD#@$@#$%$

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Sept. 26 2016 5:22 PM

Can We Just Say That Covering This Debate Is a Total Scam?

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—I'm told this is a tradition with the Commission on Presidential Debates, but damned if there isn't something altogether right in the fact that the first debate of our Trumpish election season is by all appearances a total scam.

A workspace in the media filing center at Hofstra University costs $75. It is not a luxury workspace. It is a folding chair with some table space.

To purchase access to the Internet, you have two options. A hard ethernet connection costs $325 dollars. A Wi-Fi connection, which can service five individual devices, costs a more modest $200 dollars. Most reporters have no access to the actual debate hall, but can watch the debates … on television, like everyone else. There are many televisions in the filing center, in addition to the main draw of the “spin room,” a political journalism term referring to the celebrated space where surrogates come to lie to reporters after the debate.

A lot of reporters will have brought their own personal Wi-Fi dongles—Mi-Fis, personal hotspots, etc.— to events like these. But around 3:45 this afternoon, a funny announcement came over the loudspeakers saying use of wireless routers, Mi-Fis, mobile phone hotspots, and the like were “strictly prohibited.” Users were told to turn off all such devices and purchase Wi-Fi from Hofstra University debate organizers.

I asked a tech manager on the scene if what I’d just heard was true. He said it was. But how would it be enforced? He said that Cisco would work to block the signals of all such devices. (It’s unclear how effective this is. One reporter in the building was connected to a Mi-Fi device and said it was just slower than usual.) The tech manager asked me if I knew how to get around this, though, which got me hoping he was going to give me some sort of inside dirt. Instead the workarounds he suggested were … buying either the $200 Wi-Fi or $325 ethernet. Your intrepid Slate reporter, of course, had already resigned himself to two hundred and seventy-five dollars in total charges earlier in the day.

There is a lovely free food and beer tent outside the filing center, though, sponsored by Belgian-owned corporation Anheuser-Busch.

Sept. 26 2016 3:55 PM

Lawyer Wearing Nazi Paraphernalia Wounds Nine in Houston Shooting Rampage

Monday morning, a man in Houston wounded nine people in a random mass shooting near a shopping center. (None have died; the shooter was killed by responding police.) The shooter is believed to have been a lawyer named Nathan Desai who was having trouble in his career and who had recently threatened an individual doing roofing work at his apartment complex. He also apparently had a thing for Nazism. From a Houston TV station:

Law enforcement sources said that the shooter was wearing what appeared to be an antique German uniform with Swastikas on it. ... Investigators also combed through the shooter's apartment, where they found what appeared to be Nazi paraphernalia inside, according to a law enforcement source.

The car that Desai was driving when he opened fire was a Porsche, which along with the details about his job would seem to indicate that he doesn't fit the loner/fringe weirdo profile of many racial extremists. More to come on this story, one assumes.

Sept. 26 2016 3:45 PM

Is America’s Terrible Election Prolonging Syria’s Suffering?

As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prepare to face off for their first televised debate Monday night, dozens of airstrikes have been pounding rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria, killing an estimated 400 people in the past week. There appears to be little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough to revive the Syrian cease-fire that collapsed last week, and the 5-year-old conflict is likely to come up in Monday night’s debate. While U.S. voters are paying closer than normal attention to foreign policy in this election, what the candidates say about the war will be of even greater interest to those in Syria. At the moment, it looks like the future of this election may be the most important determining factor in the war going forward.

Though Secretary of State John Kerry is still holding out hopes for reviving the cease-fire, it seems the Obama administration has mostly given up on the U.S. playing any positive role in resolving Syria’s civil war. Meanwhile, regime and anti-government rebel forces have reached a stalemate around Aleppo, the country’s most important battlefield. The Russian-backed government doesn’t appear to have the manpower to retake a significant amount of territory from the rebels and has opted instead to use its airpower advantage to bomb rebel-held areas, with civilians bearing the brunt of devastation. Anti-government rebels make periodic gains, but are hampered by a lack of supplies and infighting within their fractious coalition. Neither side is ready to give up, but neither has victory within sight.

One big thing, maybe the only big thing, that could change that is a new American president. Clinton doesn’t share her old boss’ skittishness about foreign entanglements. As secretary of state, she pushed (successfully) for the air campaign that toppled Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and (unsuccessfully) for arming Syria’s rebels early in the conflict, a step she has argued would have prevented the situation from getting so out of hand. She has broken with the Obama administration to call for the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria, a step Turkey and other governments backing the rebels have also proposed. This could all just be campaign rhetoric, of course, but for a beleaguered Syrian opposition looking for any sign of hope, Clinton may be it.

A Trump victory, on the other hand, would likely be a shot in the arm for the Assad regime. Trump, as has been well-documented, is an admirer of Assad’s main international patron, Vladimir Putin, and has supported the Russian president’s intervention in Syria. He has said he has no interest in removing Assad, and has more or less endorsed the Russian/regime argument that all anti-Assad rebels are indistinguishable from terrorist groups like ISIS.

Given the stark contrast and the fact that polls are tightening, if I were making decisions about strategy in the presidential palace in Damascus or a rebel bunker in Aleppo, I would see little reason to stop fighting before the election. Why make any concessions now, when you could be in a much stronger position come January? Even if sanity returns to the polls and a Clinton victory looks more assured, the regime would likely only ramp up airstrikes in hopes that there simply won’t be any rebels left for Clinton to support. The New York Times’ Anne Barnard suggested this scenario earlier this month, writing that the various actors in Syria “are scrambling as the clock runs out on the tenure of President Obama” to “establish facts on the ground.”

Candidates do sometimes tend to overestimate their own impact on world events. Despite what innumerable Republicans running for office have told you, the Iranians did not actually release their American hostages because they were afraid of Ronald Reagan. But the uncertainty of the U.S. presidential election cycle can certainly play on the decision-making of foreign leaders.

One analogous case is the 1968 election, dominated by debate over U.S. policy in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese had launched the Tet Offensive in January of that year, convincing many Americans that the war was unwinnable and leading, in part, to Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election. But by October, peace talks in Paris were making more progress than expected, which could have allowed Johnson to halt the bombing of North Vietnam and give a major boost to the Democrats and their candidate, Hubert Humphrey. There have been media reports for years, corroborated in an interview a few years ago with a former Nixon aide, that the Nixon campaign encouraged the South Vietnamese to drop out of the talks, assuring them they would get a much better deal with Nixon in office. Recently released tapes make it clear that Johnson believed Nixon had intentionally scuttled the talks and accused him of “treason.” (The Vietnam example is also a cautionary tale for anyone pinning their war hopes on a U.S. election outcome. Given how the war ultimately turned out for them, the South Vietnamese probably should have taken the deal when they had the chance.)

Of course, there’s no evidence that either campaign is actually communicating with their favored proxies in Syria (though it’s not hard to imagine how those backchannels would operate if they did exist). But they probably don’t need to. It’s clear to anyone watching that Obama has no plans to make any big changes to Syria policy before he leaves office, and that things might change significantly—one way or another—next year. Unfortunately, that means that all the incentives are to keep up the killing until then.

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