Mary Ann Nihart Elena and I are so sorry that we missed your birthday party and campaign launch. We were on a noble mission to help the family of a man dying of stomach cancer with a gift of school supplies for the kids and a couple of weeks of food supplies. We spent a lot of time with the family in Daly City. They are honest immigrants from Mexico who worked hard and have done well in the USA. (Donald Trump does not like people like this, by the way. ) Despite the sad ending that this man with three children faces, he was in good spirits and positive about the future. It really touched our hearts. It was a beautiful and an uplifting day.
Is there anything that might cause Donald Trump to win the US presidential election? That’s the question political pundits are asking obsessively these days as the main parties’ campaigns take increasingly unpredictable turns.
A month ago Trump was almost level with Hillary Clinton in the polls but, since then, a series of gaffes has caused his numbers to slide. This week, for example, an IBT poll suggests Clinton now has a 12-point lead. While this might indicate that the Democrats are cruising for victory, the election has been so uncertain in recent months that nobody dares take anything for granted.
So what might suddenly cause momentum to swing again? To my mind, there are at least three factors to watch. The most obvious is that Trump himself implements a change of course, becoming much more professional and effective in running his campaign. That is hard to believe right now but the key person to watch is Kellyanne Conway, a pollster recently brought in to serve as campaign manager. Highly respected in Republican circles and regarded as a very effective operator, she might just possibly end up turning the campaign around.
A second factor is whether a nasty external shock occurs. Trump, after all, is a candidate whose campaign is built on stoking up fear, in the mould of former president Richard Nixon. If, God forbid, a big terrorist attack occurs — or something else that causes panic — this might play into Trump’s hands, particularly if his campaign had already shifted momentum under Conway.
However, there is a third possibility that has gained less attention: cyber hacking. This summer, the Democratic National Committee revealed it had suffered a cyber attack and that many confidential internal documents had been stolen. CrowdStrike, the cyber security group employed by the DNC, said the culprits were Russia’s intelligence services. This was denied by Moscow, but backed up by other cyber security groups such as Mandiant and Fidelis Cybersecurity.
This is a bizarre turn of events, by any standards, not least because some 20,000 internal DNC emails have now been released via WikiLeaks and a blogging site called Guccifer 2.0. But matters may get worse. CrowdStrike says one Russian hacking group, given the nickname Cozy Bear, was in the DNC system for at least a year. It is unclear what material has been taken but cyber experts believe Cozy Bear holds extensive secret documents, including confidential memos detailing the negative traits of Democratic candidates in this year’s US elections. (It is standard practice for campaign managers to try to assemble all the dirt on their own candidates in advance, so they are prepared in case their opponents try to attack them.)
If this is true — like almost everything else in the cyber security sphere, very little can be conclusively proved — it seems that only a small portion of the sensitive material has emerged. So it is possible that the hackers will leak this in the coming months, in a targeted way, trying to cause maximum damage. This week, for example, Guccifer 2.0 leaked data about the tactics that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used in House races in Pennsylvania. This is the first time the hackers have tried to shape momentum in a local race. And if these leaks accelerate, they might stoke up more anti-Clinton feeling, particularly given the separate controversies surrounding Clinton’s personal email server. Or so the gossip goes.
On one level, this theory sounds almost fantastical and it is entirely possible that speculation will die away in a few months and that Clinton will romp to victory.
But the very fact that Washington is abuzz with these rumours right now illustrates two key points. First, just how strange this current election campaign has become on both sides and, second, the degree to which the bizarre has almost become the norm in US politics this past year. In this election we face a world of James Bond meetsAlice in Wonderland, where political boundaries are stealthily shifting, day-by-day. Stand by for more surprises — from Cozy Bear, or anyone else.
Illustration by Ulla Puggaard
Students about to head off to university have more to worry about than the prospect of loading themselves with debt. It is also the time of your life when your finances come under surveillance.
Credit scoring companies will be watching your every move from the age of 18 onwards, and years down the line, they will be the ones telling your bank whether to let you have that mortgage or not.
There are three major credit scorers in the UK — but it is likely that most millennials are blissfully unaware of them. They were not something that concerned me until, in my early twenties, I tried to switch from using a pay-as-you-go mobile contract to a fully fledged grown-up pay-monthly smartphone — only to be told I could not.
The computer, apparently, had said no. No further explanation was available. It seemed ridiculous — all right, I had a few unpaid university library fines but I’d always paid my rent on time (sort of) and I’d never even had a credit card.
So I just gave up. It seemed boring — and it was only when a colleague was turned down for a mortgage thanks to a years-old unpaid water bill that I realised my credit score really did matter. I was struck by the opacity. Who are these credit scoring companies? How do they have so much power? And what exactly do they do anyway?
The idea that there were people out there watching my every move and making what seemed quite a moral judgment about my financial trustworthiness was grim. But it is important to note that with a bit of time and effort, you can basically game the system.
In this age of unlimited data you might expect a credit check firm to be stalking you quite comprehensively. Millennials put an enormous amount of information out there and a whole host of apps will merrily download photos from your phone and demand access to your entire email inbox. Seeing a targeted ad in your news feed is often quite spooky. But while our social media posts can be a guide to our spending preferences, are they a reliable gauge of our creditworthiness?
Credit scoring companies in the US and China are already experimenting with data from social media profiles. Counting how many times someone says “wasted” in their Facebook status can help to predict whether they will repay their debts on time, according to a trial by US credit analyst FICO.
And in China, who you are friends with can also boost your credit score. Peer-to-peer lender Jubao revealed last week that it was more likely to give borrowers the thumbs up if they were Facebook friends with celebrities. “You must be to some extent trustworthy … since otherwise you wouldn’t have such friends,” the company’s co-founder explained.
The good news is that UK credit agencies are not there yet — although it probably won’t be long. Hello Soda, a Manchester-based start-up, is one company that gathers information about potential borrowers from social media. But while lenders might be keen to buy this data, a study by credit agency Equifax last year showed that most consumers were horrified by the idea of granting such access.
So why do credit scoring companies want to befriend millennials in this way? Their problem is that the pool of data they draw from when assessing credit risk is still quite small. They mostly want to see your record when it comes to managing credit — but this means looking exclusively at utility bills and any credit cards you might have.
Rent isn’t included because, unlike mortgage repayments to a bank, it is tricky for the agencies to track payments to or between individuals. With at least one agency, I’m facing a problem common to a lot of people under 30, which is that my credit file is “too thin”. This just means that the credit scorers don’t have enough data points to produce a credit score confidently.
There are some things you can do to get around this problem, and it is best to start early — when you move into student halls or shared housing. If it is possible to get your name on to utilities bills, do so — but obviously make sure you pay them on time.
Whatever you do though, if you share a house or a flat with someone, don’t set up a joint bank account to deal with the bills. Behind the scenes, in the weird and wonderful world of credit scoring, this binds you to your housemates for years, and means you could affect each other’s credit scores long after your friendship has ceased. It’s one thing to move out because Mickey keeps peeing in the shower — but imagine the bitterness you’d feel if you couldn’t get a mortgage because Mickey hadn’t paid his Barclaycard bill?
Cancel bills when you move house — utilities companies are the bane of renters’ lives. Most people I know have spent many hours trying to persuade various gas and water companies that they shouldn’t be liable for the previous tenants’ bills.
I discovered with annoyance that one of the black marks on my own credit file was the fact that I’d never had a credit card. So, surely this proves that I’m a prudent individual worth lending to? Apparently it doesn’t work like that. The first thing to know is that you start on zero. The premise is that you’re unreliable and it’s up to you to prove otherwise. Actually, Equifax told me, credit agencies want to see that you’ve managed your credit well in the past. It’s one of the horrible traps of the scoring system — you have to get a credit card to prove you are worthy of holding a credit card.
If students can trust themselves not to go on a spending spree, getting a card now will do wonders for your future score. But another infuriating fact is that those of us with a poor credit rating will have to pay more for credit. So make sure you pay it off in full every month to avoid high interest charges.
There’s also another very easy and cheap way to improve your score — make sure you are registered to vote. This will help credit agencies verify that you live where you say you do.
Check your score occasionally and correct any mistakes — and remember that mistakes can happen. I’ve long had an unused overdraft facility which should work in my credit score’s favour, but it still isn’t showing up on my report. And if you have an erroneous utility bill, credit scoring firms can contact companies on your behalf — but only if you subscribe to their service.
And that is the other annoying thing — the big agencies charge for credit reports. You can reduce the cost if you remember to cancel the monthly subscription that most push you into once you’ve downloaded the report. But there are also a host of free services appearing — like ClearScore — which have taken up the mantle of teaching millennials about their credit score in the hope that they will use their website to obtain new credit.
Hundreds of athletes performed outstanding feats over the two weeks of the Rio Olympics, but three names stand out. Hundreds left their contemporaries trailing in their wake, but these three had every competitor ever to perform their sport soundly beaten: Phelps, Bolt and Biles.
Here’s why the swimmer, the sprinter and the gymnast will be remembered as all-time greats, not just the stars of the 2016 Games.
Swimming dominated the first week, and in the aquatic centre a familiar face was out to demonstrate that his talents were undimmed by advancing years.
Michael Phelps is a story of enduring class. He had skipped both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships, but on his return to the world stage at the age of 31 — male swimmers tend to peak in their early 20s — he was back to his best.
Some detractors have suggested that Phelps is only as widely and loudly celebrated as he is because swimming offers so many events, while track athletes — for example — have comparatively fewer opportunities to win gold.
But to make this accusation is to confuse the number of events in which Phelps excels, with the number of events the typical elite swimmer can win.
Despite sitting out the last two World Championships, the “Baltimore Bullet” has 28 golds in individual events at elite level. Ryan Lochte, a former reality-television star, is second, with 12, and the average number of world and Olympic titles won by male swimmers with at least one gold by the age of 31 is just 2.2.
In short, Phelps’s gold medal-winning trajectory makes it look like he is taking part in a different sport. Great swimmers are usually world class in one stroke. If it’s the right stroke, they might win the medley, too. But Phelps has multiple individual golds in butterfly, freestyle and medley (plus a silver in backstroke at the 2006 Pan-Pacific Championships).
Picking up where Phelps looks set to leave off is his compatriot Katie Ledecky. After arriving on the elite stage with a gold medal in London as a 15-year-old, Rio was Ledecky’s chance to step up from prodigy to superstar. And step up she did, winning individual golds in the 200, 400 and 800m freestyle.
Ledecky could well chase down many of Phelps’s records over time — she has more top-level golds to her name than Phelps did at the same age — but for now she is the owner of a record of her own — the 19-year-old has lined up in 11 individual finals at Olympic and Worlds level in her career to date. And the number of gold medals? Eleven.
One legitimate criticism of the praise for Ledecky and Phelps is that they have more opportunities to win world and Olympic titles than other great swimmers did decades ago. At the 1972 Olympics Mark Spitz was almost as dominant as Phelps at his peak, but the World Aquatics Championships had yet to be established.
We can adjust for the impact of today’s increased opportunities by treating them as “medal inflation”. The method I am using here is crude, but mathematically sound: if a swimmer had 10 opportunities to win gold over a four-year period in 1970, but would have 20 today, each gold medal they won during that period is multiplied by two.
Spitz and Roland Matthes, his East German contemporary, rise into second and third place, but nobody gets close to Phelps.
Once attention moved from the swimming pool to the athletics track at the midpoint of the Rio Games, there was no question who would be the star. Usain Bolt did not disappoint, adding the “triple double” — three successive Olympic titles in both the 100m and 200m — to his list of unprecedented achievements.
Like Phelps, Bolt now stands ahead of any other sprinter before him in terms of the number of elite international gold medals he has in individual events.
The only other who comes close to Bolt for weight of gold medals is Carl Lewis, whose raw speed allowed him to win golds for the US in not only the 100m and 200m, but also four consecutive Olympic titles in the long jump. If that combination sounds like something that could only happen in a previous era, think again: Tianna Bartoletta won gold in the women’s 4x100m and long jump in Rio.
But as with Phelps, we should probably be adjusting for medal inflation. The World Athletics Championships started later than their aquatic cousin, and only in 2001 became the regular, biennial event we know today.
After running the necessary calculations, Lewis overtakes Bolt. The American was already the world’s top sprinter and long jumper two years before the inaugural Worlds, and if we up-weight his early golds to take account of this, he reaches 17.5 golds in 2016 money, as it were.
But to reduce Bolt to his medal count is to do him a disservice. As impressive as the number of his victories is their margin, and his versatility across the different sprints.
When he set the current 100m world record of 9.58s in 2009, Bolt’s time was fully 4.3 standard deviations (SD) better than the mean of the 50 quickest men’s times that year. His 19.3s 200m in 2008 was a huge 4.6 SD better than the top 50s average (even though he ran quicker a year later, the relative margin was smaller).
And even though his focus on the shorter sprints means Bolt has not run the 400m since 2007, his personal best there is just 0.6 SD worse than the average of the top 50 athletes specialising at that distance.
Another of the stars of Rio boasts a similar combination of versatility and excellence. US sprinter Allyson Felix won golds in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays and only missed out on individual gold in the 200m by a dive’s length.
At 3.8 SD above the top 50 average, Felix has the best ever relative performance in the women’s 200m** and ninth best ever in the 400m. Her fifth place finish in the final of the 100m at London 2012 was 1.5 SD above the average for the 50 fastest women that year. Felix’s average of 2.73 SD better than the top 50 in each event puts her only narrowly behind Bolt and Michael Johnson.
While swimming and athletics may be the blue riband events of the first and second weeks respectively, gymnastics also traditionally has a high profile, and its undoubted star was Simone Biles.
Since her debut at elite level in the 2013 World Championships, Biles has been regarded not as the best of the current crop of US gymnasts, but potentially the best ever.
To those who first heard of her two weeks ago, it might seem like she had just arrived on to the scene, but her three individual gold medals in Rio take Biles to 11 solo titles at Worlds and Olympic level, already level with the greats of women’s artistic gymnastics.
Where Larisa Latynina and Svetlana Khorkina took eight and nine years respectively to reach that total, Biles has managed it in just three, and at the much younger age of 19.
But that leads neatly to the next task: as in swimming and athletics, the frequency of championships has changed over the years, meaning an adjustment is in order if we are to compare medal hauls over different eras.
Biles’s tally looks slightly less impressive once we inflate the totals of Latynina and Věra Čáslavská, both of whom competed in the 1960s when the World Championships took place every four years, instead of every one or two years as they do today.
But this highlights another difficulty in making cross-generational comparisons in gymnastics: the increasing technical level of the routines, and changes in the equipment used.
We can see a proxy for this in the changing age distribution of gold medallists over time. Where today’s elite women gymnasts tend to win the bulk of their titles before their 20th birthday, the likes of Latynina were competing at the highest level well into their late-twenties, and beyond.
Speaking in 2012 about why women gymnasts in the mid-1900s had longer careers, Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast magazine, told Sports Illustrated that “They were doing what are considered primitive gymnastics today … there are kids who are five years old who are doing those skills already.”
So perhaps Biles’s tally should be compared only to gymnasts from the modern era. Her next target in that case would be Khorkina, who last competed in the 2004 Athens Games. Biles has yet to commit to competing at either the Worlds or Olympics in future — the huge and highly specialised physical demands of women’s gymnastics today mean many retire in their early-twenties — but the extent of her superiority means she would have a better chance than most at adding to her total up to and at Tokyo 2020.
One more gold would make Biles the most decorated gymnast of all. Several more would surely make her the greatest, regardless of my medal inflation pseudo-science.
Would you have done this analysis differently? Can you think of better ways of dealing with medal inflation? Would you in fact have stopped short of embarking on this endeavour altogether? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter.
**Excluding athletes who have served a doping ban at any time.
On the CBS news this morning was a story of a 29 year-old deaf man shot dead by a North Carolina state trooper. This victim was not black or poor. The shooting victim was married and had a one-year old baby. He was not armed. This is a new low in police shootings!!!!!! Have we reached a point like exhausted soldiers in a war zone who shoot when there is any noise or movement.
The family of the victim will suffer. The state trooper will lose his job and,perhaps go to jail. The taxpayers of North Carolina will pay millions in compensation to the victim’s family. This means important social programs will have to be cut to pay for this stupidity.
When Communists moved in to take over a country they would first destroy the confidence of the local population in their law enforcement agencies.
This senseless killing of innocents has to stop!!!!!!!
Costco’s credit card nightmare just got even worse
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