Archive

February 15th, 2016

NSA is massively reorganizing itself in a way that's going to hurt its credibility

    The National Security Agency has been having a tough time the last couple of years, as it takes the blame for widespread surveillance. It has just announced a major reorganization plan under which its Signals Intelligence (spying) and Information Assurance (domestic protection) directorates are going to be combined in a new Directorate of Operations. From an internal perspective, this is a more rational way to use resources. Spying and protecting U.S. military networks from spying are closer than you might think. From an external perspective, it is likely to damage the NSA's credibility still further. Here's why.

    The NSA has two big responsibilities

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Justice Department has few tools to fix Ferguson

    The Department of Justice must have expected that the Ferguson, Missouri, City Council would stall in accepting the terms of a consent decree over allegations that the city's police and courts have violated black residents' civil rights. The department had a 56-page complaint for a lawsuit at the ready, and filed it just a day after the council demanded several changes to the negotiated draft.

    Presumably, Ferguson won't want the embarrassment or the expense of fighting a federal lawsuit. The department is using force as a negotiating tactic, and Ferguson will have to fold.

    Yet the episode raises a problem with roots in the history of civil-rights enforcement. What should the Department of Justice or the courts do if a city like Ferguson won't accept a deal, and insists on litigating alleged civil-rights violations to completion?

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Job market bounces back from the Great Recession

    Did the Great Recession inflict permanent damage on the U.S. economy? Or was it just a deep hole that took a long time to climb out of? Evidence now says that it was mostly the latter.

    Based on how fast the U.S. recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed, the speed hasn't been too different from that of other recessions during the past 30 years. Research by Calculated Risk blogger Bill McBride comparing job losses and recoveries in various U.S. recessions shows that the trajectory of the employment recovery after the Great Recession has been about the same as the recoveries following the 2001 and 1990 recessions. The main difference is that the Great Recession started with a deeper, more severe drop. Interestingly, the current recovery has lasted longer than the post-2001 recovery -- eight years after 2001, the U.S. was already in another recession, while the economy is still expanding today.

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Analysis: Donald Trump represents the end of the end of history

    At least he's a leader.

    That's what - time to get used to these words - Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said about Vladimir Putin when he was reminded that the Russian president's critics in the press have a nasty habit of turning up dead. It was the sort of thing you might have heard in the 1930s about fascists who "knew how to get things done." Or in the 1970s about communists who seemed to be whipping us at the same time that we couldn't even figure out how to whip inflation.

    In other words, it's not new for our democracy to go through a crisis of confidence - just don't call it a malaise - when our economy does. What is new, though, is the kind of crisis our economy is in today. Now, things aren't as bad as they were during the Great Depression or even the Great Inflation, but they aren't as easy to turn around, either. Back then, fixing the economy meant fixing big-picture policies that had failed. It was, as economist John Maynard Keynes put it, a simple matter of "magneto trouble:" our economic engine would work just fine if we replaced a part here and pulled a lever there.

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Hillary, Bernie, and History

    It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

    That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

    Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

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Trump’s Impeachable Offense

    For anyone who cares deeply about being informed, watching Republican presidential debates can feel like a form of torture. But the program becomes more terrifying altogether when their ignorance is hitched to an endorsement of actual torture.

    At the latest GOP debate in New Hampshire, Donald Trump heartily endorsed waterboarding and other forms of torture, which he promised to reinstitute in national security interrogations if he wins the election. “I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump vowed.

    Trump’s position was condemned immediately by Republican Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about torture. McCain, who was brutally beaten as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, accused his fellow Republicans of “sacrificing our respect for human dignity” with their “loose talk” about instituting human rights abuses.

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Trump, Sanders didn't win the White House

    The pollsters got it right for a change. Donald Trump, the Republican outsider, won solidly in New Hampshire over a divided field, while Bernie Sanders, the Democratic insurgent, won in a landslide over Hillary Clinton.

    Sanders needed to win big if he had any chance at all of winning his party's nomination because New Hampshire played to all of his strengths. He is a senator from Vermont, the state next door. He did well among independents, who are allowed to vote in party primaries in New Hampshire. In many other states, the party primaries are open only to registered Democrats or Republicans, and that is expected to benefit the former secretary of State. Also, New Hampshire is largely white, so her strength with minority voters was not a factor.

    The big advantage for Sanders over the next few weeks is that we're about to have a media freak-out about Hillary Clinton and her chances. It will be largely unjustified. No, she will not sweep all 50 states, as Al Gore did in 2000, but nothing so far suggests her polling leads in coming primaries are phony.

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Thinking the unthinkable

    The unambiguous victories of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire presidential primaries confirm that establishment politics in both major parties are in crisis.

    Trump easily rebounded from his loss to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa, and Sanders emphatically built on his virtual tie there with Hillary Clinton, whipping her soundly in the Granite State.

    Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were the big losers. Cruz fell behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich as the GOP runner-up to Trump, along with Rubio, the third-place finisher in Iowa, who self-destructed with a robotic performance in that primary-eve New Hampshire debate.

    Ironically, the chief architect of Rubio's deflation was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who first cited the Florida senator's vulnerability, did not benefit much for his role as executioner. He finished sixth in the squabble to become the establishment alternative to Trump.

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The GOP Created Donald Trump

    The betting markets now say that the most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.

    He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Barack Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”

    It’s Donald Trump, of course. He’s smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill-informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity.

    So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?

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The Blind Spots of Dead White Men

    As the rest of the nation celebrates Black History Month this February, I’m taking a graduate level course I call “Dead White Men.”

    It’s actually a classic theory class that covers a number of influential thinkers, like free market theorist Adam Smith and the famous French observer of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville.

    It’s a good class. But the thinkers we’re studying are all dead white men.

    In fact, they weren’t just white and male. They were all members of an elite that was rich and formally educated.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with that: They were all great thinkers, and their contributions to human knowledge are indisputable. But their views of the world were developed based on their unique positions in society. As a result, they had some easy-to-recognize blind spots.

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