Archive

November 7th, 2016

President Havoc

    This is no ordinary election. Time for a reminder of what's at stake:

 

    Climate policy and the clean-energy economy: For anyone who accepts the scientific consensus that global warming poses a clear and present danger, there is only one choice. Hillary Clinton will continue along the path laid out by President Obama and other world leaders. Donald Trump has claimed, ridiculously, that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

    For the first time, the three nations most responsible for spewing heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- China, the United States and India -- have all formally agreed to curb emissions. The landmark Paris agreement is the biggest and most important step taken to date. Clinton would honor the accord; Trump would renounce it on his first day in office.

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Your WiFi-connected thermostat can take down the whole internet. We need new regulations.

    Late last month, popular websites like Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and PayPal went down for most of a day. The distributed denial-of-service attack that caused the outages, and the vulnerabilities that made the attack possible, was as much a failure of market and policy as it was of technology. If we want to secure our increasingly computerized and connected world, we need more government involvement in the security of the "Internet of things" and increased regulation of what are now critical and life-threatening technologies. It's no longer a question of if, it's a question of when.

    First, the facts. Those websites went down because their domain name provider -- a company named Dyn -- was forced offline. We don't know who perpetrated that attack, but it could have easily been a lone hacker. Whoever it was launched a distributed denial-of-service attack against Dyn by exploiting a vulnerability in large numbers -- possibly millions -- of internet-of-things devices like webcams and digital video recorders, then recruiting them all into a single botnet. The botnet bombarded Dyn with traffic, so much that it went down. And when it went down, so did dozens of websites.

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November 6th

The Internet of Things is a cyber war nightmare

    The world got a glimpse of the future last month when a large-scale cyberattack prevented access to hundreds of key websites, including Twitter, the online New York Times, and Amazon. The "distributed denial of service" attack against the New Hampshire-based DNS provider Dyn, which blocked access to major online services for users as far away as Europe, fulfilled the direst predictions of technologists and security researchers alike.

    The attack exposed the clear reasons for concern about the coming age of an Internet of Things, in which more household devices are connected to the web. What's less immediately clear is what should be done to ensure the internet's most likely future iteration remains safe.

    To date, the vast majority of disruptive and even destructive cyberattacks have been the work of militaries, foreign intelligence services, or other state-sponsored hackers. These actors are usually operating under some degree of political direction and interests and tend to moderate their use of malicious code for disruptive or destructive purposes.

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Why it's right to keep the brakes on the Dakota Access oil pipeline

    In 2014, President Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. While there, he read aloud these words from Chief Sitting Bull: "Let's put our minds together to see what we can build for our children."

    Today, it is the children of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who have put their minds together to help envision a safe future for themselves and who are leading an international campaign to protect their drinking water - and the drinking water of 17 million people downstream - from the threats posed by the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which would cross the Missouri River less than a mile upstream of their reservation.

    Perhaps inspired by these young people, thousands of people, predominantly from tribes around the country, have gathered in peaceful demonstration and prayer near the pipeline construction site while the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe pursues legal options to protect itself.

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Who Broke Politics?

    As far as anyone can tell, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — and the leader of what’s left of the Republican establishment — isn’t racist or authoritarian. He is, however, doing all he can to make a racist authoritarian the most powerful man in the world. Why? Because then he could privatize Medicare and slash taxes on the wealthy.

    And that, in brief, tells you what has happened to the Republican Party, and to America.

    This has been an election in which almost every week sees some long-standing norm in U.S. political life get broken. We now have a major-party candidate who refuses to release his tax returns, despite huge questions about his business dealings. He constantly repeats claims that are totally false, like his assertion that crime is at record highs (it’s actually just a bit off historic lows). He stands condemned by his own words as a sexual predator. And there’s much, much more.

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What makes America so great for Sunni and Shiite Muslims

    In the beginning of Shakespeare's tragic play "Romeo and Juliet," a street brawl erupts between Montague and Capulet servants, sworn enemies who fight each other on behalf of their masters. Based on recent sectarian violence, it seems he could have been writing about Sunni and Shiite Muslims, two religious tribes currently engaged in a mutually destructive waltz stretching 1,400 years.

    But that simplistic analysis betrays a rich legacy of mutual understanding, cooperation, inter-marriages and relative peace that has also defined their relationship since the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632.

    My personal history is reflective of that statement.

    I'm a Sunni Muslim whose best friends growing up in Fremont, Calif., were Kashif and his little brother Atif, who have described themselves as hailing from a "hardcore Shia" family. We are all shy sons of Pakistani immigrants, united by our utter dorkiness, lack of social skills and inherent love of lentils.

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What does Donald Trump do when he loses? He acts as if it never happened.

    When Donald Trump loses, he lashes out, assigns blame and does whatever it takes to make a defeat look like a win. When that isn't plausible, he pronounces the system rigged: Victory wasn't possible because someone put in the fix.

    In a roller-coaster career in which glittering buildings and a flamboyant lifestyle have been tempered by bankruptcies and failed ventures, Trump has consistently fought - often successfully - to recast each defeat as proof of his strategic savvy. He has reacted to failure by exploding in anger and recrimination, then moving on to very different ventures, though always in arenas where he can vie for public admiration.

    Trump calls defeats "blips." Losing the race for the most powerful job on the planet is no one's idea of a blip, and if that happens, Trump is highly unlikely to slip away and accept life as a historical footnote, as Michael Dukakis did; to live out his golden years as a respected elder statesman, as Bob Dole has done; or to consider some other form of government service, as John Kerry did.

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Want to shrink prisons? Stop subsidizing them.

    When our next president enters the Oval Office, she or he will be faced with two questions: First, how to make a mark as president? Second, how to break through gridlock in Congress?

    Prioritizing reducing our prison population is one way to achieve both goals. Most Republicans and Democrats agree: Mass incarceration devastates communities of color and wastes money. Even Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan see eye-to-eye. Committing to such reform in the first 100 days would make a lasting and imperative change.

    But what can the president actually do to help end mass incarceration? With 87 percent of prisoners in state facilities, many argue that the president can do very little. But this is simply untrue. States and cities must act, but there is one thing the president can do to spur nationwide change: End the federal subsidization to states and cities that mass-incarcerate our citizens.

    History proves instructive. The 1994 Crime Bill gave states $9 billion to pass laws lengthening sentences. More than 20 states did just that. Since then, the prison population grew 50 percent. Decisions made in Washington helped fuel this expansion.

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To reform our prisons, follow the states' lead

    The first priority of government is to keep our people safe. Violent, dangerous criminals belong in prison, and the cost of incarcerating them is money well spent. But today the net of criminal law ensnares far more than just violent criminals.

    Roughly half of federal inmates are drug offenders. The vast majority of these are not "kingpins" - only 14 percent are major traffickers. The rest are small fish, who are expensive to imprison and who are quickly replaced on the street by others looking for a way to support their drug habit. Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but we are locking up a lot of people we are just mad at.

    Luckily, the next president already has the tools to lower recidivism, increase public safety and lower the cost to taxpayers. By learning from policies instituted by states and implementing laws already passed by Congress, we can finally reverse our overuse of incarceration.

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The sad decline of presidential campaign coverage

    Civil political discourse has not been the only casualty of the presidential campaign finally approaching its end. The reputation of American journalism has taken a telling hit as well, under the onslaught of partisan advocates of the major party nominees and an army of free-wheeling social-media pontificators.

    As the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan memorably put it, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts." Thus there has emerged a valued journalistic tool in the fact-checker, commissioned to separate fact from fiction, and exaggeration.

    Employed by prominent newspapers and television networks, they are armed with a range of research materials from dictionaries and, authoritative histories to endless printed and electronic records. At their disposal as well are professional historians and librarians trained in separating accuracy from fantasy.

    But along with them has come another army of self-styled experts who as a whole are far from impartial, gathered by the major television networks and cable outlets to analyze the presidential campaigns and elections.

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