Archive

How the Kremlin responds to hacks: Deny, deny, deny

    The U.S. presidential election has made "Russian hackers" a powerful brand. There is, however, another that surpasses it: Ukrainian hackers. And the story of their most recent hack contains valuable lessons for U.S. politicians, particularly Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

    A Ukrainian hacker collective calling itself CyberHunta -- a mocking reference to Russian propaganda outlets' moniker for the Kiev government, the junta -- claimed on Oct. 23 to have broken into an electronic mailbox that belongs to Vladislav Surkov, President Vladimir Putin's adviser for dealing with former Soviet breakaway regions. The purported hacked emails supposedly contain sensitive information, including, for example, a lengthy plan of "urgent measures for the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine."

    Unlike Clinton's allies after their emails were published, the Kremlin immediately denied the authenticity of the leaked communications. Putin's press secretary, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that Surkov didn't use email, so those who claim to have broken into has mailbox "must have had to sweat quite a lot" to forge messages.

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Clinton's allies promise a tougher line on Iran

    The next president has an opportunity in the Middle East to reassure wavering allies, to tell them: "We're back and we're going to lead again."

    That sounds like something you might hear this month in an alternate reality, from the Rubio-Cheney campaign. After all, President Barack Obama would argue that he is already leading in the Middle East.

    But that is a quote from Michael Morell, a former deputy and acting director of the CIA and an adviser to Hillary Clinton's campaign. He said this on Tuesday at the Center for American Progress, a think tank founded by the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, and headed today by the policy director of the 2008 Clinton campaign, Neera Tanden.

    Morell, who is likely to be tapped for a senior post in a Clinton administration, outlined a more robust role for the U.S. to counter Iran in the Middle East. For example, Morell said the U.S. should consider a new set of sanctions against Iran to punish its "malign behavior in the region." The Obama administration, on the other hand, has opposed efforts from Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal that lifted many of them.

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Wells Fargo is Rotting from the Top Down

    Just when you thought that, surely, big banker greed had bottomed out with 2008’s Wall Street crash and bailout, along comes Wells Fargo, burrowing even deeper into the ethical slime to reach a previously unimaginable level of corporate depravity.

    It’s one thing for these finance giants to cook the books or defraud investors, but top executives of Wells Fargo have been profiteering for years by literally forcing their employees to rob the bank’s customers.

    Rather than a culture of service, executives have pushed a high-pressure sales culture since 2009, demanding frontline employees meet extreme quotas of selling a myriad of unnecessary bank products to common depositors who just wanted a simple checking account.

    Employees were expected to load each customer with at least eight accounts, and employees were monitored constantly on meeting their quota — fail and you’d be fired.

    That’s why the bosses’ sales culture turned employees into a syndicate of bank robbers. The thievery was systemic, and it wasn’t subtle.

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United by their paranoid fears

    Sometimes satire can expose truths in ways that straight journalists can only envy. This is particularly when you are dealing with hard-to-believe developments like the rise of Donald Trump as a hero of the poor and oppressed.

    "Saturday Night Live," whose skits can be hit-or-miss in terms of provoking laughs, hit a bull's eye with Alec Baldwin and SNL's Kate McKinnon impersonating Trump and Hillary Clinton's debates. I can no longer hear Trump say "Wrong" to Clinton's put-downs without thinking of Baldwin's foghorn voice delivering it.

    But as a depiction of Trump's popular-yet-divisive appeal, a later skit with Tom Hanks playing "Black Jeopardy" deserves special praise, if you're not too thin-skinned about stereotypes.

    As regular viewers know, "Black Jeopardy" is a black-oriented version of the "Jeopardy!" game show, hosted by "Darnell Hayes," played by SNL's Kenan Thompson. It also features three contestants, one of whom usually is white or, in the case of Drake, a biracial Canadian.

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October 30th

In Trump's America, both consumers and manufacturers are losers

    If Donald Trump were to defy the polls and snatch a victory in the U.S. presidential election next month, plenty of campaign promises would be tricky to keep, such as building a border wall on Mexico's dime or putting a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants. But Trump's vows to tear up trade deals and slap tariffs on countries like China and Mexico would be easy to keep, quick to implement, and potentially devastating to many of the people who are cheering him and the new Republican Party on.

    Trump has for the past year promised to bring back manufacturing jobs and give a fillip to working people by taking aim at countries that export a lot of goods to the United States, especially China, Mexico, and Japan (Trump loves to compare his penalties against Japan with tariffs imposed by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, even if Reagan had mixed results) . His plan calls for steep tariffs - 35 percent for Mexico and a whopping 45 percent for imports from China - to shield U.S. industries and workers. He has also sworn to tear up NAFTA, leave the World Trade Organization, jettison the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and more.

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Two messy Gitmo trials land at Supreme Court Step

    Two important Guantanamo military commission cases are hovering on the edge of review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the bad news is, both involve claims of legal overreach by government prosecutors. One defendant says he can't be tried for the USS Cole bombing in 2000, because the U.S. wasn't at war with al-Qaida until Sept. 11, 2001. The other says he can't be convicted of a conspiracy that didn't come to fruition because international law doesn't recognize such a crime.

    So far, neither defendant has prevailed in the lower courts, and it's hard to say exactly how the Supreme Court would rule if it takes either of the cases. But what's noteworthy is that, no matter the outcome, these two Guantanamo trials are going to end up tainted in the eyes of future legal scholars and analysts. Apart from general concerns about victors' justice, both cases reveal the U.S. government making up creative legal theories as it goes in the hopes of regularizing the al-Qaida military commissions.

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Trump's conspiracy theories sound anti-Semitic. Does he even realize it?

    Donald Trump is not known for pulling his punches. Sexist? He boasts about groping women and agrees that his daughter Ivanka is a great "piece of ass." Racist? Mexicans are "rapists" and can't be trusted to make just legal decisions. Immigrants? They're "bad hombres" who traffic drugs and slaughter innocent American citizens on the streets. Muslims? Exclude them all or face a bloodbath. Hillary Clinton threatens gun ownership? "Second amendment people" might be able to do something about that.

    In the past few weeks, Trump has begun leveling accusations that smack of anti-Semitism, too, but much less openly than the xenophobia he has directed at other groups all through the campaign. The conspiracy theories Trump has been talking up recently play on long-standing tropes used against Jews for decades or even centuries, and the echoes are unmistakable for many of Trump's alt-right followers and for Jews who are familiar with the history of anti-Semitism. But his language veils the bigotry in a much more subtle way than when Trump talks about Mexicans or Muslims - so much so that it's not clear that Trump himself fully understands the implications of what he's saying.

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Trump is the Nation’s Abuser-in-Chief

    As an emotional abuse survivor, I get an eerie feeling watching Donald Trump.

    In fact, a checklist of 30 tactics used by an emotionally abusive partner, published by the blog Live Bold and Bloom, reads like Donald Trump’s debate prep to-do list.

    One of the telltale signs of such abuse, for example, is rooted in humiliation:

    “They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.”

    This seems to be a cornerstone of Trump’s political speech — like making fun of a disabled reporter, or placing the women who accuse Hillary Clinton’s husband of sexual misconduct in the audience at the last debate. (I wonder if Trump has ever heard that expression about glass houses and throwing stones.)

    “They accuse you or blame you for things you know aren’t true.”

    For example, accusing Hillary of laughing at a rape victim, which she didn’t do.

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Time To Move On From The Trump Reality Election Show

    Practically speaking, it doesn't really matter if Donald Trump accepts the results of the November election. No concession speech -- can anybody imagine the big blowhard delivering one? -- is legally required. The Electoral College will certify the vote in December and the new president will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017, whether Trump likes it or not.

    That goes for his more fervid supporters, too.

    According to a recent CBS News poll, upwards of 80 percent of Texas Republicans claim to believe that only voter fraud can prevent Trump from winning. Florida Republicans, too. Numbers like those prompted the Washington Post's conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin to urge anti-Trump Republicans not to make the mistake of staying home on Nov. 8.

    "The bigger the margin by which he loses," she writes, "the more preposterous Trump's claim that the election is fixed. Indeed, it's more important for Republicans -- if they want to get back their party -- to vote against Trump than it is for Democrats."

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These grumpy voters prefer none of the above

    One question put to a dozen "persuadable voters" in Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday night didn't elicit a single response: Which presidential candidate do you like? Another, though, produced a unanimous show of hands: Do you dislike both?

    The voters had been assembled by Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster who has led focus groups for decades. He termed the session, conducted for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, "unbelievably negative."

    The participants were chosen to represent the small group of voters who remain undecided or open to persuasion just two weeks before Election Day. "They watch these two candidates and find little or nothing on which to commend them," Hart said.

    There's negativity toward the end of any hard-fought election campaign. At this juncture in 1980, though, undecided voters would have debated the virtues and shortcomings of Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter, as they would have with Barack Obama or John McCain in 2008. The Charlotte voters, all of whom indicated that they expected to vote, found no virtues to debate.

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