Archive

August 6th, 2016

How foreign governments spy using PowerPoint and Twitter

    News of the alleged Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee's computers has riveted the world. But for many, this kind of behavior is a daily reality.

    Take, for example, Syrian Nour Al-Ameer. A former vice president of the Syrian National Council, Al-Ameer was arrested and sent to infamous Adra prison in Damascus, where she was brutally tortured. Upon release, she became a refugee, fleeing to relative safety in Turkey.

    Or so she thought.

    Al-Ameer is a net-savvy activist, and so when she received a legitimate-looking email containing a PowerPoint attachment addressed to her and purporting to detail "Assad Crimes," she could easily have opened it. Instead, she shared it with us at the Citizen Lab, where we analyze

    the exercise of political power in cyberspace.

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How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out

    Maybe  I just missed it. But in all the testimonials at the Democratic convention about what Hillary Clinton has done for other people, I don’t recall anyone saying, “I started a business because of Hillary Clinton.” Or, “I hired someone because of Hillary Clinton.”

    We heard from first responders, veterans, grieving parents and victims of terrorism, rape and various forms of discrimination. There was just one group that was conspicuously absent: the people who drive our economy by inventing things or by borrowing money to start companies that actually employ people.

    Watching the convention, you would never know that what also makes America great is that generation after generation, people full of ideas risk their savings to start companies that provide work and paychecks. And only by generating more of these risk-takers will more people get hired for the good jobs Clinton promised.

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Donald Trump begins contemplating the unthinkable: He might lose

    Is it possible that Donald Trump has begun to contemplate his own political mortality? Is it possible that Trump, who had previously boasted to GOP primary audiences that he would beat Hillary Clinton "easily" -- has begun to contemplate the possibility that he might lose the presidential election?

    It is perhaps not a coincidence that Trump has suddenly stopped tweeting about polls (which are now showing Clinton taking a meaningful lead) at precisely the moment that he is escalating his efforts to cast doubt, in advance, on the legitimacy of the general election's outcome.

    Trump and his supporters have now said in a series of new public remarks that the outcome of the election is likely to be "rigged." Monday, on the campaign trail, Trump said: "I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest."

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Democrats' chance to be the dynamic party

    Donald Trump has given the Democratic Party a chance to expand its base. In nominating him for president, the Republican Party has rejected the open society of Reaganite ideals in favor of strongman governance, winner-take-all identity politics and zero-sum economics. Longtime Republican voters, as well as many independents, are looking for a new home.

    Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are savvy enough to see the opportunity.

    Clinton's acceptance speech last week and her choice of Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate combined traditional liberalism with an outreach message of common values and common sense ("A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.") Rather than demonize Republicans, she invited their support.

    Appealing to broadly shared American ideals of liberty and self-rule, the convention's most philosophically resonant line came in the president's speech: "Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don't look to be ruled."

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After Brexit, Britain will miss its low-skilled immigrants

    Once Britain exits the European Union, about 590,000 people who live there now -- citizens of other EU countries -- will no longer be eligible to stay. Most likely, the majority of those who go will be relatively low-skilled workers. Bankers and software developers probably will find a way to remain, as they are in demand. The preference for high-skilled immigrants over low-skilled ones is not entirely rational, however, and its practical application may have unintended consequences.

    When people demand immigration curbs, they usually mean barriers against lower-skilled immigrants. That's a consensus in Western societies that transcends education and wealth levels, as well as ideological boundaries. Researchers found this consensus to hold in the U.S. as well as European countries.

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Will the GOP repudiate Trump's cruelty?

    Republican politicians face a choice. They can accept Hillary Clinton's invitation to abandon Donald Trump and prevent a redefinition of their party as a haven for bigotry. Or they can prop Trump up, try to maximize his vote -- and thereby tarnish themselves for a generation.

    If there were any doubts about Trump's disqualifying lack of simple decency and empathy, he resolved them in an interview on ABC News over the weekend with a characteristically cruel and self-centered attack on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, an American Muslim couple whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.

    With his wife by his side, Khizr Khan delivered what was the most devastating attack on Trump during the Democratic National Convention. Khan directly challenged Trump's strongman ignorance: "Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy." And he said this of Trump: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

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Trump's Social Security plan depends on immigrants

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both say they oppose cutting Social Security. But that pledge is meaningless without a plan to address the program's coming shortfall. If you guessed that Clinton is the only candidate who has made a stab at a serious answer, you would, of course, be right. But we should give close scrutiny to Trump's supposed solution as well, even if it is a lot of fairy dust.

    Here's the problem. Social Security has had a cash-flow shortage since 2015, when expenses first began to exceed tax receipts. Last year's gap was $84 billion, out of $880 billion paid in benefits to 59 million people. The shortfall will keep growing and will need to be covered out of the trust fund's $2.7 trillion surplus, now invested in U.S. Treasuries.

    By 2034, when even the surplus is likely to be depleted, the program must depend on payroll taxes alone. At that point, if nothing changes, beneficiaries will get only about three-fourths of promised benefits.

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There is something very wrong with Donald Trump

    One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality. We can leave it to the professionals to determine exactly what to call it. Suffice to say that Donald Trump's response to the assorted speakers at the Democratic National Convention has not been rational.

    Why denigrate the parents of a soldier who died serving his country in Iraq? And why keep it going for four days? Why assail the record of a decorated general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan? Why make fun of the stature of a popular former mayor of New York? Surely Trump must know that at any convention, including his own, people get up and criticize the opposition party's nominee. They get their shots in, just as your party got its shots in. And then you move on to the next phase of the campaign. You don't take a crack at every single person who criticized you. And you especially don't pick fights that you can't possibly win, such as against a grieving Gold Star mother or a general. It's simply not in your interest to do so.

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The fall of Joe McCarthy began with someone who dared to question his decency. Trump will lose the same way.

    Sixty-five years ago, America faced the challenge of a snarling demagogue who captured the imagination of millions by fusing legitimate fears of an external enemy with the cultural, regional and demographic resentments of people who disliked the changing nature of our postwar country. Then, as now, a demagogue could draw upon widespread weariness with imperfect and occasionally complacent liberal leaders, important or petty security scandals, the grind of military stalemate in an inconclusive long war.

    Then, as now, the demagogue benefited from apologists and enablers who privately wanted him defeated but would not take risks or bear political costs to confront him openly . Then, as now, his political adversaries were divided and hesitant in their efforts to formulate an effective response. Then, as now, parts of the Republican Party gave a vicious demagogue a congenial political home.

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Democrats' citizenship smackdown

    Democrats’ citizenship smackdown

    "Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth."

    So said Michelle Obama in a speech so powerful as to have no rejoinder, aside from Bill O'Reilly's attempt to commend slaves' dining options during the time they built the White House.

    "American exceptionalism."

    We've heard that term many times, generally from pale and stuffy right-wingers. It's code that we should interpret as "Pale Power."

    Heretofore, the propaganda regimen of "exceptionalism" has been to downplay America's historic problems, particularly those that apply to race.

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