Archive

Keeping the internet free might get very expensive

    Modern economics has little room for parasites. In the vast majority of models, there are only buyers and sellers -- there's no one who just comes up and steals your money. In the real world, of course, there are parasites galore -- thieves, con artists, fraudsters, extortionists and more. In the long term, the amount of parasitism in any system should depend on the cost of policing -- if it's easy for thieves to steal, there will be more theft.

    On the internet, parasites are rampant. Email spam, identity theft and cyberespionage are some of best-known examples. And, of course, there was the Oct. 21 denial-of-service attack that made many prominent websites inaccessible. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on cleaning the system of these bloodsuckers. That spending might add to gross domestic product, but in economic terms it's social waste -- in an ideal world, we wouldn't have to use resources stopping parasites.

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Hillary Clinton is blazing a momentous trail

    Not enough has been made of two obvious facts: Hillary Clinton, if she wins, would be the first woman elected to the White House. And it will have been the votes of women who put her there.

    Think, for a moment, about what a remarkable milestone that would be. Consider what it would say about the long and difficult struggle to make the Constitution's guarantees of freedom and equality encompass all Americans. The first 43 presidents were all members of a privileged minority group -- white males. The 44th is a black man, and the 45th may well be a white woman. That is a very big deal.

    The historic nature of Clinton's candidacy has been all but lost amid the clamorous sound and fury of the Donald Trump eruption. The campaign has seen many unforgettable moments, but one that I believe will prove truly indelible came during the third and final debate, when Clinton was speaking and Trump interrupted her by snarling, "Such a nasty woman."

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Trump disorders the GOP House

    It is a message Democrats will be sending in suburban precincts all over the United States during the 2016 campaign's final days: Defeating Donald Trump isn't enough. Fully rejecting Trumpism also means routing Republican House and Senate candidates who showed any ambivalence in pushing back against a nominee so many upscale voters regard with horror.

    Rudra Kapila, a Democratic organizer, explained the mission to a group of volunteers who filled a cheerful suburban home here just outside of Washington on Tuesday night to work a party phone bank. "The idea," she said, "is to get folks to vote Democrat down the ballot."

     It's an objective that really matters in Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock faces Democrat LuAnn Bennett in one of the most closely contested House races in the country. If Democrats are to have any chance of gaining the 30 seats they need to take over the House -- a long shot still -- they have to win in places like this, where Hillary Clinton is expected to enjoy large margins.

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The death penalty's persistence

    You'd think Proposition 62, a referendum to abolish California's death penalty and replace it with life without parole, including for the 749 current occupants of death row, would win easily on Nov. 8.

    Democrats dominate this state; their 2016 national platform advocated an end to capital punishment. Former president Jimmy Carter, left-populist icon Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the state's major labor unions and 38 newspaper editorial boards are urging a "yes" vote.

    California's death row costs millions to maintain but the state has only executed 13 people since restoring capital punishment in 1978, mainly due to lengthy appeals processes, including recent successful challenges to its lethal-injection protocol.

    "Replace the Costly, Failed Death Penalty," read the yellow-and-black "Yes on 62" sign I saw planted in a well-kept Brentwood yard.

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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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