January 13, 2020
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The Cyber Wars and USA Elections
The vast majority of Americans accept that Russia substantially interfered in the 2016 US election. Systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russian hackers, but President Trump repeatedly called the claim of Russian influence on the election a hoax. After Democrats took control of the House in 2018, they passed a number of bills aimed at securing America’s election system, including requiring the use of paper ballots and providing more funding for the Election Assistance Commission. The legislation was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Many of those system vulnerabilities remain. There are weak points up and down the long chain of websites and databases used to tally and report votes, not to mention that two-thirds of companies supplying critical components for voting machines have offices in Russia and China.
In October the National Security Agency and its British counterpart warned the Russians were back and growing stealthier. Russian trolls now have encrypted communications tools that are much harder to trace. They’re manipulating Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads, paying Americans to use their personal pages, and setting up offshore bank accounts to cover their financial footprints. Even so, Facebook says it won’t police political messaging for lies or misleading claims.
The 2020 campaign season will undoubtedly be awash with hacking and disinformation, and millions of Americans are still primed to swallow fake news. One expert who tracks Russian disinformation efforts points out, with America’s partisan divide and talking points about close elections being rigged: “You don’t have to actually breach an election system in order to create the public impression that you have. Chaos is the point.”
It could be argued persuasively that the Russians won the first ever cyberwar by successfully hacking the 2016 elections via social networks. It remains to be seen if the Russians will win the cyberwar in 2020. If they do, it could be a decisive victory and an incredible turnaround since losing the Cold War. Daily Pnut’s Tim Hsia in 2013 on How Cyberwarfare and Drones Have Revolutionized Warfare (NYT, $)
- Facebook’s PR feels broken (The Margins), one of the best articles we read this weekend
- The Mystery of Teen Vogue’s Disappearing Facebook Article (NYT, $)
- FEC Commissioner Rips Facebook Over Political Ad Policy: ‘This Will Not Do’ (NPR)
- Buckle Up for Another Facebook Election (NYT, $)
- ‘Techlash’ Hits College Campuses: Facebook, Google and other major tech firms were every student’s dream workplaces. Until they weren’t. (NYT, $)
Taiwan: A Rebel Island
- Six months ago Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, lagged behind populist mayor Han Kuo-yu, her opponent in Taiwan’s presidential election just held. Tsai staged a stunning turnaround by taking an aggressive stance in support of Hong Kong residents protesting Beijing’s rule; it enabled her to beat out Han, who favored closer ties to Beijing, by 20 percentage points in Saturday’s hotly contested election. Tsai received 8.17 million votes, the most ever for a presidential candidate since the island began holding direct presidential elections in 1996.
- “Democratic Taiwan and our democratically elected government will not concede to threats and intimidation,” Tsai declared to thousands of cheering supporters. Her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, also maintained its majority in Taiwan’s legislature, clearing a path for Tsai to push through a number of educational and health care reforms.
- Tsai’s victory is a sign that Beijing’s efforts to co-opt Taiwan’s political and commercial institutions — like banning Chinese citizens from traveling to Taiwan on their own, decimating Taiwanese businesses dependent on mainland tourism — instead mobilized a younger, more pro-independence electorate. (NPR)
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
Haiti: A Lonely Country Still Searches For Stable Ground
- A decade after a massive magnitude 7 earthquake shook Haiti on January 12, 2010, the country still struggles to recover. At least 220,000 people died and 300,000 were injured. Some 1.5 million people were displaced, and large parts of the country were buried under tons of twisted metal and concrete.
- Donors from around the world swiftly pledged billions of dollars in aid, and made promises to rebuild infrastructure with new roads, schools, government buildings and permanent earthquake-proof housing. But such reconstruction never materialized, and high-profile groups created to help coordinate the flow of aid money stopped operating.
- 10 years later much of the goodwill and billions have been lost to waste, greed and corruption, and Haitians who survived feel forgotten. (NPR) In Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations he described Haiti as a lone country. One can’t help but agree with Huntington when one sees how much suffering and poverty the country has faced for centuries. Is this the price Haiti paid for its anti-slavery and anti-colonial revolution?
- Welcome to Hawaii’s ‘plastic beach’, one of the world’s dirtiest places (Guardian)
Additional World News
- France Summons African Leaders, Threatening Troop Pullout (NYT, $)
- Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal (Guardian) & How Many Animals Have Died in Australia’s Wildfires? (NYT, $)
- Terrorism police list Extinction Rebellion as extremist ideology (Guardian)
- Happy Birthday, Trump Tells Kim. Not Enough, North Korea Says. (NYT, $)
- Protests and teargas as Iran faces public anger over aircraft downing (Guardian)
- Washington spurns Iraqi call to remove troops (Reuters)
- Mohammed bin Zayed’s Dark Vision of the Middle East’s Future (NYT, $) & Sultan Qaboos, Who Built Oman Into a Prosperous Oasis of Peacemaking, Dies at 79 (NYT, $)
- The hoi polloi all have opinions about the royal family
- The Hypocrisy of Harry and Meghan’s Decision (Atlantic, $)
- Harry and Meghan Won’t Play the Game (Atlantic, $)
- Losing Meghan, Prince Harry and (Potentially) Billions of Pounds (NYT, $)
- Good for Meghan and Harry (NYT, $)
The 20’s Only Roar For Some
- The stock market is near record highs, and the wealthy keep getting wealthier, but for working-class Americans, often defined as those without college degrees, life is still a struggle. For workers with only high school diplomas — or worse, drop-outs — work no longer pays. If 1968’s federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation and productivity, it would now be $22 an hour, instead of $7.25.
- Suicides are at their highest rate since WWII; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.
- Life expectancy has fallen for the third year in a row due to “deaths of despair,” a phrase coined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and his economist wife to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.
- The survivors mostly voted for President Trump, perhaps hoping he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000. As Deaton says: “The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated. The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” (NYT)
- The great dismantling of America’s national parks is under way | Jonathan B Jarvis and Destry Jarvis (Guardian)
- Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis | Adrian Daub (Guardian)
- Not only are poor and middle class Americans suffering but one of the most American of companies is also showing years to decades of poor leadership: Boeing.
- Boeing Employees Mocked F.A.A. and ‘Clowns’ Who Designed 737 Max (NYT, $)
- ‘I Honestly Don’t Trust Many People at Boeing’: A Broken Culture Exposed (NYT, $)
- The Rich and Powerful are Still Too Big to Fail: Boeing’s fired CEO Muilenburg walks away with more than $60 million (CNBC)
Additional USA News
- Impeachment: Trump fumes as Pelosi prepares to send articles to the Senate (Guardian) & We’ve Upped the Ante.’ Why Nancy Pelosi Is Going All in Against Trump (Time)
- Donald Trump & The Military
- 2020 Election News
- Mississippi Turmoil:
- ‘A Blood Bath’: 5 Dead as Gang Violence Rocks Mississippi Prisons (NYT, $)
- Mississippi Restitution Program Locks Up Poor Debtors (The Marshall Project)
- Severe storm sweeps south-east US, killing at least 11 (Guardian)
You Raise Me Up, So I Can Afford Groceries
- Researchers have taken a keen interest in studying the link between health and the minimum wage, publishing some 30 studies, mostly in the last five years, linking raises to a range of better health outcomes. This week a report in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health contends that raising the minimum wage by $1 in each state might have saved more than 27,000 lives between 1990 and 2015; likewise an increase of $2 in each state’s minimum wage could have prevented more than 57,000 suicides. “This is a way that you can … improve the well-being of people working at lower-wage jobs and their dependents,” said the report’s lead author.
- The study is the third in less than a year to conclude that raising the minimum wage may lower suicide rates.
- An associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, who researches how economic opportunity affects health, published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that found opioid overdoses increased by 85 percent in counties five years after an automotive plant closed. “In a lot of areas around the country, we’re seeing that the American dream is really not panning out for a lot of people,” he says. (NPR)
- Opinion | The Gig Economy Is Coming for Your Job (NYT, $)
- Minimum-Income Ideas Get Widest Airing in 50 Years (WSJ, $)
“I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson
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