For the past week, reports of physical violence have been rolling out of Ukraine: Russian troops storming a base in Crimea, officers beating journalists, and violent brawlsat rallies. But as tensions escalate, another part of the conflict appears to be playing out in a cloudier realm: cyberspace.
On Saturday, Ukraine's top security agency—the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine—announced at a briefing that it had been hit by severe denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, "apparently aimed at hindering a response to the challenges faced by our state." This comes on the heels of a number of alleged hacks involving Russian and Ukrainian targets, including attacks on news outlets and blocking reception tothe cellphones of Ukrainian parliament members.
Security experts say the region is currently seeing an unusually high number of DDoS attacks, which aim to shut down networks, usually by overwhelming them with traffic. But many of those seem to be coming from third parties, rather than government entities. In terms of state-sponsored cyberwarfare, "we haven't seen that much," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm.Alperovitch adds, though, that his firm has seen a significant amount of cyber-espionage on the part of the Russian intelligence services—including tracking the activities of Putin opponents in both Russia and Ukraine—but he would not disclose names of those being monitored.
Ukraine is situated in a region of the world known for breeding some of the most talented cyber criminals. Several Russian universities offer top-notch hacking training, and a Ukrainian hacker is suspected in December's theft of 40 million credit card numbers from Target. But Ukraine and Russia aren't on equal footing when it comes to their cyberwarfare capabilities. "Russia is a Tier 1 cyber power," says Alperovitch. "Ukraine isn't even in Tier 3." So Russia has a leg up in this arena—and, during past conflicts with former Soviet bloc countries, it has flexed its cyberwarfare muscles. In April 2007, hackers unleashed a wave of cyberattacks on Estonian government agencies, banks, businesses, newspapers, and political parties, following a spat over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallin, the country's capital. (The Kremlin took only partial credit for the crippling three-week attack.) Georgia was targeted with similar attacks in 2008 in the days leading up to its invasion of the secessionist republic of South Ossetia. (Russian involvement was widelysuspected.)
Ukraine has yet be targeted with these type of widespread cyberassaults on key infrastructure—but it may not be long. "I anticipate continued escalation," says Jason Healey, director of the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative and the former White House director of cyber infrastructure protection during the Bush administration. So far, the cyberskirmish is playing out differently than past attacks, Healey says. While the Estonia and Georgia attacks were strictly digital, in Ukraine's case, pro-Moscow forces have also deployed more hands-on attacks on information: "This old-school, Cold War style physical manipulation of equipment. Getting in and physically messing with the switches so Ukrainian civic leaders don't have phone service," Healey says. In Ukraine, these sorts of attacks are likely to be a bigger threat, because much of the telecommunications infrastructure was installed by Russians during the Soviet era. "Cyberattacks the way we tend to look at them—denial-of-service attacks, and so forth—you don't have to do those when you've got physical access to the guy's switch!" says Healey.
The Pinellas County race pit Alex Sink, an uninspiring corporate Democrat, against David Jolly, a say-anything lobbyist who spent half a week of the stretch sleazily and baselessly calling his opponent a "bigot." Both of them came off like people desperately trying to sell you a time share.
Having now spent 6,000-odd words on the Florida special election, I should admit that smart analysts predicted the result with one number. Two-hundred thousand. If that many ballots showed up in FL-13, Democrats were hitting their turnout models and winning the race. If fewer, they were losing. There were about 180,000 votes cast in the race, and the Democrats lost.
Yep. Basically, it was a tight race in a district previously held by a Republican but won by Obama in 2012. And Jolly ended up winning by two percentage points. There's really not much of a lesson to be learned here aside from the fact that (a) it was truly a tossup district, and (b) Democrats have a really tough time with turnout in non-presidential elections. Eventually they're going to have to figure out what to do about that.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and Julian Epstein this week about the "unprecedented" allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators. Watch here:
CAMP HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- As crew chief Spc. Scott Pauley, Company B, 1-140 Aviation Battalion provides direction, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry clears out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, Feb. 8. Soldiers of the 1-184 were sharpening their air assault skills in preparation for annual training 2014. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin M.M. Cossel)
According to North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, Planned Parenthood has a secret plan to legalize the killing of newborn babies as old as three months. Brannon, a Rand Paul-backed obstetrician who is a front-runner for the GOP nomination, made the allegations at a November fundraiser for Hand of Hope, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers he operates in North Carolina.
Well how far will [it] go? Last year, February 29, 2012, the Journal of Ethics in Australia, they debated that. They said we already know abortion is fine, why stop in the womb? Why not three months after. Why should we end the responsibility at that point? It could happen in America. Florida's trying to do it right now and so is Georgia. Planned Parenthood. Because we allowed that slippery slope. Every human being deserves life, liberty, and property.
Brannon's statement appears to be based on testimony given last year by a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Asked how the organization's physicians would respond if a baby were born alive during an abortion, the lobbyist appeared confused and said she'd have to check. But in a follow-up statement, Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, unambiguously rejected the notion: "In the extremely unlikely event that the scenario presented by the legislators ever happened, of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant."
"These absurd and patently false claims by Greg Brannon demonstrate just how extreme and out of touch he is when it comes to women's health issues—and the rest of the Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina are just as dangerous," Planned Parenthood Action Fund Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. Brannon's campaign did not respond to request for clarification.
In the same speech, Brannon said women get abortions because of the same nihilistic worldview that causes them to believe in evolution. "We have people who believe they evolve from nothing, they came from nothing, they'll go to nothing, and today doesn't matter, so when they have a mistake, why not move on?" he said.
The most recent survey of the race, from Public Policy Polling, showed Brannon tied with Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, for the Republican nomination—and running even with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) in a hypothetical November matchup.
President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated....Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.
This is obviously just the latest in Obama's long series of Constitution-crushing moves that flout the law and turn the president into a despot-in-chief, gleefully kneecapping Congress and — wait. What's this?
In 2004, business groups persuaded President George W. Bush’s administration to allow them greater latitude on exempting salaried white-collar workers from overtime pay, even as organized labor objected....Mr. Obama’s authority to act comes from his ability as president to revise the rules that carry out the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress originally passed in 1938. Mr. Bush and previous presidents used similar tactics at times to work around opponents in Congress.
Oh. So he's just doing the same stuff that every other president has done. Sorry about that. You may go about your business.
For what it's worth, this gets to the heart of my impatience with all the right-wing hysteria about how Obama is shredding the Constitution and turning himself into a modern-day Napoleon. I'm not unpersuadable on the general point that Obama's executive orders sometimes go too far. But so far no one has provided any evidence that Obama has done anything more than any other modern president. They all issue executive orders, and Obama has actually issued fewer than most. They all urge the federal bureaucracy to reinterpret regulations in liberal or conservative directions. They all appoint agency heads with mandates to push the rulemaking process in agreeable directions. And they all get taken to court over this stuff and sometimes get their hats handed to them.
Is Obama opening up whole new vistas in executive overreach? I don't see it, and I don't even see anyone making the case seriously. You can't just run down a laundry list of executive actions you happen to dislike. You need to take a genuinely evenhanded look at the past 30 or 40 years of this stuff and make an argument that Obama is doing something unique. Until you do that, you're just playing dumb partisan games.
Yesterday I wrote a post griping about the supposed mystery of why so many working and middle class voters (WMC for short) have drifted into the Republican Party over the past few decades. It's hardly a mystery, I said, and it's not an example of people voting against their own economic interest. The problem is simple: Democrats haven't really done much for the WMC lately, so fewer and fewer of them view Democrats as their champions. That being the case, they might as well vote for the party that promises to cut their taxes and supports traditional values.
Scott Lemieux agrees with many of the specific points I made, but nonetheless thinks I went too far with my "general framing." His post is worth a read, and it also gives me a handy excuse to write a follow-up. This is partly to expand on some things, partly to defend myself, and partly to concede an issue or two. So in no special order, here goes:
First off, you're really talking about the white WMC, right?
Yeah, that's usually how this stuff is framed. As it happens, I'd argue that although the black and Hispanic WMC still firmly supports Democrats, they largely do it for noneconomic reasons these days. But that's a subject for a different day. What we're talking about here is mostly about the white WMC.
But has this drift toward the Republican Party even happened? Haven't you written before that it's a myth?
Yes I have, based on the work of Larry Bartels, who says this is solely a Southern phenomenon. However, I've been persuaded by Lane Kenworthy's work that the drift is both real and national. It's not a myth.
Lemieux says that relative to Republicans, Democrats are better than I give them credit for. What about that?
No argument there. I don't think anyone could read this site for more than five minutes and not know what I think of the modern Republican Party.
Plus he says that Obamacare has been a big plus for the WMC. And a bunch of folks on Twitter said the same thing.
That's a point I'll concede. I was thinking of a few things here. First, most WMC voters already get health coverage at work, so Obamacare's impact on them is limited. Beyond that, the Medicaid expansion was targeted at the poor, and the exchange subsidies get pretty small by the time you reach a middle-class income. But my memory was faulty on that score. A middle-class family with an income of, say, $50-60,000 still gets a pretty hefty subsidy. And of course there are other features of Obamacare that help the middle class too. I was a little too dismissive of this.
On the other hand, this is also a pretty good example of Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They stuck together unanimously to pass the bill, which was great. But ideological ambivalence had already watered it down significantly by then, and ever since Obama signed it, it seems like half the party has been running for cover lest anyone know they voted for it. If Democrats themselves can't loudly sell their own bill as a middle class boon, it's hardly any surprise that lots of middle-class voters don't see it that way either.
But Democrats have done a lot of things beyond just Obamacare.
Sure, and I've listed them myself from time to time. But here's the thing: folks like Lemieux and me can look at this stuff and make a case that Democrats are helping the middle class. Unfortunately, it's mostly too abstract to register with average voters. Did the stimulus bill help the WMC? Probably, but it's not concrete enough for anyone to feel like it helped them personally. How about the CFPB, which Lemieux mentions? I think it's great. But if you stopped a dozen average folks on the street, not one would have the slightest inkling of what it is or whether they benefited from it. These things are just too small, too watered-down, and too sporadic to have much impact. What's more, whatever small impact they do have gets wiped out whenever Democrats support things like the 2005 bankruptcy bill or get cold feet about repealing something like the carried interest loophole.
OK, but why did you "yadda yadda" all the genuinely big things Democrats have done for the poor?
I didn't. I explicitly mentioned them. And this isn't some kind of shell game over definitions of "poor" and "working class." After all, no one ever asks why the poor have drifted away from the Democratic Party, even though they presumably have social views that are similar to the WMC. You know why? Because they haven't drifted away. And why is that? Because Democrats have done stuff for them.
That's the whole point here. The WMC feels like Democrats do stuff for the poor, but not for them. And there's a lot of truth to that.
But what can Democrats do? Republicans block every proposal they ever make.
I'm not blaming them for that. Politics is politics. And I'm not ignoring the fact that Dems stand up against Republicans all the time. They do. Nor is this an exercise in "both sides do it." Obviously Republicans are far more slavishly devoted to the interests of corporations and the rich than Democrats.
Hell, I don't even personally oppose every manifestation of the neoliberal policy evolution of the post-70s Democratic Party. Some of it I support. I'm a fairly moderate, neoliberalish squish myself most of the time. If you care about evidence in the policymaking process, the evidence is pretty strong that some lefty dreams just don't make sense.
Nonetheless, the corporate drift of the Democratic Party since the 80s is simply a matter of record. Lemieux and I can toss out lists of small-ball Democratic accomplishments all day long, but the vast majority of low-information voters have never heard of them or don't think they really do them any good. Maybe they're mistaken or misguided, but that's the way it is.
If Democrats want to regain the support of the WMC, they have to consistently unite behind stuff that benefits the WMC in very simple, concrete ways. Democrats do that on abortion, for example, and everyone knows where they stand even if they don't win all their battles. It's the same way with economic policy. Even if they don't win all or most of their battles, they need to unite behind real programs for the middle class; they need to talk about them loudly; they need to stop diluting their message by taking the side of the plutocrats whenever it's convenient; and they have to keep it up for decades.
Maybe the reality of modern politics prevents this. But if that's the case, then it's time to stop navel-gazing about why the WMC has drifted away from the Democrats. The answer is staring us all in the face.
As a search continued Tuesday for a Malaysian airliner that mysteriously disappeared, Malaysian military officials said radar data showed it inexplicably turned around and headed toward the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles off its scheduled flight path, news agencies and Malaysian media reported.
....Search teams from 10 nations had initially focused their efforts mainly east of the peninsula....A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed that the plane changed course and said it was believed to be flying low, the Associated Press reported.
It is, of course, mysterious that the plane veered off course and turned west an hour after takeoff. But that's not the real puzzle. The plane disappeared on Saturday. If the Malaysian military tracked it turning west into the Malacca Strait in real time, how is it that it took them three days to bother telling anyone about this? That seems damn peculiar even if things were just generally fubared at the time. Here's another account:
The [Malaysian] air force chief did not say what kind of signals the military had tracked. But his remarks raised questions about whether the military had noticed the plane as it flew across the country and about when it informed civilian authorities.
According to the general’s account, the last sign of the plane was recorded at 2:40 a.m., and the aircraft was then near Pulau Perak, an island more than 100 miles off the western shore of the Malaysian peninsula. That assertion stunned aviation experts as well as officials in China, who had been told again and again that the authorities lost contact with the plane more than an hour earlier, when it was on course over the Gulf of Thailand, east of the peninsula. But the new account seemed to fit with the decision on Monday, previously unexplained, to expand the search area to include waters west of the peninsula.
It is unclear why the west coast contact, if correct, was not made public until now. Asked on Monday why crews were searching the strait, the country's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters: "There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can't."
Florida is working hard these days to make itself a case study argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. In a state that has seen more innocent people exonerated from death row than any other in the country, lawmakers last year passed legislation to try to speed up the pace of executions. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a dubious record for presiding over more executions in his first term than any governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Meanwhile, the state continues to ignore US Supreme Court rulings banning the execution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. Just last week, the state argued before the Supreme Court that it didn’t want to use accepted scientific principles to comply with the court's ban on executing mentally disabled people because that would spare too many death row residents, a move that would be "inconsistent with Florida’s purposes." And now comes the news the state's most notorious prosecutor has not only sent a disproportionate number of felons to death row, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans, once again raising the troubling issue of racial disparities in the state's capital punishment system.
Greg Sargent points us to the latest CNN poll on Obamacare today, one of the few polls that accurately judges public attitudes on the subject. Instead of just asking whether people support or oppose the law, CNN asks if their opposition is because the law is too liberal or not liberal enough. The latter aren't tea partiers who hate Obamacare, they're lefties and Democrats who mostly support the concept of Obamacare but want it to go further. Counting them as opponents of Obamacare has always been seriously misleading.
I went ahead and charted CNN's poll results over time, and they've been remarkably stable. Ever since the law passed, about 40 percent of the country has opposed it, while more than 50 percent have either supported it or said they want it to go even further. This goes a long way toward explaining the supposedly mysterious result that lots of people oppose Obamacare but few want to repeal it. The truth is that actual opposition has always been a minority view. Polls routinely show that only about 40 percent of Americans want to repeal Obamacare, and there's nothing mysterious about that once you understand that this is also the level of actual opposition to the law.