The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

Cyber War

June 8, 2010

It could be the greatest strategic irony of the last twenty years: the American lead in digital technologies – upon which our financial, communications and defense systems are built, and on which they depend – may also represent a serious American Achilles heel. The sophistication of our mobile phone networks, of the GPS system that guides air traffic, even of the networked command-and-control that drives our power grids, may be without rival. But it also provides one great big and sprawling target to enemies determined to discover the choke points that can cripple us in a time of war. At least that’s the scenario as described in various, and increasingly alarmed media accounts, especially in the wake of incidents like the hacking of Google last year, by digital assailants often described (without clear confirmation) as being based in China. It’s indeed alarming, to contemplate fighting the next war with both hands tied behind our backs because a canny enemy figured out how to shut us down electronically. Alarming – but possibly, also, alarmist? Can we really be that vulnerable? Is our digital undergirding really that exposed, especially given that the Internet itself – the foundation of all this critical connectedness – was itself initially developed as a military undertaking? Even if our enemies – state enemies or terrorists – manage to cause damage in one corner of American cyberspace, don’t we have enough redundancy built in to protect us? As one technology writer has put it, this is one of those topics where the internet press likes to get worked up into a lot of “heavy breathing.” So which is it? Are we at existential risk in the event of a well coordinated cyber attack, and if so, are we taking measures to protect ourselves? Or will the first cyber war be a war we are already positioned not only to survive, but to win?

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The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline

Foreign Policy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What might Machiavelli have made of the 44th President of the United States? Barack Obama set out to change the tone of US foreign policy. And he did. By virtue of his personal story, by dint of his not being George W. Bush, he arrived in the White House as both object of fascination and source of relief to a world grown accustomed to resenting the US itself. Here is a president who acknowledges that we hold no monopoly on the legitimacy of our interests, who aspires to finding the common ground in resolving disagreements with friend and foe. His caution, his deliberativeness, his stated willingness to at least try to negotiate even with our bitterest enemies and to cool down the rhetoric – played so well out of the gate, that they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize – after just 262 days in office. But is love enough to lead? Or might the president need some wins along the way? For the most part, they’ve been hard to come by. None yet in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Iran’s mullah’s don’t seem to feel an urgent need to end the nuclear standoff. Seeking a new balance in America’s dealings in the Middle East, Obama asked Israel to stop building settlements, but the building goes on. And the Chinese seem to understand his less than aggressive stance in pressing for human rights as a green light to change nothing. Even when the stakes were less than life and death – his bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago – he was denied. Not that any of this is easy. And it may be that some of these more serious challenges would by now be more difficult still if Obama had not set a new tone. But might the opposite be true? Might our adversaries see the president’s coolness as uncertainty and his deliberativeness as weakness? Can they exploit his affinity for common ground, by pushing to gain more ground for themselves? By acknowledging that all sides can have legitimate interests, as well as legitimate grievances, is the president yielding the high ground? Most importantly, are we safer now that we are living in the era of president number 44? It comes down to being respected, which is not the same as being liked. Americans have always aspired to have it both ways. Machiavelli would have us choose.

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Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline - Edited
Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline - Unedited

Organic Food Is Marketing Hype

Organic Food

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eating organic used to be a fringe commitment. Not anymore. The idea that the adage “you are what you eat” actually has merit – that America’s industrialized food system is making consumers – literally, consumers – obese, diabetic and primed for heart disease – has converted millions of us into pursuers of the American Organic Dream: Eat Organic To Live Longer and Better. But many aren’t buying it. Most consumers, for example. Although sales of organic food increased sixfold over the last decade, organics are still a tiny fraction of the food Americans eat. Perhaps that’s because organic food can cost up to twice as much as conventionally grown? Perhaps it’s because – as critics of the organic food movement argue – there’s just not a lot of solid evidence that going organic makes you any healthier. This side says the race by food makers to slap labels like “farm-grown,” “free-range,” and “all natural” is more about catching a fad than upgrading our food in any meaningful way. Should we all go organic, and pay the extra that it costs, because few things are more important than our health? Or is the organic movement, and the firms cashing in on it, hawking a hoax, or at least grossly overstating the biological benefits to be had when the chicken that we eat is raised with some more legroom?

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Organic Food Is Marketing Hype
Organic Food Is Marketing Hype

Don't Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools

Teacher's Unions

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teachers unions: They’re powerful, they’re defensive, and they’re stubborn. And if it seems their leadership places a premium on protecting its members – above all other interests – we should not be surprised, because protecting jobs and wages is what unions were created to do. And there’s the rub, say critics who argue the unions are shielding too many teachers who do their jobs poorly – teachers who should be replaced, for the good of the children. Indeed, so central is good teaching to good learning, some say it’s the unions as presently constructed – more than anything other factor – that are undermining America’s schools. But can it really be that simple? In a ranking of whom to blame for what’s wrong in America’s classrooms, do teachers unions really come before slashed budgets? Or crumbling infrastructure, broken homes and the influence of narcotics? Do bad teachers so outnumber good ones that the union represents a collection of educational misfits? The question comes down to a decision: do we need to reform the unions before we do anything else , and if we do, is that the fix that will once again make US public education the model system it once was?

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Don't Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools
Don't Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools

The U.S. Should Step Back From Its Special Relationship With Israel

U.S. - Israel Relations

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Israel believes America’s special relationship is vital. It is, certainly, to Israel. But what about for the US? Israel has no oil, enemies in many places, and a tendency to defy Washington when it perceives its own interests to be threatened, which is not infrequently. In a zero sum Middle East, does America’s coziness with Israel cost us in good will with Muslim world, including those oil-rich Arab states whose dollar holdings come back to the US in the form of investments and loans, which the US economy needs – especially now? But there’s an important connection between the US and Israel – that goes deeper than finance or energy convenience. It’s a foundation of mutual loyalty and shared values – democracy being only the most obvious. There has also been a history of shared intelligence, military cooperation, and significant cross-fertilization of scientific knowledge. To sacrifice these connections to improve relations with the Arab world would be an act of betrayal — of an ally — and of what we say we stand for. Should the US consider putting some distance between itself and Israel? Would such a change in policy serve American interests, or is it a move we would come to regret?

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The U.S. Should Step Back From Its Special Relationship With Israel
The U.S. Should Step Back From Its Special Relationship With Israel

California Is The First Failed State

California is the first failed state

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

California tried. And then it failed. Uniquely charged by its constitution to guarantee the “happiness” of its residents – the state empowered its people to demand by referendum whatever they wanted to spend money on – from better schools to bigger prisons and to refuse by referendum to pay the bills. A legislature paralyzed by the absence of a workable middle – and a requirement for a 2/3 vote to impose taxes – combined finally to dig the state into a possibly inescapable hole. Having now earned the lowest bond rating of any of the 50 states, the rates it pays to borrow keep getting higher. Yet borrowing seems to be all California can do to get through from day to day. That is what is known as The Road to Bankruptcy. “Happiness” thus engineered is doomed to collapse. The question is whether California is a special case–with a uniquely dysfunctional political culture–or a bellwether of failure soon to come to other high-spending states near you.

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California Is The First Failed State
California Is The First Failed State

America Is To Blame For Mexico's Drug War

Mexico's drug war

Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009

America is to blame for Mexico's drug war. Nearly 10,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related violence since January 2007. Who or what is to blame? Some say it is America’s insatiable consumer demand for illicit drugs and the constant flow of our guns, which arm the cartels. Others believe that Mexico’s own government is ineffective in controlling the trade of the drug cartels because of rampant corruption in law enforcement in the country. The US Congress, unable to ignore the rising violence spilling over the border, has approved $700 million in security aid for Mexico, and has promised hundreds of federal agents and intelligence analysts devoted to the problem. Officials on both sides wonder whether this will make a dent in the problem. Has our own “war on drugs” been ineffective, or even counterproductive? Should Mexico’s government take full responsibility for what goes on within its own borders? Should the very idea of criminalization of drugs be re-examined?

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America Is To Blame For Mexico's Drug War
America Is To Blame For Mexico's Drug War

Obama's Economic Policies Are Working Effectively

Obama's Economic Policies

Monday, November 16, 2009

Signs of economic recovery are everywhere. Housing prices have bottomed out; the stock market has rallied; and capital markets are operating normally. Today, economists are debating whether or not the recession is over. When Obama took office, the debate was whether a sharp decline in economic activity would trigger more bank failures in a vicious cycle, culminating in a full scale depression. His policies have restored confidence and that is the most important thing. Others argue that his policies will seriously undermine the long-term growth of the US economy. Our fiscal outlook is so poor that inflation is likely, undermining faith in the dollar as a global reserve asset. Cap and trade legislation will make US industry less globally competitive; his health care proposals will leave us both poorer and less healthy; and the dramatic increase in taxes needed to pay for all this will discourage risk-taking and investing.

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Obama's Economic Policies Are Working Effectively - Edited
Obama's Economic Policies Are Working Effectively - Unedited

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