Sunday, October 23, 2016

Debt, Diversion, Distraction

By Paul Krugman   October 22, 2016 11:35 am

There was a time, not long ago, when deficit scolds were actively dangerous — when their huffing and puffing came quite close to stampeding Washington into really bad policies like raising the Medicare age (which wouldn’t even have saved money) and short-term fiscal austerity. At this point their influence doesn’t reach nearly that far. But they continue to play a malign role in our national discourse — because they divert and distract attention from much more deserving problems, depriving crucial issues of political oxygen.

You saw that in the debates: four, count them, four questions about debt from the CRFB, not one about climate change. And you see it again in today’s Times, with Pete Peterson (of course) and Paul Volcker (sigh) lecturing us about the usual stuff.

What’s so bad about this kind of deficit scolding? It’s deeply misleading on two levels: the problem it purports to lay out is far less clearly a major issue than the scolds claim, and the insistence that we need immediate action is just incoherent.

So, about that supposed debt crisis: right now we have a more or less stable ratio of debt to GDP, and no hint of a financing problem. So claims that we are facing something terrible rest on the presumption that the budget situation will worsen dramatically over time. How sure are we about that? Less than you may imagine.

Yes, the population is getting older, which means more spending on Medicare and Social Security. But it’s already 2016, which means that quite a few baby boomers are already drawing on those programs; by 2020 we’ll be about halfway through the demographic transition, and current estimates don’t suggest a big budget problem.

Why, then, do you see projections of a large debt increase? The answer lies not in a known factor — an aging population — but in assumed growth in health care costs and rising interest rates. And the truth is that we don’t know that these are going to happen.

In fact, health costs have grown much more slowly since 2010 than previously projected, and interest rates have been much lower. As the chart above shows, taking these favorable surprises into account has already drastically reduced long-run debt projections. These days the long-run outlook looks vastly less scary than people used to imagine.

Still, it’s probably true that something will eventually have to be done to bring spending and revenues in line. But that brings me to the second point: why is this a crucial issue right now?

Are debt scolds demanding that we slash spending and raise taxes right away? Actually, no: the economy is still weak, interest rates still low (meaning that the Fed can’t offset fiscal tightening with easy money), and as a matter of macroeconomic prudence we should probably be running bigger, not smaller deficits in the medium term. So proposals to “deal with” the supposed debt problem always involve long-term cuts in benefits and (reluctantly) increases in taxes. That is, they don’t involve actual policy moves now, or for the next 5-10 years.

So why is it so important to take up the issue right now, with so much else on our plate?
Put it this way: yes, it’s possible that we may at some point in the future have to cut benefits. But deficit scolds talk as if they offer a way to avoid this fate, when in fact their solution to the prospect of future benefit cuts is … to cut future benefits.

If you try really hard, you can argue that locking in policies now for this future adjustment will make the transition smoother. But that is really a second-order issue, hardly deserving to take up a lot of our time. By putting the debt question aside, we are NOT in any material way making the future worse.

And that is a total contrast with climate change, where our failure to act means pouring vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, materially increasing the odds of catastrophe with every year we wait.

So my message to the deficit scolds is this: yes, we may face some hard choices a couple of decades from now. But we might not, and in any case there aren’t any choices that must be made now. Meanwhile, there are genuinely scary things happening as we speak, which we should be taking on but aren’t. And your fear-mongering is distracting us from these real problems. Therefore, I would respectfully request that you people just go away.


Hillary Clinton Presses Her Advantage Over a Struggling Donald Trump - The New York Times


Hillary Clinton moved to press her advantage in the presidential race on Sunday, urging black voters in North Carolina to vote early as Republicans increasingly conceded that Donald J. Trump is unlikely to recover in the polls.

With a strong lead in national polls, Mrs. Clinton has been pleading with core Democratic constituencies to get out and vote in states where balloting has already begun. By running up a lead well in advance of the Nov. 8 election in states like North Carolina and Florida, she could make it extraordinarily difficult for Mr. Trump to mount a late comeback.

On Sunday, Mrs. Clinton appeared at a church in Raleigh, N.C., with mothers who have lost children to gun violence or clashes with the police. Addressing the congregation, she sounded like a candidate looking past the election to a presidency in which she would have to address a deeply divided nation.

“There are many people in our country willing to reach across the divide, regardless of what you’ve heard in this campaign,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are people — millions and millions of people — who are asking themselves these hard questions, who want to find a way to work together to solve these problems that we face.”

Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop last summer, called on the congregation to make its voice heard at the polls. “If you decide not to vote, shut your mouth,” Ms. Reed-Veal said.

Both Mrs. Clinton and key Republican groups have effectively pushed aside Mr. Trump since the final presidential debate on Wednesday, treating him as a defeated candidate and turning their attention to voter turnout and battling for control of Congress.

An ABC News tracking poll published on Sunday showed Mr. Trump trailing Mrs. Clinton by 12 percentage points nationally and drawing just 38 percent of the vote.

Mrs. Clinton, who drew support from 50 percent of voters in the poll, was openly dismissive of Mr. Trump over the weekend, telling reporters on Saturday that she no longer worried about answering his attacks. “I debated him for four and a half hours,” she said. “I don’t even think about responding to him anymore.”

Karl Rove, the chief strategist of George W. Bush’s successful presidential campaigns, said Sunday on Fox News that he did not expect that Mr. Trump could pull off a comeback in the final two weeks of campaigning.

“I don’t see it happening,” Mr. Rove said.

Two outside groups aligned with Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, have begun running television commercials in Senate races implying that Mr. Trump’s defeat is likely and asking voters to send Republican lawmakers to Washington as a check on Mrs. Clinton.

And the Congressional Leadership Fund, a powerful “super PAC” that supports Republicans in the House of Representatives, will begin running ads in the coming days that attack Democratic candidates as “rubber stamps” for Mrs. Clinton, and urge voters in swing districts to support a Republican instead.

Mike Shields, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, said the group had tested the message and found it effective even in areas that are likely to support Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump.

“There are many districts where we are going to be running ads that talk about the Democrat being a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Shields said. “In many districts, it is a very, very potent weapon to use against a Democratic candidate for Congress.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, acknowledged on “Meet the Press” on NBC that Mr. Trump was behind in the race. She said the campaign had “a shot” at winning over undecided voters who do not currently support Mr. Trump but who dislike Mrs. Clinton.

But Mr. Trump has made little effort in recent days to deliver a sharply honed campaign message or to address the flaws at the core of his candidacy. He scheduled no public campaign events on Sunday before an evening rally in Naples, Fla., though early voting begins this week across most of the state.

In a Saturday speech that was intended to outline his closing message in the race, Mr. Trump instead began by issuing a broad threat to sue all the women who have come forward to say that he sexually assaulted them.

Ms. Conway said on Sunday that the threat was “a small piece of a 42-minute speech.”
Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Iraqi Leader Resists US Push for Turkish Role in Mosul Fight - The New York Times

BAGHDAD — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter's push for Iraq to let Turkey play a role in the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group encountered stiff resistance Saturday from Iraq's prime minister, who said his country's forces will oust the militants from the northern city.

"I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul and the rest of the territories," Haider al-Abadi said through a translator after meeting with the Pentagon chief.

Iraqi, Kurdish and other local forces will handle the battle for Mosul, al-Abadi said.

"We don't have any problems," he said, adding that if help is needed, "we will ask for it from Turkey or from other regional countries."

Carter told reporters the issue of a Turkish role in the Mosul fight is a difficult subject, and that Abadi said in the meeting he has had talks with the Turks and expected to have more.

Iraqi sovereignty is a key principle, Carter said, and the American role is to work with partners in the coalition and try to resolve such matters, and ensure that everyone is focused on fighting IS.

"I am confident that we can plan a constructive role there," he said, adding that Turkey is a member of the coalition.

One day earlier, Carter met with Turkish leaders in Ankara and told reporters of "an agreement in principle" for Turkey to play a role in the Mosul battle. Carter stressed at the time that any final decision would be up to the Iraqis, while expressing optimism the Turks and Iraqis could settle their differences.

Carter arrived in Iraq on Saturday to meet with his commanders and assess the progress in the opening days of the Mosul operation.

His visit came two days after a U.S. service member was killed outside Mosul, a sign of the risks facing American troops as they advise Iraqi forces in the fight.

Carter, who already has been to Iraq twice this year, has overseen the steady increase in the number of U.S. forces deployed to the fight and the growth of America's effort to train and advise Iraqi troops. In his two earlier visits, Carter announced White House decisions to increase the U.S. troop level there. There were no expectations he would do that again.

During his stop in Baghdad, Carter met with Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and other leaders.

Carter's meetings in Turkey were a sign of moves to ease tensions between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish military operations in northern Iraq. That divide has grown as the operation to retake Mosul began to take shape.

Some 500 Turkish troops at a base north of Mosul have been training Sunni and Kurdish fighters since last December. The Iraqi government says the troops are there without permission and has called on them to withdraw. Turkey has refused, and insists it will play a role in liberating the city.

The U.S. service member killed this week was the fourth U.S. combat death in Iraq since the U.S. began military operations against IS in August 2014. It was the first since the Mosul operation began, and the service member was working with Iraqi special forces northeast of Mosul and serving as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.

U.S. military officials said a fire at a sulfur plant in northern Iraq set by IS on Thursday was creating a potential breathing hazard for American forces and other troops at a base south of Mosul that's being used by troops as a staging area. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said troops at the base were wearing protective masks, and that air samples were sent to the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency for analysis. Officials estimated it could take two to three days to put the fire out.

U.S. defense and military officials have said that while the offensive has started well, they expect the complex fight for the city to get more difficult. They said they will be watching to see how aggressively the militants fight and whether more leaders flee the city.

In what officials thought was an attempted diversion from the Mosul fight, IS attacked targets in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday in a coordinated assault that killed at least 14 people.

A U.S. military officer said IS had set up a multilayered defense in and around Mosul. The outer rings of this defense are what the U.S. military calls disruption zones, where IS fighters are expected to counter the Iraqi advance through the use of mortars and rockets, suicide bombers, road obstacles and car bombs.

The official said the U.S. does not expect this to include high-intensity force-on-force combat in these outer rings. The expected IS focus will be on disrupting and delaying the Iraqi advance rather than trying to hold ground outside the city. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. estimates there are between 3,000 and 5,000 IS fighters in the Mosul area, but some leaders probably have fled. A key factor will be how long those midlevel commanders stay or whether they decide to leave.

More than 4,800 U.S. troops are in Iraq and there are more than 100 U.S. special operations forces operating with Iraqi units. Hundreds more U.S. forces are playing a support role in staging bases farther from the front lines.


Mr. Gingrich’s ‘Big Trump’ - The New York Times

By Teresa Tritch:

t’s no big surprise that Newt Gingrich is still a gung-ho adviser to the Trump campaign. Mr. Gingrich has long espoused political views similar to Donald Trump’s.

But there is more to the alliance than a meeting of the minds. Mr. Gingrich understands that Mr. Trump appears to be losing not because his message has failed to resonate with Americans but because he is a poor messenger.

“I don’t defend him [Trump] when he wanders off,” Mr. Gingrich recently told ABC News. But “there’s a big Trump and there’s a little Trump,” he said, explaining that the big Trump is the one who has created issues that make “the establishment” very uncomfortable.

“The big Trump,” he said, “is a historic figure.”

With statements like that, Mr. Gingrich is positioning himself as the keeper of the Trump-campaign themes and, by extension, as the politician best able to mobilize Trump supporters going forward.

In the 1990s, Mr. Gingrich spearheaded the antigovernment movement. As House speaker from 1995 to 1999, he invoked racial stereotypes about African-Americans during debates over welfare reform.

During his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, he repeatedly called President Obama the “food stamp president.”

Mr. Gingrich played to birther movement sentiments in 2010 when he said that Mr. Obama exhibited “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

And now, he is extolling the virtues of “big Trump.” There is a pattern here, and it does not bode well for American politics.

A version of this editorial appears in print on October 22, 2016, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Mr. Gingrich’s ‘Big Trump’.

Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S. - The New York Times

Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S. - The New York Times:

"SAN FRANCISCO — Major websites were inaccessible to people across wide swaths of the United States on Friday after a company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure said it was under attack."

'via Blog this'

Mexico Arrests Ex-Chief of Police in City Where 43 Students Disappeared

By Elisabeth Malkin

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s federal police on Friday arrested a fugitive former municipal police chief who is a major figure in the investigation into the disappearance of 43 college students in September 2014.

The former chief, Felipe Flores Velázquez, was in charge of the local police force on the night that the students vanished in the city of Iguala, which is in the southern state of Guerrero.

The Mexican government says that police officers handed the students over to members of a local drug gang, who killed them and then burned the bodies. International human rights experts have cast doubt on the investigation.

The Mexican authorities have detained 128 suspects in the case, but Mr. Flores, who was at large for two years, had eluded them until now.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Donald Trump, Somewhat Subdued, Admits He Might Lose Election

Donald J. Trump at a campaign rally in Johnstown, Pa., on Friday. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Donald J. Trump projected confidence on Friday, but also seemed to prepare for at least the possibility of an Election Day loss, as he and Hillary Clinton courted their supporters with competing public events for the first time in more than a week.
Their rallies in swing states came after two days of scripted incivility that sometimes bordered on the surreal, with the third and final presidential debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday at times seeming to mimic a “Saturday Night Live” parody (“You’re the puppet!” Mr. Trump told his rival), and a white-tie gala Thursday evening where Mr. Trump managed to provoke boos and jeers at a charity dinner.
But Friday, just 18 days from the election, seemed to mark at least a momentary return to regular order.
Addressing a rally in Fletcher, N.C., in the more rural western part of the state, Mr. Trump offered a slightly more restrained version of his typically freewheeling speech, largely seeming to hew to his prepared remarks.
Gone were his complaints of a “rigged” and “stolen” election — which have drawncondemnation by Democrats and Republicans alike — and he did not, as he has recently, try to beat back accusations from 10 women who have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual advances.
Instead, Mr. Trump offered an unusually candid, if still self-congratulatory, assessment of his debate performances — “I think the first one was fine, I think we won, easily, the second one, and the third one was our best,” he said — and acknowledged the possibility that he might not end up in the White House, after all.
The Trump campaign has said that Mr. Trump plans to increase his schedule in the final weeks, potentially holding as many as six rallies a day. Mr. Trump explained that he wanted to have no regrets should he lose.
Mr. Trump with the crowd. CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
“I don’t know what kind of shape I’m in, but I’ll be happy, and at least I will have known, win, lose or draw — and I’m almost sure, if the people come out, we’re going to win — I will be happy with myself,” he said. “I don’t want to think back, ‘If only I did one more rally, I would have won North Carolina by 500 votes instead of losing it by 200 votes.’”
“I never want to ever look back,” he continued: “I never want to say that about myself. We have to work.”
Mr. Trump’s team increasingly views North Carolina as a state critical to a victory in November, along with states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mr. Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, visited the same town just last week.
But Mr. Trump also showed some trademark flourishes during his rally. He attacked both President Obama and his wife, Michelle, by name, saying they were too focused on campaigning for his Democratic rival. “We have a bunch of babies running our country, folks,” he said. “We have a bunch of losers. They’re losers, they’re babies.”


Where Republicans in Competitive House and Senate Races Stand on Donald Trump

How the emergence of a 2005 recording of Donald J. Trump bragging about sexual assault is playing out in the tightest House and Senate races.
And later, at a rally in Johnstown, Pa., Mr. Trump took the stage with a renewed vigor (“I just got caught in the rain,” he bellowed, “how does my hair look?”), complaining of a “rigged system” (“Don’t ever forget it,” he said.)
Speaking to the gutted mill town, Mr. Trump cast himself as the champion of Pennsylvania’s working class. “The iron and steels forged in your mills formed the backbone of our nation,” he said, promising to bring prosperity back to the region. You were the leading steal producer in the United States — did you know that?
Seemingly energized by the more raucous Pennsylvania crowd, Mr. Trump ended his rally with a call to victory. “We will win,” he said. “We will shock the world.”
Then, Mr. Trump, who on the eve of a campaign trip to Scotland admitted he did not really understand the nuances of the Brexit vote, ended with an ebullient rallying cry. His win in November, he said, would be “Brexit-Plus.”
With Mr. Trump rallying supporters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton’s return to the campaign trail after nine days, including a week off to prepare for the final debate, was taking her once again to Ohio, a fiercely contested battleground.
new poll, by Suffolk University in Boston, of likely Ohio voters shows the presidential race there tied, an improvement for Mrs. Clinton over the recent trend in Ohio.
Mr. Trump had led in Ohio polls recently, as its large bloc of white, working-class voters seemed to be realigning the usually closely fought state to Mr. Trump’s economic populism and America-first message.
Mrs. Clinton’s afternoon rally at a community college in Cleveland, the heart of Democratic strength in Ohio, was meant to encourage early voting. President Obama twice won the state, in large part, because of organizing efforts that turned out early voters. In a troubling sign for Mrs. Clinton, the early-vote numbers this year are not encouraging.
Requests for early ballots are down 22.3 percent in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, compared with the same period in 2012, and they are off 12.7 percent in Franklin County, which includes Columbus, the state capital, according to data compiled by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who studies voter turnout.

Internet Attack Disrupts Major Websites

A map of the areas experiencing problems, as of Friday afternoon, according to
SAN FRANCISCO — Major websites were inaccessible to some East Coast users in the United States Friday morning and to people across the country in the early afternoon after a company that serves as an internet switchboard said it was under attack.
Users reported problems reaching a range of websites, including Twitter,Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times.
Dyn, whose servers monitor and reroute internet traffic, said it began experiencing what security experts call a distributed denial-of-service attack just after 7 a.m. The company, based in Manchester, N.H., said it had fended off the assault by 9:30 a.m. But by 11:52 a.m., Dyn said it was again under attack.
A distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, occurs when hackers flood the servers that run a target’s site with internet traffic until it stumbles or collapses under the load. Such attacks are common, but there is evidence they are becoming more powerful, more sophisticated and increasingly aimed at core internet infrastructure providers.
Going after companies like Dyn can cause far more damage than aiming at a single website.
Dyn is one of a number of outfits that host the Domain Name System, or DNS, which functions as a switchboard for the internet. The DNS translates user-friendly web addresses like into numerical addresses that allow computers to speak to one another. Without the DNS servers operated by internet service providers, the internet could not operate.
In this case, the attack was aimed at the Dyn infrastructure that supports internet connections. While the attack did not affect the websites themselves, it blocked or slowed users trying to gain access to those sites.
Kyle York, Dyn’s chief strategist, said in an interview Friday morning during a lull in the attacks that the assaults on its servers were complex.
“This was not your everyday DDos attack,” Mr. York said. “The nature and source of the attack is still under investigation. We will be updating our users as soon as we learn more.”
Mr. York said his company and others that host the core parts of the internet’s infrastructure were targets for a growing number of more powerful DDoS attacks.
“The number and types of attacks, the duration of attacks and the complexity of these attacks are all on the rise,” Mr. York said.
In its most recent DDoS trends report, Verisign, a registrar for many internet sites that has a unique perspective into this type of attack activity, reported a 75 percent increase in DDoS attacks from April through June of this year, compared to the same period last year.
A notice from Dyn on its website about the outage.
The attacks were not only more frequent, they were bigger and more sophisticated. The typical attack more than doubled in size. What’s more, the attackers were simultaneously using different methods to attack the company’s servers, making them harder to stop.
The most frequent targets, by far, were businesses that provide internet infrastructure services like Dyn.
“DNS has often been neglected in terms of its security and availability,” Richard Meeus, vice president of technology at Nsfocus, a network security firm, wrote in an email. “It is treated as if it will always be there in the same way that water comes out of the tap.”
Last month, Bruce Schneier, a security expert and blogger, wrote on theLawfare blog that someone had been probing the defenses of companies that run crucial pieces of the internet.
“These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well the companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down,” Mr. Schneier wrote. “We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation-state. China and Russia would be my first guesses.”
It is too early to determine who was behind Friday’s attacks, but it is this type of DDoS attack that has election officials concerned. They are worried that an attack could keep citizens from submitting votes.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia allow internet voting for overseas military and civilians. Alaska allows any Alaskan citizens to do so. Barbara Simons, the co-author of the book “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?” and a member of the board of advisers to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal body that oversees voting technology standards, said she had been losing sleep over just this prospect.
“A DDoS attack could certainly impact these votes and make a big difference in swing states,” Dr. Simons said on Friday. “This is a strong argument for why we should not allow voters to send their voted ballots over the internet.”
This month the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and the Department of Homeland Security accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee, apparently in an effort to affect the presidential election. There has been intense speculation about whether President Obama has ordered the National Security Agency to conduct a retaliatory attack and the potential backlash this might cause from Russia.
Gillian M. Christensen, deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency was investigating “all potential causes” of the attack on Friday.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press this month that the United States was prepared to respond to Russia’s election attacks in kind. “We’re sending a message,” Mr. Biden said. “We have the capacity to do it.”
But technology providers in the United States could suffer blowback. As Dyn fell under recurring attacks on Friday, Mr. York, the chief strategist, said such assaults were the reason so many companies are pushing at least parts of their infrastructure to cloud computing networks, to decentralize their systems and make them harder to attack.
“It’s a total wild, wild west out there,” Mr. York said.

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