So Far, Response to Sony Hack Is Pathetic

North Korea, we are told, hacked into Sony Pictures’ computer system. The hackers made off with a vast number of emails, brought film production to a halt by disrupting Sony’s ability to pay bills, and stole passcodes governing entry into the studio’s headquarters so that employees had to line up to gain admission, one by one. The hackers then caused two movies to be withdrawn from circulation by threatening terrorist attacks on theaters, almost certainly an empty threat. In response to these acts of war–if it really was North Korea–our newspapers carried on gleefully about whether Angelina Jolie really is a moron, and whether it is “racist” to speculate in childish fashion about whether Barack Obama likes movies featuring black characters.

I would say that the administration’s response was equally lame, except that so far there hasn’t been one. White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who is ineffective on his best days, was asked about the Sony matter. Here is the exchange:

Earnest says that “this is something that’s been treated as a serious national security matter.” Not so far, it hasn’t been. This concerns me, too: “[T]hey would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response and also mindful of the fact that sophisticated actors when they carry out actions like this are often times, not always, but often, seeking to provoke a response from the United States of America.” I never understand the concept of a proportional response. What are we going to do, knock out part of North Korea’s film industry? The response to any terrorist act should not be proportionate, but rather, should be massive enough to deter any future actor from even considering doing anything similar.

The striking thing about the Sony attack is how much worse it could have been. The film industry is relatively unimportant. What if North Korea, or some other adversary, carried out a similar attack against J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and so on? They could bring America’s banking system to its knees. Or how about hacking into the computer systems of America’s utilities? Could a hostile regime turn off power to homes in the northern U.S. in mid-winter? Or maybe a hacker could disrupt the traffic lights in a major American city, and bring traffic to a standstill. The possibilities are endless. And North Korea is by no means the last word in computer expertise. The Chinese have state of the art technological capacity. Russia is a basket case in many ways, but software is like chess and Russians are great at it.

Was Sony Pictures’ computer system uniquely inadequate and therefore vulnerable to intrusion? I haven’t heard anyone say that. It appears that many companies could be vulnerable to similar attacks; indeed, as we have recently seen, major retailers have been vulnerable to hackers who sought profit rather than disruption. But the potential for disruption is the national security threat.

And if companies are vulnerable, then how about government agencies? What if North Korea hacked into the White House’s or State Department’s computers?

Maybe they already have. In October, we wrote here, here, here and here about a mysterious intrusion that brought down computers in the Executive Office of the President (which includes the White House and much more) and the State Department. The Obama administration was close-mouthed about the incident and refused our several requests for comment. Despite our efforts, the story was barely covered in the press, and disappeared without a trace. To my knowledge, no one has ever reported on the source of the intrusion or the cause of the outage.

It seems likely that the Obama administration wanted to suppress the story, which threatened to break days before the midterm elections. News of a hostile power invading the White House’s own computer system, if that is what happened, or may have happened, would have reinforced the perception that the Obama administration is weak. It is easy to imagine the press staying away from the story on political grounds. So, for all we know, the North Koreans–or the Russians, the Chinese, or some independent group–may already have carried out a highly destructive attack on the federal government’s computer system.

Be that as it may, the central questions arising out of the Sony Pictures story are 1) how widespread is the vulnerability to sophisticated hackers among corporations and government agencies, and 2) what can be done to secure our systems so that catastrophic attacks do not take place in the future? President Obama is scheduled to give a speech on several topics, including the Sony hack, later today. It will be interesting to see whether he addresses these questions, and if so, how.

Mark Falcoff: The Cuban paradox

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at AEI. He is the author of several books including Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy. He writes further to this post on Wednesday:

This subject has already been written to death, but may I add a couple more comments?

There are two kinds of people who favor normalization of relations with Cuba. One is the person who believes that by freeing up the possibilities of Americans to travel to Cuba, the Cuban people will get to know us better and share our vision of a freer society. They also imagine that normalization will offer new economic opportunities to the impoverished Cuban people.

The other is the person who secretly harbors the hope that this will provide the Castro brothers with the resources to continue in power indefinitely (and after their passing, to allow their progeny and relatives to continue to rule the island, all under the fiction of “sustainable socialism”.) Both points of view have their merit; that is to say, each point of view has its own internal logic. Rand Paul has just expressed the first. The Nation magazine, the New York Times, Jimmy Carter, and needless to say, President Obama, his National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and all American leftists and most most American liberals harbor the second.

The problem is, both cannot be right. We will soon find out which is.

The other aspect untouched by the media is the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama next year. For some time now the Latin American chanceries have been making it clear they will not attend this event at all if Cuba is not invited. By doing an end-run with the Vatican, the administration has avoided a major diplomatic embarrassment (although one can’t be certain that the cancellation of the conference would be a great loss to anyone).

I cannot help reflecting, however, that the Latin Americans move back and forth on what used to be called the Estrada Doctrine. This was the diplomatic formula fashioned by a Mexican foreign minister in the 1920s, to the effect that it is countries rather than governments that are recognized. Hence, sanctions and non-recognition amounted to a violation (in Estrada’s opinion) of international law. After much pressure, lobbying and criticism in the late 1920s, the U.S. adopted this doctrine. The chief beneficiaries were patrimonial dictatorships like the Somozas in Nicaragua and the Trujillos in the Dominican Republic, who ruled the roost in their countries undisturbed for decades.

Then, however, after the coup in Chile and the disappearances in Argentina, the Latins suddenly decided that human rights should be at the top of our agenda (not theirs, however—all of them except Mexico maintained perfectly normal relations General Pinochet or the Argentine junta).

Suddenly it wasn’t countries but governments that were recognized after all! The job of sanctions was assigned by them to the United States and the United States alone. Did someone get tortured in a back alley of Santiago? That must have been the result of U. S. “support” for Pinochet!

Now, however, it turns out that human rights and democracy aren’t really all that important after all, and our spinsterish insistence on both in Cuba is an offense to decency. The Pope thinks so too.

If this proves anything, it is the profound lack of seriousness on the part of Latin American political elites, or what a friend of mine calls a lack of their democratic militance. What it reveals about the too clever Jesuit in the Vatican I will leave others to explain.

Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll returns to comment on GRUBER: THE POLITICAL EQUIVALENT OF EX-LAX. She writes:

I grew up in the Fiber-Free Fifties. With a steady diet of Jello, Twix, Wonder Bread, and Velveeta, small wonder laxative ads were prominent on television. Housewives discussed the issue openly in commercials, usually with their pharmacists and often volunteering that their husbands who were standing right there, humiliated, also had issues with regularity. One popular remedy was Ex-Lax, a product that masqueraded as a chocolate bar, and one that many many children sampled. But only once.

In truth, even disguised as a chocolate treat, the taste was a dreadful disappointment, even to a toddler. We weren’t really very fooled. But by then it was too late. I imagine that some marketing executive was paid a handsome sum of money to come up with the idea of making it look like candy. And if a few hundred thousand children spent a day chained to their potty chairs, well, a small price to pay to sell more product.

Fast forward to the early 21rst century. With Hillarycare a dim memory, the Left became urgently concerned once again about the “uninsured.” It was a crisis, we were told. The system was broken! Why, there were upwards of 40 million people without health insurance! Dying in the streets, they were. Yes, not even in their own beds, but staggering into the streets! Russell Brand said so, and inasmuch as he’s never had an original thought in his life, he was not alone.

Never mind that the uninsured included among them millions of people who made over $75,000 a year and just didn’t find health insurance a very sexy thing to buy when you could just show up at the ER for the flu or a broken arm and they had to take you in. Another large percentage included people who qualified for Medicaid but were too lazy or uninformed to apply for it. The young and invincible didn’t want to pay for it when they could get another tattoo instead. Yet another large component were, of course, illegal aliens, but the U.S. Taxpayers were called heartless for refusing to provide platinum health care coverage for all of Mexico. Just for starters.

Enter Jonathan Gruber and his co-conspirators with both hands out to Grub in the bottomless government money trough while trying to make the one-size-fits-all steaming disaster that is Obamacare work its way through the body politic. First, make the plan many thousands of pages long so that nobody, even serious policy wonks, could read it or make sense of it. Second, make it impossible for the CBO to score it accurately. On purpose. Third, ram it through on strict party lines with no input whatsoever allowed from the other side. Trot out heart-rending examples of what happens to people without insurance, and allow no unseemly digging into the actual facts of the narratives, not one of which held up to close scrutiny. Are you calling that sweet little orphan boy’s dead mama a liar?? Bribe, wheedle, threaten, strong-arm. Repeat.

But, mostly, lie through your teeth. You can keep your doctor or current insurance: wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It wasn’t a tax! Hell, no. Until it needed to be. Death panels? Sarah Palin is a lunatic. Grant thousands of exceptions to the more onerous rules to your homies. The lying had to be done, doncha know, because the American people are just too slack-jawed stupid to understand any complexities. Did YOU go to M.I.T.? I didn’t think so. Me neither. With all the lies to chocolate coat the process of moving the bill through the system, Nancy Pelosi was more prescient than she knew when she said we had to “pass the bill to see what’s in it.”

One thing that has become apparent with the left wing is that they are just terrible winners. When a single gay judge in California overturned the defeated gay marriage referendum, which itself was back on the ballot in defiance of the previous overwhelming defeat, it wasn’t enough to win. People who had opposed redefining marriage, even years previously, had to be punished, including with loss of their jobs.

And it wasn’t enough for Jonathan Gruber to help provide the chocolate in the Ex-Lax to make Obamacare progress smoothly. It wasn’t enough for him to walk away with tons of “street cred” for future consulting and wheelbarrels full of money. Enough money that he would never need to “work” again. (Please, God.) Think of that — set for life.

No, he had to taunt. He had to brag. He had to chortle about the knee-slapper he put over on us rubes. Never mind that that’s yet another lie – it never had majority support in polls. Maybe from the usual beneficiaries of freebies, but not from actual taxpayers footing the bill. We weren’t fooled. Like the kid with the crummy chocolate Ex-Lax, it was simply too late. Is there no remedy to recoup any of our money from these criminals and liars? The Solyndra thieves, the multimillionaires at the top of the Fannie Mae food chain, the “hide the decline” frauds in the global warming bidness? John, Paul, Scott, anybody? I’m just a retired comic, not an attorney, but isn’t deliberate, admitted fraud still a crime?

Water machines as microaggression

Increasingly, we hear the term “microaggression” tossed around by the infantile left. But what does it mean?

As far as I can tell, a microaggression is an affront — real or imagined for the sake of being affronted — so trivial that few stable adults would notice it and none would give it a second thought. When the term is used, the only aggression in sight is that committed by the grievance industry against the English language for the purpose of political bullying.

With this definition in mind, we can try to make sense of the latest story from the grievance industry manufacturing plant known as Harvard.

Katherine Timpf of NRO reports:

Harvard University Dining Services has decided stop buying water machines from the Israeli company SodaStream due to concerns that their very presence might be a microaggression against Palestinian students.

“These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights,” Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash, sophomore and member of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, told the Harvard Crimson.

In the meantime, the school will also be removing the “SodaStream” stickers from any of the existing water machines, just to make sure no student has to see one and have a traumatic experience or something.

Fortunately, Harvard will not remove existing SodaStream machines and replace them with machines purchased from another vendor. That would be a microaggression against Harvard’s bottom line.

But by bowing to pressure from Ms. Sandalow-Ash and the College’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, Harvard’s dining services operation has committed a microaggression against non-self-hating Jews.

UPDATE: From Twitchy comes word that Harvard’s president has ordered an investigation into the boycott of SodaStream machines.

JOHN adds: Of course, Harvard could make this more fair by also boycotting all of the otherwise-desirable products made by the Palestinians. No, wait…

Thoughts on Cuba

The late William Rusher used to criticize our Cuban embargo because he liked to smoke Cuban cigars, and rightly reasoned, “Well—if we can’t bomb their cities, at least we could burn their crops.” To which I added, if blue jeans helped bring down the Soviet Union, imagine what a boatload of Spandex will do to Castro’s Cuba.

We’ll see how much of this Obama can implement on his own. Much of our Cuban policy is a matter of statute passed by Congress, and while Obama might be violating some parts of the law, this may be another one of those legal no-man’s lands where no member of Congress will have standing to bring an action in federal court.

Not surprisingly there is a lot of blowback against this development coming from . . . the Left! Cultural lefties worry that with normalized relations and trade Cuba will be ruined by American fast food, big league baseball contracts, sitcoms, etc. Another bit of evidence that it is the Left that is the most reactionary and nostalgic faction in the modern world today (“Downton Democrats” as George Will puts it), pining for a romantic vision of egalitarian poverty.

I think the real fear is that Cubans, like so many eastern Europeans, will eventually be very pro-American, and will dish on how awful the Castro years have been, which will deflate the last limp leftist balloon. Who have they got left after Cuba? Venezuela? Argentina? Bolivia?   Pffffffttt.

Our friend Stephen Knott notes the situational ethics of Obama on Cuba. Sanctions haven’t worked, we’re told, but when it comes to Iran and Russia, Obama’s position is, “Give sanctions time to work.” Steve also notes this:

Raul Castro said sanctions “caused enormous human and economic damage”

Obama says: “50 years that didn’t work.”

It strikes me that Castro had the more accurate assessment.

P.S. Brian Williams opened with NBC Nightly News last night with a surprising phrase: “Four out of five Americans alive today have never known a free Cuba.”   (Emphasis added.)  Curious that he didn’t say “Non-Communist Cuba,” or some other euphemism.  Someone must have misplaced the Liberal Media Style Book and screwed up.

Democrats to Colbert: Thanks For Your Help! [Updated]

I have never seen Stephen Colbert’s show on Comedy Central, but I take it that it consists of an endless series of anti-Republican “jokes.” If asked, would Colbert admit to being a loyal Democratic Party foot soldier, or would he claim to be a stubbornly independent sort who socks it to both sides? I don’t know, but the Democrats aren’t in any doubt. Yesterday the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent this email to the party faithful; click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 4.05.43 PM

That was followed by a link to an official Democratic Party web page called “Thank You Stephen Colbert!” So I guess the Democrats have known all along that Colbert’s show was an hour-long commercial for their party and its candidates.

I am not in favor of restricting anyone’s right to free speech, but if federal law is going to bar a businessman from contributing enough to buy more than a minimal amount of television time on behalf of his party or his candidates, why shouldn’t Stephen Colbert and Comedy Central be prohibited from airing millions of dollars worth of pro-Democratic Party propaganda?

UPDATE: For some reason, lefties have taken an interest in this post. I am not sure why; they agree that Colbert has always been a Democrat Party operative. So far I haven’t seen any of them comment on why the Democratic Party should get free commercials from the likes of Colbert, while a businessman (of either the right or the left) can contribute only small amounts to parties and candidates. Unlimited free speech for all, I say. The only coherent criticism any of the lefties has made is that Colbert’s show was only 30 minutes long, not 60. For that, I am grateful.

“Green” Cars Are Actually Very Brown

Seth Borenstein, environmental writer for the AP, notes a new study out Monday from the National Academy of Sciences that finds electric cars have a strongly negative air pollution effect if they are run in states that generate most of their electricity from coal:

People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming.

The EPA knew this more than 20 years ago, and this finding has been replicated over and over again, but somehow it always seems like “news” to environmental journalists when it happens again. Anyway, next sentence:

Ethanol isn’t so green, either.

Well duh. This has been known for a long time, too.

The full PNAS paper, “Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States,” can be found here, written in the usual hard-to-follow style if you’re a layperson (but worth trying for some of the regional variations that show up on the color maps). Here’s the key sentence from the abstract:

We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline.

I used to remark that if you’d been an environmentalist 100 years ago, you would have wanted to have a bumper sticker that said, “Save Farmland—Drive a Car,” since in 1915 we were still using over 90 million acres of land to grow feed for our draft horses and such. Much of the re-forestation of the northeast that has taken place over the last century owes to the coming of the internal combustion engine.

Sounds like we need a new bumper strip for today: “Reduce Air Pollution: Drive A Gasoline Powered Car.” Heh. Nice going environmental idiots.