Night Cap | Wednesday May 23, 2017

Andrew Yates / Reuters

The Manchester Attack Shows How Terrorists Learn

by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (The Atlantic)

Many of the significant advantages new technologies have presented to militant groups do not represent true leaps of innovation, but, rather, intuitive applications of widely available technologies that have come to market. ISIS established an impressive apparatus for making itself omnipresent on social media before Twitter got serious about shutting down pro-ISIS accounts, but establishing a real social-media brand is what 21st-century organizations do. The virtual-planner model fused two major technological trends—social media and improvements in encryption—but was fundamentally consistent with developments in online learning. Even ISIS’s aforementioned use of armed drones to repel Iraqi forces that are advancing on Mosul had been foreseen by experts (who, truth be told, had come up with even more inventive uses than those that ISIS ultimately made of the drones).

In the case of Manchester, there is much we don’t yet know, but many of the answers related to the attack may circle back to methods of organizational learning. How did the attacker sneak his bomb past the tight security that had been employed at Manchester Arena? How did he build the IED in the first place? Was he assisted by accomplices on the ground in Britain—or perhaps by technical experts advising him from their perch in Syria? Had the attacker been in touch with planners in an organization like ISIS to try to integrate the attack into a militant group’s broader war strategy?

Could Trump Remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Lessons from Watergate

by Josh Blackman (Lawfare)

To the extent that the White House determines that Mueller’s investigation is frustrating its foreign policy initiatives with Russia, or other nations, it could argue that (1) “good cause” exists, or (2) Section 600.7(d) violates the President’s Article II powers over foreign policy. Either route provides an executive override of the regulation.

To be clear, such an action would incur a severe political cost. To supporters of the unitary executive, removing the special counsel would be constitutionally proper; to the public at large, the termination of Mueller would amount to an admission of guilt and obstruction of justice. The fallout from the firing of Mueller would likely be as explosive as the firing of special counsel Archibald Cox in 1973. However, as we learn day by day, history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Trump’s Budget is Built on a Fantasy

by Ben Castleman (FiveThirtyEight)

Trump’s budget would preserve Social Security1 and Medicare, boost military spending, cut taxes and still somehow balance the budget within 10 years. How would he accomplish that feat? Not through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget; those cuts, though dramatic, don’t come close to making up the gap. Rather, Trump gets the budget to balance (at least on paper) by assuming that economic growth will accelerate dramatically to 3 percent per year by 2021; it was 1.6 percent last year. More economic growth means more tax revenue for the government: In rough figures, each 0.1 percentage point increase in the growth rate of the nation’s gross domestic product brings an additional $300 billion in tax revenue over a decade. So by forecasting faster growth, the administration is able to project trillions of dollars of extra revenue. (The “balanced budget” claim also relies on some fuzzy math: It effectively claims credit for the economic boost delivered by Trump’s tax cuts without accounting for how much those cuts would cost.)

Most media reports on Trump’s budget have dutifully reported that this 3 percent forecast is … aggressive. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the economy will grow just 1.9 percent per year, on average, over the medium run; the Federal Reserve’s forecast is even more pessimistic, at 1.8 percent. But it’s worth taking a minute to understand just why most economists see 3 percent as so unrealistic. After all, as recently as the late 1990s, the U.S. economy routinely grew at a rate of 4 percent and even 5 percent a year.


The Night Cap is a round up of interesting pieces that crossed my plate across the Internet, along with the occasional video and / or cat picture. If you have suggestions of stories to check out or ideas for me that would make this more interesting, please shoot me a note.