Posted: May 24, 2014 Filed under: Gun Control, income inequality, morning reads, racism, The Bonus Class, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Chris Giles, Donald Sterling, economic theory, Financial Times., guns, inequality, Kevin Drum, LA Clippers, mass murder, mass shootings, NBA, offshore tax havens, open carry laws, Paul Krugman, Reinhart and Rogoff, Shelly Sterling, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, The Economist, Thomas Picketty, wealth distribution, wealth vs. income
Have a Stupendous Saturday!
It’s too bad Dakinikat is so busy today, because there’s an economics food fight brewing. Perhaps she’ll still find time to comment on the controversy later the evening after she returns home with her newly adopted canine family member, Temple. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to describe the dispute over Thomas Picketty’s conclusions about wealth inequality, published in his book Capital in the Twenty-first Century.
At the Financial Times, Economics Editor Chris Giles has claims to have found problems with Picketty’s work: Piketty findings undercut by errors.
Thomas Piketty’s book, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, has been the publishing sensation of the year. Its thesis of rising inequality tapped into the zeitgeist and electrified the post-financial crisis public policy debate.
But, according to a Financial Times investigation, the rock-star French economist appears to have got his sums wrong.
The data underpinning Professor Piketty’s 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The central theme of Prof Piketty’s work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.
John Maynard Keynes
In one specific example, Giles says the corrected data do not show significant growth in Europe since 1970. In a second article, Giles goes into more detail. In addition, he argues that the U.S. data doesn’t support the conclusion that a greater proportion of the wealth is controlled by top 1% than in recent decades. He does admit to the top 10% controlling a greater share of wealth than previously.
An investigation by the Financial Times, however, has revealed many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.
These are sufficiently serious to undermine Prof Piketty’s claim that the share of wealth owned by the richest in society has been rising and “the reason why wealth today is not as unequally distributed as in the past is simply that not enough time has passed since 1945”.
After referring back to the original data sources, the investigation found numerous mistakes in Prof Piketty’s work: simple fat-finger errors of transcription; suboptimal averaging techniques; multiple unexplained adjustments to the numbers; data entries with no sourcing, unexplained use of different time periods and inconsistent uses of source data….
A second class of problems relates to unexplained alterations of the original source data. Prof Piketty adjusts his own French data on wealth inequality at death to obtain inequality among the living. However, he used a larger adjustment scale for 1910 than for all the other years, without explaining why.
In the UK data, instead of using his source for the wealth of the top 10 per cent population during the 19th century, Prof Piketty inexplicably adds 26 percentage points to the wealth share of the top 1 per cent for 1870 and 28 percentage points for 1810.
A third problem is that when averaging different countries to estimate wealth in Europe, Prof Piketty gives the same weight to Sweden as to France and the UK – even though it only has one-seventh of the population.
Get even more detail and charts here: Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century.
The Pushback So Far:
Paul Krugman: Is Piketty All Wrong?
Great buzz in the blogosphere over Chris Giles’s attack on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Giles finds a few clear errors, although they don’t seem to matter much; more important, he questions some of the assumptions and imputations Piketty uses to deal with gaps in the data and the way he switches sources. Neil Irwin and Justin Wolfers have good discussions of the complaints; Piketty will have to answer these questions in detail, and we’ll see how well he does it.
Krugman suggests that Giles may be doing something wrong.
I don’t know the European evidence too well, but the notion of stable wealth concentration in the United States is at odds with many sources of evidence. Take, for example, the landmark CBO study on the distribution of income; it shows the distribution of income by type, and capital income has become much more concentrated over time:
It’s just not plausible that this increase in the concentration of income from capital doesn’t reflect a more or less comparable increase in the concentration of capital itself….
And there’s also the economic story. In the United States, income inequality has soared since 1980 by any measure you use. Unless the affluent starting saving less than the working class, this rise in income disparity must have led to a rise in wealth disparity over time.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes that
Giles’ objections are mostly to the data regarding increases in wealth inequality over the past few decades, and the funny thing is that even Piketty never claims that this has changed dramatically. The end result of Giles’ re-analysis of Piketty’s data is [below] with Piketty in blue and Giles in red. As you can see, Piketty estimates a very small increase since 1970.
R.A. at The Economist: A Piketty problem?
Mr Giles’s analysis is impressive, and one certainly hopes that further work by Mr Giles, Mr Piketty or others will clarify whether mistakes have been made, how they came to be introduced and what their effects are. Based on the information Mr Giles has provided so far, however, the analysis does not seem to support many of the allegations made by the FT, or the conclusion that the book’s argument is wrong.
There are four important questions raised by the FT‘s work. First, which data are wrong? Second, how did errors in the work, if they are errors, come to be introduced? Third, how do the errors affect the specific points made in the relevant chapters? And fourth, how do the errors affect the fundamental conclusions of the book?
Mr Giles focuses on wealth inequality, to which Mr Piketty turns in Chapter 10 of his book. Mr Piketty has not published nearly as much research on the question of wealth inequality, and it seems that much of the analysis in Chapter 10 was done specifically for the book, based on others’ research. Mr Piketty’s wealth-inequality analysis certainly matters as a component of the book’s argument, but it is not accurate to say, as Mr Giles does, that the results in Chapter 10 constitute the “central theme” of the book.
Are the data wrong? Mr Giles identifies discrepancies between source material cited by Mr Piketty and the figures that appear in the book. He identifies cases in which Mr Piketty appears to have chosen to use data from one source when another would have made more sense. Further, the calculations in Mr Piketty’s spreadsheets (which have been available online since the book’s publication) seem to include adjustments in the data that are not adequately explained, and some figures for which Mr Giles cannot find a documented source. Finally, Mr Piketty has made choices concerning weighting of data used in averages, and assigning of data from one year (1935, for example) to another (1930) when such assignments seem unnecessary or inadvisable.
The author concludes that, unfortunately, ideology will determine how many people respond to the Giles critique. Much more extensive analysis at the link.
Here is Picketty’s–presumably preliminary–response to Giles in a letter to the Financial Times:
Let me also say that I certainly agree that available data sources on wealth are much less systematic than for income. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am in favor of wealth taxation and automatic exchange of bank information is that this would be a way to develop more financial transparency and more reliable sources of information on wealth dynamics (even if the tax was charged at very low rates, which you might agree with).
For the time being, we have to do with what we have, that is, a very diverse and heterogeneous set of data sources on wealth: historical inheritance declarations and estate tax statistics, scarce property and wealth tax data, and household surveys with self-reported data on wealth (with typically a lot of under-reporting at the top). As I make clear in the book, in the on-line appendix, and in the many technical papers I have published on this topic, one needs to make a number of adjustments to the raw data sources so as to make them more homogenous over time and across countries. I have tried in the context of this book to make the most justified choices and arbitrages about data sources and adjustments. I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future (this is why I put everything on line). In fact, the “World Top Incomes Database” (WTID) is set to become a “World Wealth and Income Database” in the coming years, and we will put on-line updated estimates covering more countries. But I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements.
I thought this was important:
…my estimates on wealth concentration do not fully take into account offshore wealth, and are likely to err on the low side. I am certainly not trying to make the picture look darker than it it. As I make clear in chapter 12 of my book (see in particular table 12.1-12.2), top wealth holders have apparently been rising a lot faster average wealth in recent decades, at least according to the wealth rankings published in magazines such as Forbes. This is true not only in the US, but also in Britain and at the global level (see attached table). This is not well taken into account by wealth surveys and official statistics, including the recent statistics that were published for Britain. Of course, as I make clear in my book, wealth rankings published by magazines are far from being a perfectly reliable data source. But for the time being, this is what we have, and what we have suggests that the concentration of wealth at the top is rising pretty much everywhere.
In Other News:
There has been a mass shooting in Southern California–this time perpetrated from behind the wheel of a car. From the LA Times, 7 dead in drive-by shooting near UC Santa Barbara.
The shootings began about 9:30 p.m., a sheriff’s spokeswoman told KEYT-TV. It wasn’t clear what the attacker’s motivation might have been.
An 18-year-old Newport Beach man who was visiting Santa Barbara described a confusing scene as the shots rang out.
Nikolaus Becker was eating outside The Habit, 888 Embarcadero Del Norte, near the scene when the first set of shots was fired about 9:30 p.m. At first he thought it was firecrackers. A group of three to five police officers who were nearby started to casually walk toward the sounds, said Becker, but ran when a second round of shots broke out.
“That’s when they yelled at us to get inside and take cover,” Becker said.
The BMW took a sharp turn in front of The Habit, Becker said, and moments later a third round of shots was heard. Becker and his friends moved toward the restaurant’s kitchen but were told to wait in the seating area by employees.
He estimates there were at least 13 to 15 shots total at three locations. The locations were about 100 yards from one another.
The shooter, whose motivation is unknown, was found dead in his BMW. It’s not yet clear if he shot himself or was killed by sheriff’s deputies.
In another gun-related story, TPM reports that some gun nuts are reconsidering their campaign of carrying long guns into public places: Scaring The Crap Out of People Oddly Not Winning Fans.
Earlier this week we reported how Chipotle felt obliged to ask its customers not to bring guns to chipotle restaurants. Seems like a reasonably enough request to most of us. And it’s been preceded by similar requests by various other chains like Starbucks and others.
Now the top pro-gun group in Texas pushing the demand for “open carry” firearm rights and trying to get people to show up at various restaurant chains with long guns is deciding it may not be such a hot idea after all.
Open Carry Texas and a group of other aggressive gun rights groups have issued a joint statement telling their members, Dudes, let’s stop taking our guns to restaurants. It’s freaking people out and making them hate us.
Read the full statement at TPM.
Soon-to-be former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has signed over the team to his wife and wants her to negotiate the sale.
Shelly Sterling, who previously shared ownership of the beleaguered NBA franchise with her estranged husband, is now in talks with the NBA over selling the team, the source said.
The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life from all league events after an audio tape became public that caught him on tape uttering racist comments to his assistant V. Stiviano. He told her not to post photos of herself with black people on Instagram — such as Magic Johnson — or bring them to his basketball games.
But the NBA isn’t buying it. From ESPN: Why the NBA won’t allow Shelly Sterling to control the Clippers.
At first glance, Donald Sterling’s gesture may seem like serendipitous news for the NBA. Taking him at his word, Donald Sterling has agreed to leave the league without a fight and has signed off on the sale of his team. Digging deeper, however, reveals possible ulterior motives on Sterling’s part to delay and potentially block the sale of the team. Do not forget a crucial point: capital gain taxes. As first reported by SI.com, the Sterlings have significant incentives under capital gain tax law to avoid the sale of the team and keep it in the Sterling family. Doing so, would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, contrary to some reports, the Sterlings are unlikely to benefit from the “involuntary conversion” tax avoidance provision of the Internal Revenue Code. The bottom line is if the Sterlings have to sell the Clippers, they will probably pay hundreds of millions in state and federal taxes.
Along those lines, Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver does not accomplish the NBA’s goal of ousting the entire Sterling family on June 3. As explained in a previous SI.com article, the NBA interprets its constitution to mean that ousting Donald Sterling on June 3 would also automatically oust Shelly Sterling as co-owner, with the Clippers then falling under the control of commissioner Adam Silver. Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver risks the prospect of Shelly Sterling undertaking a slow-moving effort to sell the team. A sale process that takes months or years would clearly aggravate the NBA, which wants to erase the Sterling family name from the league as quickly as possible. A protracted sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling might also constitute a potential rationale for players to boycott NBA games.
Even of greater risk to the NBA, what is to stop Shelly Sterling from deciding to keep the Clippers? She could plausibly reason, on various grounds, that now is not the right time to sell the team. Also, her instruction from her husband to sell the team would not be legally binding; it would be a mere suggestion the moment she takes over the team.
Read much more at the link.
I’ll end with a long article that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I’m hearing it’s a must read: The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. Here’s the tagline:
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
The Guardian: The ‘Case for Reparations’ is solid, and it’s long past time to make them.
Slate: An Ingenious and Powerful Case for Reparations.
The Wire: You Should Read “The Case for Reparations.”
NPR: How To Tell Who Hasn’t Read The New ‘Atlantic’ Cover Story.
WaPo: Culture change and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case For Reparations’.
What else is happening? As always, please post your links in the comment thread.
Posted: April 20, 2014 Filed under: Barack Obama, financial institutions, History, home foreclosure fraud, income inequality, lobbyists, misogyny, morning reads, Political and Editorial Cartoons, polling, Republican politics, the GOP, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Hoppy Easter, Peeps
Good Morning and Happy Easter
(Cute illustration eh? Little fucking rabbits…or should I say little rabbits fucking? Well, about to at least.) Oh my, that is a bit too sordid for an Easter Morn, is it not? I don’t know, everything is still a bit hazy since Bebe got back from Chicago. I have a couple of extra teenage “other people munchkins.” Friends of my son spending the entire long weekend with us…lets just say the big ham is already gone, and it is now 2 am Saturday night.
The pictures for today’s post are from the 1920’s and 1930’s, that will tie in later. Let’s just kick off shall we?
Quick links to headlines:
Voice of America is reporting: 17 More Bodies Recovered from Sunken S. Korean Ferry, Death Toll at 50
While CNN has the figure up two : Death toll from South Korean ferry sinking rises to 52
This next article from the Irish Times is big news: Third mate was steering ferry for first time ever before capsize
In the grocers corner, NY Times: General Mills Reverses Itself on Consumers’ Right to Sue
Enjoy your bacon and OJ now, because that stuff is going to get even more expensive: The 10 Fastest Rising Food Prices – 24/7 Wall St.
But that is okay, because you probably will not be able to afford the bacon anyway…since you have to deal with this shit: After foreclosure crisis, renters suffer under Wall Street landlords | Al Jazeera America
The poster child for the foreclosure crisis has been a middle-income suburban family. But low-income urban renters also saw their buildings over-mortgaged at the height of the crisis, and now faceless hedge funds and nameless investors are replacing their desperate landlords — sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Six years after the foreclosure crisis helped tank the world’s economy, investors are snatching up “distressed” properties — those that are in foreclosure or facing foreclosure — and seeking to turn a profit on them. Advocates for affordable housing worry that this profit comes at the expense of tenants.
Joanna Paulino knows this all too well. She lives in a lower-income neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City. Her home is a prewar building, a once attractive structure like many others in the city’s outer boroughs. But after years of neglect, it is crumbling; there are more than 140 violations registered against the premises.
Pathetic and disturbing.
Over the last several months, Wall Street firms have snapped up an estimated 200,000 single-family homes with the intention of renting them out. The New York–based hedge fund Blackstone Group is now America’s largest landlord of rental homes after purchasing over 40,000 foreclosed single-family homes in 14 metro areas around the country, from Atlanta to Phoenix, to convert into rental properties. But certain investors are also snatching up “distressed” urban rental buildings like the one where Paulino lives in the South Bronx. Unbeknownst to many low-income renters, their buildings were over-mortgaged during the bubble. In New York, many of those buildings are due for refinancing now — making them vulnerable to acquisition by hedge funds.
“Since these buildings are so over-mortgaged,” said Harold Shultz, an affordable-housing expert who works with the Citizens Housing Planning Council of New York, “the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to be refinanced.”
Desperate landlords and banks are looking for new owners and investors. And Wall Street is ready to step in and help out.
These groups often purchase buildings sight unseen, with little knowledge of the conditions a foreclosed building might be in. Sometimes, especially in the case of apartments, foreclosures can take years to resolve.
So while old owners, banks and new owners or investors sort out the debt, buildings languish in disrepair. And when an agreement is eventually reached, there is no guarantee for tenants that conditions will improve.
That is just a couple of excerpts. Go and read the whole thing.
I will use those last few stories to tie into the post that Boston Boomer wrote Friday: Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope | Sky Dancing
Where she focused her post primarily on the study results of Martin Gilins and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities, and a recent article by Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.
The word Oligarchy and its various forms were used heavily throughout. (I always have to sound out the word oligarchy in my head when I am reading that word to myself. Even then I am not confident my mind’s voice is pronouncing it correctly.) ;)
On Friday I found this op/ed while looking for cartoons and it struck a chord, but it did not give an answer: How Not to Talk About Wealth Inequality by Tina Dupuy
Have you heard we live in an oligarchy? Perhaps you’ve been told America is a plutocracy? Is that because of widespread demagogy?
Circumlocution: a big word meaning using unnecessarily lofty words to express an idea.
Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune
Welcome to the baffling world of liberal-speak.
Oligarchy, plutocracy and demagogy: The holy trinity of sesquipedalian polysyllable liberal loquaciousness.
This language liberals, in particular, have chosen to talk about elitism is, well, really snooty. When we talk about a tiny fraction of people having undue influence on our politics—we use words barely anyone understands.
Marinade in that irony. It’s like if we were broadcasting NASCAR only in Latin. Oligarchy? That sounds like a German cabbage dish. Demagoguery sounds like a flourish in square dancing. Plutocracy sounds like we should just be friends.
I write for a living and these words make my eyes glaze over. And they’re used all time, often by well-meaning liberal-types attempting to advocate for the have-less in this nation. Case in point: Paul Krugman. His columns “Oligarchs and Money,” “Oligarchy, American Style” and “Graduates Versus the Oligarchs”—do cover how economic policies favor a fraction of 1 percent of Americans but his go-to word is comprehended by even fewer.
Go see what else Tina has to say. One thing she does not mention is some examples of substitutes for Oligarchs, Oligarchy etc.
More on this after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: February 8, 2014 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, Republican politics, Russia, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics, Ukraine | Tags: Bosnia-Hertzegovina, First Look, FSB, GCHQ, Glenn Greenwald, Great Britain, Income Inequality, NSA, Paul Volker, seniors, Ukraine
Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963
I thought I’d put the “morning reads” up a little later to give you time to check out JJ’s cartoon posts. So . . . let’s see what’s happening out there today.
Well . . . Paul Volker was in Boston on Thursday night, and he talked to some richie-rich guys about income inequality. From The Boston Globe:
Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Boston investment executives, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker asked some tough questions about income inequality in America. He called the earnings gap one of the economy’s greatest challenges.
“What accounts for this? What justifies it?’’ an animated Volcker asked. He argued that the trend started in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, with the spread of stock option compensation creating vast wealth and risk-taking.
During that period, he said, the link between pay and performance got “entirely out of whack.’’
The elder statesman of Fed watchers and author of the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank reform package after the financial crisis — was speaking before the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual market dinner…
Good for him. Whether it will do any good is questionable, but these people need to hear about what they are doing to 99% of Americans.
Just for the hell of it, I looked around for some more recent news articles about income inequality. There wasn’t a lot out there, but I did find a few interesting reads.
At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik writes: Income inequality begins to hit business in the pocketbook. He argues that business is noticing that middle-class customers are disappearing.
The consumer market is beginning to look like a sandwich without meat in the middle–there are enough wealthy customers to keep the luxury market humming along, and a growing demand for cheap no-name and other bargain products.
The phenomenon has been reported by Matthew Yglesias of Slate.com and more recently by Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times. As we reported here and here, it’s been building for years. But it really picked up steam after the last recession, when the imbalance in income between the top 1% and everyone else has really taken off.
Most economists view the stranglehold of the wealthy on U.S. income and wealth as a problem–it leads to slower overall growth and more volatility. As economist Jared Bernstein has observed, it also promotes the creation of asset and credit bubbles, which have a tendency to burst, taking the rest of the economy with them.
The most important analysis of the economic impact of inequality has come from Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis. In a paper published last month, they ask two questions: “First, did rising inequality contribute in an important way to the unsustainable increase in household leverage that triggered the collapse in consumer demand and the Great Recession? Second, has the rise in inequality become a drag on demand growth…that has held back recovery?”
Their answer to both questions is yes. In simpler terms, rising inequality before the recession prompted U.S. households to borrow more to keep up their spending; when the debt frenzy ended (because of the bursting of the housing bubble) the economy crashed. Since then, the demand drag caused by the effect of inequality on the bottom 95% has held back recovery. The impact of inequality on the recovery, compared with previous recoveries, is shown in this stunning graph from their paper.
But Hiltzik notes that many oblivious pundits continue to deny the effects of the top 1% controlling most of the wealth.
At The News Virginian, Jason Stanford finds some “good news” in the fact that most Republicans now agree that income inequality is a problem.
Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.
The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.
OK, so Republicans see the problem, but they want to address it with the same old tired trickle-down non-solutions. I’m not really sure that qualifies as good news. Better than nothing, I guess.
At the Akron Beacon Journal, Rick Armon writes about “an American success story.” Thanks to government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not as many seniors are living in poverty as they did in the past.
Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, at least one group of Americans is much better off today: senior citizens.
The percentage of seniors nationwide living below the poverty line has plummeted from 27 percent to 9 percent today, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of census data….
Today, there are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty, compared with 5.2 million in 1969, when the 1970 census was conducted.
The reasons are pretty simple, experts say: It’s a combination of Social Security, pensions, 401(k) programs and Medicare that has kept more elderly people from slipping into poverty.
Armon says those figures may be a little too optimistic (read the details at the link); but still, it’s progress.
Yesterday everyone was talking about Asst. Sec. of State Victoria Nuland’s bugged phone call with the US ambassador to Ukraine in which she uttered the words “fuck the EU,” apparently using an unencrypted cell phone. Someone posted portions of the call to Youtube, and the U.S. has accused Russia of tapping Nuland’s phone. Read all the gossipy details at BBC News.
Of course Russia is accusing the U.S. of “meddling” in the Ukraine crisis. From The New York Times:
KIEV, Ukraine — The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats.
An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.
The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.
There’s a lot more background on the Ukraine situation in the NYT article.
If the problems in Ukraine weren’t enough, anti-government protests have now broken out in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. The Guardian reports:
Thousands of Bosnian protesters took to the streets in the centre of Sarajevo on Friday, setting fire to the presidency building and hurling rocks and stones at police as fury at the country’s political and economic stagnation spread rapidly around the country.
As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.
At one point in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories….
The scenes in Sarajevo were similarly fraught on Friday night, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters….
The protests have bubbled up out of long-simmering discontent at a sluggish economy, mismanagement, corruption and unemployment, which is rising irresistibly towards 30%. Bosnia has been hamstrung by political infighting and deadlock between its three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in the near 20 years since its three-year civil war ended in 1995. The economy has suffered as a result, and the population remains deeply sceptical of a political class widely believed to be ruling in the interests of the elite, not the people.
There continues to be plenty of surveillance news–both about NSA, and more recently about Russia’s intelligence agencies and their security measures activities around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This article from The Moscow Times by Andrei Soldatov provides a good overview: FSB Makes Eavesdropping an Olympic Event. In NSA news, Glenn Greenwald and friends have stepped up their publishing activities in the run-up to the unveiling of their First Look news site, planned for Monday. I’ll just share a couple of items with you.
A little more than a week ago Greenwald worked with CBC reporters to “break” a story about alleged spying by Canada’s equivalent of NSA on airport passengers that supposedly continued for days after they left the airport. As usual, the report was deeply flawed, as explained by Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency: Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect.
On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers – something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts.”
However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.
Read all the gory details at the Aid’s blog.
Then yesterday, Greenwald–in collaboration with NBC News–released a truly bizarre article, Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’, that reveals methods and sources for the GCHQ’s efforts to arrest malicious hackers, criminals, and terrorists, and to prevent nuclear proliferation. You have to wonder why NBC news thought those efforts were somehow wrong or illegal. I’m running out of space, so I’ll let Bob Cesca explain the problems with this story.
There’s one sentence in the new Glenn Greenwald revelation for NBC News that renders everything that follows mostly irrelevant. It’s the lede. And not even the entire lede — just the first part of it.
British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers…
The only sane reaction to this news should be, “Great!” We don’t really need to know anything else. But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from spilling the beans on operations that target such poor helpless victims as malicious hackers, the Taliban, Iran and, yes, terrorists dealing in loose nukes.
See more examples at The Daily Banter. Cesca sums up:
Regardless, what we’re looking at here is another leak from Greenwald & Company that tips off some of our most dangerous enemies including and especially the looming threat of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. These leaks have been published yet again under the banner of the public interest, but it’s difficult to see any public interest in an operation expressly aimed at those who even the article admits are our “enemies.”
Greenwald has been publishing quite a few leaks about British spying lately. I have to assume that this is his threatened revenge for the Brits detaining David Miranda at Heathrow airport last year. Pretty childish, if you ask me.
Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific weekend!
Posted: January 7, 2014 Filed under: Barack Obama, morning reads, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Angela Merkel, Bernie Madoff, Janet Yellin, JP Morgan, Larry Sabato, magic spells, Polar Vortex, weather, witchcraft
This is going to be another quick post, because my mom is having an emergency that I need to help her with. She lost her internet, TV, and phone, and Comcast is saying they can’t do anything till Friday! She told them she is 88 years old, so maybe they’ll get off their duffs sooner.
Meanwhile, she just has her cell phone and only 100 minutes. She can afford to pay if she goes over, but she’s Great Depression survivor and often panics over “wasting money.”
So let’s see what’s happening in the headlines.
NBC News: Janet Yellen confirmed as first female Fed chair. Another glass ceiling shattered!
Vice chair of the Fed since 2010, Yellen begins her four-year term as leader of the century-old bank on Feb. 1. With the economy rebounding from the depths of the recession but only modestly so far, many economists expect her to focus on how to nurture growth without putting it into overdrive, which could risk fueling inflation….
Under Bernanke, the Fed has driven short-term interest rates down to near zero and flushed money into the economy with huge bond purchases, which it has just started to ease. Yellen, a strong Bernanke ally, has supported those policies and is expected to continue them until concrete signs emerge of sustained improvement of the economy and job market.
In a written statement, President Barack Obama said Yellen’s approval means “the American people will have a fierce champion” who will protect them.
On the other hand,
Lobbyists for the banking and financial services sectors issued statements pledging to work with Yellen. Both industries have led a fight to water down restrictions imposed by Obama’s 2010 law overhauling how the nation’s financial system is regulated.
I hope Dakinikat will weigh in on this later on. My guess is she will pooh pooh the notion that anything is going to suddenly create inflation in this economy.
CNN on the latest media meme: The Polar Vortex.
From Boston to Washington to Atlanta, the polar vortex kept swinging Tuesday, a frozen ice chest hovering over more than 100 million people.
Temperatures in many areas were in the single digits, and well below zero with wind chills.
In the Deep South, hard freeze warnings were in effect from eastern Texas to the Florida Panhandle….
It’s even too cold for polar bears and penguins. At Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Anana — a polar bear who never grew the thick layer of fat that bears in the Arctic do — had to be brought inside Monday. And at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, bald eagles and African penguins, “who are used to temperate climates,” were taken off exhibit until the weather warms up, the facility reported.
And from Think Progress: Everything You Wanted To Know About The ‘Polar Vortex’
the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titledthe explanation.
“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”
In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.
“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.”
Basically, places that are usually cold are warmer and places that are usually warm are getting the cold air. Lots more at the link.
Here’s scary headline for you: Republicans Really Could Win It All This Year, by Larry Sabato. But take it with a grain of salt, because it’s a Politico story.
Another midterm election beckons, and over the next 10 months we’ll see headlines about a thousand supposedly critical developments—the “game changers” and the “tipping points.” But we all know there aren’t a thousand powerful drivers of the vote. I’d argue that three factors are paramount: the president, the economy and the election playing field. And, at least preliminarily, those three factors seem to be pointing toward Republican gains in both houses in the 2014 midterms.
Read all about it at the link. As a side note, Joseph Cannon has a post up about Sabato and his recent book on the JFK assassination. As usual, when Cannon writes about this subject, it’s highly enlightening. Check it out if you like connecting dots.
Here’s a wacky story from Oklahoma that Dakinicat sent me last night: Student Expelled for Casting a Spell.
An Oklahoma high school suspended a
15-year-old student after accusing her of casting a magic spell
that caused a teacher to become sick, lawyers for the student
said on Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on behalf of student Brandi Blackbear, charging that the assistant principal of Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, suspended her for 15 days last December for supposedly casting a spell.
The suit also charged the Tulsa-area Union Public Schools with repeatedly violating Blackbear’s civil rights by seizing notebooks she used to write horror stories and barring her from drawing or wearing signs of the pagan religion Wicca.
“It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” said Timothy Blackbear, Brandi’s father.
WTF?! So what we’re learning is that at least a teacher and presumably members of the administration of a school in Oklahoma believes it is possible to cast magic spells that make people sick? What century is this again?
Angela Merkel has broken her pelvis in a skiing accident. From CNN:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel fractured her pelvis in a skiing accident in Switzerland over the holidays, her spokesman told reporters Monday.
Merkel was cross-country skiing when the accident occurred. Spokesman Steffen Seibert did not disclose the date of the incident, but said her injuries are not thought to be serious and it is thought she will make a full recovery.
Merkel, who has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005, will need aid to walk over the next few weeks and will be canceling some of her commitments, Seibert said.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said it will delay its party retreat, originally slated for January 10-11, as a result of her accident.
From The New York Times: JPMorgan Settles With Federal Authorities in Madoff Case
Before Bernard L. Madoff stole billions of dollars from his clients, and before he received a 150-year prison sentence for those crimes, JPMorgan Chase had a chance to warn federal authorities about his Ponzi scheme but never did.
On Tuesday, five years after Mr. Madoff’s arrest set off a panic on Wall Street and Washington, Mr. Madoff’s primary bank received a punishment of its own.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan imposed a $1.7 billion penalty on JPMorgan, striking a criminal settlement deal involving two felony violations. The prosecutors, essentially accusing the nation’s biggest bank of turning a blind eye to Mr. Madoff’s fraud, will force JPMorgan to pay the sum to his victims.
Later on Tuesday, federal regulators are expected to announce their own rebuke of the bank in a civil case. All told, JPMorgan is likely to pay some $2 billion to resolve the Madoff investigations, which will be fully detailed at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Some bankers are going to lose some money and are being embarrassed. It’s something anyway. I’ll end on that positive note.
So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.
Posted: December 28, 2013 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Congress, Duck Dynasty, food stamps, GOP selfishness, Obama Derangement Syndrome, Phil Robertson, unemployment benefits
I’m really struggling to get going this morning, so I’m going to start you off with a few cartoons and some quick links. I have another post planned for later on today, and I hope you’ll stop by then.
Right wing “Christian” hate was a dominant characteristic of 2013,
so I guess it’s appropriate that the year is ending with an incredibly disgusting and ludicrous example of what some Americans have become.
Duck Dynasty Camoflage
The New York Times finally weighed in on the disastrous decision of A&E to revoke their suspension of ridiculous hate monger Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.
The indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of the A&E Network’s huge ratings hit “Duck Dynasty,” became definite Friday — at zero episodes. The network announced he would not be suspended after all.
A&E released a statement, noteworthy both for its concessions to the Robertson family’s refusal to accept the suspension as well as its timing — at close of business on Friday of a holiday weekend on the slowest week of the year in the entertainment business.
The bottom line: Phil Robertson will resume work on the show when it begins taping new episodes in the spring.
The network moved to suspend Mr. Robertson on Dec. 18 after comments he made about gay people in a magazine interview. At the time A&E described the comments, which described homosexual acts in crude terms and labeled them a sin, as extremely disappointing and not reflective of the network, which considered itself “champions of the L.G.B.T. community.”
Shame on you, A&E!! And don’t forget the racism, misogyny, pedophilia, religious bigotry, and general overall ignorance in Roberton’s interview. A&E now tacitly supports those “values” as their “core principles.”
Way back in 1968 when I first saw Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey, I never could have imagined that the future of the U.S. would be so pathetic and embarrassing. Sigh . . . We’ve left 2001 far behind us, and this is what has become of the dreams of my generation.
The good news, at least about gay marriage, is that the battle is over and the good guys won.
Since the Supreme Court ruling in June, the writing has been on the wall for banning of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in the United States. Since June the number of states with marriage equality has jumped from 12 to 18. But last week’s lower court decisions in Utah and Ohio leave little doubt that the political fight over gay marriage is now essentially over and that gay marriage will be the law of the land in every state in the country in the pretty near future.
The fact that gay and lesbian couples are now lining up to get married in Utah of all places – arguably the most conservative state in the country – might tell you this on a symbolic level. But the logic that points to the end of the political fight over gay marriage is more concrete, specific and undeniable.
Utah, rightly, got the most attention. But there were two cases last week. The other one in Ohio dealt with a much narrower question: whether the state had to recognize gay marriages in the issuance of death certificates. But both cases rested on the same essential premise: that if the federal government can’t discriminate against gay couples, states – by definition – cannot either.
As Judge Timothy Black put it in the Ohio case: “The question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”
The other huge story of the day (which the mainstream media will probably play down) is that more than a million Americans will lose long-term unemployment benefits today.
Here are some links, and so far I haven’t seen any on Google news from the big media outlets.
The Columbus Dispatch: 1.3 million set to lose U.S. jobless benefits
More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm-election year.
Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged yesterday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.
For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.
Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy might suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.
Voxxi: What you should know about the expiration of unemployment benefits This article lists seven reasons why the decision by Republicans to hurt so many American families will be a disaster. Highly recommended.
11KKTV.com Long-Term Unemployed Face Life Without Emergency Benefits
The federal program, which was expanded in 2008 to provide extra income to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits, lapses Saturday because Congress failed to extend the federal program into 2014. For much of the recession, the government not only offered extended benefits beyond those 26 weeks, but also introduced the EUC program to offer up to 99 weeks of assistance in many states.
In the first six months of 2014, 1.9 million additional Americans will use up their state-funded benefits and find themselves without a federal safety net waiting if the program is not renewed. That number will jump to 3.6 million people. According to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Labor Department, in October the average length of unemployment was 36.1 weeks – two and a half months longer than state benefits will last with no extension. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, roughly one-third of the overall employment rate of 7.3 percent.
“In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today,” the report says.
It’s also been quite a while since anyone was able to receive 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 per week. Over the past two years, the average maximum weeks of available benefits has dropped from 85 to 54, or 36 percent, according to Congressional Research Service data.
That’s just sick. In fact it is so far beyond sick, I don’t even know how to begin to characterize it.
Why are the Republicans doing this?
Christmas GOP and Obama
And don’t forget what’s happening to people on food stamps.
Food Stamps Removed
I wish I had some cheerful news for you. I’ll look around and try to find some. For now, I’d better get this post published before everyone gives up on me!
Have a great day, and please post any links that have caught your eye in the comment thread.