Friday Reads

orangesGood Morning!

Well, House Republicans did in fact vote to cut SNAP by $40 Billion.   They seem to think that it’s easy to find a job in country with a persistent unemployment rate about 7.5%.

Right now, there are roughly 47.7 million Americans on food stamps — a number that swelled during the recession and has only recently started to decline.

The House GOP bill would kick about 3.8 million people off the food-stamp rolls over the course of the upcoming fiscal year that begins in October. That includes 1.7 million unemployed, childless adults aged 18-50. It also includes another 2.1 million families and seniors who have incomes just slightly above the federal food-stamp limits. (In recent years, states have been able to extend food-stamp aid to these households.)

Thereafter, the House GOP bill would reduce the rolls by about 2.8 million people each year compared with current law.

Check the graphic at Wonk Blog for the details on how they intend to get folks out of SNAP eligibility keeping in mind that about 1/2 of the folks on SNAP are children and an additional good portion are elderly on limited incomes that were already impacted by cuts in meals on wheels.pears

I’m not Catholic so the actual things that Popes say has no impact on my personal faith.  I also wasn’t raised Catholic so I have no nostalgia or lingering scars or good memories from the growing up Catholic experience that I hear about from so many friends.   I really don’t have many kind things to say about Popes in general since most of them recently have made life very difficult for women and gays and have been shown to enable some pretty bad stuff in their priesthood.  Will this new Pope usher in a new opinion from me and others?  Will he be able to reach out to folks that feel an attachment to the church but a searing disappointment in some of its recent actions and policies?

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

His surprising comments came in a lengthy interview in which he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized. He articulated his vision of an inclusive church, a “home for all” — which is a striking contrast with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the doctrinal defender who envisioned a smaller, purer church.

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The pope’s interview did not change church doctrine or policies, but it instantly changed its tone. His words evoked gratitude and hope from many liberal Catholics who had felt left out in the cold during the papacies of Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, which together lasted 35 years. Some lapsed Catholics suggested on social media a return to the church, and leaders of gay rights and gay Catholic groups called on bishops to abandon their fight against gay marriage.

But it left conservative and traditionalist Catholics, and those who have devoted themselves to the struggles against abortion, gay marriage and artificial contraception, on the defensive, though some cast it as nothing new.

That part of the Pope’s interview was the most newsworthy. However, the part about the Pope’s personal faith was perhaps the most interesting to me.  It’s actually been a long time since I’ve heard a church leader actually sound like he’s gotten in touch with the Jesus I remember reading about in the Bible as a kid. This Pope appears to actually like women for a change.  The analysis is by Andrew Sullivan of The Dish.

This is the core message of the Second Vatican Council that John Paul II and Benedict XVI did their utmost to turn back in favor of papal authority. The hierarchy is not the whole church, just a part of it, in community with all the faithful. And he uses the example of the Blessed Virgin to buttress his point:

This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.

And how we live is the only true expression of what we believe. Here is the rebuke to the theocons and their project:

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.

And where is real faith?

I see the holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius. This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved ​​me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.

Botanical-Flore-des-Seres-et-Des-Jardins-de-LEurope-Tomato-Solanum-sp. vintage printableWhile many journalists appear to be disappointed by the lack of yet another US intervention in the Middle East, most Americans are relieved.  What does this new diplomatic effort between the US and Russia on Syrian Chemical Weapons mean for similar efforts in the future?

It is important not so much for what it could mean on the ground – which remains to be seen as inspectors begin to flow into Syria and, we hope, chemical-weapons stockpiles begin to be destroyed. Rather, the agreement’s main significance consists in the fact that it was struck at all: US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva, that most traditional of diplomatic venues, and cut a deal on an issue of intense mutual interest.

In the days, weeks, and months ahead, the arrangements to remove chemical weapons from Syria will, one hopes, begin a new era in which the US and Russia work together on other pressing global issues as well. A cooperative US-Russia relationship is essential if the international system, now almost dysfunctional, is to work properly in the future.

The agreement on Syria could accomplish something else: Americans might recognize that, lo and behold, there are other ways to solve problems than by dropping bombs. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s clumsy foray into the American debate infuriated many Americans (including me), but it was certainly a teachable moment. Many outside the US thought it was high time that someone offered America a taste of its own paternalism – and even better that that someone was Putin, a politician who has, to put it gently, his own set of foibles.

So Americans might want to tone down their anti-Putin rhetoric. As a practical matter, Putin certainly does not seem to be suffering any adverse domestic political consequences from his bashing in the US. More broadly, America’s supply of moralistic – and even churlish – advice to the rest of the world has greatly exceeded international demand for it. And its willingness to engage militarily as an early step, rather than as a last resort, has alienated many around the world. No amount of “Muslim outreach” and other public diplomacy alone will change that.

Support for insurgencies is a case in point. Many countries – Syria qualifies as a poster child in this regard – suffer under miserable, brutal governments. But backing an armed rebellion is a major step, especially when the rebels whom one is backing have, as in Syria, started something that they may not be able to finish.

This is not to say that the US should never support insurgencies against established governments; but doing so is almost always a lonely affair, without any realistic expectation of enlisting many partners in the process. Such policy choices should be made rarely, and with a clear understanding that support for the violent overthrow of a government is not very popular around the world.

We are learning more and more about Neanderthals and how they may have been a lot more sophisticated than previously thought.  It was thought they may not have been smart enough to figure out how to fish. However, recent research shows they had fish in their diets.

It has been thought that the varied diet of modern humans may have contributed to an evolutionary advantage over Neanderthals, who were thought to have survived on eating large, herbivorous mammals. But an international team of scientists has been working together at a cave in the Caucasus Mountains, where they have foundevidence that suggests Neanderthals ate fish. To rule out the possibility that the large salmon in the cave had been eaten by the cave bears and cave lions that were also found there, the bones of the large predators were analyzed. The results show that the cave bears were vegetarian, and that the cave lions ate land-dwelling herbivores. “This study provides indirect support to the idea that Middle Palaeolithic Hominins, probably Neanderthals, were able to consume fish when it was available, and that therefore, the prey choice of Neanderthals and modern humans was not fundamentally different,” explained Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen.

It seems that the more that Homo Sapiens try to make themselves exceptional, the more we find out that we are not.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads

sean conneryGood Morning!

I am enjoying the cooling effects of the new AC condenser.  The last days of summer heat will be with us here in New Orleans for awhile so I am glad I could replace it.  There are a bunch of other things that I will now go without but the AC is one thing you cannot forgo down here any more.

It’s difficult to find some things that aren’t about Syria, but I did find a few things just to give us a break. I am going to start one with item that broke late last night.

The WSJ has says the US has intercepted a message that states that Iran will attack Iraq if the US attacks Syria.

The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to Shiite militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.

Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran’s fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

While the U.S. has positioned military resources in the region for a possible strike, it has other assets in the area that would be ready to respond to any reprisals by Syria, Iran or its allies.

Those deployments include a strike group of an aircraft carrier and three destroyers in the Red Sea, and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would help with any evacuations.

The U.S. military has also readied Marines and other assets to aid evacuation of diplomatic compounds if needed, and the State Department began making preparations last week for potential retaliation against U.S. embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.

I think we all can agree on the level of skepticism felt here–both writers and discussants–on the weird cult of libertarians.  Here’s an interesting thought.  Are Libertarians the New Communists?

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways. Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.

Let’s start with some definitions. By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values. By communism, we mean the ideology of extreme state domination of private and economic life.

Some of the radical libertarians are Ayn Rand fans who divide their fellow citizens into makers, in the mold of John Galt, and takers, in the mold of katherine Hepburnanyone not John Galt.

Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.

Yes, liberty is a core American value, and an overweening state can be unhealthy. And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem. It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.

Economics Policy Wonk Jared Bernstein has a great narrative on how fiscal policy gets so mixed up.  He attempts to explain how our economic knowledge in theory has warped into something unrecognizable in the beltway.

I identify three reasons why fiscal policy became so backwards in recent years.  First, a strategy by Democrats to block the GW Bush tax cuts morphed from strategy to ideology.  Second, a misunderstanding of the Clinton surpluses in ways explained below.  And third, the use of deficit fear-mongering to achieve the goal of significantly shrinking the government sector.

During the early years of the GW Bush administration, the President proposed and Congress passed two tax-cut packages that quite sharply lowered the revenues flowing to the Treasury.  During those debates, opponents of the cuts raised their negative impact on deficits and debt as a major concern.  Such concerns proved to be justified.  As Ruffing and Friedman show (2013), instead of its actual slowly rising path, the debt ratio would have been falling in the latter 2000s but for the Bush tax cuts (war spending played a much smaller role).  In my terminology, GW Bush fiscal policy was that of an SD (structural dove), adding to the debt ratio throughout the expansion of the 2000s.

Many who were making those anti-tax-cut arguments cited the Clinton years as an instructive counter-example.  The lesson of those years, they argued, was that by increasing taxes and restraining spending, the Clinton budgets both led to surpluses and assuaged bond markets leading to lowering borrowing costs, more investment, and faster growth. In fact, while fiscal policy in Clinton’s first budget did lower projected deficits, as discussed above [earlier in the paper I point out that if you track the swing from deficit to surplus from 1993-2000, Clinton fiscal policies explain one-third of the change; even once these changes were in the baseline, in 1996, CBO still projected deficits a few years later, when in fact the budget went into surplus, so Clinton fiscal policy cannot get credit for that part of the swing], economic growth was far the larger factor (the fact that much of this growth was a function of a dot.com bubble is a separate issue).

Together, this line of attack against the Bush tax cuts in tandem with the over-emphasis on Clinton fiscal policy as the factor that led to surpluses, raised the budget deficit to a new level in the national debate.  Deficit hawkish pundits, editorial pages, and policy makers knew two things: Clinton raised taxes, cut spending, and balanced the budget; Bush cut taxes, failed to restrain spending, and added to the debt ratio.

Again, reality was more complex.  Economic growth was the major factor behind the Clinton surpluses, and while GW Bush’s tax cuts clearly added to the deficit and debt, even under his quite profligate fiscal policy, the deficit-to-GDP ratio fell to about 1% in 2007 (below primary balance).  To be clear, this is no endorsement of his structural dovishness.  That was the last year of that business cycle expansion, and as I argue later in the paper, it’s important to get the debt ratio on a downward path much sooner than that.  But the collision of these two different approaches to fiscal policy in two back-to-back decades helped to construct a conventional wisdom about budget deficits as a national scourge that had more to do with cursory observation than economic analysis.

Another important factor, perhaps the most consequential, in the evolution of these wrong-headed ideas was the partisan ideology that government should be much smaller as a share of the economy.  For conservatives who shared this vision, elevating the issue of the budget deficit as a major national problem was and remains a highly effective strategy.  If they could convince the public and their representatives that deficits had to be reduced no matter what, than cutting the federal budget should be a short step away.

I’ve studied game theory as part of my graduate program and taught game theory as part of my classes.  This study shows why author Julie Beck of The Atlantic Magazine says it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  A new study shows that generosity is more advantageous than selfishness.

Results: In the long term, extorting, selfish strategies did not work as well as more generous strategies. Players who defected instead of cooperating suffered more over time than players who recognized the value of cooperation–though extortion might provide an advantage in a single head-to-head matchup, in the context of a whole population, over time, it pays to be generous. Sometimes cooperative players would even forgive those who defected and cooperate with them again.

The researchers created a mathematical proof that shows, as study co-author Joshua B. Plotkin said in an email, “why generosity abounds in nature, despite the fact that it may appear self-detrimental in the short-term.”

Implications: Now we have some mathematical evidence that there is an evolutionary advantage to generosity, other than just good karma. With Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” ingrained in our brains, it often seems like every man for himself is the best strategy, and kindness is just an anomaly. But it’s an uplifting surprise to see a study that says that’s not the case, that we evolve best when we help each other.

This seems like an argument for the feminine and against the masculine to me.

Anyway, that’s my offerings today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Thursday Reads: Syria, Snowden, and the G20

barack obama reading

Good Morning!!

Syria policy has pretty much eclipsed everything else in the national and  international news (heard anything about Egypt lately?), with the NSA story still a close second. The G20 is also beginning in Russia, and that’s also “all about Syria.” So these are the stories this morning. This will also be a quickie post, because I overslept and I have someone coming to fix my electricity pretty soon.

As you all know, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved limited strike on Syria yesterday, although there is still wrangling among Senators about how aggressive the U.S. action should be. From NBC News:

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials went before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to confront skeptics and press the administration’s case. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel estimated the cost of a limited strike at tens of millions of dollars.

However, Kerry told the hearing that Arab League countries had offered to pay for the unseating President Bashar Assad if the United States took the lead militarily….

The Senate yes votes comprised seven Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who had expressed reservations that the United States was not doing enough to arm the rebels fighting Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

“We commend the Senate for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security,” read a statement from the White House. “We will continue to work with Congress to build on this bipartisan support for a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America.”

NBC News also reports that Russia’s Putin is warning the US against ‘aggression’ in Syria without UN approval.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the United States and its allies against unilateral action against Syria on Wednesday – but said he “doesn’t exclude” backing a U.N. resolution if evidence proved the use of poison gas against civilians.

As the White House stepped up its efforts to secure political approval for retaliatory strikes on the regime of Bashar Assad, Putin said acting without the approval of the U.N. Security Council “can only be interpreted as an aggression.”

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of President Barack Obama’s arrival in Europe for meetings with G20 leaders, Putin said video footage of the suspected Aug. 21 chemical weapons attackoutside of Damascus could have been fabricated by groups “connected with al Qaeda.”

According to Time, Putin also warned that indiscriminate bombing in Syria could lead to a “nuclear catastrophe.”

Russia is warning that a U.S. strike on Syria’s atomic facilities might result in a nuclear catastrophe and is urging the U.N. to present a risk analysis of such a scenario.

The warning comes from Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich. He said in a statement Wednesday that a strike on a miniature reactor near Damascus or other nuclear installations could contaminate the region with radioactivity, adding: “The consequences could be catastrophic.”

Who knew Syria had “nuclear installations?”

The Christian Science Monitor: G20 economic summit: It’s all about Syria.

As world leaders gather in St. Petersburg, Russia, today for the annual two-day Group of 20 summit, economic policy may be overshadowed by what’s not on the agenda: Syria.

Divisions over how to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in August grow as the US continues to lobby for support for military action and Russia digs in its heels against it. President Obamawon initial domestic political backing on Wednesday after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly authorized military measures in a 10-7 vote, according to The Associated Press.

“My credibility isn’t on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line,” Obama said in a press conference before flying to Russia. “The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing.”

Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the sidelines of the summit after the Kremlin offered asylum to former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked classified US documents.

According to The Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow correspondent, Fred Weir, President Putin has argued there “is no convincing evidence” that Assad launched a poison gas attack. Putin has exercised his veto power on the UN Security Council repeatedly against any military intervention in Syria since the two-year-old conflict began.

The Guardian on the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship: Putin and Obama apart in more ways than one at G20 table.

In terms of table placement at least, the Russians are trying to avoid a fight. When world leaders file into St Petersburg’s imperial Constantine Palace on Thursday, with the nightmare of Syria and a wider Middle Eastern war on their minds, presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obamawill be distant from one another literally, as well as politically.

The seating order, which would have had the Russian and US leaders separated only by the Saudi king, has been reshuffled to put five leaders, including David Cameron, between the two key adversaries over Syria and much else.

“The seating will be arranged according to the English alphabet,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Moscow newspaper, Izvestiya. Had the Russian alphabet been used, Putin and Obama would have been almost cheek-by-jowl.

If the rushed re-seating is one measure of the US-Russian tensions militating against a breakthrough arresting the slide to greater conflict over Syria, there are plenty more. Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, holed up in Russia, wanted in America, is the most recent.

The summit should be interesting; I hope Obama and Putin don’t come to blows.

Putin reads

On the Snowden front, there is quite a bit of speculation going around about how involved Russia was with Snowden even before he arrived in Moscow.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported: Putin Says Snowden Was In Touch Before Coming To Russia. Putin just can’t keep his story straight. First he said he was taken completely by surprise when Snowden landed in his lap–he’d hardly even paid any attention to him before that. But lately he’s been gradually admitting that wasn’t true. From the WSJ:

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that Edward Snowden contacted Russian diplomats in Hong Kong a few days before boarding a plane to Moscow but that no agreement was reached to shelter him and he decided to come to Russia on his own without warning.

Mr. Putin had initially said Mr. Snowden’s arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23 was a “complete surprise,” but now acknowledges that he had some prior knowledge that the fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor might be headed Russia’s way.

“Mr. Snowden first appeared in Hong Kong and met with our diplomatic representatives. It was reported to me that there was such an employee, an employee of the security services. I asked ‘What does he want?’ He fights for human rights, for freedom of information and challenges violations of human rights and violations of the law in the United States. I said, ‘So what?’,” Mr. Putin said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One and The Associated Press.

Actually Russia had publicly “offered to consider [Snowden's] asylum request” in June when Snowden was still in Hong Kong, but that fact seems to have gone down the corporate media’s memory hole at this point. Everyone also seems to have forgotten that the U.S. voided Snowden’s passport before he left Hong Kong and flew to Russia–supposedly on the way to Cuba and the Ecuador. Putin is still trying to blame the U.S. for Snowden’s failure to take his scheduled flight to Cuba, claiming it was because of the cancelled passport.

In an interview to Russia’s state-run Channel One and The Associated Press published Wednesday, Putin responded to various questions about touchy subjects in U.S.-Russia relations.

When asked about Snowden, who found himself the world’s most wanted fugitive after leaking top secret documents on U.S. surveillance programs, Putin said U.S. authorities could have grounded the plane that Snowden boarded to come to Moscow from China’s Hong Kong just as they did with the plane of Bolivian leader Evo Morales after they suspected that Snowden was on board.

Or, he said, U.S. intelligence officers could have let Snowden leave Russia —which was initially meant to be only a transit stop on his way to another country that would grant him asylum — and then could have grabbed him in a country “with a relaxed security regime,” Putin said, the Kremlin website reported.

“They could have done that in relation to Snowden. What prevented them” from doing that? Putin said.

Um…. you did, Mr. Putin. We’ve read the reports that Snowden was surrounded by a crowd of FSB officers before his feet even hit the floor in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport transit zone.

More foreign affairs writers are beginning to question just how much of an “accident” Snowden’s defection to Russia actually was. At Business Insider, Michael Kelley summarizes the growing suspicions among intelligence experts: Did WikiLeaks Sell Out Snowden To The Russians?

Is it just a coincidence that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, a valuable intelligence asset, ended up in the hands of Russia’s security services?

Or did WikiLeaks, the “anti-secrecy” organization that has taken responsibility for Snowden, send him there in collaboration with the Russians?

Former senior U.S. intelligence analyst Joshua Foust makes a compelling argument that Wikileaks may have been infiltrated by Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB.

His argument is based on the shared history between WikiLeaks and Russia, how Snowden ended up in Russia, and what happened to Snowden once he landed in Moscow.

Looking at the same evidence, we think this is certainly a possibility.

Read all about it at the link, and if you have time, read Foust’s longer piece. It’s fascinating.

I’ll end with a couple of articles on the damage done to U.S. Intelligence services by Snowden’s stealing and leaking the contents of top secret documents. From former NSA analyst and now academic John Schindler: Snowden, NSA, and Counterintelligence.

From nearly the outset I’ve stated that Snowden is very likely an agent of Russian intelligence; this was met with howls of indignation which have died down in recent weeks as it’s become apparent that Ed’s staying in Russia for some time, along with whatever classified materials he had on his person. (Since Glenn Greenwald’s partner when stopped by British authorities at Heathrow had 58,000 highly classified documents on him, thanks to Ed, one can only wonder how big the initial haul actually was.) That Snowden was in contact with the Russian consulate in Hong Kong during his pre-Moscow visit there, including spending his 30th birthday with his new friends, is now admitted. Even President Vladimir Putin has conceded that Ed’s contacts with Russian officials did not commence when he landed at Sheremtyevo airport, rather before.

But when? That of course is the key question that NSA counterintelligence surely wants – needs – to know. All roads here lead to Wikileaks. We know that Snowden in late 2012 reached out to Glenn Greenwald and other members of the spy-ring – all of whom can be considered cut-outs for Wikileaks when not paid-up members – that stands behind the massive leaks. After making this contact, Ed took a contractor job with Booz Allen Hamilton to increase his access to NSA secrets. I’ve been stating for a while now that Wikileaks is functionally an extension of Russian intelligence; it’s become a minor meme asa few journalists have decided that such a scandalous viewpoint is worth considering.

Of course, for anyone versed in the ways of Russian intelligence, the notion that Wikileaks is a Moscow front that’s involved in anti-US espionage is about as controversial as, say, the notion that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Running false flags, creating fake activist groups, using Western journalists and activists for deception purposes – this sort of thing is in the DNA of Russian intelligence going back to the 19th century and is second nature to them. They call espionage tradecraft konspiratsiya (conspiracy) for a reason.

While there can be little doubt that the damage Snowden has wrought to the US and Allied SIGINT system is nothing less than immense, it will be some time before NSA and the US Government make any public pronouncements on such a touchy matter – not to mention that it will likely be several months yet before the Intelligence Community completes what will surely rank as the Mother of All Damage Assessments.

Without in any way diminishing the espionage losses that young Mr Snowden has caused, I want to suggest that the political damage in this case may loom larger, particularly as Putin savors his big win in this round, having humiliated American intelligence as it’s never quite been publicly humiliated before. The onetime Chekist in Putin surely is going to bed at night with a smile these days. “There are no ‘former’ intelligence officers,” Russia’s president once famously said, and he was also talking about himself.

Read the rest at the link if you can; this guy really knows his stuff–and he’s no right wing nut.

One more piece by British writer Chris Boffey: Why Edward Snowden is not a patriot, whistleblower or hero – but a spy.

Edward Snowden is a spy. The runaway CIA contractor may not know, or even care, whom he is spying for but the damage he is doing ranks alongside Philby, Burgess, McLean and Blunt. They comforted themselves with delusions that revealing the names of agents to the Soviet Union were for the greater good. Snowden was equally deluded when he opened up the secrets of western intelligence to one and all. Unlike the British spies, Snowden is not dealing in human information but electronic intelligence which in this day and age has more importance, but the results are the same….

Unlike Ames, Snowden was able to claim the moral high ground when spilling out the inner workings and policies of the US and UK security services to the world. Revealing how the state spies on its own citizens, without their knowledge or acquiescence, can be considered laudable but he lost the right to be called a whistleblower when he fled to negotiate first with the Chinese and then the Russians about political asylum and then it was revealed that he had taken with him the whole security shooting match.

Whistleblowers stand up and are counted; Snowden crawled out and ran away.

In sweeping up every secret he came across and downloading them to be dripped out is just plain treason and he knows this, given his determination not only never to return to the US but also to stay out of its legal jurisdiction.

Snowden justified his actions saying: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Presumably that is why he is now living in Russia, that Mecca of human rights.

Much more at the link. Check it out and see what you think.

That’s all I’ve got for you for the moment. Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Hillary Weighs in on Syria

130819_hillary_clinton_ap_605

Obama is taking his call to intervene with Syria to the Congress. Many Congress critters are weighing in. Here’s what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to say about the situation.

“Secretary Clinton supports the president’s effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons,” a Clinton aide told POLITICO.

So far, we have opinions from Speaker Boehner who supports the effort but will not whip for it in any vote.

 

 Speaker John A. Boehner said on Tuesday that he would “support the president’s call to action” in Syria after meeting with President Obama, giving the president a crucial ally in the quest for votes in the House.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, quickly joined Mr. Boehner to say he also backed Mr. Obama.

“Understanding that there are differing opinions on both sides of the aisle, it is up to President Obama to make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action, and I hope he is successful in that endeavor,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Senate held hearings.

After weathering a barrage of criticism from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Kerry turned the tables and demanded to know whether or not he believed that air strikes would make Assad more or less likely to use chemical weapons again.

“It’s unknown,” Paul replied.

Jabbing his finger, Kerry disagreed, saying it was guaranteed that Assad would use chemical weapons again if the U.S. doesn’t act.

Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, reminded Paul that “you’ve got three of us here who have gone to war” and that they know what it involves.

“The president is not asking you to go to war,” he said, urging Paul to go to a classified briefing “and learn that.”

Concluding his comments, Kerry turned to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for back-up, asking if he wanted to “weigh in on this.”

“No, not really,” came the reply, prompting laughter from the panel.

The Public remains split and not on party lines.   This should be interesting.


Tuesday Evening Reads

Higher-and-HigherWell, only a few days and I already really miss JJ  Here are a few headlines to get us through the evening.

There’s no money for these kinds of things:

Before becoming speaker in 2011, Boehner said, he’d watched leaders of both parties delay a long-term solution to a baby-boom-fueled benefit crisis.

“I made up my mind that we weren’t going to kick the can down the road any more,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told a Boise lunch crowd at a fundraiser for Idaho’s 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson. “We’re not going to inflict all of this pain and suffering on our kids and our grandkids.”

The government will reach its $16.7 trillion borrowing limit this fall. Boehner rejected calls from some quarters to let the government shut down rather than agree to a compromise with President Obama and the Democratic Senate.

“There is no reason for the government to run out of money,” Boehner said. “Our goal here is to stop Obamacare. Our goal here is to cut spending.”

Boehner said GOP control of the House has forced Democrats to agree to three straight years of lower discretionary spending, which accounts for about one-third of the federal budget, savings that will reach $2.5 trillion over 10 years.

“Now, it’s time to deal with the mandatory side,” Boehner said, winning applause from a crowd of 430 at the Boise Centre on The Grove. “I’ve made it clear that we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with. But I’ll say this: It may be unfair but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

Recalling the 2011 battle over raising the federal debt ceiling, Boehner recalled negotiations that spooked financial markets, prompted Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating and angered ordinary Americans. He warned the audience to expect more of the same.

But there’s always money for war.

Military strikes on Syria ‘as early as Thursday,’ US officials say

The U.S. could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Thursday, in an attack meant more to send a message to Syrian Dog-DaysPresident Bashar al-Assad than to topple him or cripple his military, senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

The State Department fed the growing drumbeat around the world for a military response to Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels Aug. 21 near Damascus, saying that while the U.S. intelligence community would release a formal assessment within the week, it was already “crystal clear” that Assad’s government was responsible.

Vice President Joe Biden went even further, bluntly telling an American Legion audience in Houston: “Chemical weapons have been used.”

“No one doubts that innocent men, women and children have been the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and there’s no doubt who’s responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime,” Biden said.

Fox Expert says that since women have breasts they should pay more for health care. Where do they get these guys?

A Fox News medical expert on Tuesday argued that President Barack Obama’s administration was wrong to force gender equality for health insurance rates because men “only have the prostate,” while women “have the breasts, they have the ovaries.”

“Look, it’s not bias, I’m not saying this as a man,” Fox News Medical A-Team contributor Dr. David Samadi told the hosts of Fox & Friends. “They go through a lot of preventive screenings, they give birth, they have the whole mammogram, the Pap smear. Guys, we don’t like to go to doctors, right? Seventy percent of health care decisions are made by women. In my own practice, I see it’s the women who bring the guys, who say, go get screened.”

“Yeah, but shouldn’t that earn us a discount?” Fox News host Gretchen Carlson interrupted. “Basic fact that we are responsible for getting our men to come to the doctor? And what about the fact that women, because they do all this preventative care, maybe their health issues end up costing less than men’s, who don’t go to the doctor until it’s a crisis and a big deal.”

“Yes, that’s a good point, except that, you know, women live longer,” Samadi asserted. “Women live until age 81 and men live only until 76. So, we’re using the health care system much less.”

“In this case, it’s not equal,” co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed. “You have a better time on Earth than we do, you’re here a lot more. You have six years of heaven, where you just have no men around.”

Carlson pointed out that women were blamed for maternity costs, “but men and women have babies together.”

“I agree with you that it’s a shared responsibility,” Samadi said. “But just the way the system are — in my field, we only have the prostate. Women have the breasts, they have the ovaries, they have the uterus. They get checked in every part.”

Defunding-ObamacareOH, Please say this isn’t so!!!  Oh the Humanity!!   Obama source predicts Summers will be named Fed chief soon. Looter Larry as Fed Chair!!!

A source from Team Obama told CNBC that Larry Summers will likely be named chairman of the Federal Reserve in a few weeks though he is “still being vetted” so it might take a little longer.

It’s largely come down to a two-horse race between Summers, a former Treasury secretary, and Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen for the next Fed chief.

It is widely expected that the current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will resign by the end of the year as his term ends in January. President Obama has already said that Bernanke has “already stayed a lot longer” in the role than he expected. Those remarks came in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS in June.