Lazy Saturday Reads

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Good Afternoon!!

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.

Tom Wesselmann-StillLifeNo.35_1963

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.

still-life-5-Tom-Wesselmann

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.

Tom Wesselman

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.

still-life-11-Tom-Wesselmann

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.

Ě—0

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!


50 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Stephen Kim pleads guilty in Fox News leak case

    A State Department contractor charged with leaking top-secret information about North Korea to Fox News entered a guilty plea Friday and agreed to serve a 13-month prison term.

    During an 80-minute hearing at U.S. District Court, Stephen Kim pled guilty to a single felony count of disclosing national defense information to an unauthorized person, Fox News reporter James Rosen.

    Kim admitted providing Rosen with the contents of a top-secret intelligence report on North Korean intentions to carry out nuclear tests. The contractor acknowledged that he and Rosen stepped out of their offices at State Department headquarters for a short meeting nearby on the morning of June 11, 2009.

    • Fannie says:

      What about Rosen? What about Fox News? Reading further on in the article it states:

      “Revelations that Justice Department invetigators seeking access to Rosen’s email records had described him as a co-conspirator in the crime contributed to a public furor last year that resulted in Attorney General Eric Holder issuing new guidelines limiting the use of similar tactics in the future.”

      Shouldn’t Rosen and his employer, Fox News be held accountable. Maybe they can be sent to a special labor camp in North Korea.

      • RalphB says:

        Rosen was only described as a co-conspirator for purposes of securing the warrant for his records. The first amendment almost certainly precludes any prosecution and one assumes the media which freaked out knew that. It was an excuse for a huge poutrage by all the media though.

        North Korean labor camp is a good idea though.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    American Snowboarder Wins First Gold of Games

    KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg is not someone to hold big ambitions or make grand plans. Before winning a qualifying event last month that helped send him to the Winter Olympics in slopestyle, he had not won a snowboarding competition since he was 11.

    “A megadrought,” he called it.

    And when he stood at the top of the course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Saturday, he was not sure which tricks he would attempt. The one that mattered was one he had never attempted.

    “I just kind of make things up,” he explained.

  3. BB Idid not know about the ” fuck the EU” comment…did you see woody Allen wrote an Op.Ed response to Dylan Farrow?

  4. bostonboomer says:

    More NSA news:

    WSJ: NSA Collects 20% or Less of U.S. Call Data

    The National Security Agency’s collection of phone data, at the center of the controversy over U.S. surveillance operations, gathers information from about 20% or less of all U.S. calls—much less than previously thought, according to people familiar with the NSA program.

    The program had been described as collecting records on almost every phone call placed in the U.S. But, in fact, it doesn’t collect records for most cellphones, the fastest-growing sector in telephony and an area where the agency has struggled to keep pace, the people said.

    The dwindling coverage suggests the NSA’s program is less pervasive than widely believed—and also less useful.

    “Landlines are going away, and new providers are entering the field,” said one person familiar with the program. “It’s hard to keep up.”

    The last time NSA collect most phone calls domestically was 2006.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Ralph,

    NYT has a new Snowden story up. Do you understand what they are talking about?

    Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best N.S.A.

    Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to roughly 1.7 million of the country’s most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to “scrape” the National Security Agency’s networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials.

    Using “web crawler” software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden “scraped data out of our systems” while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official. “We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said. The process, he added, was “quite automated.”

    The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.

    • bostonboomer says:

      A web crawler, also called a spider, automatically moves from website to website, following links embedded in each document, and can be programmed to copy everything in its path.

      Mr. Snowden appears to have set the parameters for the searches, including which subjects to look for and how deeply to follow links to documents and other data on the N.S.A.’s internal networks.

      Among the materials prominent in the Snowden files are the agency’s shared “wikis,” databases to which intelligence analysts, operatives and others contributed their knowledge. Some of that material indicates that Mr. Snowden “accessed” the documents. But experts say they may well have been downloaded not by him but by the program acting on his behalf.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Where he was working, in Hawaii, they hadn’t gotten the latest security updates yet.

        • bostonboomer says:

          It says Snowden would have learned that NSA protections against outside hackers were very strong, but they only had “rudimentary protections against insiders.”

      • RalphB says:

        I know what they’re talking about and, from inside a network, it’s very possible to use an old web crawler to collect tons of data. Basically it’s how Google collected most of their original data they used to index the net.

        • RalphB says:

          For Snowden’s crawler to function from a system in Hawaii to locations in Maryland or wherever, it would have to run over VPN connections. That network people didn’t notice and question persistent connections seems sloppy, really sloppy.

          One of my engagements entailed setting up system and network monitoring for customers in the US where the monitoring was actually done by software on some of our systems in Brazil. The operators who were notified in case of errors or problems were in a facility in Canada. All the communications were done over VPN connections between the secure networks but network admins for each location knew about the VPNs and signed off on them.

      • RalphB says:

        Using a crawler potentially answers a question I’ve had since the first power point slides were published. Usually when a presentation is made, at least an audio recording is made so that people can access it later and get the effect without someone doing it twice or 40 times. Where was the presentation which went along with those ppt pages?

        I had thought the presentation may have made it plain the slides were a project pitch instead of a ‘we’re doing this’ type dog and pony show. But maybe his search terms for the crawler missed the recording which accompanied the power points instead? Who knows?

        • bostonboomer says:

          It’s an interesting article, if it’s true. But for the past few days we’ve been getting a lot of stories that make NSA sound less competent than we thought. It could be deliberate disinformation or it could be there are different factions in NSA leaking stuff to make each other look bad. I’m not sure what’s going on.

    • dakinikat says:

      In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery.

    • RalphB says:

      “In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,”

      Good for Holder!

    • NW Luna says:

      An occasion for champagne!

  6. dakinikat says:

    Here’s something we told the Dude Bros. Kind’ve interesting.

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/barack-obamas-conservative-utopia

    Barack Obama’s Conservative Utopia in 7 Charts
    While politicians on the far right scream socialism, President Obama has quietly created a conservative America. And the statistics prove it.

    • RalphB says:

      There are still tons of ignorant dudebros who will argue that Obama is the liberal savior while Hillary is some evil ConservaDem. The stupid just burns, now more than ever.

  7. RalphB says:

    tpm: Arkansas Basketball Team To Retire Number 42 In Honor Of Bill Clinton

    Take that Rand Paul, you worthless douchenozzle.

  8. RalphB says:

    Jay Rosen has a good analysis of why people like Chuck Todd and Ron Fournier are so completely useless.

    Behold how badly our political journalists have lost the freakin’ plot

    This is what led to the cult of the savvy, my term for the ideology and political style that journalists like Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin spread through their work. The savvy severs any lingering solidarity between journalists as the providers of information, and voters as decision-makers in need of it. The savvy sets up — so it can speak to and cultivate — a third group between these two: close followers of the game. The most common term for them is “political junkies.” The site that Cillizza runs was created by that term. It’s called The Fix because that’s what political junkies need: their fix of inside-the-game news.
    […]
    But we’re not done. The savvy sets up a fifth group. (The first four: savvy journalists, political junkies, masters of the game, and an abstraction, The Voters.) These are the people who, as Weber put it, live for politics. They are involved as determined participants, not just occasional voters. Whereas the junkies can hope for admission to the secrets of the game (by taking cues from Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin and the guys at Politico) the activists are hopelessly deluded, always placing their own ideology before the cold hard facts.

    Rosen doesn’t mention it but these savvy guys consider themselves hard-bitten realists but are prone to man-crushes on tough, manly politicians like McCain.

  9. RalphB says:

    The State of Florida is gonna run a con game on it’s own citizens. Brainchild of Marco Rubio, of course.

    Florida set to launch its own limited insurance marketplace

    Florida’s own health insurance marketplace, long touted by Republican lawmakers as a free-market solution to providing affordable health coverage, is expected to launch as early as next week.

    Six years in the making, Florida Health Choices will open for business with an inventory of products that cannot legally be marketed using the words insurance, coverage, benefits or premiums, according to Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff.

    Naff said Florida Health Choices initially will make available five types of discount cards that offer purchasers a better deal on certain dental, vision, prescription or chiropractic services.

    The cards, which are offered by Careington International based in Frisco, Texas, will cost $6 to $25 a month, depending on the services selected.

    Naff said other products, including limited-benefit insurance plans, which focus on single medical issues such as cancer or vision, will be rolled out at a later date.

    Greg Mellowe, policy director at Florida CHAIN, a statewide consumer health advocacy group, said the state’s version provided “an illusion of coverage.”

    “In some cases, these things are not insurance at all,” Mellowe added.

    • NW Luna says:

      The Republicans always offer illusions unless you can afford to be a bundler for their election compaigns.

      • RalphB says:

        You can bet your bottom dollar a boatload of campaign contributions went into who got picked to offer “services”. Rick Scott was a huge Medicaid fraudster so he would most definitely know how to set up a giant scam.

  10. RalphB says:

    In Louisiana, Blue Cross tries to crawl away from covering HIV patients. CMS says this is a no-no.

    Louisiana AIDS patients in Obamacare bind as insurers reject checks, discontinue coverage

  11. RalphB says:

    Jimmy Kimmel at Muehlers today. Yum…

  12. NW Luna says:

    Dak, I looked at that graph from the Cynamon & Fazzari piece. What is “PCE” an abbreviation of?

  13. RalphB says:

    This is unusual.

    Raw Story: Texas grand jury refuses murder indictment on man who killed deputy on no-knock raid

    A grand jury in central Texas refused Wednesday to indict a man on murder charges after he killed a sheriff’s deputy who stormed his house while executing an early-morning no-knock warrant looking for marijuana in December.

    Henry Goedrich Magee will still face a charge for possession of marijuana while in possession of a deadly weapon, but prosecutors failed to convince the grand jury that Magee was out of line when he went for his gun while he thought he was being burglarized, ABC reported. Burleson County Sgt. Adam Sowders died during the drug raid, executing a search warrant at Magee’s rural home northwest of Houston. …

  14. NW Luna says:

    Sleazy:

    GOP creates fake websites for Democratic campaigns

    The National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) bought up hundreds of URLs ahead of the 2014 election cycle and has created nearly 20 websites that seem to support Democratic candidates in all but the small print, a spokesman for the campaign confirmed last week. The NRCC rolled out the first such site in August, targeting Sean Eldridge, who is facing a tough race in New York’s 19th District. Since then, the organization has created mock campaign sites for 17 other candidates, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Alex Sink, a candidate for Florida’s 13th District.

    One Sink supporter was so confused while visiting the NRCC’s mock website that he mistakenly donated to the Republican committee instead of giving to the Sink campaign, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The NRCC said it would refund anyone who donated mistakenly.

    Although [NRCC spokesman] Scarpinato said the websites do not violate Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules, at least one campaign-law expert disagrees. Paul Ryan, a senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said the sites violate an FEC regulation created in the ’90s. The rule prohibits noncandidate committees, such as the NRCC, from using a candidate’s name in headlines, titles and letterheads unless the use demonstrates clear opposition to the candidate. ….

    Scarpinato said the NRCC will continue generating the fake websites, adding that the organization owns “hundreds of URLs that the Democrats chose not to purchase.”

    • That is disgusting, and sounds like the same kind of shit tactic the GOP used when sending cards in the mail to Dem districts with the wrong info on absent voting instructions and election dates.