Monday Reads: Global Intrigue Edition

01093-2Good Afternoon!

We have the Wisconsin primary coming up tomorrow evening but I thought I’d take a break from political chaos to cover some global financial chaos today.  I’m not sure if you’ve heard about The Panama Papers yet  but there was a   “Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records” this weekend that “Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption.  Millions of documents show heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens.”   The linked documents and lists of account names are eye popping.  Check out some of the global dirty rotten scoundrels and grab your pitchfork.

A massive leak of documents exposes the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and reveals how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies.

The leak also provides details of the hidden financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world.

The cache of 11.5 million records shows how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars.

These are among the findings of a yearlong investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations.

The files expose offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia and the children of the president of Azerbaijan.

They also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

One of those companies supplied fuel for the aircraft that the Syrian government used to bomb and kill thousands of its own citizens, U.S. authorities have charged.

“These findings show how deeply ingrained harmful practices and criminality are in the offshore world,” said Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens.” Zucman, who was briefed on the media partners’ investigation, said the release of the leaked documents should prompt governments to seek “concrete sanctions” against jurisdictions and institutions that peddle offshore secrecy.

Que the James Bond theme.   The Guardian appears to be the paper that’s most on top of the story.  I’ve had a fascination with s0-called MTI5MDAyNzI5ODU0MDA1MjE4Treasure Isles for some time which offshore investment accounts of the world’s richest people since it appeared Mitt Romney had managed to plant some money offshore. This was revealed during his run for President. Most of the leaked accounts are from world leaders who are stealing their nation’s Treasury and probably take bribes. Nothing says I hate my country more than these things.

I’ve actually written about this before here because it is so fascinating.  As a former banker and a financial economist that studies the financial systems, I can state with assurance that this situation plagues nations  trying to develop because it takes much needed money out of circulation in the country.  It also is a major argument against giving the richest any more money.  They just take it straight out of the country where they gamble on the world’s financial markets.  Most of them couldn’t create a job if their life depended on it because they’re busy hiding their fortunes.

The Guardian, working with global partners, will set out details from the first tranche of what are being called “the Panama Papers”. Journalists from more than 80 countries have been reviewing 11.5m files leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.

The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Guardian and the BBC.

Though there is nothing unlawful about using offshore companies, the files raise fundamental questions about the ethics of such tax havens – and the revelations are likely to provoke urgent calls for reforms of a system that critics say is arcane and open to abuse.

The Panama Papers reveal:

  • Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.
  • A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend – a cellist called Sergei Roldugin – is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.
  • Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
  • In the UK, six members of the House of Lords, three former Conservative MPs and dozens of donors to British political parties have had offshore assets.
  • The families of at least eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.
  • Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the regimes in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran and Syria have been clients of Mossack Fonseca. Their companies were harboured by the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.
  • A key member of Fifa’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be spearheading reform at world football’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.
  • One leaked memorandum from a partner of Mossack Fonseca said: “Ninety-five per cent of our work coincidentally consists in selling vehicles to avoid taxes.”

The company has flatly denied any wrongdoing. It says it has acted beyond reproach for 40 years and that it has had robust due diligence procedures.

The document leak comes from the records of the firm, which was founded in 1977. The information is near live, with the most recent records dating from December 2015.

James-Bond-Casino-Royale-Movie-Poster-Red-Clay-SoulThe data shared with journalists is huge and is more than was leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010 or Edward Snowden in 2013.

There is a connection to the US through Miami. The Miami World Herald reports the connection between black money and the Miami real estate boom.

The firm’s leaked records offer a glimpse into the tightly guarded world of high-end South Florida real estate and the global economic forces reshaping Miami’s skyline.

And MF’s activities bolster an argument analysts and law-enforcement officials have long made: Money from people linked to wrongdoing abroad is helping to power the gleaming condo towers rising on South Florida’s waterfront and pushing home prices far beyond what most locals canafford.

The leak comes as the U.S. government unleashes an unprecedented crackdown on money laundering in Miami’s luxury real-estate market.

Buried in the 11.5 million documents? A registry revealing Mateus 5’s true owner: Paulo Octávio Alves Pereira, a Brazilian developer and politician now under indictment for corruption in his home country.

A Miami Herald analysis of the never-before-seen records found 19 foreign nationals creating offshore companies and buying Miami real estate. Of them, eight have been linked to bribery, corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion or other misdeeds in their home countries.

That’s a drop in the ocean of Miami’s luxury market. But Mossack Fonseca is one of many firms that set up offshore companies. And experts say a lack of controls on cash real-estate deals has made Miami a magnet for questionable currency.

Probably the most direct result of the link is the call for an election to replace Iceland’s PM who was caught with an account.PC0436_l

Iceland’s prime minister is this week expected to face calls in parliament for a snap election after the Panama Papers revealed he is among several leading politicians around the world with links to secretive companies in offshore tax havens.

The financial affairs of Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and his wife have come under scrutiny because of details revealed in documents from a Panamanian law firm that helps clients protect their wealth in secretive offshore tax regimes. The files from Mossack Fonseca form the biggest ever data leak to journalists.

Opposition leaders have this weekend been discussing a motion calling for a general election – in effect a confidence vote in the prime minister.

On Monday, Gunnlaugsson is expected to face allegations from opponents that he has hidden a major financial conflict of interest from voters ever since he was elected an MP seven years ago.

This should be huge and there’s no doubt that a number of Americans may show up . It should also spur a movement for regulation if the Dems give good spin and the Republicans cower from fear of their angered populist base.  I want to spend more time analyzing this and will provide you with some more thoughts when I can.  I’ll be with students the next few days so you’ll  have to be patient and let me know if you’re interested.

You can read “How Reporters Pulled Off the Panama Papers, the Biggest Leak in Whistleblower History” at Wired. This article covers the leak process and the reporter with the original contact.

The Panama Papers leak began, according to ICIJ director Ryle, in late 2014, when an unknown source reached out to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which had reported previously on a smaller leak of Mossack Fonseca files to German government regulators. A Suddeutsche Zeitung reporter named Bastian Oberway says that the source contacted him via encrypted chat, offering some sort of data intended “to make these crimes public.” But the source warned that his or her “life is in danger,” was only willing to communicate via encrypted channels, and refused to meet in person.

“How much data are we talking about?” Obermayer asked

“More than you have ever seen,” the source responded, according to Obermayer.

Obermayer tells WIRED he communicated with his source over a series of encrypted channels that they frequently changed, each time deleting all history from their prior exchange. He alludes to crypto apps like Signal and Threema, as well as PGP-encrypted email but declines to say specifically which methods they used. Each time the reporter and source re-established a connection, they would use a known question and answer to reauthenticate each other. “I’d say ‘is it sunny?’ You’d say ‘the moon is raining’ or whatever nonsense, and then both of us can verify it’s still the other person on the device,” Obermayer says.

After seeing a portion of the documents, Suddeutsche Zeitung contacted the ICIJ, which had helped to coordinate previous tax haven megaleaks including a 2013 analysis of leaked offshore tax haven data and another leak-enabled investigation last year that focused on assets protected by the Swiss bank HSBC. ICIJ staff flew to Munich to coordinate with Suddeutsche Zeitung reporters.

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I can’t wait to follow the money frankly.  International Financial Economists try to estimate the flows of dark and black currency around the world and its impact on a nation’s capital accounts. This may give us a hint of the level and types of activities as well as their frequency.  Like I said, I’m chomping at the bit like an Ann Romney dressage horse to get the actual activity details.  Meanwhile, enjoy the international outing of the billionaires who have more in common with each other than the people in their countries.

Anyway, here’s a few other links to keep you busy!

From Newsweek: White City: The new urban blight is rich people

From Bloomberg News: Louisiana Crisis Shows Risks of Republican Candidates’ Tax Plans

Voters in Wisconsin’s Republican primary Tuesday can choose among Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, all of whom promise tax cuts that could cost as much as $10 trillion in revenue over 10 years — and an ensuing economic boom as spending is unleashed. Yet voters need look no further than Louisiana, Kansas and Oklahoma to see what happens when economies fail to grow as promised.

From Washington Monthly (satire):  Apologies to Bernie Sanders By Mark Kleiman

From The Economist: Sin and politics: The link between a scandal in Alabama and the rise of Donald Trump

New York Magazine:  OPERATION TRUMP:  Inside the most unorthodox campaign in political history.

WAPO:  American policy fails at reducing child poverty because it aims to fix the poor. If we want to help kids, it’s time to focus on money, not marriage.

From CNN: Conservative challengers lose key Supreme Court voting rights case

In a unanimous result, the court said a state can draw legislative districts based on total population. At issue in the case was the “one person, one vote” principle dating back to the 1960s, when the court held that state legislative districts must be drawn so they are equal in population.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 

 

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Tuesday Reads

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I’m getting a late start today, because I was trying to find out what’s going on with my broken computer. I learned that it was shipped yesterday and supposedly will get to me on Thursday. It’s still in Oakland, so I’m not sure I believe that. Anyway, it’s a relief that I will get it back sometime soon. I have really missed it. At the same time, I’m very anxious about it. I’ve only had this computer since September and already the motherboard failed. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Anyway, enough about my problems. Let’s get to the news of the day.

The Boston Marathon bombing seems to have been mostly forgotten, but as this year’s marathon approaches, the trial of accused bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is almost complete. Yesterday the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments and today the jury begins deliberations.

Tsarnaev Jury Selection, Day 1

From The New York Times: Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Wraps Up With Clashing Portraits of Naïveté and Extremism.

BOSTON — The courtroom filled with a swelling chorus of Islamic chants as television screens showed the battlefield carnage on Boylston Street, with severed limbs, an 11-year-old boy with bone fragments from someone else lodged in his body, and bright red blood splashed on the pavement like so many buckets of paint.

Once more, the people of Boston on Monday were plunged back into that moment on April 15, 2013, when Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a pair of immigrant brothers, terrorized the city and the nation by setting off deadly bombs at the Boston Marathon in the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

“That day, they felt they were soldiers,” the prosecutor said of the brothers. “They were the mujahedeen, and they were bringing their battle to Boston.”

The scene set the stage for closing arguments in this trial, in which testimony began a month ago, against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, whose brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a shootout with police. In an emotional 80-minute multimedia finale delivered to a courtroom packed with survivors and victims’ families, the government cast Mr. Tsarnaev as an equal partner with his brother, equally determined to extract “an eye for an eye” against the United States for killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Read all about the closing arguments at the NYT link. The prosecution’s argument was very graphic and highly emotional. The case goes to the jury this morning. The defense already admitted that Tsarnaev is guilty, so the only real question will be whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison without parole. I certainly hope not, and most Greater Boston residents feel the same way, according to a poll by NPR station WBUR.

I expect to get my copy of a new book released today called The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, by Masha Gessen. I’m really looking forward to reading it, because Gessen is knowledgeable about both Russia and the U.S. She is also the author of a biography of Vladimir Putin and a book about Pussy Riot. According to the reviews, Gessen focuses on the reasons behind the Tsarnaev brothers’ actions rather than on the crime itself, beginning with the history of Chechnya’s battle to stay separate from Russia.

From Wikipedia: Gessen was born in Moscow, lived for ten years in the U.S. before moving back home to Moscow. She moved back to New York  in 2013 after Russian authorities suggested they might take children away from gay parents. She is a lesbian and a well known activist for LGBT rights and against Putin. I’d love to read her book about Putin too.

From the LA Times review of the book (the NYT review is linked above):

Masha Gessen does something unexpected with “The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy.” In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: “Patriots’ Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs.”

Still, if such an approach seems counterintuitive, that’s the power of this remarkable book. For Gessen, the details of the catastrophe — the backpacks, the surveillance footage, the suspension of civil liberties throughout Greater Boston for several days — are so well known as to be, in some sense, moot. More essential is the background, both historical and personal. In that sense, “The Brothers” is reminiscent of Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” which won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Wright, of course, published his book several years after the fact, while Gessen’s story is unfolding in the Massachusetts courtroom of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. “The Brothers,” however, is less interested in the case per se than in its context, going back to the 1940s and the relocation by Soviet authorities of ethnic Chechens to the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

What does this have to do with the bombing? Nothing and everything. The Tsarnaev brothers were the children, or grandchildren, of this relocation, which uprooted their father’s family. Nearly 60 years later, when they, with their sisters and parents, came to Boston not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was just one more place that did not want them, that regarded them as alien or worse.

I can’t wait to read Gessen’s book. I’ll let you know if I learn anything new and useful from it.

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

Another topic I haven’t written much about recently–the Edward Snowden saga–is back in the headlines after an interview he gave to HBO’s John Oliver. From Fortune: Edward Snowden’s most outlandish interview yet.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor, has conducted lots of interviews since he shocked the world with revelations about top secret government surveillance programs and fled to Russia. He’s video-streamed his visage onto a big screen at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas (as well as a smaller one). He’s appeared on panels, including what became the final public appearance of the celebrated New York Times media columnist David Carr. He’s wandered the halls of the TED conference on the screen of a telepresence robot.

But this weekend on John Oliver’s hit HBO series Last Week Tonight, Snowden participated in what is likely his kookiest interview to date. The show took a deep dive into government surveillance, a subject nearly two years in the public spotlight thanks to Snowden’s leaks, and encompassed subjects ranging from the Patriot Act and espionage to, er, “truck nuts” and “dick pics.”

I didn’t see the interview and I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch it; but the video is at the Fortune link if you’re interested.

Apparently the big revelation in the interview was that Snowden never read the documents he stole before releasing them. From Billboard:

If we learned anything from John Oliver‘s super-secret one-on-one interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which aired Sunday on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, it’s that A) Few Americans probably know who is, and B) The spy agency does not have a department solely dedicated to collecting photos of your junk.

Oliver traveled to Russia to secure the interview with Snowden, who is sought by U.S. authorities for leaking thousands of NSA documents, and though there were plenty of laughs (truck nuts!) the host made sure to grill the asylum-seeker about the seriousness of his situation.

For one thing, Oliver asked Snowden if he had read all the classified docs that he leaked to the media. He said he had “evaluated” all of them — to which Oliver brought up the release of information that revealed the names of U.S. spies. “That’s a fu–up,” Oliver concluded. “You have to own that… You’re giving documents which you know could be harmful, and you know could get out there.”

Snowden responded, “You will never be completely free from risk if you’re free… The only time you can be free from risk is when you’re in prison.”

Snowden just isn’t a serious person. The Daily Mail has an in-depth report with plenty of quotes and videos. Here’s the headline: The damning truth about Snowden: Traitor who put Western lives at risk from terrorists reveals he didn’t even read all the top-secret files he leaked.

rand paul1

This morning Rand Paul revealed (to no one’s surprise) that he’s running for president of the U.S. CBS News reports:

Rand Paul announced his bid for president Tuesday morning on his campaign website, randpaul.com.

On the web page, Paul wrote, “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government.” The Kentucky senator has already begun asking his supporters for donations to help his cause, too.

His political action committee sent a long email imploring supporters to contribute anywhere from $10 to $500 for a “Stand With Rand Money Bomb.” Paul has used this fundraising technique in the past to collect small-dollar donations online from grassroots supporters.

“The media tells us — if our Republican Party has any hope of defeating Hillary Clinton — you and I should choose a nominee with a track record full of sellouts, compromises and Big Government betrayals. So even though I’m at or near the top of every state poll for the nomination, they continue to try and dismiss my message of liberty and limited government!” the appeal reads.

Paul is expected to formally launch his White House bid at an event in Louisville, Kentucky Tuesday afternoon. The announcement has been expected for weeks, and Paul spent the early part of the week converting his campaign-in-waiting to an actual campaign.

So now the Republicans have two clowns in the clown car: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz–not a particularly auspicious start if you ask me.

rape

One more big story came out late yesterday–a report organized by the Columbia Journalism Review on the Rolling Stone article on the rape problem at the University of Virginia in which the central character apparently fabricated her story. There were many other women in the story who had been raped on the UVA campus, but they were overshadowed by “Jackie’s” apparently false accusations of a man who seems not to exist at all.

Here’s the report at Rolling stone: Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report

and the CJR story: Rolling Stone’s investigation: ‘A failure that was avoidable.’

Amanda Marcotte had two good articles on the report yesterday.

Talking Points Memo: Sorry, Rape Deniers: The Rolling Stone Report isn’t What You Hoped.

Raw Story: The big reveal in the report on Rolling Stone’s rape story fiasco that no one is talking about.

I hope you’ll check out those stories. They’re both well worth reading.

Just one more link from The Daily Beast: Rolling Stone Reporter ‘Nearly Broke Down.’

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?

 


Thursday Reads

o-DOG-READING-A-BOOK-facebook

 

Good Morning!!

Another missing plane story tops the news right now. This time it’s an Algerian that has disappeared in Mali. According to the Wall Street Journal: Air Algérie Flight Reported Missing With 116 on Board.

Air Algérie lost contact with Flight 5017 after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as the jetliner headed to Algiers with 116 people on board, Algeria’s state news agency and the plane’s operator said Thursday.

French Secretary of Transport Frédéric Cuvillier told reporters the plane disappeared over Northern Mali, where Islamist militants are fighting the Malian government and French forces. Numerous French nationals were probably aboard the missing plane, Mr. Cuvillier said.

Contact with the Boeing Co. BA -0.95%MD-83, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was lost at about 1:55 a.m. local time, 50 minutes after the jet had taken off, the Algerian government’s official news agency said in a statement. “Air Algérie launched [an] emergency plan,” the agency added. It gave no other details.

An official at the directorate of Ouagadougou Airport said there had been an incident, “but for the moment we don’t know anything more.” He refused to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

Was this plane shot down like Malasian Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine?

The flight path of the missing Algerian jet isn’t yet clear but the FAA has warned airlines to be extra vigilant when flying over Mali.

There is no indication the jet was shot down and no confirmation of a crash.

Still, amid questions by airline executives and regulators over whether MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine, the Air Algérie jet’s flight path will be closely scrutinized.

The FAA has banned U.S. carriers of flying over Mali at lower altitudes. The FAA cited “insurgent activity,” including the threat of antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Apart from worries about insurgent threats in Mali, the Algerian government has been keeping a close watch on airspace on its eastern border, where violence in Libya has led to flight bans there.

The missing plane was owned by Swiftair, a Spanish charter company. NBC News reports: Air Algerie Jet Chartered by Spain’s Swiftair Vanishes in Africa.

Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria.

 In a statement, Madrid-based Swiftair confirmed it had chartered the missing McDonnell Douglas MD-83. Swiftair said 110 passengers and six crew were aboard the jet. It had been due to land in the Algerian capital at 5:10 a.m. local time (12:10 a.m. ET). The flight was missing for hours before the news was made public….
Issa Saly Maiga, the head of Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, told Reuters that a search was under way for the missing flight. “We do not know if the plane is Malian territory,” he added. “Aviation authorities are mobilised in all the countries concerned – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”
UPDATE: Algerian officials say the plane has crashed, but the crash site has not yet been located–see in a comment below.

dog and cat reading

Updates on Malaysian Airlines MH17

There is some new information on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukraine. According to an article in Corriere Dela Sera, reporter di Lorenzo Cremonesi learned from “pro-Russian militiamen” that they were told by “superiors” that the plane carried Ukrainian paratroopers.
“We thought we were going to fight but instead we found dead civilians”
“We thought we would have to fight baled out Ukrainian pilots but instead we found dead civilians. All those poor people with baggage that certainly wasn’t military”. We spoke to a militiaman from the Oplot (stronghold) combat unit at midday yesterday on the concrete platforms of Torez railway station. He was standing beside five rail wagons – four refrigerated and the fifth with the refrigeration unit’s diesel geneerators – containing the human remains collected among the sunflower fields in pro-Russian separatist-held Ukraine. His words are revealing because he spoke them quite naturally, without reflecting, after telling us about the international representatives’ recently completed inspection of the bodies and his unit’s orders to stand guard over the wagons. In its innocence and simplicity, the story is significant. In fact, it could provide new evidence for those who blame the pro-Russians for mistakenly launching the fatal missile under the impression that their target was a Ukrainian military aircraft.
Read the rest at the link.
cat_and_dog_in_library
And from The Guardian, MH17: Ukraine separatist commander ‘admits’ rebels had Buk missile system . . . and then “changes his story.
A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.

Alexander Khodakovsky, who leads the Vostok battalion – one of the main rebel formations – said the rebels may have received the Buk from Russia, in the first such admission by a senior separatist.

“That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters.

Russian news agencies later said people close to Khodakovsky denied he made the admissions. Khodakovsky himself told Life News, a Russian news agency with links to Moscow’s security services, that he was misquoted and had merely discussed “possible versions” with Reuters. Khodakovsky said the rebels “do not have and have never had” a Buk.

As two further Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down, apparently by missiles fired from within Russia, Khodakovsky appeared to imply that MH17 was indeed downed by a missile from the Buk, assuming the interview with Reuters is confirmed. He blamed Ukrainian authorities, however, for allowing civilian jets to fly over its airspace when the rebels had such capabilities.

More details at the link.
Another article at BBC News quotes rebel “prime minister” Alexander Borodai as admitting to receiving support from Russia, and making a number of excuses for the ghastly treatment of the bodies from MH17, Ukraine rebel leader Borodai admits to Russia links.
Mr Borodai admitted that the rebels had received support from “the whole Russian people” in their fight against the Ukrainian government.

“Volunteers are joining us,” he told the Newsnight programme, describing himself as one of them – “a resident of the city of Moscow”.

“It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine gun, I now have the post of prime minister. Well… that’s fate.”

He denied that he was a member of a Russian intelligence agency, as has often been alleged.

However, he admitted to having contact with other members of the secret services in Russia – as, he said, would anyone “who has dealings with the elite of society”.

On the treatment of the bodies,

“We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning,” said Mr Borodai.

“But we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE representative, who said to us: ‘I represent 57 countries. Don’t you dare touch the bodies of the dead. Under no circumstances. Or else all the 57 countries of the OSCE will do this and that to you.'”

“So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert…. Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30C heat, it’s absurd. It’s simply inhuman. It’s a scene from a horror movie.”

However, an OSCE spokesman told the BBC that the organisation had not warned the rebels against moving the bodies.

More obfuscation at the link. Thank goodness the bodies are now being returned to the Netherlands.

dog-reading-cat-sleeping_zps02c52057

Do Dogs Experience Emotions?

There’s a story in The New York Times about research on dogs and emotions with a somewhat cutsie headline and introduction, Inside Man’s Best Friend, Study Says, May Lurk a Green-Eyed Monster. Do dogs experience jealousy?

The answer, according to Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, is that if you are petting another dog, Roscoe is going to show something that Dr. Harris thinks is a form of jealousy, even if not as complex and twisted as the adult human form.

Other scientists agree there is something going on, but not all are convinced it is jealousy. And Roscoe and the rest of his tribe were, without exception, unavailable for comment.

Dr. Harris had been studying human jealousy for years when she took this question on, inspired partly by the antics of her parents’ Border collies. When she petted them, “one would take his head and knock the other’s head away,” she said. It certainly looked like jealousy.

But having studied humans, she was aware of different schools of thought about jealousy. Some scientists argue that jealousy requires complex thinking about self and others, which seems beyond dogs’ abilities. Others think that although our descriptions of jealousy are complex, the emotion itself may not be that complex.

Read more, including reactions from other scientists at the NYT.

Another researcher, Greg Berns of Emory University, has been examining the question of how dogs think and how they relate to humans.

“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”

Dr. Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.

“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.” ….

“Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns said. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that same kind of specialization.

Here’s Dr. Berns’ home page. He has written a book called How Dogs Love Us.

Anyone who has ever spent time with dogs (or cats for that matter) knows that pets express emotions through body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations; it’s nice to see there are some serious researchers trying to understand their emotions and thinking processes.

 dog reading to puppy

A couple more interesting reads . . .

At Talk to Action, the first two-parts of a three-part article on the influence of fundamentalist Catholocism on the Supreme Court by Frank Coccozelli: An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? A brief excerpt:

Beyond the creeping erosion of Roe, there is the disturbing reliance upon traditionalist Catholic teaching on grey area issues, such as a pregnancy endangering the life of the mother.  As Justice Ginsburg noted in here dissent:

Today’s decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.

Where does this leave a Jewish woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy? By the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Carhart, the Jewish teaching of saving the mother’s life in such circumstances is not respected. Vatican teaching is completely different. Instead it prohibits any abortion procedure that would be required not only if the choice is between the life of the mother and the fetus, but also where if no procedure is performed, a stillborn would result. That is an extreme teaching that many mainstream Catholics reject outright.

Read Part one here and Part two here.

At Pando, Yasha Levine has a fascinating story about the bizarre and twisted interactions between the encryption service TOR and its most prominent employee Jacob Applebaum, the Department of Defense, the CIA, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, Hall of Mirrors: Wikileaks volunteer helped build Tor, was funded by the Pentagon. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Snowden story. Also check out Levine’s earlier article, Almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government.

Also for Snowden junkies, Michael Kelley at Business Insider writes about “An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.”

Why doesn’t the mainstream media ask any serious questions about Snowden and his closest supporters?

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?

 


Monday Reads: Another Slow Summer News Day

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Good Morning!!

It’s another slow news day so far. Google’s top story is that the king of Spain Juan Carlos  abdicating in favor of his son. Silly me, I didn’t even know Spain was a monarchy.

From USA Today, Game of thrones: Spain’s king Juan Carlos abdicates.

Carlos, who turned 76 in January, said that he was handing power to Felipe, 46, in order to “open a new era of hope combining his acquired experience and the drive of a new generation.”

Some Spaniards said they had been waiting for it.

“This is part of an expected chronology (of events),” said Alberto Garzon, a lawmaker in the Spanish parliament and author of the book The Third Republic — about a future Spain without a monarchy.

Carlos has enjoyed high popularity for decades but in the past few years his approval ratings fell sharply after a series of personal blunders. He took an expensive African safari during the height of the euro crisis. His daughter, Princess Cristina, has been indicted for embezzlement and her husband stands accused of tax evasion and money laundering.

BBC News summarizes the reasons in a video: Why is King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicating? In 45 secs.

Liberty Ridge, Mount Ranier

Liberty Ridge, Mount Rainier

This is a sad story, but perhaps not too surprising:  Six Climbers Presumed Dead After Long Fall On Mount Rainier. From Northwest Public Radio:

Two experienced guides and four clients are presumed dead after what the National Park Service estimates was a 3,300 foot fall. The climbers were on their way down the mountain after an unsuccessful summit attempt via the difficult Liberty Ridge route on the northwestern side of Rainier.

An aerial and ground search happened Saturday after the group failed to return to their trailhead on schedule. From a helicopter, searchers spotted climbing gear at the base of a rock and ice fall and detected personal avalanche beacons. But the spotters saw no signs of life. A statement from Mount Rainier National Park says no attempt to recover bodies will be made until later in the season because of ongoing danger at the scene at the head of Carbon Glacier.

Interestingly, the guides involved worked for Alapine Ascents, the same Seattle company as some of the Sherpas who died on Mount Everest last month.

I’m not a risk-taker, and I will never understand why people want to get involved in such dangerous sports. But there are people who love to live on the edge and would rather die young doing something they love than live safely into old age.

It is a little-known fact that quite a few people actually die in National Parks every year. Oddly, I don’t like risky activities, but I do like to read books about them; and there are whole books about the different ways people have died in National and State Parks.

According to National Geographic, the dangerous ridge the climbers were using has been involved in numerous accidents in the past.

It’s called Liberty Ridge: a steep ramp of rock, snow and ice splitting a northern face of the 14,410-foot mountain in Washington State. Its stunning views and technical difficulty—hard but not too hard, experts say—have earned it a place in the book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

But its remoteness, steepness and exposure to the elements have also made Liberty Ridge the scene of epic rescues and more than its share of deaths….

“When you hear Liberty Ridge, it is a serious route… it’s not a casual route,” said Mike Gauthier, a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park from 1990 to 2008 who was repeatedly called to the spot to rescue stranded climbers and search for missing people….

In his time on the mountain, Gauthier was repeatedly called to Liberty Ridge to rescue stranded climbers or search for missing people who didn’t survive. Often, the scene was on the ridge’s upper reaches, where the mountain is unremittingly steep, leaving few sheltered places to pitch a tent or to hide from avalanches or falling rocks.

“It’s just not an ideal location to hang out because you’re threatened there. You’re just exposed,” said Gauthier, who wrote the main guidebook for the mountain,  Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide.

Gauthier didn’t want to speculate about the group of missing  climbers but said a camp at 2,800 feet would have been in a section where climbers have often run into trouble.

risks At the LA Times, Maria L. LaGanga writes about the psychology of people who are drawn to mountain climbing: For some climbers, Mt. Rainier’s often deadly allure is irresistible.

“There is a draw, but I can’t explain it,” said Len Throop, owner of Eatonville Outdoor, who has climbed Rainier many times but never crested the summit. “From the first time I ever saw it, I felt a connection.

Even if you can’t see it, you know it’s there. And it’s dangerous. This week is one example, and it’s not even the worst.”

The worst accident came in June 1981, when 11 climbers died under giant chunks of ice….

Rainier has the largest system of glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. The challenging terrain requires skill, stamina and equipment. Climbers must wear crampons, spiked implements that give their boots traction, and wield ice axes that help them arrest their slide down the mountain if they slip. They are often tied to their climbing mates for safety.

“It’s like being on a stair stepper at a steep angle for 10 hours, and that’s for just a normal route,” Grigg said. Liberty Ridge, the route the ill-fated climbers took last week, “is one of the most difficult on the mountain.”

Read the rest if you’re as interested in human behavior as I am. Apparently the climbing has to be done in the middle of the night with headlamps; so I guess the climbers don’t even  see the view while they’re working their way up the mountain.

140522-brian-williams-edward-snowden-interview_9c53a32a1246377662bda8ddc6cb26f7 Last night I watched most of Brian Williams’ interview with Edward Snowden. I still have to watch the final two segments, because I ran out of patience for being lectured to by a narcissistic 30-year-old. I’ll watch the rest today.

I’m not an expert at detecting deception, but I did notice that Snowden didn’t look a Williams during most of his responses to questions. He tended to look down and to the left as he spoke.

Michael B. Kelley of Business Insider asked a body language expert to review the video of Snowden and Williams.

Before Edward Snowden’s interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, body-language expert Dr. Nick Morgan considered Snowden a young guy who got a hold of a bunch of classified documents and was just telling his story about exposing intrusive American surveillance. “I came away [from the NBC interview] with a very different impression,” Morgan, a top U.S. communication theorist and best-selling author, told Business Insider. ”

As a body-language expert, I’d say this is a disingenuous performance, which surprised me.”

Morgan suggested that Snowden gave a studied performance, deliberately “subordinating himself” to Willams–as a way of sucking up and avoiding tough questions? Morgan also thought that Snowden had altered the pitch of his voice to make it lower than is natural for him.

A particularly telling moment came when Brian Williams asked Snowden, “What is your relationship with the host government?” Morgan, who didn’t previously know that Snowden’s Moscow lawyer is a Putin loyalist linked to the FSB, was struck by Snowden’s lack of eye contact and the slowing of his voice as he denied having any relationship with the Kremlin. “He was obviously lying,” Morgan said.

Frankly, anyone who believes that Snowden has no relationship with the Russian government (his lawyer works for the FSB!) is either incredibly ignorant or in deep denial.

RalphB called my attention to this interview with David Ignatious by Fareed Zakaria yesterday. Ignatious has a close relationship with the intelligence community, so I believe his assessment is worth looking at.

You mentioned there the damage to American values of the war on terror. How can America recover, and how hard is that going to be when Washington appears so divided? ….

Surveillance is an example. Because of the unexpected intervention of Edward Snowden, we are now in a period of experimentation with an alternative approach to surveillance.

I’m not someone who thinks Snowden is a hero. He promised to keep secrets, and he – despite his claim that he attempted to warn the NSA legally as a whistleblower – it’s clear that he took many of the nation’s most precious secrets with him and began distributing them to undermine what he thought were unconstitutional programs.

In our country, Congress and the courts have that responsibility for deciding what’s legal – not individual citizens. So it’s hard for me to see Snowden as a hero.

We don’t know the damage that comes from Snowden’s revelations. We may never really know that. But we do know one positive consequence, which is a searching national debate. As a result, we are now likely to experiment with a much less intrusive system of surveillance for our country.

Rather than the NSA holding our metadata for 5 years, the data will be held by communications companies for a year or two, and released by them only if there’s a court order.

Congress seems united in wanting this new approach, and we’ll see whether it works. Sometime in the future it will be urgent and essential to know who a terrorist in a safe haven in Syria was calling when in the U.S. Will we be able to know? Will the system we have put in place be sufficient to ensure the country’s security? I sure hope so. I’m sure it’s being designed with that in mind.

It would be terrible if we learn the results of the upheaval through another terrorist attack in a major U.S. city. After what we went through in Boston last year–and the aftermath continues–I certainly hope not.

Clearly, Snowden’s goal in giving an interview to Williams, who is not known for asking tough questions, was to improve his image in the U.S. and around the world. Predictably, he is now trying again to press his case for asylum in Latin America. From The Moscow Times:

“If Brazil offers me asylum, then I’ll gladly accept it. I would like to live in Brazil,” Agence France-Presse quoted Snowden as saying in an interview with Brazilian television channel Globo….

In a lengthy open letter published in the Brazilian press in December, he praised the Brazilian government for its stance against spying practices and volunteered to help the country in its investigation of NSA spying tactics if he were granted asylum.

I don’t think Ed should get his hopes up. I’d be shocked if Russia lets him go–to the U.S. or any other country.

Snowden.man up

I’ll end with this column and cartoon from Cleveland.com’s Jeff Darcy: Snowden follows Kerry’s advice.

Snowden likely did the interview to soften U.S. public opinion about him, but I doubt the answers he gave will alter the public’s view of him as either a traitor or whistle blowing hero.   It’s possible to believe both that the NSA  went to [sic] far and crossed the line and that Snowden was wrong in how he leaked that information.

In the interview Snowden claimed he was trained as a spy, given a false job title and false name.    Brian Williams failed to ask the obvious follow up question: What was the fake name, James Bond, Austin Powers, Maxwell Smart or Benedict Arnold?    The government’s answer is that Snowden was just an IT specialist contractor for the NSA.   The truth is probably somewhere in between.   What is certain, is that he should have never been hired and given security clearance.

When Snowden said that he was only in Russia because his passport was yanked, and he had planned to fly to Cuba, then on to Latin America, he failed to mention the Latin American countries on his destination list aren’t exactly known for their commitment to democratic freedoms and constitutional protections.

Snowden also gave weak answers to questions about national security damage caused by his leaks and why he didn’t share his concerns with Congress or other channels that would not have opened him up to treason charges….

Instead of talking to Brain Williams in Russia in 2014, Snowden should have  been talking years earlier, to appropriate members of Congress about his concerns, or gone on “60 mins” or “Dateline”  in disguise and blown his whistle.

Snowden defenders argue that if he were to come back to the U.S. he would never be seen again or at the very least, would never be able to have his case heard at a fair trial.   I doubt that.   Snowden has become too high profile and  Kerry has now put the country on record in a very public way,that Snowden would be assured his day in court.

I totally agree. The Greensnow cult members who claim Snowden would disappear into a torture chamber if he came back here are full of it. In this country, public opinion–if it is loud and persistant enough–has an effect. The U.S. is not yet a “surveillance state”–even Snowden admitted that in the interview–and it’s not a dictatorship either, despite the Greensnow cult’s “chicken-little” attitude.

So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News

shelter5

Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are from a project by photographer Mark Makela to take pictures of children “learning to read by reading to homeless cats.”

Last February, photographer Mark Makela traveled to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to photograph a reading group where the participants were grade-school students and a group of cats. The idea for the group, known as Book Buddies, was hatched at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County when the program coordinator Kristi Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son was struggling with reading. Rodriguez decided to bring him into the shelter, where he could be in what she called a “nonevaluative” environment in order to feel more comfortable practicing his reading skills. It worked.

According to ARL’s website, studies at Tufts University found that the more relaxed, nonjudgmental audience of cats helps students to sustain their focus, maintain a higher state of awareness, and develop an improved attitude toward school. In August of last year, ARL officially started the Book Buddies program, inviting students in first through eighth grades to read to the cats. As an incentive to continue, once the students complete five books, they receive prizes. “It’s one of those opportunities that is unique and humorous and so endearing,” Makela said about the assignment to document the Book Buddies program.

See more marvelous photos at the Slate Magazine link above. Even more at Buzzfeed–including more girls.

Now to the news:

I’ve long suspected that Edward Snowden interacted with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and others in the hacker community before he made his final decision to steal a massive trove of data from NSA computers and then abscond to Hong Kong at the end of May last year.

We know that Snowden was in touch with Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras early on, because they published an interview with him in Der Spiegel that they had conducted by e-mail in Mid-May, before Snowden fled Hawaii. But Snowden could have actually met Applebaum in Hawaii in April 2013 when Applebaum vacationed there by his own admission. Did Snowden and Applebaum discuss Snowden’s plans to steal NSA files? Did Applebaum suggest which items Snowden should take? Note that Applebaum is deeply involved with Wikileaks and has been a long-time, passionate defender of Julian Assange.

Glenn Greenwald revealed in his new book “No Place to Hide” that Snowden had used the code name “Cincinnatus” in early communications between the two. Interestingly enough, a “cyber-party” had been held in Hawaii in December 2012, and the host was someone who called himself “Cincinnatus.” Once this news came out, people began speculating on Twitter that perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence. Suddenly, on May 17, the cyber-party announcement was deleted by someone with the Twitter handle @jskuda. Fortunately Twitter user @ShrillBrigade located it on the Wayback Machine. And check out the title of Cincinnatus’ talk: “Painlessly setting up your own fast exit.” (h/t @catfitz)

Then yesterday, former criminal hacker and technical adviser to Greenwald and Poitras’ Freedom of the Press Foundation Kevin Poulsen published a limited hangout at Wired: Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii.

It was December 11, 2012, and in a small art space behind a furniture store in Honolulu, NSA contractor Edward Snowden was working to subvert the machinery of global surveillance.

Snowden was not yet famous. His blockbuster leaks were still six months away, but the man destined to confront world leaders on a global stage was addressing a much smaller audience that Sunday evening. He was leading a local “Crypto Party,” teaching less than two dozen Hawaii residents how to encrypt their hard drives and use the internet anonymously.

“He introduced himself as Ed,” says technologist and writer Runa Sandvik, who co-presented with Snowden at the event, and spoke about the experience for the first time with WIRED. “We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell.”

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Runa Sandvik is a hacker who works at the TOR project along with Jacob Applebaum. TOR is a site (ironically funded by the U.S. Department of Defense) that provides free encryption software to people who want to hide their on-line activities (including drug dealers and child porn purveyors).

Poulsen writes:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.

Tor is free software that lets you go online anonymously. The software is used by a wide swath of people in need of extreme anonymity, including human rights groups, criminals, government agencies, and journalists. It works by accepting connections from the public internet, encrypting the traffic and bouncing it through a winding series of relays before dumping it back on the web through any of more than 1,000 exit nodes.

Most of those relays are run by volunteers, and the pre-leak Edward Snowden, it turns out, was one of them.

How about that? Snowden was already deeply involved with TOR in December 2012–and Jacob Applebaum of TOR just happened to travel to Hawaii a few months later in April! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Well, well, well. Now we know how Snowden got his TOR sticker. Did Runa give him the EFF sticker too? Read the rest of the Wired piece for more details.

Phew! I hope that made sense. This stuff is difficult to write about.

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Also yesterday, well-known and respected journalist and New Yorker writer George Packer published a no-holds-barred review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book in the UK Prospect: The errors of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Among other things, Packer accuses Greenwald of “a pervasive absence of intellectual integrity,” and provides numerous examples. He characterizes Snowden as someone who lives on the internet, detached from the realities of the real world. Here are a few excerpts, but please read the whole thing.

Snowden’s leaks can be seen, in part, as a determined effort to restore the web to its original purity—a project of technology rather than law. “Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography,” wrote Snowden, in an early message to his collaborators. In March of this year, appearing remotely from Russia on a robotised screen onstage at a TED talk in Vancouver, Snowden said that the single best solution to the NSA’s abuses is stronger encryption: “The internet that we’ve enjoyed in the past has been exactly what we, as not just a nation but as a people around the world, need.” In taking nearly two million highly classified documents from the US, he was grabbing back the key to heaven.

As I’ve written previously, Snowden’s solution to the problem of government interference with its citizens is impenetrable universal encryption–never mind the fact that this would allow vast numbers of vicious criminals to hide their actions from law enforcement.

As I suspected, Packer writes that Greenwald’s book “contains no major scoops.” He does, however, praise Greenwald’s argument for the primacy of privacy as central to a “free society.”

Greenwald also makes a powerful case—all the more so for being uncompromising and absolute—for the central role of privacy in a free society, and against the utilitarian argument that, since the phone companies’ metadata on Americans hasn’t been seriously abused by government officials (not yet, anyway), none of us should be too worried. In a chapter called “The Harm of Surveillance,” he cites Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous opinion on the basic “right to be let alone,” and writes: “The desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgemental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.”

I would argue that these considerations are of vital importance to people like Greenwald who are financially secure. Those Americans who must deal with racial and gender discrimination, long-term unemployment, and especially grinding poverty have other, more urgent concerns. Can one be a “free person” under those conditions?

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi. They don’t portend a totalitarian state “beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past,” as Greenwald believes is possible. A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, “I prefer to be spied on by NSA.” The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

In the year since the first NSA disclosures, Snowden has drifted a long way from the Thoreauvian ideal of the majority of one. He has become an international celebrity, far more championed than reviled. He has praised Russia and Venezuela’s devotion to human rights. His more recent disclosures have nothing to do with the constitutional rights of US citizens. Many of them deal with surveillance of foreign governments, including Germany and Brazil, but also Iran, Russia, and China. These are activities that, wise or unwise, fall well within the NSA’s mandate and the normal ways of espionage. Snowden has attached himself to Wikileaks and to Assange, who has become a tool of Russian foreign policy and has no interest in reforming American democracy—his goal is to embarrass it. Assange and Snowden are not the first radical individualists to end up in thrall to strongmen.

Snowden looked to the internet for liberation, but it turns out that there is no such thing as an entirely free individual. Cryptography can never offer the absolute privacy and liberty that Snowden seeks online. The internet will always be a space controlled by corporations and governments, and the freedom it provides is of a limited, even stunting, kind. No one lives outside the fact of coercion—there is always a state to protect or pursue you, whether it’s Obama’s America or Putin’s Russia.

I’ve barely touched the surface of Packer’s scathing critique of Greenwald’s “journalism”; I enourage you to go to Prospect link to read more.

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I have a few more stories for you that I’ll list link-dump style:

It appears that the prosecution in the Boston Bombing case decided to leak some previously secret information–most likely to counter the defense’s argument that Dzhohar Tsarnaev was illegally questioned by the FBI when he was in the hospital with terrible injuries.

Reuters: Accused Boston bomber admitted role in attack, prosecutors say

NBC News: Government doc shows how closely Boston Marathon bombers followed al Qaeda plans.

NY Daily News: Boston Marathon bombers used ‘sophisticated’ bombs made of parts from Christmas lights, model cars: prosecutors.

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

KSDK.com: Feds: Boston bomber’s hideout note says he wanted to be martyr.

ABC News: FBI Feared Boston Bombers ‘Received Training’ And Aid From Terror Group, Docs Say.

This is encouraging from the Boston Globe: Oakland Examining Pension of FBI Agent who Shot Todashev

Other News:

The Economic Times of India: Google wants to show ads through your thermostat and car. (You though the NSA was bad?)

Information Week: Google Outlines Advertising Vision. (How would you like targeted Google ads appearing on your refrigerator or watch?)

The Atlantic: It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession; It was how that debt was disproportionately distributed to America’s most economically fragile communities.

NYT: U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls.

USA Today: Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders.

Science Recorder:  ‘Aliens of the sea’ could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Hacker Twitter Storm and Post-Prom Nightmares

twitter-storm-alison-12001

 

Good Morning!!

 

In the comments on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there has been quite a bit of tension building up between Glenn Greenwald and some of the more extreme members of the (for lack of a better name) cypherpunks crowd–Wikileaks, Cryptome.com, and the hacker community (including Jacob Applebaum, who is closely involved both with Wikileaks and Laura Poitras, Greenwald’s partner in crime. I guess I should have stayed up later last night, because this morning I woke up to the aftermath of a major storm in the Twitterverse, where most of these types of people choose to communicate with each other.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

The fight stemmed from an article posted at The Intercept yesterday, in which the authors chose to redact the name of one of the five countries targeted by NSA data collection. However, it really goes back much further than that.

There has been a long running disagreement between Greenwald and the other groups I mentioned on how much of Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA data to publish. The hacker/Wikileaks crowd thinks Greenwald should simply release everything and let the chips fall where they may, and Greenwald claims he is carefully vetting the material with Snowden’s help in order not to reveal anything that would harm anyone.

Greenwald has actually revealed only a small portion of the material so far, presumably holding back information that he wanted to include in his book. But now the book has been released, and it apparently contains much information that has already been published. For those who have been obsessively following the NSA leaks story, there doesn’t seem to be a need to buy the book. Why is Greenwald being so stingy?

Here’s some background from Michael Kelley at Business Insider: WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Information That Glenn Greenwald Says Could Lead To ‘Deaths’.

Jacob Applebaum

Jacob Applebaum

America’s National Security Agency (NSA) can “vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation” in the Bahamas and an unnamed country, the new publication The Intercept reported Monday, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Intercept Editor Glenn Greenwald — who wrote about documents leaked by Snowden when he was a columnist for The Guardian — said the publication didn’t reveal the country because it was “very convinced” that doing so would lead to “deaths.”

After a heated discussion between WikiLeaks, Greenwald, Intercept Editor-In-Chief John Cook, and American WikiLeaks hacker-turned-Der Spiegal contributor Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks tweeted that it will reveal the name of the second country being spied on by the NSA.

As Kelley points out, the implications is that Wikileaks knows the name of the country either by unmasking the redaction with software or because Wikileaks has access to the Snowden files.

The most plausible way for WikiLeaks to have access to a Snowden cache is if Appelbaum, who led the reporting on several Der Spiegel articles based on NSA documents (which may or may not be from Snowden), shared information with his friend and WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange. Applebaum tweeted that The Intercept’s redaction was “a mistake.”

Appelbaum, a close friend of Laura Poitras, the other journalist whom Snowden gave a large set of documents, also gave a presentation detailing a classified document listing technology available to the NSA’s hacking unit, known as TAO. It is not known how he acquired those documents.

Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras

So which is it? The careless ways in which the Snowden documents have been passed around between The Guardian and The New York Times and other news organizations; with Greenwald’s husband David Miranda carrying them through London to Berlin and back; as well as the fact that Snowden is in Russia, suggest that the entire cache will eventually be released, and presumably all hell will break loose. It’s only a matter of time. 

Charles Johnson posted the entire Wikileaks-Greenwald argument at Little Green Footballs: Slap Fight of the Day: Wikileaks vs Pernicious G

Today on Twitter this happened: Julian Assange, who most people believe is the one behind the @Wikileaks account, threw a huge tantrum because Glenn Greenwald redacted the name of a country from his latest disingenuous article. Greenwald says he was convinced publishing the country’s name would lead to deaths. Assange doesn’t give a shit about that, of course.

There are some inadvertently hilarious moments here; Wikileaks’s Jacob Appelbaum says redacting the country “makes Wikileaks look extreme.” I almost fell out on that one. And then there’s the tweet in which Assange basically calls everyone in Greenwald’s crew “a bunch of racists.” And it all ends with Assange issuing a super-villain threat to release the country’s name “in 72 hours.”

Scroll through the collection below to see what it looks like when extreme libertarians have a purity war.

Head over to Green Footballs if you want the details. Read more exchanges between Wikileaks, Jacob Applebaum, and John Cook, editor of The Intercept at Chirpstory. Read more at Buzzfeed, where Miriam Berger and Miriam Elder provide a timeline of the tweets along with their interpretation: Julian Assange Is Angry At Glenn Greenwald And He’s Not Going To Take It Anymore.

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Finally, Bob Cesca’s take on the whole affair: The Wikileaks vs Greenwald Twitter Fight: Julian Assange Threatens To Reveal Deadly NSA Info.

It all began Monday morning when The Intercept posted a new Snowden revelation with cutesy headline: “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas.” Get it? Pirates! The article exhaustively describes an operation called MYSTIC and another called SOMALGET in which NSA gathers audio and metadata of cellphone calls in the Bahamas in order to spy on human traffickers and drug cartels. The Bahamas is notorious for both.

Naturally, the article featured all of the deceptive Greenwaldian bait-and-switch we’ve come to expect from his Snowden articles. For example, in paragraph seven, Greenwald and his co-authors Ryan Devereaux and Laura Poitras noted that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey routinely vacation in the Bahamas:

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

NSA is spying on Oprah! Stop the presses! But no, if you read all the way down to the 54th paragraph (!!) Greenwald tosses in a token mention of NSA’s rules about preventing data collection against U.S. Persons, whether or not they happen to be inside the U.S. There are very strict “minimization” procedures to eliminate the data that might’ve been inadvertently collected. Why? Because it’s illegal to spy on Americans without an individual warrant. And, by the way, Greenwald & Company noted that the SOMALGET program is, yes, legal.

It sure seems like there are enough hints in the story for anyone to guess the redacted country. Pirates? SOMALGET? Plus the fact the Assange accused Greenwald of “racism.” Read much more interpretation and more tweets at The Daily Banter.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this story from now on and I’ll pass on any new information.

In other news . . .

On Sunday JJ wrote about an alleged gang rape that reportedly took place after the Calhoun High School senior prom in North Georgia on May 10. The reason I’m writing about it is that Sky Dancing has been getting a huge number of clicks from people looking for more information on this story. It seems people want to know what is happening, but the local papers have not published anything on the crime or the investigation since Sunday. Doesn’t that seem odd and troubling? Is a cover-up in the works. As JJ pointed out it brings back memories of Steubenville, Ohio. After the gang rape there, local officials tried to sweep it under the rug, but a blogger and an “Anonymous” group kept the story alive. Maybe someone with inside information from Calhoun needs to get something like that started? As in Steubenville, there are hints that coddled football players may be involved.

 

Jacqueline Gomez

Jacqueline Gomez

Meanwhile, in another prom-related tragedy, a girl was found dead after a prom at MacArthur High School in Houston. According to her mother, the mother of Jacqueline Gomez’ boyfriend was supposed to bring her home that night, but instead the boy’s mother allowed the couple to stay in a hotel room against the Gomez’ mother’s wishes. To me the whole thing sounds really suspicious. From KHOU.com, Mother: Daughter was not supposed to stay at hotel after MacArthur HS prom.

There are new startling details from the mother of a teenagerfound dead on prom night. Her mother feels like she was mislead by her daughter’s prom date and his mother….

Gomez was off to her senior prom at the Hyatt North Houston Hotel. Her mother was too distraught to show her face on camera, but said she expected to see her daughter back at home later that night….

Barron said Gomez’s date’s mother picked the couple up from her home. She also picked them up from the hotel later that night. That’s when she last spoke to her daughter on the phone.

“I just spoke to them after prom, a couple words, told me she was going to get something to eat,” said Barron.

That’s when the boy’s mother got on the phone and asked if Gomez could spend the night at their house.

“I said no, bring her back home,” said Barron. “I gave them a couple hours, and I never heard back.”

The next call she got was from a homicide detective with the Houston Police Department. She said detectives told her the room was booked by the boyfriend’s mother.

What happened? Who gave Jacqueline the drugs and did the boy’s mother know about it? More information from The Houston Chronicle: Texts Hint Girl May Have Overdosed After Prom.

A series of text messages offered new details into the death of Jacqueline Gomez, the 17-year-old Aldine ISD senior found dead Saturday in a Houston motel room the morning after her prom. The texts, sent from an account identified as Gomez’s date, also indicate investigators believe the girl probably overdosed….

Yet nobody can be certain how the MacArthur High School student died until autopsy results are complete – which could take several weeks, the Harris County medical examiner said. And that has the date and Gomez’s family and friends anxiously waiting for the mystery to be solved.

Meanwhile, her friends and family refute any suggestion that Gomez was ever a “party girl,” saying she spent most of her time working at a Kroger grocery and preparing to graduate in June.

Was Jacqueline given a date-rape drug? We may never find out, because those drugs wash out of the system very quickly. Check this out:

“He was posting pictures of himself crying on Instagram. So I a sent him a text that day to ask what had happened to my girl,” said Justice Gonzalez, a close friend of Gomez who saw the couple leave the prom together Friday night to go to that room. Authorities report Gomez was found dead in her bed about 9:20 the next morning.

“They said she overdosed,” part of the text reads, likely referring to law enforcement officials.

He went on.

“I woke up. I tried waking her but she wouldn’t,” the date texted back, adding four frowning faces. “I was screaming and crying telling her to wake up. But she didn’t. She didn’t,” He ended his text with two frowning faces with tears.

He stated she had appeared “perfectly fine and happy” when they left the “Miami Night” prom. She also seemed “happy” when they both went to sleep, he said.

He had told authorities that they had some alcohol, but said in a text to the friend that Gomez had also taken the painkiller hydrocodone.

Why the f&ck didn’t didn’t he take her home, and WTF was his mother thinking?! Furthermore, why can’t something be done to prevent these kinds of after-prom horrors?

Now I’m really mad, and I’m running out of space and time. I’ll post links to other news in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll do the same.