I’m awaiting what I hope is the last snowstorm to hit the Boston area for a week or so. This one won’t be a big deal compared to what we’ve been hit by over the past few weeks. It will snow most of the day and we’ll end up with another five inches of snow on top of the giant pile of white stuff that is already on the ground.
The good news is that beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend, we are expecting temperatures in the 40s and 50s, along with rain. That should help wash some of the snow away. The Weather Channel has live updates on how this storm is affecting other parts of the country.
While I was perusing the Weather Channel page this morning, I came across this article–with amazing photos–of the coldest city in the world.
Think we’re having a brutal winter? Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 50 C (minus 58 F). The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth. Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the regional capital which has the lowest winter temperatures of any city in the world.
How do the locals deal with the cold? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka,” photographer Amos Chapple told weather.com after his visit to the coldest city.
Oymyakon ironically means “unfrozen water.” This is due to the thermal spring located nearby. Originally the location was used by reindeer herders who would water their flock in the warm springs.
Oymyakon’s lowest recorded temperature was a frigid minus 71.2 C (minus 96.16 F) back in 1924. According to The Independent, wearing glasses outdoors can cause them to stick to the wearer’s face. This is just one of the more menial problems of the extremely cold weather
After reading that, I suddenly felt very comfy in my cozy house with the temperature outside a mild 18 degrees F.
Whether we like it or not–and I absolutely hate it–the 2016 presidential race has already begun, and along with it the endless Hillary-bashing that we’ll have to put up with not only from Republicans but also from a subset of Democrats. Republicans will need to be reminded that Hillary is running, not “the Clintons”; and Democrats will have to learn that if they don’t want Jeb Bush as president, Hillary is the best alternative.
It’s a little unnerving that Bob Shrum agrees with me, since he’s rarely backed a winner; but honestly in this case he’s right. From The Daily Beast: Yes, Pundits, Hillary Has the 2016 Nomination in the Bag.
Handicappers in the presidential race abhor the opposite of a vacuum—a campaign two years out where one candidate seems to blot out the entire field. Thus a mini-chorus now rises, and may swell, questioning Hillary Clinton’s apparent lock on the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s a predictable reflex, but in cold, hard reality, logic suggests that the lock is authentic, not just apparent. And in modern history, or virtually all American history, Hillary’s inevitability is unprecedented for a non-incumbent.
Yes, there are pundits like Matt Bai and Krystal Ball who claim that Hillary is vulnerable to a “grass roots” challenge, but they’re in fantasy land. In response to Ball’s suggestion that Elizabeth Warren should be the candidate, because she is “clearly passionate, living and breathing and feeling … the plight of the worker, the middle class,” Shrum writes:
Hillary, Ball asserts, can’t do that because she was once on the board of Walmart and recently accepted speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. That attack, if an opponent advanced it, could and would be swiftly confounded by the Hillary who, in the penultimate primaries of 2008, in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, emerged as a powerful, persuasive tribune of blue-collar and middle-class Americans.
Of course, there is another slight problem with the Warren option: She’s joined all the other Democratic women senators in signing a letter urging Hillary to run.Warren will probably be out there all right—stumping for Hillary, not against her.
There’s much more at the link about other possible candidates like Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley.
Let me add, btw, for Warren fans who claim that Hillary is “too old,” Warren will be 67 in 2016–just two years younger than Clinton. That’s leaving aside the fact that she has far less political experience than Barack Obama did in 2008 and zero foreign policy experience.
Over at that bastion of Hillary-hatred, DailyKos, Markos broke the news to his followers yesterday: The real primary fight of 2016 (and it’s not an alternative to Hillary.”
Some people have to come to terms. And I’m looking at you, people desperate to find an alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
If Hillary runs, she’s the nominee. I know it’s in vogue to talk about how “inevitable” Hillary was in 2008. But it was a different world. I remember it because I was in the midst of that battle. People wanted an alternative, and alternatives existed. At her best, Hillary’s poll numbers were in the 40s with Obama in the strong 20s. Look for yourself. Yes, she was the frontrunner, but there was a strong primary field within striking distance.
There is no alternative to Hillary this cycle. The last time anyone polled the Democratic primary field, Clinton had 73 percent of the vote, Biden 11, and Elizabeth Warren nine. That tells us a couple of things. One, 73 percent is A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE. She is the consensus nominee, and if you disagree, you are objectively in the deep minority. Second of all, there is no one to provide even nominal challenge. Clinton (again, assuming she runs) will have some “challengers”, but it’ll be a bunch of people auditioning for her VP slot.
To reiterate, leads like 45-25 in 2007 didn’t make Hillary “inevitable”. Numbers like 73-11 in 2014 absolutely do. And you know what? Those are not irrational numbers. Hillary will be a great president.
Elizabeth Warren isn’t running. I get why people persist with this fantasy, but it’s nothing more than a fantasy. Warren had to be dragged in kicking and screaming into the Massachusetts Senate race, a geographically small state in which she could sleep in her own bed every night. If you barely have the fire to run for Senate, then you absolutely don’t have the fire to mount a brutal presidential campaign. And even if she did, all she’d have to do is look at the polling (73-9!) to realize she’d have a million better things to do with her time and her donors’ money. SHE. AIN’T. RUNNING.
So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if some Democrats are willing to try to sabotage the party’s chances of continuing to control the White House and very likely Congress as well. It could end up being similar to what the Republicans did to Mitt Romney in 2012. But this time, there won’t be real competition on the Republican side. Who are they going to run? Mitt Romney again? Paul Ryan? My guess is Jeb Bush would be afraid to run against Hillary.
There’s a new article up at Glenn Greenwald’s new site, The Intercept: Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, because I want to get this post up soon. I’ll read it carefully once I’ve done that. But here’s the introduction:
Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.
The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.
One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.
Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.
A third document, from July 2011, contains a summary of an internal discussion in which officials from two NSA offices – including the agency’s general counsel and an arm of its Threat Operations Center – considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting.” Such a designation would have allowed the group to be targeted with extensive electronic surveillance – without the need to exclude U.S. persons from the surveillance searches.
My immediate reaction is that if NSA were not monitoring Wikileaks, they would not be doing their job. As for the claims that individual visitors to the website were actually targeted, I’ll have to reserve judgment until I read the whole piece and it has been fact-checked by people who understand the technology involved better than the authors. I’ve learned from months of experience that Glenn Greenwald’s articles tend to be filled with errors as well as over-the-top melodrama.
In other NSA news, James Clapper admitted in an interview with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast that “We Should’ve Told You We Track Your Calls.”
Ya think? Here’s an excerpt:
Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.
“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”
Since the first Snowden revelations in June, Clapper has declassified reams of material relating to the 215 program, including opinions and warrants signed by the top secret court that approves domestic snooping. But he has not publicly acknowledged until now his thoughts that the initial secrecy surrounding the program was ill-considered.
No shit Sherlock! Americans most likely would have supported the program if the Bush administration had been up front about it. Of course, then Congress would have regulated it more–as is happening under Obama–and that wouldn’t have pleased President Cheney. Even now, if Obama and NSA officials would come out and explain exactly what the program is, the fear-mongering by Greenwald and the gang would be far less effective.
Basically, the “metadata” that is collected is just the same information that we used to get on our phone bills: time call was initiated, how long it lasted, and the number that was called. The phone company kept all this “metadata” on file, and law enforcement could access the phone records of a suspect by getting a warrant from a judge–which is the same thing the NSA does. I have way fewer problems with this kind of data collection than what corporations are doing on a daily basis with my internet browsing and purchases.
I’ll end with a couple of fun items.
First, I hope you’ll check out these awesome photos of Russians with their cats at Buzzfeed.
Second, from The Guardian: Kerouac’s On the Road followed on the road via Google Maps:
“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream,” wrote Jack Kerouac, famously, in On the Road. “Head northwest on W 47th St toward 7th Ave. Take the 1st left onto 7th Ave. Turn right onto W 39th St,” writes Gregor Weichbrodt, less poetically but more accurately, in On the Road for 17527 Miles, a new book tracing the Beat writer’s famous journey across America – with the aid of Google Maps.
Going through On the Road with a fine-toothed comb, Weichbrodt took the “exact and approximate” spots to which the author – via his alter ego Sal Paradise – travelled, and entered them into Google’s Direction Service. “The result is a huge direction instruction of 55 pages,” says the German student. “All in all, as Google shows, the journey takes 272.26 hours (for 17,527 miles).”
Weichbrodt’s chapters match those of Kerouac’s original. He has now self-published the book, which is also part of the current exhibition Poetry Will Be Made By All! in Zurich, and has, he says, sold six copies so far.
You can read the book at at Open Culture. The site has also published a photo of Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Map of the Hitchhiking Trip Narrated in On the Road. Very cool.
Now what are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Tuesday!
I thought I’d put the “morning reads” up a little later to give you time to check out JJ’s cartoon posts. So . . . let’s see what’s happening out there today.
Well . . . Paul Volker was in Boston on Thursday night, and he talked to some richie-rich guys about income inequality. From The Boston Globe:
Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Boston investment executives, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker asked some tough questions about income inequality in America. He called the earnings gap one of the economy’s greatest challenges.
“What accounts for this? What justifies it?’’ an animated Volcker asked. He argued that the trend started in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, with the spread of stock option compensation creating vast wealth and risk-taking.
During that period, he said, the link between pay and performance got “entirely out of whack.’’
The elder statesman of Fed watchers and author of the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank reform package after the financial crisis — was speaking before the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual market dinner…
Good for him. Whether it will do any good is questionable, but these people need to hear about what they are doing to 99% of Americans.
Just for the hell of it, I looked around for some more recent news articles about income inequality. There wasn’t a lot out there, but I did find a few interesting reads.
At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik writes: Income inequality begins to hit business in the pocketbook. He argues that business is noticing that middle-class customers are disappearing.
The consumer market is beginning to look like a sandwich without meat in the middle–there are enough wealthy customers to keep the luxury market humming along, and a growing demand for cheap no-name and other bargain products.
The phenomenon has been reported by Matthew Yglesias of Slate.com and more recently by Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times. As we reported here and here, it’s been building for years. But it really picked up steam after the last recession, when the imbalance in income between the top 1% and everyone else has really taken off.
Most economists view the stranglehold of the wealthy on U.S. income and wealth as a problem–it leads to slower overall growth and more volatility. As economist Jared Bernstein has observed, it also promotes the creation of asset and credit bubbles, which have a tendency to burst, taking the rest of the economy with them.
The most important analysis of the economic impact of inequality has come from Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis. In a paper published last month, they ask two questions: “First, did rising inequality contribute in an important way to the unsustainable increase in household leverage that triggered the collapse in consumer demand and the Great Recession? Second, has the rise in inequality become a drag on demand growth…that has held back recovery?”
Their answer to both questions is yes. In simpler terms, rising inequality before the recession prompted U.S. households to borrow more to keep up their spending; when the debt frenzy ended (because of the bursting of the housing bubble) the economy crashed. Since then, the demand drag caused by the effect of inequality on the bottom 95% has held back recovery. The impact of inequality on the recovery, compared with previous recoveries, is shown in this stunning graph from their paper.
But Hiltzik notes that many oblivious pundits continue to deny the effects of the top 1% controlling most of the wealth.
At The News Virginian, Jason Stanford finds some “good news” in the fact that most Republicans now agree that income inequality is a problem.
Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.
The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.
OK, so Republicans see the problem, but they want to address it with the same old tired trickle-down non-solutions. I’m not really sure that qualifies as good news. Better than nothing, I guess.
At the Akron Beacon Journal, Rick Armon writes about “an American success story.” Thanks to government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not as many seniors are living in poverty as they did in the past.
Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, at least one group of Americans is much better off today: senior citizens.
The percentage of seniors nationwide living below the poverty line has plummeted from 27 percent to 9 percent today, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of census data….
Today, there are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty, compared with 5.2 million in 1969, when the 1970 census was conducted.
The reasons are pretty simple, experts say: It’s a combination of Social Security, pensions, 401(k) programs and Medicare that has kept more elderly people from slipping into poverty.
Armon says those figures may be a little too optimistic (read the details at the link); but still, it’s progress.
Yesterday everyone was talking about Asst. Sec. of State Victoria Nuland’s bugged phone call with the US ambassador to Ukraine in which she uttered the words “fuck the EU,” apparently using an unencrypted cell phone. Someone posted portions of the call to Youtube, and the U.S. has accused Russia of tapping Nuland’s phone. Read all the gossipy details at BBC News.
Of course Russia is accusing the U.S. of “meddling” in the Ukraine crisis. From The New York Times:
KIEV, Ukraine — The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats.
An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.
The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.
There’s a lot more background on the Ukraine situation in the NYT article.
If the problems in Ukraine weren’t enough, anti-government protests have now broken out in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. The Guardian reports:
Thousands of Bosnian protesters took to the streets in the centre of Sarajevo on Friday, setting fire to the presidency building and hurling rocks and stones at police as fury at the country’s political and economic stagnation spread rapidly around the country.
As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.
At one point in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories….
The scenes in Sarajevo were similarly fraught on Friday night, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters….
The protests have bubbled up out of long-simmering discontent at a sluggish economy, mismanagement, corruption and unemployment, which is rising irresistibly towards 30%. Bosnia has been hamstrung by political infighting and deadlock between its three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in the near 20 years since its three-year civil war ended in 1995. The economy has suffered as a result, and the population remains deeply sceptical of a political class widely believed to be ruling in the interests of the elite, not the people.
There continues to be plenty of surveillance news–both about NSA, and more recently about Russia’s intelligence agencies and their security measures activities around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This article from The Moscow Times by Andrei Soldatov provides a good overview: FSB Makes Eavesdropping an Olympic Event. In NSA news, Glenn Greenwald and friends have stepped up their publishing activities in the run-up to the unveiling of their First Look news site, planned for Monday. I’ll just share a couple of items with you.
A little more than a week ago Greenwald worked with CBC reporters to “break” a story about alleged spying by Canada’s equivalent of NSA on airport passengers that supposedly continued for days after they left the airport. As usual, the report was deeply flawed, as explained by Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency: Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect.
On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers – something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts.”
However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.
Read all the gory details at the Aid’s blog.
Then yesterday, Greenwald–in collaboration with NBC News–released a truly bizarre article, Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’, that reveals methods and sources for the GCHQ’s efforts to arrest malicious hackers, criminals, and terrorists, and to prevent nuclear proliferation. You have to wonder why NBC news thought those efforts were somehow wrong or illegal. I’m running out of space, so I’ll let Bob Cesca explain the problems with this story.
There’s one sentence in the new Glenn Greenwald revelation for NBC News that renders everything that follows mostly irrelevant. It’s the lede. And not even the entire lede — just the first part of it.
British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers…
The only sane reaction to this news should be, “Great!” We don’t really need to know anything else. But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from spilling the beans on operations that target such poor helpless victims as malicious hackers, the Taliban, Iran and, yes, terrorists dealing in loose nukes.
See more examples at The Daily Banter. Cesca sums up:
Regardless, what we’re looking at here is another leak from Greenwald & Company that tips off some of our most dangerous enemies including and especially the looming threat of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. These leaks have been published yet again under the banner of the public interest, but it’s difficult to see any public interest in an operation expressly aimed at those who even the article admits are our “enemies.”
Greenwald has been publishing quite a few leaks about British spying lately. I have to assume that this is his threatened revenge for the Brits detaining David Miranda at Heathrow airport last year. Pretty childish, if you ask me.