Posted: December 3, 2015 Filed under: Crime, morning reads | Tags: guns, NRA, prayers not action, San Bernardino mass shooting
I really don’t want to write about the horrors in the news today, but what else can I do? I’m staying with my nephews (yesterday till late tonight). This morning the phone rang at 6AM. The kids’ school was calling to say that they had received a threat of gun violence last night. There was also a bomb threat on Tuesday, so “in an abundance of caution” they locked down the schools last night, the police searched them early this morning, and there will be police and security people stationed in the school all day. People can only enter the school through one entrance that is guarded.
I really didn’t want the boys to go to school, and my sister-in-law said to keep them home. So there’s a lot going on here right now, and this post is probably going to be brief.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard that the mass murder in San Bernardino yesterday was the 355th one this year–there has been more than one mass shooting per day in the U.S. in 2015. Furthermore, the San Berdardino shooting was the second mass shooting yesterday.
The Washington Post reports:
The San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year, according to a mass shooting tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit. The Reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire….
It would be also be the second mass shooting just today — in the early morning hours, one person was killed and three were injured in an incident in Savannah, Georgia….
The number of mass shootings so far this year has already surpassed the total number of mass shootings in 2014, according to the Reddit tracker. And the pace is well above 2013’s pace, when a total of 363 mass shootings occurred.
Just having to read about these shootings and watch the reports on TV is makes me feel drained of energy. Why do we put up with it? I think the feds should list the NRA as a terrorist group.
Here’s the latest on the shooting in California.
CNN: San Bernardino shooters die battling police; motive unknown.
It started as a holiday party — where, police said, something prompted Syed Rizwan Farook to storm off angrily.
It ended as a bloodbath with 14 people dead and 17 more wounded — the deadliest mass shooting in the United States sinceSandy Hook.
At its center were a married couple, Farook and Tashfeen Malik.
Dressed in black, carrying semi-automatic rifles, authorities say that theyunleashed a massacre Wednesday at the party hosted by the San Bernardino County, California, health department.
That was their first brazen act. Then they led police on a chase. Farook fired while Malik drove.
They died in a hail of bullets when confronted by 21 officers.
Now comes the challenging part: What was their motive? The city’s police chief said there was a dispute at the event “under circumstances that were described as angry.” Could it just have been anger? The level of preparation, the amount of firepower suggest meticulous planning.
Authorities don’t yet know.
Nor do they know of any interaction Farook and Malik had in the past with police. Neither of them were known to the FBI or on a list of potentially radicalized people, law enforcement officials told CNN.
There’s a lot of good information in the article–you can read the rest at CNN.
More from The Washington Post:
Investigators grappled Thursday on two main fronts after the deadliest U.S. mass shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School bloodshed: Seeking clues on the motives and apparent commando-style planning by a couple who turned an office holiday party into a killing field with at least 14 dead.
“I don’t think they grabbed the guns and tactical gear on a spur-of-the-moment thing,” said San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan hours after Wednesday’s rampage and a police shootout that left both alleged shooters dead several miles from the attack….
Bit by bit, profiles emerged of the suspects: Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, a former county health worker who was born in the United States, and a woman described as his Pakistani-born wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27.
Also being pieced together were the hour-by-hour events before police say the suspects stormed a conference center wearing black masks and armed with assault rifles and handguns.
Earlier in the day, the suspects dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother, saying they had a doctor’s appointment, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles.
Again, much more info at the link.
I’m afraid that since the shooters were of Middle Eastern descent, we’re going to have to deal with an intensification of the Islamophobia from the GOP presidential candidates and their supporters. I don’t think I can stand to watch the next Republican debate. Then there’s this: the LA Times reports that not long ago, Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia to connect with a woman he had met online. She became his wife and died with him yesterday.
Co-workers told The Times they were shocked to hear Farook’s name linked to the shooting. Two who were in the restroom when the bullets began to fly said he was quiet and polite, with no obvious grudges….
Baccari and Christian Nwadike said Farook, who worked with them for several years, rarely started a conversation. But the tall, thin young man with a full beard was well liked and spent much of his time out in the field.
They and other colleagues said Farook was a devout Muslim, but rarely discussed religion at work.
“He never struck me as a fanatic, he never struck me as suspicious,” said Griselda Reisinger, who worked with Farook before leaving the agency in May.
Reisinger said she heard that the office recently threw a baby shower for Farook and that he had taken paternity leave.
More links on the San Bernardino shooting:
CNN: Who were Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik?
NYT: Couple Kept Tight Lid on Plans for San Bernardino Shooting.
NY Daily News: GOP presidential candidates offer prayers — not solutions on gun control — after San Bernardino massacre.
The Atlantic: Prayer Shaming After a Mass Shooting in San Bernardino.
More stories of interest:
The Hill: White House: GOP is threatening government shutdown.
Brent Budowsky at The Hill: A coming GOP bloodbath.
Jay Rosen at Press Think: So I will try to explain why the Trump candidacy has been so confounding to our political press.
HuffPo: Why Hillary Clinton Is Right on the TPP.
What stories are you following today?
Posted: August 30, 2014 Filed under: morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics | Tags: abortion, Allison Lundergan Grimes, felony charges, food banks, Greg Abbott, guns, indictment, Iowa primary 2012, Jesse Benton, Kent Sorenson, Kentucky Senate race, Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Mitch McConnell, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Tea Party, Texas National Guard, Wendy Davis
Poor Rick Perry. He just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was his indictment on two felony charges. Then he had to face the further indignity that being indicted on felony charges means he can no longer swagger around with a concealed weapon on his person. According to the Washington Times,
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment on felony corruption charges means he can no longer carry a concealed weapon under state law.
Federal law also prohibits him from being able to buy more guns or ammunition, as long as the indictment is pending, Reuters reported.
I wonder if he knows that? Because when he was in New Hampshire last week, he told voter he didn’t understand the charges against him. From ABC News last Friday, Aug. 22:
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.
Speaking to a group of business leaders here, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.
Asked about his indictment during a question-and-answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.
“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.
A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – over a 2013 veto threat.
At The Wire, Arit John has a funny post in which he describes Perry’s confusion as just one step in the grief process over the indictment, Rick Perry Enters the Final Stage of Indictment Grief: Confusion.
Maybe Rick Perry should have read up on his indictment charges before he started using them as a campaign talking point. During a speech last week, the Texas governor said he was being indicted for bribery, which isn’t actually true.
“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he said,according to the Houston Chronicle. But Perry is actually being indicted for abuse of power and coercing a public official, after he threatened to veto District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s budget if she refused to resign after her drunk driving conviction.
This is another oops moment for Perry, but it also signaled his transition into the 5th and, likely for him, final stage of indictment related grief: confusion. After grinning mugshot denial, angry ads “setting the record straight,” bargaining over who should pay the lawyers and depression over a loss of Second Amendment privileges, all that’s left for Perry is to be slightly unsure of what, exactly, people are accusing him of doing.
Read the details at the link.
Then there are the embarrassing stories about how Perry hasn’t paid the National Guard troops that he sent to guard the Texas-Mexico border. From Gawker:
When Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard soldiers to the Mexico border to much fanfare earlier this summer, he couldn’t say how long they’d be there. It turns out he also couldn’t pay them: At least 50 soldiers haven’t seen a paycheck and are getting sustenance and vehicle fuel from a local food bank.
Via KGBT News, the sudden call-up took those weekend warriors away from their day jobs and deposited them in the Rio Grande valley, but the service hasn’t covered their losses yet….
Perry—who’s busy being indicted for criminal abuse of power—and the National Guard didn’t respond to reporter queries earlier this week, but the pay lag could be related to the governor’s refusal to fund the mobilization he ordered, and his insistence that the federal government cover it. (In the meantime, Perry was supposedly attempting to finance the deployment “by diverting $38 million in public safety funds earmarked for emergency radio infrastructure,” the L.A. Times has reported.)
Yesterday afternoon, the Austin Statement reported that unnamed “National Guard officials” were claiming the stories about hungry troops were exaggerated, but it sounds like they may be just trying to clean up Perry’s mess.
The Guard said it had identified 50 service members who, because of their early August start date, weren’t going to be paid until Sept. 5.
None of those 50 troops have notified leaders that they had used the food bank, officials said.
According to the Guard, troops receive one meal while on duty, plus a $32 per diem food reimbursement that is included in their paychecks.
According to Omar Ramirez, Food Bank RGV’s manager of communications and advocacy, the food bank made extra preparations after being contacted by someone from the Texas National Guard Support Foundation, but that he wasn’t aware of any troops being served.
“Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard,” he said.
OK, but if the $32 dollars is included in their paychecks, then that means the troops have to front the money for two meals a day until Sept. 5, right? Read the rest at the link.
Finally, yesterday Perry learned that his latest anti-abortion bill–the one that Wendy Davis filibustered–has been struck down by a federal judge. From AP:
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new restrictions that would have left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday. There are currently 19 abortion providers in the state, according to groups challenging the law.
“The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion,” Yeakel wrote in his 21-page ruling.
The trial in Texas was the latest battle over tough new abortion restrictions sweeping across the U.S.
The law would have required clinics “to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers,” according to The New York Times.
Adopted as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure last year, the rule would have forced the closing of more than a dozen of Texas’ remaining abortion clinics because they were unable to afford to renovate or to open new facilities that met the standards for such things as hallway width, ceiling height, advanced ventilation equipment, staffing and even parking spaces.
The closings would have left Texas, the second-biggest state by population and by size, with seven or eight abortion clinics, all in major cities like Houston and Dallas. Women in El Paso in West Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley in the south would have lived more than 150 miles — a distance ruled constitutional by a federal appeals court — from the closest clinic in the state, in San Antonio.
Fortunately for Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, her opponent Greg Abbott plans to appeal the decision.
Mitch McDonnell at Morris’ Deli in Louisville, KY
Mitch McConnell is also experiencing some difficulties in his Senate reelection campaign in Kentucky. He has been in a close race with Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes–they’ve been running neck-and-neck for a long time now. And recently McConnell has had a couple of setbacks. First there was the secretly recorded audiotape released by The Undercurrent Youtube channel, of McConnell’s remarks at a “meeting for millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers,” in which he promised to continue blocking Obama proposals and emphasized his opposition to raising the minimum wage. The contents of the tape were first reported in The Nation.
Last week, in an interview with Politico, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlined his plan to shut down President Obama’s legislative agenda by placing riders on appropriations bills. Should Republicans take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, McConnell intends to pass spending bills that “have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”
What McConnell didn’t tell Politico was that two months ago, he made the same promise to a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers. The Nation and The Undercurrent obtained an audio recording of McConnell’s remarks to the gathering, called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society.” In the question-and-answer period following his June 15 session titled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights,” McConnell says:
“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible]. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”
The article notes that the McConnell campaign has received $41,800 from Koch Industries in addition to outside groups who get funding from the Kochs.
“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.”
In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans. At one point in the negotiations, he offered a deal to extend unemployment only if Democrats agreed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA does not add to the federal deficit.
More from The New York Times:
The [Undercurrent] channel released audio of three other Republicans in tough Senate races — Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst, a state senator in Iowa — all of whom praised Charles G. and David H. Koch and the millions of dollars they have provided to help Republican candidates….
Republicans said the recordings were insignificant. Josh Holmes, a senior McConnell campaign aide, said the senator was in no way suggesting a strategy to shut down the government unless Mr. Obama capitulates.
Nonetheless, the audio recordings are likely to become fodder for the campaigns in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kentucky. Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, have tried to demonize contributions by the Koch brothers as corruptive to the political system.
In Arkansas, especially, the audio could touch a nerve. Mr. Cotton, a freshman House member, skipped a popular political event in his state, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, to attend the Koch brothers’ meeting in California. According to the audio, he was repaid with praise for his willingness to hew to the most conservative line, even if it meant voting against legislation popular in his state.
Then yesterday, McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign because of a scandal involving his work for the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa in 2012. From CBS News:
Benton’s resignation, effective Saturday, comes barely two months before Kentucky voters choose between McConnell, a five-term incumbent and the top-ranking Senate Republican, and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In Iowa this week, former state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support from one Republican presidential candidate to another before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from candidate Michele Bachmann, whose Iowa campaign he headed, to candidate Ron Paul, then lied to federal investigators about the money, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors refused to say which campaign paid Sorenson. A representative for Bachmann didn’t immediately return voice and email messages seeking comment Friday. A phone message for Paul also wasn’t immediately returned.
Benton, a tea party insider, worked as a top aide to Paul. On Friday he said that he has been the target of “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors” about his role in past campaigns that are “politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”
Benton had been hired to help McConnell appeal to Tea Party extremists in Kentucky. Is it possible McConnell misjudged his constituents? I sincerely hope so.
So I’ve ended up focusing this post on just two struggling Republicans–but there are plenty of others I could write about. I don’t think we should give up on Democrats holding the Senate yet. I know there is plenty of other news, but I thought I’d shift the focus to electoral politics today. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!
Posted: June 11, 2014 Filed under: morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics | Tags: bus crashes, chimpanzee research, Eric Cantor, game theory, guns, school shootings
I’m still excited by the demise of Eric Cantor’s last night. Suddenly it feels as if there’s hope the GOP will finally give up the ghost and either return to something approaching the political center or else go the way of the dodo bird. I’m going to get you started with some headlines, because I haven’t heard anything from JJ. I hope all is well in Banjoville.
Here are a few headlines on the Eric Cantor loss–many writers are referring to it in earthquake terms.
From CNN: Cantor ‘earthquake’ rattles Capitol Hill
In a year when mainstream Republicans have mostly bested tea party-backed challengers, a little-known and little-funded tea party challenger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District pulled the upset of the year, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 percentage points.
The victory by economics professor Dave Brat gives the tea party an instant jolt of energy, sends shock waves through Capitol Hill, shakes up the GOP House hierarchy — as Cantor was seen by many as the next speaker — and effectively kills any chance of immigration reform passing through the House any time soon.
“I think this is a scale eight earthquake. I think it will shock the Washington establishment; it will shock the House Republicans,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
In a year when mainstream Republicans have mostly bested tea party-backed challengers, a little-known and little-funded tea party challenger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District pulled the upset of the year, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 percentage points.
The victory by economics professor Dave Brat gives the tea party an instant jolt of energy, sends shock waves through Capitol Hill, shakes up the GOP House hierarchy — as Cantor was seen by many as the next speaker — and effectively kills any chance of immigration reform passing through the House any time soon.
“I think this is a scale eight earthquake. I think it will shock the Washington establishment; it will shock the House Republicans,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
Chris Cillizza: The seismic political consequences of Eric Cantor’s stunning loss.
The defeat of the second-ranking Republican in the House by an ill-funded, little-known tea party-backed candidate ranks as the biggest congressional upset in modern memory and will immediately generate a series of political and policy-related shock waves in Washington and the Richmond-area 7th District.
“People don’t know how to respond because it’s never been contemplated,” said one Virginia Republican strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly about Cantor’s loss. (Worth noting: Cantor didn’t just lose. He got walloped; David Brat, his challenger, won 56 percent to 44 percent.)
In conversations with a handful of GOP operatives in the aftermath of Cantor’s loss — a loss blamed largely on an inept campaign consulting team that misread the level of vitriol directed at the candidate due to his place in Republican leadership and the perception he supported so-called “amnesty” for illegal immigrants — there were several common threads about what it means for politics inside and outside the House.
Read Cillizza’s take on the reasons at the link.
Ben Jacobs at The Daily Beast: How Eric Cantor Sabotaged Himself.
The shock defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by college professor Dave Brat is the type of upset that audiences wouldn’t believe in a Disney movie. Perhaps the most cinematic twist is that, at least in part, Cantor did this to himself. A toxic mix of ignoring grassroots Republicans in his district and becoming a lightning rod on the controversial issue of immigration reform meant that a future Speaker of the House became a former congressman Tuesday night.
Cantor, the second most senior Republican in the House of Representatives, lost his primary Tuesday night to the largely unknown Tea Party candidate, who ran on an anti-immigration platform by a margin of 56-44.
Despite Cantor’s reputation as a strident partisan conservative nationally, his support for some form of immigration reform and ties to his party’s pro-business wing made him persona non grata among Tea Partiers and immigration hawks. Yet, his race never made it on the radar for most groups. While talk show host Laura Ingraham vocally condemned Cantor and Daily Caller writer Mickey Kaus beat the drum for Brat, few others on the right viewed the race as even potentially winnable.
The Boston Globe called attention to a map of the 74 (that’s right, 74!) school shootings that have taken place since Newtown. The map was designed by Gongloff.
That comes to 1.37 school shootings per school week! And that’s not counting the many other mass shootings that we’ve had and who knows how many accidental shootings of children. Isn’t it high time we did something about this bloodbath? More from the Globe:
Your gut feeling is right: School shootings have skyrocketed in recent years. In January 2013, the Ploychart blog tracked the number of American school shootings since 1979, using data from Jessie Klein’s book “The Bully Society.” Starting with three confirmed shootings in 1979, the number of shootings per year slowly swell, jumping to the upper single-digits in the late 80s and through the 90s.
The shootings actually dipped at the start of the new millennium, but skyrocketed in 2006. What was once the high-water mark for shootings in a year–nine–became the floor. In 2009, there were 18 school shootings. There were 16 in 2010 and eight in 2011.
Stein’s data ends in 2011. Everytown tracked 37 for 2013 and 37 so far in 2014. The Everytrown and Stein data sets don’t follow the same methodology, so they should not be viewed as one piece (meaning don’t just add the Everytown data to the end of the Stein data). Still, the trend is undeniably going in the wrong direction.
The way humans act sometimes, it kind of makes you wonder if we are really the smartest animals on Earth. Now check this out from C/NET: Chimps outsmart humans at simple strategy game.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have found that chimpanzees at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute are consistently better at humans when playing simple competitive games.
In one game, called the Inspection Game, chimps and humans played a variation on hide-and-seek. In pairs of their own species (humans and chimps did not directly compete with each other for the study), the players sit back-to-back, each with a computer screen in front of them. After pushing a circle on the screen, they have to choose one of two boxes, right or left. They are then shown their opponent’s selection.
Each player has a different role. The “mismatchers” have to choose the opposite of their opponent’s selection, while the “matchers” have to choose the same as their opponent’s selection. Each game lasted 200 rounds, and players that “won” a round were given a reward. In order to consistently win, players had to be able to anticipate their opponent’s choices.
In game theory, there is a concept known as the Nash equilibrium. This means the balance that can be achieved when each player knows their opponent’s strategies, but has nothing to gain by changing their own strategy. The 16 Japanese students participating in the study performed as expected: slow to learn their opponents’ strategies, and not reaching the Nash equilibrium.
The six chimpanzees, however, learned the game and their opponents’ moves rapidly, very nearly reaching the Nash equilibrium, even when the researchers swapped the chimps’ roles and introduced higher rewards for specific choices. As the game changed, the chimps changed their strategies accordingly.
We’ve had an epidemic of school bus accidents lately, and there was a terrible on in Connecticut yesterday. From The Boston Globe: Crash of 2 School Buses Sends 20 Kids to Hospital.
TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) — More than two dozen people were taken to hospitals with mostly minor injuries after a five-vehicle chain-reaction crash in Torrington involving two school buses and three other vehicles.
Police said a woman in one of the cars was flown to Hartford Hospital with serious injuries. Her condition wasn’t immediately released.
Police said a pickup truck ran into the back of the woman’s Jeep SUV at about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, pushing it into the rear of a small school bus. The smaller bus then rear-ended the larger bus, and a third car also was struck.
Tim Lebouthiller, a spokesman for Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, said the 20 children on the buses were treated and released. He said seven adults were brought to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and most had been evaluated and released by mid-evening Tuesday.
What else is happening? I look forward to reading your thoughts and clicking on your links in the comment thread.
Posted: May 24, 2014 Filed under: Gun Control, income inequality, morning reads, racism, The Bonus Class, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Chris Giles, Donald Sterling, economic theory, Financial Times., guns, inequality, Kevin Drum, LA Clippers, mass murder, mass shootings, NBA, offshore tax havens, open carry laws, Paul Krugman, Reinhart and Rogoff, Shelly Sterling, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, The Economist, Thomas Picketty, wealth distribution, wealth vs. income
Have a Stupendous Saturday!
It’s too bad Dakinikat is so busy today, because there’s an economics food fight brewing. Perhaps she’ll still find time to comment on the controversy later the evening after she returns home with her newly adopted canine family member, Temple. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to describe the dispute over Thomas Picketty’s conclusions about wealth inequality, published in his book Capital in the Twenty-first Century.
At the Financial Times, Economics Editor Chris Giles has claims to have found problems with Picketty’s work: Piketty findings undercut by errors.
Thomas Piketty’s book, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, has been the publishing sensation of the year. Its thesis of rising inequality tapped into the zeitgeist and electrified the post-financial crisis public policy debate.
But, according to a Financial Times investigation, the rock-star French economist appears to have got his sums wrong.
The data underpinning Professor Piketty’s 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The central theme of Prof Piketty’s work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.
John Maynard Keynes
In one specific example, Giles says the corrected data do not show significant growth in Europe since 1970. In a second article, Giles goes into more detail. In addition, he argues that the U.S. data doesn’t support the conclusion that a greater proportion of the wealth is controlled by top 1% than in recent decades. He does admit to the top 10% controlling a greater share of wealth than previously.
An investigation by the Financial Times, however, has revealed many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.
These are sufficiently serious to undermine Prof Piketty’s claim that the share of wealth owned by the richest in society has been rising and “the reason why wealth today is not as unequally distributed as in the past is simply that not enough time has passed since 1945”.
After referring back to the original data sources, the investigation found numerous mistakes in Prof Piketty’s work: simple fat-finger errors of transcription; suboptimal averaging techniques; multiple unexplained adjustments to the numbers; data entries with no sourcing, unexplained use of different time periods and inconsistent uses of source data….
A second class of problems relates to unexplained alterations of the original source data. Prof Piketty adjusts his own French data on wealth inequality at death to obtain inequality among the living. However, he used a larger adjustment scale for 1910 than for all the other years, without explaining why.
In the UK data, instead of using his source for the wealth of the top 10 per cent population during the 19th century, Prof Piketty inexplicably adds 26 percentage points to the wealth share of the top 1 per cent for 1870 and 28 percentage points for 1810.
A third problem is that when averaging different countries to estimate wealth in Europe, Prof Piketty gives the same weight to Sweden as to France and the UK – even though it only has one-seventh of the population.
Get even more detail and charts here: Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century.
The Pushback So Far:
Paul Krugman: Is Piketty All Wrong?
Great buzz in the blogosphere over Chris Giles’s attack on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Giles finds a few clear errors, although they don’t seem to matter much; more important, he questions some of the assumptions and imputations Piketty uses to deal with gaps in the data and the way he switches sources. Neil Irwin and Justin Wolfers have good discussions of the complaints; Piketty will have to answer these questions in detail, and we’ll see how well he does it.
Krugman suggests that Giles may be doing something wrong.
I don’t know the European evidence too well, but the notion of stable wealth concentration in the United States is at odds with many sources of evidence. Take, for example, the landmark CBO study on the distribution of income; it shows the distribution of income by type, and capital income has become much more concentrated over time:
It’s just not plausible that this increase in the concentration of income from capital doesn’t reflect a more or less comparable increase in the concentration of capital itself….
And there’s also the economic story. In the United States, income inequality has soared since 1980 by any measure you use. Unless the affluent starting saving less than the working class, this rise in income disparity must have led to a rise in wealth disparity over time.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes that
Giles’ objections are mostly to the data regarding increases in wealth inequality over the past few decades, and the funny thing is that even Piketty never claims that this has changed dramatically. The end result of Giles’ re-analysis of Piketty’s data is [below] with Piketty in blue and Giles in red. As you can see, Piketty estimates a very small increase since 1970.
R.A. at The Economist: A Piketty problem?
Mr Giles’s analysis is impressive, and one certainly hopes that further work by Mr Giles, Mr Piketty or others will clarify whether mistakes have been made, how they came to be introduced and what their effects are. Based on the information Mr Giles has provided so far, however, the analysis does not seem to support many of the allegations made by the FT, or the conclusion that the book’s argument is wrong.
There are four important questions raised by the FT‘s work. First, which data are wrong? Second, how did errors in the work, if they are errors, come to be introduced? Third, how do the errors affect the specific points made in the relevant chapters? And fourth, how do the errors affect the fundamental conclusions of the book?
Mr Giles focuses on wealth inequality, to which Mr Piketty turns in Chapter 10 of his book. Mr Piketty has not published nearly as much research on the question of wealth inequality, and it seems that much of the analysis in Chapter 10 was done specifically for the book, based on others’ research. Mr Piketty’s wealth-inequality analysis certainly matters as a component of the book’s argument, but it is not accurate to say, as Mr Giles does, that the results in Chapter 10 constitute the “central theme” of the book.
Are the data wrong? Mr Giles identifies discrepancies between source material cited by Mr Piketty and the figures that appear in the book. He identifies cases in which Mr Piketty appears to have chosen to use data from one source when another would have made more sense. Further, the calculations in Mr Piketty’s spreadsheets (which have been available online since the book’s publication) seem to include adjustments in the data that are not adequately explained, and some figures for which Mr Giles cannot find a documented source. Finally, Mr Piketty has made choices concerning weighting of data used in averages, and assigning of data from one year (1935, for example) to another (1930) when such assignments seem unnecessary or inadvisable.
The author concludes that, unfortunately, ideology will determine how many people respond to the Giles critique. Much more extensive analysis at the link.
Here is Picketty’s–presumably preliminary–response to Giles in a letter to the Financial Times:
Let me also say that I certainly agree that available data sources on wealth are much less systematic than for income. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am in favor of wealth taxation and automatic exchange of bank information is that this would be a way to develop more financial transparency and more reliable sources of information on wealth dynamics (even if the tax was charged at very low rates, which you might agree with).
For the time being, we have to do with what we have, that is, a very diverse and heterogeneous set of data sources on wealth: historical inheritance declarations and estate tax statistics, scarce property and wealth tax data, and household surveys with self-reported data on wealth (with typically a lot of under-reporting at the top). As I make clear in the book, in the on-line appendix, and in the many technical papers I have published on this topic, one needs to make a number of adjustments to the raw data sources so as to make them more homogenous over time and across countries. I have tried in the context of this book to make the most justified choices and arbitrages about data sources and adjustments. I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future (this is why I put everything on line). In fact, the “World Top Incomes Database” (WTID) is set to become a “World Wealth and Income Database” in the coming years, and we will put on-line updated estimates covering more countries. But I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements.
I thought this was important:
…my estimates on wealth concentration do not fully take into account offshore wealth, and are likely to err on the low side. I am certainly not trying to make the picture look darker than it it. As I make clear in chapter 12 of my book (see in particular table 12.1-12.2), top wealth holders have apparently been rising a lot faster average wealth in recent decades, at least according to the wealth rankings published in magazines such as Forbes. This is true not only in the US, but also in Britain and at the global level (see attached table). This is not well taken into account by wealth surveys and official statistics, including the recent statistics that were published for Britain. Of course, as I make clear in my book, wealth rankings published by magazines are far from being a perfectly reliable data source. But for the time being, this is what we have, and what we have suggests that the concentration of wealth at the top is rising pretty much everywhere.
In Other News:
There has been a mass shooting in Southern California–this time perpetrated from behind the wheel of a car. From the LA Times, 7 dead in drive-by shooting near UC Santa Barbara.
The shootings began about 9:30 p.m., a sheriff’s spokeswoman told KEYT-TV. It wasn’t clear what the attacker’s motivation might have been.
An 18-year-old Newport Beach man who was visiting Santa Barbara described a confusing scene as the shots rang out.
Nikolaus Becker was eating outside The Habit, 888 Embarcadero Del Norte, near the scene when the first set of shots was fired about 9:30 p.m. At first he thought it was firecrackers. A group of three to five police officers who were nearby started to casually walk toward the sounds, said Becker, but ran when a second round of shots broke out.
“That’s when they yelled at us to get inside and take cover,” Becker said.
The BMW took a sharp turn in front of The Habit, Becker said, and moments later a third round of shots was heard. Becker and his friends moved toward the restaurant’s kitchen but were told to wait in the seating area by employees.
He estimates there were at least 13 to 15 shots total at three locations. The locations were about 100 yards from one another.
The shooter, whose motivation is unknown, was found dead in his BMW. It’s not yet clear if he shot himself or was killed by sheriff’s deputies.
In another gun-related story, TPM reports that some gun nuts are reconsidering their campaign of carrying long guns into public places: Scaring The Crap Out of People Oddly Not Winning Fans.
Earlier this week we reported how Chipotle felt obliged to ask its customers not to bring guns to chipotle restaurants. Seems like a reasonably enough request to most of us. And it’s been preceded by similar requests by various other chains like Starbucks and others.
Now the top pro-gun group in Texas pushing the demand for “open carry” firearm rights and trying to get people to show up at various restaurant chains with long guns is deciding it may not be such a hot idea after all.
Open Carry Texas and a group of other aggressive gun rights groups have issued a joint statement telling their members, Dudes, let’s stop taking our guns to restaurants. It’s freaking people out and making them hate us.
Read the full statement at TPM.
Soon-to-be former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has signed over the team to his wife and wants her to negotiate the sale.
Shelly Sterling, who previously shared ownership of the beleaguered NBA franchise with her estranged husband, is now in talks with the NBA over selling the team, the source said.
The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life from all league events after an audio tape became public that caught him on tape uttering racist comments to his assistant V. Stiviano. He told her not to post photos of herself with black people on Instagram — such as Magic Johnson — or bring them to his basketball games.
But the NBA isn’t buying it. From ESPN: Why the NBA won’t allow Shelly Sterling to control the Clippers.
At first glance, Donald Sterling’s gesture may seem like serendipitous news for the NBA. Taking him at his word, Donald Sterling has agreed to leave the league without a fight and has signed off on the sale of his team. Digging deeper, however, reveals possible ulterior motives on Sterling’s part to delay and potentially block the sale of the team. Do not forget a crucial point: capital gain taxes. As first reported by SI.com, the Sterlings have significant incentives under capital gain tax law to avoid the sale of the team and keep it in the Sterling family. Doing so, would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, contrary to some reports, the Sterlings are unlikely to benefit from the “involuntary conversion” tax avoidance provision of the Internal Revenue Code. The bottom line is if the Sterlings have to sell the Clippers, they will probably pay hundreds of millions in state and federal taxes.
Along those lines, Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver does not accomplish the NBA’s goal of ousting the entire Sterling family on June 3. As explained in a previous SI.com article, the NBA interprets its constitution to mean that ousting Donald Sterling on June 3 would also automatically oust Shelly Sterling as co-owner, with the Clippers then falling under the control of commissioner Adam Silver. Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver risks the prospect of Shelly Sterling undertaking a slow-moving effort to sell the team. A sale process that takes months or years would clearly aggravate the NBA, which wants to erase the Sterling family name from the league as quickly as possible. A protracted sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling might also constitute a potential rationale for players to boycott NBA games.
Even of greater risk to the NBA, what is to stop Shelly Sterling from deciding to keep the Clippers? She could plausibly reason, on various grounds, that now is not the right time to sell the team. Also, her instruction from her husband to sell the team would not be legally binding; it would be a mere suggestion the moment she takes over the team.
Read much more at the link.
I’ll end with a long article that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I’m hearing it’s a must read: The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. Here’s the tagline:
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
The Guardian: The ‘Case for Reparations’ is solid, and it’s long past time to make them.
Slate: An Ingenious and Powerful Case for Reparations.
The Wire: You Should Read “The Case for Reparations.”
NPR: How To Tell Who Hasn’t Read The New ‘Atlantic’ Cover Story.
WaPo: Culture change and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case For Reparations’.
What else is happening? As always, please post your links in the comment thread.
Posted: February 15, 2014 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: "long wave" weather systems, #SnowRage, Depression, guns, overwhelmed, parking spaces, snow plows, Snow Rage, snowstorms, violence
A few days ago, I posted a link to an article about a phenomenon brought on by the horrible winter of 2013-14–“Snow Rage.” I’m going to post the story again here, because this shocking behavior seems to be spreading. People who are disgusted and overwhelmed by endless snowstorms followed by shoveling have begun taking their anger out on snowplow drivers.
CBS Pittsburgh: ‘Snow Rage’ Pits Storm-Weary Residents Against Plow Drivers Just Trying To Do Jobs.
Eric Ramirez, a snow plow driver on Long Island, said an irate man went so far as to rack a shotgun Sunday and threaten to shoot him because he was piling snow in front of the man’s Manorhaven home.
“I see the guy is coming across the street; is coming to me. I say, ‘Hi.’ He talked to me,” Ramirez said, adding the man responded by saying he was coming to shoot him.
Raymond Hounigringer, 48, was charged with menacing in the incident.
In another example, “in Norwalk, Conn., Tony Thompson, also 48, was charged with assault for allegedly attacking a plow driver with a shovel.”
“They yell. They curse at you. They do all kind of stupidness,” said driver Zaheer Hussain. “They make snowballs and throw them at you.” ….
“It started with snowballs, and worked its way to branches; lids, anything they can find and now it’s to weaponry,” said Aero Snow Removal supervisor Sergio Vasquez.
Snowdrifts in North Dakota
CBS Pittsburgh also reported on a snow rage incident in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania: Man Puts Gun To Snow Plow Driver’s Head Over Snow Removal Dispute. According to the police report, Richard Eckert, 64, was arrested after he threatened a snowplow driver with two guns.
Police say Eckert became angry when the self-employed driver, John Abraham, accidentally pushed some snow into his yard while cleaning a neighbor’s driveway.
“I went like this to put it in park and there was a gun right here in my face,” Abraham said.
Eckert is then accused of taking a .22-calibur pistol out of his coat, and pressing it against Abraham’s cheek, telling him to remove the snow.
“He said, ‘what the (expletive) are you doing?’” said Abraham. “And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He said, ‘you’re going to get a shovel and you’re shoveling that snow out of my yard and putting it back in the street.’”
Abraham says Eckert grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of his truck when he says Eckert put the gun in his face when he refused to get out.
As I’m sure you know, Boston is a very old city with many neighborhood that predate cars. People who live in the older parts of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, for example, have to park their cars on the street–there are no driveways or garages. Where I live now, everyone has driveways, but when I lived in Somerville in the 1970s and ’80s, parking spots were hard to come by after a snowstorm. It’s still that way today. Once people dig out a spot, they are understandably very protective of it. They leave old folding chairs, trash cans, and other large objects in the space to let people know not to park there; and if you dare to take the spot anyway, you’re likely to get a tire slashed or worse.
I had friend back then who was living in East Cambridge. One day she moved someone’s chairs out of a shoveled parking spot and proceeded to leave her car there for several days. I warned her when she first park there that she was asking for trouble, but she didn’t believe me. Even after the “owner” of the space left a not on her windshield telling her to move her car, she did nothing. When she finally wanted to drive her car, she found it with four slashed tires. She had to hire a flatbed truck to haul it away. I guess people do the same thing in other places.
Snowdrift in Minnesota
From the Lehigh Valley News: Tires slashed in Allentown snow rage incident.
Following the recent surge of wintry weather, some Allentown residents have started using household items, like trashcans and chairs, to reserve parking spots they shoveled clean. An Allentown woman, who lives in the 400 block of North 10th Street, said she parked in one of those spots this week.
“I parked right next to the chair, I moved it and placed it on the sidewalk and parked there and went inside the home,” she said.
Really bad idea.
When she returned to her car the following day, she learned someone had taken it too far. “I jump in my car and start driving. Within four blocks from my house I feel that my car is driving funny,” she said. Her tires had been slashed. She said it was revenge for parking in a spot that she believes was fair game.
Sorry, lady. Shovel your own spot. Just read the comments on that story. That’s Snow Rage. There’s even a #SnowRage hashtag on Twitter now, and at the Boston Globe there is a Snow Rage Gauge to measure your level of anger.
At the Christian Science Monitor, Patrick Jonsson wrote about the #SnowRage phenomenon and attempted to explain why this winter has been so awful: While Atlanta adjusts to snow, Northerners shake fists at another winter storm.
At issue is a systematic barrage of so-called long-wave weather systems sweeping more deeply into the South than usual, creating a seemingly interminable run of weather across massive swaths of the land to the east of the Mississippi.
If Southerners – at least Southern schoolchildren – are growing used to this strange thing called snow, many Northerners are fed up. “Snow rage” is beginning to appear in tabloid headlines, amid news of shotguns being pulled on snowplow drivers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio complained after shoveling three times during last week’s storm that “the snow is getting really obnoxious.” ….
“Another week, another major winter storm. Literally that’s been the case in 2014, a year that is exactly six weeks old,” writes WPIX-TV reporter James Ford in New York. “The storm offers a chance to challenge some long established winter weather records. That’s small solace, however, for a metro area that’s grown weary of getting battered again and again by weather that’s severe, even for this season that’s supposed to be cold and snowy.” ….
The core engine of this storm pattern is a constant pumping of “long wave” weather systems pouring down out of Alaska every three to five days, pushing along cloudy low-pressure systems.
The trouble in particular has been a once-in-a-decade “statistical improbability” of cold and wet air that’s common in the snowy Midwest pressing more deeply than usual into the South, says National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Leary in Peachtree City, Ga.
As those storms move up and berate the North, the cycle continues. Rinse and repeat.
“These long waves are about three days apart, just a little more, and when that long wave moves down, there’s a pretty good jet of winds associated with it that push it along, and that’s when you get the weather,” Mr. Leary says.
Polar vortex of 2014
The article also notes that many cities and states are running out of money to pay for snow removal. In addition, supplies of road salt are running out in a number of places.
That every three days thing is definitely happening here in Massachusetts. We had a huge storm on Thurs. Feb. 6, and another big on on on Thurs. Feb. 13. In between we’ve had smaller snowfalls every couple of days that are still enough that you have to shovel. Another storm is scheduled for this afternoon and overnight, and another is predicted for Tuesday. I don’t know how much more I can take.
It really hit me yesterday, because I had paid some guys $50 to shovel me out the night before. When they finished, I asked them to pile up the snow a bit more at the end of the driveway because I knew the snowplow would be coming during the night and would push a big pile of snow that blocked my car from getting out. This guy argued with me about it and they wouldn’t finish the job. I just didn’t have the strength to stand up to them.
Sure enough, I woke up yesterday morning and there was a foot of wet, packed snow at the end of my driveway. Not only that, more snow was coming down! I actually started to cry. I’m never hiring those guys again. I really hate being bullied; I’d rather shovel the damn snow myself.
Snowdrift in Antarctica
I felt really down all day yesterday, and that’s when I started thinking about Snow Rage. It’s a real thing, and I’m going to have to deal with. I worked out some of my anger by shoveling most of the pile at the end of the drive way–enough so I can back over it. But I really need to be aware that this kind of weather creates a lot of stress. If you’re aware of it, you can work on your self-talk and counteract the depression and overwhelmed feelings.
Of course Snow Rage is not new. I found a Canadian article from 2008 that described incidents similar to those we are seeing this year.
Quebec City police say they received more than a dozen calls this winter from warring neighbors upset that snow was being shoveled onto their driveway or sidewalk by the folks next door.
The city was buried this winter in a record 460 centimeters (183 inches) of snow, and is running out of places to put the fluffy white powder until spring arrives and it melts.
In nearby Montreal, where residents are recovering from a ninth major snowstorm this season, a man was charged this week with threatening a fellow motorist with a toy gun over a rare parking spot on a snow-clogged street.
And in likely the worst case, an elderly Quebec City man pulled a 12-gauge shotgun on a female snowplow operator on Sunday for blowing snow onto his property, after warning her.
Even a psychologist weighed in:
“I’m seeing so much white that I’m seeing red,” echoed psychologist Luc Tremblay. “At some point, people feel overwhelmed, crushed. It’s playing on their morale and their nerves,” he told the Globe and Mail.
Yup, that’s the feeling: “overwhelmed, crushed,” and beaten down.
That’s all the news I have for you this morning, folks; snow has taken over my world. I’m depending you you to let me know if anything else is happening out there. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread; and if there’s snow in your future I hope you stay safe and warm.
Posted: January 25, 2014 Filed under: Civil Rights, Egypt, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, Russia, U.S. Politics | Tags: apps, artisanal toast, banks, Booz Allen Hamilton, Brian Glyn Williams, Chechnya, China, Dagestan, discrimination, diva test, Don Graham, Dr. Strangelove, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Edward Snowden, Eric Holder, Erik Prince, glamour shots of elderly people, guns, Jeff Bezos, Marijuana, Pink, Sochi Olympics, Trove, Ukraine protests, Volograd bombings, vote id laws, voting rights, Washington Post
I have quite a few articles to share this morning, a real Saturday potpourri! So let’s get started. First up, on Thursday Attorney General Eric Holder gave a wide-ranging interview to Ari Melber of MSNBC, and quite a bit of breaking news came out of it. Here are some of the resulting headlines: NY Daily News: Eric Holder: Could talk deal with NSA-leaker Edward Snowden, but no clemency
Holder told MSNBC that the Obama Administration “would engage in a conversation” about a resolution in the case, but said it would require Snowden acknowledge wrongdoing…. At a University of Virginia forum, where Holder was asked about Snowden, he elaborated on his position, saying, “If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers. We would do the same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty, so that is the context to what I said.” But he stressed that the NSA leaker would not walk. “We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider.”
Seattle PI: Holder: Marijuana banking regulations on the way
Attorney General Eric Holder says the Obama administration is planning to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers. During an appearance Thursday at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to enable places that sell marijuana to have access to the banking system so they don’t have large amounts of cash lying around. Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.
There’s a good piece about this at Forbes, but they won’t even let you copy their headlines anymore. Mediaite: Eric Holder: Voter ID Used to ‘Depress the Vote’ of People Who Don’t Support GOP
Attorney General Eric Holder sharply criticized state-level voter identification policies and said that he believes those policies are a “remedy in search of a problem.” He added that, while some may be arguing for voter ID in good faith, he believes that most are advocating for this policy in order to “depress the vote” of those who do not support the “party that is advancing” voter ID measures. “I think many are using it for partisan advantage,” Holder said of voter ID. “People have to understand that we are not opposed to photo identification in a vacuum,” he continued. “But when it is used in — certain ways to disenfranchise particular groups of people, whether by racial designation, ethnic origin, or for partisan reasons, that from my perspective is problematic.” He added that “all the studies” show that in-person voter fraud “simply does not exist” at a level that requires a legislative solution.
Politico: Eric Holder: Timing of Robert Gates book release ‘a mistake’
Attorney General Eric Holder waded into the controversy over former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s new book Thursday, calling it “a mistake” for Gates to have published his recollections before President Barack Obama left the White House. “It’s my view that it’s just not a good thing thing to write a book about a president that you served while that president is still in office,” Holder said during an appearance at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “From my perspective I think the world of Bob Gates, but I think that the publication of that book — at least at this time — was a mistake.” [….] In the course of offering his critique of the timing of Gates’s book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Holder twice praised the former defense secretary for his leadership. “I like Bob Gates a great deal. He was a good secretary of defense,” the attorney general said.
LA Times: Holder says no bank ‘too big to indict,’ more financial cases coming
“I think people just need to be a little patient,” Holder said, according to a transcript of an interview with MSNBC to air at noon Pacific time Friday. “I know it’s been a while. But we have other things that are in the pipeline.” [….] Holder has taken heat for telling a Senate hearing last year that some financial institutions were “so large that it becomes difficult to prosecute them” because criminal charges could hurt the U.S. and even world economies. Since then Holder has tried to emphasize that the Justice Department is not intimidated by the size of a financial institution and would bring any charges it believed it could prove.
As I said, quite a bit of news out of one interview. Good job by Ari Melber.
In other news . . .
The Economist has a brief article that provides some background on the situation in Ukraine: On the march in Kiev –The protests turn nasty and violent, but the president is not giving ground.
JANUARY 22nd was meant to mark Ukraine’s unity day, a celebration of its short-lived pre-Soviet independence. Instead, it was a day of civil unrest and perhaps the biggest test of Ukraine’s post-Soviet integrity. After two months of largely peaceful encampment on the Maidan in Kiev, the protests turned violent. Five people were reported killed and hundreds were injured. An armoured personnel carrier pushed through the streets. Clouds of black smoke and flames mottled the snow-covered ground. Never in its history as an independent state has Ukraine witnessed such violence. It was triggered by the passage of a series of repressive laws imposing tight controls on the media and criminalising the protests of the past two months. One law copied almost verbatim a Russian example, including stigmatising charities and human-rights groups financed from abroad as “foreign agents”. If Russian human-rights activists denounce their parliament as a “crazy printer” churning out repressive legislation, says Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Centre for Civil Liberties in Kiev, Ukraine has a “crazy photocopier”. The clashes show vividly the refusal of the protesters to heed such laws.
Brian Glyn Williams, the U. Mass Dartmouth professor who interacted with Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and recommended some sources of information on Chechnya for a report Tsarnaev was writing, has a post up at HuffPo on how the history of Chechya and Dagestan is coming back to haunt the Winter Olympics in Russia: The Dark Secret Behind the Sochi Olympics: Russia’s Efforts to Hide a Tsarist-Era Genocide. Here’s the conclusion:
The twin bombings in Volgograd in late December 2013 and an earlier one in October are clearly meant to show the Russians that the Chechen-Dagestani terrorists have reignited their terror jihad. They are also meant to remind the world of the tragedy that befell the Circassians of the Caucasus’s Black Sea shore exactly 150 years ago this winter. This is the dark secret that Russia’s authoritarian leader, Putin, does not want the world to know. Putin has thus far been very successful in conflating Russia’s neo-colonial war against Chechen separatists with America’s war on nihilist Al Qaeda Arab terrorists. Any attempt to remind the world of Imperial Russia/Post-Soviet Russia’s war crimes in the Caucasus is a threat to Putin’s pet project, the whitewashed Sochi Olympics. This of course not to excuse the brutal terroristic acts of the Caucasian Emirate or the Chechen rebels, but it certainly provides the one thing that Putin does not want the world to see as he constructs his “Potemkin village” in Sochi, and that is an honest account of the events that have made this the most terrorist fraught Olympic games since the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
Remember Erik Prince, the Michigan millionaire who founded Blackwater? Guess what he’s doing these days? The WSJ has the scoop: Erik Prince: Out of Blackwater and Into China. Erik Prince —ex-Navy SEAL, ex-CIA spy, ex-CEO of private-security firm Blackwater —calls himself an “accidental tourist” whose modest business boomed after 9/11, expanded into Iraq and Afghanistan, and then was “blowtorched by politics.” To critics and conspiracy theorists, he is a mercenary war-profiteer. To admirers, he’s a patriot who has repeatedly answered America’s call with bravery and creativity.
Now, sitting in a boardroom above Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, he explains his newest title, acquired this month: chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in…. “I would rather deal with the vagaries of investing in Africa than in figuring out what the hell else Washington is going to do to the entrepreneur next,” says the crew-cut 44-year-old. Having launched Blackwater in 1997 as a rural North Carolina training facility for U.S. soldiers and police, Mr. Prince says he “kept saying ‘yes’ as the demand curve called—Columbine, the USS Cole and then 9/11.” In 100,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, Blackwater contractors never lost a U.S. official under their protection. But the company gained a trigger-happy reputation, especially after a September 2007 shootout that left 17 civilians dead in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. At that point, charges Mr. Prince, Blackwater was “completely thrown under the bus by a fickle customer”—the U.S. government, and especially the State Department. He says Washington opted to “churn up the entire federal bureaucracy” and sic it on Blackwater “like a bunch of rabid dogs.” According to Mr. Prince, IRS auditors told his colleagues that they had “never been under so much pressure to get someone as to get Erik Prince,” and congressional staffers promised, “We’re going to ride you till you’re out of business.”
Awwwwww…..Poor little rich boy. Where’s my tiny violin?
Speaking of entrepreneurs, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ plans for his latest acquisition–The Washington Post–are becoming clearer, as he hires more right wing libertarians for the op-ed page. Now Pando Daily reveals what Don Graham is up to now that he’s dumped the family business: The company formerly known as WaPo moves into tech apps.
Today, the company formerly known as WaPo — now called Graham Holdings – has announced a new business endeavor in journalism. Surprisingly, said endeavor doesn’t have much to do with actual journalism at all — it falls squarely in the tech camp. It’s a content discovery app called Trove. Trove fits in the now-torrential trend of such applications. Companies like Flipboard,Prismatic, Rockmelt, and N3twork have all tread this ground long before Trove. They’re all convinced that places like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS readers are not good enough for finding the best stories…. The two men behind Trove have rich and storied histories. Vijay Ravindran, the CEO of Trove, served as The Washington Post’s Chief Digital Officer before the sale, and ran ordering at Amazon for seven years before that. Reuters oped columnist Jack Shafer even divpredicted (incorrectly) that Ravindran would be named the new WaPo publisher after the sale. The other Trove heavyweight is product lead Rob Malda, who is also the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Slashdot — the predecessor of every user-focused news aggregator since, from Digg to Reddit to Hacker News.
Read all about it at the above link.
A few short takes:
In other tech news, CSM’s Security Watch reports that Booz Allen, Snowden’s old firm, looking to help US government with ‘insider threats’. Author Dan Murphy asks, “Are defense and intelligence contractors the best choice to manage a threat they’ve contributed to?” Read it and weep.
According to Fox News, gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Ruger will no longer do business in California because they don’t want to comply with a new CA law that allows law enforcement to trace bullets to the individual gun they came from. After all, why would gun companies want to help police catch murderers? Unbelievable!
Did you know that this month is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant satire, Dr. Strangelove? IMHO, it is one of the funniest movies of all time. Well, Eric Schlosser has a not-so-funny article about it at The New Yorker: ALMOST EVERYTHING IN “DR. STRANGELOVE” WAS TRUE. Don’t miss this one; it’s a must read!
Apparently the latest food craze to emerge from San Francisco is “artisanal toast.” How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer. John Gravois writes about it at Pacific Standard: The Science of Society. Weird.
A silly test to take at Buzzfeed: Which Pop Diva Are You? I got Pink. I know nothing about her…but she looks kinda cool.
Finally, I posted this link in the comments recently, but I don’t know if anyone looked at it. I’m posting it again, because I think it’s absolutely adorable. It’s some glamour shots of elderly people having fun dressing up and posing as various movie heroes and heroines. Here’s just one example:
“Easy Rider”: Walter Loeser (l.), 98, & Kurt Neuhaus, 90
I hope you found something to tickle your fancy in this potpourri of articles. Now it’s your turn. Please post your recommended links in the comment thread, and have a wonderful weekend!
Posted: October 31, 2013 Filed under: hunger, morning reads, NSA, National Security Agency, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Cecil Smith, Celts, costumes, demons, fairies, food stamps, guns, Halloween, jack-o-lanterns, Pumpkins, Samhain, Sanford FL, Scots-Irish immigrants, souling, spirits, Ted Cruz, Trayvon Martin case, trick or treating, weather
Happy Halloween Everyone!!
Last year at this time, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and this year a lesser but still “Monstrous Halloween storm” will “pelt the central US” from Texas up to the Midwest. My mom said authorities in Indiana have moved the official day for trick-or-treating to the weekend. Towns in Kentucky and Ohio are doing the same thing, according to USA Today.
Torrential rain, heavy thunderstorms and howling winds are forecast on Halloween all the way from Texas to the Midwest and interior sections of the Northeast, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Andy Mussoline.
Almost 42 million people could contend with severe thunderstorms Thursday, the Storm Prediction Center warns, with cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville and Houston all at risk.
“Damaging winds and some tornadoes will be possible with what should be a complex and potentially messy storm,” according to an online forecast from the prediction center.
“The best costume in Houston for Halloween probably involves a garbage bag to keep dry,” reports WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue, who adds that it could be the wettest Halloween ever in some spots.
Read more at the link.
I have a few articles on the Halloween history and traditions for you. From National Geographic: Halloween 2013: Top Costumes, History, Myths, More.
Halloween’s origins date back more than 2,000 years. On what we consider November 1, Europe’s Celtic peoples celebrated their New Year’s Day, called Samhain (SAH-win).
On Samhain eve—what we know as Halloween—spirits were thought to walk the Earth as they traveled to the afterlife. Fairies, demons, and other creatures were also said to be abroad.
In addition to sacrificing animals to the gods and gathering around bonfires, Celts often wore costumes—probably animal skins—to confuse spirits, perhaps to avoid being possessed, according to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.
By wearing masks or blackening their faces, Celts are also thought to have impersonated dead ancestors.
Young men may have dressed as women and vice versa, marking a temporary breakdown of normal social divisions.
In an early form of trick-or-treating, Celts costumed as spirits are believed to have gone from house to house engaging in silly acts in exchange for food and drink—a practice inspired perhaps by an earlier custom of leaving food and drink outdoors as offerings to supernatural beings.
Samhain was later co-opted by the Catholic Church when the Church moved “All Saints Day” from May to November 1. Scots-Irish immigrants brought Halloween customs with them to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The History Channel has a more detailed article on the history of Halloween:
The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
On Halloween traditions in the US:
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats.
In Europe jack-o-lanterns were made of turnips and other vegetables, since pumpkins were found only in the Americas. On the custom of “trick or treating” in the US:
The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
A few more interesting links to explore:
National Geographic: First Halloween Costumes: Skins, Skulls, and Skirts
The Boston Globe: Seven Books About the History of Halloween
Deseret News: Halloween trivia: From top costumes to carving turnips instead of pumpkins
Washington Post: It’s time to take the sexy out of Halloween and return the holiday to kids
Amanda Hess at Slate: It’s Irony, not sexy, that’s ruining Halloween
Amanda Marcotte at Raw Story: Obligatory Halloween Post On Skimpy Costumes
In other news . . .
In the wake of the Travon Martin killing, Sanford FL has banned neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns.
SANFORD — More than a year and a half after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the city of Sanford is making major changes to its neighborhood watch program, including banning volunteers from carrying guns while on patrol, and forbidding them from pursuing anyone in their neighborhoods.
Sanford’s new police chief, Cecil Smith, said the neighborhood watch program as it was operated while Zimmerman was part of it was dysfunctional and had no accountability.
“In this program, it is clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual,” Smith explained. “In this new program, it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm when performing your duties as a neighborhood watch captain or participant.”
Smith said when he took over as Sanford’s chief of police in April, the neighborhood watch program Zimmerman was part of was still operating the same way it was when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin more than a year earlier.
Sounds like an excellent idea.
The NSA is “firing back” after an article in the Washington Post claimed that the spy agency “infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide.” From Politico:
The program, exposed through Edward Snowden’s leaks, relied on a broad, decades-old executive orderand allowed the NSA access to data-center connections in secret outside the United States, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story. Asked about the leak, Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s leader, said earlier Wednesday he was unaware of the Post’s report — adding the NSA is “not authorized” to access companies data centers and instead must “go through a court process” to obtain such content.
The NSA, meanwhile, emphasized it hadn’t tried to circumvent U.S. law under the executive order, known by its numerical designation, 12333. “The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true,” a spokeswoman said. But the NSA aide declined to discuss further whether the agency — perhaps under other authorities — had infiltrated data center connections at all.
Google and Yahoo both told the Post it hadn’t granted the NSA access to its data centers. Both companies did not immediately comment for this story.
Based on past history of Glenn Greenwald and other reporters neglecting to report that NSA surveillance requires individual warrants, I’m going to assume that this is another instance of this kind of melodramatic “reporting.” I guess it will all come out eventually, since Congress is now investigating and the drip drip drip of leaks continues.
Meanwhile, “progressives” who are panicking over NSA spying continue to ignore vitally important issues that affect millions of Americans–poverty and hunger for examples. From MSNBC: America’s new hunger crisis.
In the 22 years that Swami Durga Das has managed New York’s River Fund Food Pantry, he has never seen hunger like this. Each Saturday, hundreds of hungry people descend on the pantry’s headquarters, an unassuming house on a residential block. The first people arrive around 2 am, forming a line that will wrap around the block before Das even opens his doors.
“Each week there’s new people,” Das told MSNBC.com. “The numbers have just skyrocketed.”
The new clients are diverse—working people, seniors, single mothers—but many of them share something in common: they represent the millions of Americans who fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn’t benefit from the economic recovery.
And the worst may be yet to come.
Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.
“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then, because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”
Please go read the whole thing.
Finally, here’s an interesting article about Ted Cruz by David Denby of The New Yorker: THE MASK OF SINCERITY.
When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens. Cruz has large ears; a straight nose with a fleshy tip, which shines in camera lights when he talks to reporters; straight black hair slicked back from his forehead like flattened licorice; thin lips; a long jaw with another knob of flesh at the base, also shiny in the lights. If, as Orwell said, everyone has the face he deserves at fifty, Cruz, who is only forty-two, has got a serious head start. For months, I sensed vaguely that he reminded me of someone but I couldn’t place who it was. Revelation has arrived: Ted Cruz resembles the Bill Murray of a quarter-century ago, when he played fishy, mock-sincere fakers. No one looked more untrustworthy than Bill Murray. The difference between the two men is that the actor was a satirist.
Cruz is not as iconographically satisfying as other American demagogues—Oliver North, say, whose square-jawed, unblinking evocation of James Stewart, John Wayne, and other Hollywood actors conveyed resolution. Or Ronald Reagan—Cruz’s reedy, unresonant voice lacks the husky timbre of Reagan’s emotion-clouded instrument, with its mixture of truculence and maudlin appeal.
Yet Cruz is amazingly sure-footed verbally. When confronted with a hostile question, he has his answer prepared well before the questioner stops talking. There are no unguarded moments, no slips or inadvertent admissions. He speaks swiftly, in the tones of sweet, sincere reason. How could anyone possibly disagree with him? His father is a Baptist, and Cruz himself has an evangelical cast to his language, but he’s an evangelical without consciousness of his own sins or vulnerability. He is conscious only of other people’s sins, which are boundless, and a threat to the republic; and of other people’s vulnerabilities and wounds, which he salts. If they have a shortage of vulnerabilities, he might make some up.
Read the rest at the link.
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? And what are you doing to celebrate Halloween? Please let us know in the comment thread.