Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are from the blog, Reading and Art. I don’t have any central theme this morning, just a mixed bag of news stories. beginning with damaging explosions in Tianjin, China.

CNN reports, Tianjin blasts: Dozens dead; areas of Chinese port city devastated.

You can see the devastation everywhere: in the hollowed out shells of barely-standing buildings, in the anguished faces of relatives waiting for news of loved ones, in the parade of scorched cars.

But what was it that set off the terrifying blasts that ripped through warehouses housing hazardous chemical materials, sending fireballs shooting across the sky and shaking tall buildings more than 2 miles away?

Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million, the exact cause remained unclear.

A thick chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.

At least 44 people are confirmed dead, 12 firefighters among them, officials said Thursday. More than 500 are hospitalized, 52 with severe injuries. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

CNN has dramatic photos at the link. A few more stories on the disaster:

Vice News: Video Emerges of Horrific Tianjin Explosion as Death Toll Rises.

USA Today, 12 firefighters among 50 dead in Chinese port city explosions.

This is a developing story, and it sounds like the death toll is likely to rise.

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

You’ve probably heard by now that Jimmy Carter has cancer that has spread from his liver to other organs.

Washington Post, Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announces that he has cancer.

Former president Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that he has cancer and will be undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

Carter, 90, said the disease was discovered during recent liver surgery to remove “a small mass” and that the cancer “is now in other parts of my body.”

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter said in a statement on the Carter Center Web site. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

In a statement, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama wished Carter “a full and fast recovery.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with [wife] Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Jimmy, you’re as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

The president also spoke with Carter on Wednesday evening to wish him “full and speedy recovery” and extended best wishes on behalf of himself and first lady Michelle Obama, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

According to NBC News, Carter said “a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sweden has dropped some of its charges against Julian Assange.

Wall Street Journal, Sweden Runs Out of Time on Parts of Assange Probe.

STOCKHOLM—Swedish prosecutors on Thursday ran out of time to pursue two of four investigations into allegations of sexual assault against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Prosecutors said that probes into suspected unlawful coercion and sexual molestation would be dropped as the five-year limit that Swedish law allows for such charges to be brought has come to an end.

The five-year deadline for a second count of sexual molestation will be reached Aug. 18, prosecutors said. If the statute of limitation on that allegation also comes into effect, Mr. Assange would be left facing a single, more serious accusation of rape, over which prosecutors have until 2020 to question him….

Mr. Assange was accused of the crimes by two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Prosecutors requested Mr. Assange return to Sweden from the U.K to face questioning.

The WikiLeaks founder, who denies the crimes, refused to return to Sweden, saying he feared he would extradited from Sweden to the U.S. where he could face trial over the publication by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents.

Assange says he is disappointed, according to BBC News.

The Wikileaks founder said he was “extremely disappointed” and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story….

He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US for questioning about the activities of Wikileaks.

Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.

Mr Assange said he was innocent and claimed prosecutors had refused to visit him at the embassy.

They also refused to promise not to send him to the US if he were to go to Sweden, he said.

Mr Assange said: “I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable.”

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

In clown car news, Mike Huckabee said some more insane things about Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Talking Points Memo, Huckabee: DOJ Should ‘Criminally Prosecute Planned Parenthood.’

“I would also invoke the 15th and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said on Wednesday. “This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortion. Not just stop funding Planned Parenthood, but we need to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process for every person. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for every person.”

Huckabee said that he believes that unborn children are people, guaranteeing them Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

“I would take that position. I would act on behalf of those unborn children, and I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me,” he said.

In response, Melissa McEwan writes:

Again, this is less like chipping away at Roe and more like taking a bulldozer to it.

I have said many times (for instance) that fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them, that the potential life of every fetus is more important than the actual life of a pregnant person. Never has this been more clear.

If Mike Huckabee, or any of his fellow Republican candidates, had their way, fetuses would have not equivalent rights, but more rights than any pregnant person.

Protip, Huckabee: “Slaughtering babies” is already against the law.

The country school, by Winslow Homer

The country school, by Winslow Homer

CNN reports on a study showing that kids in elementary school are getting crushing amounts of homework.

Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

The standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” — 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarten….

Parents reported first-graders were spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. For second-graders, the homework time was nearly 29 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes recommended.

And kindergartners, their parents said, spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study carried out by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medial Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Homer, Winslow 6

That is ridiculous and harmful. Children at younger ages learn far more from play and interacting with other kids than from regimented school assignments.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing, they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.”

The Pope is coming to the U.S., and one of his stops will be at a jail in Philadelphia.

Reuters: At drab Philadelphia jail, anxious times precede papal visit.

One of 17 stops on the pope’s first U.S. tour, the visit to the inner-city jail is a reminder of the emphasis the Argentine pontiff has placed on social justice issues since being named head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

The pope’s stop at the Philadelphia facility will be the latest in a series of prison visits by Francis, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms. He has counseled teenagers in juvenile detention in Brazil. In Bolivia, he kissed inmates in the country’s most violent prison.

His visit also comes at a time when a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are questioning tough criminal sentencing policies that have left the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Barack Obama, who last month became the first sitting U.S. president to tour a federal penitentiary, has called for legislation overhauling sentencing rules.

Advocates for prisoner rights say they are pleased the pope has decided to put the issue on his agenda during the U.S. tour, which will include attending a conference on family life in Philadelphia, plus stops in Washington and New York.

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

I was going to write about Hillary and the media’s obsession with her emails, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, here’s an inspirational piece from Peter Daou and Tom Watson at #HillaryMen.

Hillary’s Path to History Will Get Much Rougher and She’s Ready.

There is a manic urge among the media, the GOP and the elite commentariat to Stop Hillary – to block a woman from reaching the pinnacle of American political leadership.

Each poll, news story or issue that appears to harm her is seized upon with a strange combination of desperation and glee. It’s an unsavory process but Hillary knew what she was in for when she decided to seek the presidency a second time.

As #HillaryMen, we’re undaunted by the negative stories, unwavering in our support for Hillary and unyielding in our commitment to help smash the ultimate gender barrier.

Ending a 44-0 shutout that has lasted nearly a quarter millennium was never going to be easy. There is no cakewalk to the White House. And certainly not for a woman.

We’ve worked in politics and media for nearly two decades. Peter is a veteran of two presidential campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run. We’ve seen every permutation of every attack, every rise and fall in the polls, every gaffe and every zinger, every debate moment and debate aftermath, every nervous election night and every election surprise.

We know what lies ahead for Hillary’s campaign and we realize there will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. They are not.

For all practical purposes, the 2016 race is just getting underway. As the first summer of the campaign winds down, the rhetoric heats up and political prognostications start climbing in pitch. The fall frenzy begins in a matter of weeks.

I plan to head over to #HillaryMen every time I get angry and/or anxious about something written or said about her in the media. In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to “The Facts about Hillary Clinton’s Emails” at her campaign website.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday.


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

shelter5

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

Now to the news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poulsen writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

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

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

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

Other News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday Morning Open Thread: Libertarians Are Not Our Friends

color-rand-paul-ron-web

Good Morning!!

Sorry I’m posting this so late today. I’ve been pondering some issues that have been troubling me for a long time, and I keep getting stuck about how to write about them.

I’m beginning to see the libertarian influence on so-called “progressives” as a very serious problem for the future of our country. Here’s a somewhat incoherent beginning to a discussion of this problem. I’m putting this out there in the hope that I’ll get some feedback from you that will help me sort this out. So here goes…

Partial transcript:

“I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attacks on Wikileaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial executions.

And so, that’s quite an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The position of the libertarian Republican–or a better description [right?]–coming from a principle of nonviolence, the American libertarian, that produces interesting results.

So, nonviolence, not going to invade a foreign country. Nonviolence, don’t force people at the barrel of a gun to serve in the U.S. Army [?? The U.S. doesn’t have a draft]. Nonviolence, don’t extort taxes from people to the Federal government, with a [policeman?]….

Similarly, other acts of nonviolence in relation to abortion that they hold. I think that some of these positions that are held by Ron Paul…I can see how they come from the same underlying libertarian principle. I think the world is often more complex. By taking a laid out principle but sometimes simplistic position, you end up undermining the principle. In the short term, visions of the principle are one thing, visions of the principle…it’s quite hard to know [inaudible].

A few comments…

It’s not clear to me whether Assange supports the Paul’s position on abortion, but clearly it’s a side issue for him–not nearly as important as the Paul’s support of Wikileaks and Assange himself, since he later said that both political parties have been compromised and the only hope for the future comes from the libertarian portion of the Republican Party. HuffPo:

He then put forth an argument against both established political parties in Washington, claiming that nearly all Democrats had been “co-opted” by President Barack Obama’s administration, while Republicans were almost entirely “in bed with the war industry.”

The current libertarian strain of political thought in the Republican Party was the “the only hope” for American electoral politics, Assange concluded.

Assange sees federal taxes as “extortion.” I assume that includes the payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare. He never mentions social programs at all; as a libertarian he probably opposes them. This is in line with other libertarians who are leading the fight against the U.S. government keeping any secrets whatsoever, e.g., Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Conor Frierdersdorf, and David Sirota (I’ll have more about this in a later post).

Not only does Assange not know that the U.S. doesn’t have a military draft, he’s pretty mixed up about recent U.S. history. In praising right wing racist news aggregator Matt Drudge, Assange said, via Raw Story:

“Matt Drudge is a news media innovator. And he took off about eight years ago in response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.”

(Eight years ago was 2005, the first year of George W. Bush’s second term, when President Bill Clinton had been out of office for five years and the Lewinsky scandal and subsequent failed impeachment attempt were a matter of history.)

Assange claimed that Drudge made his name by “publishing information that the establishment media would not. It is as a result of the self-censorship of the establishment press in the United States that gave Matt Drudge such a platform and so of course he should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship.”

Assange says he supports non-violence. I’d like to point out that in U.S. history, one of the leading advocates of nonviolence and civil disobedience was a man named Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago King led a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” But Assange favors the Pauls’ notion of “nonviolence.” (Assange doesn’t appear to know that Ron and Rand Paul are the recipients of vast corporate donations from the defense industry.) I wonder if Assange knows that Ron and Rand Paul oppose Civil Rights laws? I wonder if he cares?

Julian Assange–along with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald–is currently the idol of the “emoprogs” who have become so distracted by the NSA leaks story that they don’t even notice that Republicans have a very good chance of retaking the Senate next year. These supposed “leftists” have forgotten all about jobs, protecting social programs, women’s rights, civil rights, economic inequality, and our crumbling infrastructure in order to follow a handful of privileged, young white male libertarian pied pipers who are focused only on their own personal “liberties.”


Tuesday Reads: The Snowden Conundrum

Assange and Snowden

Good Morning!!

I’m going to focus on the Edward Snowden/NSA leaks story today, because there has been quite a bit of news breaking about it over the past few days.

As of this morning, Snowden hasn’t decided whether to accept one of the asylum offers made by three Latin American countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. From NBC News:

MOSCOW, Russia – The status of Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum in Venezuela remained unclear Tuesday after the country’s apparent deadline passed.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said it had no information on whether the fugitive NSA leaker had completed a deal that would allow him to leave the transit area of an airport in the Russian capital.

In Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed late Monday that Venezuela had received an official request for asylum from Snowden, telling reporters at a news conference that the self-declared leaker “will need to decide when he will fly here,” according to Russia Today.

Even if Snowden agrees an asylum deal with Venezuela, travel problems could take time to resolve: His U.S. passport has been canceled and U.S. allies may deny airspace to any flight on which he is believed to be traveling.

According to Fox News,

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to decide if he wants to seek refuge in his country after the American reportedly sent an asylum request to Caracas.

Maduro told reporters at a press conference on Monday that the fugitive systems analyst must communicate his intent to accept Venezuela’s offer of asylum, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“He will have to say when he is flying here, if he definitely wants to come here,” Maduro was quoted as telling reporters.

He would probably have to take a private plane, which would be very expensive. Wikileaks is paying for Snowden’s expenses, but would they be able to spring for a private plane? Maybe. More on that in a minute.

One thing we know is very important to Snowden–internet access. One of the reasons he left Hong Kong for Moscow was his fear of not being able to get on the internet. From the Wall Street Journal on June 24:

A person familiar with Mr. Snowden’s case said his decision to get on a flight to Moscow was “very sudden,” made only in the day before departing. The decision was made in consultation with WikiLeaks, which encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave the city after communicating with others about his options abroad, the person said.

“He is very independent, but also very willing to listen to advice,” the person said, adding that Mr. Snowden was concerned that any further delay would result in his detainment by Hong Kong authorities. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said.

Now Snowden is considering going to one of three countries that have limited access to the internet, according to an article by Alex Halperin at Salon. Venezuela is the best choice, with 40% of the population having internet connections. In Bolivia, it’s 30%, and in Nicaragua only 10.6%.

The Daily Beast has an article on “Wikileaks’ Money Trail” today.

Thankfully for WikiLeaks, its latest cause célèbre, Edward Snowden, is raking in some much-needed cash for the whistle-blowing organization. Snowden sympathizers have been donating generously since WikiLeaks decided to take on the NSA leaker’s case—and the organization desperately needs every dollar it can raise to stay in the black and pay for the legal fees and living costs of founder Julian Assange and now Snowden.

The money WikiLeaks has raised—nearly $90,000 in 2012, with about $1,300 coming in each day since it took Snowden under its wing—comes from people around the world, some of whom give just a few dollars to do their part in making the world a more transparent place.Assange and his team still say they need a lot more than they raise, and the organization always seems to be in the red. WikiLeaks’s operating budget was $510,197 in 2012, which is serious money, considering it is a simple .org with a staff of three paid software developers.

A look into how WikiLeaks is funded and how its money is spent reveals an irony that Assange has acknowledged: an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth keeps its finances intentionally complicated, and it’s next to impossible for donors to find out how their money is processed and where it goes.

Much more at the link. It doesn’t sound like Wikileaks would be able to fund a private plane flight, but maybe some wealthy person like Michael Moore would come through with the big bucks.

More of Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence activities in other countries have been published over the past few days by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Greenwald published a report of Snowden’s allegations of U.S. spying in Brazil that appeared in the Guardian and in the Brazilian paper El Globo, and a report on US collaboration with Australia in collecting data was published by the Sydney Morning Herald. Snowden also released a top secret map of sites in a number of countries that collaborate with NSA in collecting intelligence data.

IMHO, it’s likely that Snowden is giving information to countries he’d like to go to. Greenwald lives in Brazil, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is from Australia. I say this, because Greenwald explained on Twitter that Snowden revealed classified documents  in Hong Kong and in order to gain friendly treatment by the government.

The most revealing recent stories have been published by Der Spiegel, which has been given access to some of the documents Snowden stole from NSA. The latest Der Spiegel piece included a blockbuster revelation.  The German magazine published a previously unknown interview with Snowden that was conducted by Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum in mid-May, before Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong.

This is stunning news, because Applebaum’s name has never been mentioned in connection with the Snowden story until now, although he (Applebaum) has been very visible on Twitter defending Snowden and hyping Greenwald’s articles.

Applebaum is a  well known hacker who has been prominently associated with Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is one of the founders of the Tor network , which promotes encryption method to help people and organizations maintain anonymity on the internet. Although he acknowledges that Tor could be giving aid an comfort to criminals such as child pornographers, he believes that privacy rights take precedence over such concerns.

Both Poitras and Applebaum have come to the attention of the U.S. government and both have been stopped and harassed on return flights to the U.S. from other countries.

From the Der Spiegel article:

Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.

Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.”

Applebaum explains how he got involved.

“In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me,” Appelbaum said. “She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her.”

“She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden’s identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn’t know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties.”

Please note the timeline: Poitras says Snowden contacted her in January, and Greenwald says he began working with Poitras and Snowden in February. Poitras also contacted Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in February–apparently without Greenwald’s knowlege. At some point Snowden was working for NSA as a Dell contractor, but he quit this job in order to get one at Booz Allen, where he would have access to more top secret information about U.S. spy facilities around the world. He took the job with Booz Allen sometime in March and went to a training course back in the U.S. that lasted a couple of months. According to Booz Allen, Snowden was employed by them for less than three months and was only on the job in Hawaii for about three weeks, during which time he stole four laptops full of classified documents.

There’s no doubt this operation was premeditated; Snowden admitted that in an interview with the South China Morning Post. The only real questions are whether it was initiated or aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks and whether Jacob Applebaum aided Snowden in hacking into NSA computers. I’m not ready to argue that yet; but these new revelations, along with the fact that Wikileaks seems to have taken over communications with Snowden are certainly suggestive.

Here’s another possible piece of the timeline. In December 2012, Glenn Greenwald and some of his close friends started an organization called Freedom of the Press Foundation. Others on the board of directors of the foundation besides Greenwald are Laura Poitras and Daniel Ellsberg. According to their website, their purpose is to raise funds to support “public interest journalism.” Their criteria for choosing news organization to support is as follows:

Record of engaging in transparency journalism or supporting it in a material way, including support for whistleblowers.

Public interest agenda.

Organizations or individuals under attack for engaging in transparency journalism.

Need for support. The foundation’s goal is to prioritize support for organizations and individuals who are in need of funding or who face obstacles to gaining support on their own.

At the top of the list of organizations they support is Wikileaks.

Please note that I’m not yet proposing some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m just laying out the facts as I know them so far and connecting some dots. But some people are suggesting Wikileaks could have directed this operation. I was very surprised to see this article by Walter Pincus at the Washington Post yesterday: Questions for Snowden. Basically Pincus connected some dots and is asking some of the same questions I am asking.  I’m going to excerpt a little more than I normally would from the Pincus piece. He writes:

Was he [Snowden] encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?

In the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier on trial for disclosing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, it was Julian Assange and his organization who directed the collection of documents, U.S. prosecutors have alleged. While Manning’s lawyers contend there is no evidence to support that finding, prosecutors have said there are hundreds of chats between Manning and Assange and WikiLeaks lists of desired material.

In Manning’s case, WikiLeaks and its founder, Assange, determined the news organizations that initially would receive the materials.

Pincus wants to know how Snowden decided to leak to Poitras, Greenwald, and Gellman.

Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?

Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2010, Greenwald said of the British arrest of Assange: “Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from [the] Internet . . . their funds have been frozen . . . media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization.”

In a June 2012 Guardian column, Greenwald wrote, “As a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he [Assange] has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system.”

On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.

Pincus also suggests that Julian Assange knew the contents of Glenn Greenwald’s first article on Snowden’s leaks.

Poitras has been working on a film on post-9/11 America, with a focus on the NSA and in which Assange and WikiLeaks are participating. Assange confirmed this in a May 29 interview on Democracy Now’s Web site.

In that same interview, Assange previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later. Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting “all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex.”

Did he know ahead of time of that Guardian story describing the U.S. court order permitting NSA’s collection of the telephone toll records of millions of American Verizon customers and storing them for years?

This post is getting way too long, but just to be fair I’ll offer another conspiracy theory from Pepe Escobar of Asia Times. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs and you can go read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

The working title of the Edward Snowden movie is still The Spy Who Remains in the Cold. Here’s where we stand:

– Snowden could only fly out of Hong Kong because China allowed it.

– Snowden could only arrive in Moscow because Russia knew it – in co-operation with China. This is part of their strategic relationship, which includes the BRICS group (along with Brazil, India and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. No official source though would ever confirm it.
With the Latin American offers of asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua; even Uruguay would consider it), we’re approaching the clincher: Moscow is now calculating whether – and how – to help Snowden reach his final destination while extracting maximum political capital out of Washington.

Into this script comes roaring the coup-that-is-not-a-coup sub-plot in Egypt. Cynics’ eyebrows will be raised that just as the Barack Obama administration was going mental over the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal a revo-coup-o-lution explodes in Egypt. New revelations about the extent of the NSA-centric Orwellian Panopticon keep on coming, but they have been totally downgraded by US corporate media; it’s all Egypt all the time. After all, the Pentagon – to which the NSA is attached – owns the Egyptian military, something that even the New York Times had to acknowledge. [1]

Yet they don’t own Snowden. This has nothing to do with “terra”.

Meanwhile, the US intelligence gambit of intercepting a non-adversarial presidential plane spectacularly backfired in true Mad magazine Spy vs Spy fashion. Obama had said he would not “scramble fighter jets” to catch Snowden; of course not, just ground them.

Austrian paper Die Presse revealed that the US Ambassador in Austria, William Eacho, was responsible for spreading the (false) information about Snowden being on board Bolivia President Evo Morales’ Falcon out of Russia – leading to the denial of overflying rights in France, Spain, Portugal an Italy. [2] Eacho – a former CEO of a food distribution company with no diplomatic experience whatsoever – was appointed by Obama to go to Vienna in June 2009. Why? Because he was a top Obama fundraiser.

Read the rest at Asia Times. BTW, I’m not sure both of these conspiracy theories couldn’t be at least partially true.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your reactions.


Saturday Late Morning Reads

informationoverloadcartoon

 Good Morning!!

I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed and paralyzed at the moment, so I’m going to have to limit myself to a link dump this morning. Otherwise I’m never going to get started.


Stories that may fill in some blanks on the Tsarnaev brothers.

A very helpful piece from the Wall Street Journal: Life in America Unraveled for Brothers, By ALAN CULLISON and PAUL SONNE in Moscow and JENNIFER LEVITZ in Cambridge, Mass.

The New Yorker’s David Remnick on The Culprits provides some background on the Chechen connection.

At Crooks and Liars, Boston Bombing Suspects Recall Home-Grown Terrorists in Madrid, London Attacks
By ProPublica

CBS News: FBI interviewed dead Boston bombing suspect years ago

Henry Blodget at Business Insider: The FBI Needs To Explain Why It Failed To Monitor Boston Bombing Suspect Despite A Clear Warning

FBI Press Release on their Investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tsarnaev Brothers


A little more news related to the Boston bombings

Report: 3 arrested in New Bedford in connection to bombing suspect

Neighbors say three have been arrested in New Bedford in connection with the Boston Bombing suspect.

Police apprehended suspects from the Hidden Brook Apartments on Carriage Drive in New Bedford. Neighbors say they think that the girlfriend of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have lived in the complex and they have seen him in the area as recently as yesterday.

The National Memo: Lindsey Graham Does A Quick Trashing Of the Constitution On Twitter

Slate.com on the high tech methods used to catch the second suspect

Police used a robot, flashbangs, and a thermal camera to apprehend second Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday night, as Boston police recounted in a press conference shortly afterward. But it was a citizen’s alarming encounter with the suspect that proved to be the key in finding him.

Russ Baker at Who What Why: The Marathon Bombing: What the Media Didn’t Warn You About

Seth Mnookin at The New Yorker: Watertown Diary

I have lots more, but I’ll leave the Boston story there for now.

west_texas_fertilizer_plant_blast_map


The Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

NBC News: Investigators: Texas plant explosion death toll raised to 14

CBS News: Majority of deaths in West, Texas explosion were first responders

HuffPo: Texas Explosion: 60 People Still Missing According To Report

NYT: Texas on Fire, Again and Again

NBC News: Texas fertilizer plant also stored explosive chemical used in Oklahoma City bomb

Reuters: Texas fertilizer company didn’t heed disclosure rules before blast

The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate – which can also be used in bomb making – unaware of any danger there.

Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which weren’t shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year.


In other news…

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Across America, a week of chaos, horror — and hope

the International News: Pervez Musharraf transferred to farmhouse

Christian Science Monitor: Judge orders Musharraf held for 14 days before next hearing

PC Magazine: Transcript of Julian Assange, Eric Schmidt Chat Posted on WikiLeaks

Foreign Policy Magazine: Eric Schmidt: Money is the only reason Julian Assange redacted WikiLeaks files

The Guardian: Inside the mind of Eric Schmidt

That’s about all I have the energy for right now. I’ll post more links in the comments. What are you focusing on today? Please share your recommended reads, and have a great Saturday!


No Wonder U.S. Was So Desperate To Capture Julian Assange

Julian_Assange

Have you been following the latest news on Wikileaks? Some very interesting information has been coming out in the past two days. I’m beginning to understand why the Obama administration–along with some foreign governments were so anxious to arrest Julian Assange and shut down Wikileaks. Thanks to Bradley Manning and Assange, news organizations are revealing plenty about what our government was been up to in the 1970s.

Yesterday, the Guardian published a shocking expose of the U.S. torture and death squad operations in Iraq. The article reveals direct connections between the Pentagon and Iraqi “torture centers.” In addition, Guardian researchers showed how Iraq policy grew out of America’s “dirty wars” in Vietnam and Latin America with a veteran of those past outrages, retired Army Colonel James Steele, leading the way.

The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.

Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.

After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding.

Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and returned to the country in 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.

Where did all this information come from? You guessed it.

The Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation was sparked by the release of classified US military logs on WikiLeaks that detailed hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centres run by the police commandos across Iraq. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years after he pleaded guilty to leaking the documents.

The Guardian also made available to a 51-minute documentary focused on “the mystery man of Iraq,” James Steele. It’s also posted on YouTube, so I’ve embedded it here. You can also watch it on the Guardian website. I watched it yesterday, and plan to watch it again.

If you can’t watch the whole thing right now, here’s a good summary and evaluation of the documentary by William Boardman at Op-Ed News.

As if that weren’t enough, today Wikileaks released “1.7m US diplomatic and intelligence reports covering every country in the world” in a searchable database called “Plus D.” The Daily Mail reports:

Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks today published more than 1.7million U.S. records covering diplomatic or intelligence reports on every country in the world. The data released today includes more than 1.7million U.S. diplomatic records from 1973 to 1976 – covering a traffic of cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence.
WikiLeaks described the Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD) as the world’s largest searchable collection of U.S. confidential, or formerly confidential, diplomatic communications.

Much of the work was carried out by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 41, during his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been staying since last summer….

The Ecuadorian Government has granted Mr Assange political asylum and has repeatedly offered Swedish prosecutors the chance to interview him at the embassy in Knightsbridge, central London.
Mr Assange said the information showed the ‘vast range and scope’ of U.S. diplomatic and intelligence activity around the world.

These cables weren’t even leaked! They came from the National Archives, but Wikileaks organized the material so that it could be used by news organization and individuals. According to News.com.au, Plus D is ‘What Google should be like’, says Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Some examples of tidbits from the database that have been published today:

Salon — Kissinger: The illegal we do immediately; unconstitutional takes longer

HuffPo — WikiLeaks: Vatican Dismissed Pinochet Massacre Reports As ‘Communist Propaganda’

The Australian News — WikiLeaks reveals US Thatcher memo

The Atlantic — WikiLeaks ‘Kissinger Cables’ Reveal How Much Russians Loved Joni Mitchell

You can search the database yourself here.


Friday Reads: A Little This n That

Good Morning!

I’m having a challenging week with my senior dog Karma who is really going down hill fast at the moment so I’m going to make this brief.  She’s been a bit of an issue this week since she sleeps a lot and frequently doesn’t wake up in time to get outside.  So, I’m tired too.

Wikileak’s Julian Assange has been granted asylum in Ecuador.

Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in its London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK.

It said his human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over sex assault claims.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country and the move was also criticised by Stockholm.

Ecuador said it would seek to negotiate arrangements for Mr Assange to leave.

“We don’t think it is reasonable that, after a sovereign government has made the decision of granting political asylum, a citizen is forced to live in an embassy for a long period,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said.

Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.

Mr Patino had accused the UK of making an “open threat” to enter its embassy to arrest Mr Assange, an Australian national.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley Calls Romney a “Stupid Back Stabber”.

Responding to Romney’s plan to kill energy production and thousands of jobs in Iowa, long time conservative Senator Chuck Grassley called Romney “stupid” and a “back stabber” at two town hall meetings.

In his unabated campaign to piss off every possible voter, Mitt Romney called for the cancellation of tax credits for wind energy, a move that would kill 37,000 good paying jobs nationwide.

In Iowa alone, 7,000 people are employed in the wind energy sector, producing a quarter of the state’s electric power.

Why would Romney do something so heartless? To pay for tax cuts for the rich, naturally.

At a town hall meeting in rural Iowa, Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s conservative Senator for 32 years, said,

“I’m the author of the wind energy tax credit of 1992, and there were people from outside the state came into Iowa and issued a press release that the Republican candidate for president was opposed to wind energy, and I felt it was just like a knife in my back”.
Calling Romney’s proposal an insult, Grassley continued his attack on the Republican standard-bearer at a different town hall meeting:

“when you think at a time of 8.2 percent unemployment there would be any question that you wouldn’t want to lay off 4,000 more people in the state of Iowa and probably 25,000 people nationwide, but that’s kind of what’s at stake here.”
Grassley concluded by saying,

“I don’t know who’s behind it and I’m going to find out who’s behind it, and expose them and tell them how stupid their policy is.”

DU cited the Des Moines Register as a source of the quotes.

Economist Mark Thoma has an excellent Op Ed up at the NYDN titled “Paul Ryan’s imaginary expertise;The supposed economic policy wonk lacks basic understanding”.

When Mitt Romney introduced Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, he emphasized that Ryan “has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party” on economic policy. But a close examination of Ryan’s monetary and fiscal policy proposals makes it hard to understand why he is held in high regard.

Ryan’s views on monetary policy are, by his own admission, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” (In a 2005 speech, he said: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”)

Concerns about inflation — currency debasement — are prominent in Rand’s novel, and those concerns drive Ryan’s monetary policy proposals. For example, Ryan introduced legislation in 2008 to replace the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate to stabilize both inflation and employment with a single mandate to stabilize inflation. Under Ryan’s proposal, the Fed would ignore employment when making policy decisions.

This lack of concern over employment is disconcerting, but it’s at least possible to find economists who support a single inflation mandate for the Fed. It’s much harder to find anyone who will support another inflation prevention policy Ryan has proposed, a policy similar to a gold standard.

Despite decades of stable inflation, and criticism from many experts that the Fed is too worried about inflation and not worried enough about unemployment, Ryan does not trust the Fed to keep inflation under control. Instead, he has proposed tying the value of the dollar to a basket of commodities. The Fed’s only job under this policy would be to keep the value of the dollar in line with the value of the commodities in the basket. The pursuit of stable employment or any other goal would interfere with this mission.

But this is not a recipe for price stability, as Ryan claims. Every time the price of oil, corn or other commodities in the basket changes due to ordinary fluctuations in supply and demand, which is often, the value of the dollar would change as well. This would make the dollar even more unstable and uncertain than it is now — and we’d also lose an important tool in the fight against unemployment.

That’s not even his worst proposal for monetary policy. That distinction goes to his call to raise interest rates to cure the recession — because “there’s a lot of capital parked out there, and we need to coax it out into the markets.”

This shows a serious misunderstanding of what’s holding the economy back. If interest rates are increased, the higher return on financial assets will cause more people to provide funds to financial markets — but the supply of funds isn’t the problem.

Romney is once again playing race baiting games.  Romney’s campaign has put together a petition to tell the President to stop being such an angry black man.  I’m only going to link to this.  You can go see it for yourself.  This is getting old.

Professional Village Idiot–Quitterella–was put to the Jon Stewart treatment when she said she didn’t know of any conservatives that talk the way liberals do; all nasty and vitriolic.

Jon Stewart poked fun at one of his favorite targets on “The Daily Show” on Wednesday night. Stewart ripped into Sarah Palin for saying that she couldn’t think of any prominent Republicans who talk the way liberals do.

“Does the lake behind you have reflective properties?” Stewart said. “If so, you may find the answer to your riddle.”

He then proceeded to show a video of Palin slinging harsh words: accusing Obama of pallin’ around with terrorists, calling Nancy Pelosi a dingbat and questioning the president’s “balls” (so to speak). Turns out, Stewart had quite a bit of material to work with.

He concluded: “So you don’t know of any prominent Republicans who spew divisive vitriol? There can only be two explanations for that. One: Not even Sarah Palin believes she is a prominent Republican anymore. Or two: Sarah Palin can no longer hear herself speak.”

Here’s  a cute item on Madam Secretary from Conde Naste Traveller. What’s it like to spend nine days on the road with Hillary Clinton?

According to Clinton, the swift resolution of the Chen debacle was the direct result of the intensive relationship-building that the United States and China have been engaged in during her nearly four years as secretary of state. “We were coming as people who had already experienced many hours of dialogue in many different settings and who were invested in a peaceful, cooperative relationship, so we had a personal trust,” she says. “Those conversations are not just about things—they’re about people, and how we listen to one another and interact with one another. Even if we saw things differently, we were not coming as strangers . . . and I think that really helped facilitate how we were able to move forward.”

It also helped that Clinton is so deft with the human touch: Sources familiar with the situation say that China agreed to Chen’s wishes after Clinton had an extended private conversation with Chinese state councilor Dai Bingguo, with whom she has cultivated close ties. “Their relationship is a great example of what she has been doing for the past three and a half years,” says deputy assistant secretary Philippe Reines. “If Chen had been taken into the embassy on January 21, 2009, this would not have had a happy ending. She didn’t yet have the personal relationships that she leaned on in this case.”

It’s precisely this sort of relationship-building that has compelled Clinton to travel more than 800,000 miles (she will have clocked over a million by the time she steps down, early next year) to more than one hundred countries during her time as secretary. She notes the irony that even though we live in an era of easy and instant communication, face-to-face meetings have never been more valued. “I could sit in my office and do videoconferences nearly anywhere in the world, but because that is so easy, people actually expect you to show up more, to make the effort and demonstrate the respect, to sit across the table and look eye to eye. It reflects a commitment to the relationship that you cannot get from sending an e-mail or doing a videoconference.”

Alright, let’s conclude with  my continuing to share my fascination with graves and grave goods.  This is a story from the UK on what mass burials can tell us about catastrophic disasters throughout history.  Many ancient gravesites in the UK and other areas have been removed to make way for shopping centers and the like. This has led to a lot of chances to learn about historic events and peoples.  Here’s a story from London’s volcanic winter.

The Medieval cemetery at Spitalfields is probably the largest excavated graveyard in the world. Work by MOLA between 1998 and 2001 unearthed a staggering 10,516 burials, of which just over 5,300 have been studied in detail. Allowing for those portions of the cemetery destroyed during the construction of Spitalfields market, it is probable that around 18,000 people were once interred there. As well as providing an unparalleled corpus of skeletal material for the period, a rigorous programme of Bayesian radiocarbon dating (see CA 259) by Alex Bayliss and Jane Sidell has provided a tight chronology for the Medieval cemetery. Securing detailed phasing for a site type that is notoriously hard to date proved crucial when it came to understanding how the cemetery population met their fate. It also allowed change within that population to be studied over time, providing vivid insights into the evolving nature of London life.

Spitalfields cemetery was closely associated with the priory and hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, later known as St Mary Spital. Claimed to be the largest hospital in London when it was closed during the Dissolution in 1539, the institution was originally founded in around 1197. Intended to minister to the poor, sick and infirm, as well as women in childbirth, the new establishment was a reaction to the care needs of London’s growing population.

The first burials in the cemetery, however, seem to have been a response to pressures of a different kind. Radiocarbon dated to about 1120, the earliest bodies pre-date the priory by a good 70 years. Far from occupying ordered rows, the corpses were dumped in open quarry pits. Such opportunistic interment away from any known religious house evokes an emergency situation in which large numbers of bodies needed to be disposed of rapidly. If so, it was not the last time that a catastrophe heralded the suspension of normal burial practices at Spitalfields.

The foundation of St Mary Spital brought the construction of a priory church at the north-west corner of the cemetery, while the other buildings were clustered nearby. Although the majority of those laid to rest in the graveyard were placed in individual grave shafts sunk in neat rows, excavations revealed a group of 140 large pits clustered along the south and east margins of the burial ground.

Dug as far from the priory buildings as the cemetery confines allowed, each pit contained between 8 and 40 bodies. A sure sign that the death rate had once again outstripped existing burial measures, the desire to keep these mass graves away from inhabited areas underscores a very real fear of the dangers the bodies could pose for the living. In London, as elsewhere, the natural reaction to discovering such mass burials is to interpret them as plague pits from the 1348 Black Death.

Just the name Spitalfields was enough to attract me to the article. But hey, mass medieval graves? Whoa … just more lessons in impermanence for a practicing Buddhist.  But, it’s also a window in to a different world, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s it from me today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?