Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It’s another busy day in tRumpville–not for him, of course, just for us peons. King Donald is so bored that he went out to meet a White House tour group this morning.

So the Muslim ban is back with a vengeance. Plus the GOP “health care” plan is out and it’s even worse than anyone imagined. Dakinikat wrote about tRump’s immigration policies yesterday, but we’re getting more details this morning. As for Ryancare or trumpcare or whatever the f$ck you want to call the health insurance plan from hell, it looks like it will be dead on arrival.

On top of all that Russia and Wikileaks released a bunch of CIA files to try to distract everyone from the antics circus clown they put in charge of what used to be the USA. I don’t have room to write about everything, but here are a few reads to get you started.

Politico: Trump plan pays for immigration crackdown with cuts to coastal, air security.

The Trump administration wants to gut the Coast Guard and make deep cuts in airport and rail security to help pay for its crackdown on illegal immigration, according to internal budget documents reviewed by POLITICO — a move that lawmakers and security experts say defies logic if the White House is serious about defending against terrorism and keeping out undocumented foreigners.

The Office of Management and Budget is seeking a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget, the draft documents show, even as it proposes major increases to other Department of Homeland Security agencies to hire more border agents and immigration officers and construct a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The budget numbers mark the most detailed breakdown yet about how President Donald Trump envisions restructuring DHS to meet his pledge to halt illegal immigration and deport some of the millions already here.

Overall, DHS would get a 6 percent boost to its budget, to $43.8 billion. But to help pay for that, the administration would slice the budget of the Coast Guard and cut 11 percent in spending from the TSA — reductions that critics say would weaken safeguards against threats arriving by sea or air.

OMB also wants to cut 11 percent from the budget of FEMA, which oversees the national response to disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

The stupid is strong in this one. Obviously the mass deportation agenda has absolutely nothing to do with national security.

Speaking of national security, tRup appears to be mostly ignoring the international crisis being fomented by North Korea–at least he has said nothing publicly about how he plans to handle it. Rex Tillerson hasn’t said anything about this situation either. Has anyone seen or heard from him?  The Washington Post reports: North Korea says it was practicing to hit U.S. military bases in Japan with missiles.

North Korea was practicing to strike United States military bases in Japan with its latest barrage of missiles, state media in Pyongyang reported Tuesday, and it appeared to be trying to outsmart a new American antimissile battery being deployed to South Korea by firing multiple rockets at once.

Kim Jong Un presided over Monday’s launch of the four missiles, “feasting his eyes on the trails of ballistic rockets,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported in a statement that analysts called a “brazen declaration” of the country’s intent to strike enemies with a nuclear weapon if it came under attack.

“If the United States or South Korea fires even a single flame inside North Korean territory, we will demolish the origin of the invasion and provocation with a nuclear tipped missile,” the KCNA statement said.

The four ballistic missiles fired Monday morning were launched by the elite Hwasong ballistic missile division “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan,” KCNA said. The United States has numerous military bases and about 54,000 military personnel stationed in Japan, the legacy of its postwar security alliance with the country.

Three of the four missiles flew about 600 miles over North Korea and landed in the sea, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone off the Oga Peninsula in Akita prefecture, home to a Japanese self-defense forces base. The fourth fell just outside the zone.

One thing that’s happening is that the US is sending an anti-missle defense system to South Korea, according to NBC News:

The United States has begun shipping a controversial anti-missile system to South Korea after North Korea test-launched four medium-range missiles on Monday, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The system, called THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is an anti-missile system designed to counter a threat like that from North Korea.

Other THAAD systems are already active in Hawaii and Guam to defend against North Korea, but the shield hadn’t yet been deployed to South Korea — a scenario that Beijing has denounced as a “clear, present and substantive threat to China’s security interests.”

Two mobile launchers landed in South Korea late Monday, part of a missile defense system that the U.S. military says is meant to defend the country against a North Korean attack.
U.S. Forces Korea

I wonder if tRump will give us a heads-up if he decides to start a war with China and North Korea? Huffington Post: North Korea Warns Of ‘Actual War’ Over Military Exercises.

North Korea said on Tuesday it would pursue its nuclear deterrent and weapons program as huge U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises it says model a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against Pyongyang continued.

South Korea and the United States, which led condemnation of North Korea’s latest missile tests at the Conference on Disarmament, said their military drills were to test defensive readiness against possible aggression from the North.

North Korean diplomat Ju Yong Choi told the United Nations-backed forum that the allies’ annual exercises were “a major cause of escalation of tension that might turn into actual war”.

“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is firm in its determination to further bolster its defense capabilities with a nuclear deterrent as a pivot so as to put an end to danger of nuclear war caused by the United States,” Ju said.

During the 90-minute session, envoys from more than 20 countries, including North Korea’s main ally China, as well as Britain, France, Russia and the United States, condemned North Korea’s test-firing of four ballistic missiles on Monday.

On the health insurance (definitely not health care) bill, here’s Sarah Kliff at Vox: The American Health Care Act: the Republicans’ bill to replace Obamacare, explained. Also at Vox, Ezra Klein: The GOP health bill doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve. You’ll need to go read both of those–there’s much too much to excerpt.

But here’s a little news from the ridiculous Jason Chaffetz. Think Progress: GOP congressman says Trumpcare will force people to choose between new iPhone and health insurance.

During a Tuesday morning appearance on CNN, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) suggested that under Trumpcare, Americans will face some tough choices — like buying an iPhone or making sure they can see a doctor.

Pressed by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota about whether he’s concerned Trumpcare’s reduced tax incentives and lack of individual mandate will result in less people having insurance, Chaffetz said, “Well, we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want.” ….

The cost of a new iPhone 7 without a contract is roughly $700. By comparison, the per-capita cost of health care in the U.S. last year was $10,345. Even when insurance coverage that defrays some of that cost is factored in, Americans still spend way less on phones than they do on health care….

If too many healthy people decide to forego health care they don’t think they’ll need in favor of new phones under Trumpcare, prices will go up for those remaining in the health insurance market, creating a “death spiral.”

Chaffetz is such a nasty man, to paraphrase tRump on Hillary.

CIA headquarters in Langley, VA

The New York Times on the Wikileaks story, which sounds very serious: WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged C.I.A. Hacking Documents.

WASHINGTON — WikiLeaks on Tuesday released thousands of documents that it said described sophisticated software tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions.

If the documents are authentic, as appeared likely at first review, the release would be the latest coup for the anti-secrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which maintains its own hacking capabilities to be used for espionage.

The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said.

Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

The source of the documents was not named. WikiLeaks said the documents, which it called Vault 7, had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

WikiLeaks said the source, in a statement, set out policy questions that “urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the C.I.A.’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency.” The source, the group said, “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”

The documents, from the C.I.A’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, are dated from 2013 to 2016, and WikiLeaks described them as “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” One former intelligence officer who briefly reviewed the documents on Tuesday morning said some of the code names for C.I.A. programs, an organization chart and the description of a C.I.A. hacking base appeared to be genuine.

It will be very interesting to see how tRump responds to this disastrous situation, which obviously is the work of his buddy Vladimir Putin.

Here’s an interesting article by Noah Feldman at Bloomberg on tRump’s accusation that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” phones in tRump Tower: Trump’s Wiretap Tweets Raise Risk of Impeachment.

The sitting president has accused his predecessor of an act that could have gotten the past president impeached. That’s not your ordinary exercise of free speech. If the accusation were true, and President Barack Obama ordered a warrantless wiretap of Donald Trump during the campaign, the scandal would be of Watergate-level proportions.

But if the allegation is not true and is unsupported by evidence, that too should be a scandal on a major scale. This is the kind of accusation that, taken as part of a broader course of conduct, could get the current president impeached. We shouldn’t care that the allegation was made early on a Saturday morning on Twitter.

The basic premise of the First Amendment is that truth should defeat her opposite number. “Let her and Falsehood grapple,” wrote the poet and politician John Milton, “who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

But this rather optimistic adage only accounts for speech and debate between citizens. It doesn’t apply to accusations made by the government. Those are something altogether different.

In a rule of law society, government allegations of criminal activity must be followed by proof and prosecution. If not, the government is ruling by innuendo.

Shadowy dictatorships can do that because there is no need for proof. Democracies can’t.

Thus, an accusation by a president isn’t like an accusation leveled by one private citizen against another. It’s about more than factual truth or carelessness.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Tuesday Reads: VP Debate and Other News

kaine-pence-759

Good Morning!!

Tonight at 9, Vice Presidential nominees Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will debate on national TV for the first and only time. We will have a live blog for discussion of the event.

NPR is billing these two as “softening the image” of the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Unlike running mates of the past, Pence and Kaine have not been unleashed as “attack dogs” to chew viciously on their adversaries. This year, the headlines about outrageous charges have come from the top of the ticket — with help from various TV surrogates and the rest of the media chorus.

Kaine and Pence, by contrast, serve to soften the image of the national tickets. They are Tim and Mike, known by the friendlier, shorter versions of their first names. Both have made their way in politics as loyal party men, to be sure, but as warmer and more personable versions of their respective partisan stereotypes. And both have been known for their ability to maneuver and adapt to changing political circumstances.

So far, at least, both have performed admirably in their subordinate roles. It might even be said that both have exceeded expectations in their assistance to the nominees who chose them.

Kaine has been a prolific fundraiser as well as an affable and effective salesman on the stump. Pence has been enormously influential in bringing religious and social conservatives around to accepting and endorsing Trump. Even some who had pleaded for primary voters to pick anyone but Trump have come on board this fall, however reluctantly; and several have done so after meeting with Pence. Former rival and bitter critic Ted Cruz is one example.

How anyone could consider Mike Pence “softer” on anything is beyond me. I can only assume that NPR is ignorant of or choosing to ignore Pence’s record in the House and as Governor of Indiana.

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Here’s one mainstream article that calls attention to Pence’s “baggage.” Roll Call (September 19, 2016):

Pence made national headlines in early 2015 when he signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which limited the legal actions that could be taken against an individual or business for asserting their religious beliefs.

The law sparked widespread outrage. Opponents contended that it would give license to religious conservatives to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. In response, several major events and corporations — including Salesforce.com, the NCAA, and the gaming convention Gen-Con — threatened to limit business ventures in the state or boycott it altogether.

Pence adamantly defended the RFRA legislation and refused to say whether it allowed for discrimination, which led to extensive questioning of his underlying motives.

What followed was a hemorrhaging of support from moderate Republicans in the state, and intense backlash on social media and in the press. So much so that he quietly signed a subsequent piece of legislation — dubbed the “RFRA Fix” — that clarified that the law did not allow businesses to discriminate based on a customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Read about more of Pence’s ugly record at the link. He tried to set up a state “news bureau,” a propaganda organ paid for by taxpayers.

mike-pence-cartoon

Pence is virulently anti-abortion and did everything he could to get rid of Planned Parenthood in the state. He attempted to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana. He has helped keep Indiana a “right-to-work” state. More background on Pence’s views:

Planned Parenthood: This Is Mike Pence’s Indiana, and It’s Terrifying.

Mother Jones: Mike Pence Has Led a Crusade Against Abortion Access and LGBT Rights.

Mother Jones: Pence Tells Evangelicals He’ll Help Trump Restrict Abortion Rights.

Bustle: Mike Pence’s Stance On Gay Marriage Is As Harsh As His “Religious Freedom” Views.

In These Times: Mike Pence May Be a Friend to Trump, But He’s No Friend to Workers.

Here’s the Clinton campaign’s take on Pence and his defenses of Trump:

Other News

Republican Trump supporters have been waiting breathlessly for an “October Surprise” from Julian Assange and Wikileaks. A couple of days ago, long-time Trump adviser and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone tweeted this cryptic warning:

Then yesterday he tweeted this:

But so far, Stone and the Trumpettes have been disappointed.

The Washington Post: Trump backers realize they’ve been played as WikiLeaks fails to deliver October surprise.

For weeks, backers of Republican nominee Donald Trump have hyped the tantalizing possibility that the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks was on the verge of publishing a set of documents that would doom Hillary Clinton’s chances in November….

The group’s founder, Julian Assange, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm, suggesting to Fox News hosts that his scoops could upend the race with documents “associated with the election campaign, some quite unexpected angles, some quite interesting.”

The announcement by WikiLeaks that it would host a major news conference Tuesday only seemed to confirm that the bombshell was ready to burst. The pro-Trump, anti-Clinton media world rippled with fevered speculation.

But the dreamed-of takedown of Clinton was not to be.

The much-vaunted news conference, as it turned out, was little more than an extended infomercial for WikiLeaks on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its founding.

Assange, whose group released a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee documents on the eve of the party’s convention this summer, breezily dismissed the idea that anyone should have expected any news at his news conference.

“If we are going to make a major publication about the U.S., we wouldn’t do it at 3 a.m.,” Assange said at one point, referring to the Eastern daylight start time for the event.That didn’t go over well with Trump backers who had stayed up through the night, thinking they’d be watching live the unveiling of the death blow to the Clinton campaign.

That didn’t go over well with Trump backers who had stayed up through the night, thinking they’d be watching live the unveiling of the death blow to the Clinton campaign.

LOL! Read more hilarious stuff at the link. The Trump campaign is nothing but a “fever swamp” of conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Just look at the campaign’s leadership and advisers like Alex Jones.

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Mother Jones: How Trump Became Our Conspiracy Theorist in Chief.

Consider Trump’s inner circle: Campaign CEO Stephen Bannon is on leave from Breitbart News, the conservative site he helped turn into a one-stop destination for breathlessly reported stories like “Muslim Prayer Rug Found on Arizona Border” (on closer inspection, the “rug” was probably a track jacket). Trump’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, a peddler of many of the wildest Clinton conspiracy theories of the 1990s, once made a documentary alleging that Hillary Clinton had murdered a critic’s cat. Trump adviser Roger Stone, a former Nixon campaign aide and political dirty trickster, wrote a book claiming that Chelsea Clinton got four plastic surgeries to mask the identity of her real father.

Populist movements have long flirted with what political theorist Richard Hofstadter, writing about Barry Goldwater in 1964, called the “paranoid style in American politics”—the penchant for framing opponents as the tools of a powerful but shadowy fifth column. But Trump has embraced and normalized the political fringe in unprecedented ways—and that could have far-reaching effects.

That Trump would devote much of the substance of his campaign to wild claims and ominous innuendo is not surprising: This is what first made him a conservative star. Five years ago, Trump embarked on a national press tour to question the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Obama, Trump suggested, was actually a Kenyan-born impostor named “Barry Soweto.” Establishment Republicans may have snickered, but Trump’s strategy was an unmitigated success. A CNN poll showed that his support among likely GOP voters nearly doubled once he started talking about the birth certificate. He became a regular guest on Fox & Friends, a sought-after speaker at conservative dinners, and a campaign prop for Mitt Romney, who flew to Las Vegas to accept Trump’s endorsement. In just a few months, Trump showed how intoxicatingly viral the netherworld of conspiracies could be. (Even when he finally conceded that Obama was born in the United States, he claimed the birther rumors originated with Clinton.)

From the day he kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign, an air of paranoia has infused almost everything Trump has said or done. He demanded a border wall on the grounds that Mexico was sending killers and rapists into the country, boosting his claims with an Infowars video he’d seen on the Drudge Report. He promised to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, while insinuating that the current commander in chief harbored sympathies for the terrorist group (“There’s something going on”). After Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep, Trump fanned theories of an assassination. He trumpeted a National Enquirer story suggesting that Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in the Kennedy assassination (even though Stone had written a best-selling book fingering Lyndon B. Johnson).

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

Links Only

Time Magazine: Why Tonight’s Vice Presidential Debate is Unusual.

The New Yorker: Why the Vice-Presidential Debate Does and Doesn’t Matter.

Media Matters: .What Media Need To Know About Mike Pence’s Economic Record.

WSOC TV: Michelle Obama to campaign for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte.

Melissa McEwan at Share Blue: I published this photo of Hillary Clinton and the response was overwhelming. (Must Read!)

Deadspin: Trump Supporters Spent The Debate Tweeting At Jon Lester Because They Thought He Was Moderator Lester Holt.

What stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and be sure to check back tonight for the VP Debate live blog!


Monday Reads: Global Intrigue Edition

01093-2Good Afternoon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panama Papers reveal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 

 


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

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Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

Now to the news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poulsen writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

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

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

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

Other News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday Reads: Winter Weather, No Hillary Alternatives, New Snowden Leaks, and More

Cassidy, Arlene - Lazy afternoon

Good Morning!!

I’m awaiting what I hope is the last snowstorm to hit the Boston area for a week or so. This one won’t be a big deal compared to what we’ve been hit by over the past few weeks. It will snow most of the day and we’ll end up with another five inches of snow on top of the giant pile of white stuff that is already on the ground.

The good news is that beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend, we are expecting temperatures in the 40s and 50s, along with rain. That should help wash some of the snow away. The Weather Channel has live updates on how this storm is affecting other parts of the country.

While I was perusing the Weather Channel page this morning, I came across this article–with amazing photos–of the coldest city in the world.

Think we’re having a brutal winter? Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 50 C (minus 58 F). The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth. Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the regional capital which has the lowest winter temperatures of any city in the world.

How do the locals deal with the cold? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka,” photographer Amos Chapple told weather.com after his visit to the coldest city.

Oymyakon ironically means “unfrozen water.” This is due to the thermal spring located nearby. Originally the location was used by reindeer herders who would water their flock in the warm springs.

Oymyakon’s lowest recorded temperature was a frigid minus 71.2  C (minus 96.16 F) back in 1924. According to The Independent, wearing glasses outdoors can cause them to stick to the wearer’s face. This is just one of the more menial problems of the extremely cold weather

After reading that, I suddenly felt very comfy in my cozy house with the temperature outside a mild 18 degrees F.

Hillary_Clinton_Twitter.JPEG-0e86c-6747

Whether we like it or not–and I absolutely hate it–the 2016 presidential race has already begun, and along with it the endless Hillary-bashing that we’ll have to put up with not only from Republicans but also from a subset of Democrats. Republicans will need to be reminded that Hillary is running, not “the Clintons”; and Democrats will have to learn that if they don’t want Jeb Bush as president, Hillary is the best alternative.

It’s a little unnerving that Bob Shrum agrees with me, since he’s rarely backed a winner; but honestly in this case he’s right. From The Daily Beast: Yes, Pundits, Hillary Has the 2016 Nomination in the Bag.

Handicappers in the presidential race abhor the opposite of a vacuum—a campaign two years out where one candidate seems to blot out the entire field. Thus a mini-chorus now rises, and may swell, questioning Hillary Clinton’s apparent lock on the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s a predictable reflex, but in cold, hard reality, logic suggests that the lock is authentic, not just apparent. And in modern history, or virtually all American history, Hillary’s inevitability is unprecedented for a non-incumbent.

Yes, there are pundits like Matt Bai and Krystal Ball who claim that Hillary is vulnerable to a “grass roots” challenge, but they’re in fantasy land. In response to Ball’s suggestion that Elizabeth Warren should be the candidate, because she is “clearly passionate, living and breathing and feeling … the plight of the worker, the middle class,” Shrum writes:

Hillary, Ball asserts, can’t do that because she was once on the board of Walmart and recently accepted speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. That attack, if an opponent advanced it, could and would be swiftly confounded by the Hillary who, in the penultimate primaries of 2008, in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, emerged as a powerful, persuasive tribune of blue-collar and middle-class Americans.

Of course, there is another slight problem with the Warren option: She’s joined all the other Democratic women senators in signing a letter urging Hillary to run.Warren will probably be out there all right—stumping for Hillary, not against her.

There’s much more at the link about other possible candidates like Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley.

Let me add, btw, for Warren fans who claim that Hillary is “too old,” Warren will be 67 in 2016–just two years younger than Clinton. That’s leaving aside the fact that she has far less political experience than Barack Obama did in 2008 and zero foreign policy experience.

Over at that bastion of Hillary-hatred, DailyKos, Markos broke the news to his followers yesterday: The real primary fight of 2016 (and it’s not an alternative to Hillary.”

Some people have to come to terms. And I’m looking at you, people desperate to find an alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If Hillary runs, she’s the nominee. I know it’s in vogue to talk about how “inevitable” Hillary was in 2008. But it was a different world. I remember it because I was in the midst of that battle. People wanted an alternative, and alternatives existed. At her best, Hillary’s poll numbers were in the 40s with Obama in the strong 20s. Look for yourself. Yes, she was the frontrunner, but there was a strong primary field within striking distance.

There is no alternative to Hillary this cycle. The last time anyone polled the Democratic primary field, Clinton had 73 percent of the vote, Biden 11, and Elizabeth Warren nine. That tells us a couple of things. One, 73 percent is A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE. She is the consensus nominee, and if you disagree, you are objectively in the deep minority. Second of all, there is no one to provide even nominal challenge. Clinton (again, assuming she runs) will have some “challengers”, but it’ll be a bunch of people auditioning for her VP slot.

To reiterate, leads like 45-25 in 2007 didn’t make Hillary “inevitable”. Numbers like 73-11 in 2014 absolutely do. And you know what? Those are not irrational numbers. Hillary will be a great president.

Elizabeth Warren isn’t running. I get why people persist with this fantasy, but it’s nothing more than a fantasy. Warren had to be dragged in kicking and screaming into the Massachusetts Senate race, a geographically small state in which she could sleep in her own bed every night. If you barely have the fire to run for Senate, then you absolutely don’t have the fire to mount a brutal presidential campaign. And even if she did, all she’d have to do is look at the polling (73-9!) to realize she’d have a million better things to do with her time and her donors’ money. SHE. AIN’T. RUNNING.

So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if some Democrats are willing to try to sabotage the party’s chances of continuing to control the White House and very likely Congress as well. It could end up being similar to what the Republicans did to Mitt Romney in 2012. But this time, there won’t be real competition on the Republican side. Who are they going to run? Mitt Romney again? Paul Ryan? My guess is Jeb Bush would be afraid to run against Hillary.

NSA at night

There’s a new article up at Glenn Greenwald’s new site, The Intercept: Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, because I want to get this post up soon. I’ll read it carefully once I’ve done that. But here’s the introduction:

Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.

The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.

One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.

Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.

A third document, from July 2011, contains a summary of an internal discussion in which officials from two NSA offices – including the agency’s general counsel and an arm of its Threat Operations Center – considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting.” Such a designation would have allowed the group to be targeted with extensive electronic surveillance – without the need to exclude U.S. persons from the surveillance searches.

My immediate reaction is that if NSA were not monitoring Wikileaks, they would not be doing their job. As for the claims that individual visitors to the website were actually targeted, I’ll have to reserve judgment until I read the whole piece and it has been fact-checked by people who understand the technology involved better than the authors. I’ve learned from months of experience that Glenn Greenwald’s articles tend to be filled with errors as well as over-the-top melodrama.

In other NSA news, James Clapper admitted in an interview with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast that “We Should’ve Told You We Track Your Calls.”

Ya think? Here’s an excerpt:

Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”

Since the first Snowden revelations in June, Clapper has declassified reams of material relating to the 215 program, including opinions and warrants signed by the top secret court that approves domestic snooping. But he has not publicly acknowledged until now his thoughts that the initial secrecy surrounding the program was ill-considered.

No shit Sherlock! Americans most likely would have supported the program if the Bush administration had been up front about it. Of course, then Congress would have regulated it more–as is happening under Obama–and that wouldn’t have pleased President Cheney. Even now, if Obama and NSA officials would come out and explain exactly what the program is, the fear-mongering by Greenwald and the gang would be far less effective.

Basically, the “metadata” that is collected is just the same information that we used to get on our phone bills: time call was initiated, how long it lasted, and the number that was called. The phone company kept all this “metadata” on file, and law enforcement could access the phone records of a suspect by getting a warrant from a judge–which is the same thing the NSA does. I have way fewer problems with this kind of data collection than what corporations are doing on a daily basis with my internet browsing and purchases.

I’ll end with a couple of fun items.

First, I hope you’ll check out these awesome photos of Russians with their cats at Buzzfeed.

Kerouac map

Second, from The Guardian: Kerouac’s On the Road followed on the road via Google Maps:

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream,” wrote Jack Kerouac, famously, in On the Road. “Head northwest on W 47th St toward 7th Ave. Take the 1st left onto 7th Ave. Turn right onto W 39th St,” writes Gregor Weichbrodt, less poetically but more accurately, in On the Road for 17527 Miles, a new book tracing the Beat writer’s famous journey across America – with the aid of Google Maps.

Going through On the Road with a fine-toothed comb, Weichbrodt took the “exact and approximate” spots to which the author – via his alter ego Sal Paradise – travelled, and entered them into Google’s Direction Service. “The result is a huge direction instruction of 55 pages,” says the German student. “All in all, as Google shows, the journey takes 272.26 hours (for 17,527 miles).”

Weichbrodt’s chapters match those of Kerouac’s original. He has now self-published the book, which is also part of the current exhibition Poetry Will Be Made By All! in Zurich, and has, he says, sold six copies so far.

You can read the book at at Open Culture. The site has also published a photo of Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Map of the Hitchhiking Trip Narrated in On the Road. Very cool.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Tuesday!


Thursday Reads: That Sense of Surreality…

DaliBookTree2

Good Morning!!

I’m having another one of those mornings. Once again, I woke up with that feeling of surreality–the world can’t be as strange as it seems, can it?

Lots of allegedly intelligent, liberal Americans have been freaking out for months about revelations leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA spies on foreign countries in order to protect U.S. national security. Snowden and his public relations handler Glenn Greenwald are heroes to these people despite the fact that Greenwald apparently sold Snowden’s remaining secrets to the highest bidder–a libertarian, pro-corporate billionaire named Pierre Omidyar. More on this story later.

None of us likes the idea of being spied upon, but at least the President of the U.S. must be getting the best security money can buy, right?

I’m afraid not. It’s still possible for a person suffering from schizophrenia to get onto a stage filled with world leaders and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama and wave his arms around in some kind of meaningless pantomime. From this morning’s Boston Globe: Interpreter for Mandela event: I was hallucinating.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The man accused of faking sign interpretation next to world leaders at Nelson Mandela’s memorial told a local newspaper that he was hallucinating and hearing voices.

Thamsanqa Jantjie did not describe his qualifications for being a sign language interpreter, but told The Star he works for an interpreting company that paid him $85 for interpreting Tuesday’s event. He told Radio 702 Thursday he’s receiving treatment for schizophrenia and had an episode while on stage.

Watch video of the performance at the link.

ABC News has more detail via AP:

The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service said Thursday he hallucinated that angels were entering the stadium, suffers from schizophrenia and has been violent in the past.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were “armed policemen around me.” He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year.

Jatjie knew he had to do his best to act normal, so he waved his arms around and pretended to be interpreting the speeches of numerous world leaders, including Obama.

“What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium … I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it comes. Sometimes I react violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me,” Jantjie said.

“I was in a very difficult position,” he added. “And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I’ll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.”

Asked how often he had become violent, he said “a lot” while declining to provide details.

So exactly who hired Jantjie? It’s a mystery. BBC News reports: Owners of Mandela ‘fake’ interpreter firm ‘vanish’ The BBC is also using a different spelling for the schizophrenic interpreter’s name.

Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu apologised to the deaf community for the poor quality of interpretation given by Thamsanqa Dyantyi from SA Interpreters.

“He is Xhosa speaking. The English was a bit too much for him,” she said.

What is this man’s real name? I don’t know, but–get this–Bogopane-Zulu “did not rule out hiring him again”!

During a press conference, Ms Bogopane-Zulu, the deputy minister for women, children and people with disabilities, admitted that a mistake had been made but said there was no reason for the country to be embarrassed.

“There are as many as a hundred sign language dialects,” she said, to explain the difficulties he faced.

“He started well and later he became tired. Guidelines say we must switch interpreters every 20 minutes.”

She did not rule out employing him in some circumstances again.

Except the company she hired him through has “vanished into thin air.” And why didn’t they switch to other interpreters? The article doesn’t say, but it does say the man has interpreted at important events in the past.

And then there’s the Republican outrage over Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro at Mandela’s funeral. WTF? From TimeHere’s 14 People Freaking Out On Twitter After Barack Obama and Raul Castro Shook Hands. What was Obama supposed to do–slap Castro across the face with a glove and challenge him to a duel? (Actually some of the tweeters were being sarcastic and Time apparently missed the point.) I think cartoonist Bill Day had the best response.

Seeing Red

Seeing Red

And then there was the media freakout over Obama taking a “selfie” during Mandela’s funeral. Reliable Sources at the WaPo has the lowdown. 

Was Michelle Obama annoyed when her husband took that selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service? Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse photographer who snapped the photo of the president, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, says no.

“I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture,” Schmidt wrote on AFP’s blog. “But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.”

The photo, which immediately became an Internet sensation, is only one piece of the day’s story; the leaders had a variety of expressions during the service and were acting “like human beings, like me and you,” he wrote. “I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium.”

But none of that matters, because the corporate media has decided that whatever Obama does must be harshly criticized. CNN even brought on Donald Trump to opine about Obama’s perceived gaffes, unemployment, and Obamacare. If that isn’t surreal, what is?

Here’s more strangeness: Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “disgust” at the government of Ukraine for cracking down on protesters. Here’s the official statement:

The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.

Last week in Brussels and Moldova, I underscored publicly the importance of all sides avoiding violence and called on President Yanukovych to fulfill the aspirations of the Ukranian people. We put the government on notice about our concern.

As Vice President Biden made clear to President Yanukovych during their phone call yesterday, respect for democratic principles, including freedom of assembly, is fundamental to the United States’ approach to Ukraine. This is a universal value not just an American one. For weeks, we have called on President Yanukovych and his government to listen to the voices of his people who want peace, justice and a European future. Instead, Ukraine’s leaders appear tonight to have made a very different choice.

We call for utmost restraint. Human life must be protected. Ukrainian authorities bear full responsibility for the security of the Ukrainian people.

As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of Kyiv, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better.

Has Kerry forgotten how peaceful “Occupy” protesters were treated in the streets of multiple U.S. cities just a couple of years ago? Some reports on the crackdowns (from foreign sources):

The Guardian: Police crack down on ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. 

AlJazeera: Fierce crackdown on ‘Occupy Oakland’ protest

Getting back to the Greenwald-Snowden-Omidyar story, the attacks on Greenwald have moved from the usual critics to previous members of the Greenwald-Snowden cheering section. First Sarah Harrison–who accompanied Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia and then stayed with him for months gave an interview on the subject to a German newspaper. The Guardian reports, WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison: ‘How can you take Pierre Omidyar seriously?’

The WikiLeaks staffer and Snowden collaborator Sarah Harrison has criticised Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder who is setting up a new journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, for his involvement in the 2010 financial blockade against WikiLeaks.

In her first interview since leaving Moscow for Berlin last month, Harrison told German news weekly Stern: “How can you take something seriously when the person behind this platform went along with the financial boycott against WikiLeaks?”

Harrison was referring to the decision in December 2010 by PayPal, which is owned by eBay, to suspend WikiLeaks’ donation account and freeze its assets after pressure from the US government. The company’s boycott, combined with similar action taken by Visa and Mastercard, left WikiLeaks facing a funding crisis.

As for Greenwald’s decision to sell out to Omidyar,

Referring to Omidyar’s plans to set up a new media organisation, in which the former Guardian writer Greenwald – who wrote a number of stories from the Snowden revelations – will play a central part, Harrison said: “If you set up a new media organisation which claims to do everything for press freedom, but you are part of a blockade against another media organisation, then that’s hard for us to take it seriously. But I hope that they stick to their promises”.

Next, Greenwald was hit with an even harsher attack on his journalistic ethics by former FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds: Checkbook Journalism & Leaking to the Highest Bidders. It’s a pretty powerful critique.

A government whistleblower obtains over 50,000 pages of documents that implicate the government in severely illegal and unconstitutional practices. This whistleblower risks everything, including fleeing the country, in order to leak these documents and let the public know how its government has been breaking the nation’s laws and violating their rights. So he goes to another country and then entrusts all this evidence to a few reporters and wanna-be journalists. Why does he do that? He does it so that these reporters will present all this information to the public: not only those in the United States, but everyone all over the world. Think about it. Why else would someone risk everything, including his own life, to obtain and leak such documents? Are you thinking? Because what would be the point to all this, to taking all these risks, if 99% of these documents remain secret and hidden from the public? Ludicrous, right?

Now, here is what happens next: The whistleblower hands over these documents, and goes through a surreal escape journey. So surreal that even Hollywood could not have matched it. Of the handful of reporters who were entrusted with 50,000 documents, a few do nothing. By that I mean absolutely nothing. A couple from this entrusted group does a little bit more. They meet with a few mainstream media outlets, they spend many hours around the table with their mega companies’ mega attorneys and U.S. government mega representatives (the same government that is implicated in these documents).

Edmonds notes that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has admitted that only 1% of the Snowden material has been published.

The main wanna-be reporter begins his relentless pursuit of high dollars in return for … for what? In return for exclusive interviews where he would discuss some of this material. In return for a very lucrative book deal where he would expose a few extra pages of these 50,000-page documents. In return for a partnership with and extremely high salary from a Mega Corporation (think 1%) where he would … hmmmm, well, it is not very clear: maybe in return for sitting on and never releasing some of these documents, or, releasing a few select pages?

That’s right. The culprit is able to use his role in the whistleblower case, and his de facto ownership of the whistleblower’s 50,000-page evidence, to gain huge sums of money, fame, a mega corporate position, book and movie deals … yet, making sure that the public would never see more than a few percent of the incriminating evidence.

There’s much more scathing commentary at the link to Edmonds’ blog. Of course, Greenwald used his twitter timeline to call Edmonds “stupid,” and at the same time failed to respond to any of her criticisms. Of course Glenn had already had a bad day after Time chose the Pope as “Person of the Year” instead of Snowden. 

So those are some of the stories that gave me that feeling of surreality this morning. What are you hearing and reading today? Please post your links in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday!