Thursday, July 24, 2014

MH17: Ukraine separatist commander 'admits' rebels had Buk missile system

Alexander Khodakovsky reportedly told news agency rebels may have received Buk from Russia, then changes story

Shaun Walker in Donetsk
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 18.28 EDT

A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.

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

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

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

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

(More here.)

On climate change American heads still firmly stuck in the sand

U.S. leads in number of people unconcerned about climate change and environmental disaster

BY ANGELA FRITZ
July 23 at 2:07 pm

The U.S. leads the world in number of people who aren’t convinced climate change and other environmental concerns are disasters in the making, according to a new poll released this week. This comes after the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that climate change is happening now, and that the primary driver is “unequivocally” human emissions.

The poll, conducted by U.K. research organization Ipsos MORI, was conducted in 20 countries across the globe, and gathered feedback from over 16,000 people. The poll asked eight climate change and environment-related questions.

When asked the question, “To what extent do you agree or disagree? We are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly,” only 57.3% of the respondents in the U.S. said that they agree. Of the countries surveyed, the U.S. came in last in the number of respondents who agreed with that statement.

(Continued here.)

Paul Ryan and His Poverty Prophet

VV note: "There are the deserving poor and the undeserving poor" (see below) just like there are the deserving rich and the undeserving rich

Charles M. Blow, NYT
JULY 23, 2014

After being chastised early this year for proclaiming that there was a “tailspin of culture,” particularly among inner city men, of “not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work,” Paul Ryan is going to take another swipe at an anti-poverty proposal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Ryan will unveil a six-pronged anti-poverty plan — “including ways to address incarceration and education and to encourage employment” — Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute.

Bob Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and a Ryan mentor, told The Journal, “He’s coming up with a new construct, and I’ve encouraged him.” Woodson continued:

“We cannot and should not generalize about poor people. There are the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. It used to be that way, and it became politically incorrect. We are returning to some of the old values that served people very effectively until the welfare reforms of the 1960s.”

(More here.)

An Idiot’s Guide to Inequality

Nickolas Kristof, NYT
JULY 23, 2014

We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”

Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.

The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.

So let me satisfy this demand with my own “Idiot’s Guide to Inequality.” Here are five points:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

(More here.)

How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth

By Jason Samenow, WashPost

On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.

“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA.

Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Baker tells NASA. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

(More here.)

A conservative judiciary run amok

E.J. Dionne, WashPost

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens captured our ideal when he wrote of the judge as “an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

By effectively gutting the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, two members of a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals showed how far right-leaning jurists have strayed from such impartiality. We are confronted with a conservative judiciary that will use any argument it can muster to win ideological victories that elude their side in the elected branches of our government.

Fortunately, the D.C. Circuit ruling is unlikely to stand. On the same day the D.C. panel issued its opinion, a three-judge panel from the 4th Circuit ruled unanimously the other way, upholding the law.

There is a good chance that the 11-judge D.C. Circuit will take the decision away from its panel — something it is usually reluctant to do — and rule as a full court to affirm the ACA as commonly understood. It is virtually certain that a majority of the court’s members disagrees with the panel’s convoluted reading of the law and wants to avoid creating a needless conflict in jurisprudence with the 4th Circuit.

(More here.)

Swindlers Target Kin of Migrants

By FRANCES ROBLES, NYT
JULY 23, 2014

MIAMI — The federal government is investigating how detailed information about migrant children being held at two American military bases wound up in the hands of con artists who are using it to lure unsuspecting relatives into paying hefty sums to reunite their families, preying on people who have been separated for years, according to the F.B.I.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America have crossed the southwest border in the last year, creating a political firestorm for the Obama administration. Amid the surge, it has sent several thousand of them to emergency detention shelters on military bases until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors in the United States while their cases are decided in court.

Now, the F.B.I. says, swindlers have gotten hold of precise details about the children to reach out to their relatives across the country, claiming that payments are required to cover the processing costs and travel expenses of reuniting families. Cases of the fraud have been reported in 12 states so far, from New York to California, with the con artists seeking $350 to $6,000 in so-called fees, the F.B.I. says.

“There are enough cases that it’s not an isolated incident. It is a problem,” said Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in San Antonio.

(More here.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tragedy Fails to Quiet Ukraine

Two Fighter Jets Shot Down Over Separatist Territory as Kiev Presses Offensive

By Anton Troianovski in Kiev, Ukraine, Lukas I. Alpert in Moscow and Carol E. Lee in Washington, WSJ

Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down Wednesday over separatist-held territory not far from the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash as international outrage over the tragedy has done little to slow the fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.

While Kiev made significant advances against rebels in the country's east in recent days, Ukrainian and U.S. officials say Russian weapons are continuing to pour over the border. The escalation in fighting suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of dialing back his support for the separatists, denting Western hopes that international attention from the airliner crash would force him to change course.

"The fact that you have two additional planes shot down speaks to the pattern we've seen over the last several weeks—which is Russian-backed separatists, armed with Russian anti-aircraft [weapons], posing risks to aircraft in Ukraine," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy White House national security adviser.

Kiev has pressed on with its offensive against the rebels despite calls to halt the fighting in the aftermath of the crash. The government said Wednesday that Kremlin-backed separatists in the east were attacking Ukrainian troops with Russian-supplied truck-mounted missile launchers, mining buildings, and blowing up bridges and burning down wheat fields upon their retreat. Kiev said it retook two cities even as a days-long fight continued for Lysychansk, the base of a leading insurgent commander.

(More here.)

Flight 17: Ukraine’s War and Europe’s Passivity

The Suns of August

Roger Cohen, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

LONDON — A century on from World War I, nobody wants the guns of August.

Yet it must be asked if waiting years for the evasive conclusions of an official investigation into the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is better than acting now on what we already know: That the Boeing 777 with 298 people on board was shot down by a missile from a Russian-made SA-11 antiaircraft system fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Russian mercenaries and Russian agents. A half-drunk Ukrainian peasant with a 1950s-era rifle doesn’t shoot down a plane at 33,000 feet.

An “enormous amount of evidence,” in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, points to Russian provision of SA-11 systems and training. The Ukrainian government has damning audio and images that capture the crime. In June, a Ukrainian cargo plane landing in the area was hit with shoulder-fired missiles, killing 49 people. This month, another cargo plane flying at 22,000 feet was hit by a missile. Rocket science is not required.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been playing with fire. His irredentism has made him a hero in Russia. It has endangered the world. Crimea was the swaggering precedent to this crime. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 amounts to an act of war. It was impromptu perhaps, but still. Dutch corpses have rained down on the sunflowers and cornfields of eastern Ukraine, to be defiled even in death, 193 innocent Dutch souls dishonored by the thugs of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

(More here.)

Russians have many theories about the MH17 crash…

… One involves fake dead people

By Karoun Demirjian July 22, WashPost

MOSCOW — As consensus builds in the U.S. government that pro-Russian rebels are responsible for shooting down a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine, Russians are embracing a smorgasbord of alternate explanations.

Like: Maybe it was actually part of an assassination plot. Maybe those bodies were planted.

Khadija Gamzatova, 50, heard on the news that Vladimir Putin’s plane crossed flight paths with the Malaysian jet at one point — and thus believes that Ukrainian government troops shot down the jet, thinking it was the Russian president’s plane.

“They were flying close to one another,” said Gamzatova, sitting on a park bench in central Moscow and gesturing to show just how close she believed the planes had been. Ukrainian forces “wanted to shoot down our plane, but this is what they got.”

(More here.)

What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America

Binyamin Applebaum, NYT
JULY 22, 2014

Last month, as you’ve probably heard, a closely divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. The so-called Hobby Lobby decision, named for the chain of craft stores that brought the case, has been both praised and condemned for expanding religious rights and constraining Obamacare. But beneath the political implications, the ruling has significant economic undertones. It expands the right of corporations to be treated like people, part of a trend that may be contributing to the rise of economic inequality.

The notion that corporations are people is ridiculous on its face, but often true. Although Mitt Romney was mocked for saying it on the campaign trail a few summers ago, the U.S. Code, our national rule book, defines corporations as people in its very first sentence. And since the 19th century, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are entitled to a wide range of constitutional protections. This was a business decision, and it was a good one. Incorporation encourages risk-taking: Investors are far more likely to put money into a business that can outlast its creators; managers, for their part, are more likely to take risks themselves because they owe nothing to the investors if they fail.

(More here.)

Putin’s Crime, Europe’s Cowardice

By BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY, NYT, JULY 22, 2014

TANGIER, Morocco — IN eastern Ukraine, Vladimir V. Putin has been playing with fire.

He has mobilized the worst elements to be found in the region.

He has taken thugs, thieves, rapists, ex-cons and vandals and turned them into a paramilitary force.

He has permitted ad hoc commanders of separatist groups to kill or chase off intellectuals, journalists and other moral authorities in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

He has watched as a vodka-soaked rabble army destroys or takes over public buildings, hospitals, schools and municipal offices of the country it is pretending to liberate.

(More here.)

Debt Disaster Dead-Enders

Paul Krugman, NYT
July 22, 2014 4:33 pm

I got some correspondence from people telling me to read Rob Portman’s op-ed in the WSJ, intended to refute the growing evidence that the budget deficit has been grossly overrated as an issue. And it is an interesting piece — it’s a very good illustration both of the desperate desire to see a debt crisis, and what happens when someone (Portman, or more likely the staffer who wrote it) tries to be a Very Serious Person without actually understanding the numbers or having followed any of the analysis.

One thing you need to know is that none of Portman’s numbers refer to the CBO‘s baseline scenario; instead they refer to a much more pessimistic alternate scenario. That’s something he should have shared with readers.

And what you should know about that alternate scenario is that well over half of the projected spending rise he complains about has nothing to do with entitlements; it’s about rising interest payments, because the alternate scenario both assumes that spending will be higher and revenue lower than in the baseline, and that nothing will be done to remedy this situation, so that debt grows without limit. Oh, and those interest payments greatly overstate the real burden of debt in a growing economy with inflation.

(More here.)

U.S. Officials Lay Out Case Against Russians

Washington Seeks to Counter Russian Claims About MH17 Crash

By Siobhan Gorman in Washington and Paul Sonne in Snizhne, Ukraine, WSJ
Updated July 22, 2014 10:58 p.m. ET

U.S. intelligence officials presented reporters with their most detailed case yet Tuesday that Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU jetliner last week, in a bid to counter what American officials see as Russian efforts to muddy the waters with claims of Ukrainian culpability.

The officials relied on photographs, social media, and voiceprint analysis of Ukrainian communications intercepts to make their public case that a likely SA-11 antiaircraft weapon fired from separatist-controlled territory shot down the commercial airliner, killing 298 people on board.

The evidence cited, however, didn't raise the case for Russian involvement in the shoot-down to a new level of certainty. Officials said they are still working to refine evidence and may offer more in coming days.

Other U.S. officials, including some at the Pentagon, have said more assertively in recent days that Russia likely provided the missile system used by separatists to shoot down Flight 17. The more restrained presentation by intelligence officials Tuesday reflected the cautious nature of intelligence analysis.

(More here.)

Crises Cascade and Converge, Testing Obama

A mosque in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. As President Obama tries to corral Europeans on Russia, he must manage discontent over Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

By PETER BAKER, NYT
JULY 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — Not long after a passenger jet exploded in midair and plummeted to the ground in Ukraine last week, escalating a volatile crisis pitting the United States and Europe against Russia, President Obama’s thoughts turned to Syria.

The Malaysia Airlines flight seemed to have been shot down by a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft system provided to insurgents who mistook the airliner for a military transport. In a conversation with aides, the president said this was why he refused to send antiaircraft weapons to Syrian rebels. Once they are out of a government’s control, he said, the risk only grows.

Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once — in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but making the current upheaval more complicated for Mr. Obama is the seemingly interlocking nature of them all. Developments in one area, like Ukraine, shape his views and choices in a crisis in another area, like the Middle East.

The crosscurrents can be dizzying. Even as Mr. Obama presses Russia to stop fomenting a virtual civil war in Ukraine, he is trying to collaborate with Moscow in a diplomatic campaign to force Iran to scale back its nuclear program. Even as he pressures Iran over its nuclear program, he finds himself on the same side as Tehran in combating a rising Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Even as he sends special forces to help squelch those insurgents, he is trying to help their putative allies against the government in Syria next door.

(More here.)

Hamas Gambled on War as Its Woes Grew in Gaza

By ANNE BARNARD, NYT, JULY 22, 2014

GAZA CITY — When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose.

Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants.

“There were low expectations in terms of its performance against the recent round of Israeli incursions. It’s been exceeding all expectations,” said Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who is currently in Washington. “And it’s likely to come out in a far better position than in the last three years, and maybe the last decade.”

Hamas had been struggling. The turmoil in the region meant it lost one of its main sponsors, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom it broke with over his brutal fight against a Sunni Muslim-led insurgency, and weakened its alliance with Iran. It lost support in Egypt when the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted and replaced with a military-backed government hostile to Hamas.

(More here.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Russia Today Faces UK Investigation Over MH17 News Coverage

Several viewers have complained to Ofcom about the Kremlin-backed TV channel breaking strict British rules on impartiality in news

Jim Waterson, BuzzFeed Staff, July 22, 2014, at 12:32 p.m.

Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed news channel, has attacked the “impartiality and factuality of the mainstream media” after learning it could itself be investigated for breaking broadcasting regulations on accuracy and impartiality during its coverage of the MH17 air crash.

Ofcom, which ensures TV channels with a UK broadcasting licence provide broadly impartial news coverage, said it was considering whether to investigate Russia Today following complaints from viewers about the tone of its coverage of the Malaysia Airlines disaster.

Last week presenter Sara Firth resigned from the channel, accusing it of covering the story with “total disregard to the facts”.

But the channel has hit back against its detractors and the potential Ofcom investigation, telling BuzzFeed it is one of the few news outlets that is willing to stand up to the “party line” on what actually happened to the flight when it crashed in eastern Ukraine.

(More here.)

Ooops! Pretty clear now that Russia made a boo-boo

U.S. discloses intelligence on downing of Malaysian jet

By Greg Miller July 22 at 7:24 PM, WashPost

The Obama administration, detailing what it called evidence of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner, on Tuesday released satellite images and other sensitive intelligence that officials say show Moscow had trained and equipped rebels in Ukraine responsible for the attack.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials cited sensors that traced the path of the missile, shrapnel markings on the downed aircraft, voiceprint analysis of separatists claiming credit for the strike, and a flood of photos and other data from social-media sites.

The officials also for the first time identified a sprawling Russian military installation near the city of Rostov as the main conduit of Russian support to separatists in Ukraine, describing it as a hub of training and weapons that has expanded dramatically over the past month. The officials said that tanks, rocket launchers and other arms have continued to flow into Ukraine even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 298 civilians.

(More here.)

Charles Schumer: Adopt the Open Primary

End Partisan Primaries, Save America

By CHARLES E. SCHUMER, NYT, JULY 21, 2014

WASHINGTON — POLARIZATION and partisanship are a plague on American politics.

Political scientists have found that the two parties have each grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1970s. The Senate hasn’t been so polarized since Reconstruction; the House has not been so divided since around 1900. As measured by laws passed, the current Congress is on track to be among the least productive in our republic’s history.

How did this happen? One of the main causes has not gotten enough attention: the party primary system.

The reasons behind the shocking primary defeat last month of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who was then leader of the Republican majority in the House, are still being debated, but there is no doubt that his defeat highlighted the pernicious effects of the predominant “winner-take-all” party primary system. Even in one of the country’s most Republican districts, Mr. Cantor was not conservative enough for the fairly small proportion of highly energized, ideologically driven voters who turned out for the primary. The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization. It has become a menace to governing.

(More here.)

Putinism Thrives on Dirty Money

Western leaders ignored Putin's bad behavior as long as Russian money flowed in. Flight 17 changes all that.

By Oliver Bullough, WSJ
Updated July 21, 2014 7:52 p.m. ET

This year's most important Russian financial indicator will be how much money flees abroad. Central-bank data released on July 9 put capital flight so far this year at $75 billion, almost 4% of gross domestic product, and rising by the day. And that was before last Thursday's murderous downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

Westerners marvel at Vladimir Putin's high domestic approval ratings, above 80% in Gallup's most recent poll, which comes after this year's invasion of neighboring Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. But those with the wherewithal to let their money do the talking say different. More money has fled Russia in the first half of 2014 than in the whole of 2013. If Mr. Putin were really doing a good job, capital flight would not be an issue.

Popularity and capital flight are rarely considered together, but they hold the key to Putinism: He gives ordinary Russians stability and television (heavy with propaganda), while their rulers get the right to strong-arm their way to riches and keep the money safely abroad. For the Romans, it was bread and circuses; for Mr. Putin, it is bread, circuses and offshore bank accounts.

Mr. Putin is often credited with rebuilding Russia, but that has been as much aided by $100-a-barrel oil as by anything he has done. Hundreds of billions of dollars have poured out of Russia since he took power in 2000, while corruption has spread to encompass every element of the economy.

(More here.)

Russia’s Message on Jet: Conciliation and Bluster

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

MOSCOW — Russia presented a combination of conciliation and bluster on Monday over its handling of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet, with President Vladimir V. Putin seemingly probing for a way out of the crisis without appearing to compromise with the West.

On one hand, he offered conciliatory words in a video statement, oddly released in the middle of the night, while the separatists allied with Moscow in southeastern Ukraine released the bodies of the victims and turned over the black box flight recorders from the doomed aircraft to Malaysian officials.

However, two senior military officers forcefully demanded that the United States show publicly any proof that rebels fired the fatal missile, and again suggested that the Ukrainian military shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet despite the fact that Ukraine has not used antiaircraft weapons in the fight along its eastern border.

Mr. Putin seemed to respond to the outraged international demands growing daily that he intervene personally to rein in the rebels — particularly to halt the degrading chaos surrounding the recovery of the remains. But at the same time, Moscow did not concede that it was at fault.

(More here.)

Flight 17: Ukraine’s War and Europe’s Passivity

The Suns of August

Roger Cohen, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

LONDON — A century on from World War I, nobody wants the guns of August.

Yet it must be asked if waiting years for the evasive conclusions of an official investigation into the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is better than acting now on what we already know: That the Boeing 777 with 298 people on board was shot down by a missile from a Russian-made SA-11 antiaircraft system fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Russian mercenaries and Russian agents. A half-drunk Ukrainian peasant with a 1950s-era rifle doesn’t shoot down a plane at 33,000 feet.

An “enormous amount of evidence,” in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, points to Russian provision of SA-11 systems and training. The Ukrainian government has damning audio and images that capture the crime. In June, a Ukrainian cargo plane landing in the area was hit with shoulder-fired missiles, killing 49 people. This month, another cargo plane flying at 22,000 feet was hit by a missile. Rocket science is not required.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been playing with fire. His irredentism has made him a hero in Russia. It has endangered the world. Crimea was the swaggering precedent to this crime. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 amounts to an act of war. It was impromptu perhaps, but still. Dutch corpses have rained down on the sunflowers and cornfields of eastern Ukraine, to be defiled even in death, 193 innocent Dutch souls dishonored by the thugs of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

(More here.)

Did Dodd-Frank Work?

Joe Nocera, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

Ralph Nader has written a new book, entitled “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” If you spend any time looking into the current state of affairs with the Dodd-Frank Act — Monday was the fourth anniversary of the law enacted to ensure that the country never suffers through another financial crisis like the one in 2008 — you’d have to say that he has a point.

There are many aspects of the law on which Democrats and Republicans disagree. But there is one area in which the two sides are largely in agreement: “Too Big to Fail” is still with us.

“In no way, shape or form does the Dodd-Frank Act end too big to fail,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

“The chances of another financial crisis will remain unacceptably high as long as there are financial institutions that are ‘too big to fail,’ ” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, in an opinion article she co-wrote with, among others, Republican Senator John McCain.

(More here.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

The West needs a strategy to contain the world’s newest rogue state — Russia

By Editorial Board July 21 at 6:41 PM, WashPost

THE DESTRUCTION of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine may not have been intended by Russia or the militants it has supported and armed. But their behavior since the downing of the plane has been a lesson in barbarity and morally contemptible statecraft. While its proxies, commanded by some of its own citizens, did their best to cover up the atrocity, the government of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin has denied the obvious, employing a blatantly mendacious propaganda campaign.

The tactics prompted angry statements Monday from President Obama and European leaders. But more Western rhetoric is not what is needed now.

Late Monday, rebels who control the region where the plane was downed finally appeared to be taking steps toward cooperating with the Malaysian government and other international authorities. Nothing, however, can compensate for the militants’ behavior in the four days after a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft battery on their territory shot down the airliner. According to numerous reports, they prohibited international investigators from reaching the site, haphazardly loaded bodies onto train cars and looted the personal effects of victims.

In Moscow, Mr. Putin disappeared from view after making a statement assigning responsibility for the downing to the Ukrainian government on the absurd grounds that Kiev had dared to fight back against the infiltrators dispatched and armed by his own regime. Moscow’s propaganda apparatus then swung into action, producing a blizzard of fake evidence and bizarre conspiracy theories to deflect responsibility. At a Defense Ministry briefing Monday, journalists were presented with concocted data purporting to show that the Malaysian flight could have been shot down by a Ukrainian warplane — a lie that is the more bold because of the ease with which it can be disproved.

(More here.)

Obama Denounces Russia and Separatists for Obstructing Crash Site

By PETER BAKER, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday sternly denounced Russia and the separatists it supports in Ukraine for blocking access to the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down last week, declaring that “time is of the essence” to recover bodies and evidence.

Four days after the passenger jet was shot down by what American officials have called a Russian-made and supplied antiaircraft missile, Mr. Obama tried to raise the pressure on the Kremlin as the bodies of nearly 300 passengers and crew remain in limbo amid conflict over the crash scene.

Mr. Obama, speaking at the White House, said pro-Russian separatists have blocked investigators from the scene, fired their guns in the air, removed physical evidence and delayed or impeded the collection of the bodies. “All of which begs the question: what exactly are they trying to hide?” he asked.

He added that in some cases bodies have been removed from the scene by separatists without due respect. “It’s the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations,” Mr. Obama said.

(More here.)

Goodbye to the Republican Wave?

Nate Cohn, NYT
JULY 21, 2014

Republicans entered this election cycle with high hopes. President Obama’s approval ratings had sunk into the low 40s, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act had been an unmitigated disaster. In an off-year election, Democrats weren’t expected to fully mobilize the young and diverse coalition that has given them an advantage in presidential elections. Off-years are also when a president’s party typically suffers significant losses.

This year seemed poised to turn into another so-called wave election, like in 2006 or 2010, when a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the incumbent party swept the opposition into power. Given a favorable midterm map, with so many Democratic Senate seats in play, some analysts suggested that Republicans could win a dozen of them, perhaps even picking up seats in states like Virginia, New Hampshire and Oregon.

The anti-Democratic wave might still arrive. But with three and a half months to go until November’s elections, the promised Republican momentum has yet to materialize.

The race for the Senate, at least right now, is stable. There aren’t many polls asking whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans to control Congress, but the Democrats appear to maintain a slight edge among registered voters. Democratic incumbents in red Republican states, who would be all but doomed in a Republican wave, appear doggedly competitive in places where Mitt Romney won by as much as 24 points in 2012.

(More here.)

How Web archivists and other digital sleuths are unraveling the mystery of MH17

By Caitlin Dewey, WashPost, July 21 at 12:22 PM

In the agonizing quest to pin down exactly what happened when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down over Ukraine last week, Web archivists and other digital sleuths are playing an unusual — potentially pivotal — role.

Wayback Machine, the nonprofit Web crawler that archives old versions of Web pages, captured evidence last Friday that a pro-Russian group was behind the attacks. Meanwhile, @RuGovEdits — a Twitter bot that monitors Wikipedia edits made from Russian government computers — logged evidence that reflects Russia’s interest in deflecting the MH17 narrative elsewhere.

Both bits of evidence could prove important to understanding the crash and its political aftermath, particularly as investigators question the integrity of the crash site. But they’re also compelling examples of the Web’s ability to promote transparency and hold powerful people accountable for their words — even, or especially, when they delete them.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Igor Girkin, a pro-Russian separatist leader whose hyperactive profile on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook clone, is regularly saved by the Wayback Machine. The administrators of Girkin’s page regularly post updates on the Ukrainian conflict from news sources, news conferences and Girkin himself. In fact, if you check the page now, you’ll see no fewer than a dozen updates on the crash, all blaming it squarely on the Ukrainian air force.

(More here.)

U.S. Sees Evidence of Russian Links to Jet’s Downing

By PETER BAKER, MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK MAZZETTI, NYT
JULY 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — The United States government has concluded that the passenger jet felled over Ukraine was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory and most likely provided by Russia to pro-Moscow separatists, officials said on Friday.

While American officials are still investigating the chain of events leading to the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, they pointed to a series of indicators of Russian involvement. Among other things, military and intelligence officials said there was mounting evidence that a Ukrainian military plane shot down three days earlier had been fired upon from inside Russian territory by the same sort of missile battery used to bring down the civilian jet.

The intelligence persuaded President Obama to publicly lay responsibility at least indirectly at the door of the Kremlin. Speaking at the White House, he tried to channel international indignation toward Russia for what he called an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” Mr. Obama said the episode should be “a wake-up call for Europe” and “should snap everybody’s heads to attention” about what is going on in Ukraine, where a pro-Russia insurgency has become an international crisis.

(More here.)

Germany Tops List in Energy Efficiency, U.S. Near the Bottom

Overall dismal report shows the U.S. outperformed only three of the world's largest economies on energy efficiency — Russia, Brazil and Mexico

By Elizabeth Douglass, InsideClimate News
Jul 18, 2014

Germany leads the world in harnessing the benefits of energy efficiency, followed by Italy, the European Union, China and France, according to a new ranking of the world's 16 largest economies. The United States was near the bottom, placing 13th.

America's poor showing is sobering for a nation accustomed to being a world leader, and it could have economic consequences. "How can the United States compete in a global economy if it continues to waste money and energy that other countries save and can reinvest?" said Rachel Young, the principal author of the energy efficiency report card.

Even more sobering is the news that many of the countries are stalled or regressing on energy efficiency, and all them could save significantly more energy by embracing the full range of proven technologies and policies, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which produced the International Energy Efficiency Scorecard released on Thursday.

(Continued here.)

The Austrians special language

Yes, We Have No Banana

Paul Krugman, NYT
July 21, 2014 7:54 am

Noah Smith has a funny piece on the hermetic system that is Austrian economics, with its multilayered defenses against any kind of criticism. What gets me in particular, because I’ve noticed it a lot lately, is this:
3. “Inflation” doesn’t mean “a rise in the general level of consumer prices,” it means “an increase in the monetary base”, so QE is inflation by definition.
So when Austrians were predicting runaway inflation, they didn’t actually mean consumer prices?

OK, you know that if the CPI had soared, they would have claimed vindication. But the main point is that nobody else cares about the monetary base, or at any rate they care about it only to the extent that it was presumed to say something about future rises in the CPI. Insisting that the term “inflation” means something else in your private language is just pathetic.

But maybe it would have helped, five or six years ago, to have pinned Austrian down on what they thought would happen to something else; following Alfred Kahn, they could have called a general rise in the CPI a banana. Were they predicting a banana? Of course they were. And they were wrong.

(The article is here.)

Russian media is covering up Putin's complicity in the MH17 tragedy

A pro-Russian fighter holds up a toy found among the debris at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
In Russia, errors like shooting down a Malaysia Airlines jet could not have happened, so they simply won't have happened

Masha Alekhina, Pussy Riot / Zona Prava
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 July 2014

On Thursday in eastern Ukraine – where Russian-supported separatists have declared an autonomous state – a plane with civilians on board was shot down.

The plane did not crash and it did not "collapse" – as was written by some of the Russian media – it was shot down from the ground. We in Russia know this – if not from our own news organizations, then from several video commentaries, including one in which a little boy says, "Look! A junta plane has been shot down! Well done, DPR!" (The DPR is the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic, and the "junta" is the legally elected government of Ukraine – the typical way for Russian propaganda to refer to the present government in Kiev.) This child does not know – and may never find out – that the downed aircraft had children like him on board.

In their reporting on the tragedy, the Russian media defined the accident scene as "east of Ukraine", forgetting the terms such as "New Russia", "DPR", "LPR" – the Lugansk People's Republic, another separatist territory in Ukraine – for the evening. In the new Russia, such errors could not have happened, so they simply won't have happened. Our government, and its collaborators in the media, will see to that.

The people do not need to see tragedies, they seem to believe – only victories of the Russian soldiers, the heroes of their homeland, and the brave patriots in eastern Ukraine that we should support.

(More here.)

In court of public opinion, Putin goes on trial

By Anthony Faiola — July 20 at 3:05 PM , WashPost

BERLIN — Investigators are still far from an official judgment of what brought down a Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew onboard. But in the global court of public opinion, the verdict appears to be rendered.

Vladimir Putin is guilty.

The Russian president could once claim a semblance of a role as a global statesman. But with the downing of a commercial airliner by what U.S. and Ukrainian officials suggest was a Russian missile, supplied to pro-Moscow rebels, Putin was facing a personal barrage of worldwide condemnation that threatened to result in further sanctions on Russia if it did not rapidly change course in Ukraine.

Australia has raised the prospect of banning Putin from a meeting of the Group of 20, the world’s most powerful nations, in November if he did not exert more pressure on the rebels who left corpses strewn on the ground for days, contaminated the crash site and hampered an international investigation. Britain, meanwhile, openly accused the Russian leader of sponsoring “terrorism.” U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, appearing on multiple political talk shows Sunday, called this a “moment of truth” for Russia.

(More here.)

West Raises Pressure on Russia in Downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

U.S. Charges Moscow With Supplying Rocket, Hiding Evidence

By Jay Solomon in Washington and Anton Troianovski in MoscowWSJ
Updated July 21, 2014 12:33 a.m. ET

The U.S. leveled its most-explicit allegations yet of Russia's involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and subsequent efforts to conceal evidence, and European leaders threatened broad new sanctions against Moscow, marking a turning point in the standoff between the West and the Kremlin.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday warned Russian President Vladimir Putin "for the last time" to accede to Western demands to disarm pro-Russian separatists and stabilize Ukraine. (Follow the latest updates on the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine.)

Officials in Europe, meanwhile, departed from their initially muted reaction as anger grew across the continent over the attack that left 298 people dead and the chaos at the crash area in eastern Ukraine. Reports that bodies were being handled haphazardly and that separatist guards on the scene were drunk have caused fury in European countries where victims came from, including the Netherlands.

Mr. Putin, in a Kremlin-website posting overnight, called for an international investigation of the crash site and said that "Russia will do everything possible to shift the current conflict in the east of Ukraine from today's current military stage to the state of discussion at the negotiation table."

(More here.)

Russia's Anti-West Isolationism

By MAXIM TRUDOLYUBOV, NYT
JULY 20, 2014

MOSCOW — Russia’s quasiwar in eastern Ukraine is in no small measure a product of long-felt anti-Western tensions within Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin that are rapidly spiraling out of control.

With the downing of the Malaysian airliner over territory controlled by pro-Russian insurgents, the rift between Russia and Ukraine has become an international conflict. Citizens of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Britain, Belgium and other countries have been killed in a war that many people in the West might have thought had little to do with them.

We do not know who pulled the trigger, but we know that the armed rebels operating in the east of Ukraine have always had the vocal support of high-ranking Kremlin officials. Since late February, when Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled Kiev, Russia’s official media has been bending over backward to present the new Ukrainian government as a fascist junta manipulated by the West while the Kremlin pursues its twin goals — keeping NATO and Western economic influence in check.

The virulent, anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin has been one of the main drivers of Moscow’s support for the Ukrainian conflict. This antipathy has its roots in the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the dashed hopes and disillusion that fueled an unprincipled scramble for wealth and power in the anarchy that followed.

(More here.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Imaginary Budget and Debt Crisis

The Fiscal Fizzle

Paul Krugman, NYT

For much of the past five years readers of the political and economic news were left in little doubt that budget deficits and rising debt were the most important issue facing America. Serious people constantly issued dire warnings that the United States risked turning into another Greece any day now. President Obama appointed a special, bipartisan commission to propose solutions to the alleged fiscal crisis, and spent much of his first term trying to negotiate a Grand Bargain on the budget with Republicans.

That bargain never happened, because Republicans refused to consider any deal that raised taxes. Nonetheless, debt and deficits have faded from the news. And there’s a good reason for that disappearing act: The whole thing turns out to have been a false alarm.

I’m not sure whether most readers realize just how thoroughly the great fiscal panic has fizzled — and the deficit scolds are, of course, still scolding. They’re even trying to spin the latest long-term projections from the Congressional Budget Office — which are distinctly non-alarming — as somehow a confirmation of their earlier scare tactics. So this seems like a good time to offer an update on the debt disaster that wasn’t.

About those projections: The budget office predicts that this year’s federal deficit will be just 2.8 percent of G.D.P., down from 9.8 percent in 2009. It’s true that the fact that we’re still running a deficit means federal debt in dollar terms continues to grow — but the economy is growing too, so the budget office expects the crucial ratio of debt to G.D.P. to remain more or less flat for the next decade.

(More here.)

Up To A Point: My Problem With People Who Agree With Me

To make a ridiculous comparison, it’s as if the Twelve Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot -- played by Bill Maher) never left Jerusalem

P.J. O'Rourke, the Daily Beast

A libertarian gathering in Las Vegas shows the basic weakness of small-government advocacy.

I have just returned from a confab of people who agree with me, at one of the nation’s largest annual gatherings of individuals and organizations devoted to libertarianism and libertarian-conservatism. And this presented certain difficulties.

No, it wasn’t full of nuts – no Birthers, no Birchers, no Truthers, no xenophobes, homophobes, white supremacists, no one wearing a sidearm, and if there were any male chauvinists they were keeping a cork in it because they were accompanied by wives with strongly held egalitarian views.

Blacks, Latinos, and Asians were there, if not as many as I’d like to see. Gays were fairly well represented. Millennials were all over the place. Various types and kinds of libertarians and libertarian-conservatives were present, some of whose views could be made fun of, and were.

Making fun of each other’s views is a libertarian sport. And since we libertarians are not, for the most part, athletic types -- let alone team players -- making fun of each other’s views may be the only libertarian sport.

Randians think the simple notion of keeping your hands to yourself can be forged into a philosophy. Gold Bugs consider U.S. currency a magic act with the dollar mysteriously levitated on the world economic stage. Strict Constructionists believe the Constitution was carved in stone by a higher power instead of penned on paper by guys in Philadelphia. And maybe all of them are right.

(More here.)