IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.
Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.
In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.
First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.
Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.
And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.
The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.
I knew as soon as I read Amanda Coyne’s original piece, I knew what was going to happen. I’ve lived the Palin news cycle more times than I care to remember. And so I watched from the sidelines as the story went from local blog, to local blog, to news website, to a national story. The pattern has always been the same – three days from first report to national headline. It’s like dropping a gallon of milk and watching the unstoppable lake spread across the kitchen.
When I read the details, I found myself feeling strangely unsurprised. But aren’t we all, deep down, utterly unshocked? We may think we’re surprised; it may feel like we should be surprised, but we know already about Sarah and Todd’s screaming arguments, the dented refrigerator from the hurling of canned food. We have seen what happens to people, especially kids, who are rewarded with fame and riches despite having done nothing to earn them. We see everywhere in the tabloids, and gossip columns, and celebrity magazines those who are fueled by high-octane blend of narcissism, entitlement, and idiocy. This was bound to happen. If you subscribe to the theory that everything that has happened has created exactly the circumstances of the present moment, it was destiny.
After Palin was cut loose from any sort of professional handlers, somewhere a scary disaster countdown clock began to tick. The Secret Service, or a well placed earthquake might have prevented this from happening. But when the barn door was thrown open, the Thrilla from Wasilla was unchained, off the hook, and running free. Free as the wind blows.
Bernie Sanders, one of the Senate’s leading liberals, said on Sunday he is thinking about running for president in 2016 as either a Democrat or an independent, in a move that could complicate Hillary Clinton’s presumed path to the White House.
Sanders, an independent from Vermont, could pose a challenge from the left to the former first lady and secretary of state, who is widely seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. She has not officially said she is a candidate but has acted very much like one.
“I think anybody who speaks to the needs of the working class and the middle class of this country and shows the courage to take on the billionaire class, I think that candidate will do pretty well,” Sanders told NBC.
In an inscrutable move that has alarmed state treasurers, the Federal Reserve, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, just changed the liquidity requirements for the nation’s largest banks. Municipal bonds, long considered safe liquid investments, have been eliminated from the list of high-quality liquid collateral. assets (HQLA). That means banks that are the largest holders of munis are liable to start dumping them in favor of the Treasuries and corporate bonds that do satisfy the requirement.
Muni bonds fund the nation’s critical infrastructure, and they are subject to the whims of the market: as demand goes down, interest rates must be raised to attract buyers. State and local governments could find themselves in the position of cash-strapped Eurozone states, subject to crippling interest rates. The starkest example is Greece, where rates went as high as 30% when investors feared the government’s insolvency. Sky-high interest rates, in turn, are the fast track to insolvency. Greece wound up stripped of its assets, which were privatized at fire sale prices in a futile attempt to keep up with the bills.
The first major hit to US municipal bonds occurred with the downgrade of two major monoline insurers in January 2008. The fault was with the insurers, but the taxpayers footed the bill. The downgrade signaled a simultaneous downgrade of bonds from over 100,000 municipalities and institutions, totaling more than $500 billion. The Fed’s latest rule change could be the final nail in the municipal bond coffin, another misguided move by regulators that not only does not hit its mark but results in serious collateral damage to local governments – maybe serious enough to finally propel them into bankruptcy.
Why this unprecedented move by US regulators? It is not because municipal bonds are too risky, since corporate bonds with lower credit ratings are accepted under the new rules. Nor is it that the stricter standard is required by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), the BIS-based global regulator agreed to by the G20 leaders in 2009. The Basel III Accords set by the BCBS are actually more lenient than the US rules and do not include these HQLA requirements. So what’s going on?