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from Jack Shafer:

State Secrets in the Snowden Era

secrecy77

This piece originally appeared in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. government commands few capabilities more potent than its power to declare information secret. Even when the judiciary and Congress exercise their checks-and-balances powers over the executive branch, the American secrecy machine still finds a way to shunt aside substantive discussions about a host of programs and policies.

With little or no public input, the U.S. government has kidnapped suspected terrorists, established secret prisons, performed “enhanced” interrogations, tortured prisoners, and carried out targeted killings. After the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden pilfered hundreds of thousands of documents from the NSA’s computers and released them to journalists last summer, the public learned of additional and potentially dodgy secret government programs: warrantless wiretaps, the weakening of public encryption software, the collection and warehousing of metadata from phones and e-mail accounts, and the interception of raw Internet communications.

The secrecy machine was originally designed to keep the United States’ foes at bay. But in the process, it has transformed itself into an invisible state within a state. Forever discovering new frontiers to patrol, as the Snowden files indicate, the machine molts its skin each season to grow ever larger and more powerful, encountering little resistance from the courts or Congress.

from David Rohde:

The ‘secrecy industrial complex’

An undated photo of National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy. No one -- except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors -- is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works.

from Unstructured Finance:

Ray Dalio went into this year even more bullish than we thought

By Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio is really bullish on stocks and all things risky--at least he was in early January.

A few weeks ago, our competitors at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal did a good job reporting on Dalio's macro market thesis for 2013 when they got a transcript of an investor call (Bloomberg) and a sneak peak at Bridgewater Associates' year-end report to investors (WSJ). But after taking my own recent look at Bridgewater's year-end investor note--book is probably a better description for the 300-page plus bound treatise--you realize that bullish just doesn't describe Bridgewater's stance going in 2013.

from Unstructured Finance:

Jim Chanos and the bears come out of hibernation

By Matthew Goldstein 

The year is young, but so far its been a rough one for bearish stock investors with the S&P 500 is up 7.25% The surge in equity prices has left  a lot of short sellers--traders who bet on a stock sliding in value--with glum looks on their faces. And it's with that bullish backdrop that several dozen of Jim Chanos' closest friends gather in Miami for the noted short seller's annual meeting of the bears.

The gathering of 40 or so people from Wednesday through Friday is a chance for Chanos and other like minded investors to kick around their best short ideas. A year ago, there was a lot of talk about shorting companies in the natural gas space.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s legacy of secrecy

John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was a microcosm of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism: The right assurances, with little transparency.

Brennan said the United States should publicly disclose when American drone attacks kill civilians. He called waterboarding “reprehensible” and vowed it would never occur under his watch. And he said that countering militancy should be “comprehensive,” not just  “kinetic,” and involve diplomatic and development efforts as well.

from Unstructured Finance:

Eminent Domain reader

Jenn Ablan and I have done a lot reporting on Mortgage Resolution Partners' plan to get county governments and cities to use eminent domain to seize and restructure underwater mortgages. As we've reported, it's an intriguing solution to the seemingly intractable problem of too much mortgage debt holding back the U.S. economy. But it's also a controversial one that threatens to rewrite basic contractual rights and the whole notion of how we view mortgages in this country.

And then there's the issue of just who are are the financiers behind Mortgage Resolution Partners and whether they've gone about selling their plan in the right way.

from The Great Debate:

Sometimes leaking classified information is perfectly fine

The brewing controversy over leaks of classified information presumes that disclosures of classified information to unauthorized persons are always impermissible and undesirable. But that presumption does not correspond precisely to the reality of government operations as they are conducted in practice.

The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said last week that they would work “to ensure that criminal and administrative measures are taken each time sensitive information is improperly disclosed.”

from Jack Shafer:

WikiLeaks’ 16th minute

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine, a special edition publication ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In late October, a deflated Julian Assange called a press conference in London to announce he may have to mothball WikiLeaks. The reason, he said, was money. Visa, MasterCard, Western Union and Paypal were preventing supporters from donating to the organization, Assange explained. He warned that unless the bankers' blockade was lifted at once, the cash-strapped organization would soon die.

from Reuters Investigates:

Nevada’s Big Bet

By Brian Grow

What happens in Nevada, stays in Nevada. Literally. Especially when it comes to Nevada shell companies.

That’s the gist of our latest special report in the SHELL GAMES series, "Nevada's big bet on secrecy."

from Unstructured Finance:

Steve Cohen’s forbidden transcript

By Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund titan Steve Cohen is taking steps to appear more open these days.  Over the past year or so, he's been showing up at industry conferences, charity events--even allowing himself to be photographed with his wife for a glossy spread in Vanity Fair magazine.

But there are some things the SAC Capital founder is drawing a line in the sand over when it comes to greater transparency, including some of his own words.

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