Opinion

The Great Debate

from Stories I’d like to see:

More questions for Snowden and the GOP establishment takes on the 2016 primaries

Accused government whistleblower Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via videoconference with members of the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg

1. Snowden questions NBC missed:

In his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams last week, Edward Snowden tried to bolster his credentials this way: “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word -- in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job … and even being assigned a name that was not mine …. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he's a low-level analyst.’”

In that segment -- and as best I can tell from watching what I think were all the segments of Brian Williams’ interview -- three words never came up: Booz Allen Hamilton.

Booz Allen Hamilton is the government contractor that Snowden supposedly worked for. As Talking Points Memo reported a year ago in this article, in the video in which Snowden introduced himself to the world following publication of his initial leaks, he said: "My name is Ed Snowden, I'm 29 years old, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for [the] NSA, in Hawaii.”

The same Talking Points article quoted Snowden and his collaborator Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, as saying that the only direct employment he had for any spy agencies was as a “security guard” at an National Security Agency facility in Maryland and as someone “working on IT security” for the CIA in Geneva.

Was he lying to the world and to Greenwald then, or to Williams now?  Someone ought to follow up on the contradictions that Williams missed.

Why the federal government should help bail out Detroit

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Starting last month, and continuing through July, Detroit’s 170,000 creditors will vote on the terms of the “Grand Bargain” that will end the city’s bankruptcy.

Different groups are contributing to the deal: the state of Michigan, the city of Detroit, as well as philanthropic organizations including the Knight and Ford foundations. They’ll either contribute money or reduce salaries of city employees, in order to restore Detroit’s solvency and ability to pay its retirees.

So far, absent in the bargain is support from the federal government. On April 24 Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited Detroit, raising hopes that a $100 million bailout from the government would materialize. The money would come under the category of “blight eradication,” a pre-existing federal program designated for urban renewal. The federal government is careful to avoid setting a precedent of bailing out state or municipal pensions because it doesn’t want to take on a massive liability and, in doing so, encourage local governments to make more unsustainable promises.

from Hugo Dixon:

EU needs more non-bank finance

The European Union needs more non-bank finance. Banks are on the back foot. On their own, they won’t be able to fund the jobs and growth the EU is desperate for. Non-bank finance needs to take up the slack.

The European Central Bank and Bank of England have made a good start by identifying the importance of reviving securitisation - the process of packaging loans into bond-like securities which can then be traded on the market. The two central banks have just published a joint paper describing blockages in the system which have all but killed EU securitisation since the financial crisis.

But securitisation is only one piece of the non-bank finance landscape. Similar leadership is needed to invigorate venture capital, equity investment, bond issues for small companies, shadow banking and so forth.

Senate must rein in the NSA

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin

The House of Representatives seemed poised last month to rein in the government’s ability to spy on its citizens by prohibiting the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. On the eve of the vote, however, the Obama administration and House leadership intervened. In secret negotiations, they took a carving knife to the bill, removing key privacy protections.

It is now up to the Senate to breathe life back into this National Security Agency reform effort. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, this month. Panel members must hold firm on ending the bulk collection program and restoring limits on the NSA’s ever-expanding surveillance activities.

The laws that Congress passed after 9/11 sought to aid intelligence gathering against foreign terrorist threats. They have now morphed, however, into tools for the mass collection of information about U.S. citizens as well as foreigners.

Let Japan help defend America — and itself

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now following through on actions laid out in his recent bold speech calling for Japan to defend allies who might be under attack.

But wait, you may ask, hasn’t the United States had a mutual security treaty with Japan for more than half a century?

Well, not quite. Yes, Washington has had a mutual defense-security treaty with Tokyo since 1951. But Japan is not committed to defending the United States or any of its armed forces. In fact, Japanese forces are prohibited from helping Washington in time of war — even if the war is in defense of Japan.

What’s a leveraged ETF and what makes it dangerous?

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Larry Fink is sounding the alarm. The chairman and CEO of $4.4 trillion asset manager BlackRock is worried about leveraged ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Fink thinks they could “blow up the industry.” His statement is a little unclear, but the industry he’s referring to is probably ETFs themselves, not the global financial system.

Blackrock is itself a huge player in ETFs, but Fink says they’ll never get into leveraged version of the financial instruments.

So, what’s the difference between regular and leveraged ETFs?

Regular ETFs are designed to track the price of a specific set of securities, taking the place of traditional mutual funds that focuses on particular investment sectors or classes of stock. ETFs started in stocks, particularly indexes, but now cover all types of assets. In this way they are similar to a mutual or index fund, but can be bought or sold like a stock. Regular ETFs, particularly the ones that track broad indexes like the S&P 500, are pretty vanilla financial products. Sure, an index fund might be slightly better for achieving individual investment objectives, but ETFs generally have much lower fees than actively managed mutual funds.

NFL: Last sports bastion of white, male conservatives

New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes kicks the opening kick-off to start the first regular season game in the Giants new stadium against the Carolina Panthers in their NFL football game in East RutherfordBy almost any measure — TV ratings, the value of franchises, overall revenue, polls — the National Football League is by far both the most popular and successful professional sports league in America. A veritable juggernaut. Nothing seems to damage that popularity — not widely reported homophobia or the growing awareness of the dangers of head injuries or the accusations leveled in a lawsuit filed last week by 500 former players that they were pumped up with painkillers and sent back onto the field after being injured.

Why does the NFL have such a tenacious hold on the national consciousness — particularly that of white males, the primary fans of professional sports? It might be that the NFL, in both its high points and its low ones, encapsulates the prevailing white male conservative ethos of modern America better than any other league. The triumph of the NFL is a tribute to the triumph of American conservatism.

The Baltimore Ravens Chris Carr (25) fumbles the opening kickoff as he is hit by the New England Patriots Matt Slater (bottom) in the first quarter of their NFL football game in FoxboroughThe popularity of a sport is, to a large extent, a function of how well it expresses the zeitgeist — at least the male zeitgeist. For more than a century, baseball was America’s national pastime. It was pastoral — born in the 19th century, played on expansive greenswards, with  a leisurely pace and a deliberate strategy. All of which was a large part of its appeal in a rapidly modernizing society that surrendered those rural values grudgingly.

In Africa: U.S. promotes security, China does business

kerry-li4Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang both made high-profile visits to Africa within a week of each other this month. Kerry sought to resolve the continuing violence in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Li came bearing aid and investment deals.

The United States could learn something from Beijing’s economic playbook.

The two leaders’ agendas could not offer a more vivid picture of the different priorities that each power pursues in Africa. Washington plays regional peacemaker, while Beijing focuses intently on its long-term economic interests.

China’s two-way trade with Africa, for example, has grown by 30 percent a year over the last decade. It is now Africa’s largest trading partner, importing largely natural resources.  More than 85 percent of China’s imports from Africa consist of petroleum, copper, iron, and other raw materials needed to build China’s growing domestic infrastructure and fuel its continued economic growth.

from Breakingviews:

James Hoffa: Let sun shine on corporate donations

By James Hoffa
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews guest columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Companies increasingly are playing an outsized role in U.S. elections. In many cases, they donate money to advocate controversial policies that could antagonize their customers and undermine their businesses. Because so many of these contributions are not disclosed, however, shareholders are left in the dark and unable to evaluate potential conflicts or risks.

Investors are demanding improved corporate disclosures through shareholder resolutions and by urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt new rules. Despite hundreds of thousands of letters from investors urging the agency to take action, it dropped the issue from its list of regulatory priorities earlier this year.

Eyewitness Views: From hope to horror in Tiananmen Square


Eyewitness View: From hope to horror in Tiananmen Square On Changan Avenue, a small crowd confronts the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Tiananmen Square after the army stormed the square and the surrounding area the night before. This is near the location a day later where "Tank Man" confronted and momentarily halted a column of the army's tanks leaving the square. (Alan Chin)June 4, 1989. In Chinese the reference is usually made with just the numbers “Six Four,” like in English, “9/11.” As the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen ...

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