Friday, October 26, 2007

breaking the smear-forward

I'm sure many of you routinely, if not occasionally get that email chain letter full of right wing smears.
Probably comes from an informed loved one right? Seems to be the case for me. I always take the time to read them just to see what the mainstream is being sent from some propagandist. These letters range from sentimental cliche to warnings of impending doom - always from an "unchecked" Democratic leader or a nefarious world body such as the U.N. These things often read like pamphlets from the John Birch Society - or at least how I imagine them.

The Nation has a great story on the history of the "smear forward".

The smear forward has its roots in two distinct forms of Internet-age communication. First, there's the electronically disseminated urban legend ("Help find this missing child!"; "Bill Gates is going to pay people for every e-mail they send!"), which has been a staple of the Internet since the mid- '90s. Then there's the surreal genre of right-wing e-mail forwards. These range from creepy rage-filled quasi-fascist invocations ("The next time you see an adult talking...during the playing of the National Anthem--kick their ass") to treacly aphorisms of patriotic/religious uplift ("remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ...and the American Soldier").

....From the beginning, the vast majority of these Internet-disseminated rumors have come from the right. (Snopes lists about fifty e-mails about George W. Bush, split evenly between adulatory accounts of him saluting wounded soldiers or witnessing to a wayward teenager, and accounts of real and invented malapropisms. In contrast, every single one of the twenty-two e-mails about John Kerry is negative.) For conservatives, these e-mails neatly reinforce preconceptions, bending the facts of the world in line with their ideological framework: liberals, immigrants, hippies and celebrities are always the enemy; soldiers and conservatives, the besieged heroes. The stories of the former's perfidy and the latter's heroism are, of course, never told by the liberal media. So it's left to the conservative underground to get the truth out. And since the general story and the roles stay the same, often the actual characters are interchangeable.

"A lot of the chain letters that were accusing Al Gore of things in 2000 were recycled in 2004 and changed to Kerry," says John Ratliff, who runs a site called, which, like Snopes, devotes itself to debunking chain e-mails. One e-mail falsely described a Senate committee hearing in the 1980s where Oliver North offered an impassioned Cassandra-like warning about the threat of Osama bin Laden, only to be dismissed by a condescending Democratic senator. Originally it was Al Gore who played the role of the senator, but by 2004 it had changed to John Kerry. "You just plug in your political front-runner du jour," Ratliff says. has some great insight to the misinformation campaigns of junk mail as well.

tip Washington Monthly

Friday, October 12, 2007

no more Turkey?

I hope everyone is following the unraveling disaster with Turkey. The administration and Congress are both letting slip a key piece of the international puzzle and in particular the one country that bridges the Islamic world and the West. Turkey is a NATO Ally and even fought in Korea alongside the US. In the run up to this war many warned that Turkey could be sucked into a civil war do to its sticky relations with the Kurds. That prediction becomes more manifest on a daily basis. So will this f' up of an administration be able to stave off the disaster of loosing diplomatic relations with a NATO ally? Are we now going to face a Turkish component in Iraq alongside all the sectarian groups and jihadist brands?? This is bad - really bad - a colossal diplomatic blunder in the making.

Juan Cole of course has a great post today on this very topic.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

can you hear me now?

Much of the globe's international telephone traffic flows through the United States, as shown by this rendering of 2005 international phone-call traffic from telecommunications resarch firm, Telegeography.
Illustration: Copyrighted Map Courtesy of Telegeography
Wired currently has this article "The NSA's Lucky Break: How the U. S. Became the Switchboard to the World,". It shines a light on how tariffs and communication precedents in the last century positioned the U.S. to be the world hub for communication. The NSA will be able to tap all of it.
" Leading House Democrats introduced the so-called RESTORE Act (.pdf) Tuesday that allows the nation's spies to maintain permanent eavesdropping stations inside United States switching centers."
What's perhaps most fascinating - beyond the dark side of this universal surveillance- is the notion that you simply need to tap about 3 locations in the US to have a direct line to almost all of the world's telecommunications.

1. Los Angeles: 1 Wilshire Blvd.
2. New York: 60 Hudson Street
3. Miami: NAP of the Americas

Talk about shaping lives and having impact on how the 21st century is experienced.

See Kazys Varnelis on the idea of the Centripetal City.

1929 redux ?

Your predecessors on the Senate Banking Committee, in the celebrated Pecora Hearings of 1933 and 1934, laid the groundwork for the modern edifice of financial regulation. I suspect that they would be appalled at the parallels between the systemic risks of the 1920s and many of the modern practices that have been permitted to seep back in to our financial markets.

Although the particulars are different, my reading of financial history suggests that the abuses and risks are all too similar and enduring. When you strip them down to their essence, they are variations on a few hardy perennials - excessive leveraging, misrepresentation, insider conflicts of interest, non-transparency, and the triumph of engineered euphoria over evidence.

The most basic and alarming parallel is the creation of asset bubbles, in which the purveyors of securities use very high leverage; the securities are sold to the public or to specialized funds with underlying collateral of uncertain value; and financial middlemen extract exorbitant returns at the expense of the real economy. This was the essence of the abuse of public utilities stock pyramids in the 1920s, where multi-layered holding companies allowed securities to be watered down, to the point where the real collateral was worth just a few cents on the dollar, and returns were diverted from operating companies and ratepayers. This only became exposed when the bubble burst. As Warren Buffett famously put it, you never know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out.

There is good evidence - and I will add to the record a paper on this subject by the Federal Reserve staff economists Dean Maki and Michael Palumbo - that even much of the boom of the late 1990s was built substantially on asset bubbles. ["Disentangling the Wealth Effect: a Cohort Analysis of Household Savings in the 1990s"]

A second parallel is what today we would call securitization of credit. Some people think this is a recent innovation, but in fact it was the core technique that made possible the dangerous practices of the 1920. Banks would originate and repackage highly speculative loans, market them as securities through their retail networks, using the prestigious brand name of the bank - e.g. Morgan or Chase - as a proxy for the soundness of the security. It was this practice, and the ensuing collapse when so much of the paper went bad, that led Congress to enact the Glass-Steagall Act, requiring bankers to decide either to be commercial banks - part of the monetary system, closely supervised and subject to reserve requirements, given deposit insurance, and access to the Fed's discount window; or investment banks that were not government guaranteed, but that were soon subjected to an extensive disclosure regime under the SEC.

- excerpt from Robert Kuttner's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Oct. 2.

Read further here.