Posts

Meanwhile, Over In Turkey . . .

Well isn’t this interesting? From Diplopundit last Friday comes a post with this title: Tillerson Meets Erdoğan in Ankara With Turkish Foreign Minister as InterpreterThe post is a series of tweets from all kinds of media folks, which include some of these gems:

Nicholas Wadhams of Bloomberg News:

Secretary of State Tillerson is currently meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is the lone US representative and Turkey’s foreign minister is translating.

Rajib Soylu, Washington correspondent for Daily Sabah:

This is the second Erdoğan – Tillerson meeting where all Turkish, American officials, and even the translators excluded.

Turkish FM functions as a translator.

Ihlan Tanir of Washington Hatti US:

Im trying to understand — I never expected Pres Erdogan and Sec Tillerson to have a press conference but they did not even read statements following 200 minutes of a meeting?

Let’s pause here for a moment to let that last one sink in.

It’s one thing if the Turkish Foreign Minister brings Erdogan over to Tillerson at a meet-and-greet and translates some friendly “let me show you pictures of my grandkids” chit-chat between the two. But that’s not what this was. This was a lengthy, official, and private meeting that lasted over three hours between some very high level folks at a time of rather significant tension between the two countries.

You don’t have meetings like this without your own translator. You just don’t. The typical process is that both sides have interpreters. Official A speaks, the interpreter for Official B tells Official B what was said, and the interpreter for Official A says some version of “Yes, that’s correct” to verify the interpretation. Then it all works in reverse when Official B replies. With difficult issues under discussion, the last thing either side wants is confusion about what each side is saying.

Excluding your own interpreter is so far outside of normal protocols it is unreal, and begs the ever-green question about most everything since 1/20/2017: idiot or crook?

As Diplopundit noted in his/her own tweet, someone else was missing from this meeting — an official note taker:

Saving money on translators*, too? And the foreign FM will just share his notes of the T-E discussion with the State Dept. Or EUR can use their Magic 8 ball. 😭 It knows everything and always willing to share.

(* Diplopundit later corrected this to “interpreters”, as a slip of the fingers since “translators” are more precisely those who deal with written documents while “interpreters” handle verbal communications.)

“EUR” in that last tweet is the State Department’s Office of European Affairs, where long ago I was an intern. I can only imagine the reaction in Foggy Bottom was when word of Tillerson’s meeting with Erdogan reached them. It likely involved multiple variations on “He did WHAT?!?!?” with various . . . ahem . . . flavoring words for emphasis added. As former State Department spokesperson and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby told CNN:

“If the meeting is not conducted in English, it is foolhardy in the extreme not to have at his side a State Department translator, who can ensure that Mr. Tillerson’s points are delivered accurately and with the proper emphasis,” said former State Department spokesman and CNN diplomatic and military analyst John Kirby.

“That Mr. Tillerson eschewed this sort of support in what he knew would be a tense and critical meeting with President Erdogan smacks of either poor staff work or dangerous naïveté on his part,” Kirby added.

And that’s what Kirby said about this in public. I’ll leave it to your imagination what he and other current and former State and Defense Department folks said to each other about it in private. Hold onto this for a moment, because we’ll come back to it in a bit.

Eventually, Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu did in fact have a press availability, which the State Department has up on their website. In the statements issued by both, as well as their answers to questions from the reporters, they talked about all manner of increasingly tense topics, from the Kurds to what’s happening in Syria to the failed coup and the Turkish demands for Fethullah Gulen to be extradited back to Turkey, and more.

Two items stood out here. First, there’s this from Tillerson about midway through:

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to how we’re going forward – and that’s what all of the discussion here was about, recognizing where we find ourselves. And I think as the foreign minister indicated, we find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship. And we could go back and revisit how we got here, but we don’t think that’s useful. We’ve decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward. The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.

And out of the meetings last night – and much of our staff was up through the night to memorialize how we’re going to go about this, and we’ll share a little bit of that in the joint statement. We’re going to reserve a lot of the details because there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and we – and our working teams need to be allowed to do that work in a very open, frank, honest way with one another so that we can chart the way forward together.

I’ll bet the staff was up through the night. If no staff were allowed in the three hour meeting, then the only one who can tell them what was said, what kind of emphasis it was given, what threats were made, what promises were made, and what kind of nuance there was to each of the exchanges was Tillerson. No offense to the Secretary, but that makes the work of the staff very very difficult. To begin with, they had to interview Tillerson just to get all the information about the meeting (and pray he didn’t leave anything out), before they could even think about “how we’re going forward.”

But the larger item that stood out to me came in the very last pair of question asked, reprinted in full below but with emphasis added:

QUESTION:[ed: to Tillerson] Did you warn Turkey that they could be subject to sanctions under CAATSA legislation if they go ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? [ed: CAATSA is the Russian sanctions legislation that Congress passed but Trump refuses to implement with any teeth.]

And for you, Mr. Foreign Minister, would the threat of U.S. sanctions stop you from going ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? And if you do buy the system, do you still want to remain in NATO if you’re obtaining the weapons from Russia?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We did discuss the impact of the CAATSA law that was passed by the Congress last summer that deals with purchases of Russian military equipment. I discussed it last night with President Erdogan; we had further discussions this morning about it. And indeed, it’s in the first group of issues that the foreign minister is referring to. We need to put a group of experts together, and we’ll look at the circumstances around that, as we’ve done with governments all over the world, not just Turkey, because the intent of that legislation was not to harm our friends and allies. But it is directed at Russia for its interference in our elections. So we’ve been advising countries around the world as to what the impact on their relationship and purchases that they might be considering with Russia, and many have reconsidered those and have decided to not proceed with those discussions.

Every case is individual on its own. We want to consult with Turkey and at least ensure they understand what might be at risk in this particular transaction. We don’t have all the details yet, so I can’t give you any kind of a conclusion, but it’ll be given very careful scrutiny, obviously, and we’ll fully comply with the law. And we are – we are now implementing CAATSA and fully applying it around the world.

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: Thank you very much. First and foremost, I need to underline that I am against the terminology that you use. You used the threat terminology. That is not a correct terminology to be used because it is true for all countries and states. We never use the language of threat and we deny if it is used against us, because this is not correct.

But as Rex has also indicated, this was not something that we talked just yesterday and today. When we met in Vancouver, we talked about this, and from time to time when we have phone conversations, we talk about such issues. This was again brought to the agenda in one of those talks. Of course, there is a law that was enacted by the United States Congress, and they explained this legislation to us. But on the other hand, this is our national security, and it’s important for our national security. I have emergency need of an air defense system. We want to purchase this from our allies, but this does not exist. So even when we are purchasing small-scale arms, the Congress or some other European parliaments, we have – we have and we had difficulty in purchasing these because of these excuses, and I have an emergency need. And the Russian Federation came up with attractive proposals for us. We also talked to other countries, not just with Russia, but we talked about this issue of emergency need with many countries and we had bilateral talks.

Also, in the mid-term, we talked about joint production and technology transfer. We focused on this because this is important for Turkey. And lastly, during the Paris visit of our president – with Eurosam – this is a French-Italian partnership – there was a pre-agreement signed, a memorandum of understanding signed with these groups. So we do not have any problems with our allies. Why should we not meet this requirement with NATO? But, of course, when it is not met within this platform, we need to look for alternative resources. Otherwise, some batteries – some Patriot were withdrawn from our frontier. Some European allies withdrew them. We have (inaudible) of the Italians and Patriots of Spain, and we do not have any other air defense. And we need to meet this requirement as soon as possible. And when we talked to Russia, this was actually an agreement that we reached before the legislation in Congress was enacted. And the remaining part was about the details of loans, et cetera.

Of course, we talked about all of these, and we will take into consideration this – within this working group the commission, but all of us need to understand each other and respect each other. Thank you very much.

In Cavusoglu’s answer, he is pushing back hard on attempts to isolate Turkey. He’s being polite about it, but the very public message is clear: “You know, the Russians seem very interested in making a deal with us, and if you persist in trying to pressure us and don’t back us with the Kurds and cause problems in Syria and don’t return that coup-instigating terrorist you are harboring, the Russians seem pretty clearly ready to help us out where you will not.”

Which makes Tillerson’s earlier comment above sound like he got that message loud and clear. To repeat: “The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.”

But there were also some private messages being sent here, too.

Let’s go back to that no-staff-allowed element of the meeting once more. In general, it is in the interests of both parties to a conversation like that to have interpreters and notetakers present, so that in the public discussions that follow (like the one above), everyone agrees on the basic facts of what was said and you don’t getting into a “but you said . . .” and “no I didn’t” back-and-forth. For the meeting to exclude such staffers means that there is something else that overrides this interest.

In this case, the Turks had to have demanded that Tillerson not bring anyone with him to this meeting. There’s no way he would have told his staff “I got this – you take a break while I talk with Erdogan” on his own. The question is why, and all the possible answers I can come up after reading the Turkish Foreign Minister’s reply to that last question involve Vladimir Putin wanting Erdogan to pass on some kind of message to Trump — a message that he did not wish to be delivered within earshot of interpreters and notetakers.

It reminds me very much of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting that Trump had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and outgoing Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. That was the meeting where we later learned that Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to the Russians about their source inside ISIS and told them that he just fired “that nut job” James Comey which took the pressure off of him because of Russia.

Oh, and the US press were kept out of that meeting as well, with the only reports of it coming after the Russians told us about it. As Politico’s Susan Glasser noted about that Oval Office meeting, it came at the specific request of Putin:

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

Kind of makes me wonder if the reason Tillerson left the interpreter back at the embassy is because Putin asked him to in a phone call last Monday. From CNN:

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump spoke Monday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to express condolences for a weekend plane crash outside Moscow, according to a US official.

The phone call came amid ongoing Washington-Moscow tensions over policy in the Middle East and Russia’s attempts to meddling in US elections.

Russian news agencies reported the phone call also included discussion of the situation in Israel. . . .

Again we’re hearing about this via Russian news agencies? I’m sensing a pattern here . . .

Monday: A Border Too Far

In this roundup: Turkey, pipelines, and a border not meant to be crossed.

It’s nearly the end of the final Monday of 2016’s General Election campaign season. This shit show is nearly over. Thank every greater power in the universe we made it this far through these cumulative horrors.

Speaking of horrors, this Monday’s movie short is just that — a simple horror film, complete with plenty of bloody gritty gore. Rating on it is mature, not for any adult content but for its violence. The film is about illegal immigrants who want more from life, but it plays with the concepts of alien identity and zombie-ism. Who are the illegals, the aliens, the zombies? What is the nature of the predator and their prey? Does a rational explanation for the existence of the monstrous legitimize the horror they perpetuate in any way?

The logline for this film includes an even shorter tag line: Some borders aren’t meant to be crossed. This is worth meditating on after the horrors we’ve seen this past six months. Immigrants and refugees aren’t the monsters. And women aren’t feeble creatures to be marginalized and counted out.

Should also point out this film’s production team is mostly Latin American. This is the near-future of American storytelling and film. I can’t wait for more.

Tough Turkey
The situation in Turkey is extremely challenging, requiring diplomacy a certain Cheeto-headed candidate is not up to handling and will screw up if he places his own interests ahead of that of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  • Luxembourg’s foreign minister compares Erdoğan’s purge to Nazi Germany (Deutsche Welle) — Yeah, I can’t argue with this when a political party representing an ethnic minority and a group sharing religious dogma are targeted for removal from jobs, arrest and detention.
  • Op-Ed: Erdoğan targeting critics of all kinds (Guardian) — Yup. Media, judges, teachers, persons of Kurdish heritage or Gulenist religious bent, secularists, you name it. Power consolidation in progress. Democracy, my left foot.
  • HDP boycotts Turkish parliament after the arrest of its leaders (BBC) — Erdoğan claimed the arrested HDP leaders were in cahoot with the PKK, a Kurdish group identified as a terrorist organization. You’ll recall HDP represents much of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. But Erdoğan also said he doesn’t care if the EU calls him a dictator; he said the EU abets terrorism. Sure. Tell the cities of Paris and Brussels that one. Think Erdoğan has been taking notes from Trump.
  • U.S. and Turkish military leaders meet to work out Kurd-led ops against ISIS (Guardian) — Awkward. Turkish military officials were still tetchy about an arrangement in which Kurdish forces would act against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, about 100 miles east of Aleppo. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia — the Kurdish forces — will work in concert with Arab members of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in Raqqa to remove ISIS. Initial blame aimed at the PKK for a car bomb after HDP members were arrested heightened existing tensions between Erdoğan loyalists and the Kurds, though ISIS later took responsibility for the deadly blast. Depending on whose take one reads, the Arab part of SDF will lead the effort versus any Kurdish forces. Turkey attacked YPG forces back in August while YPG and Turkey were both supposed to be routing ISIS.

In the background behind Erdoğan’s moves to consolidate power under the Turkish presidency and the fight to eliminate ISIS from Syria and neighboring territory, there is a struggle for control of oil and gas moving through or by Turkey.

Russia lost considerable revenue after oil prices crashed in 2014. A weak ruble has helped but to replace lost revenue based on oil’s price, Russia has increased output to record levels. Increase supply only reduces price, especially when Saudi Arabia, OPEC producers, and Iran cannot agree upon and implement a production limit. If Russia will not likewise agree to production curbs, oil prices will remain low and Russia’s revenues will continue to flag.

Increasing pipelines for both oil and gas could bolster revenues, however. Russia can literally throttle supply near its end of hydrocarbon pipelines and force buyers in the EU and everywhere in between to pay higher rates — the history of Ukrainian-Russian pipeline disputes demonstrates this strategy. Bypassing Ukraine altogether would help Russia avoid both established rates and conflict there with the west. The opportunities encourage Putin to deal with Erdoğan, renormalizing relations after Turkey shot down a Russian jet last November. Russia and Turkey had met in summer of 2015 to discuss a new gas pipeline; they’ve now met again in August and in October to return to plans for funding the same pipeline.

A previous pipeline ‘war’ between Russia and the west ended in late 2014. This conflict may only have been paused, though. Between Russia’s pressure to sell more hydrocarbons to the EU, threats to pipelines from PKK-attributed terrorism and ISIS warfare near Turkey’s southwestern border, and implications that Erdoğan has been involved in ISIS’ sales of oil to the EU, Erdoğan may be willing to drop pursuit of EU membership to gain more internal control and profit from Russia’s desire for more hydrocarbon revenues. In the middle of all this mess, Erdoğan has expressed a desire to reinstate the death penalty for alleged coup plotters and dissenters — a border too far for EU membership since death penalty is not permitted by EU law.

This situation requires far more diplomatic skill than certain presidential candidates will be able to muster. Certainly not from a candidate who doesn’t know what Aleppo is, and certainly not from a candidate who thinks he is the only solution to every problem.

Cybery miscellany

That’s it for now. I’ll put up an open thread dedicated to all things election in the morning. Brace yourselves.

Friday: When the Beau Breaks and Brakes

In this roundup: Brexit breaks, Turkey’s troubles trebled, shattered guardrails.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on culture in the United Kingdom, to understand why the country is both so divided about its membership in the European Union and the nature of its identity. One of the places I’ve looked has been fashion, which is an outward expression of cultural identity and values.

British GQ and Vogue worked together on a video series looking at four different major movements in UK fashion. I have to admit I’m both enlightened and confused after watching them. I’ve embedded the first one here, and offer the rest as links.

(1) The Lad | (2) Modern Dandy | (3) New Traditionalists | (4) New Romantics

There isn’t a direct correlation with cultural segments in the U.S. so it’s difficult to translate what some of these mean. Lad culture, for example, is somewhat like our blue collar men and yet it’s also like high school and college jock culture. But then neither of these U.S. groups would own up to being a culture with a differentiated sense of style.

I think Americans will understand both the New Traditionalists and New Romantics most easily. They’ll recognize the correlates in their own U.S. culture. They’ll also recognize how segments of these three UK movements — Lad, Traditionalists, Romantics — might cleave with Remain or Brexit.

The one part of this series I found most odd was the Modern Dandy — these British literally did not know the roots of their own dandyism even when pointing to Beau Brummel. Brummel rebelled against the excessively ornate fussiness of pre-Regency fashion and is responsible for the adoption of trousers and white dress shirts as standard men’s’ wear (not to mention daily bathing). Brummel ultimately shaped global expectations of men’s business attire and our standards of hygiene. The contemporary dandies interviewed may grasp the notion of differentiation, but they don’t know their own history.

Not unlike the U.S., the UK has an identity crisis. It’s changed in ways it doesn’t fully understand and it’s out of tune with some of its own history. And while white nationalists like those in Ukip believe the UK should be more homogeneous, the UK hasn’t been for as long as it’s been a center of global business — even the monarchy is not lily white. We’re witnessing a struggle for control of identity, and it’s touch-and-go as to which faction will win.

Brexit breaks and brakes

Turkey troubles treble

  • Internet throttled, social media choked overnight (Turkey Times) — Erdoğan’s standard M.O.: shut down the internet and social media so that no one can report to the outside world what he’s doing to throttle democracy. VPNs are also targeted this time since the government knows they are used to bypass censorship.
  • Turkish police raid homes and arrest opposition party members (Andalou Ajansi) — This is insanity, like a U.S. president ordering the FBI to arrest the leaders of any other political party. The HDP had support of six million Turkish voters. HDP is the third largest political party holding more than 1/3 of the seats in parliament and the representative party of the Kurdish minority.
  • Car bomb detonated after HDP arrests, PKK blamed (USA Today) — Is this a prompt retaliation for political arrests? Whatever it is, instability is increasing in Turkey.
  • EU worried about HDP members (Twitter) — High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EU Commission Federica Mogherini expressed great concern for HDP members arrested; held phone meeting with Turkish officials.
  • ISIS claims responsibility later in the day for car bombing (The Star) — Unfortunately, many pro-Erdoğan supporters were riled up against PKK by the time ISIS piped up. Expect even greater hostility toward the Kurds.

Longread: A conservative’s POV on this election
Yeah, yeah, I know, David Frum, whatev. But his op-ed for The Atlantic is quite good, examining ‘guardrails’ of democracy Trump’s candidacy has broken. Which is all well and good — a conservative recognizes the serious threats to democracy — but what will conservatives do to fix this mess? Will they ever look carefully at their ownership of this dumpster fire they stoked pushing Movement Conservatism to excess, and begin to build a rational escape toward sanity?

A little over four days — mere hours — away from the end of this debacle we call a general election. Rest up.

Halloween Monday: Dying for Love

In this roundup: Turkish troubles, good tech bad tech, fickle market reaction, and Halloween tricks-or-treats.

Because it’s Halloween I’m sharing a short film for Movie Monday based on that theme. It’s probably R-rated so don’t launch it in the office without the doors shut and/or the volume down. It parodizes so many cheap horror films of the 1980s-2000s including the Final Girl trope.

I need to watch this short a couple more times. The film is billed as a single take — one long, unbroken camera shot — but I’m not certain it is. I think there may be a hidden few cuts when the location changes from one end of a room to another. Look at this analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s use of dissolve cuts in his 1948 film Rope and you’ll see what I mean by hidden cuts. Keep in mind that with digital technology, even dissolve cuts may be smoother and much less detectable than they were in 1948 with traditional film.

Turkish troubles

Good tech, bad tech, or something in between

  • Delta Airlines implements RFID baggage tracking app (Fortune) — FINALLY. I’ve been wondering ever since the furor over Walmart using RFID on inventory why airlines couldn’t use RFID and let their customers track their own bags. Only took ~16 years or so. And thank goodness this technology isn’t WiFi-enabled. Should save billions of dollars — let’s hope that trickles down to savings on tickets.
  • Toyota developing a keyless access system for carsharing (Detroit Free Press) — Really? Didn’t Toyota have keyless remote fobs that were hacked just last year?
  • SpaceX still investigating launchpad explosion (Business Insider) — To be fair, it’s not clear yet what triggered the explosion two months ago. Can’t say if this is good or bad technology or something else altogether. (Not going to mourn the loss of a satellite which was to provide internet to African continent via Facebook. This part I’d call bad tech. Can’t we come up with some other approach to providing internet besides a walled garden with fake news?)

The market = fickle mistress?[1]

Tricks or treats?

  • Spooky reads: scary seance scenes in fiction (Guardian) — Could be fun to read while waiting for trick-or-treaters to knock on your door.
  • What makes a good horror film? (OpenCulture) — If you’d rather watch than read something scary tonight, bone up first before surfing Netflix or Amazon for a film.
  • Werewolves in classic literature (Sententiae Antiquae) — Classic literature, as in Greek or Roman, has a surprising number of references to lycanthropy. Did they tell each other these stories to scare each other around the campfire?
  • Sluttiest Halloween costumes (McSweeney’s) — Of 1915, that is. In case you need a laugh and not a scare. I sure could right now; only one more week of election terror to go.

Watch out for little ghosts and goblins tonight!
__________
[1] Note: You’re not seeing things — I accidentally hit the Publish button before I’d updated the two market economics bits!

Friday: Sinnerman

In this roundup: A look outside the U.S.’ borders — TTIP’s end, Turkey at risk, Chile and women’s reproductive rights, more.

Featured jazz artist today is Eunice Waymon, known best by her stage name Nina Simone. Recognized for her powerful political work, Mississippi Goddamn, Simone was an incredibly gifted pianist trained at Juilliard with a predilection for the works and method of Johann Sebastian Bach. She became a singer only after nightclubs for which she performed insisted she must sing and play piano together.

Two of my favorites apart from Sinnerman shared here are Feeling Good and I Put a Spell on You. I’ll always have a warm, fuzzy place for Ain’t Got No/I Got Life medley, a variation of the song from the 1960s Broadway musical Hair. I can remember singing along to this recording during long road trips.

Why Nina Simone today? Because of Sinnerman, which seems particularly appropriate during this election season.

Looking away from our nation’s navel

  • Op-ed: Is Turkey nearing civil war? (Süddeutsche Zeitung) — Guest contributor Yavuz Baydar reviews developments in Turkey after the so-called coup attempt, including calls to arm citizens, reestablish an Ottoman caliphate, and create militarized youth groups attached to mosques. Turkish media, operating with the blessing of President Tayyip Erdoğan, has shown maps featuring Mosul and parts of northern Greece as part of a Turkish empire.
  • TTIP may be in death throes, but resuscitation attempted (euronews) — This article quotes a Spanish automotive partmaker who complains the need to inspect parts both on export and import is expensive, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement would eliminate the costly redundancy. Except the existing duplicative inspections didn’t prevent Volkswagen Group and its vendor Bosch from shipping fraudulent vehicles and parts, did it? Yeah. Not so much…in spite of TTIP’s near-death, the US and EU met earlier this month to regroup and try to force TTIP through before the end of President Obama’s term.
  • Chile’s president aims to change restrictive anti-abortion laws (NPR) — Chile is among the five most restrictive countries in the world, outlawing abortion even to save the life of the mother. President Michelle Bachelet made it her goal to change the laws; the country’s lower house has already approved legislation to allow abortion in case of rape, to save the mother, or in case of mortal fetal defect. Chile’s senate must yet vote to approve this legislation before it becomes law. In the mean time, women must travel abroad to obtain abortions or risk jail if they attempt it in Chile on their own.
  • Radical Ukrainian nationalists rising (euronews) — Members of far-right groups Azo regiment and the Right Sector recently marched through Kyiv to celebrate Ukrainian patriotism while protesting pro-Russian separatists.

Tech Debris
Here’s a collection of odd technology bits I’ve run across recently worth a read:

  • Dutch researchers working on anti-hacking technology (euronews) — They’re working on unique identifiers for devices attached to the internet, like the myriad Internet of Things (webcams, baby monitors, so on). This seems like a waste of time given every device should already have an ID assigned by a network. Keep an eye on this; it’d certainly make surveillance easier. Ahem.
  • Troubling case of Facebook v. Vachani (NPR) — Fluffy overview of the suit filed against Steven Vachani whose portal site product pissed off Facebook greatly. But you should read the op-ed from July by Orin Kerr about this case — brace yourself for your freak out.
  • From the archives: Interview with John Arquilla on cyberwarfare (FRONTLINE) — Perspective on the origins of current cyberwarfare policies arising from Bush administration post-9/11. As you read this, keep in mind Arquilla is a proponent of preemptive warfare and the use of cyberwarfare against terrorism.
  • Twitter as a government tool against the people (Bloomberg) — We take for granted we can type anything we want in social media. Not so in much of the rest of the world, and Twitter is an example of social media with both great potential to inform while putting users at risk where speech is not free. Although after the recent revelations Twitter sold data to a U.S. intelligence front, speech isn’t exactly free on Twitter for U.S. citizens, either.

Longread: Did newspapers screw up?
We’ve watched the decline of newspapers for over a decade as its analog business model met the reality of a digital age. Jack Shafer wrote about the possibility newspapers may have made a critical error during the generational shift to online media — perhaps the seasoned existing outlets should have remained firmly committed to print. Two key problems with this analysis: 1) printing and distribution remains as expensive as all other factors in producing a newspaper, and 2) the population consuming newspaper content is changing, from a print-only to digital-only audience. This must be acknowledged or newspapers will continue to struggle, and large papers will continue to pursue consolidation in order to reduce costs to operate.

With that in mind, I still don’t understand why The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, hasn’t opted to offer a Kindle to subscribers willing to pay for a full print subscription a year in advance. A low-level Kindle is cheaper than the cost to print. Ditto to The New York Times; why hasn’t it considered a tie up with Kobo or another e-reader manufacturer?

That’s it for this week; have a good weekend!

Tuesday: One String

There aren’t enough words to describe this genius who can do so much with a lone string. Brushy One String is the stagename of Andrew Chin, son of Jamaican musician Freddie McKay. McKay died in 1986 in his late 30s, leaving behind a body of work representative of the rocksteady (ex: Rock-a-Bye Woman) and reggae genres. While Brushy inherited his father’s musical talent, he’s parlayed into an interesting Rhythm-and-Blues-meets-Roots-Reggae crossover. Check out his website when you have a chance.

Wheels

  • Volkswagen and USDOJ talking about criminal investigation (Deutsche Welle) — Up in the air yet whether DOJ goes with deferred prosecution or asks for a guilty plea from the lawmaker for criminal activity related to the promotion and sale of its so-called “Clean Diesel” passenger vehicles during the last decade. Criminal fines are estimated at $1.2 billion. VW claims to be cooperating, but the company’s failure to disclose the additional cheat software in the 3.0L engines suggests some problems understanding what “good faith” means.
  • Volkswagen’s Australian manager believes diesel fix “imminent” (CarsGuide) — And “Under Australian law, we don’t believe there’s anything on our car which is illegal.” Uh-huh. Hence the fix for 80,000 1.6L and 2.0L passenger diesels. It’s true that Australia is not as strict about NOX as the U.S., but VW’s passenger diesels didn’t meet EU or AUS limits on other pollutants.
  • Ford expects to offer self-driving car without steering wheel within five years (Detroit News) — Well, then. Better hope regulations don’t require a steering wheel, huh? Ford has also invested $75M in LiDAR-maker Velodyne; Chinese search engine company Baidu has likewise made a $75M investment. LiDAR is expected to provide navigational assistance for these self-driving vehicles.

Way Up There

Words

  • Univision’s bid wins Gawker Media (Recode) — Of the two known bidders — Ziff-Davis and Univision — the latter’s $135M bid won bankrupt Gawker Media and its brands. Gawker’s lineup joins The Onion and The Root, purchased by Univision, and Fusion which Univision originally created jointly with Disney and now owns outright. Founder Nick Denton seems pleased with this outcome as his brands and workers continue without disruption; billionaire Pete Thiel gets partial revenge on Denton for outing him by forcing the bankruptcy and sale. Univision’s editorial policy will be less personal in its coverage — probably a good thing. Let’s check back in a year.
  • ‘Not a good fit’ says Barnes & Noble as CEO shown the door (GalleyCat) — Whoa. You don’t see such blunt statements about CEOs, especially one with less than a year under their belt. The company’s stock has been up though retail sales continued to struggle in competition against Amazon. Feels like there’s more to this story. In the mean time, Ron Boire is out the door and executive chairman Leonard Riggio will delay his retirement until a new CEO is found. Hope the next one can salvage NOOK tablet platform because I can’t stand Amazon’s Kindle.
  • Turkish court closes pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem (Business Standard) — Claiming the paper was a propaganda outlet for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), labeled a terrorist organist organization by Turkey, EU, and the US. The court said the closure was not related to the government’s post-coup purge of media believed to be sympathetic to Gülen movement. An appeal is possible.

I-Spy: Cyber Edition
You’ve probably heard about the alleged hacking of a NSA server and the subsequent attempt to auction contents from that server. Edward Snowden offered his perspective on the situation — I’ve Storify’d the tweet thread for your reading ease.

The disclosure and attempted auction were likely done by Russia for political reasons given the timing. Hacking and accessing the contents of the server should be expected — it’s ordinary spying, same as the U.S. does. But the revelation is a new tack; Snowden suggests it’s a warning to the U.S. about potential future disclosures. Read the thread for yourself.

I don’t think this hacking and disclosure happened in a vacuum. There’s a much bigger game to puzzle out — add the meeting between Russia and Saudi Arabia to “achieve oil market stability” as well as Russia’s express interest in Saudi Arabia’s plans to build as many as 16 nuclear reactors. Factor in a change in relationship between Iran and Russia now that Russia has deployed long-range bombers from Iran for the first time against ISIS. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran have some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, all three in the top 10 and in Saudi’s case, influence over OPEC. Is Russia preparing for asymmetric economic pressure?

Late adder: #BlueCutFire in San Bernadino County, CA is very bad, now 82,000 ordered to evacuate.

That’s it for now, still Tuesday in the next time zone. Let’s see if I can make it over the hump earlier tomorrow.

Monday: Grey Bull

Hope you have some free time today to enjoy this short film. Grey Bull by Khoby runs 15 minutes long, but worth it. Its pace is slow, but the emotions this short musters are full and richly explored. I look forward to more from filmmaker Khoby.

Energy escapades
NV ENERGY: Last Friday I posted a link to a story about Nevada’s governor replacing a member of the Public Utilities Commission as a result of costly barriers to residential solar energy integration. Commenter jo6pac pointed out that Berkshire Hathaway-owned NV Energy (NVE) has been part of the challenge to increasing the use of individual residential solar-generated electricity in NV. I thought there was another electricity provider in Nevada besides NVE given the number of businesses switching from NVE. It’s a challenge, though, if NVE has near-monopolistic position in the state’s electricity market, especially since NVE has the second highest residential rates for electricity in the mountain west region.

But that’s only part of NV’s problem. Like much of the U.S., NV must phase out of fossil fuels like coal and gas — NVE’s standard energy mix relies on 75% or more fossil fuels. As a nation we’re not talking enough about exiting fossil fuels, and how to prevent economic damage while winding down an entire industry in the case of coal. The public does not owe corporations guaranteed profits, but there is a compelling reason for the state to minimize damage to the public’s interests by ensuring coal does not crash.

Putting aside that rather large topic, Friday’s story is really the inversion — it’s not the lone PUC commissioner who might have been batting for NVE, but the largest industry in the state damaged by electricity monopoly and using its power to persuade regulatory change.

This January 2016 article explains a lot: casinos want to exit NV Energy for another provider, but they are being assessed enormous exit fees over which they are suing. More than $100 million in fees between three casinos is a lot of pressure to remain with the status quo.

We’re entering a phase where electricity attains commodification — any supplier will do, and the user should be able to freely switch — but the traditional infrastructure based on coal and other fossil fuel sources with steep and long-term sunk costs can’t compete with commodified alternative energy suppliers. It’s a challenge not unlike the transition from brick-and-mortar retail to e-tail, or newsprint to online news. The legacy system must give way, but it’s going to hurt when there is little forethought put into the transition. Nevada’s PUC is in for a very rough ride.

SOLARCITY: Tesla announced it’s buying out all of the solar power systems company for a price $200 million below its initial offer last month. While SolarCity’s headquarters are in San Mateo, California, after the merger it will have battery production facilities in the Gigafactory under construction near Reno, Nevada. Last year the SolarCity sued Salt River Project (SRP) claiming SRP’s increased rates for residential solar energy users violated antitrust laws since the consumers could not leave SRP’s portion of the grid.

Which sounds a lot like the situation in the rest of Nevada where NVE charges higher rates for residential users who install solar panels as jo6pac pointed out (more in NYT via bloopie2). Is there another antitrust suit in the offing? Or will billionaires Elon Musk of Tesla and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway have a meeting of the minds?

Frightening flooding

Troubled Turkey

That’s it for Monday, only one more month before Congress returns to DC. See you tomorrow!

Friday: Possibility

Let’s try a Swedish import today, a little something I can’t really classify by a particular genre. This piece is one of my favorites, one of the most haunting tunes I’ve ever heard. It’s probably dream pop for lack of a better label. Lykke Li’s most popular works tend toward indie and synth-pop, sharing a strong rhythm and English lyrics melded with Lykke Li’s unearthly vocals.

Try out I Follow Rivers (dance/synth-pop) and Sadness Is A Blessing (retro indie pop) for comparison. The latter in particular has a funky video featuring another famous Swedish artist, Stellan Skarsgård. Love his understated effort which acts like a punctuation to the singer’s work.

Speaking of Sweden…

Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden (1991-1994) and former Minister for Foreign Affairs (2006-2014), tweeted on Wednesday:

I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are.

Bildt is known for his conservative politics and neoliberal business ethics. Pretty sure he wasn’t referring to Clinton.

Turkic troubles

  • Insane numbers of people arrested or detained after Turkey’s anti-Gülenist crackdown (EWN) — Graphic in article offers a breakdown. Doesn’t break out the journalists arrested; see Mahir Zeynalov’s timeline for a journo-by-journo roll call.
  • UN Special Rapporteur and OSCE worried about Turkey’s journalists (OSCE) — UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media condemned President Erdoğan’s purge of journalism attacking free speech. The numbers bolster their concerns:

    Reports indicate that the Government ordered the closure of three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio channels, 45 papers and 15 magazines. Since the attempted coup, authorities have issued arrest warrants against 89 journalists and have already arrested several of them, blocked access to more than 20 news websites, revoked the licenses of 29 publishing houses, and cancelled a number of press accreditations.

  • Generals stepped down as military rejiggered (Euronews) — Looks like the president is grabbing power over the military in the same way the judiciary’s independence has now been smashed by removals from office. Hey, anybody worried at all about Incirlik air base while the Turkish military is reformulated?

Economic emesis

  • Investors ‘totally lost’ (Business Insider) — Credit Suisse’s clients are casting about for direction because there’s no strong performance in the market across any industry, and indicators are confusing:

    Here’s a summary of what clients are worried about: workers fighting back in the US, hitting earnings; equities still not cheap; US growth mixed; China still screwed; central banks’ empty policy cupboards; politics being nuts (protectionism, anti-immigration moves, anticorporate feeling); and technology running rampant and destroying business models.

    Yeah, about the “workers fighting back”…perhaps if workers were better paid, making a living wage, all of the confusion would evaporate as consumption improved. There’s a reason home ownership rates have dropped below 1965 levels and it’s not because Millennials don’t want them (really crappy blame-casting, CNBC, catch the cluestick).

  • Nevada utilities commish not reappointed due to solar energy rate structure (Las Vegas Sun) — Something about this story tweaks my hinky-meter. Maybe a certain commissioner has friends who don’t want solar energy to become competitive? Which is really a shame considering the Tesla’s new Wonderwall battery plant now in the Reno area.
  • Five-year-long shortage of cancer drug forces reliance on disqualified Chinese maker (Bloomberg) — There’s been a shortage of doxorubicin since 2011, and companies the size of Pfizer — the largest pharma company in the world — rely on a facility in China banned by the FDA because of quality problems like contamination. What the hell is wrong with this picture?
  • Kazahk emigre sentenced for export violations (The Hill) — How did this guy pull off exporting dual-use technology to Russia for ten years? Doesn’t look like it took much effort based on available information. Have we cut regulatory oversight so much and been so distracted at the same time that we’ve given away the farm?

Something STEMmed

  • TSA’s keys compromised (TechCrunch) — Hacking’s not just for software. All seven of TSA’s master keys have been cloned; anybody can 3D print one and unlock baggage with TSA-approved padlock. Why even bother locking stuff? Of course bags can be so damaged during handling the lock may be worthless anyhow. Makes you wonder how many other physical security devices can be defeated with 3D printing.
  • Bees’ sperm dramatically affected by insecticides (SFGate) — Hey dudes, especially you in Congress. Maybe you ought to ask if insecticides reduce bees’ sperm production by 40% whether human sperm might also be similarly affected? Just sayin’.
  • Huge great white shark trolls family’s boat off east coast (Cape Cod Chronicle) — But there’s an app for that; they could ‘see’ him coming, thanks to an app which monitored the tag. Mixed feelings on this: glad the family was safe, but jeepers, how else can this tag be used?

Oikonomia
How screwed up is the United Kingdom post-referendum vote and how jacked up is the current economic system, when a disabled theoretical physicist and cosmologist must beg in an op-ed for his country to reconsider its understanding and reaction to wealth?

Worth recalling the word ‘economics’ originated from the Greek ‘oikonomia’, meaning “household management.”

Have a safe, relaxing weekend!

Wednesday: Chansons françaises

This Parisian artist is fascinating. Indila is extremely popular in France, mostly because of ballads like this one with multi-generational appeal. Many of her works contain lyrics in more than one language which increases the breadth of her allure. This particular song is indie/dream pop, but she also works in rap and fusion raï — the latter a form of Algerian folk music.

It’s no surprise that some of Indila’s work fuses raï with other genres. She’s of Algerian descent, though she’s said she’s also Indian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Moroccan. Indian influences her work with band TLF in Criminel, African cultures shape her collaboration with Youssoupha in Dreamin’ (the video is set in Arizona, oddly enough), and Middle East in Poussière d’empire with artist Nessbeal.

Do surf YouTube for more of her solo work when you’re in the mood for something sweet and angst-y.

Troubles continue abroad

I-spy

  • UK oversight struggles with MI5’s bulk collection (The Guardian) — Jeepers, it’s like MI5 took lessons from U.S. law enforcement on resisting oversight.
  • Canada’s intelligence agency likewise resists oversight (CTVNews) — Communications Security Establishment (CSE) won’t disclose what information has been shared with other non-Canadian entities which may result in human rights violations. CSE may not spy on Canadians anywhere, but compliance can’t be proven with censored records.
  • Not even going to bother with the Trump+Russia crap here, because it’s all over social media. Probably well-fanned smoke to hide his refusal to release tax returns.

Dick moves
These are among some of the stupidest, rudest, dickiest things in my timeline today. Perps deserve a whack along side the head. Don’t like my language? Tough rocks.

Long-listen
If you have the stomach for it, listen to this Bloomberg podcast in which Laurence Ball, Department of Economics Chair at Johns Hopkins, says the U.S. could have avoided the 2008 crash by rescuing Lehman Brothers. Hindsight is 20/20 — in this case, it’s nauseating, too. Fecking Bush administration…

Hasta pasta!

Tuesday: Crazy

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
Just like me


— excerpt, Crazy by Gnarls Barkley

Why’d I pick this song today? Oh, no reason. Just kind of popped into my head while I was reading through my aggregators.

Ahem. Anyhow…not much time again today, lot of hurry-up-and-wait stuff demanding my time.

Turkey curry buffet

Quick lap around the track

  • BREXIT: IMF cuts UK’s growth forecast (The Guardian) — Really, what the hell did the Leavers expect? Put the brain trust and creative sector into a tailspin as so many are immigrants, and ask them to sustain or expand growth? Completely unrealistic.
  • US-UK RELATIONS: Presser today with Johnson and Kerry (The Guardian) — You watch it. I can’t even with that lying hack Johnson — he spun more crap right to journos’s faces. And nobody takes these two to task over most recent bombings in Syria or Yemen.
  • ZIKA: CDC studying unusual case of UT caretaker infected by Zika (CDC.gov) — The elderly Utah man who died of Zika recently somehow infected his caretaker with the virus without sexual contact. Mosquitoes may have been involved, but UT isn’t home to known carriers Aedes aegypti and albopictus species. The deceased, however, had a viral load 100,000 times greater than the average Zika patient. What?!
  • EARTHQUAKES: Earthquake swarm continues in San Benito County, California (NBC Bay Area) — 24 quakes in 24 hours based on report published about two hours ago. The affected area is west of Silicon Valley and the San Andreas fault line.
  • POLICE REFORMS: Hire more women: one of several known solutions to police racism and abuse (Yes! Magazine) — Take note of the gender of police accused and charged with abuse and killing of unarmed civilians. Body cameras, greater diversity matching community, and openness to research also included in solutions.

That’s all I have time for now. See you tomorrow!