Saturday, June 22, 2013

Morning Twitter Messages -- June 22

Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters. Libya’s own former fighters, who sympathize with Syria’s rebels, have been eager collaborators.

“It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” said Fawzi Bukatef, the former leader of an alliance of Libyan brigades who was recently named ambassador to Uganda, in an interview in Tripoli.

As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.

For Russia — which has steadfastly supplied weapons and diplomatic cover to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria — this black-market flow is a case of bitter blowback. Many of the weapons Moscow proudly sold to Libya beginning in the Soviet era are now being shipped into the hands of rebels seeking to unseat another Kremlin ally.

These two videos are about six minutes each. There is no way to fully explain why a million people simultaneously decide to take to the streets, but these two videos come close.

This first one, by Brazilian filmmaker Carla Dauden, explains why she’s boycotting the World Cup, which Brazil will host next year, as well as the Olympics in 2016. The sky-high cost of the events, she argues, is a waste of money that should go toward alleviating poverty and illiteracy. “Yeah, maybe the guy selling ice cream on the beach might do better that week,” she says, adding that Brazilian leaders’ decision to host the costly sports events shows their lack of interest or ability to focus on their country’s larger issues.

This next video shows interviews (captioned in English) with a number of Brazilian protesters, who explain why they’re there, their background, what they believe in and what they want from their government. Not all of them share the same ideas or goals, of course, but it’s a compelling, at times poignant window into the mood of this mass movement in the world’s fifth most populous country.


If you read nothing else this morning, read this. Matt Taibbi is at his customary best. 

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits by the San Diego-based law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation's two top ratings companies, Moody's and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

"Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at," writes one Standard & Poor's executive. "As you know, I had difficulties explaining 'HOW' we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it," confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. "If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value," complains another senior S&P man. "Let's hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters," ruminates one more.

Ratings agencies are the glue that ostensibly holds the entire financial industry together. These gigantic companies – also known as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations, or NRSROs – have teams of examiners who analyze companies, cities, towns, countries, mortgage borrowers, anybody or anything that takes on debt or creates an investment vehicle.

Their primary function is to help define what's safe to buy, and what isn't. A triple-A rating is to the financial world what the USDA seal of approval is to a meat-eater, or virginity is to a Catholic. It's supposed to be sacrosanct, inviolable: According to Moody's own reports, AAA investments "should survive the equivalent of the U.S. Great Depression."

In the latest installment of the Snowden disclosures on Friday, The Guardian reported that the N.S.A.’s British counterpart has tapped into hundreds of fiber-optic communications lines and is sharing a vast quantity of e-mail and Internet traffic with American intelligence. Under a program called Tempora, the British agency, known as G.C.H.Q., has been able to tap into 200 of the approximately 1,600 high-capacity fiber cables in and out of Britain and aspires to be able to tap 400 lines at once, harvesting a staggering amount of information, the British newspaper reported.
Figure 1: Arab Public Opinion: attitudes towards the Arab Spring/Arab revolutions. (More results at the link.)

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