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Richard Cohen's Reverse On Snowden: Not A 'Traitor', But A Whistleblower

Besotted fans of the regularly published Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will know that he has reversed himself on whether Edward Snowden, the source of leaks about NSA surveillance activity in the United States and abroad, is a traitor.

In June, Cohen wrote that Snowden would go down in history not as a whistleblower but "as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood" who is "ridiculously cinematic" and "narcissistic".

On Monday, Cohen retracted that view (although without returning specifically to the Little Red Riding Hood insight):

As time has proved, my judgments were just plain wrong. Whatever Snowden is, he is curiously modest and has bent over backward to ensure that the information he has divulged has done as little damage as possible. As a "traitor", he lacks the requisite intent and menace […]

I am sure, though, that he has instigated a worthwhile debate. I am sure that police powers granted the government will be abused over time and that Snowden is an authentic whistleblower …



Job-Creation Weakens, But Unemployment Rate Down

September saw the U.S. economy add just 148,000 jobs, significantly worse than expected, according to a report delayed more than two weeks by the government shutdown.

The unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 7.2 percent, the lowest since November 2008, as the labor-force participation rate held near 35-year lows, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Private payroll creation stood at just 122,000, with state and local governments adding 28,000 positions and the federal government cutting by 6,000.

(Read more: More young people are out of school...and out of work)

Economists had been expecting 180,000 new positions and a steady jobless rate.

"This kind of report adds to the sense of foreboding about our economy," said Claire McKenna, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.



AFL-CIO: Here's a Law Walmart Doesn’t Want You to Know About

We already know CEOs of major corporations took home 354 times more pay than the average rank-and-file U.S. worker in 2012. Now, we have the opportunity to see what CEOs make compared with the typical worker in their own companies.

A rule proposed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would require companies to disclose the ratio of total compensation between CEOs and the pay of the typical worker. The SEC rule is part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Major corporations like Walmart really don't like this, which is why we need your help.

If you want more transparency when it comes to what CEOs are paid compared with the people that make those companies run, please send a letter to the SEC supporting this rule. The comment period ends Dec. 2.

Tell the SEC companies must disclose CEO-to-worker pay ratios.

If you are an investor, make sure you identify yourself as one in the letter.


Shutdown Specter: US Fumbling Puts China at Risk

The whole world looked on as the United States embarrassed itself for three weeks with its government shutdown. China, the only other superpower, profited from the domestic dispute -- but as Washington's largest creditor, it also has cause for concern.

By Marc Hujer and Daniel Sander

A little before 11 a.m. last Wednesday, a newly crowned Miss America announced her presence at the White House via Twitter. At the time, most US politicians had nothing on their minds except their country's budget conflict, with Democrats and Republicans in Congress unable to agree on a new national debt limit for nearly three weeks.


In the preceding weeks, however, Obama seemed to find it difficult to multitask, cancelling meetings with a number of important, influential allies and investors and even calling off a trip to Asia during which he had planned to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Global Embarrassment

The United States had embarrassed itself on the global stage when Republican members of Congress blocked President Obama's healthcare reform, also known as "Obamacare," by refusing to approve an increase to the country's debt limit necessary to fund the reform. This forced the government to shut down its administration, making 800,000 government employees take unpaid mandatory leave, and amounted to the US voluntarily inflicting damage on itself. The political opponents didn't manage to reach an agreement -- and even then, only a temporary one -- until last Wednesday, under enormous pressure and at the last minute. Is this how a superpower behaves?

Those weeks during which the US feared for its financial solvency showed just how vulnerable the country is. Yet at the same time, the episode showed America's strength. No other country could afford to engage in such drama without being punished by financial markets, creditors and trade partners.



Wikipedia Declares All-Out War On PR Sock Puppets

Wikipedia editors are actively engaged in a wide-ranging battle against PR firms attempting to edit the crowdsourced encyclopedia’s entries to reflect their clients’ best interests.

Over the past couple weeks, those Wikipedia editors have isolated several hundred user accounts linked to people “paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products,” according to Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia’s operations. Those users’ accounts violate Wikipedia’s guidelines, “including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest.” Some 250 suspicious user accounts have already been nuked.

“Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way,” Gardner added. “Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.”

The idea of “pay for play” is a contentious one among Wikipedia’s editors, many of whom pride themselves on a high standard of impartiality when it comes to managing content. But the platform’s crowd-sourced nature often works against them in that regard, with pages about controversial subjects often turning into battlegrounds as multiple parties attempt to edit and re-edit content to fit a particular vision—unless Wikipedia opts to lock a page down, as it does with George W. Bush or Scientology. No matter how hard the editors work, though, Wikipedia’s gargantuan size also means they can’t eliminate every single vanity page set up by insecure and ambitious types.

Indeed, correcting biased text is a thankless job for those Wikipedia editors—the literary-world equivalent of killing endless hordes of zombies approaching your protective fence.



Diplomatic Embarassment || Netanyahu And The Pope: The Meeting That Wasn't

Despite the PMO's announcement last week that Netanyahu would be meeting with Pope Francis, such a meeting was never scheduled.

By Barak Ravid | Oct. 21, 2013

The announcement made six days ago that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would arrive in Rome to sit with Pope Francis has turned into a diplomatic embarrassment for Israel, after it emerged that the meeting was never scheduled to take place.

The Holy See never had a plan to meet with Netanyahu during his visit in Rome, despite a statement made by the Prime Minister's Office to the contrary.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Pope during a recent trip to Rome, and even received a pen as a gift that he said he hoped to use to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

Netanyahu also wanted to meet with the Pope and reporters were even informed that he is interested in discussing the Pope's planned visit to Israel, despite the fact that no specific date has been set yet.



Firefighters Battle Australia Blazes as Weather to Worsen

By Michael Sin - Oct 22, 2013

Emergency crews in Australia’s most-populous state are battling to contain wildfires raging through bushland west of Sydney before weather conditions worsen.

Firefighters bulldozed containment lines through the Blue Mountains region and used helicopters to help backburn tracts of forest, New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters today.

More than 2,000 emergency personnel are tackling about 60 blazes across the state, including 13 that are uncontained, Fitzsimmons said. Authorities urged residents of some townships in the Blue Mountains, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney, to leave their homes or face being isolated without power for several days if the fire front reaches them.

All schools in the region will be closed tomorrow, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting temperatures will rise and winds will reach 55 kilometers per hour.

State Premier Barry O’Farrell declared an emergency at the weekend, giving police and firefighters the power to forcibly evacuate people, tear down threatened buildings and cut off power and gas supplies.



Obama Seeks to Reassure France’s Hollande About Spying

By Margaret Talev and James G. Neuger - Oct 22, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama sought to reassure French President Francois Hollande about the countries’ relations after a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France.

The two leaders spoke by phone yesterday to discuss U.S. intelligence gathering, according to a White House statement. The call took place amid outrage in France stirred by a Le Monde report that U.S. authorities had intercepted and recorded 70.3 million bits of telecommunications data from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

“The president and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press -- some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed,” the White House said in its statement.

The call marked the latest instance of tensions with allies stoked by revelations about U.S. surveillance activities. The Le Monde report, based on information provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, led the Foreign Ministry in Paris to summon the U.S. ambassador yesterday.

“This type of practice between partners that intrudes on the private sphere is totally unacceptable,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Luxembourg yesterday. “We have to see to it very quickly that this practice ceases.”



WTI Crude Oil Trades Below $100 a Second Day as U.S. Supplies Gain

By Grant Smith - Oct 22, 2013

West Texas Intermediate traded below $100 a barrel for a second day after crude stockpiles rose to a 15-week high in the U.S., the world’s biggest oil consumer. The grade’s discount to Brent jumped to its biggest since April.

Futures were little changed, recovering from a three-month low amid speculation the Federal Reserve will maintain stimulus after data showed the U.S. added fewer jobs than forecast in September. Crude inventories increased by 4 million barrels to 374.5 million in the week ended Oct. 11, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Supplies were projected to climb by 3 million, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

“Relatively low refining runs and slow pre-winter demand continue to weigh on WTI,” said Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital in London. “There is little scope for a WTI price rebound at the moment given slackening fundamentals.”

WTI for November delivery, which expires today, decreased as much as 55 cents to $98.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The more-active December contract was at $99.76, up 8 cents, as of 2:04 p.m. London time. The volume of all futures traded was 52 percent higher than the 100-day average.



Foreigners Sold U.S. Assets as China Reduces Treasuries

By Kasia Klimasinska - Oct 22, 2013

Foreign investors were net sellers of U.S. long-term portfolio assets in August as China reduced its holdings of Treasuries to a six-month low.

The net long-term portfolio investment outflow was $8.9 billion after a revised $31 billion inflow in July, the Treasury Department said in a statement today in Washington. Net sales of U.S. equities by official holders abroad were a record $3.1 billion, and China lowered its holdings of U.S. government debt for the second time in three months, the department said.

The Treasury data cover a period before the Federal Reserve opted against reducing its monthly bond buying at a Sept. 17-18 meeting. Since then, a 16-day, partial government shutdown slowed growth and created a pause in economic statistics releases that is expected to delay the Fed’s first tapering until March, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

Today’s report showed China remained the biggest foreign owner of U.S. Treasuries in August even as its holdings dropped $11.2 billion to $1.27 trillion. Japan, the second-largest holder, increased its share by $13.7 billion to $1.15 trillion, the figures showed.

The Treasury’s monthly report on the cross-border flow of portfolio assets captures foreign buying and selling of U.S. securities as well as American investors’ transactions abroad. It also tracks holdings of Treasuries by countries.


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