Tag Archives: James Fallows

Carbon Capture Conundrum

The Political Panel’s Murray Mandryk and Stefani Langenegger discuss the controversy over the province’s $1.4B carbon dioxide capture project with Morning Edition host Sheila Coles.  You need to watch it.

This reminds me a lot of some of the Devine mega projects that never worked as promised which this Saskatchewan Party seems to still be in love with.  This is the first one they made happen and it’s really not working nearly as well as they promised.  As Murray Mandryk said, maybe Wall should not has been as smug as he has been.

Also as Mandryk says, maybe you can’t effectively capture coal in western Canada.  As Langenegger points out, SaskPower rate payers are actually subsidizing Alberta oil companies to get oil out of the ground.  This project is a big mess.

If you want to read more, check out James Fallows in The Atlantic on clean coal from 2010.

Hacked

A couple of weeks ago I logged into my Gmail and saw a warning that my account had been access by someone in Serbia.  I quickly changed my password and looked at my usage files and saw that yes my account had been access for a while from someone in Serbia.  I didn’t look like they sent any email but I have been finding a lot of email in my spam lately and people have been asking me about email and I hadn’t gotten it.  It was getting frustrating but I use Gmail so I would just blame SaskTel, Shaw or their own business email.

I don’t keep a lot of confidential emails in my account.  Wendy has access to it so and I have a pretty mundane life.  I do keep a tight track of my personal ID numbers and none of that is kept in my account but I never ever thought that could save me.  It looks like it did.

I contacted Google and thought about contacting the RCMP but at that time I wasn’t even sure at that time what had been done.

Google got back to me and outside of my spam folder being wrecked, a lot of emails had been trashed which were recoverable.  It wasn’t that bad.  What was bad was my password.  I was one of the first wave of Gmail users and switched right away.  I entered in a password and never changed it.  Over time what was a strong password had become a weak password and I paid the price.

Since that day my password has become a letter/number combo which is case sensitive.  There is no way to connected it to anything I have written or done.  It’s a strong password.  I have also enacted Google’s double verification for my email which means that when I log in to a strange computer, it sends a code to my cell phone which I have to enter.  Annoying but way more secure.

I am not alone in this, James Fallow’s wife went through a much worse experience than I did.  Here is what Fallows learned and I ignored.

But there is a middle ground, of passwords strong enough to create problems for hackers and still simple enough to be manageable. There are more details on our site, but strategies include:

• Choose a long, familiar-to-you sequence of ordinary words, with spaces between them as in an ordinary sentence, which more and more sites now allow. “Lake Winnebago is deep and chilly,” for instance. Or “my favorite packer is not brett favre.” You could remember a phrase like that, but a hacker’s computer, which couldn’t tell spaces from characters, would see only one forbiddingly long password sequence.
• Choose a shorter sequence of words that are not “real” English words. I once lived in a Ghanaian village called Assin Fosu. I can remember its name easily, but it would be hard to guess. Even harder if I added numbers or characters.
• Choose a truly obscure, gibberish password—“V*!amYEg5M5!3R” is one I generated just now with the LastPass system, and you’re welcome to it—and then find a way to store it. Having it written down in your wallet is one, though the paper it’s on shouldn’t say “Passwords” at the top. The approach I prefer, and use for some passwords, is to entrust them to online managers like LastPass or RoboForm. Even if their corporate sites were hacked, that wouldn’t reveal all your passwords, since the programs work by storing part of the encoding information in the cloud and part on your own machine.

At a minimum, any step up from “password,” “123456,” or your own birthday is worthwhile.

Finally, use different passwords. Not hundreds of different ones, for the hundreds of different places that require logins of some kind. The guide should be: any site that matters needs its own password—one you don’t currently use for any other site, and that you have never used anywhere else.

“Using an important password anywhere else is just like mailing your house key to anyone who might be making a delivery,” Michael Jones of Google said. “If you use your password in two places, it is not a valid password.”

I asked my experts how many passwords they personally used. The highest I heard was “about a dozen.” The lowest was four, and the norm was five or six. They all stressed that they managed their passwords and sites in different categories. In my own case, there are five sites whose security really matters to me: my main e‑mail account, two credit-card sites, a banking account, and an investment firm. Each has its own, good password, never used anywhere else. Next are the sites I’d just as soon not have compromised: airline-mileage accounts, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, various message boards and memberships. I have two or three semi-strong passwords I use among all of them. If you hacked one of them you might hack the others, but I don’t really care. Then there is everything else, the thicket of annoying little logins we all deal with. I have one or two passwords for them too. By making it easy to deal with unimportant accounts, I can concentrate on protecting the ones that matter.

I wish I had taken his advice.  What a mess and I got off lucky.

Is Eric Cantor the House of Representatives Last Valuable Player

From James Fallows in The Atlantic

Last month I argued that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was doing more harm to the national interest, or at least doing so more noticeably, than any of his Republican or Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Events during the budget/debt-ceiling “negotiations” suggest that he was just getting started back then. By comparison with Cantor, Speaker John Boehner has shown a touching national-interest big-heartedness. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no fan of bipartisan agreement, has at least based his hyper-complex “make the President do it” debt-ceiling scheme on the premise that the nation should not be forced into default — not even on a Democratic president’s watch.

But Cantor? As Jonathan Bernstein and Matthew Yglesias have pointed out, he has gone straight from the White House-Congressional negotiating sessions, prepared a slide show (you can see it here) purportedly based on their contents, and used it to encourage House Republicans to pocket all of the hypothetical concessions the Administration has discussed while making none of their own.

So why does this matter?

It’s easy to forget at times like these, but the whole ponderous U.S. political/governmental system is made of actual human beings, who — even as they respond to large-scale ideological, political, financial, and interest-group pressures — can still choose to behave better, or worse, in a given set of circumstances. And the difference between good and bad behavior can make a difference. (If JFK’s national security council had been much more hair-trigger and impatient during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or if Khrushchev had been, world history would have been different.)

And if a leading party in a very important set of negotiations has shown that he’ll walk right out of the “bargaining” room, release a distorted version of what has just been discussed, and use it to whip us his side to more demands, that makes a difference too. For the worse. The prospects for an agreement now are worse because of Rep. Cantor’s presence in them. That’s not because he’s a conservative — so, obviously, are Boehner and McConnell. It’s because he’s acting like a weasel.

From $10 Trillion to $23 Trillion in Debt

Frontline has an excellent show on how the United States got to $10 trillion in debt and what it will mean when it gets to $23 trillion in debt.  Hint: Fixing this financial crisis may make an even bigger one.

James Fallows writes in The Atlantic that China holds $1.4 trillion of that debt (we think).

Through the quarter-century in which China has been opening to world trade, Chinese leaders have deliberately held down living standards for their own people and propped them up in the United States. This is the real meaning of the vast trade surplus—$1.4 trillion and counting, going up by about $1 billion per day—that the Chinese government has mostly parked in U.S. Treasury notes. In effect, every person in the (rich) United States has over the past 10 years or so borrowed about $4,000 from someone in the (poor) People’s Republic of China. Like so many imbalances in economics, this one can’t go on indefinitely, and therefore won’t. But the way it ends—suddenly versus gradually, for predictable reasons versus during a panic—will make an enormous difference to the U.S. and Chinese economies over the next few years, to say nothing of bystanders in Europe and elsewhere.

He goes on to say

Any economist will say that Americans have been living better than they should—which is by definition the case when a nation’s total consumption is greater than its total production, as America’s now is. Economists will also point out that, despite the glitter of China’s big cities and the rise of its billionaire class, China’s people have been living far worse than they could. That’s what it means when a nation consumes only half of what it produces, as China does.

Neither government likes to draw attention to this arrangement, because it has been so convenient on both sides. For China, it has helped the regime guide development in the way it would like—and keep the domestic economy’s growth rate from crossing the thin line that separates “unbelievably fast” from “uncontrollably inflationary.” For America, it has meant cheaper iPods, lower interest rates, reduced mortgage payments, a lighter tax burden. But because of political tensions in both countries, and because of the huge and growing size of the imbalance, the arrangement now shows signs of cracking apart.

In an article two and a half years ago (“Countdown to a Meltdown,” July/August 2005), I described an imagined future in which a real-estate crash and shakiness in the U.S. credit markets led to panic by Chinese and other foreign investors, with unpleasant effects for years to come. The real world has recently had inklings of similar concerns. In the past six months, relative nobodies in China’s establishment were able to cause brief panics in the foreign-exchange markets merely by hinting that China might stop supplying so much money to the United States. In August, an economic researcher named He Fan, who works at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and did part of his doctoral research at Harvard, suggested in an op-ed piece in China Daily that if the U.S. dollar kept collapsing in value, China might move some of its holdings into stronger currencies. This was presented not as a threat but as a statement of the obvious, like saying that during a market panic, lots of people sell. The column quickly provoked alarmist stories in Europe and America suggesting that China was considering the “nuclear option”—unloading its dollars.

A few months later, a veteran Communist Party politician named Cheng Siwei suggested essentially the same thing He Fan had. Cheng, in his mid-70s, was trained as a chemical engineer and has no official role in setting Chinese economic policy. But within hours of his speech, a flurry of trading forced the dollar to what was then its lowest level against the euro and other currencies. The headline in the South China Morning Post the next day was: “Officials’ Words Shrivel U.S. Dollar.” Expressing amazement at the markets’ response, Carl Weinberg, chief economist at the High Frequency Economics advisory group, said, “This would be kind of like Congressman Charlie Rangel giving a speech telling the Fed to hike or cut interest rates.” (Cheng, like Rangel, is known for colorful comments—but he is less powerful, since Rangel after all chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.) In the following weeks, phrases like “run on the dollar” and “collapse of confidence” showed up more and more frequently in financial newsletters. The nervousness only increased when someone who does have influence, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, said last November, “We are worried about how to preserve the value” of China’s dollar holdings.