Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946
Net worth my ass.
• Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.
In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.
[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”
Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.
• EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.
The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.
The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.
Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.
• UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.
Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”
Sold his shares first?!
• Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.
Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.
Now connect this to the Facebook stories.
• The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.
The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”
The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.
One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?
• Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.
The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.
C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.
• German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.
They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.
We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.
• Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.
Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.
If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.
For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.
On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”
• Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.
[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.
[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.
However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”
Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.
Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.
• France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)
Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.
The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.
“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.
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