May 032019
 


Paul Klee In angel’s care (In Engelshut) 1931

 

Day of the Long Knives (Kassam)
Is The Media Driving America Insane? (LN)
How The News Took Over Reality (G.)
Assange or Khashoggi: Whither Journalistic Standards? (Aziz)
Democrats Rage At Empty Chair As Barr Misses Mueller Hearing (ZH)
How President Trump’s Legal Team Outfoxed Mueller (Chamberlain)
Ukrainian Embassy Confirms DNC Contractor Solicited Trump Dirt In 2016 (Hill)
April US Auto Sales Crash 6.1%, Worst Slide In 8 Years (ZH)
Global Foreign Direct Investment Flows Collapse (DQ)
Hippie-Punching MMT (Edward Harrison)

 

 

“If all these peoples’ ideas were not relevant, or popular, they would not need to be banned.”

It’s World Press Freedom Day today. Painfully ironic. We can’t let Facebook police our world. Or, rather, be police, judge and henchman all in one. We need laws for this and we need to apply them.

I don’t do Facebook anymore since they froze our account, what is it, 3 years ago?! I see Paul Joseph Watson every now and then on Twitter and though I don’t see myself becoming his best friend, he is an intelligent and articulate guy who has never violated Facebook’s regulations. Other than he has a link to Alex Jones. It’s easy to say Good Riddance, but you are next.

Day of the Long Knives (Kassam)

Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos have been unpersonned by the digital tech giant Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. They’re coming for you, next. Or more likely, for us. Human Events stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those being routinely targeted by the would-be ‘Masters of the Universe’, no matter if we agree with them or not. Also banned was Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the repugnant Nation of Islam group. But Farrakhan, like the others, should not have his fate decided by some little nerd in Silicon Valley who has decided his or her feelings are hurt. His fate should be decided in the court of public opinion, with sunlight acting as the greatest disinfectant.

Unfortunately, recent precedent has informed Big Tech that its methods to some extent work. The removal of people like Laura Loomer, Milo, and Tommy Robinson has directly impacted their livelihoods, their work, and their fundamental freedoms. And while Farrakhan is far from someone we would be seen dead around, it is only intellectually consistent if the rules apply both ways. For the psychopaths of Silicon Valley however, intellectual considerations come a distinct last to power, profit, and pandering. The likelihood is Farrakhan’s inclusion on the list is simply a sop to make the decision seem less of a one way street. If I were him, I’d be especially pissed off at being the fall guy in this regard.

But Jones, Loomer, Milo, and Watson have a claim to massive anger too, given they are being lumped in with a man who has said “white people deserve to die”, and who has said to Jewish people, “…don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Tommy now struggles to gain traction – albeit with a smile on his face – and a plan to drive a bus around the country with a big screen on it, to highlight the censorship he faces. Milo – and he will probably hate me for saying this – faces total financial ruin. Alex Jones has had a massive business ripped out from under him. And Laura Loomer has been relegated to staging protests on the front lawns of those who needlessly aggress her.

Read more …

If they can make a buck from it, they certainly will.

Is The Media Driving America Insane? (LN)

Now that more of us are consuming news media more often than ever, a higher number of Americans are being fed a steady mental diet of outrage, fear, and hostility wrapped in clickbait headlines designed to make us even more contemptuous of those whose political beliefs clash with our own. Many media outlets have transformed emotionally charged, but ultimately irrelevant, stories into their bread and butter, manipulating their audiences into giving them their precious clicks in exchange for a dose of anger and panic. Otherwise unimportant stories are catapulted into the mainstream simply because the press knows Americans will tune in and boost their ratings.


The Covington kids fiasco is a prime example. What should have been a local matter was morphed into an issue of national importance by a left-wing media apparatus that wanted to further their “MAGA Hat-wearing white people are the spawn of Satan” narrative. In the end, what is accomplished? For the press, it is higher ratings and more clicks. But for the American public, it is a heightened sense of fear, hatred, and stress – a toxic brew rending the social fabric. It is no wonder that many are predicting another civil war. It would be easy to dismiss such claims as pure alarmism, but given how the Fourth Estate wields their influence, this reality is not hard to imagine. Is it possible to reverse course? Sure, but it won’t be easy. The media is in this game for two reasons: To earn a profit, and to achieve their political objectives. They have no incentive to inform rather than persuade. If the trend persists, things are sure to get uglier before they get better.

Read more …

Such a piece coming from the Guardian is pretty priceless. Even if it makes some valid points, it’s publications like that which seek to alter reality. Don’t report the news, but manufacture it.

How The News Took Over Reality (G.)

In recent years, there has been enormous concern about the time we spend on our web-connected devices and what that might be doing to our brains. But a related psychological shift has gone largely unremarked: the way that, for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama. The way that journalists and television producers have always experienced the news is now the way millions of others experience it, too.


From a British or American standpoint, the overwhelmingly dominant features of this changed mental landscape are Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump. But the sheer outrageousness of them both risks blinding us to how strange and recent a phenomenon it is for the news – any news – to assume such a central position in people’s daily lives. In a now familiar refrain, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof bemoans his social circle’s “addiction to Trump” – “at cocktail parties, on cable television, at the dinner table, at the water cooler, all we talk about these days is Trump.” But Trump’s eclipse of all other news is not the only precondition for this addiction. The other is the eclipse of the rest of life by the dramas of the news.

Read more …

Excellent point. But there’s more: how does Assange’s freedom relate to that of the people who got banned from Facebook yesterday? Most of us will initially react to that question with something about what and who we like, but that’s not good enough.

Assange or Khashoggi: Whither Journalistic Standards? (Aziz)

Did international media and free press advocates who once celebrated Assange, utilized his revelations and heaped awards on Wikileaks, collectively agreed to abandon their erstwhile hero? And why the turnaround? (It’s not easy to explain although one observer suggests former associates actually conspired to depose him.) Increased silence from within Assange’s refuge presaged his recent ‘capture’. Then, when he suddenly appeared, subdued by dozens of guards, how shamelessly international media rushed to cheer his arrest. They seemed to delight in highlighting scant, salacious details of his condition at the time of his arrest. Reprehensible. Dismaying. Will those gloating journalists care what his captors do to Assange in detention?


This for the man whose political analyses and Wikileaks revelations had been daily headlines not long ago. This for a journalist and publisher who introduced a profound strategy to expose a government’s sinister diplomatic schemes, excesses and crimes documented by their own internal reports. This for an organization gathering evidence of government wrongdoing at a critical time, starting in 2006 when U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being reevaluated by a sobering public. Rumors of military crimes, cover-ups, torture, black-site prisons, etc. had gradually, although belatedly, gained credibility and, following the Abu Graib Prison revelations, Wikileaks provided irrefutable evidence of how U.S.A. and its allies conducted their wars.

Read more …

From the WSJ Editorial Board yesterday: “Mr. Barr has since released the full Mueller report with minor redactions, as he promised, and with the “context” intact. Keep in mind Mr. Barr was under no legal obligation to release anything at all. Mr. Mueller reports only to Mr. Barr, not to the country or Congress.

Mr. Barr has also made nearly all of the redactions in the report available to senior Members of Congress to inspect at Justice. Yet as of this writing, only three Members have bothered—Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and ranking House Republican on Judiciary Doug Collins. Not one Democrat howling about Mr. Barr’s lack of transparency has examined the outrages they claim are hidden.”

Doug Collins’ tirade is a good listen. No need to agree with him.

Democrats Rage At Empty Chair As Barr Misses Mueller Hearing (ZH)

Refusing to allow the fact that AG Barr chose not to attend today’s Mueller Report hearing, angry Democrats took full advantage of the photo-op to conjure images of a terrified attorney general cowering from the truth and protecting a clearly guilty-of-something president. Despite Barr’s decision last night not to attend, because he objected to Democratic demands that their staff counsel be able to question him, Democrats went forward with the theater of the hearing anyway, setting up an empty chair for the absent attorney general. As The Hill reports, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to the morning event, and accused Barr of being a coward after it ended. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tore into Barr, accusing him of failing to check President Trump’s “worst instincts” and misrepresenting Mueller’s findings.

“He has failed the men and women of the Department by placing the needs of the President over the fair administration of justice,” Nadler said. “He has even failed to show up today.” Republicans did not take it lying down with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) noted vociferously that “Judiciary Democrats say AG Barr is “terrified.” Yesterday he testified for over five hours in an open hearing. Today, they cut off my microphone.” And, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) accused Nadler of staging a “circus political stunt” and said the Democratic chairman wanted the hearing to look like an impeachment hearing. “That is the reason. The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today. That’s the reason he’s not here,” Collins said. “Not hearing from him is a travesty to this committee today.”

Read more …

Excellent read. Mueller wanted to make Trump’s firing of Comey to be obstruction. But that would have taken some hoops to jump through.

How President Trump’s Legal Team Outfoxed Mueller (Chamberlain)

When the Mueller Report was released on April 18th, most commentators focused on the “explosive” factual allegations. But other than the shocking revelation that the President once used an expletive in private, very few of those facts were novel; most were leaked long ago. At the end of Volume II of the Mueller Report, however, there were 20 pages of genuinely new material. There, the former FBI director turned Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended his “Application of Obstruction-Of-Justice Statutes To The President.” These overlooked 20 pages were dedicated to defending Mueller’s interpretation of a single subsection of a single obstruction-of-justice statute: 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).

That’s quite strange, but you know what’s stranger still? In June 2018, Bill Barr, then in private practice at Kirkland & Ellis, wrote a detailed legal memorandum to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This memo came to light in December, when Barr was nominated for Attorney General. The subject was Mueller’s interpretation of the aforementioned 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). [..] Reading Barr’s June 2018 memo alongside the last twenty pages of the Mueller Report is a curious experience. Together, they read like dueling legal briefs on the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2); the type of material one would expect to see from adversarial appellate litigators.

So-why did Robert Mueller dedicate 20 pages of his report to a seemingly obscure question of statutory interpretation? Why did Bill Barr write a detailed legal memorandum to Rod Rosenstein about that very same statute? And how, exactly, did Bill Barr know that that § 1512(c)(2) was central to Mueller’s obstruction theory – in June 2018, when he was still in private practice at Kirkland? [..] why, exactly, was the interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) so contested? Let’s start by looking the statute, excerpted here: (c) Whoever corruptly— (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so [is guilty of the crime of obstruction].

Why was this so important to Mueller? Because most of the obstruction statutes couldn’t possibly apply to President Trump’s behavior, as they require that a defendant obstruct a “pending proceeding” before an agency or tribunal. It is settled law that an FBI investigation does not constitute such a proceeding. But § 1512(c) applies to acts of obstruction done with the intent of impairing evidence for a future, potential proceeding. That made it potentially usable against the President.

Read more …

Ukraine is central. Even without Biden.

Ukrainian Embassy Confirms DNC Contractor Solicited Trump Dirt In 2016 (Hill)

The boomerang from the Democratic Party’s failed attempt to connect Donald Trump to Russia’s 2016 election meddling is picking up speed, and its flight path crosses right through Moscow’s pesky neighbor, Ukraine. That is where there is growing evidence a foreign power was asked, and in some cases tried, to help Hillary Clinton. In its most detailed account yet, Ukraine’s embassy in Washington says a Democratic National Committee insider during the 2016 election solicited dirt on Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and even tried to enlist the country’s president to help.


In written answers to questions, Ambassador Valeriy Chaly’s office says DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa sought information from the Ukrainian government on Paul Manafort’s dealings inside the country, in hopes of forcing the issue before Congress. Chalupa later tried to arrange for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to comment on Manafort’s Russian ties on a U.S. visit during the 2016 campaign, the ambassador said. Chaly says that, at the time of the contacts in 2016, the embassy knew Chalupa primarily as a Ukrainian-American activist, and learned only later of her ties to the DNC. He says the embassy considered her requests an inappropriate solicitation of interference in the U.S. election.

Read more …

Am I still the only one who thinks this is good news?

April US Auto Sales Crash 6.1%, Worst Slide In 8 Years (ZH)

It was yet another dismal month for US auto sales in April, continuing a recessionary trend that has been in place not only in the US, but globally, for the better part of the last 12 months and certainly since the beginning of 2019. The nonsense-excuse-du jour for this month’s disappointing numbers is being placed on the weather on seasonality on rising car prices, which easily pushed away an overextended, broke and debt-laden U.S. consumer. In a nutshell, US auto sales in April tumbled by 6.1% – the biggest monthly drop since May 2011 – to just 16.4 million units, the lowest since October 2014.

Aside for an incentive-boost driven rebound in March, every month of 2019 has seen a decline in the number of annualized auto sales. Furthermore, as David Rosenberg notes, the -4.3% Y/Y trend is the weakest it has been for the past 8 years. Adding “fuel to the fire”, the average price of a new car in April came in at $36,720, the highest ASP so far this year, according to The Detroit News. It comes at a time where interest rates remain above 6% on average, further pressuring sales.

Read more …

Mostly US funds flowing back home.

Global Foreign Direct Investment Flows Collapse (DQ)

Global foreign direct investment flows plunged by another 27% in 2018 — after having already plunged 16% in 2017 — to just $1.1 trillion, the equivalent of 1.3% of global GDP, the lowest ratio since 1999, according to new data released by the OECD. It was the third consecutive annual plunge in global FDI flows, as more and more companies either choose not to invest in businesses or assets in other countries or are prevented from doing so. At the peak in 2015, before the trade wars began, before the Brexit vote happened, and before China began cracking down on the capital outflows that had fueled big-ticket purchases of strategic companies across the globe as well as surging asset prices in multiple jurisdictions, global FDI flows totaled $1.92 trillion and represented around 2.5% of global GDP. FDI has since collapsed by 43%.

The OECD apportions much of the blame for the latest fall in FDI flows on the US tax reform in 2017, which prompted many US companies to repatriate large amounts of earnings held with foreign affiliates in countries such as Ireland and Switzerland, which both suffered a massive reduction in inward foreign investment last year. The U.S. is traditionally the world’s biggest source of FDI, but last year it recorded negative outflows for the first time since 2005, as the movement of funds from U.S. investors into global businesses and assets reversed and flowed back toward the U.S., at least on paper. The total sum of outflows last year was -$48 billion, compared to $316 billion in 2017.

Read more …

Time to reserve some space for MMT. Harrison has some valid views.

Hippie-Punching MMT (Edward Harrison)

A lot of people like to argue that the central bank and the central government are independent and autonomous powers. And the argument goes that because of this autonomy, central governments like the US aren’t really all-powerful because the central bank can simply refuse to create more IOUs. I think this is a ridiculous argument, though. The central bank is the central government’s agent. And it exists only as a vehicle for executing banking and monetary policies in the government’s interest. The independence it enjoys is entirely at the central government’s discretion – mostly to create the appearance of non-politically motivated policy which would create inflation and debase the currency. If push came to shove, the central government would do whatever it took to issue IOUs to promise to pay the bearer of its money the required sum of fiat currency.

Notice, though, that Euro Zone governments don’t have the same power because they cannot create euros. Sure, they can enforce tax in euros with the coercive power of the penalty of prison as an incentive. But, when their euro taxes fall short, they can’t create euros to make up the shortfall. The euro is not their IOU. They are just like any other debtor in the eurozone. And the MMT crowd were onto this right from the start. In fact, one of the MMT forefathers, Wynne Godley, predicted the European Sovereign Debt Crisis when the euro was first conceived in 1992. On the other hand, most mainstream economists were caught flat-footed by the crisis. They were operating under the assumption that the bond vigilantes had the same power over all debtors including sovereigns.

They said the bond vigilantes just gave sovereigns more leeway. And that’s still their position today despite all evidence to the contrary. How do you trade that? For me, I trade that by saying Germany is the de facto ‘sovereign’ in the euro zone because of its size and fiscal rectitude. The euro would have to cease to exist before German sovereign debt came under attack from bond vigilantes. Now, if Deutsche Bank went bankrupt and Germany bailed it out at great cost and went on a deficit binge to boot and government debt to GDP ended up ballooning to 120% of GDP, things would be different.

Read more …

 

 

Jan 042018
 
 January 4, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Michel Basquiat Irony of the Negro Policeman 1981

 

UPDATE: There is a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been an at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.

Therefore, even if the generosity of our readership has been nothing short of miraculous, we must continue to humbly ask you for more support. Because our work is not done. Our latest essay on this is here: The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018 . It contains links to all 14 previous articles on the situation.

Here’s how you can help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos.

 

 

Investors Should ‘Brace For Near-Term Melt-Up – Grantham (MW)
Top Bosses Earn More In 3 Days Than Average Worker In Entire Year (G.)
Security Flaws Put Virtually All Phones, Computers At Risk (R.)
The Microprocessor Security Flaw Explained (BBG)
The CEO of Wells Fargo Might Be in Big, Big Trouble (Dayen)
NYC Apartment Sales Collapse 25% In Q4 As Trump Tax Plan Takes Its Toll (ZH)
Tesla Falls Far Short On Model 3 Deliveries (CNBC)
US Auto Sales Fall for 2nd Year (WS)
UK Thinks EU is Bluffing on No Brexit Deal for Banks (BBG)
UK Opposition Party Grassroots Support Second Brexit Vote (R.)
China Communist Party Paper Bashes Bitcoin (SCMP)
China to Curb Power Supply for Some Bitcoin Miners (BBG)

 

 

Over 50% chance of melt up, with over 90% chance of subsequent melt down of 50% (or more).

Investors Should ‘Brace For Near-Term Melt-Up – Grantham (MW)

Jeremy Grantham, who is credited with calling the 2000 and 2008 downturns, warned investors Wednesday to be prepared for the possibility of a near-term “melt-up” that would likely set the stage for a burst bubble and a stock-market meltdown. In a 13-page note that he emphasized reflected “a very personal view,” the value investor and co-founder and chief investment strategist of Boston-based asset manager GMO compared the present market setup with the run-up to past bubbles, including the 2000 tech boom and the precursor to the 1929 crash. “I recognize on one hand that this is one of the highest-priced markets in U.S. history. On the other hand, as a historian of the great equity bubbles, I also recognize that we are currently showing signs of entering the blow-off or melt-up phase of this very long bull market,” Grantham said.

He terms the current market run-up the “possible/probable bubble of 2018-19.” In the note, Grantham emphasizes that bubble calls shouldn’t necessarily rely on price alone. Instead, he puts emphasis on price acceleration, which captures “the importance of a true psychological event of momentum increasing to a frenzy.” Read the note here. Grantham favorably cited an academic paper published last year that concluded that the strongest indicator of a bubble in U.S. and almost all global markets was price acceleration. As for the S&P 500 SPX, +0.64% Grantham says that “just recently, say the last six months, we have been showing a modest acceleration, the base camp, perhaps, for a final possible assault on the peak.

“Exhibit 4 (shown below) represents our quick effort at showing what level of acceleration it might take to make 2018 (and possibly 2019) look like a classic bubble,” he wrote. “A range of nine to 18 months from today and a price rise to around 3,400 to 3,700 on the S&P 500 would show the same 60% gain over 21 months as the least of the other classic bubble events.” [..] • “A melt-up or end-phase of a bubble within the next six months to two years is likely, i.e., over 50%.” • ”If there is a melt-up, then the odds of a subsequent bubble break or meltdown are very, very high, i.e., over 90%. • “If there is a market decline following a melt-up, it is quite likely to be a decline of some 50%.”

Read more …

‘Fat Cat Thursday’. Bad idea if you want a functioning economy.

Top Bosses Earn More In 3 Days Than Average Worker In Entire Year (G.)

Bosses of top British companies will have made more money by lunchtime on Thursday than the average UK worker will earn in the entire year, according to an independent analysis of the vast gap in pay between chief executives and everyone else. The chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid a median average of £3.45m a year, which works out at 120 times the £28,758 collected by full-time UK workers on average. On an hourly basis the bosses will have earned more in less than three working days than the average employee will pick up this year, leading campaigners to dub the day “Fat Cat Thursday”. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said it was outrageous that bosses were picking up “salaries that look like telephone numbers” while workers were “suffering the longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times”.

The analysis by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the High Pay Centre shows chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid an average of £898 per hour – 256 times what apprentices earn on the minimum wage. Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union, said the pay gap between bosses and workers was “simply obscene”. “Does anyone really think these fat cats deserve 100 times more than the hard-working people who prop up their business empires?” he said. “Workers who have to scrimp and save to feed their families and put a roof over their head – and like most of Britain’s working population will now be feeling the pinch after the festive period?”

Read more …

And it’s not just phones and computers either.

Security Flaws Put Virtually All Phones, Computers At Risk (R.)

One of the bugs is specific to Intel but another affects laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and internet servers alike. Intel and ARM insisted that the issue was not a design flaw, but it will require users to download a patch and update their operating system to fix. “Phones, PCs, everything are going to have some impact, but it’ll vary from product to product,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in an interview with CNBC Wednesday afternoon. Researchers with Alphabet Inc’s Google Project Zero, in conjunction with academic and industry researchers from several countries, discovered two flaws. The first, called Meltdown, affects Intel chips and lets hackers bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer’s memory, potentially letting hackers read a computer’s memory and steal passwords.

The second, called Spectre, affects chips from Intel, AMD and ARM and lets hackers potentially trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information. The researchers said Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp had patches ready for users for desktop computers affected by Meltdown. Microsoft declined to comment and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment. Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who discovered Meltdown, called it “probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found” in an interview with Reuters. Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but could be decisively stopped with software patches. Spectre, the broader bug that applies to nearly all computing devices, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but less easily patched and will be a bigger problem in the long term, he said.

Speaking on CNBC, Intel’s Krzanich said Google researchers told Intel of the flaws “a while ago” and that Intel had been testing fixes that device makers who use its chips will push out next week. Before the problems became public, Google on its blog said Intel and others planned to disclose the issues on Jan. 9. Google said it informed the affected companies about the “Spectre” flaw on June 1, 2017 and reported the “Meltdown” flaw after the first flaw but before July 28, 2017. The flaws were first reported by tech publication The Register. It also reported that the updates to fix the problems could causes Intel chips to operate 5% to 30% more slowly.

Read more …

They all use these features. They’re not actually flaws. That makes it hard to repair.

The Microprocessor Security Flaw Explained (BBG)

The weakness uncovered by Google [..] underscores the potential damage wreaked by vulnerabilities in hardware. Complex components, such as microprocessors, can be harder to fix and take longer to design from scratch if flawed. “It’s a big one and it’s a severe one. This gives an attacker capabilities that bypass the common operating system security controls that we’ve relied on for 20 years,” said Jeff Pollard, an analyst at Forrester Research. “There’s big impact on both the consumer and enterprise.” Intel’s stock remained under pressure even after its statement. “We struggle to believe that Intel won’t face some sort of financial liability,” analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein wrote in a note.

[..] Applying the operating system upgrades designed to remedy the flaw could hamper performance, security experts said. The Register reported that slowdowns could be as much as 30% – something Intel said would occur only in extremely unusual circumstances. Computer slowdowns will vary based on the task being performed and for the average user “should not be significant and will be mitigated over time,” Intel said, adding that it has begun providing software to help limit potential exploits. Intel’s efforts to play down the impact resulted in a war of words with AMD. Intel said it’s working with chipmakers including AMD and ARM Holdings, as well as operating system makers to develop an industrywide approach to resolving the issue. AMD was quick to retort, saying, “there is near-zero risk” to its processors because of differences in the way they are designed and built.

The vulnerability doesn’t just affect PCs. All modern microprocessors, including those that run smartphones, are built to essentially guess what functions they’re likely to be asked to run next. By queuing up possible executions in advance, they’re able to crunch data and run software much faster. The problem in this case is that this predictive loading of instructions allows access to data that’s normally cordoned off securely, Intel Vice President Stephen Smith said on a conference call. That means, in theory, that malicious code could find a way to access information that would otherwise be out of reach, such as passwords. “The techniques used to accelerate processors are common to the industry,” said Ian Batten at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. who specializes in computer security. The fix being proposed will definitely result in slower operating times, but reports of slowdowns of 25% to 30% are “worst-case” scenarios, he said.

Read more …

Foot meet mouth.

The CEO of Wells Fargo Might Be in Big, Big Trouble (Dayen)

Late last year, Congress scrapped Obama-era rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would have banned forced-arbitration clauses in financial contracts. This bill, which President Trump quickly signed, was self-evidently bad for consumers at the time—and if anyone needs further proof of how ridiculous and harmful these clauses are, just look at what Wells Fargo has been up to over the past several months. The mega-bank famously issued at least 3.5 million fake accounts without consumer consent, triggering a $185 million fine to state and federal regulators. The bank aimed to demonstrate sales growth to investors and boost the stock price with bogus numbers, but millions of customers got caught up in the exchange, paying unnecessary fees and taking hits to their credit scores. Scores of defrauded customers sued Wells Fargo in a series of class-action lawsuits.

Wells Fargo then tried to defy metaphysical reality: It moved to block one class-action case in Utah by claiming that the arbitration clause in customer contracts on the real accounts they held at the bank also applied to the fake accounts. By this theory, Wells Fargo customers signed away their legal rights when it came to accounts they didn’t even sign. The Utah plaintiffs fought Wells’s motion to compel arbitration, and rejected a $142 million settlement offer from the bank. While the two sides tangled in court, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on October 3. And when Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) asked Sloan point-blank if Wells Fargo was using arbitration clauses from real accounts and applying them to fake accounts, Sloan said, “There were instances [of that] historically. We’re not doing that today.”

He also committed to not forcing arbitration in fake-accounts cases moving forward. When Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) brought up the Utah case, where Wells Fargo had made motions to compel arbitration just two weeks earlier, Sloan said he wasn’t familiar with it. But lawyers in Utah get C-SPAN. The plaintiffs in the case immediately appealed to the judge and argued that, with his remarks before Congress, Sloan had effectively waived Wells Fargo’s right to compel arbitration. Judge Clark Waddoups promptly scheduled a two-day trial for January 22 on the question. He also allowed the plaintiffs to depose Sloan in conjunction with the trial; that deposition is scheduled for Friday.

This put Sloan in a tight spot. Steven Christensen, attorney for the plaintiffs, told me he had only one question for Sloan: Did he state to Congress that Wells Fargo would waive arbitration claims on fake accounts? If Sloan said yes, the Utah case would go forward; if he said no, Christensen would appeal to Congress to hold him in contempt for lying to the Senate Banking Committee.

Read more …

End of an era?!

NYC Apartment Sales Collapse 25% In Q4 As Trump Tax Plan Takes Its Toll (ZH)

Apparently the combination of a massive flood of excess supply in the form of new luxury developments and a Trump tax plan that penalizes people living in expensive cities by capping SALT, mortgage interest and property tax deductions was simply too much for the Manhattan real estate market to ignore in 4Q 2017. As Douglas Elliman points out in their new Q4 2017 Manhattan Market Report, both prices (-9.4%) and volumes (-25.4%) of New York City apartments collapsed sequentially in Q4 as potential buyers took a pause amid the growing uncertainty.

“Sales activity for the Manhattan housing market was at the lowest fourth quarter total in six years. The pace of the fall market noticeably cooled as market participants awaited the housing-related terms of the new federal tax bill. This translated into a decline in year over year closings for the final quarter of the year, although contract volume showed an uptick. There were 2,514 sales to close in the final quarter of the year, down 12.3% from the prior-year quarter. The decline in sales allowed listing inventory to rise after declining year over year for the past few quarters. There were 5,451 listings at the end of the quarter, up 1.1% from the same period a year ago. As a result, the absorption rate, the number of months to sell all inventory at the current rate of sales slowed, rising to 6.5 months from 5.6 months in the year-ago quarter.

Listing discount, the%age difference between the list price at the date of sale and the sales price, was 5.4% up nominally from 5.3% in the prior year quarter as sellers continued to travel farther to meet the buyer on price. Buyers continued to hold firm, forcing sellers to meet them on price. Days on market, the average number of days to sell all apartments that closed during the quarter rose 3.2% to 97 days from 94 days in than the same period last year. New development active listings and resale listings were up 0.7% and 1.2% respectively over the same period. With the nominal rise in supply, there was also a nominal decline in bidding wars, still accounting for 11.7% of all sales in the quarter, down 0.9% from the same period last year.”

 

Read more …

Musk keeps hoping people will forget the last batch of bad data when the newest comes in.

Tesla Falls Far Short On Model 3 Deliveries (CNBC)

Tesla is apparently still deep in the circles of production hell. On Wednesday, the electric car maker released delivery numbers for the fourth quarter of 2017 that fell short of many expectations on Wall Street, and once again pushed back production targets on its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan. Tesla shares fell roughly 2% in after-hours trading. “As we continue to focus on quality and efficiency rather than simply pushing for the highest possible volume in the shortest period of time, we expect to have a slightly more gradual ramp through Q1, likely ending the quarter at a weekly rate of about 2,500 Model 3 vehicles,” Tesla said in a release. “We intend to achieve the 5,000 per week milestone by the end of Q2.” In 2017, the company had said it planned to reach a production rate of 5,000 cars per week for the Model 3, but later revised back that target to the end of the first quarter.

Now, Tesla expects to reach the target by the end of the second quarter. Tesla said it made “major progress” toward addressing the “production bottlenecks” the company has blamed for falling so far short of its Model 3 targets. The company said that in the last few days of the quarter it reached a production rate that “extrapolates to over 1,000 Model 3’s per week.” CEO Elon Musk had previously said he expected weekly Model 3 production to be “in the thousands” by the end of 2017. Tesla said it delivered 29,870 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2017, including 1,550 of its anticipated Model 3 sedan. The electric-car maker also delivered 15,200 Model S sedans, and 13,120 Model X SUVs. That represents a 27% increase over the same quarter in 2016 for both models combined, and a 9% increase over Q3 2017, Tesla’s previous best quarter, the company said.

Read more …

The US has enough cars anyway.

US Auto Sales Fall for 2nd Year (WS)

Total new-vehicle sales in the US fell 5.2% year-over-year in December to 1.6 million units. For all of 2017, sales declined by 320,000 vehicles, or 1.8%, to 17.23 million units. It was the first overall decline since the Financial Crisis. Compared to 2015, sales fell by 249,033 vehicles, or 1.4%. These sales are vehicles delivered by dealers to their customers, or delivered by automakers directly to large fleet customers, as reported by Autodata.

For the big three US automakers and some import brands it was the second year in a row of sales declines (two-year percent change from 2015):
GM -2.7%
Ford -1.1%
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) -8.6%
Toyota -2.6%
Hyundai -10.0%
Kia -5.8%
Daimler -1.4%
BMW -12.6%
Mazda -9.3%

The table below shows new-vehicle sales by automaker, sorted by total sales in 2017 (gray column). Automakers with declining sales in 2017 are marked in red. The green column shows the two-year %age change from 2015. Turns out that replacement demand for new vehicles after Hurricane Harvey was strong, but not nearly strong enough to pull out the year for total US auto sales, and what demand there has been will peter out going forward. Car sales plunged 17% year-over-year in December, 10.9% in all of 2017, and 18.1% from 2015. They’ve been left behind by consumers who’re switching to crossovers and SUVs which the industry considers trucks. So truck sales – pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and vans – rose 1.7% in December, 4.3% for the year, and 11.8% compared to 2015.

Read more …

They’re not.

UK Thinks EU is Bluffing on No Brexit Deal for Banks (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May believes Michel Barnier is bluffing when he says there will be no special deal for financial services, officials said, as the U.K. prepares to negotiate its post-Brexit ties with the European Union. Two senior officials familiar with the matter privately think the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator is faking a hard-line stance in ruling out a deal that would allow banks to continue operating freely across the bloc. Talks have yet to start on Britain’s future trade agreement with the EU but Barnier said last month there was no chance of a deal that replicated the easy access that U.K.-based financial services currently enjoy to the single market. The U.K. officials said the French former commissioner was simply setting out an opening position that did not have backing from the 27 other EU member countries.

They said banks based in London will be fine because businesses operating in the EU will need to maintain access to finance after Brexit. The fate of London’s financial district is urgent for May, who last month agreed to pay a £39 billion ($53 billion) bill to start talks on the nuts and bolts of a transition. With Britain’s departure from the bloc just 14 months away, businesses are counting on a two-year adjustment period. [..] Last month, May said U.K. financial services should be optimistic about Britain’s trade talks, which are due to start in March. She cited Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as evidence that other EU leaders are open to Britain carving out a custom-made trading relationship with the bloc that covers services. Yet Barnier insists the U.K. will not be offered anything more than a Canada-style deal, which keeps tariffs to a minimum on goods but does not include trade in services.

Read more …

Big 2018 story. But it can’t be spoken out loud.

UK Opposition Party Grassroots Support Second Brexit Vote (R.)

Eight out of 10 grassroots members of Britain’s opposition Labour Party want a referendum on the terms of the country’s exit from the European Union, according to a survey published on Thursday. That is at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s official policy which calls for parliament, not the public, to have the final say on the terms of the deal. It indicates a strong desire among the party’s rank and file members for a chance to demand a rethink on Brexit, or even overturn the outcome of the June 2016 vote to leave the EU. Eighteen months after voting 52 to 48% to withdraw from the EU, Britons remain deeply divided over leaving a bloc which has defined much of the country’s laws, trade policy and international outlook over more than four decades of membership. Theresa May’s Conservative minority government has dismissed the idea of a second referendum.

But ministers have already been forced to give parliament a greater say in the Brexit process than they initially wanted to after members of May’s own party rebelled on the issue in December. Thursday’s survey of attitudes within Britain’s main political parties showed 49% of Labour members definitely wanted a second referendum on the exit deal and a further 29% said they were more in favor of the idea than against it. The poll of more than 4,000 members of political parties was conducted shortly after last June’s national election as part of a three-year academic project by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London to discover more about people who belong to political parties. It showed even higher demand for a second vote on Brexit among members of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. By contrast, only 14% of Conservative Party members wanted a referendum on the exit deal.

Read more …

Bitcoin is a bad fit in a super-centralized society

China Communist Party Paper Bashes Bitcoin (SCMP)

China’s ruling Communist Party mouthpiece lashed out at bitcoin on Wednesday, labelling the volatile cryptocurrency a bubble and a modern-day tulip mania. A People’s Daily commentary written under the name “Wei Liang” said it was an established fact that bitcoin was a bubble. “Irrespective of whether it is assessed on price or value, bitcoin is flooded with froth,” it said. “Its so-called advantages – scarcity, authenticity, strong liquidity, transparency and decentralisation – are only covers for speculation and cannot support its volatile price.” It said bitcoin’s bubbles were created by a combination of hype, mystery, decentralisation and possible insider trading, suggesting that a small group of bitcoin owners were speculating on its price and manipulating general investors.

The commentary compared bitcoin to the seventeenth century mania in which prices for tulip bulbs skyrocketed and then collapsed. It also said there would be more “bubble breaking” in bitcoin after governments around the world tightened regulation. The central government sees bitcoin as a source of risk. It banned domestic cryptocurrency exchanges last year after failing to regulate the fast growth of initial coin offerings, the virtual currency equivalent of an initial public offering. [..] Bitcoin investors are on alert to see whether Beijing will take further action against cryptocurrencies, such as shutting down bitcoin “mines”, the energy-hungry operations that create bitcoin by solving mathematical problems using vast banks of computers.

Read more …

Easy to trace.

China to Curb Power Supply for Some Bitcoin Miners (BBG)

China plans to limit power use by some bitcoin miners, people familiar with the matter said, a potential challenge to an industry whose energy-intensive computer networks enable transactions in the cryptocurrency. The People’s Bank of China outlined the plan Wednesday at a closed-door meeting, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public. They didn’t detail how authorities plan to enact the curbs. Chinese officials are concerned that bitcoin miners have taken advantage of low power prices in some areas and affected normal electricity use in some cases, the people said. Local officials have been asked to investigate the high consumption associated with the industry, they said. The curbs will also involve other regulators such as the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees the power supply.

While the proposed restrictions are unlikely to have a noticeable effect on transaction speeds, they highlight global concerns over the growing energy consumption of bitcoin miners. The industry now uses as much electricity as 3.4 million U.S. households, according to the Digiconomist Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index. China is home to many of the world’s largest miners, some of whom have set up around hydroelectric facilities in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. “This may have contributed to bitcoin coming off its daily highs,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at online trading firm Oanda in London. “Electricity usage certainly appears to be a significant challenge for the cryptocurrency in the years ahead.” Bitcoin, which surged 15-fold last year, pared gains on Wednesday and traded around $14,900 on Thursday.

Read more …