May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roman Vishniac Isaac Street, Krakow 1930s

 

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)
IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)
China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)
With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)
Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)
Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)
Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)
Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)
What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)
Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

 

 

Why not just call him a spy?

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)

An extremely strange episode that has engulfed official Washington over the last two weeks came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night. And it revolves around a long-time, highly sketchy CIA operative, Stefan Halper. Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.

Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

Read more …

Excellent from Zero Hedge. Things are going to change. Read the whole thing.

IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)

As we reported on Thursday, a long-awaited report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog into the Hillary Clinton email investigation has moved into its final phase, as the DOJ notified multiple subjects mentioned in the document that they can privately review it by week’s end, and will have a “few days” to craft any response to criticism contained within the report, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Those invited to review the report were told they would have to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to read it, people familiar with the matter said. They are expected to have a few days to craft a response to any criticism in the report, which will then be incorporated in the final version to be released in coming weeks.” -WSJ

Now, journalist Paul Sperry reports that “IG Horowitz has found “reasonable grounds” for believing there has been a violation of federal criminal law in the FBI/DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation/s and has referred his findings of potential criminal misconduct to Huber for possible criminal prosecution.” Sperry also noted on Twitter that the FBI and DOJ had been targeting former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn before his December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, stemming from photos of Flynn at a December 2015 Moscow event with Vladimir Putin (and Jill Stein). As we reported in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed John Huber – Utah’s top federal prosecutor, to be paired with IG Horowitz to investigate the multitude of accusations of FBI misconduct surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The announcement came one day after Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed that he will also be investigating allegations of FBI FISA abuse. While Huber’s appointment fell short of the second special counsel demanded by Congressional investigators and concerned citizens alike, his appointment and subsequent pairing with Horowitz is notable – as many have pointed out that the Inspector General is significantly limited in his abilities to investigate. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted in March “the IG’s office does not have authority to compel witness interviews, including from past employees, so its investigation will be limited in scope in comparison to a Special Counsel investigation,” Sessions’ pairing of Horowitz with Huber keeps the investigation under the DOJ’s roof and out of the hands of an independent investigator.

Read more …

You’ll need to put meat on that bone.

China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)

China and the U.S. have mutually agreed to “substantially reduce” the yawning trade imbalance between the two countries, a joint statement read on Saturday, in a move that will involve the Chinese boosting more of what they buy from American producers. Amid fears of a global trade war and rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies, both China and the U.S. have entered bilateral talks to bolster cooperation. In a statement issued by the White House, both parties forged a “consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China.”

Just a day ago, both countries were sharply at odds over a claim, made by White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, that China would move to cut its trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion annually. That characterization was disputed by Chinese officials. Left unclear was exactly how much the Chinese would boost its purchases of U.S. goods. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that China’s delegation rebuffed American demands to commit to an exact deficit reduction figure, and the two sides bickered all night over the statement’s language. The trade imbalance has long been a thorny and intractable topic in the Sino-US relationship.

Commerce Department data recently showed that imbalance between what China buys from the U.S. and vice versa hit a record in 2017 at over $375 billion. However, President Donald Trump has staked a resolution of the dispute on his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week, Kudlow stated that China was “meeting many” Trump administration demands to cut its U.S. surplus. The statement released on Saturday struck a conciliatory tone. “To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States,” it read.

Read more …

John Laughland: “..the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally ..”

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)

First, the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Second, EU leaders have burned their own bridges with other potential partners, especially Russia. Angela Merkel traveled to Russia on Friday but only a few weeks ago more than half of the EU member states expelled scores of Russian diplomats and encouraged non-EU European states like Ukraine and Montenegro to do the same, in retaliation for the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei and Julia Skripal.

How is Mrs Merkel going to convince Mr Putin to join her in keeping Iran’s nuclear program under control if she officially thinks that Mr Putin is guilty of secretly stockpiling and using chemical weapons for assassinations in the West? Only a few weeks later, in mid-April, Britain and France, together with the US, attacked Syria on the basis that its army had used chemical weapons at Douma with Russian backing. If they try to turn on the charm now in Sochi or in Moscow, do they really expect the Russians can take them seriously?

Read more …

It might yet work.

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources. Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists. Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

Read more …

CIA, military, they all want in.

Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)

Facebook has engaged a think tank funded by weapons manufacturers, branches of the US military and Middle-Eastern monarchies to safeguard the democratic process. It’s akin to hiring arsonists to run the fire brigade.
If Facebook truly wanted to “protect democracy and elections worldwide,” it would build a broad coalition of experts and activists from a wide and disparate range of the countries it serves. Instead, the American social media giant has outsourced the task to NATO’s propaganda wing. For the uninitiated, the Atlantic Council serves as the American-led alliance’s chief advocacy group. And its methods are rather simple: it grants stipends and faux academic titles to various activists that align with NATO’s agenda.

Thus, lobbyists become “fellows” and “experts,” while the enterprise constructs a neutral sheen, which is rarely (if ever) challenged by Western media outlets – often reliant on its employees for easy comment and free op-eds. While that has always been ethically questionable, Facebook’s latest move, given its effective monopoly position, is far more sinister. Because it is now tied to a “think tank” which has proposed terrorist attacks in Russia and has demanded Russian-funded news outlets be forced to register as “foreign agents” in the United States. Make no mistake: this is a dream scenario for NATO and those who depend on it for their livelihoods and status. Because the Atlantic Council is now perfectly positioned to be the tail wagging the Facebook dog in the information space.

On Thursday, the social network announced how it was “excited to launch a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, which has a stellar reputation looking at innovative solutions to hard problems.” It then added that “experts” from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) will liaise closely with Facebook’s “security, policy and product teams” to offer “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.” Now, this sort of talk would be fine if Facebook had assembled a diverse group, comprised of stakeholders from a wide range of democracies. But, by selecting a clearly biased actor to police “misinformation and foreign interference” during “elections and other highly sensitive moments” and also work to “help educate citizens as well as civil society,” Mark Zuckerberg’s team has essentially made their company a tool of the US military agenda.

Read more …

Wonder what the new government will do to this.

Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)

Major hedge funds have picked Italian mid-tier banks as one of Europe’s few remaining recovery plays, betting they will shed billions of euros in bad loans. Europe’s 2010-2012 debt crisis left Italy’s banks with among the euro zone’s biggest hangovers, some 285 billion euros ($338 billion) of soured debt on their balance sheets. But when Credito Valtellinese sold new shares in a February rights issue for eight times its market value, they were lapped up by hedge funds in the United States and Britain. Now the mid-sized Italian bank counts Algebris Chief Investment Officer Davide Serra, Toscafund Asset Management and a hedge fund run by Eurizon Capital SGR among its biggest investors, Thomson Reuters data shows.

So far the bet seems to be paying off as Italy’s bank shares have risen 15% year-to-date against a fall of 1% for European banks, while Credito Valtellinese stock has risen 7.5% since the rights issue completion. Although the price-to-book ratio of Italian banks has improved since Rome announced a state bailout fund in 2016, it trades around 8% below the European sector average. Even the possible formation of a new government comprising two anti-establishment parties has not put off many of the funds contacted by Reuters, some of whom invested in Greek government bonds on a similar bet, who said the investment stacked up despite the vagaries of Italian politics.

Italy’s bad loans are a legacy of the recession that followed the debt crisis and with small and medium-sized businesses heavily dependent on bank lending, the soured loans have long been a drag on the third biggest euro zone economy. But pressure from regulators has begun to have an impact and the ratio of gross impaired loans to total loans has fallen to 14.5% from 17.3% a year ago, Bank of Italy data shows ..

Read more …

But move away from paying for the education.

Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits. “This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits. This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up and it expects that number to double by the year’s finish. “This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20% owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt. [..] one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking. Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53% in 2017, from 61% in 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. During that same time period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50% from about 60%.

Read more …

100 trillion emails per year.

What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)

In your everyday life, a minute might not seem like much. But when it comes to the vast scale of the internet, a minute of time goes much further than you ever could have imagined. That’s because the internet has a degree of scale that our linear human brains are unaccustomed to operating on. Today’s infographic is from Lori Lewis and Chadd Callahan of Cumulus Media, and it shows the activity taking place on various platforms such as Facebook or Google in each 60 second span. It really helps put an internet minute in perspective.

The numbers for these services are so enormous that they can only be shown using the 60 second time scale. Any bigger, and our brains can’t even process these massive quantities in any useful capacity. Here are just a few key numbers scaled to a monthly basis, for fun: • 42,033,600,000 Facebook logins • 159,840,000,000 Google searches • 1,641,600,000,000 WhatsApp messages sent • 8,078,400,000,000 emails sent On an annualized basis, the data becomes even more ridiculous, with something close to 100 trillion emails sent.

Read more …

The world’s biggest problems are solved in bars.

Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to 20 male subjects until their blood alcohol levels neared legal intoxication and then gave each a series of word association problems to solve. Not only did those who imbibed give more correct answers than a sober control group performing the same task, but they also arrived at solutions more quickly. The conclusion: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.

JAROSZ: You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity, or people who say their ideas are better after a few drinks. We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did. We gave participants 15 questions from a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT—for example, “What word relates to these three: ‘duck,’ ‘dollar,’ ‘fold’?”; the answer to which is “bill.” We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising.

HBR: So alcohol doesn’t slow us down mentally after all? It still does, but we think that creative problem solving is one area in which a key effect of drunkenness—loss of focus—is a good thing. In an exercise like the RAT, it’s important not to fixate on your first thought, and alcohol seems to help that seemingly irrelevant stuff slip in. When we asked participants how much they relied on strategic thinking versus sudden insights to solve the problems, the intoxicated people reported solving via insight on 10% more problems than their sober counterparts did.

Read more …

Apr 302018
 
 April 30, 2018  Posted by at 12:40 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustav Klimt The Park 1909

 

 

Dr. D feels his own golden age coming on. It’s just a bit dark gold. Nothing a good polish can’t help, I’m sure. In the end, the spirit is familiar:

A man only begins to grasp the true meaning of life when he plants a tree under whose shade he knows he will never sit.

That is literally how he finishes this:

It’s going where it’s going, as I grow plants and make the bees happy, let the trees rest in the forests, as best I’m able when devoid of any help. They will survive. We are as perennial as grass, and will diminish someday. When we do, I will have left the trees, the seeds, the order, the patterns that will feed the generations that follow, as true men, not infants, should.

It’s spring.

 

 

Dr. D:

Ilargi —
 
Would rather work on a more positive article, something about life, nature, spring, gardens; however I find that they are so complicated as to be inexpressible.  So many, from Thoreau to Sand County Almanac spend entire books and barely scratch an overview of the complexity of nature.  It’s at once so obvious and, lacking personal experience, so inexplicable.  So I haven’t done that, but it’s been chilly and till the asparagus, start the plants (too early) and wait for the leaves.
 
Maybe it’s the case that once we understand how much there is, no thoughts can be put into a 1,000 word article.  Certainly that’s to the detriment of modern thinking and persuasion.  Maybe I just always use too many words to say things and draw in sidelines that are better neglected, however interesting and connected; for all things are really equally connected in mind just as in nature, and because of our linear minds we can’t look at them at once, but only one by one.
 
John Day is correct of the gestalt, however seldom that happens to humankind.  And what is it?  Does that not mean we partake of Jung’s mass consciousness, that we are in fact telepathic, like schools of fish and flocks of birds gyring in the sky?  The nation has gone insane, truly mad, I could not describe it to you.  80% of people believe whatever they think that minute is reality.  When CNN tells them the opposite of yesterday, or the beginning of the sentence is the opposite of the ending, it causes no distress. 

It’s truly Robespierre, cultural revolution, and it doesn’t end well, for the expression of all of it is Crowley’s “Do what thou will” with Ayn Rand’s “What’s best for me is best for all” so you have a system of plundering by power, whether by force or victimhood, where the reality – actually, earnestly, incontrovertibly believed – is whatever will get me the most in this moment.  Is it easier to fake medical paperwork, not check patients, and let them die rather than get out of a chair once an hour?  We do it. 

Call them on it and they’ll deny it, believing even to themselves.  Steal from your own work, your family, banish them on Facebook if they call you on it, then expect a minute later there should be no ill will, no consequences?  Certainly.  Look around and call on public opinion for the callous, selfish, murdering behavior, and 80% of them support you, they think it’s normal and fine, punishing the 20% who still have order, consequences, cause and effect, logos. 
 

 

I have no explanation for it, nor is there an end, but I greatly fear the only cure for it is for the good people to withdraw and leave the bad people starving in a ditch, their children and dogs included, for as adults, it is nearly impossible for them to change, and impossible for any good people to trust that change.  And how are you supposed to run a justice system, a society, in a world of truly pathological, lying, self-serving sociopaths?  How even will their children not end up the same, with only 20% left to throw a lifeline?  A lifeboat cannot save the ship, you know.  It can hardly save itself.
 
I was surprised at the comments today, for this open, transparent, appalling, illogical lies are still completely internalized, completely believed at the meta level.  Trump has an open war on the CIA and Deep State – I don’t know how it could possibly be more obvious or advertised – and any common level would tell you we have been antagonizing North Korea to justify keeping country-sized bases in Japan and SoKo because the men needed to contain China wouldn’t fit in Pearl Harbor and are too far away. And yet when Trump’s team openly undercuts the CIA and peace breaks out everywhere, it’s suddenly not him. 

It’s Kim Jong actually, I read yesterday, he beat the U.S., Trump lost (when Trump also wasn’t trying anything) and…I don’t know, NoKo is going to invade us and SoKo, after they nuke Miami and the moon with the CNN missiles that can hit anywhere on earth?  After Pompeo (and allegedly Trump) met with Kim Jong in the Forbidden City? Earlier, however, he WAS completely responsible for war and the 12M dead Wolf Blitzer and Rachel Maddow longed for.  So let me translate: all bad things forever in time and space are Trump, all good things forever in time and space, not Trump.  And that’s logic now.
 
Maybe it’s inappropriate to give the Nobel to a man when it’s often a team, maybe we shouldn’t give prizes for doing a normal, decent thing and simply not killing each other, but that’s not the tradition.  Personally, I wouldn’t give it to him because in my estimation all he did was STOP the CIA from holding Kim and NoKo hostage to his own Deep State Generals.  Kim is a Swiss-raised trust fund playboy: he doesn’t want war unless forced to it.  I can’t give a medal for simply stopping a war that never should have existed, and one they even now lie about and won’t admit. 

 

But that’s not the point.  The point is, our own readers, who are very smart and should be more than up to speed, seem to completely fall for CNN, Brian Williams, and an endless list of exposed, transparent liars for 20+ years, instead of you, for example, who’s been calling it out and they read every day. My God, what will it take?  It’s disheartening.  I believe that is part of the same Jungean mass-mind they have somehow hacked and it’s a struggle for even smart people to break through.
 
So apparently Kanye, following Professor Griff and a wide number of other immediately ignored and sidelined black artists, has woken up before our own readers.  Not that Trump is great or anything, because he’s a jerk, but that they’ve arranged the same system from 100 years ago where darkie has to think and vote the way master says, or else.  That’s the worst system of slavery ever devised.  You think your color, vote your color, dress your color, watch your color, apply for jobs according to your color, and not your free thinking, your talents, your politics, your soul. 

Yet again, that’s normal: that’s not racism to tell groups how they better vote, yet it IS racism to tell them to think for themselves.  All overwhelmingly racist countries easily elect and accept Black Presidents with Muslim names, have black leaders in both parties, black billionaires, black megastars.  That’s how we know they’re racist, right?  Reality doesn’t matter, evidence doesn’t matter, logic doesn’t matter, it hasn’t mattered my whole life, it will never matter ever again.
 
It strikes me that although pretty poor, whose mascot should be the rhino, Republicans are the party AGAINST slavery, AGAINST the southern Democrats, born AGAINST the KKK, who have black cabinet members, black presidential candidates going back decades as still today. 

Doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t have the slightest effect.  Then they are so racist, so bigoted, that when any member of a subgroup, be they Kanye, Milo, Janda, Diamond and Silk should cross the aisle, they are easily welcomed as party members and people, as thinkers, and not as races, skin colors, or issues – no backlash, no contention in the party. Doesn’t matter.  Hasn’t mattered in 100 years, doesn’t matter now.  It’s truly astonishing.
 

 

Like I said, I once thought, “if only people knew”, if only there were events that would remove the mask of lies, corruption, and abuse, but there are dozens daily, and as Churchill said, they pick themselves up and brush it off, continuing with the lie, no matter how continually debunked, for example, daily for two hysterical years.
 
So what are we supposed to do when that lie — which everyone knows is a lie, but they lie and claim it’s not a lie — can get us into a war ending life on earth?  I do not know.  I say stop lying, as Trump plays along, for all the good that does us.  People tell the truth constantly: big, high-profile journalists, stars, senators…doesn’t have the slightest effect.  They’re still crazy, and the Assad-gassed-his-people-because-he-likes-to-lose-although-we-sniffed-the-backpack-and-door-handle-and-found-nothing are still credible and rational. 

Nor do I trust the gestalt.  They have a bad habit of going where they’re going, and when driven by what are essentially insane people have a bad habit of going astray, meeting their karma, with all the bad consequences therein.  I can’t stop that, but I am an American, and it’s my duty to survive this madness and this civil conflict as did my ancestors before me.  And I’m sure I will, or well enough.  Where would I go to escape this karma anyway?  Britain?  Belgium?  China?  I don’t think so. 
 
It’s going where it’s going, as I grow plants and make the bees happy, let the trees rest in the forests, as best I’m able when devoid of any help.  They will survive.  We are as perennial as grass, and will diminish someday.  When we do, I will have left the trees, the seeds, the order, the patterns that will feed the generations that follow, as true men, not infants, should.

 

 

Apr 182018
 
 April 18, 2018  Posted by at 5:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Francesco Hayez The Death of the Doge Marin Faliero 1867

 

 

Dr. D’s swift response to my essay yesterday, Every Kingdom Divided Against Itself. On the mechanisms by which empires fall. They’re always similar and familiar.

 

 

Dr. D: Wonderfully said. Since no one will report, here’s what happened to that airstrike. The one where we declare a victory and go home (or try to).

They targeted 10 sites, yet after the Pentagon said it was a perfect mission, they only reported on 4. Who were the other 6?


Duwali airbase – 4 missiles fired, 4 shot down
Dumayr airbase – 12 missiles fired, 12 shot down
Baley airbase – 18 missiles fired, 18 shot down
Shayrat airbase – 12 missiles fired, 12 shot down
Marj Ruhayyil airbase – 18 missiles fired, 18 shot down
Damascus international airport – 4 missiles fired, 4 shot down

Sounds like an amazing ad for Russian military hardware and Russian alliances, and an amazing warning to warhawks in the Pentagon to check themselves.

And hold on: wouldn’t bombing a major chemical weapons manufacturing facility lead to a cloud of nerve and/or other gas killing every civilian within 20 miles? I.e. the entire capital city? Or did they know that there was nothing there already which is why they were confident it could not lead to an incident that would be recorded as the worst chemical attack of all time? You know, chemically attacking 1.7 million Syrians to save 10 Syrians from chemical attacks?

Yet this illegal, reckless, and (intentionally?) futile attack is NOT ENOUGH for CNN, MSNBC and their ilk. Denouncing Trump for bombing Syria, they also denounced him for NOT bombing Syria. Adequately. Or fully mobilizing the entire U.S. military for a ground invasion.

Or whatever, as weasel-faced chicken hawks, they wouldn’t openly say what they wanted, only that Trump openly bombing a nation outside the U.N. without a declaration of war as they themselves demanded, was pointless and weak. Which is why they also wanted it, in side-by-side front page articles? Or like Veruca Salt they want a pony AND an oompa loompa?

 

This IS weak, and like the late Soviet Union, it IS divided, no one IS in charge, clearly, as we see: the FBI, Justice, Pentagon, CIA, all make it a point of honor to openly, proudly disobey direct orders from their boss, and with him their real employer, the American people who elected him. And which they worked tirelessly to election tamper and deny and/or remove him.

And that’s perfectly okay with everybody. Is that normal for everyone in a business, a platoon, to directly countermand all direct orders? It is these days, and not just with Trump. Once you throw off the Logos, every man does what is right in his own eyes, they are not restrained by petty law and custom, by order and precedent, for they will be as the most high.

This is as true down at Taco Bell as in Federal Court, in the Justice Department, true in police departments, schools, hospitals, and even public lavatories. Order, rules, are whatever some official wants them to be during the 5 minutes they meet you. An hour later, the rules, your punishment, even their description of reality itself is all different. Railroad one guy: it’s legal, commendable! Railroad the next guy? It’s draconian, the death penalty.

Look at someone wrong? Have an opinion? Lose your life, liberty, property, reputation and career. A Celebrity? Poor dear: no matter how many felonies, how many killed, or how often wrong, it never matters. Not just saying that, the number of police acquitted for killing unarmed citizens exceeds Parkland by leagues. And this licence is given not just to judges and investigators but by the people themselves.

 

We have an Emperor Nero or early Robespierre government. There is no logic in them. No Logos. When you expel Logos actively, joyfully, you get the anti-Logos: pure random chaos, disorder, violence, and death. No one can work with anyone, trust anyone, restrain anyone, work together, or plan. You get the Reign of Terror and the purges of the Lion’s Mouths under the Council of Ten.

This was well engineered to bring down the U.S. in a repeat of the Russian Revolution of 1918, and it’s going relatively well. When the people themselves have no order, it’s hard enough to hold the people. But when the government doesn’t either, and fights itself while lying, there’s less hope than ever.

Because while government can be reformed, it takes generations of work to re-instill the Logos, rules, law, customs, order, consequences, back into the people. Sometimes it seems nothing can purge them of these delusions of theft and power but fire.

But one way or the other, we’re in it now. The Civil War is at home. Syria is just an example of our domestic war. Remember the L.A. Times reporting the CIA-imbedded resistance openly shooting the Pentagon-imbedded Kurds? Two agencies killing each other with bullets? That went on every day before and since, politically, socially, economically, and now militarily.

The airstrike in Syria — real or fake — is that war. A war of order and law vs unrestrained will-to-power. And that battle of Logos and anti-Logos is worldwide.

 

 

Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 2:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) German artist, philosopher, composer, mystic Cosmic Tree

 

All of a sudden, politicians in the EU, UK, and USA all want to talk to Mark Zuckerberg. That’s a bad enough sign all by itself. It means they all either have been asleep, complicit, or they’re not very bright. The media tries to convince us the Facebook ‘scandal’ is about Trump, Russia (yawn..) and elections. It’s not. Not even close.

If Zuckerberg ever shows up for any of these meetings with ‘worried’ politicians, he’ll come with a cabal of lawyers in tow, and they’ll put the blame on anyone but Facebook and say the company was tricked by devious parties who didn’t live up to their legal agreements.

After that, the argument won’t be whether Facebook broke any laws for allowing data breaches, but whether their data use policy itself is, and always was, illegal. Now, Facebook has been around for a few years, with their policies, and nobody ever raised their voices. Not really, that is.

And then it’ll all fizzle out, amid some additional grandstanding from all involved, face-saving galore, and more blame for Trump and Russia.

 

The new European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani said yesterday: “We’ve invited Mark Zuckerberg to the European Parliament. Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy.”

That’s all you need to know, really. Personal data can be used to manipulate anything as long as it’s not democracy. Or at least democracy as the Brussels elite choose to define it.

First: this is not about Cambridge Analytica, it’s about Facebook. Or rather, it’s about the entire social media and search industry, as well as its connections to the intelligence community. Don’t ever again see Google or Facebook as not being part of that.

What Facebook enabled Cambridge Analytica to do, it will do ten times bigger itself. And it sells licences to do it to probably thousands of other ‘developers’. The CIA and NSA may have unlimited powers, but prior to Alphabet and Facebook, they never had the databases. They do now, and they’re using them. ‘Manipulate democracy’? What democracy?

Then: 50 million is nothing. Once the six degrees of separation giant squid gets going, there’s no stopping it. The Cambridge Analytica thing supposedly started with a few hundred thousand people who consented to having their data used for ‘academic’ purposes. From there it’s easy to get to 50 million. It’s harder to stop there than it is to go to hundreds of millions. It’s the six degrees of separation.

Facebook allegedly has over 2 billion user accounts, and their algorithms don’t stop there either. If anything, 50 million is a bit of a failure. What you should understand in this is that Cambridge Analytica are a bunch of loose cannons (yeah, yeah, those dark videos look so incriminating..) and nobody knows what they ever captured.

The real issue lies elsewhere. And we can figure it out. All we need is a few glances into the past. This first article is from June 30 2014. It contains all you read today, and more. Just a bit less Russia and Trump.

 

Facebook Reveals News Feed Experiment To Control Emotions

It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes. It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.

The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

The question is simple, isn’t it? Do you want to provide a bunch of, well, geeks, with the ability to change how you feel, just so their employers can make -more- money off of you? That is 1984. That is thought control. And Facebook is some modern honey trap.

Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”. On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them.

Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee, said the experiment was intrusive. “This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people,” he said. “They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”

Um, so 4 years ago, there was a call for a parliamentary investigation in Britain and a member of the Commons media select committee proclaimed there should be legislation to protect people. Wonder how that panned out? Read the news today. Time stood still.

But there’s of course much more going on. You can claim that people should know about their thoughts being controlled, but that’s nonsense. Nobody in their right mind would, provided the arguments are honestly laid out, permit any such thing.

Moreover, it’s not just their own emotions that are being manipulated, it’s those of their friends and family too. If you are deeply unhappy, they may not see you expressing your distress; it can be easily filtered out so you appear in great spirits. Your friends feel good but someone wants you sad? No problem.

And there’s yet another aspect, one that Facebook may try to use for legal reasons: ever since the days of Edward Bernays, advertisements, and media in a broader sense, are shaped to influence what you think and feel. It sells soda, it sells cars, and it sells wars.

So yeah, people should know about all this, but the role of politicians and parliaments must also be to eradicate it altogether and forever from the societies that vote them in power. Or to tell their voters that they think it’s acceptable, and by the way, they too use deception to get more votes.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the research, published this month in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, was carried out “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”. She said: “A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”

But other commentators voiced fears that the process could be used for political purposes in the runup to elections or to encourage people to stay on the site by feeding them happy thoughts and so boosting advertising revenues. In a series of Twitter posts, Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, said: “The Facebook ‘transmission of anger’ experiment is terrifying.”

He asked: “Could the CIA incite revolution in Sudan by pressuring Facebook to promote discontent? Should that be legal? Could Mark Zuckerberg swing an election by promoting Upworthy [a website aggregating viral content] posts two weeks beforehand? Should that be legal?”

The ‘transmission of anger’ experiment. This is the world you live in.

Well, no, none of it should be legal. And none of it would be if people knew what was going on.

It was claimed that Facebook may have breached ethical and legal guidelines by not informing its users they were being manipulated in the experiment, which was carried out in 2012. The study said altering the news feeds was “consistent with Facebook’s data use policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research”.

But Susan Fiske, the Princeton academic who edited the study, said she was concerned. “People are supposed to be told they are going to be participants in research and then agree to it and have the option not to agree to it without penalty.”

James Grimmelmann, professor of law at Maryland University, said Facebook had failed to gain “informed consent” as defined by the US federal policy for the protection of human subjects, which demands explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject’s participation, a description of any reasonably foreseeable risks and a statement that participation is voluntary. “This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook’s troubling practices into a realm – academia – where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good,” he said on his blog.

Ah, academia, you unblemished child. We never knew you. Incidentally, what appears to be creeping through between the lines here is that Facebook’s data use policy was prepared from the start, 14+ years ago, for exactly these kinds of ‘experiments’. Which gives a whole new dimension to the discussion today.

It is not new for internet firms to use algorithms to select content to show to users and Jacob Silverman, author of Terms of Service: Social Media, Surveillance, and the Price of Constant Connection, told Wire magazine on Sunday the internet was already “a vast collection of market research studies; we’re the subjects”.

“What’s disturbing about how Facebook went about this, though, is that they essentially manipulated the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of users without asking permission,” he said. “Facebook cares most about two things: engagement and advertising.

If Facebook, say, decides that filtering out negative posts helps keep people happy and clicking, there’s little reason to think that they won’t do just that. As long as the platform remains such an important gatekeeper – and their algorithms utterly opaque – we should be wary about the amount of power and trust we delegate to it.”

Robert Blackie, director of digital at Ogilvy One marketing agency, said the way internet companies filtered information they showed users was fundamental to their business models, which made them reluctant to be open about it.

“To guarantee continued public acceptance they will have to discuss this more openly in the future,” he said. “There will have to be either independent reviewers of what they do or government regulation. If they don’t get the value exchange right then people will be reluctant to use their services, which is potentially a big business problem.”

Feel a bit more awake now? Remember, that was a 2012 study. Let’s move on to 2016, when Shoshana Zuboff penned the following for German paper Franfurter Allgemeine. Just in case you thought it was all about Facebook. This is a bit more abstract, but worth it, in all its length (which I don’t have space for).

 

The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

[..] The game is no longer about sending you a mail order catalogue or even about targeting online advertising. The game is selling access to the real-time flow of your daily life –your reality—in order to directly influence and modify your behavior for profit. This is the gateway to a new universe of monetization opportunities: restaurants who want to be your destination. Service vendors who want to fix your brake pads.

Shops who will lure you like the fabled Sirens. The “various people” are anyone, and everyone who wants a piece of your behavior for profit. Small wonder, then, that Google recently announced that its maps will not only provide the route you search but will also suggest a destination.

This is just one peephole, in one corner, of one industry, and the peepholes are multiplying like cockroaches. Among the many interviews I’ve conducted over the past three years, the Chief Data Scientist of a much-admired Silicon Valley company that develops applications to improve students’ learning told me:

“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.

[..] There was a time when we laid responsibility for the assault on behavioral data at the door of the state and its security agencies. Later, we also blamed the cunning practices of a handful of banks, data brokers, and Internet companies. Some attribute the assault to an inevitable “age of big data,” as if it were possible to conceive of data born pure and blameless, data suspended in some celestial place where facts sublimate into truth.

I’ve come to a different conclusion: The assault we face is driven in large measure by the exceptional appetites of a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation that I call surveillance capitalism. Capitalism has been hijacked by a lucrative surveillance project that subverts the “normal” evolutionary mechanisms associated with its historical success and corrupts the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its populations and societies, thus enabling the fruitful expansion of market democracy.

[..] the application of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science for continuous algorithmic improvement constitutes an immensely expensive, sophisticated, and exclusive twenty-first century “means of production.” [..] the new manufacturing process converts behavioral surplus into prediction products designed to predict behavior now and soon.

[..] these prediction products are sold into a new kind of meta-market that trades exclusively in future behavior. The better (more predictive) the product, the lower the risks for buyers, and the greater the volume of sales. Surveillance capitalism’s profits derive primarily, if not entirely, from such markets for future behavior.

And then we get to today. For more examples of the same, and for confirmation that even though all of this stuff was known -let alone knowable- years ago, nothing has changed.

 

Ex-Facebook Insider Says Covert Data Harvesting Was Routine

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach. “My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

[..] That feature, called friends permission, was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were given permission by Facebook to build quizzes and games – like the widely popular FarmVille – that were hosted on the platform. The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data. Parakilas does not know how many companies sought friends permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so. Parakilas estimates that “a majority of Facebook users” could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge.

[..] During the time he was at Facebook, Parakilas said the company was keen to encourage more developers to build apps for its platform and “one of the main ways to get developers interested in building apps was through offering them access to this data”. Shortly after arriving at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters he was told that any decision to ban an app required the personal approval of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg…

OK, to summarize: Mark Zuckerberg will be fine, apart from some stock losses. Facebook’s data use policies may not conform to every single piece of legislation in every country Facebook operates in, but they’ve been there since 2004. So lawmakers are as culpable as the company is.

There’ll be big words, lots of them. And there may be people leaving Facebook. But the platform is addictive, and 2 billion addicts is a very large target group. Some other company may develop a competitor and promise ‘better’ policies and conditions, but the big money is in the very thing discussed today: manipulating people’s data, and thereby manipulating their behavior.

Perhaps if news media and advertizers were so inclined, they’d explain to their readers and viewers exactly that, but in the end they A) all do it to some extent, and B) are all connected to Facebook and Google to some extent.

But the main driving force is and will remain the intelligence agencies, who have come to depend on ‘social media’ for the one thing they themselves were incapable of providing, but saw Alphabet and Facebook incite gullible people themselves to provide: an artificial intelligence driven database that knows more about you than you know yourself.

That the intelligence community today is powered by artificial intelligence is pretty out there to start with. That AI would give it the means to predict your future behavior, and manipulate you into that behavior seemingly at will, is something that warrants reflection.

George Orwell could not have foreseen this.

 

 

Feb 192018
 
 February 19, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Broadway Billboard Seven Year Itch 1955

 

Global Dividends Hit Record Of $1.25 Trillion In 2017, More To Come (R.)
Jittery US Bond Market Braces For Supply Wave (R.)
How Did America Go Bankrupt? Slowly At First, Then All At Once (CH)
London’s Housing Boom Is Over, Rightmove Says (BBG)
Average Price Of Newly Marketed UK Home Rises Above £300,000 Again (G.)
Ex-CIA Director Thinks US Hypocrisy About Election Meddling Is Hilarious (CJ)
German Carmakers In A Spin Ahead Of Diesel Ban Ruling (R.)
Sweden Is Getting Worried About Its Cashless Society (BBG)
Europe Is A Collection Of Filter Bubbles (BBG)

 

 

As is the case with buybacks, this is all money that execs decide NOT to invest in a company (productivity, modernization, maintenance), but in its stock value.

Global Dividends Hit Record Of $1.25 Trillion In 2017, More To Come (R.)

Global dividends rose 7.7% to an all-time high of $1.25 trillion (1 trillion euros) last year boosted by a buoyant world economy and rising corporate confidence, Janus Henderson said on Monday, predicting another record year ahead. The surge – the strongest since 2014 – was driven by increases in every region and almost every industry with record showings in 11 countries including the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Netherlands, the investment manager added. For 2018 Janus Henderson expects dividends to keep the same 7.7% growth rate to reach around $1.35 trillion, as corporate and economic growth remains strong even in more volatile financial markets. “Companies are seeing rising profits and healthy cash flows, and that’s enabling them to fund generous dividends.

The record payout last year was almost three-quarters higher than in 2009, and there is more to come,” Ben Lofthouse, Director of Global Equity Income at Janus Henderson, said. “The next few months are set fair, and we expect global dividends to break new records in 2018.” Adjusting for movements in exchange rates, special one-off dividends and other factors, global dividends rose 6.8% last year and are expected to rise another 6.1% in 2018. Janus said 2017’s dividend growth showed less regional divergence than in previous years, reflecting the broadly based global economic recovery, though Europe lagged behind. European dividends rose just 1.9% to $227 billion, weighed down by cuts from a handful of large companies in France and Spain, lower special dividends and a weak euro during the second quarter, when most dividends are paid, it said.

Read more …

How can more debt not be good?

Jittery US Bond Market Braces For Supply Wave (R.)

Bond investors, who have been on edge over signs of growing inflation and a possibly more aggressive Federal Reserve, will have their work cut out for them as the U.S. government seeks to sell $258 billion worth of debt this coming week. The Treasury Department began ramping up its debt issuance earlier this month to fund the expected growth in borrowing tied to the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years and a two-year federal spending package. Last year’s tax reform is expected to add as much as $1.5 trillion to the federal debt load, while the budget agreement would increase government spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. Analysts worry the combination of a rising budget deficit, faster inflation and more Fed rate increases have ratcheted up the risk of owning Treasuries. Those concerns pushed benchmark 10-year Treasury yields up to 2.944%, a four-year peak last week.

Treasury bill and two-year yields have reached their highest level in more than nine years. The five-year Treasury yield is hovering at its highest levels in nearly eight years, while seven-year yield climbed to levels not seen since April 2011. The increase in U.S. yields may entice investors seeking steady income in the wake of the rollercoaster sessions on Wall Street and other stock markets this month, analysts said. [..] The heavy Treasury supply will kick off on Tuesday with $151 billion worth of bills including record amounts of three-month and six-month T-bills. The rest of the debt sales will spread over a holiday-shortened week with $28 billion of two-year fixed rate notes on Tuesday; $35 billion in five-year debt on Wednesday and $29 billion in seven-year notes on Thursday. The Treasury Department also plans to add $15 billion to an older two-year floating-rate issue.

Read more …

Everything is debt. Imagine what would happen if it wasn’t there. Or soon won’t be.

How Did America Go Bankrupt? Slowly At First, Then All At Once (CH)

Clearly, debt has surged since 2000 and particularly since 2008 versus decelerating net full time jobs growth. The number of full time employees is economically critical as, generally speaking, only these jobs offer the means to be a home buyer or build savings and wealth in a consumer driven economy. Part time employment generally offers only subsistence level earnings. But if we look at the change over those periods highlighted, we get a clear picture. Full time jobs are being added at a rapidly declining rate while federal debt is surging in the absence of the growth of full time employees.

And if we look at the federal debt added per full time job added (chart below)…broken arrow…broken arrow!!! That is $1.92 million dollars in new federal debt per net new full time employee since 2008. Compare that to the $30 thousand per net new full time employee from ’70 to ’80…or $140 thousand from ’80 to ’90…and nearly quadruples the $460 thousand per from ’00 to ’08. Despite a far larger total population and after ten years of “recovery” since ’08, this is likely as good as it gets. We are likely at or very near the top of this economic cycle. This pattern is likely to carry forward over the next decade and economic cycle…likely with disastrous results.

[..] US population growth has been decelerating since 1790 and debt to GDP rising (chart below). Originally, the combination of a relatively small population, high immigration, and high birth rates meant annual population growth in excess of 3% and relatively low debt to GDP. Over time, as the population grew, immigration slowed, and birth rates collapsed; US population growth tumbled. Since 1950 total annual population growth (black line in chart below) has decelerated almost 75% (from 2% to 0.6%) but more critically the annual population growth among the under 65 year old population has essentially ceased (as the yellow line in the chart shows) and more debt has been the resounding “solution”. Massive interest rate cuts to incent debt creation have been substituted for the decelerating organic growth.

Read more …

About time.

London’s Housing Boom Is Over, Rightmove Says (BBG)

London’s property market has moved out of its boom phase and home sellers need to be more realistic about their price demands, according to Rightmove. The February report from the home-listing website shows that asking prices were down 1% from a year earlier, a sixth consecutive fall. They rose 4.4% on the month, reflecting the usual jump at the start of the spring season. While multiple reports point to a cooling in London housing, the damage is being limited by cautious sellers, who aren’t flooding the market in a panic to dump property. That means the long-running supply-demand imbalance in the city is providing some support to prices. “End-of-the-boom prices normally readjust more quickly if there is an over supply,” Miles Shipside, Rightmove director, said in the report. However, “some would-be sellers are holding back, preventing a glut of competition from forcing prices downward,” he said.

The capital’s housing market was the worst performing in the U.K. in 2017 and there’s little to suggest any upturn is in store. Brexit uncertainty has damped demand, while years of rampant inflation has pushed ownership out of reach for many. The mean asking price in London this month was almost 630,000 pounds ($885,000), more than 20 times average U.K. earnings. For those who need a fast sale, Shipside’s advice is to “sacrifice some of the substantial price gains of the last few years.” The average time to sell a property in London is now 83 days, up from 73 days a year ago. Nationally, asking prices increased 0.8% in February from January, though that was below the 10-year average for the time of year. The average price of 300,000 pounds is up 1.5% year-on-year. That compares with gains of about 6% seen less than two years ago.

Read more …

But wait, this quotes Rightmove as well…

Average Price Of Newly Marketed UK Home Rises Above £300,000 Again (G.)

The average price of a UK property coming on to the market has risen by more than £2,400 in a month to just over £300,000 amid evidence of “record” levels of house-hunting activity, according to Rightmove. The website, which tracks 90% of the UK property market, said the national average asking price for a home had increased by 0.8% during the past month, following the 0.7% rise it reported in mid-January. However, some sellers may be over-pricing their properties: the average time to sell has risen once again and is now 72 days, compared with 67 days a month ago and 55 during the summer of 2017. In London, the average has climbed to 83 days. Rightmove said that while it was the norm for new sellers’ asking prices to be buoyant at the start of a new year, “this first complete month in 2018 is seeing more pricing optimism than the comparable period in 2017”.

In general, however, sellers were not being over-ambitious or setting too high a price, it added. The website, which claims to display a stock of more than one million properties to buy or rent, said the average asking price now stood at £300,001, compared with £297,587 a month ago. It described January as its “busiest month ever”, with a record 141m website visits. In all the UK regions it tracks, the typical price of a newly-marketed property rose during the past month, with the exception of south-west England, where the figure slipped back slightly. Scotland saw the biggest monthly increase, at 5.1%, while the north-east and Wales managed 3.6% and 3.5%. However, on a national basis, the annual rate of price growth “remains subdued” at 1.5%, said the website.

Read more …

Isn’t it?

Ex-CIA Director Thinks US Hypocrisy About Election Meddling Is Hilarious (CJ)

Take off the terrorist’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the revolutionary’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the Hollywood producer’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the billionaire tech plutocrat’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the news man’s mask, and guess what? It’s the motherfucking CIA. CIA influence is everywhere. Anywhere anything is happening which could potentially interfere with the interests of America’s unelected power establishment, whether inside the US or outside, the depraved, lying, torturing, propagandizing, drug trafficking, coup-staging, warmongering CIA has its fingers in it. Which is why its former director made a cutesy wisecrack and burst out laughing when asked if the US is currently interfering in other democracies.

Fox’s Laura Ingraham unsurprisingly introduced former CIA Director James Woolsey as “an old friend” in a recent interview about Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 alleged members of a Russian troll farm, in which Woolsey unsurprisingly talked about how dangerous Russian “disinformation” is and Ingraham unsurprisingly said that everyone should really be afraid of China. What was surprising, though, was what happened at the end of the interview. “Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” Ingraham asked in response to Woolsey’s Russia remarks. “Oh, probably,” Woolsey said with a grin. “But it was for the good of the system in order to avoid the communists from taking over. For example, in Europe, in ’47, ’48, ’49, the Greeks and the Italians we CIA-”

“We don’t do that anymore though?” Ingraham interrupted. “We don’t mess around in other people’s elections, Jim?” Woolsey smiled and said said “Well…”, followed by a joking incoherent mumble, adding, “Only for a very good cause.” And then they both laughed. They laughed about this. They thought it was funny and cute. They thought it was funny and cute that the very allegation being used to manufacture support for world-threatening new cold war escalations against a nuclear superpower was something they both knew the United States does constantly, usually through Woolsey’s own CIA. The US government’s own data shows that it has deliberately meddled in the elections of 81 foreign governments between 1946 and 2000, including Russia in the nineties. That isn’t even counting the coups and regime changes it facilitated, including right here in my home Australia in the seventies.

The US meddles constantly in other democracies, not “for a good cause” as Woolsey claims, but to advance the agendas of the loosely allied plutocrats, intelligence and defense agencies which comprise America’s permanent government. It does this not to improve or protect the lives of ordinary Americans, but to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful, usually at the expense of the money, resources, homes, governments, livelihoods and lives of people in other countries. It does this with impunity and without hesitation.

Read more …

Carmakers rule the country.

German Carmakers In A Spin Ahead Of Diesel Ban Ruling (R.)

A court will decide on Thursday whether German cities can ban heavily polluting cars, potentially wiping hundreds of millions of euros off the value of diesel cars on the country’s roads. Environmental group DUH has sued Stuttgart in Germany’s carmaking heartland, and Duesseldorf over levels of particulate matter exceeding EU limits after Volkswagen’s 2015 admission to cheating diesel exhaust tests. The scandal led politicians across the world to scrutinize diesel emissions, which contain the matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) and are known to cause respiratory disease. There are around 15 million diesel vehicles on German streets and environmental groups say levels of particulates exceed the EU threshold in at least 90 German towns and cities.

Local courts ordered them to bar diesel cars which did not conform to the latest standards on days when pollution is heavy, startling German carmakers because an outright ban could trigger a fall in vehicle resale prices, and a rise in the cost of leasing contracts, which are priced on assumed residual values. The German states concerned, where the carmakers and their suppliers have a strong influence, appealed against the decisions, leaving Germany’s federal administrative court – the court of last resort for such matters – to rule on whether such bans can legally be imposed at local level.

“The key question is whether bans can already be considered to be legal instruments,” said Remo Klinger, a lawyer for DUH. “It’s a completely open question of law.” Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 in a shift to electric vehicles.

Read more …

Big Brother is not worried.

Sweden Is Getting Worried About Its Cashless Society (BBG)

‘“No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in shops and eateries across Sweden as payments go digital and mobile. But the pace at which cash is vanishing has authorities worried. A broad review of central bank legislation that’s underway is now taking a special look at the situation, with an interim report due as early as the summer. “If this development with cash disappearing happens too fast, it can be difficult to maintain the infrastructure” for handling cash, said Mats Dillen, the head of the parliamentary review. He declined to get into more details on what types of proposals could be included in the report. Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet. Most of the country’s bank branches have stopped handling cash; many shops, museums and restaurants now only accept plastic or mobile payments.

But there’s a downside, since many people, in particular the elderly, don’t have access to the digital society. “One may get into a negative spiral which can threaten the cash infrastructure,” Dillen said. “It’s those types of issues we are looking more closely at.” Last year, the amount of cash in circulation dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record. An annual survey by Insight Intelligence released last month found only 25 percent of Swedes last year paid in cash at least once a week, down from 63 percent just four years ago. A full 36 percent never use cash, or just pay with it once or twice a year.

Read more …

There is no such thing as one Europe. And the more the EU promotes the narrative, the more that will become obvious.

Europe Is A Collection Of Filter Bubbles (BBG)

The EU can act in unison at times – for example, on Russia sanctions or, at least so far, on Brexit. But as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel try for a closer union in the next few years, they will need to be mindful of the fact that there is no single narrative among the publics in different European countries on matters of economic importance. A recent paper for Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank, vividly shows this by analyzing coverage of Europe’s recent financial crisis by four important centrist newspapers: Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Italy’s La Stampa and Spain’s El Pais. The total data set encompassed 51,714 news stories. The researchers fed them to a content analysis algorithm and then analyzed the results to construct generalized narratives. Their focus was on how blame for the crisis was attributed.

They found that only El Pais consistently attributed blame to Spain itself for its financial troubles during the euro crisis. “In Spain, the connection between the global financial crisis, the local housing bubble and the mismanagement of a previous period of impressive growth was more visible,” Porcaro explained to me. As one might expect, Sueddeutsche Zeitung blames the crisis on a departure from the traditional German social market economic model. Everyone except Germany seems to have contributed, according to the Munich paper — from greedy financial market players to financially imprudent Greeks to the ECB with its loose monetary policy. Le Monde, too, blamed the banks and speculators, but also German intransigence in handling the indebted southern Europeans.

And La Stampa focused on Italy’s role as a victim of circumstance, namely globalization and German-imposed austerity. Banks and financiers didn’t get much attention as culprits from the Italian newspaper, but the Italian political system and government did get some blame, as in Spain. Le Monde and La Stampa, according to the Bruegel paper, both “embrace a sense of desperation that goes far beyond purely economic considerations but calls into question the entire political system and social fabric.” It’s as if the euro area’s four biggest economies didn’t share a reality. The four quality dailies resemble the blind men in the Indian parable, feeling different parts of an elephant’s body, declaring the whole animal should look like a tree or a snake, then coming to blows when they can’t agree.

Read more …

Jan 102018
 
 January 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giorgione The Tempest 1508

 

Happy belated new year. Belatedly. Thought I’d sit out a few days, since there wasn’t much news to be expected. And it did pan out that way, other than Trump bogarting the limelight; but then, that isn’t really news either. Anything he says or does triggers the expansive anti-Donald echo chamber into a daily frenzy. And frankly, guys, it’s not just boring, but you’re also continuously providing him with free publicity. At least make him work for some of it.

Then, however, the big microprocessor (chip) security ‘flaw’ was exposed. And that’s sort of interesting, because it concerns the basic architecture of basically every microchip produced in the past 20 years, even well before smartphones. Now, the first thing you have to realize is that we’re not actually talking about a flaw here, but about a feature. We use that line a lot in a half-jokingly version, but in this case it’s very much true. As Bloomberg succinctly put it:

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..

And:

Spectre fools the processor into running speculative operations – ones it wouldn’t normally perform – and then uses information about how long the hardware takes to retrieve the data to infer the details of that information. Meltdown exposes data directly by undermining the way information in different applications is kept separate by what’s known as a kernel, the key software at the core of every computer.

As I said: feature, not flaw (or two really, Spectre and Meltdown). And that makes one wonder: fixing a flaw is one thing, but how do you fix a feature? Several quotes claim that software patches would mean the performance speed of affected chips (that would be all of them) would go down by 25-30% or so. Which is bad enough, but the problem is not -limited to- software. And patching up hardware/firmware issues with software can’t be easy, if even viable.

That would make one suspect that even if a software patch can suppress this feature, as long as the architecture doesn’t change, it can still function as a backdoor. Apple may say there are no known exploits of it, but would they tell if for instance intelligence services used it? Or other parties that cannot be labeled ‘hackers’?

 

All that ties in seemingly seamlessly with Apple shareholders expressing their worries about the effect of their investments. Though you might want to wonder if their worries would be the same if Apple shares plummeted tomorrow.

 

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children

..activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health.

There are a few things off with this. First, there’s the risk of these kids’ iPhones being hacked through the flaw, feature, backdoor mentioned above. That’s potentially a lot worse for them. Then, there’s the obvious fact that parents can simply take their children’s phones away, there’s no better way to restrict access. Why should that be Apple’s responsibility?

But most of all, children are addicted to their phones because of the content, and Apple, though they would wish it were different, are not the major content providers. That role is played by Alphabet/Google/YouTube and Facebook/Instagram, and to a lesser extent Snapchat and Twitter. And they are a much bigger threat than Apple is.

 

There has been a lot of talk about hate speech, fake news and election interference over the past year and change -and it won’t stop anytime soon, because it’s political gold dust. Germany, France, the UK, US and a whole slew of smaller nations have all tried to implicate Russia in all of these issues, and for good measure opposition parties to incumbent governments have been fingered too.

There are perhaps very obvious examples of all three topics, but the issue as a whole is far from clear. In Germany, Twitter accounts of the Alternative für Deutschland party have been blocked, but given that they now have seats in parliament, that is a tricky problem. Likewise, much of what the US MSM has been writing about Trump and his organization has proven unsubstantiated, and could therefore be labeled fake news. It isn’t to date, other than by the president himself, but who draws the line where?

The US election interference narrative is shaky, since it largely appears to rely on $100k or so in Facebook ads bought by some mysterious party, ads that are supposed to have been much more effective than many billions of dollars in campaign funding. The kind of thing that makes you think: if the Russians are so much better at this than we are, we might as well hand it all over to them right now.

The main problem with the election interference stories is that none of it has ever been proven. Not even the $100k+ in Facebook ads; they might just as well have originated in Langley and we only have Langley’s word for any alternative claims. Overall, defining what is hate speech and what is fake news seems to come down far too much to opinions rather than facts, and that has us sliding down a supremely slippery slope, not exactly a place to build solid policy on.

So how and why can Facebook and Google be trusted to provide objective assessments on what is fake news and hate speech vs what is not? That is what they are being tasked with at present. They hires tens of thousands of people to do that ‘job’. But what are these people’s qualifications? How do these companies make sure political bias is kept out of the process? Do they even want to keep it out, or do Zuckerberg, Brin, Schmidt want to confirm their own bias?

It’s hard to see how the decision making process, fake vs real news, hate speech, political meddling, will not inevitably become one guided and goaded by intelligence services, because they are the ones who claim to have both the knowledge and the evidence upon which these decisions must be based. But US intelligence is not politically neutral, and they don’t share the sources of their ‘evidence’.

 

 

Still, none of that is the main problem here either. Though we’re getting closer.

Over the holidays, I saw a movie in which there was a teachers’ Christmas party at some highschool. All the teachers were bored and sat or stood in silence looking at nothing. And I realized that kind of scene no longer exists today. Though the movie was just 10-15 years old, there have been some profound changes. At a party like that, or at a busstop, in a bus or train, a waiting room or even a family dinner, everyone is now glued to their smartphone. Even people walking down the street are. And those driving down the street.

What all these people seem to do most is look at their Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat etc. accounts. And apart from the profound changes to human interaction in public spaces, there are other things that deserve attention. Like for instance that while you think you’re having private conversations with your friends and family, there’s nothing private about it. Everything you tell your ‘friends’ de facto becomes property of the owners of the app you’re sharing it on.

When your friends read what you just wrote, they see not only that but also ads that the app displays alongside it. That means Facebook makes money from your friends’ attention for your words. Since Facebook reached 2 billion active users in 2017, that adds up. And they don’t have to do anything for that, other than keep the channels open.

But that is not the worst part. Facebook not only makes money off your contact with family and friends, something most people would probably find comparatively innocent, it also ‘spies’ on you. At the very least, its algorithms actively scour its databases to suggest possible additional friends, and/or people you might know. That can lead to unexpected and potentially undesirable results:

 

Facebook Figured Out My Family Secrets, And It Won’t Tell Me How

Rebecca Porter and I were strangers, as far as I knew. Facebook, however, thought we might be connected. Her name popped up this winter on my list of “People You May Know”, the social network’s roster of potential new online friends for me. The People You May Know feature is notorious for its uncanny ability to recognise who you associate with in real life. It has mystified and disconcerted Facebook users by showing them an old boss, a one-night-stand, or someone they just ran into on the street.

These friend suggestions go far beyond mundane linking of schoolmates or colleagues. Over the years, I’d been told many weird stories about them, such as when a psychiatrist told me that her patients were being recommended to one another, indirectly outing their medical issues.

What makes the results so unsettling is the range of data sources – location information, activity on other apps, facial recognition on photographs – that Facebook has at its disposal to cross-check its users against one another [..] . People are generally aware that Facebook is keeping tabs on who they are and how they use the network, but the depth and persistence of that monitoring is hard to grasp. And People You May Know, or “PYMK” in the company’s internal shorthand, is a black box.

To try to get a look into that black box – and the unknown and apparently aggressive data collection that feeds it – I began downloading and saving the list of people Facebook recommended to me, to see who came up, and what patterns might emerge. On any given day, it tended to recommend about 160 people, some of them over and over again; over the course of the winter, it suggested more than 1400 different people to me. About 200, or 15% of them, were, in fact, people I knew, but the rest appeared to be strangers.

And then there was Rebecca Porter. She showed up on the list after about a month: An older woman, living in Ohio, with whom I had no Facebook friends in common. I did not recognise her, but her last name was familiar. My biological grandfather is a man I’ve never met, with the last name Porter, who abandoned my father when he was a baby. My father was adopted by a man whose last name was Hill, and he didn’t find out about his biological father until adulthood.

The gist of the tale is clear: Someone being introduced by Facebook to someone (s)he never knew, and may not have wanted to know, or know about him/her.

But we’re still skirting the real problems. Though by now you may want to give it all another thought. The real problem is that by giving out the information on Facebook, even if it all seems completely harmless and innocent to you, you have become Big Brother.

That may sound over the top, and I wouldn’t want to go into popular innuendo that the NSA has started either Facebook or Bitcoin, but it’s obvious that when Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms can dig up so much information on people and the links between them, the intelligence community wants a piece of that. Google/Alphabet’s CEO (he’s leaving that post soon) Eric Schmidt is the head of DOD’s Defense Innovation Board for a reason, and he has been close to the Democratic Party core for years.

It all fits too well to be discarded. It’s inevitable that the NSA, the CIA have recognized the potential of Big Tech for spying on Americans -and everyone else- for a while now. What you write on Facebook may seem harmless, but the algorithms can do more with it than -quite literally- is ‘dreamt of in your philosophy’.

And so Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde is accurate in recognizing the symptoms, but not in diagnosing the underlying affliction. Mark Zuckerberg is not the dictator, and Trump is not in control of the data. They are mere conduits, and the buck stops elsewhere. We’ve centralized all our data to Big Brother.

 

We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg

“Everything has gone wrong. That’s the thing, it’s not about what will happen in the future it’s about what’s going on right now. We’ve centralized all of our data to a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, who’s basically the biggest dictator in the world as he wasn’t elected by anyone. Trump is basically in control over this data that Zuckerberg has, so I think we’re already there. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and I don’t think there’s a way for us to stop it.”

One of the most important things to realize is that the problem isn’t a technological one. “The internet was made to be decentralized,” says Sunde, “but we keep centralizing everything on top of the internet.” To support this, Sunde points out that in the last 10 years, almost every up-and-coming tech company or website has been bought by the big five: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. The ones that manage to escape the reach of the giants, often end up adding to the centralization.

We don’t create things anymore, instead we just have virtual things. Uber, Alibaba and Airbnb, for example, do they have products? No. We went from this product-based model, to virtual product, to virtually no product what so ever. This is the centralization process going on. Although we should be aware that the current effects of centralization, we shouldn’t overlook that it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of upcoming tech-based services that are at risk of becoming centralized, which could have a huge impact on our daily lives.

[..] Feeling a bit optimistic, I asked Sunde whether we could still fight for decentralization and bring the power back to the people. His answer was simple. “No. We lost this fight a long time ago. The only way we can do any difference is by limiting the powers of these companies – by governments stepping in – but unfortunately the EU or the US don’t seem to have any interest in doing this.”

The model is absolutely perfect, and it’s not even one that was built on purpose. When Facebook started, Zuckerberg et al were not thinking about 2 billion active users. Nor were they aiming for algorithms that could so pervasively document people’s lives and their connections to others across space and time, or that these people themselves would provide them with the information that can be used to build files on them that can at some point in their lives be used against them, if that is deemed necessary.

And this is just early innings. This is before artificial intelligence and virtual -and/or augmented- reality have really taken off. But when AI is truly unleashed upon the internet, everyone’s seemingly innocent everyday stories as told to family and friends will be a treasure trove when it comes to building the pictures of their lives that are useful to governments and their intelligence agencies.

These platforms are labeled social media, and we might want to think about that label. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people who are not where you find yourself at a given point in time, but there’s a price to pay for that; actually, multiple prices. We’ve likely all found ourselves in situations by now where people act less, not more sociable precisely because of social media; they’re just communicating with their phones, not their immediate surroundings.

Somehow at times that feels a whole new -big- step for mankind: you’re together but you’re not. We are social animals but we attempt to transfer our social lives across space and time to moments and places we’re not at. And we have a gadget that does that for us. That is a puzzling development, and from where I’m sitting a worrying one as well. Somewhere along the same lines as being able to watch ever better photography from ever more remote nature scenes as that nature is being destroyed.

 

Still, few of us would have imagined that when 1984 finally happened, we would ourselves turn out to be Big Brother, but that’s what we are. Or if you want you can insist we’re merely feeding the monster. Same difference. But maybe that too is just a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. Just like the never before seen quality footage of animals about to go extinct.

Who is anyone of us to judge any of it? It’s confusing, it throws us off everything we were taught is normal and lasting, and that’s only when we pay attention, and it all happens at lightning speed.

One thing we can say though: none of this is innocent. Whatever it is mankind is leaping into, we left innocence behind for good.

 

 

Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.

Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:

 

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:

 

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.

 

How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health – and Democracy

The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.

Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.

The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.

Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.

By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.

Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.

Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.

And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.

 

Early Facebook Investor Compares The Social Network To Nazi Propaganda

Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.

And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’

He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.

As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.

“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.

The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.

 

How Economics Failed the Economy

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.

If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.

Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.

The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.

And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.

[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?

[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.

Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.

For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.

For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.

For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.

YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.

 

The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.

As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.

Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.

The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.

In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.

When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.

 

 

Oct 272017
 
 October 27, 2017  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvator Rosa Lucrezia as poetry 1640-41

 

The World’s Witnessing A New Gilded Age (G.)
ECB Sees Option for Ending QE With Short Taper in 2018 (BBG)
The Fed Balance Sheet Unwind Myth (Roberts)
Alarm Sounds Over State Of UK High Street As Sales Crash (G.)
75% of UK MPs Don’t Know Where Money Comes From (CityAM)
China’s Minsky Moment (Muir)
Catalonia’s Leader Rules Out Snap Election, Crisis Deepens (R.)
Catalan Companies Face Boycott Over Independence Push (AFP)
New JFK Files Reveal FBI Warning On Oswald And Soviets’ Missile Fears (G.)
Australian Court Rules Deputy PM Ineligible For Parliament (R.)
‘I Want The Government … To Bring Kindness Back’ (RNZ)

 

 

A hundred years ago.

The World’s Witnessing A New Gilded Age (G.)

The world’s super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes. Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn – more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS/PwC Billionaires report. Josef Stadler, the lead author of the report and UBS’s head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients were concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a “strike back”. “We’re at an inflection point,” Stadler said. “Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about.

The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” Stadler added: “We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age.” He said the “$1bn question” was how society would react to the concentration of so much money in the hands of so few. Anger at so-called robber barron families who built up vast fortunes from monopolies in US rail, oil, steel and banking in the late 19th century, an era of rapid industrialisation and growing inequality in America that became known as the Gilded Age, led to President Roosevelt breaking up companies and trusts and increasing taxes on the wealthy in the early 1900s. “Will there be similarities in the way society reacts to this gilded age?,” Stadler asked. “Will the second age end or will it proceed?”

Read more …

We’re doing so well we need to keep throwing money at bankers.

ECB Sees Option for Ending QE With Short Taper in 2018 (BBG)

European Central Bank policy makers implicitly assume their newly-extended bond-buying program will be tapered to a halt by the end of next year so long as the inflation outlook improves, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. The Governing Council, which met on Thursday, focused on the first nine months of next year for its quantitative-easing program and didn’t formally debate options for what to do after that, said the people, asking not to be named because the talks are private. While tapering would be possible, extending the program without changing the pace of purchases is also a credible option if inflation doesn’t show sufficient progress, one of them said. Whether to set a firm end-date on the bond-buying program has been a key sticking point for some officials.

The council agreed to cut monthly purchases in half, to €30 billion ($35 billion), and President Mario Draghi said that a “large majority” backed the decision to include a pledge to extend again if needed. He added that “it’s never been our view that things should stop suddenly.” The meeting came after governors were presented with several scenarios at a seminar on Wednesday, according to the people. Those included a reduction to 40 billion euros a month through June, and a 12-month tapering through December, similar to the Federal Reserve’s exit from its own program. The latter scenario wasn’t considered a realistic policy option, one of the people said. Governors also looked at a three-month scenario that would see buying after September tapered in monthly steps to 20 billion euros, 10 billion euros and 5 billion euros, another official said.

Read more …

“..In fact, just last week the Fed increased their balance sheet by over $13.5 billion dollars. No wonder the stock market shot higher.”

The Fed Balance Sheet Unwind Myth (Roberts)

Since the beginning of the year, the Federal Reserve has been heavily discussing, warning rather, they were going to begin to “unwind” their gargantuan balance sheet. As Michael Lebowitz recently penned in his subscription-only article “Draining The Punchbowl:” “Since QE was first introduced, the S&P 500 has gained 1,546 points. All but 355 points were achieved during periods of QE. Of those remaining 355 points, over 80% occurred after Trump’s victory.” That is a pretty amazing set of stats. I have previously noted the high correlation of the financial markets relative to the ongoing liquidity operations of the Federal Reserve. I have updated that analysis to show the reduction in the balance according to the Fed’s proposed schedule.

While the market stumbled following the end of QE in the United States, global QE, as shown in the charts of the major global Central Banks picked up the slack.

But now, the ECB has already begun discussing their plans to begin cutting the amount of their QE program by half in the coming year. The hope, of course, by Central Bank officials is that global economies are now humming along at a pace strong enough to withstand the reduction of “emergency measures.” Of course, the real question is whether the Central Bank’s “measures” of economic strength are accurate. While there are certainly indicators such as GDP growth, production, and employment measures which suggests that global economies are indeed on a cyclical upswing, there are also numerous measures which suggest the opposite.

With the Fed trying to raise interest rates, and reduce the balance sheet simultaneously, the “tightening of monetary policy” is a drag on economic growth and ultimately the stock market. But as I stated above, while the Fed is currently “discussing” the reduction of their balance sheet beginning in October, they actually haven’t. In fact, just last week the Fed increased their balance sheet by over $13.5 billion dollars. No wonder the stock market shot higher.

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It’s the weather. Too warm to shop.

Alarm Sounds Over State Of UK High Street As Sales Crash (G.)

The fastest monthly fall in high street sales since the height of the recession in 2009 has raised fears for the retail sector ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period. A survey by the the CBI found that 50% of retailers suffered declining sales in October while only 15% benefited from an increase, leaving a rounded balance of -36%, the lowest since March 2009. The business lobby group said the survey showed retailers were “feeling the pinch” from rising inflation, which has eaten into consumer incomes and squeezed profit margins. Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the UK’s Brexit negotiations has also preyed on consumer confidence, which has declined sharply over the past 18 months and depressed spending. Figures estimating GDP growth in the third quarter showed the services sector holding up despite recent declines in wages adjusted for inflation.

However, the construction sector fell into recession. Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI chief economist, said: “While retail sales can be volatile from month to month, the steep drop in sales in October echoes other recent data pointing to a marked softening in consumer demand.” The gloomy CBI survey came as Debenhams warned of an “uncertain” environment on the high street in the run up to Christmas after suffering a 44% dive in profits. [..] Warm autumn weather and low consumer confidence in the wake of the Brexit vote have also combined to deliver a “grim” October, according to the John Lewis boss, Paula Nickolds, who revealed last week that shoppers are continuing to put off expensive household purchases. That comes after the UK retail sector recorded its lowest growth rate in four years for the three months to the end of September, according to official data.

Read more …

Maube the Bank of England should send them their reports?

75% of UK MPs Don’t Know Where Money Comes From (CityAM)

Only 15% of MPs surveyed answered correctly when asked a true/false question on whether banks create money when they make loans. Almost two-thirds of the 50 MPs surveyed by Dods for campaign group Positive Money wrongly thought banks can’t create money, while a quarter admitted they didn’t know. In a far from stellar field Conservative MPs outperformed slightly “in this regard”, with 19% answering correctly, compared to only one in 20 Labour MPs. More than three-quarters of the MPs surveyed incorrectly believed that only the government has the ability to create new money. Some 23% knew this to be false, with Labour performing better than the Conservatives. The Bank of England has previously intervened to point out that most money in the UK begins as a bank loan.

In a 2014 article the Bank pointed out that “whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.” The perception of money creation has been complicated further by the unorthodox use of quantitative easing, in which the government creates money electronically, which is then used to buy financial assets. Fran Boait, executive director of Positive Money, said: “Despite their confidence in telling the public that there is ‘no magic money tree’ to pay for vital services, politicians themselves are shockingly ignorant of where money actually comes from. “There is in fact a ‘magic money tree’, but it’s in the hands of commercial banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and RBS, who create money whenever they make loans.”

Read more …

The difference between short and long term.

China’s Minsky Moment (Muir)

Sometimes you have to love the naivety of the markets. At this week’s Communist Party Congress meeting in Beijing, the governor of the PBoC (People’s Bank of China) said the following; “If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.” Yet instead of focusing on this dire warning, markets are busy trying to discount the chance of a Powell Fed or a Republican tax cut. Although both of these developments would be important, China is the tail that wags the dog. Full stop. Figure out China, and all the other financial market forecasts become that much easier. Some might argue this “Minsky moment” warning is nothing more than a Central Bank whistling in the wind.

Didn’t Greenspan caution about a similar concern with his “irrational exuberance” speech? And didn’t that end up being a complete non-event? Yet I would argue that China is not the same as other countries. Although there are market elements to their economy, to a large degree, China is still a command economy. If Chinese leadership wants a particular outcome, they can just demand it, and it will happen. So when the head of the PBoC warns about a “Minsky moment”, it’s probably not a good idea to load up on financial assets. For the longest time, China exported goods and imported developed nation debt and other financial assets. They had already started down the road of re-balancing their economy away from this export driven model, but this recent development confirms that the old playbook should be thrown out the window.

The global financial system is changing, and China is leading the way. Their moves will reverberate for years in the future. The Chinese authorities have just put up the warning flag, and you would be foolish to not believe it. This long term warning coincides with my belief that over the short term, the risks are all to the downside. I have been banging the drum on the fact that the Chinese government have done everything in their power to keep markets stabilized through their Communist Party Congress. They haven’t even hidden this fact. From the big sign above the Shenzhen Securities Exchange building that read “Use every effort to protect the stability of stock market for 20 days,” to the recent release that the Chinese government has asked firms to delay bad result during Congress, the message is clear.

Read more …

Too many last minute turnarounds. But still explosive.

Catalonia’s Leader Rules Out Snap Election, Crisis Deepens (R.)

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday said he would not hold a new regional election to break the deadlock between Madrid and separatists wanting to split from Spain, sharpening a political crisis that could turn into direct confrontation. Puigdemont had been expected to announce an election to head off moves by Madrid to take direct control of the autonomous region in the next few days. But, speaking in the courtyard of the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Puigdemont said the central government had not provided sufficient guarantees that holding an election would prevent the imposition of direct rule. “I was ready to call an election if guarantees were given. There is no guarantee that justifies calling an election today,” Puigdemont said.

He said it was now up to the Catalan parliament to move forward with a mandate to break from Spain following an independence referendum that took place on Oct. 1 – a vote which Madrid had declared illegal and tried to stop. Some independence supporters are pushing him to unilaterally declare independence. Late on Thursday, the regional government’s business head resigned over his opposition to a unilateral declaration, a sign of growing division in the separatist movement. Puigdemont’s stand sets the stage for the Spanish Senate on Friday to approve the take-over of Catalonia’s institutions and police, and give the government in Madrid the power to remove the Catalan president.

But this could spark confrontation on the streets as some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, speaking in a Senate committee, said: “The independence leaders have shown their true face – they have promised a dream but are performing tricks.” The aim of Article 155 – the constitutional trigger for direct rule – was to permit any election to take place in a normal and neutral situation, she said. The Spanish government has said it would call such a vote within six months of taking over Catalonia.

Read more …

Sad.

Catalan Companies Face Boycott Over Independence Push (AFP)

Calls for a boycott of Catalan food, cars and other goods, to punish the region for its separatist push, are worrying businesses who fear the economy will suffer. “You have to hit them where it hurts the most: the wallet,” a Twitter user wrote under the hashtag #boycottcatalanproducts. “We Spaniards who do not want Spain to be broken up… we can take action by adopting dissuasive steps of an economic nature,” reads a Facebook page calling for consumers to snub Catalan products. Appeals for a boycott have become more urgent since Catalonia’s separatist regional government held a banned independence referendum on October 1 in defiance of Spain’s central government and courts. The campaign targets Catalonia’s key agriculture and food sectors, with consumers urged to shun cava, a sparkling wine, Estrella Damm beer, as well as Vichy Catalan and Font Vella bottled water.

Medicines are also on the list to hurt Catalonia’s important pharmaceutical sector, as well as cars made by Seat, German carmaker Volkswagen’s Spanish unit in the region. Products made by foreign multinationals in Catalonia, including Nestle and Unilever, have also been swept up in the campaign. Mobile phone applications help consumers identify which products come from the rebel region. The impact of the boycott campaign is hard to measure to date. “We have had some clients who have bought less,” especially in Madrid, Rosa Rebula, a manager at cava producer Rosell i Formosa, told AFP. But she said the company will only be able to confirm the trend in November — a peak period for sales of cava ahead of the Christmas holiday season.

Read more …

CIA/FBI got to Trump? They’ve had 50 years to redact docs, but need 6 months more? Best comment I read: A whole generation knows where they were when Kennedy was shot, except George HW Bush. Turns out he was in Dallas.

New JFK Files Reveal FBI Warning On Oswald And Soviets’ Missile Fears (G.)

The US government released 2,800 documents on Thursday, but President Donald Trump delayed the release of others, saying he had “no choice” but to consider “national security, law enforcement and foreign affairs concerns” raised mostly by the FBI and CIA. One of the first interesting documents to be unearthed, as journalists, scholars and the public pored over them, was a memo written by director J Edgar Hoover that said the FBI had warning of a potential death threat to Oswald, who was then in police custody. “There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” Hoover wrote on 24 November 1963. “Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.

[..] The files comprise almost the final 1% of records held by the federal government and their publication follows a release in July when the record-keepers, the National Archives, posted 3,801 documents online, mostly formerly released documents with previously redacted portions. An administration official told reporters on Thursday that the files that remain secret have information that “remains sensitive depending on its context”. Trump ordered the agencies to review those redactions over the course of six months, the official said, to ensure more documents reach the public. The next deadline for documents is 26 April 2018. According to the National Archives, 88% of records related to Kennedy’s murder were already fully open and another 11% released but partially redacted. In total, that makes for about 5m pages.

The newly released documents also reveal that Soviet Union leaders considered Oswald a “neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else”, according to an FBI memo documenting reactions in the USSR to the assassination. The Soviet officials feared a conspiracy was behind the death of Kennedy, perhaps organised by a rightwing coup or JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson. They also feared a war in the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, according to the memo: “Our source further stated that Soviet officials were fearful that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”

Read more …

How many more?

Australian Court Rules Deputy PM Ineligible For Parliament (R.)

Australia’s High Court ruled on Friday that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is ineligible to remain in parliament, a stunning decision that cost the government its one-seat parliamentary majority and forced a by-election. The Australian dollar fell a quarter of a U.S. cent after the unexpected decision. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he accepted the court’s ruling, even though it was “clearly not the outcome we were hoping for”. Turnbull did not name a new deputy leader during a short news conference in Canberra soon after the court’s ruling. The Australian leader had been scheduled to travel to Israel on Saturday for a week-long visit but a spokesman for Turnbull told Reuters his departure has now been delayed. The spokesman said the new travel arrangements are still be finalised.

Turnbull’s center-right coalition is now in a precarious position. His Liberal Party is the senior party in a coalition with the smaller National Party, which Joyce led. He must now win the support of one of three independent lawmakers to keep his minority government afloat, with two sitting weeks of parliament left until it recesses for the year. At least two independent lawmakers have promised their support. Independent MP Bob Katter told Reuters he would support the government, but he may reconsider that if the coalition tried to block renewed efforts for a sweeping investigation into the scandal-ridden financial system. “I think we have the numbers for a commission into the banks and, if the government tries to block that, then I think we will get into murky waters,” Katter said. The opposition Labor Party immediately went on the attack and threatened to launch a legal challenge to every decision made by Joyce since last year’s election.

Read more …

Great intentions. But she has to talk to Trump, Xi et al.

‘I Want The Government … To Bring Kindness Back’ (RNZ)

Shortly before she was sworn in as the new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern spoke to Checkpoint with John Campbell as she was on her way to Government House in a Crown car. She said she wants the new government to “feel different”, to be empathetic and kind. There was a significant part of her that was focused on the work that needed to be done, she said. “Once you’re there, get on with it.” She said she wanted the government to feel different. “I want it to feel like we are a government that’s truly focused on everybody. Perhaps I’m more acutely aware of that sense having now led a set of negotiations in our government that brings together a range of parties.

“I know I need to transcend politics in the way that I govern for this next term of Parliament but I also want this government to feel different, I want people to feel that it’s open, that it’s listening and that it’s going to bring kindness back. “I know that will sound curious but to me if people see they have an empathetic government I think they’ll truly understand that when we’re making hard calls that we’re doing it with the right focus in mind.” She said there were tough times during the coalition negotiations. “It’s not about just preserving people’s political careers. It’s not about power. It’s about being in a position to make a difference to people who need it most. “This will be a government that works with others. “There is a lot to do.” Asked if there was a central tenet to her approach to the new role, she said it was empathy.

Read more …

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

Read more …

How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

Read more …

Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

Read more …

“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

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“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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Aug 012017
 
 August 1, 2017  Posted by at 6:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jackson Pollock The Deep 1943

 

 

The western world is mired in a mile-deep political crisis and nary a soul seems to notice, or rather: everyone just sees their own little preferred echochamber tidbits of it. Which is not a good thing, because that crisis is bound to trigger other bigger crises that are much more damaging. And I’m sorry to say it, but Donald Trump is not your main problem. Not even close.

The main problem is the collapse of western political systems. While that is what brought Trump to power in the first place, he didn’t cause the collapse. The collapse is also what ‘gave you’ Brexit, and Trump didn’t cause that either. Moreover, in the next step, on the far end of all this, Trump may well be the only thing standing between you and CIA warfare. I know, who wants to hear that, right?! Who’s ready for that next step?

But it’s not that crazy. Trump was the one who stopped the CIA from arming Syrian ‘rebels’, which are just a bunch of extremists gathered by that same CIA in its attempts to unseat Assad, and who Trump saw laughingly beheading a child. And who was it that had previously, and enthusiastically, decided to support these crazies? The US Republican and Democratic parties, in unison, while Obama was president and Hillary slash Joe Biden was Secretary of State. Remember the Chelsea Manning footage of videogame-like drone killings? What did Obama do about that?

Still, that’s not where the core of the demise of our political systems lies. Though it does gave us a flavor of their priorities. The core can be found in economic issues. In both president Bush II and president Obama bailing out banks while letting people’s incomes and wealth tank, and not sueing any banker for anything at all. Obviously, the same scenario played out in Britain as well. And in many other nations.

 

Now look at the parties themselves. Trump is not a Republican, but he took over the party with hardly any opposition. The only people the GOP could come up with to run against Trump were a full dozen full-blown yokels. And today, they still have no credible leadership. The healthcare vote last week, if we look at it separate from its merits, showed us that the same yokeldom is still in charge. Embarrassing doesn’t cover the feeling.

The Democrats are in the same conundrum. They have no credible candidates either. It’s Hillary or nothing. Which adds up to nothing. And then there’s a whole slew of suspicious ‘operatives’, Rice, Wasserman-Schultz et al, who make the picture even worse, and may soon find themselves on the wrong end of an investigation. Who’s going to vote for that bunch?

Yes, there’s Bernie Sanders, but he will never be allowed near the top as long as these other folk are there (and sorry, but he’s too old too). And there’s the core of the problem: both parties have been run by the same clique for ages, and you can only be part of it if you vote and agree with them (the made men model). Which in turn is why they don’t get the votes. And why Trump could become president. Who pledged to limit their terms and shut the revolving doors but still hasn’t.

That, too, is reflected one on one in Britain. If Theresa May is the best you can come up with as a leader, you have a queen-size problem. And Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has a long way to go anywhere at all yet, especially since he refuses to change his anti-EU stance and all the media are against what the people voted for. Though as far as I can see, the problem with Brexit is not so much the issue itself, but the utter incompetence with which it’s being handled. Which is staggering. You feel like asking for these people’s IDs to check their age.

The only thing I ever see discussed is how much Brexit is going to cost. As if voting for Brexit was always about money only. But the EU is about a lot more. Steve Keen presented it the other day in a much different way. He said that -paraphrased- the UK was the country perhaps hardest hit of all by neoliberalism, and that’s why people voted Brexit. And that Brexit could be its way out of the whole neoliberal austerity nightmare, if used well. Let’s talk about that instead.

 

But the Tories are not going to interpret Brexit that way. They will instead use it for more austerity, and more neoliberal policies. What they do at the moment is they try and push through as many of those policies as they can, and to cement them in laws and deals with the EU, who will love that. That way when May is voted out of office, Corbyn or whoever will be faced with a whole parade of things (s)he can no longer change or adapt. Fait accompli.

What everyone who is sick of these people, and of the policies, should do, is what Emmanuel Macron did in France: start a new party. Because France suffers from the same disease: the old guard doesn’t represent anyone but themselves anymore. Not that Macron is necessarily such a great alternative, but he has pointed the way to go, the way out of the staleness and the stalemate.

When you look at the US, all these senators and congresspeople talk more to lobbyists than they talk to anyone else. They’re all so beholden to financial backers and campaign funding, they have nothing left for their voters. They get votes, the ones they do still get, through tens of millions worth of slick TV ads in which they promise things they will never deliver. They paint shiny pictures and regurgitate lofty narratives. But they’ve been found out. Enter Trump stage left.

This happens all over the place. Japan PM Shinzo Abe is the latest trophy to be added, and to join Holland, Italy, France, the US etc., in the list of ‘traditional’ parties and politicians being voted, if not out, then certainly down, way down. You can’t run a country in the midst of a crisis like that. The old guard has a solution for that too: they deny the crisis, and their respective housing bubbles, and claim their countries are in a recovery. Which, wouldn’t you know, they claim to have, themselves, cleverly engineered for their people.

 

All that’s needed in both the UK and US are credible alternatives, and for the ruling classes to be cut down to size. But all we see are voices that derive their identity from pointing out what’s wrong with ‘the others’, be it Trump or Hillary, May or Corbyn. And in the case of Trump, anyone he’s ever talked to.

But now that even the WaPo has declared the Russian collusion story bogus, albeit without identifying its own role in developing that story, maybe it’s time for more pressing matters. Maybe brighter people on all sides of all spectrums can now build their identities on actual policies. And then discuss them, in all due respect, with others who do the same from their point of view.

Because make no mistake about it, with countries essentially ungovernable, as many are, as the US and UK are these days, risks of things like wars emerging ‘out of nowhere’ increase exponentially. If Trump must spend half his time talking about one story after another about someone maybe having met someone who may or may not be not 100% on the up and up, he doesn’t have enough time left to talk to Putin or Xi.

And really, that’s what the American president, any American president, should be doing right now. That alone would be a full-time day-job. Because alphabet soup ingredients like the CIA have created potential mayhem in so many locations around the globe, any one of them might blow anytime now.

Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, it’s a list that is impossible to complete. How about Bolivia, where Evo Morales once again has called for independence from the IMF and World Bank. The two-party, two pronged, two forked-tongued US political class, and its CIA handlers, don’t like that sort of thing. Not one bit.

 

Sure, you can argue that perhaps it’s Trump who’s most likely to start a war, but the evidence so far doesn’t point to that. The evidence points to all sorts of Shakespearean antics in the Oval Office, I told you!, plenty of Scaramouches, but not that one, not trigger-happiness. That’s all the other guys and gals, lest you forget. The evidence points to a two-party war machine, which hopes to be able to do its thing while you wallow in your self-righteous attitudes about Trump and Priebus and Scaramucci and Don Jr.

You want war? Denounce Trump. You don’t? Think again.

The risk of all this is that Da Donald will see no other way to stay in the White House than to start a war, somewhere, anywhere. Even the New York Times will declare him the greatest president since the last one who went to battle.

The risk embedded within that risk is that neither he nor anyone else will have any idea where it may lead. The risk is that the CIA, perhaps more than ever, will decide US -foreign- policy. And believe you me, that’s not what we should want. None of us.