Aug 272020

Boris Ignatovich Moscow At the Hermitage, Leningrad 1930


Hurricane Laura Makes Landfall as Cat. 4 Storm, Moves Inland (WC)
Biden’s Polling Lead Has Collapsed (Palumbo)
Trump Job Approval Rating Hits Record At 52%, Up With Blacks, Even Dems (WE)
DOJ Asks Four States For COVID Data On Nursing Home Deaths (JTN)
Obesity Increases Risk Of COVID19 Death By Almost 50% (G.)
Non-Woven Masks Better To Stop COVID19, Says Japanese Supercomputer (G.)
6 Feet May Not Always Be Enough Distance To Protect From COVID19 (NBC)
The Tragic Hydroxychloroquine Debate and Dr. Fauci’s Denial of Evidence (RCP)
What Is Gilead’s Role In The War On Hydroxychloroquine? (Chaves)
Airlines Threaten October Jobs Massacre Unless they Get 2nd Bailout (WS)
France & Italy Throw Weight Behind Greece As Naval War Games Kick Off (RT)
The New Media Elite Are Rapacious Monopolists, And We Are Their Food (Lewis)
Good News for Birds – and Wind Power (Adler)
Your Dreams Are A Continuation Of Your Reality (RT)



US new daily cases look sort of okay, as a trendline, when you watch the past 2 months. But they have crossed the 6 million figure now, as global cases are gunning for 25 million, and the trend there is much less positive.











We don’t do jobs



Be safe.

Hurricane Laura Makes Landfall as Cat. 4 Storm, Moves Inland (WC)

Laura is near the extreme southwest Louisiana coast and tracking to the north-northwest at about 15 mph. The hurricane is a Category 4 and steady weakening is now expected through the morning hours. Laura’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 75 mph to 140 mph in the 24 hours ending 1 p.m. CDT Wednesday. That increase in maximum sustained winds easily meets the definition of rapid intensification in a hurricane. Hurricane conditions are ongoing in southwestern Louisiana. More than 9 feet of storm surge is inundating the coast near Cameron, Louisiana. A water level station at Eugene Island, Louisiana reported about 3.2 feet of inundation above ground level early Wednesday afternoon and a wind gust of 45 mph.

A 133 mph gust and an 85 mph sustained wind were measured in Lake Charles early Friday morning. A 127 mph wind gust was measured early Thursday morning at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana and a sustained wind of 93 mph was recently measured in Cameron, Louisiana. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has issued a tornado watch valid until 8 a.m. CDT for parts of Louisiana and southeastern Texas. The watch area includes Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lake Charles and Beaumont. Laura has prompted hurricane and storm surge warnings for the northwest Gulf Coast.

A storm surge warning is in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana, including Galveston Bay and areas inside the Port Arthur, Texas, hurricane flood protection system. This means a life-threatening storm surge is expected in the next 36 hours. Residents in these areas should heed all evacuation orders and instructions from local emergency management and take necessary precautions to protect life and property.

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Rasmussen is changing fast.

Biden’s Polling Lead Has Collapsed (Palumbo)

Just a month and a half ago, Rasmussen Reports had Joe Biden 10-points ahead of President Donald Trump in the polls. Now he’s only ahead by one point, within the margin of error. Even if Biden’s now-slim lead in the polls were to remain frozen as of today, Trump would still have a clear path to an electoral college victory, as Hillary Clinton lead Trump in the popular vote by just over two points in the 2016 election. While it is impossible to know the exact reason (or reasons) for Biden’s polling collapse, it comes as the economy continues to rebound from the coronavirus, riots continue to ravage liberal run cities longer than anyone expected (to no condemnation from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris), and a Democrat National Convention widely viewed to be a snoozefest was held.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could’ve had their mind changed by the extended Zoom meeting that was the DNC, but the RNC is changing hearts and minds – or at least some. Of note, Rasmussen was among the closest mainstream pollster in approximating the popular vote in the 2016 election. Rasmussen had Hillary Clinton up 1.7 points over Trump on election day 2016, while she ended up winning the popular vote by 2.1 points above him (48.2% vs. 46.1%). The Real Clear Politics average of polls had Hillary up for six points. Unlike the other polls, Rasmussen correctly saw Trump had a path to victory in the electoral college.

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The tables are starting to turn. Is it just the riots? Or should I ask again if Dems really want to win?

Trump Job Approval Rating Hits Record At 52%, Up With Blacks, Even Dems (WE)

Buoyed by blacks and independent voters, as well as urban dwellers shocked by the Black Lives Matter protest violence raging in some cities, President Trump’s approval rating has hit a new high, according to a survey heavy with minority voters. The latest Zogby Analytics poll just shared with Secrets had Trump’s approval at 52%. “The president has recorded his best job approval rating on record,” said pollster Jonathan Zogby. What’s more, his approval rating among minorities was solid and, in the case of African Americans, shockingly high. Zogby said 36% of blacks approve of the president, as do 37% of Hispanics and 35% of Asians. Approval among independent voters is also up, to 44%. And “intriguingly,” said Zogby, 23% of Democrats approve of Trump.

It was the latest to show that Trump’s approval went up during the Democratic National Convention. Rasmussen Reports had it at 51% at the end of the convention. In a shock from past election years, Joe Biden got no convention poll bounce, according to a newly released Reuters/Ipsos poll. The Republican National Convention still has two days to go. Last night’s address by first lady Melania Trump won good reviews. Tonight, Vice President Mike Pence speaks, and Thursday is Trump’s night. Pollsters have been somewhat at a loss to explain the rise of Trump’s approval ratings, considering that there has been little positive news to help his standings other than the peace deal he helped negotiate between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Zogby, in his analysis, took a stab at the reasoning. First, he said, his and other polls are confirming that the nation is nearly evenly divided politically and that despite some showing a big Biden lead, the race is extremely close. He suggested that the battle is for the “10%-20%” who haven’t made their minds up on whom to vote for and who likely won’t make up their minds until Election Day, just like in 2016. “We are as polarized a nation, on a level not seen since the Civil War,” said Zogby. He also said that the violence playing out in cities such as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, are pushing urban voters to Trump.


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This should happen in many countries. Familes have a right to know.

DOJ Asks Four States For COVID Data On Nursing Home Deaths (JTN)

The Justice Department on Wednesday requested COVID-19 data from four states it says required nursing homes to accept residents infected with the coronavirus, policies that may have rendered elderly Americans “unnecessarily put at risk.” The department said in a Wednesday press release that it was seeking “COVID-19 data from the governors of states that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.” The department named New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan as the states in question.

Data indicate that a significant percentage of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide—possibly approaching half of all fatalities—have been in long-term care facilities, locations where advanced ages and chronic medical conditions make patients much more vulnerable to infectious diseases. The Justice Department notes that in late March New York State ordered that “no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” “Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said in the press release.

“We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.” The requests “are not accusations of fault or wrongdoing by the states or any other individual or entity, and the department has not reached any conclusions about these matters,” the department noted. The letters to the four state governors request various types of state-run nursing home-related data, including the number of residents and staff of such homes that contracted COVID-19, the number of deaths at the homes, and “all State-issued guidance, directives, advisories, or executive orders regarding admission of persons to Public Nursing Homes.”

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Keto. Ditch sugar, ditch carbs. Someone open a chain of keto restaurants.

Obesity Increases Risk Of COVID19 Death By Almost 50% (G.)

Obesity increases the risk of dying of Covid-19 by nearly 50% and may make vaccines against the disease less effective, according to a comprehensive study using global data. The findings, which the lead researcher described as “scary”, show that the risks for people with obesity are greater than previously thought. The study, commissioned for the World Bank, will increase pressure on governments to tackle obesity, including in the UK where Boris Johnson has put himself at the head of a drive to reduce the nation’s weight. The prime minister hit out last year at “sin taxes” such as the UK’s sugary drinks levy, but his own spell in intensive care with Covid-19, which he blames on his weight, has convinced him that tough measures are needed to reduce obesity levels.

It is understood that even taxes are no longer off the table. The US and UK have some of the highest obesity rates in the world. US government data shows that more than 40% of Americans are obese. The figure in England is more than 27% of adults. The new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill into the effects of Covid-19 on people with obesity, defined as a BMI over 30, finds they are at greater risk from the virus in every way. Their risk of ending up in hospital with Covid-19 increases by 113%, of needing intensive care by 74%, and of dying of the virus by 48%. The study was led by Prof Barry Popkin, of the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health, who said he was shocked by the findings. The risk of dying of Covid-19 for people with obesity was significantly higher than anyone had thought.

“That’s a pretty big effect for me,” he said. “It is a 50% increase essentially. That’s a pretty high scary number. All of it is actually, much higher than I ever expected.” The risk of being admitted to hospital for people with obesity was doubled, he said. “That, ICU admission and mortality are really high. They all shocked me, to be honest.” The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, is a meta-analysis, bringing together data from many studies carried out around the world, including China, France, Italy, the UK and the US. Obesity is a global problem that no country has yet successfully tackled. People with obesity often have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity can also cause metabolic changes, such as insulin resistance and inflammation which make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

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“Cotton and polyester masks were slightly less effective, but were still able to block at least 80% of droplets.”

“Polyester and cotton masks allowed up to 40% of the smaller droplets to escape.”

The whole mask thing is made so complex by the “experts” and the media that nobody understands it anymore, so you got all these people walking the steets with masks on, where they serve zero purpose, and people in confined spaces, where they do, wearing none and clamoring about their liberty and birth rights. Some things we can still figure out ourselves. Wear the things where they are appropriate, but only there.

Non-Woven Masks Better To Stop COVID19, Says Japanese Supercomputer (G.)

Face masks made from non-woven fabric are more effective at blocking the spread of Covid-19 via airborne respiratory droplets than other types that are commonly available, according to modelling in Japan by the world’s fastest supercomputer. Fugaku, which can perform more than 415 quadrillion computations a second, conducted simulations involving three types of mask, and found that non-woven masks were better than those made of cotton and polyester at blocking spray emitted when the wearer coughs, the Nikkei Asian Review said. Non-woven masks refer to the disposable medical masks that are commonly worn in Japan during the flu season, and now during the coronavirus pandemic.

They are made from polypropylene, and are relatively cheap to make in large numbers. Woven masks, including those used in the Fugaku simulation, are typically made from fabrics such as cotton, and appeared in some countries after non-woven versions were temporarily in short supply. They can be reused and generally offer more breathability but, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), should be washed in soap or detergent and water of at least 60C at least once a day. The non-woven variety blocked nearly all droplets emitted in a cough, according to experts at Riken, a government-backed research institute in the western city of Kobe.

Cotton and polyester masks were slightly less effective, but were still able to block at least 80% of droplets. Non-woven “surgical” masks were slightly less effective at blocking smaller droplets measuring 20 micrometres or less, with more than 10% escaping through gaps between the edge of the mask and the face, according to the computer model. One micrometre is one millionth of a metre. Polyester and cotton masks allowed up to 40% of the smaller droplets to escape. [..] Makoto Tsubokura, team leader at Riken’s centre for computational science, encouraged people to cover up despite the heatwave gripping large parts of Japan.

“What is most dangerous is not wearing a mask,” Tsubokura said, according to the Nikkei. “It’s important to wear a mask, even a less effective cloth one.” Fugaku, which was named the world’s fastest supercomputer last month, has also run simulations on how respiratory droplets spread in partitioned office spaces and on packed trains when the carriage windows are open. Although it will not be fully operational until next year, experts are hoping the 130bn yen ($1.2bn) supercomputer will help identify treatments for Covid-19 from about 2,000 existing drugs, including those that have yet to reach the clinical trial stage.

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No, you don’t get to change your ideas every other day just because you call yourself an expert.

This has nothing to do with COVID19 specifically. This is a general virus issue, and we could have defined these things well before the pandemic. And some people did.

6 Feet May Not Always Be Enough Distance To Protect From COVID19 (NBC)

The current guidance for safe social distancing may not be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, a new analysis suggests. In the report, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford say other factors, such as ventilation, crowd size, exposure time and whether face coverings are worn, need to be considered, as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the advice has been to keep at least 6 feet away from other people indoors and outdoors. “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, in the report, published Tuesday in The BMJ, the researchers wrote that “physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the covid-19 pandemic.” Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT and co-author of the report, said, “It’s not just 6 feet and then everything else can be ignored or just mask and everything else can be ignored or just ventilation and everything else can be ignored.” It’s important to distinguish between high-risk and low-risk exposure, Bourouiba said.

Some evidence suggests that the coronavirus may travel more than 6 feet through activities like coughing and shouting, the researchers wrote. In the highest-risk situations, such as indoors with poor ventilation, large crowds, prolonged contact time and no face coverings, distancing beyond 6 feet should be considered. Locations that fall under this category include bars, stadiums or restaurants. In low-risk scenarios, such as in outdoor spaces with few people nearby, less stringent social distancing should be adequate.

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Nobody is testing HCQ, azithromycin or doxycycline, and zinc (“triple therapy”) appropriately.

The Tragic Hydroxychloroquine Debate and Dr. Fauci’s Denial of Evidence (RCP)

There are well-established criteria for when an observed association can be ascribed to causation, which Dr. Risch meticulously took into consideration. These criteria were originally developed by the pioneering British epidemiologist Sir Austin Hill. Thus Dr. Risch’s scientific inference of the treatment efficacy of administering HCQ, azithromycin or doxycycline, and zinc (“triple therapy”), as early as possible in outpatient settings to people at greatest risk, in order to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 infection from turning into a dangerous life-threatening “florid disease” is sound. In an open letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci, George C. Fareed, MD, of Brawley, California, Michael M. Jacobs, MD, MPH, of Pensacola, Florida, and Donald C. Pompan, MD, of Salinas, California, demonstrate the flaws in the positions adopted by NIH and FDA and give strong support to Dr. Risch. In particular, they criticize the nihilism of demanding proof of efficacy from randomized clinical trials (RCTs), when time is short and when highly suggestive observational proof of the efficacy of these inexpensive drugs exists.

In the past, the FDA has approved many drugs without RCTs; penicillin was so efficacious in the treatment of pneumonia that there was no need for an RCT to have penicillin registered. Perhaps most disturbing is that not a single RCT is designed to test the efficacy of the triple therapy in outpatient settings as early as possible among those most at risk. Nevertheless, the official position is that “the overwhelming evidence from properly conducted RCTs indicates no therapeutic efficacy of HCQ,” though the RCTs are simply designed not to answer the right question: whether the triple therapy prevents deaths among the elderly and those with comorbidities when taken in outpatient settings, even before people are notified about the lab result as to whether they have Covid-19. It cannot be ethical for public health bodies to demand impossible standards of proof for potential lifesaving therapies.

[..] Dr. Fauci’s position seems remarkably similar to that of the famous English statistician Ronald A. Fisher, who, in 1957, denied that tobacco smoking caused lung cancer, despite evidence of the strong statistical relationship. Fisher argued vehemently that observational data cannot prove causality. It is disturbing that Dr. Fauci does not engage in honest scientific debate based on observational evidence but rather resorts to personalized attacks. As Dr. Risch put it: “The pushback has been furious. Dr. Anthony Fauci has implied that I am incompetent, notwithstanding my hundreds of highly regarded, methodologically relevant publications in peer-reviewed scientific literature.”

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Yes, the Lancet screwed up badly.

What Is Gilead’s Role In The War On Hydroxychloroquine? (Chaves)

Is Gilead, the maker of Remdesivir, waging war on HCQ (hydroxychloroquine)? Attacks on the drug have been continuous ever since Dr. Didier Raoult used this quinine derivative to save the lives of COVID-19 patients last March. The first attempt to discredit HCQ was a hastily compiled Veterans’ Administration hospital system study last April. Notably, one of the study’s authors had in the past received numerous grants from Gilead, with one grant in 2018 totaling nearly a quarter of a million dollars. After deep flaws in the V.A. study were exposed, Surgisphere came to the rescue in May with a “15,000 patient” megastudy allegedly compiled from hospitals all over the world.

This strategy succeeded: following its publication in the Lancet and the NEJM, all outpatient use of HCQ was severely restricted in the U.S., Australia, and most of Europe. When the Surgisphere scam was exposed, both articles were quietly retracted, and the editor-in-chief of the Lancet tried to wash his hands of this embarrassing incident by denouncing Surgisphere’s “monumental fraud.” However only a few days earlier, Lancet editors played a major role in persuading the WHO to suspend all trials for HCQ. Who put them up to it? The study’s main author, Mandeep Mehra, also apologized for his reliance on a third party for the data. He may not have known that the data were fabricated, but the hospital he directed was conducting two trials for Remdesivir. Was he under pressure from his sponsors?

These are the stakes: a five-day treatment with Remdesivir costs around $3,000. A five-day supply of generic HCQ costs around $10. Drug companies have every right to recoup their cost of research and development, but lobbying to suppress access to a life-saving treatment that is both cheaper and more effective is a crime against humanity. Progressives mistakenly believe that socialized medicine protects patients from the abuses of big pharma, but the first nation to severely restrict access to HCQ was France. This policy compelled Dr. Raoult to testify against Gilead’s disproportionate leverage over the medical community during a meeting of the French National Assembly last June.

Notably in the U.S., a third of the FDA’s budget comes from pharmaceutical user fees, and according to the NIH’s website, eight out of 55 members of the panel responsible for COVID-19 treatment guidelines are currently affiliated with Gilead. These government ties to Gilead more than triple when you include panel members with past associations.

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We need to stop looking in the rear view mirror only. Some things will never return. And the more we try to hold on to them, the harder it gets to replace them with other things.

Airlines Threaten October Jobs Massacre Unless they Get 2nd Bailout (WS)

October 1 and the days that follow are going to be rough in terms of tens of thousands of well-paid service jobs – that’s what airlines are threatening unless they get another $25-billion bailout. Airlines have been trying to shed employees by offering packages that induce employees to depart voluntarily because the $25-billion bailout package under the CARES Act banned “involuntary” furloughs or layoffs through the end of September. The air passenger business is still down roughly 70% in the US, six months after the initial collapse of traffic began, according to TSA airport screenings of air travelers entering into security zones. And demand has hardly improved any since early July, and airlines continue to slash costs and cash-burn to survive:

“It was assumed that by Sept. 30, the virus would be under control and demand for air travel would have returned. That is obviously not the case,” American Airlines CEO Parker and President Robert Isom told employees in a grim message on Tuesday. Under its buyout, early retirement, and long-term leave-of-absence programs, 23,500 employees had already voluntarily departed. But that wasn’t enough. So the executives told employees what the next step would be: 19,000 “involuntary” furloughs on October 1. American, which started the year out with about 140,000 employees, expects to have fewer than 100,000 employees in October. “The one possibility of avoiding these involuntary reductions on Oct. 1 is a clean extension” of the bailout package, they said.

So if given another bailout, American, which received $5.8 billion under the first bailout package, will then not lay off those employees on October 1 – but instead on the date when the second bailout package would expire? In the fourth quarter, American expects to fly only one-fourth of its usual international schedule and less than half of its usual domestic schedule. Last week, it announced that it would pull out of 15 smaller cities in October, “as a result of low demand and the expiration of the air service requirements associated with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This is the first step as American continues to evaluate its network and plans for additional schedule changes in the coming weeks.”

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Greece is not impressed with EU and US support so far.

France & Italy Throw Weight Behind Greece As Naval War Games Kick Off (RT)

France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus are staging a massive maritime exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean, in an apparent veiled nod to Turkey, which recently began researching oil and gas deposits in the area, raising ire in Athens. Codenamed ‘Eunomia’, the aeronautical exercises launched on Wednesday off the southern shores of Cyprus, the host nation of the war games. Athens’ defense minister announced the start of the drills earlier in the day, saying they are to reinforce “the rule of law as part of the policy of de-escalating tensions.” France, in turn, also confirmed the news, having dispatched its ‘Lafayette’ frigate, as well as three Rafale fighter jets. Italian and Cypriot vessels were also said to have joined the exercise in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

A day prior, separate drills kicked off near the Greek island of Crete, this time involving Hellenic and US armed forces. The string of military exercises appears to be upping the ante in the festering feud between Greece and Turkey. Formally allies within NATO, the two nations have been at loggerheads over a number of issues, from historical discords to overlapping territorial claims in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tensions recently flared up when a trove of gas and oil was discovered in the contentious waters. This week, Ankara announced that its Oruc Reis research vessel will carry on navigating the disputed waters between Cyprus and Crete. The news has caused outrage in Greece which views the research activities as unlawful and considers them an affront to its sovereignty.

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More revolving doors. Just what we needed. Taleb has addressed this.

The New Media Elite Are Rapacious Monopolists, And We Are Their Food (Lewis)

The likes of Facebook & Google are spending tens of millions on lobbying and buying up government insiders. We need to call their bluff and bring in controls over their ever-growing financial and networked empires. In recent weeks, there has been heightened media concern that Facebook is cultivating a close relationship between government and big tech monopolies by poaching and recruiting former senior policy officials. The findings reveal a systematic hiring of government insiders with knowledge of regulation by offering them huge incentives to join. Three senior regulatory staff at the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport are among those who recently joined Facebook. Other policy officials joined from the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and UK Counterterrorism Policing.

And earlier this year, it was revealed that Facebook had recruited Tony Close as their new director of content regulation. Close was Ofcom’s director of content standards, who had been heavily involved with drawing up rules to rein in the tech giants and protect the public. And, of course, do not forget the fact that Facebook recruited former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as its vice president for global affairs and communications, who has been leading Facebook’s policy and communications work, as part of a concerted effort to preach and lobby against Big Tech breakups. But it is not only Facebook that is behaving like this. The Times reports that at least 14 special advisers had moved to tech companies, including Uber, Google and Facebook, in the past five years after a stint in ministerial offices.

These officials have had access to departmental chiefs and the policy formation process. In the face of growing concern about online content and antitrust investigations, the monopolistic positions of Silicon Valley’s Big Tech giants have increasingly come under scrutiny. As a result, they have all been ramping up their lobbying capacities by recruiting well-connected insiders. The Wall Street journal revealed that in 2019, Facebook increased its expenditure on lobbying by nearly 25 percent, to $12.3 million, through the first nine months of the year. Amazon notched a 16 percent jump in lobbying outlays, to $12.4 million. Apple boosted its spending by eight percent, and Microsoft by nine percent.

The main goal of this is the protection of their existing and future businesses. When Facebook announced its move into the financial sphere by unveiling plans for a global cryptocurrency, it drew a barrage of trenchant criticism. Undaunted, it hired seven new outside lobbying firms to work on financial issues, including two former aides to the GOP chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Amazon, too, has brought on seven additional outside lobbying shops since the middle of 2018, including former members of Congress and congressional aides who work to influence federal spending.

Taleb Carney

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Got to love the simplicity: “Painting one blade black dramatically reduces bird kills by wind turbines..”

Good News for Birds – and Wind Power (Adler)

Birds have been a problem for wind power. Wind turbines, whatever their other merits, have the tendency to kill birds, and possibly bats. This has been a longstanding problem, particularly because those areas best for wind power are often important for birds, particularly those species that tend to ride on wind currents. The bird problem has meant that environmental organizations have been inconsistent advocates of wind power, endorsing the such carbon-free power in the abstract, but often opposing particular wind power development proposals. I wrote about this problem over twenty years ago in The Weekly Standard, and it has not gone away.

New research suggests that one solution to the bird problem is rather simple: Painting one blade black dramatically reduces bird kills by wind turbines–70 percent in one location under study. This is an important development because the effect appears quite large, and it’s a relatively inexpensive fix. Assuming this research pans out, there is a cheap way to address the biggest environmental drawback of wind power, and that’s a big deal.

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“..everyday life influences what you dream about and vice versa..”

Your Dreams Are A Continuation Of Your Reality (RT)

A groundbreaking new study of over 24,000 dreams has provided the strongest evidence yet that our dreams are a continuation of our waking lives, with certain recurring elements shared between our sleeping and everyday selves. “Most dreams are a continuation of what is happening in everyday life,” say the researchers led by computer scientist Alessandro Fogli from Roma Tre University in Italy. The scientist explained that everyday life influences what you dream about and vice versa. So anxiety in life leads to anxious dreams, while on the positive side, dreaming can help solve problems that present themselves during waking hours.

On the one hand, traditional psychological analysis of dreams dates back to the days of Freud, who posited that the hidden meanings of dreams could be revealed through analysis of their waking experiences in the real world. On the other hand, modern dream analysis looks for symbols, metaphors, structures and characters which might correspond to other parts of a person’s life. Such methodologies include the Hall and Van de Castle system, which codifies all of the aforementioned elements and explores how they interact with each other in the dreamworld. This is, however, an extremely slow and time-consuming process, as evidenced by Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.

Dream scientists have long sought an algorithmic solution to automate the task of sifting through dream reports, the academic equivalent of counting sheep, which is exactly what Fogli and his team undertook to accomplish at scale. The researchers devised a way to track large numbers of dreams at scale, by parsing the language from dream reports of 24,000 dreams contained in a giant public database called DreamBank. More specifically, they honed in on characters, social interactions, and emotional words to search for recurring patterns. These three dimensions are considered the most important aspects of dream interpretation, defining the overall “plot.”

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Zschaepitz USD debasement



Biden clown. Don’t know who made it, but it’s done well.



And this is just some stupid fun:



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Apr 182014
 April 18, 2014  Posted by at 3:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  4 Responses »

Isabel Steva Hernandez (Colita)/Corbis Gabriel García Márquez 1975

There are times when time needs to stand still for a seemingly fleeting moment that lasts until the end of time. Yesterday was such a time. But it didn’t happen. Nothing stood still. News was slow coming in, and trickled on as the hours passed, to reach a minor crescendo later, that the world’s greatest living writer had died. And I know it’s because I’m an incurable romantic (I know because incurable romantics are not that stupid) that I feel that way. The lack of attention and respect and mourning to me means there are not nearly enough incurable romantics left in the world, or if they’re there, they must be hiding somewhere.

Because if you ask me, at a time like this, wars should be halted, armistices announced, enemies should become friends, shake hands, kiss and put their arms around each other’s shoulders, entire nations of mothers and daughters should be weeping in unending parades swaying down the streets of the cities, economies should come to an abrupt standstill and all workmen lay down their tools, newspapers should publish multiple extra editions to be sold on street corners, radio and TV shows should be interrupted so popes and presidents alike can urge their people in special bulletins to pray for the souls of both the deceased and those left behind, and join them, and each other, in mourning the loss to humanity, in paying reference to, and being grateful to the heavens for, the bigger than life talent that once walked among them and the riches that were bestowed upon them, be thankful for the world being a better place because of it.

That’s how I think the great men of the world should be mourned. But none of it did happen. The world, even as it has greatly increased both its sheer numbers of communications media and the speed at which they travel, doesn’t seem to be capable of recognizing greatness anymore. Between the fight for material wealth, 24 hour reality TV, propagandistic news shows and a constant adulation of billionaires and botox-enhanced semi-humanoid lifeforms, something has gotten lost: the ability to see what really makes life worth living. Those who’ve never read Gabriel García Márquez, or have long forgotten, will claim they can decide for themselves what makes life worth living. And that may be true to a point, but money isn’t it. And Márquez may be. Because people live through what binds them together, and they die through what tears them apart.

It’s no surprise that reading through the obituaries this morning, I found the man himself had said it better than I ever could, and long before I could have, in his seminal work, Cien Años de Soledad, One Hundred Years of Solitude:

“’The world must be all fucked up,’ he said then, ‘when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.’ That was the last thing he was heard to say.”

And I don’t want to write another obituary, I merely want to pay my respect to a man I never met who taught me to see, and dream, and then see more. Where do you find a man who creates a world all his own from scratch, and then convinces you, page by page that you can’t stop reading, that you live in that world? Even though you don’t know the man, and have never been where his stories are situated. In the best obituary I read today, Pico Iyer for TIME catches it wonderfully in his last sentence:

” … when he died on Thursday in his home in Mexico City, it did not seem impossible that a man could open his mouth and songbirds would fly out.”

Gabriel García Márquez is for 20th century literature what Picasso was for its painting. There are a few who are great, like Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda. But none of them united entire continents with their voice and under their wings. And none of them created entire worlds. Or were personal friends with both the Cuban and the American president, at the same time. Not that it’s any use to make it a competition. Márquez was a great admirer – and rightly so – of American writers like Faulkner (who he cited as a major influence, and who published his first book the year Márquez was born, 1927), and of Hemingway, Melville, Twain. And he fits in the rich tradition of Cervantes, Proust, Rimbaud, Hugo, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and others.

Another great quote perhaps makes clear what the place of Gabriel García Márquez in this gallery of greats is. American writer William Kennedy, born one year after Márquez (he’s 86 now), long ago wrote in the New York Times about One Hundred Years of Solitude that it was:

” … the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

May I humbly suggest that for Easter, you shut off your tablet and smartphone and Kardashians and pick up a copy of something anything by Márquez. It doesn’t have to be the rich and voluminous One Hundred Years of Solitude, you can try Autumn of the Patriarch, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, or any of his other books. And then reflect for a fleeting eternity on the fact that this man who was so generous to share his talent and his world and his wealth of imagination and ability to put it into words with you, died only yesterday.

“He was, essentially, a trafficker in wonder.”

The Miraculous Life of Gabriel García Márquez (TIME)

When Gabriel García Márquez was born, in 1927, in the sleepy little town of Aracataca, not far from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, there were certain established fixities in the world of letters. The centers of gravity were Europe and North America, with a few auxiliary poles in Wellington, perhaps, or Kolkata. The novel, just beginning to be shaken up by Joyce and Woolf, told mainly of carriages moving under birch trees and conversations on rainy boulevards. Its characters, as often as not, were the people you might meet at dinner parties thrown for Count Tolstoy or Marcel Proust.

By the time García Márquez died at 87 on April 17, all that had changed, and largely because of him. A new continent had been discovered, so it seemed, rich with tamarind trees and “pickled iguana,” and folk cultures everywhere had an epic voice. Villagers could be imagined seeking daguerreotypes of God, and men arriving on doorsteps amid a halo of yellow butterflies. Macondo, a never-never town of almond trees and “banana wars” (a lot like Aracataca) had become as much a part of the reader’s neighborhood as Yoknapatawpha County or St. Petersburg.

The story behind this was, of course, half-miraculous. The eldest of 11 children, “Gabo,” as he was universally called, was born to a telegraph operator and a colonel’s daughter. When his parents moved to another city in search of work, he was left behind, a tropical Pip, to spend his early years with relatives. From his grandfather, he heard tales of fatal duels and his country’s unending civil wars; from his aunts and grandmother, he absorbed all the spells and spirits sovereign in a world in which Arab and Indian and African cultures mixed. Scarcely was he out of his teens than the boy was publishing short stories in a newspaper, while studying law with a view to help the disenfranchised. The newspaper for which he also wrote columns was called — too perfectly — El Universal.

One day, after 18 months of continuous writing, he completed a book, his fifth, so large that his wife Mercedes had to pawn her hair dryer and an electric heater to pay for postage to send it to the publisher. Cien Años de Soledad was published in 1967 (such was the interest in Latin writing then that it did not even make it into English till three years later), and Pablo Neruda, South America’s reigning Nobel laureate, pronounced it “perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.” He could as easily have called it a narrative Alhambra, a palace in the Spanish tradition but fluent with foreign shapes and dizzy curlicues amid the water and the orange trees.

One Hundred Years of Solitude promptly established García Márquez as the defining member of what was called the boom in Latin American writing and a movement known as magic realism; yet, really, he was throwing open the gates for writers from forgotten everywheres — you can see his influence in India’s Salman Rushdie, in Nigeria’s Ben Okri, even in Murray Bail from Australia.

He was, essentially, a trafficker in wonder. “Incredible things are happening in the world,” says a sometime alchemist in the first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude, as he sees a gypsy’s dentures; García Márquez’s realization was that the world of the alchemist, the dew still on it, could be equally incredible to the denture maker. He spun out his tales of everyday miracles with such exuberance that 30 million copies of the book were not just bought around the world, but read.

Not one to stay put, he followed that imaginative dawn with The Autumn of the Patriarch, an unflinchingly political novel that consisted of just six paragraphs, each 30 pages or more in length, and his tales of unexpected innocence were forever intertwined with more hardheaded stories of the solitude that comes with power. Realistic enough to be a true romantic, he treated dreams and revolutions with equal weight: if his fabulous flights were always, he insisted, just the documentary work of a reporter with an eye for marvels, his nonfiction accounts of corruption such as News of a Kidnapping featured secret messages transmitted on TV programs and kidnappers offering talismans to their hostages. A friend to Presidents as well as revolutionaries, García Márquez never abandoned the public world: even in his 70s, 17 years after winning the Nobel Prize, the most famous man in Colombia was writing articles like a cub reporter.

Though García Márquez lived in Paris, Mexico City, Havana and Barcelona, he was proudly claimed by Colombia — by all South America — as one who had taken an area too often associated with murders and drugs, and infused it with an immortal light: a literary Columbus discovering a New World that would soon belong to us all. When he fell ill, therefore, in the summer of 1999, much of the continent seemed to hold its breath, urging “el maestro” back to health. And when he died on Thursday in his home in Mexico City, it did not seem impossible that a man could open his mouth and songbirds would fly out.

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“There is always something left to love.”

Gabriel García Márquez: 25 Quotes (Outlook)

“No medicine cures what happiness cannot.” – Of Love and Other Demons

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” – Living to Tell the Tale

“Necessity has the face of a dog.” – In Evil Hour

“Perhaps this is what the stories meant when they called somebody heartsick. Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching.”

“One can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them…My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.” – Memories of My Melancholy Whores

“I became aware that the invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love.” – Memories of My Melancholy Whores

“Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning.” – Of Love and Other Demons

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” – Living to Tell the Tale

“A lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth.” – The Autumn of the Patriarch

“But when a woman decides to sleep with a man, there is no wall she will not scale, no fortress she will not destroy, no moral consideration she will not ignore at its very root: there is no God worth worrying about.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

“By trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

“Wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“The only difference today between Liberals and Conservatives is that the Liberals go to mass at five o’clock and the Conservatives at eight.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

“’The world must be all fucked up,’ he said then, ‘when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.’ That was the last thing he was heard to say.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

“A man should have two wives: one to love and one to sew on his buttons. – Love in the Time of Cholera

“No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“He repeated until his dying day that there was no one with more common sense, no stonecutter more obstinate, no manager more lucid or dangerous, than a poet.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“He who awaits much can expect little.” – No One Writes to the Colonel

“I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” – Gabriel García Márquez: a Life

“There is always something left to love.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

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Marquez: 15 More Quotes (IB Times)

“Nobody deserves your tears, but whoever deserves them will not make you cry.”

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.”

“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”

“Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel.”

“There is always something left to love.”

“A true friend is the one who holds your hand and touches your heart.”

“Be calm. God awaits you at the door.”

“A person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”

“Nothing in this world was more difficult than love.”

“Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning.”

“Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.”

“It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”

“Humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.”

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good.”

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“The biggest manufacturers in China operate factory complexes the size of small cities”.

30,000 Workers Are Striking At China’s Biggest Shoe Factory (AP)

A strike at the Chinese factories of the world’s biggest athletic shoe maker snowballed Thursday to about 30,000 workers, a labor group said, making it one of the largest-ever work stoppages at a private business in China. Workers in the southern city of Dongguan want Taiwanese-owned Yu Yuen Ltd., which makes shoes for companies such as Nike and Adidas, to make social security contributions required by Chinese law and meet other demands. They’ve been striking in increasing numbers in on-and-off stoppages since April 5.

The strike at a massive 10-factory complex is the latest in a wave of unrest at factories in China, where labor shortages and a rising cost of living have made the migrant workers from the countryside who keep Chinese industry running increasingly assertive. The walkout threatens to crimp the contract manufacturer’s production for clients that also include Reebok, Asics, New Balance and Timberland. More than 30,000 workers were on strike Thursday to demand the company make outstanding payments into social security funds and meet its commitments to provide free accommodation and meals, the U.S.-based China Labor Watch said, citing worker representatives. The biggest manufacturers in China operate factory complexes the size of small cities where workers are housed in dormitories.

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Yes, we know.

World’s Central Banks ‘Are Gambling Immense Amounts Of Money’ (RT)

The banking system is completely dysfunctional, and it is going to lose legitimacy as we are nowhere near the solution of the too-big-to-fail problem, Robert Pringle, chairman and founder of the Central Banking Journal, told RT. It was never supposed to force the Central Banks to gamble on such an enormous scale as is happening today, Pringle, author of The Money Trap said on RT America’s show Boom Bust.

RT: What are the problems of the current banking system?

Robert Pringle: The problem with the banks is that [the system] is completely dysfunctional. There are huge megabanks that receive major public subsidies. That itself is simply wrong, the public in the end will get fed up with this. The system is going to lose legitimacy, because they all were rescued as they had to be of course in the crisis, but seven years later we are nowhere near the solution of the too-big-to-fail problem. That is the most obvious issue.

Underneath it is the whole system in which we rely on credit, especially in the UK, but also in the US and other countries. We rely on pumping up credit to get the real economy moving. And the problem is that we have to pump up the credit too much in order to reduce unemployment. We are going into the same thing again. In a London property market we have 18% annual price rises, the average price of a house in London has gone up to half a million dollars. Obviously we are moving to another boom and bust period. It’s not just the property prices, in many emerging markets you are also getting this. Stock markets are at an all-time high. And yet many people fear a crash. We are gambling immense amounts of money, $4 trillion on the FED balance sheet. I respect central bankers for what they are trying to do, but it was never supposed to be like this; it was never supposed to force them to gamble on such an enormous scale.

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Informative piece by Stockman on how America’s industrial base is being eroded ever more.

Big Blue: Stock Buyback Machine On Steroids (Stockman)

The Fed’s financial repression policies destroy price discovery and honest capital markets. In the process these deformations turn financial markets into casinos and corporate executives into prevaricating gamblers. To be specific, most CEOs of the Fortune 500 are no longer running commercial businesses; they are in the stock-rigging game, harvesting a mother lode of stock option winnings as the go along. Those munificently rising stock prices and options cash-outs owe much to the Fed’s campaign to suppress interest rates and fuel stock market based “wealth effects”, but the CEOs are doing their part, too. They have become full-time financial engineers who use the Fed’s flood of liquidity, cheap debt and soaring stock prices to perform a giant strip-mining operation on their own companies.

That is, through endless stock buybacks and M&A maneuvers they create the appearance of “growth” while actually liquidating the balance sheet equity and future asset base on which legitimate earnings growth depends. The poster boy for this deformation is IBM which for all intents and purposes has become a stock buyback machine on steroids. It had a bad hair day yesterday, reporting still another year/year decline in sales, but that goes right to the heart of the matter. During the last seven years IBM has been a stock traders dream, climbing an almost picture perfect chart from $94 per share in March 2007 to a recent peak of $212. But as shown below, those gains had nothing to do with what has been a historic ingredient of stock appreciation—-namely, expansion of its asset base and revenues. In fact, sales revenues in Q1 2014 clocked in at virtually the same number as Q1 2007:

So how has IBM and its ilk achieved revenue-less earnings growth? After all, reported EPS has gone from about $7 per share to $15 during the period. The short answer is that its executives and board have utilized every accounting and financial engineering short-cut in the book to disguise an equity liquidation campaign as a splendid strategy for “growth”. During the 7-years ending in 2013 IBM booked about $100 billion in net income, and spent virtually every single penny on share buy backs. So the once and former king of the global high-tech industry had nothing better to do with its cash than shrink it equity base. Accordingly, its share count dropped by 20% over the period, thereby accounting for about 45% of its EPS growth.

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Fund managers will go where the money is. If that’s in Russia, that’s where they’ll be.

US Warns Money Managers of More Russia Sanctions (Bloomberg)

The Obama administration told asset managers last week that it was planning additional sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Officials from the Treasury Department and the National Security Council met in Washington with mutual-fund and hedge-fund managers, according to a person who attended. Their comments sent a message that more sanctions are on the way and that investors, if they were concerned about the impact, should manage that risk, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions weren’t public.

The meeting, convened a week before talks with Russia in Geneva that ended yesterday, left managers grappling with the question of whether the government intended to follow through, or was trying to trigger asset sales through the threat of sanctions, said the person. Former administration officials have said forcing Russia out of global financial markets is the strongest tool President Barack Obama has at his disposal in trying to defuse the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

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Obama and Putin got along well and achieved things, before the US started poking Ukarine.

Putin Calls Obama ‘Brave Man,’ Touts Shared Goals With US (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believes U.S. President Barack Obama is a “decent and brave man” who would save him from drowning, even as the two leaders failed to form “very close” personal relationship. The two countries share interests on nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism and the world economy, with Russia having no plans to re-create an Iron Curtain, “a Soviet invention,” Putin said today during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow.

The top diplomats from the U.S., the European Union, Ukraine and Russia are meeting in Geneva today as America and its allies accuse the government in Moscow of stoking unrest in Ukraine after annexing Crimea last month, threatening to ratchet up sanctions in the worst standoff between the former Cold War enemies. Tougher U.S. sanctions against Russia would be counterproductive as the world isn’t unipolar, Putin said.

“Everything in the world is very interdependent,” Putin said. “So when one tries to punish someone, like a naughty child, have them kneel on peas so it would hurt — in the end they will saw off the branch they’re sitting on, and at some point, they will of course understand this.” Ties between the U.S. and Russia have soured since Putin reclaimed the presidency two years ago. Efforts to improve relations under Obama’s “reset” policy were spearheaded by Putin’s predecessor and now prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev.

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The best way to make buying a home more affordabe in the UK is not to buy one (will save you lots of money too, if you’re not a flipper). If enough people do that, prices will come down. The Russian and Chinese rich can’t buy them all.

Young Britons Struggle to Save for Home Down Payments (Bloomberg)

Most Britons between the ages of 20 and 45 who want to buy a home aren’t able to save money to put towards a down payment, excluding them from the strongest U.K. property market in 3 1/2 years. Those who say they’re unable to save anything for a deposit on a home rose to 57% from 42% a year earlier, according to a survey by mortgage lender Halifax. One in five U.K. residents between the ages of 23 and 27 has no interest in buying somewhere to live, the survey of more than 8,000 people showed.

Record-low interest rates, credit-boosting programs and a lack of supply are fueling price increases, making it harder for first-time buyers to make a down payment. While the government’s Help-to-Buy plan assists homebuyers with deposits, encouraging higher loan-to-value mortgages in the current market is “extremely reckless,” Citigroup Inc. Chief Economist Willem Buiter said this month. “We may be heading towards the point where the aspiration to own a nice home will be replaced by the aspiration to simply live in one,” Halifax Mortgages Direct Craig McKinlay said in the report.

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And it’s going to be ugly.

Housing Bubble 2.0 Veers Elegantly Toward Housing Bust 2.0 (TPit)

They’re not even trying to blame the weather this time. “Housing affordability is really taking a bite out of the market,” is how Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors explained the March home sales fiasco. “We haven’t seen this issue since 2007.” In Southern California, the median price soared to a six-year high of $400,000, up 15.8% from a year ago, as San Diego-based DataQuick reported. It was the 24th month in a row of price increases, 20 of them in the double digits, maxing out at 28.3%. Ironically, prices per square foot are increasing fasted at the bottom third of the market (up 21%), versus the middle third (up 15.9%) and the top third (up 14.3%).

Ironically, because at the bottom 65%, sales have collapsed. People, wheezing under the weight of their student loans and struggling in a tough economy where real wages have declined for years, hit a wall. Private equity firms and REITs, prime beneficiaries of the Fed’s nearly free money, gobbled up vacant homes sight unseen in order to convert them into rental housing, and in the process pushed up prices – exactly what the Fed wanted. But now high prices torpedoed their business model, and they’re backing off. So sales of homes priced below $500,000 plunged 26.4%, and sales of homes below $200,000 collapsed by 45.7%.

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As long as Ambrose just gives the facts, and not his interpretation or opinion, he’s useful.

Eight EU States In Deflation As Calls Grow For QE In Sweden (AEP)

Sweden has become the first country in northern Europe to slide into serious deflation, prompting a blistering attack on the Riksbank’s monetary policies by the world’s leading deflation expert. Swedish consumer prices fell 0.4% in March from a year earlier, catching the authorities by surprise and leading to calls for immediate action to avert a Japanese-style trap. Lars Svensson, the Riksbank’s former deputy governor, said the slide into deflation had been caused by a “very dramatic tightening of monetary policy” over the past four years.

He called for rates to be slashed from 0.75% to -0.25% to drive down the krona, and advised the bank to prepare for quantitative easing on a “large scale”. Prof Svensson said Sweden was at risk of a “liquidity trap” akin to the 1930s, with deflation causing debt burdens to ratchet up in real terms. Swedish household debt is 170% of disposable income, among Europe’s highest. The former Princeton University professor wrote the world’s most widely cited works on deflation, his advice being sought by the US Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke during the financial crisis.

The dispute in Sweden comes as Eurostat data showed that eight EU countries slipped into deflation in March, with Bulgaria at -2%, Greece -1.5%, Cyprus -0.9%, Portugal -0.4%, Spain and Slovakia -0.2%, and Croatia -0.1%. The Netherlands is still positive at 0.1%, but this level is already so low that it is causing debt-deflation trauma for Dutch households struggling to cope with loans near 250% of disposable income. Dutch house prices have dropped by a fifth. A quarter of mortgages are in negative equity.

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China Slows – Will Asia Follow? (TheDiplomat)

As the region’s largest economy slows, what impact will it have on the rest of Asia? China’s slowdown has been confirmed, with the world’s second-biggest economy reporting its weakest expansion in more than a year on slumping property construction. But the rest of Asia won’t be following its lead just yet, according to the world’s bankers. On Wednesday, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported annualized growth of 7.4% for the first quarter, down from 7.7% in the previous period and its slowest pace in six quarters. The weakest first-quarter property investment rise since 2009 weighed on Asia’s largest economy, although the rise was still above market forecasts of a 7.3% expansion.

While the gross domestic product (GDP) data buoyed financial markets, ANZ economist Liu Ligang was not alone among economists in questioning the high number. “If you look at monthly indicators then I think growth was really around 7.2%, given retail sales and fixed asset investment have been weak,” the bank’s chief China economist told the Australian Financial Review. He pointed to the “significant slowdown” in housing construction, which plunged by more than 27% during the January-March quarter, compared to the same period last year. New home sales also dropped 7.7%, while there was a 23% rise in new dwellings yet to be sold.

Real estate’s impact on the economy has been shown by official data, which indicated that investment in urban development accounted for around 14% of GDP in 2012. In 2013, house prices rose nationwide by 27%, sparking moves by Beijing to curb speculative investment. As noted by The Diplomat, the results have been seen in China’s emerging ghost towns of empty apartment towers. Property prices have dived particularly in second and third-tier cities, with developers slashing prices to attract buyers.

“The property market is probably the biggest risk this year, because this is not a trend the government can fully control with policies,” Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg News. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said the nation requires 7.5% growth to maintain employment. Yet despite the target, Beijing has attempted to curb both property and industrial overcapacity, while reining in the “shadow” banking sector.

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Any time there’s money to be made in offering lower fees for a service, you know something’s not right.

Wal-Mart Jumps Into The Money Transfer Business (AP)

Walmart is delving deeper into financial services at its stores and shaking up the money- transfer business. The world’s largest retailer introduced a new money-transfer service Thursday that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 50% compared with similar services elsewhere. The Walmart-2-Walmart service is being rolled out in partnership with Ria Money Transfer, a subsidiary of Euronet Worldwide.

Shares of Douglas County-based Western Union and MoneyGram plunged almost immediately Thursday after the announcement. Western Union shares closed the day at $15.25, down 80 cents or 5%, after hitting a low of $14.60 earlier in the day. The service, which will be available starting April 24, allows its customers to transfer up to $900 to and from more than 4,000 Walmart stores in the U.S. It’s a huge footprint that could reshape that industry. Customers can transfer up to $50 for a $4.50 service fee and up to $900 for $9.50.

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Story keeps developing. What is Detroit going to use to pay more in pensions? Future pensions, would be my guess.

Detroit Reaches Deal Limiting Pension Cuts (CNN)

Detroit’s emergency manager and pension funds for 23,000 workers and retirees hammered out tentative deals on Tuesday, marking a major step forward in the city’s efforts to exit bankruptcy. If approved, the deals would significantly limit proposed cuts in pension benefits compared to what had previously been proposed. The first deal was reached with the Retired Detroit Police and Fire Fighters Association, which represents more than 80% of Detroit’s retired public safety workers. Retirees would suffer no cuts to their current pension benefits and would receive nearly half of their annual cost of living increases moving forward.

Later Tuesday, the city struck an agreement with the General Retirement System, an even larger fund that covers civilian workers for most city departments. The general fund was in worst financial shape than the one that covered police and fire fighters. Those retirees would see a 4.5% reduction in benefits and lose their cost-of-living adjustment altogether. Both sets of cuts are far smaller than the those proposed in February by Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager overseeing Detroit’s finances and bankruptcy proceedings. In laying out his original plan to reorganize Detroit, Orr proposed a cut of up to 34% for most retirees, and up to a 14% cut for police and fire. [..]

Tuesday’s deals will ultimately rely on funding provided by a “grand bargain” offered by private foundations, state officials and the Detroit Institute of Arts that pledged $816 million toward retiree pensions. In return, Detroit would relinquish control of city-owned art to the museum. But the city’s exit from bankruptcy will eventually rely on the final approval of bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes. Michael Sweet, a California-based attorney at Fox Rothschild and expert in municipal bankruptcy, said this is the most significant step Detroit has taken yet toward emerging from bankruptcy. “This is a real feather in Kevyn Orr’s cap. Having retirees go into court with him on a plan would send a very strong message to the court and other creditors,” he said. Sweet said this kind of agreement seemed unlikely not long ago given the positions being staked out by both Orr, the pension funds and the city’s unions, but “pressure makes diamonds.”

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China already has barely enough arable land to feed its people.

China Says 20% Of Its Farmland Is Heavily Polluted (NY Times)

The Chinese government released a report on Thursday that said nearly one-fifth of its arable land was polluted, a finding certain to raise questions about the toxic results of China’s rapid industrialization, its lack of regulations over commercial interests and the consequences for the national food chain. The report, issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources, said 16.1% of the country’s soil was polluted, including 19.4% of farmland. The report was based on a study done from April 2005 to last December on more than 2.4 million square miles of land across mainland China, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

The report said that “the main pollution source is human industrial and agricultural activities,” according to Xinhua. More specifically, factory waste products, irrigation of land by polluted water, the improper use of fertilizers and pesticides, and livestock breeding have all resulted in tainted farmland, the report said. The study found that 82.8% of the polluted land was contaminated by inorganic material. The most common pollutants were cadmium, nickel and arsenic, and the levels of these materials in the soil had risen sharply since land studies in 1986 and 1990. The level of cadmium had risen by 50% in the southwest and in coastal areas and by 10% to 40% in other regions, Xinhua reported. The soil in southern China is more polluted than in the north.

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A good collection of graphs from the IPCC.

How Our Growing Economy Is Destroying The World (BI)

The third working paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released Sunday in Berlin. The report shows that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are accelerating despite reduction efforts and focuses on mitigation scenarios such as investing in renewable energy. Here are key charts from a report summary. The full report is here.

Most CO2 emission growth comes from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes:

Working Group III

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