May 152018
 
 May 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Odalisque couchée aux magnolias 1923

 

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)
America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)
Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)
Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay (R.)
Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)
China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)
No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)
Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)
Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)
Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply –
Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)
Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

 

 

Bonds yield more than stocks.

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)

For almost a decade, it’s been extremely difficult to lose money in the U.S. stock market. Over the next decade, it could be hard to do anything but, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. The outlook for market returns has precipitously worsened in recent months, with analysts and investors growing increasingly confident that the lengthy bull market that began in the wake of the financial crisis could be, if not coming to a close, petering out. More market participants view the economy as being in the late stage of its cycle, and a recession is widely expected in the next few years. All of that could result in an equity-market environment that’s a mirror image of recent years, where gains were pretty much uninterrupted, and volatility was subdued.

“2018 is seeing multiple tailwinds of the last nine years abate,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a report to clients that was entitled “The End of Easy,” in reference to the investing environment. “Decelerating growth, rising inflation and tightening policy leave us with below-consensus 12-month return forecasts for most risk assets. After nine years of markets outperforming the real economy, we think the opposite now applies as policy tightens.” As part of its call, Morgan Stanley reduced its view on global equities to equal weight, saying they were “in a range-trading regime with limited 12-month upside.” It raised its exposure to cash, following Goldman Sachs, which last week upgraded its view on the asset class on a short-term basis.

U.S. GDP grew at an annualized 2.3% in the first quarter, below the 3% average of the previous three quarters, as consumer spending hit its weakest level in five years. While slowing growth isn’t the same as a contraction, the data added to concerns that a period of synchronized global growth was coming to a close. According to a BofA Merrill Lynch Global survey of fund managers in April, just 5% of respondents expect faster global growth over the coming 12 months, compared with the roughly 40% that did at the start of the year.

[..] Howard Wang, the co-founder of Convoy Investments, called the Fed’s ballooning balance sheet “the fundamental driver of asset prices over the last decade.” He provided the chart below, which compares the growth in the U.S. money supply against the long-term return of all assets, including global equities, bond categories, real estate, and gold. “I believe the trend of shrinking money supply in the system will continue for some time to come,” Wang wrote. “This adjustment is a painful but necessary process for healthier markets and economies.”

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$52,000 per second.

America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)

On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history. It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone. And over that time the country had been through a revolution, civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, the nuclear arms race… plus dozens of other wars, financial panics, and economic crises. Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago. This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.

That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND. But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years. It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt. That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second. Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year. And there is no end in sight.

At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.) Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades. The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that. They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.

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I’ll let Caitlin do the talking. The damage done to America yesterday will be felt for a long time.

Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)

1. I hate writing about Israel. The accusations of anti-semitism which necessarily go along with literally any criticism of that nation are gross enough, but even worse are the assholes who take my criticisms of the Israeli government as an invitation to actually be anti-semitic. They really do hate Jews, they really do think that every problem in the world is because of Jews and they post Jewish caricature memes and calls for genocide in the comments section on social media and it’s incredibly gross and I hate it. It feels exactly as intrusive, jarring and violating as receiving an unsolicited dick pic. But the Israeli government keeps committing war provocations and massacring Palestinians, so it’s something I’ve got to talk about.

2. Anti-semitism (or whatever word you prefer to use for the pernicious mind virus which makes people think it’s okay to promote hatred against Jewish people) is a very real thing that does exist, and I denounce it to the furthest possible extent. Anti-semitism is also a label that is used to bully the world into accepting war crimes, apartheid, oppression, and mass murder. Both of those things are true.

3. There were dozens of Palestinians killed and well above a thousand injured in the Gaza protests over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. I haven’t found any report of so much as a single Israeli injury. The only way to spin this as the fault of the Palestinians is to dehumanize them, to attribute behaviors and motives to them that we all know are contrary to human nature. To paint them as subhuman orc-like creatures who are so crazy and evil that they will keep throwing themselves at a hail of bullets risking life and limb just to have some extremely remote chance of harming a Jewish person for no reason. This is clearly absurd. A little clear thinking and empathy goes a long way.

6. Any position on Israel that is determined by words made up by dead men thousands of years ago is intrinsically invalid. Saying the Jewish people are more entitled to Israel than those who were living there seven decades ago because of some superstitious voodoo written in obsolete religious texts is not an argument. Religious freedom is important, and it’s important to be able to believe whatever you like, but your beliefs do not legitimize your actions upon other people. If you murder someone in the name of Allah, you have murdered someone. If you kill 58 people because you feel some ancient scripture entitles you to a particular section of dirt, you have killed 58 people. Your internal beliefs do not give you a free pass for your egregious actions upon others.

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Betcha it’s true. Making people pay to be spied upon.

Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay For It (R.)

Google is under investigation in Australia following claims that it collects data from millions of Android smartphones users, who unwittingly pay their telecom service providers for gigabytes consumed during the harvesting, regulators said on Tuesday. Responding to the latest privacy concerns surrounding Google, a spokesman for the U.S. based search engine operator said the company has users’ permission to collect data. The Australian investigations stem from allegations made by Oracle Corp in a report provided as part of an Australian review into the impact that Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, and Facebook have on the advertising market. Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the country’s Privacy Commissioner said they were reviewing the report’s findings.

“The ACCC met with Oracle and is considering information it has provided about Google services,” said Geesche Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the competition regulator. “We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner.” Oracle, according to The Australian newspaper, said Alphabet receives detailed information about people’s internet searches and user locations if they have a phone that carries Android – the mobile operating system developed by Google. Transferring that information to Google means using up gigabytes of data that consumers have paid for under data packages purchased from local telecom service providers, according to the Oracle report.

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As I’ve said for a long time, this is the Belt and Road scheme.

Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)

China’s “debtbook diplomacy” uses strategic debts to gain political leverage with economically vulnerable countries across the Asia-Pacific region, the US state department has been warned in an independent report. The academic report, from graduate students of the Harvard Kennedy school of policy analysis, was independently prepared for the state department to view and assessed the impact of China’s strategy on the influence of the US in the region. The paper identifies 16 “targets” of China’s tactic of extending hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to countries that can’t afford to pay them, and then strategically leveraging the debt.

It said while Chinese infrastructure investment in developing countries wasn’t “inherently” against US or global interests, it became problematic when China’s use of its leverage ran counter to US interests, or if the US had strategic interests in a country which had its domestic stability undermined by unsustainable debt. The academics identified the most concerning countries, naming Pakistan and Sri Lanka as states where the process was “advanced”, with deepening debt and where the government had already ceded a key port or military base, as well places including Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where China had not yet used its amassed debt leverage.

Papua New Guinea, which “has historically been in Australia’s orbit”, was also accepting unaffordable Chinese loans. While this wasn’t a significant concern yet, the report said, the country offered a “strategic location” for China, as well as large resource deposits. While there was a lack of “individual diplomatic clout” in Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines, Chinese debt could give China a “proxy veto” in Asean, the academics said.

[..] China’s methods were “remarkably consistent”, the report said, beginning with infrastructure investments under its $1tn belt and road initiative, and offering longer term loans with extended grace periods, which was appealing to countries with weaker economies and governance. Construction projects, which the report said had a reputation for running over budget and yielding underwhelming returns, make debt repayments for the host nations more difficult. “The final phase is debt collection,” it said. “When countries prove unable to pay back their debts, China has already and is likely to continue to offer debt-forgiveness in exchange for both political influence and strategic equities.”

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That’s been obvious for many years.

China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)

Millions of Americans who lost manufacturing jobs during the 2000s have long ”known” China was to blame, not robots. And many helped elect Donald Trump as president because of his insistence that China was at fault. Evidently many academics who’ve studied the issue are finally drawing the same conclusion. For years economists have viewed the increased role of automation in the computer age as the chief culprit for some 6 million lost jobs from 1999 to 2010 — one-third of all U.S. manufacturing employment. Firms adopted new technologies to boost production, the thinking goes, and put workers out of the job in the process. Plants could make more stuff with fewer people.

In the past several years fresh thinking by economists such as David Autor of MIT has challenged that view. The latest research to poke holes in the theory of automation-is-to-blame is from Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute. Academic research tends to be dry and complicated, but Houseman’s findings boil down to this: The government for decades has vastly overestimated the growth of productivity in the American manufacturing sector. It’s been growing no faster, really, than the rest of the economy. What that means is, the adoption of technology is not the chief reason why millions of working-class Americans lost their jobs in a vast region stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi river to the shores of the Great Lakes. Nor was it inevitable.

Autor and now Houseman contend the introduction of China into the global trading system is root cause of the job losses. Put another way, President Bill Clinton and political leaders who succeeded him accepted the risk that the U.S. would suffer short-term economic harm from opening the U.S. to Chinese exports in hopes of long-run gains of a more stable China. No longer needing to worry about U.S. tariffs, the Chinese took full advantage. Low Chinese wages and a cheap Chinese currency — at a time when the dollar was strong — gave China several huge advantages. Companies shuttered operations in the U.S., moved to China and eventually set up research hubs overseas in another blow to the America’s economic leadership. The cost to the U.S. is still being tallied up.

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Gee, what a surprise.

No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)

EU27 ministers met on Monday with the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss the state of talks so far. “Mr Barnier informed us that since 23 March no significant progress has been made on the three pillars that we work on: withdrawal, future framework, and Ireland,” Ekaterina Zakharieva, the Bulgarian foreign minister chairing the council, told journalists at an official press conference following the meeting. The renewed deadlock in Brussels comes as Theresa May’s cabinet repeatedly fails to agree with itself on what customs arrangement it wants with the EU after Brexit, despite publishing two options in August of last year. Both those options were dismissed as “magical thinking” by the EU at the time.

Speaking at a separate event in Brussels on Monday evening, Mr Barnier himself said that full talks on the future relationship had not even started in earnest despite getting the green light at a summit in March. “There is still a lot of uncertainty. Negotiations on the future with the UK have not started yet. We have had first exploratory discussions,” he said. Ms Zakharieva said the EU27 countries wanted more “intensive engagement by the UK government in the coming weeks”, warning that the October deadline was “only five months from now”. Ms May will next meet EU leaders in Brussels at the end of June for a meeting of the European Council.

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If you can’t see the material used to accuse you, what rights do you have?

Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)

A Russian company accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of funding a propaganda operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is asking a federal judge for access to secret information reviewed by a grand jury before it indicted the firm. In a court filing on Monday, lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting LLC said Mueller had wrongfully accused the company of a “make-believe crime,” in a political effort by the special counsel to “justify his own existence” by indicting “a Russian-any Russian.” They asked the judge for approval to review the instructions provided to the grand jury, saying they believed the case was deficient because Mueller lacked requisite evidence to show the company knowingly and “willfully” violated American laws.

Concord is one of three entities and 13 Russian individuals charged earlier this year by Mueller’s office, in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to meddle in the U.S. race, boost then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord was controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. Prigozhin, also personally charged by Mueller, has been dubbed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior political figures. He has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. government. Concord is facing charges of conspiring to defraud the United States, and is accused of controlling funding, recommending personnel and overseeing the activities of the propaganda campaign.

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“..more than half a year ahead of schedule..” Try that at home.

Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)

The bridge across the Kerch Strait, which will connect the Crimean Peninsula and Krasnodar Region is set to open on Tuesday. Construction of the bridge, the longest in Russia with a span of 19 kilometers, has been carried out since February 2016, and it is opening for cars more than half a year ahead of schedule. The bridge capacity is 40,000 cars and 47 pairs of trains per day, 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year. The railway section is scheduled to open in early 2019, the bridge will be opened for trucks starting from October of this year.

The link became vital after Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, as the peninsula’s only land border is with Ukraine. Before the opening, regular passenger and cargo deliveries were organized by direct flights and ferries from ports in southern Russia. Each pillar of the bridge needs about 400 tons of metal structures, which means that all pillars need as much iron as 32 Eiffel towers. The bridge’s piles are installed at least 90 meters under water.

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It’s very easy to just ban the stuff. That your governments haven’t simply done that says a lot.

Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply – WHO (G.)

Trans fats used in snack foods, baked foods and fried foods are responsible for half a million deaths worldwide each year and must be eliminated from the global food supply, the World Health Organization says today. Most of western Europe has already acted to reduce industrially made trans fats from factory-made foods. Denmark, like New York, which followed its lead, has an outright ban. Big food companies elsewhere have been under intense pressure to use substitutes. In the UK, the latest national diet and nutrition survey shows average intake of trans fats is well below the recommended upper limit of 2% of food energy, at 0.5-0.7%. Although companies manufacturing processed food in the UK do not use trans fats any more, the fats are in some cheap foods imported from other countries.

The WHO is calling on all governments to take action, including passing laws or regulations to rid their food supply of industrial trans fats. Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said eliminating trans fats would “represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease”. The WHO is targeting industrially made trans fats, but trans fats are also contained in milk, butter and cheese derived from ruminants, mainly cows and sheep. Dr Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO, said the amounts we eat in dairy products are unlikely to breach the health guidelines. “We are saying that trans fats contained in those products have the same effect as industrial trans fats – we are not able to tell the difference,” he said. “But the amount contained in dairy products is much less.”

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How about money NOT to build roads?

Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)

The Bank of England should print money for the government to invest in the low-carbon economy to combat climate change, according to a new report. The BoE must also offload fossil fuel assets and use its existing powers more effectively to promote green projects, the campaign and research group Positive Money says. The report argues that the bank’s mandate to secure financial stability “looks incoherent over time unless it considers the long-term viability of the economy”. That viability will be undermined unless the threat of climate change is tackled soon, the researchers say. “The nature of climate change is such that either physical damage from weather or radical changes in technology and policy will occur in some combination, so action is needed now,” the report says.

It challenges the bank’s record on climate change and says its programme of, in effect, printing billions of pounds to prop up the economy has disproportionately helped carbon-intensive companies that are choking the planet. Under quantitative easing (QE), the bank has bought billions of pounds of debt from companies and the government. This is supposed to increase demand for debt, which in turn lowers interest rates. Cheaper borrowing means more borrowing which is supposed to be used to fund economic activity. But the researchers argue that QE has been actively harmful to efforts to combat climate change because the bank’s own criteria have been skewed towards buying debt from high-carbon sectors like manufacturing and utilities.

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The only solution left.

Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

Wildlife poachers in Kenya will face the death penalty, the country’s tourism and wildlife minister has reportedly announced. Najib Balala warned the tough new measure would be fast-tracked into law. Existing deterrents against killing wild animals in the east African nation are insufficient, Mr Balala said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. So in an effort to conserve Kenya’s wildlife populations, poachers will reportedly face capital punishment once the new law is passed. Kenya is home to a wide variety of treasured species in national parks and reserves, including lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffe and zebra.

Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 – and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed. “We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Mr Balala reportedly said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”

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Apr 232018
 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Highway tavern. Crystal City, Texas 1939

 

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)
Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)
The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)
Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)
China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)
How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)
China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)
Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)
MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)
WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)
One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

 

 

Does Google think it can win this?

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)

On Thursday, the European Parliament backed the idea of breaking up Google. It doesn’t have the power to do it, but the legislators’ decision is a notable part of a backlash against the remedial action Google took after the European Commission fined it 2.4 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for abusing its dominant position in shopping search. That backlash can lead to dire consequences for the search giant. The commission found last June that by giving its own product comparison service, Google Shopping, prime “real estate” at the top search result pages, Google was hampering competition for independent shopping comparison websites. The company’s remedy is to hold auctions for spaces in the special box in which comparison results appear if a user searches for a product to buy.

Google Shopping bids in these auctions on the same terms as its rivals, and Google has promised to keep the service profitable so it can’t outbid the competition every time with the company’s vastly superior resources. Yet, months after the remedy was applied, it’s next to impossible to run into a non-Google offer in that box. The original complainants, notably the U.K. firm Foundem, have been campaigning to have Google declared non-compliant. Foundem’s argument is laid out in an interactive presentation released on April 18. The British company argues that even though Google claims to run Google Shopping at arm’s length, it’s merely an obfuscation, a meaningless accounting arrangement. In reality, Google as a whole still harvests 100% of the profit from the ads in runs after winning auctions – plus 80% of the profits from competing services’ ads in the form of their winning bids.

“While Google’s promise to run Google Shopping at a notional ‘profit’ may allow rival services to bid their way into ‘the box,’ it does nothing to address the seismic inequality between bids that cost you nothing and bids that cost you most of your incentive and ability to innovate and grow,” Foundem wrote in the presentation. The annual report on competition policy from the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which the legislature approved on Thursday, shows that at least some in the “Brussels bubble” that rules the EU are receptive to Foundem’s argument. “Without a full-blown structural separation between the company’s general and specialised search services, an auction-based approach might not deliver equal treatment,” the report says.

[..] If Google is declared non-compliant, its parent company, Alphabet Inc., can be forced to pay up to 5 percent of its daily turnover for every day that it has violated the commission’s ruling, meaning, theoretically, since last September. Taking Alphabet’s average daily revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017 as a base, that’s about $17.6 million a day for seven months and counting. This could end up being worse than the original fine, which Google is appealing. Even a breakup could be preferable to paying this sort of penalty for a protracted period.

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The mess spreads.

Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)

Theresa May could face a cabinet revolt on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the government over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe. Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, said party rebels should be careful what they wished for. “This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit section of the party and is deeply unhelpful,” she said. Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been set back after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016. Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercise into the consequences of a concession showed that not even leading Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign. But a source close to Gove reiterated his opposition: “Michael believes respecting the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this means leaving the customs union.” Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

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Superiority complex writ large

The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)

This is a year so overflowing with anniversaries that it was perhaps always going to draw our attention to the histories of race and migration in Britain. June marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, carrying 492 West Indians who were looking to rewrite their fortunes in a Britain desperate for labour. The Windrush is now so much part of British history that almost instantly it became the shorthand used to describe the generation of black Britons whose plight has so shocked the country.

Friday 20 April was an anniversary of a darker kind, 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered his “rivers of blood” speech. That toxic diatribe, with its unsubtle references to “piccaninnies” and the “whip hand”, remains politically radioactive half a century later, as Radio 4 discovered last weekend when it broadcast the speech in an anniversary documentary. Today is the sombre anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 25 years ago.

But there is another 2018 anniversary that, until last week, might well had passed by quietly, hardly noticed. This year marks 70 years since the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which was being debated while the Windrush was crossing the Atlantic; gaining royal ascent in July 1948, as the Windrush pioneers were settling into their new jobs. Although now obscure, it was a law that Powell once referred to as “that most evil statute”. Much of what has happened over the past week can be traced back to that forgotten but critical piece of legislation. The act was intended to reaffirm what many in the late 1940s regarded as a “time-honoured principle”, the doctrine that all British subjects should have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.

[..] Even before the Windrush had left Jamaica, the prime minister, Clement Attlee, had examined the possibility of preventing its embarkation or diverting the ship and the migrants on board to East Africa. After the vessel had arrived at Tilbury, the colonial secretary, Arthur Creech Jones, is said to have reassured his cabinet colleagues that, although “these people have British passports and must be allowed to land there’s nothing to worry about because they won’t last one winter in England” (detailed in Randall Hansen’s book Citizenship and Immigration in Post-War Britain). When that prediction was proved false, ministers began to consider how they might revoke the commitments enshrined in the 1948 act.

What followed was a two decade-long political struggle to change Britain’s immigration law and reduce the flow of immigrants from the so-called New Commonwealth. This is the other side of the Windrush story. In 1971, a new immigration act finally achieved that aim and stemmed the flow of migrants from the New Commonwealth. The same law granted those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain. That would have been the end of the story, had not, in 2013, those thousands been pushed into Theresa May’s “hostile environment”. The current crisis is a relic left by the political struggle to row back from the commitments made in the 1948 act.

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Competition for the title is stiff.

Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)

Officials get fed up with accusations that Britain is a cesspool of dirty money; that they do too little to check the wealth hidden behind shell corporations. They grouse among themselves that their critics overlook the work they’re doing to expose the money flows and to drive out the corrupt. When they do get a win, therefore, they trumpet it. Last month, Companies House successfully prosecuted someone who had lied in setting up a company, the kind of white-collar crime committed by the sophisticated fraudsters who fleece ordinary Brits every day, and the government went large. “This prosecution – the first of its kind in the UK – shows the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company register,” crowed business minister, Andrew Griffiths, in a press release.

A Warwickshire businessman called Kevin Brewer had pleaded guilty, paid a fine and the government’s costs: a total of more than £12,000. His crime had been to falsely claim that two companies he created belonged, in one case, to the MP Vince Cable, and, in the other, to the MP James Cleverly, Lady Neville-Rolfe and an imaginary Israeli. At first, the public response to the news was everything the press release’s authors could have hoped for. The Times splashed with the details of the crime – the government was tough on fraud, tough on the causes of fraud. But the victory was short-lived.

Within a month of the triumphant press release, Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s anti-corruption champion, was slamming the prosecution as “a bone-headed exercise in shooting the messenger”. Brewer may have been, by his own admission, naive, but he was trying to expose a flaw in British regulations that enables frauds totalling hundreds of billions of pounds. His reward was years of being ignored and, finally, a criminal record. “That has to be wrong,” said Penrose.

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Can we check this?

China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)

China’s imports from North Korea fell 87% in the first quarter from a year earlier to 448.8 million yuan ($71.31 million), customs data showed on Monday, while exports to North Korea were down 46.1% to 2.68 billion yuan. For March, China’s exports to North Korea were 907.54 million yuan while imports from North Korea were 78.5 million yuan. China’s March total trade with North Korea was 986.07 million yuan, customs data showed.

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Cue protectionism.

How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)

For more than a decade, Chinese political and corporate leaders have been scouring the globe with seemingly bottomless wallets in hand. From Asia to Africa, the U.S. and Latin America, the results are hard to ignore as China has asserted itself as an emerging world power. Less well known is China’s diffuse but expanding footprint in Europe. Bloomberg has crunched the numbers to compile the most comprehensive audit to date of China’s presence in Europe. It shows that China has bought or invested in assets amounting to at least $318 billion over the past 10 years. The continent saw roughly 45% more China-related activity than the U.S. during this period, in dollar terms, according to available data.

The volume and nature of some of these investments, from critical infrastructure in eastern and southern Europe to high-tech companies in the west, have raised a red flag at the EU level. Leaders that include Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are pressing for a common strategy to handle China’s relentless advance into Europe, with some opposition from the EU’s periphery. We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon, while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

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Anbang was just the start.

China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s big push to curb pollution and excess capacity in steel and other industries is also consolidating his government’s control over them. Just last year, the state’s share of steel capacity increased to 67% from 60% while aluminum smelting saw about an equal increase, J Capital Research estimates. In coal, which began consolidating years earlier, the government now controls 80% of capacity compared with about 45% in 2010, according to the Hong Kong-based firm. Xi’s campaign has boosted corporate profits, ended years of deflation, and stabilized debt growth to help underpin the first full-year economic acceleration last year since 2010.

But his aim for a “bigger, better and stronger” state role also means those bloated companies risk stifling private ones, as the Communist Party strengthens its grip on the economy. Call it “de facto nationalization,” says Jude Blanchette, China practice lead at Crumpton Group in Arlington, Virginia, and a former Conference Board researcher in Beijing. “We’re clearly seeing the re-strengthening of state-owned enterprises, oftentimes at the zero-sum expense of private players. Private folks are exiting the market either because they’re pushed out or they can’t survive.” State gains in heavy industry follow a broad SOE comeback since Xi took power in 2013. Their share of fixed-asset investment stopped falling in 2014 and rebounded over the next three years, says Andrew Batson at Gavekal Dragonomics.

The state is also extending control over the private sector away from heavy industry as it cracks down on debt. Once-acquisitive insurer Anbang Insurance was seized by the government, and regulators have curtailed the activities of conglomerates including Dalian Wanda and HNA. Such consolidation may spur blowback from the U.S. and other countries. President Donald Trump already brands China a strategic rival, slapping tariffs on its goods and criticizing industrial policy for subsidizing state enterprises in a push to dominate tech sectors.

“The idea, promoted during the Zhu Rongji era, that state enterprises should be independent, profit-seeking companies that just happen to be owned by the state has essentially been abandoned,” said Batson, referring to the former premier. “The government thinks that SOEs are there to serve its overall strategic goals.”

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Words fail.

Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)

Canadian real estate related debt tapering? That would be ridiculous! Filings obtained from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) show, after a brief decline in January, the balance of loans secured by residential real estate hit a new high in February. More interesting is the segment of loans being used for personal consumption, is growing at the fastest pace in years. Loans secured by residential real estate are exactly what they sound like. They’re loans that you pledge your home equity in order to secure. The most common example would be a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). You know, the same type of loan the Canadian government is discretely paying to teach you how to borrow. There’s also more productive uses, like when you start a new business and need to use your home as security – just in case you aren’t able to pay your loan shark bank back.

Either way, debt is debt. The big difference to note is a loan secured for personal reasons, is considered non-productive. The borrower isn’t expected to take a calculated risk, in order to earn more money. A business loan is considered productive, since it might generate more money. This isn’t just our opinion, banks actually classify these loans separately in their filings. Today we’ll go through the aggregate of these numbers, then break them down segment by segment. Loans secured by real estate hit a new all-time high in February. The total balance of loans secured with real estate racked up to $283.65 billion, up 0.77% from the month before. This represents a 7.79% increase compared to the same month last year. It almost looked like Canadians were reeling that debt in January, with a tiny decline. Instead it made a monster move, more than making up the ground lost the month before.

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A media war.

MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)

It’s getting too blatantly obvious, like a stranger coming up to you and talking about climate change while openly masturbating; what he is doing would eclipse interest in whatever he is saying. The frenetic publication of hit pieces against anyone who fails to fall in line with the establishment Syria narrative is fast becoming the real story here. Many of these recent hit pieces are coming out of the UK, which is interesting given the way a BBC reporter recently admonished her interviewee for questioning the official story about the alleged Douma chemical attacks because his words could hurt the “information war” effort against Russia.

If this view is widespread among British journalists (and recent headlines by the Times, the Independent and the Telegraph suggest that it may be), this means we’re looking at an environment wherein reporters aren’t even pretending it’s their job to be truthful, tell all sides of a story and hold power to account, but rather to manufacture support for escalations against Russia and undermine anyone who resists. Today yet another mainstream smear piece has been published about Vanessa Beeley, an investigative journalist who has done extensive work on the ground in Syria, which the UK’s Huffington Post branch hilariously titled “How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia’s Key Witness Against The White Helmets”.

Its author, senior Huffpo editor Chris York, doesn’t explain how we’re meant to see an investigative journalist practicing the definition of investigative journalism on the ground in a war-torn nation as “an obscure blogger”, but he has said that he has two more such articles on the way. Who do these people think they’re kidding? Are we truly meant to believe that people expressing skepticism about the authenticity of a “civil defense group” in a distant Middle Eastern country is suddenly the most dangerous thing in the world?

Are we really meant to think it’s normal for all these mass media corporations to suddenly start ferociously attacking anyone who expresses skepticism about the military agendas of western forces that have an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military agendas? Are we really meant to believe that Syria, a nation for which the US and UK have been plotting regime change for many years, is just now in sore need of humanitarian regime change? And that anyone who says otherwise just loves Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and dead babies?

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I asked before: did the DNC think this through?

WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)

WikiLeaks has hit back against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), announcing over Twitter that they are seeking donations for a counter-suit, noting “We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun,” along with a link which people can use to donate to the organization. Discovery is a pre-trial process by which one party can obtain evidence from the opposing party relevant to the case. The Trump campaign, which is also named in the DNC filing, says the lawsuit will provide an opportunity to “explore the DNC’s now-secret records.”

Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, President Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.” In a statement which goes into the various items they’ll be pursuing in court, the Trump campaign said the following: “While this lawsuit is frivolous and will be dismissed, if the case goes forward, the DNC has created an opportunity for us to take aggressive discovery into their claims of ‘damages’ and uncover their acts of corruption for the American people..”

If this lawsuit proceeds, the Trump Campaign will be prepared to leverage the discovery process and explore the DNC’s now-secret records about the actual corruption they perpetrated to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Everything will be on the table, including: • How the DNC contributed to the fake dossier, using Fusion GPS along with the Clinton Campaign as the basis for the launch of a phony investigation. • Why the FBI was never allowed access to the DNC servers in the course of their investigation into the Clinton e-mail scandal. • How the DNC conspired to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination over Bernie Sanders. • How officials at the highest levels of the DNC colluded with the news media to influence the outcome of the DNC nomination. • Management decisions by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, Tom Perez, and John Podesta; their e-mails, personnel decisions, budgets, opposition research, and more.

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It’s much worse than the title suggests.

One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations. The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture. In all, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are the other main threats.

“Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying,” said Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for BirdLife International, which produced the report. “The species at risk of extinction were once on mountaintops or remote islands, such as the pink pigeon in Mauritius. Now we’re seeing once widespread and familiar species – European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes – under threat of global extinction.” According to the report, at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline, with researchers blaming human activity for the losses.

After farming, logging is a key factor in declines of 50% of the most globally endangered species, followed by invasive species (39%), hunting and trapping (35%), climate change (33%) and residential and commercial development (28%). The illegal killing of birds – usually because of traditional hunting – results in an estimated 12 to 38 million individual birds dying or being taken each year in the Mediterranean region alone

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Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

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It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

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Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

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The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

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David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

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Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

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Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

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Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

Read more …

Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

 

 

Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le moulin de blute fin 1886

 

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)
What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)
“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)
Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)
Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)
Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)
We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)
World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)
Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)
Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)
How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

 

 

Good points from Russell Napier. Also says Turkey will default, impose capital controls.

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)

Too much debt and not enough money remain a diagnosis for deflation and not inflation. In particular, we need to discuss why fears of inflation persist in a world where the US central bank and the US commercial banking system are now both destroying money. When both these key engines of the reserve currency creation act to destroy money, there will ultimately be a contraction in broad money growth, the first since the 1930s, if nothing changes. This analyst thinks that matters, but few, if any, agree. At this stage the interesting evidence is that this dramatic tightening of monetary policy seems to matter more outside the USA than within.

From its peak in November 2017 the level of US bank credit, when we adjust for the systems acquisition of non-banks, has posted no growth. When a commercial banking system posts no growth in bank credit over four months, it creates no money over that period. It just so happens that this is the same four months during which the Federal Reserve has been contracting its balance sheet. Sticking to the Policy Normalisation Principles (PNP) and their addendum of June 2017, the Fed has been destroying money by shrinking its balance sheet. In the period from August 2017 to February 2018 there has been a shrinkage of US$105.2bn in commercial bank reserve balances: the high-powered money. Based on the PNP, a further US$20bn will have been destroyed in March 2018.

So with a commercial banking system creating no money, and a central bank destroying money, we are looking at one of the tightest monetary policies ever pursued by a central bank. To disagree with that statement is to believe that monetary policy is judged solely by the price of money, without reference to the quantity of money. Such was the belief that led to the Great Depression. At this stage the distress associated with this policy seems to be falling primarily upon non-US companies that have borrowed USD. This has huge consequences for investors.

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EU is winner takes all.

What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)

Donald Trump may prove to be the catalyst for change the eurozone has long been looking for. The protectionist U.S. president is forcing Europeans to face the unsettling problem of their massive current account surplus, which has been the best indicator of everything that’s wrong in the monetary union in the last five years. Forget Trump’s own economic analysis or lack thereof, and forget the attention-grabbing headlines on coming trade wars that may or may not happen. The U.S. president’s attacks on German exports — his Exhibit A that the Europeans aren’t playing a fair trade game — have helped throw a harsh light on the eurozone’s No. 1 problem.

Far from being a sign of economic well-being, the eurozone’s surplus — $380 billion last year or about 3% of the region’s GDP — reflects the monetary union’s deep structural flaws, worsened by the way it addressed its long crisis. [..] For a monetary union’s economy to be balanced, it has to take into account the differences between its respective nations’ different political, economic, and social systems. What happened instead when the euro crisis took everyone by surprise in 2009 was that each member country was told to become more like Germany. But for the system to work, if everyone must become like Germany, then Germany must also become a little bit less German. Surprise — this is not what happened. Countries in trouble were told to cut costs, boost competitiveness and implement austerity policies.

It worked: Imports fell and exports rose. Spain and Italy are now showing significant surpluses. In each of these countries, the balance has improved (from deficit to surplus) by roughly $100 billion since 2009 — the same as Germany’s accounts, which went from a $200 billion to $300 billion surplus. [..]According to European rules that are even less enforced than the more talked-about ones on fiscal deficits, a member country cannot run a surplus higher than 6% of its GDP. Germany’s surplus amounted to 8% of GDP last year, while the Netherlands’ was 8.5%. As long as the narrative of the eurozone crisis keeps making a surplus the moralistic sign of economic virtue, Europeans are unlikely to dare to take steps to tackle a problem that is now the world’s. Here’s hoping that the brutality of Trump’s attack on free trade will force them to spring into action.

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Something will have to happen. But nothing has so far, so why the loud voices?

“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)

Fears that Donald Trump is embroiling America in a global trade war intensified on Wednesday after China imposed on the US and stock markets plunged. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped and then rallied after markets fell in Europe and Asia on worries of an intensifying trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies – the latest example of Trump taking his appetite for disruption to the global stage. After Washington unveiled plans to impose tariffs on $50bn in Chinese imports Tuesday, China hit back with plans to tax a matching $50bn of US products, including beef, cars, planes, soybeans and whiskey.

The US president has worn stock market success as a badge of honour and proof that, despite myriad controversies, the economy is booming under his presidency. But there are concerns that his aggressive tariffs and “America first” instincts could undermine confidence and cause a slowdown. Trump claimed last month that “trade wars are good, and easy to win”. China is the biggest market for US soy. The American Soybean Association, a lobbying group representing 21,000 producers, warned that China’s proposed 25% tariff on soybeans would be “devastating” to American farmers. It estimated that farmers lost an estimated $1.72bn on Wednesday morning alone as soybean futures tumbled.

John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and the president of the association, said: “That’s real money lost for farmers, and it is entirely preventable.” He called on the White House to scrap its proposed tariffs. The car makers Ford and General Motors also issued statements calling for continued dialogue to resolve the escalating trade tensions. On Wednesday, Trump moved to play down concerns over a damaging trade war. He protested on Twitter: “We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!” The president added: “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!”

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Did anyone tell the soybeans?

Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow stressed U.S. tariffs announced on Chinese goods are still only proposals that might never take effect as the Trump administration sought to tamp down fears of a trade war. “None of the tariffs have been put in place yet, these are all proposals,” Kudlow said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. “We’re putting it out for comment. There’s at least two months before any actions are taken.” Administration officials throughout the day emphasized the U.S. is willing to negotiate with China, helping to ease concerns among investors about a tit-for-tat trade conflict. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, after falling more than 2% at the market’s open, finished the day up almost 1%.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China’s response isn’t expected to disrupt the U.S. economy. In an interview on CNBC on Wednesday, he said China’s announcement of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. “shouldn’t surprise anyone.” He said the U.S. isn’t entering “World War III” and left the door open for a negotiated solution. “Even shooting wars end with negotiations,” Ross said. Earlier Wednesday, China said it would impose an additional 25% levy on about $50 billion of U.S. imports including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft. The move matched the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs announced the previous day. The U.S. is allowing 60 days for public feedback and hasn’t specified when the tariffs would take effect, leaving a window open for talks. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai said Wednesday his country is ready to negotiate.

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Keep that number growing. And when will the press acknowledge this is not about Cambridge Analytica?

Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)

Up to 87 million people may have had their Facebook data improperly passed to a third-party political firm – and most users’ public profile information could have been collected, the social media company has revealed. Initial accounts estimated the number of people affected at around 50m. But Facebook updated that number to say information from as many as 37m additional users could been shared with Cambridge Analytica. And it warned in a blog post that a now-discarded feature meant “most people on Facebook” could have had their public data scraped by “malicious actors”.

The revelations expanded the scope of a privacy scandal besieging the company just days ahead of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hotly anticipated appearance before Congress. It had already been revealed that researcher harvested information encompassing a vast number of Facebook users and then passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, a company that went on to work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The news has sent the company’s stock plunging and stoked a political outcry on both sides of the Atlantic. Facebook said it would inform users if their information had been funnelled to Cambridge Analytica. It said roughly 70 million of those users were in the United States.

And in seeking to reassure users that it was moving to safeguard their personal information, the company made an extraordinary disclosure: chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said the majority of its users were vulnerable to abuse of a now-disabled feature allowing people to search for other users with phone numbers and email addresses. “Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way”, Mr Schroepfer said in the blog post.

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Insane. Will he get some serious questions on Capitol Hill, or can he get away with this sort of thing?

Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that new data privacy laws will only apply “in spirit” to more than three quarters of the company’s users. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will force the social network to comply with strict rules about the privacy of its European users. But Mr Zuckerberg failed to commit to rolling out the protections globally. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” Mr Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. With only 17 per cent of its 2.2 billion users residing within Europe, the vast majority of Facebook’s users will not benefit from the new rules.

Facebook has faced pressure in recent weeks to better protect its users’ data following revelations that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested personal information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts in the build up to the 2016 US elections. On Monday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called for Mr Zuckerberg to resign from his role as chairman of Facebook, adding that data privacy issues represented “a risk to our democracy.” The new data protection law – set to come into effect on May 25 – will give people more control over how companies store and use their personal data.

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Are you kidding? They all are. Stop working there.

We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)

Dear Sundar,

We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology. Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “wide area motion imagery” data captured by US government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions and provide results to the Department of Defense. Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons”.

While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks. This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto “don’t be evil”, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.

We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable. Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you: 1. Cancel this project immediately. 2. Draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.

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Falciani was assisting the Spanish government, and now they sold him out to get to two Catalonia separatists.

World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)

Hervé Falciani, the French-Italian former HSBC employee who blew the whistle on HSBC and 130,000 global tax evaders in 2008, has been arrested in Madrid on Tuesday in response to an arrest warrant issued by Switzerland for breaking the country’s bank secrecy laws. He lives in France, which rarely extradites its own citizens. But when Spanish authorities learned that he was in town to speak at a conference ominously titled, “When Telling the Truth is Heroic,” they made their move. If he is extradited to Switzerland he could face up to five years in prison. Falciani worked as a computer technician for HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary. One day in 2008, he left the office with five computer disks containing what would eventually become one of the largest leaks of banking data in history.

According to Swiss authorities, Falciani stole and then attempted to sell a trove of confidential data. Falciani says he was a whistleblower who wanted to expose a “broken” banking system, “which encouraged tax evasion.” When much of the stolen data was leaked to the press in 2015, it revealed, among other sordid things, that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary routinely allowed clients to withdraw “bricks of cash,” often in foreign currencies of little use in Switzerland. It also colluded with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities and provided services to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, shady dictators and murky arms dealers.

As Falciani would soon find out, snitching on one of the world’s biggest banks and 130,000 of its richest clients does not make you a popular person in a country famed for its banking secrecy. In 2014 he was indicted in absentia by the Swiss federal government for violating the country’s bank secrecy laws and for industrial espionage. A year later he was sentenced by Switzerland’s federal court to five years in prison – the “longest sentence ever demanded by the confederation’s public ministry in a case of banking data theft.”

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All these bubbles will burst.

Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)

After having ballooned for 18 years with barely a dip during the Financial Crisis, Toronto’s housing market, Canada’s largest, and among the most inflated in the world, is heading south with a vengeance, both in terms of sales volume and prices, particularly at the high end. Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 39.5% in March compared to a year ago, to 7,228 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the local real estate lobbying group. This was spread across all types of homes, even the formerly red-hot condo sector: • Detached houses -46.3% • Semi-detached houses -30.6% • Townhouses -34.2% • Condos -32.7%.

While new listings of homes for sale fell 12.4% year-over-year, at 14,866, they’d surged 41% from the prior month, and added to the listings of homes already on the market. The total number of active listings – new listings plus the listings from prior months that hadn’t sold or been pulled without having sold – more than doubled year-over-year to 15,971 homes, and were up 20% from February. At the current sales rate, total listings pencil out to a supply of 2.1 months. The average days-on-the-market before the home is sold or the listing is pulled without having sold doubled year-over-year to 20 days. Both data points show that the market is cooling from its red-hot phase, that potential sellers aren’t panicking just yet, and that potential buyers are taking their time and getting more reluctant, or losing their appetite altogether, with the fear of missing out (FOMO) having evaporated.

Sales volume has been plunging for months while listings of homes for sale have also surged for months. Prices follow volume, and prices have been backing off, but in February they actually fell on a year-over-year basis, the first since the Financial Crisis, and in March, they fell more steeply. This is what the report called a “change in market conditions.” The average price for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 14.3% year-over-year to C$784,588. In other words, the average buyer in March a year ago is now about C$130,000 in the hole.

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Better check this out if this is you.

Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)

What do you do, come April 17, if you made a ton of money trading crypto last year and have since lost most of it? Panic, probably. A lot of last year’s winners are in deep porridge now. They owe tax on 2017 profits. They’re losing money now, so it’s not easy to come up with the cash to pay off the IRS. As for using today’s losses to offset last year’s gains, these tax naïfs are discovering, too late, that capital loss carryovers run forwards but not backwards. Suppose speculator Bob turned $200,000 into $1 million in last year’s feverish market, trading all the way—in and out of Bitcoin and Ethereum and Ripple and back in again. Now Bob has $800,000 in short-term capital gain to report on Schedule D. The state and federal tax bill is going to be upwards of $300,000.

The 2018 crash has shrunk Bob’s account value, let us suppose, to $300,000. If Bob sells out to pay the tax, he will have a $700,000 capital loss to claim. But he can claim the loss only against future capital gains, not past ones. Small consolation: Bob can use the $700,000 against up to $3,000 a year of ordinary income. If he throws in the towel on cryptocurrencies and goes back to his day job delivering pizzas, it will take him 234 years to catch even. Tyson Cross, an attorney in Reno, Nev. who has built up a specialty in crypto taxation, has been hearing many a sad tale recently. “Some alt coins are down to a tenth or less of their peak value,” he says. “The taxpayers are distraught. They don’t have any way to pay [the tax bill]. There’s only so much we can do.”

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There were no laws. Heroin was candy.

How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

When historians trace back the roots of today’s opioid epidemic, they often find themselves returning to the wave of addiction that swept the U.S. in the late 19th century. That was when physicians first got their hands on morphine: a truly effective treatment for pain, delivered first by tablet and then by the newly invented hypodermic syringe. With no criminal regulations on morphine, opium or heroin, many of these drugs became the “secret ingredient” in readily available, dubiously effective medicines. In the 19th century, after all, there was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the advertising claims of health products. In such a climate, a popular so-called “patent medicine” market flourished.

Manufacturers of these nostrums often made misleading claims and kept their full ingredients list and formulas proprietary, though we now know they often contained cocaine, opium, morphine, alcohol and other intoxicants or toxins. Products like heroin cough drops and cocaine-laced toothache medicine were sold openly and freely over the counter, using colorful advertisements that can be downright shocking to modern eyes. Take this 1885 print ad for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Teething Children, for instance, showing a mother and her two children looking suspiciously beatific. The morphine content may have helped. Yet while it’s easy to blame patent medicines and American negligence for the start of the first opioid epidemic, the real story is more complicated.

First, it would be a mistake to assume that Victorian era Americans were just hunky dory with giving infants morphine syrup. The problem was, they just didn’t know. It took the work of muckraking journalists such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, whose exposé series, “The Great American Fraud” appeared in Colliers from 1905 to 1906, to pull back the curtain. But more than that, widespread opiate use in Victorian America didn’t start with the patent medicines. It started with doctors.

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Apr 022018
 
 April 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John La Farge Girls Carrying a Canoe, Vaiala in Samoa 1891

 

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)
The Real Bubble (ZH)
Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)
Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)
Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)
Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)
The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)
This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)
Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

 

 

Feels like China’s just going through the motions.

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)

China is implementing new tariffs on meat, fruit and other products from the U.S. as retaliation for American duties, heightening fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing’s latest move, announced by its finance ministry in a statement dated April 1, is direct retaliation against taxes approved by President Donald Trump on imported steel and aluminum. Chinese officials had been warning over the last few weeks that their country would take action against the U.S. The tariffs begin on Monday, the finance ministry statement said. China’s Customs Tariff Commission is increasing the tariff rate on pork products and aluminum scrap by 25 percent. It’s also imposing a new 15 percent tariff on 120 other imported U.S. commodities, from almonds to apples and berries.

All told, the extra tariffs will hit 128 kinds of U.S. products, multiple outlets reported. The list of new duties matches the proposed list released by the government on March 23, according to Reuters. At that time, China said the affected U.S. goods had an import value of $3 billion in 2017 and included wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, steel pipes, modified ethanol and ginseng. The decision to target $3 billion in U.S. imports is significant, but it’s widely seen as a drop in the ocean given the size of the bilateral trading relationship. U.S. goods exported to China in 2016 totaled $115.6 billion, according to official data. China’s retaliation is “a statement of intent … but it’s not an escalation in our opinion,” Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, told CNBC on Monday.

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One of many, really.

The Real Bubble (ZH)

After a seemingly unstoppable surge higher for years, March was a tough one for tech stocks, as the curtain was lifted exposing Oz-like machinations behind the scenes that spooked investors enough to pop the bubble of delusion so many were living in. After a magnificent 2017, Cryptocurrencies also started 2018 off poorly as yet another ‘bubble’ popped. However, there was one ‘asset’ that had a tremendous 2017, and has gone on to greater and bubblier things in 2018. Spot the real bubble in financial markets… Bitcoin has bust, FANG stocks are FUBAR, but The SNB is accelerating.

As we noted previously, The SNB made 32 times more than 85 Swiss private banks… and owns a record $100 billion-plus of American stocks… $11,589.01. – That’s the US dollar amount of American stocks the Swiss National Bank owns on behalf of every man, woman and child in Switzerland. Let that sink in. A Central Bank has taken on itself to expand its balance sheet and invest in the proceeds, not in gold, nor sovereign debt – heck not even in corporate bonds. Nope, the SNB has taken it upon itself to “invest” that money in another country’s most risky part of the capital structure – equity. And don’t think it’s a small number. It’s almost $100 billion US dollars.

In a strange twist of fate, the Swiss National Bank is not only Switzerland’s Central Bank, but also a publicly traded security. And that ‘security’ has had a great year so far – up a stunning 93%…

However, as Holger Zschaepitz notes, the market cap of the Swiss National Bank remains below CHF1bn amidst a profit of CHF54.4bn. But that didn’t stop investors piling in to The SNB in March as a ‘safe haven’ as the rest of the world collapsed… As Macro Tourist’s Kevin Muir concluded previously, I worry that right now, Central Banks are being rewarded for keeping their balance sheets as big and risky as they can stomach. It appears to be a trade with no cost, and in fact, helps out by both keeping their currency weak, and in the meantime, making some money. It encourages them to be extremely slow easing off the accelerator. The idiocy of Central Banks taking this sort of risk is beyond description, but no sense arguing about it – it is what it is.

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65%.

Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)

I don’t think there has ever been an entire sector that skyrocketed as much and collapsed as quickly as the cryptocurrency space. The skyrocketing phase culminated at the turn of the year. Then the collapse phase set in, with different cryptos choosing different points in time. It doesn’t help that regulators around the world have caught on to these schemes called initial coin offerings (ICOs), where anyone, even the government of Venezuela, can try to sell homemade digital tokens to the gullible and take their “fiat” money from them and run away with it. There are now 1,596 cryptocurrencies and tokens out there, up from a handful a few years ago. And the gullible are getting cleaned out.

And it doesn’t help that the ways to promote these schemes are being closed off, one after the other. At the end of January, Facebook announced that, suddenly, “misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook,” and it prohibited ads about ICOs and cryptos. On March 14, Google announced that it will block ads with “cryptocurrencies and related content,” including ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice. Its crackdown begins in June. On March 26, Twitter announced that it would ban ads of ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency wallet services, unless they are by public companies traded on major stock markets. It will roll out its policy over the next 30 days.

On March 29, MailChimp, a major email mass-distribution service, announced that it will block email promos from businesses that are “involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering.” This broadened and tightened its policy announced in February that promised to shut down any account related to promos of ICOs or blockchain activity. The overall cryptocurrency space, in terms of market capitalization, peaked on January 4, when market cap reached $707 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Less than three months later, market cap has now plunged by 65% to $245 billion. $462 billion went up in smoke.

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It’s hard to accept that your entire country is pushing up daisies. But you got to sell your paper. So you get a real heavy headline, and then quote someone saying: “..the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”..

Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)

The gloom on Britain’s high streets deepened over the Easter bank holiday weekend as heavy rain in many areas drove people to seek the shelter of shopping centres or simply stay at home. The number of shoppers on UK high streets on Easter Sunday morning slumped by over 12% compared with 2017, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard. That followed a disappointing Good Friday, when high street footfall fell by 9.6%. Saturday was little better, with footfall down 6.9% year-on-year. This weekend had been billed as the most anticipated weekend for retail since Christmas, but Springboard said bad weather in some parts of the country had “definitely hit high streets”, and pulled the overall result for all UK shopping destinations down into minus figures.

A week ago Springboard predicted that this Easter weekend’s UK retail footfall could end up 2.4% higher than last year’s, though it had said this assumed “normal weather”. It added that if freezing conditions similar to those caused by the “beast from the east” returned, all bets were off. In the event wet weather sent a chill through the high streets, meaning footfall across all shopping destinations was down 2.4% on Good Friday and 3% lower on Saturday. However, retail parks and shopping centres typically enjoyed better fortunes than they did last year. Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the rain kept many people away from their local high street shops. But “at the same time, people did go shopping” rather than staying at home and browsing the web.

She said the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”, many of whom would be quite heartened by the numbers of shoppers out on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. With predictions of snow in some parts of the country for Easter Monday, many retailers will be crossing their fingers and hoping that conditions are not too challenging. Last week it emerged that high street sales had slumped at the fastest rate for early spring in at least five years, as cold and snowy weather kept people away from the shops. Wehrle said of Easter Monday: “If it starts off dry in the morning, that will shape the day. If people wake up and it’s snowing, that will be it.”

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“..for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.”

Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)

Trump is going after Amazon; Congress is after Facebook; Google is too big, and Apple is short of new products. Is it any surprise that sentiment toward the tech industry giants is turning sour? The consequences of such a readjustment, however, may be dire. The past two weeks have been difficult for the tech sector by every measure. Tech stocks have largely driven the year’s stock market decline, the largest quarterly drop since 2015. Facebook saw more than $50bn shaved off its value after the Observer revealed that had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling. Now users are deleting accounts, and regulators may seek to limit how the company monetizes data, threatening Facebook’s business model.

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed it was investigating the company’s data practices. Additionally, Facebook said it would to London to appear in front of UK lawmakers, but it would not send the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who is increasingly seen as isolated and aloof. Shares of Facebook have declined more than 17% from the close on Friday 16 March to the close on Thursday before the Easter break. Amazon, meanwhile, long the target of President Trump’s ire, saw more than $30bn, or 5%, shaved off its $693bn market capitalization after it was reported that the president was “obsessed” with the company and that he “wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law”.

Shares of Apple, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are also down, dropping on concerns that tech firms now face tighter regulation across the board. For Apple, there’s an additional concern that following poor sales of its $1,000 iPhone X. For Google, there’s the prospect not only of tighter regulation on how it sells user date to advertisers, but also the fear of losing an important Android software patent case with Oracle. Big tech’s critics may be forgiven a moment of schadenfreude. But for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.

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More on the article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle.

Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned that Google and Facebook are becoming too big to be governed and could face being dismantled. Internet giants could be forced to pay for the disruption they cause in society and submit to French or European privacy regulations, he suggested. In an interview with the magazine Wired, the president warned that artificial intelligence (AI) would challenge democracy and open a Pandora’s box of privacy issues. He was speaking after announcing a €1.5bn (£1.32bn) investment in artificial intelligence research to accelerate innovation and catch up with China and the US.

Mr Macron said companies such as Google and Facebook were welcome in France, brought jobs and were “part of our ecosystem”. But he warned: “They have a very classical issue in a monopoly situation; they are huge players. At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’ “Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new. “So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”

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We don’t know nearly enough on ME economies. So this is a real good find.

The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)

Authored by “Ehsani” – a Middle East expert, Syrian-American banker and financial analyst who visits the region frequently and writes for the influential geopolitical analysis blog, Syria Comment.

* * *

The Mideast is doomed. Egypt alone needs to create 700,000 jobs every single year to absorb the new job seekers out its 98 million population. A third of this population already live below the poverty line (482 Egyptian Pounds a month, which is less than $1 a day). The seeds of the vicious circle that the Mideast region finds itself in today were planted at least 5 decades ago. Excessive public spending without matching revenues were the catalyst to a faulty and dangerous incentive system that helped to balloon populations beyond control. A governance system that was ostensibly put in place to help the poor ended up being a built-in factory for poverty generation. Excessive subsidies helped misallocate resources and mask the true cost of living for households. Correlation between family size and income was lost.

Successive Mideast leaders are often referred to as evil dictators. I see them more as lousy economists and poor users of simple arithmetic and excel spreadsheets that can help demonstrate the simple, yet devastating power of compounding. Unless you are a Gulf-based monarchy enjoying the revenue stream from oil and gas that can postpone your day of reckoning, the numbers in nearly every single Arab country don’t add up. t is important to note that excessive population growth is not fundamental the issue here. Japan and many parts of Europe are suffering from too little population growth. The problem in Arab societies is lack of productivity stemming from weak private sector and overburdened bankrupt public sector. As students of Economics know, “Potential” Economic Growth of a country is derived by adding the growth rate of its labor force to the growth rate of the economy’s productivity.

High labor force growth therefore ought to be a plus for the “Potential Growth”. The Arab World’s problem is that it suffers from shockingly low levels of “productivity”. This may seem like a fancy word but the concept encapsulates everything that Arab economies and societies suffer from. Why does the Arab world have such low productivity? The answer lies in everything from excessive size of public sector, subsidies and overbearing regulatory system leading to corruption. As public sector liabilities grow, education, healthcare & infrastructure funding suffers. Why is the size of the public sector coupled with excessive subsidies the problem? Because what starts as the noble cause of helping the poor ends up masking the true costs of raising family size. Governments soon go broke. Services suffer. Anger rises. We know the drill now.

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Dead on, Caitlin.

This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)

A GoFundMe for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired two weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has raised over $400,000 in less than a day. Another way to say that would be that a former officer from the US intelligence community, who is married to a successful physician and will surely receive a book deal worth millions of dollars, just had a charity drive which in less than a day raised an amount of money it would take the average American years to earn. Meanwhile, an impoverished American recently died because his GoFundMe failed to raise enough money for his insulin and an FBI whistleblower was just arrested for trying to bring transparency to the Bureau’s secret domestic surveillance practices while banks receive massive bailouts, global fossil fuel subsidies total trillions of dollars, and Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year despite earning billions.

Even leaving aside the reasons for McCabe’s firing and the shady dealings he was accused of, this is a very solid illustration of everything that is sick about the United States of America. In America you have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. You have government secrecy for the powerful and surveillance for the powerless. You have charity for wealthy establishment lackeys and rugged individualism for ordinary human beings. Those at the top are uplifted even further, while those on the bottom are stomped through the floor.

Julian Assange is currently under siege in the Ecuadorian embassy, deprived of mobility, sunlight and healthcare, and now internet, phone calls and visitors, all because he dared to bring some transparency to the powerful. Meanwhile the intelligence and defense agencies who serve as the armed goon squad of the wealthy and the powerful are able to kill, destroy and pillage from behind the opaque walls of near-total government secrecy in the name of “national security”. And instead of defending the single defenseless man who speaks truth to power, mainstream media reporters around the world are spitting on him in near-unanimity because he hurts power’s feelings.

This is how we end up with John Bolton, people. This is the “kiss-up, kick-down” pathway to success that elevates bloodthirsty psychopaths like John Bolton, the worst of the worst, the ones willing to do the most killing on behalf of the powerful and the most stomping on the powerless to get to the top. This has become the unquestioned pathway in every sphere of public life. We have a situation now where the highest echelons of power are not the wisest among us, but the wiliest. The fourth estate is full of everyday people who at one point presumably believed they were there to bring truth to power, stomping on the silvery head of one who does, while sucking up to the very power that he regularly embarrasses with his leak drops.

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All the stuff we should do but don’t. Should we instead ask why we don’t? All the ‘it’s not too late’ talk certainly doesn’t help.

Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

Limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius will not prevent destructive and deadly climate impacts, as once hoped, dozens of experts concluded in a score of scientific studies released Monday. A world that heats up by 2C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – long regarded as the temperature ceiling for a climate-safe planet – could see mass displacement due to rising seas, a drop in per capita income, regional shortages of food and fresh water, and the loss of animal and plant species at an accelerated speed. Poor and emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America will get hit hardest, according to the studies in the British Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.

“We are detecting large changes in climate impacts for a 2C world, and so should take steps to avoid this,” said lead editor Dann Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Bristol. The 197-nation Paris climate treaty, inked in 2015, vows to halt warming at “well under” 2C compared to mid-19th century levels, and “pursue efforts” to cap the rise at 1.5C. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said climate change was “the most systemic threat to humankind”. With only one degree of warming so far, Earth has seen a crescendo of droughts, heatwaves, and storms ramped up by rising seas. Voluntary national pledges made under the Paris pact to cut CO2 emissions, if fulfilled, would yield a 3C world at best.

The treaty also requires that – by the end of the century – humanity stop adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than oceans and forests can absorb, a threshold known as “net zero emissions”. “How fast we get to a 2C world” is critical, Mitchell told AFP. “If it only takes a couple of decades, we will be in trouble because we won’t have time to adapt to the climate.” [..] Researchers led by Felix Pretis, an economist at the University of Oxford, predict that two degrees of global warming will see GDP per person drop, on average, 13% by 2100, once costly climate change impacts are factored in. A 2ºC world will also “show significant negative impact on the rates of economic growth,” Pretis told AFP.

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Mar 282018
 
 March 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edvard Munch Spring in Johan Karl Street 1944

 

Steen Jakobsen Fears 30% Market Correction With Consumer ‘Maxed Out’ (CNBC)
China Says Kim Jong Un Agrees To Denuclearize Korean Peninsula (R.)
All The Personal Data That Facebook/Google Collect (Curran)
Mark Zuckerberg Agrees To Testify Before Congress Over Data Scandal (G.)
37 State Attorneys General Demand Answers From Zuckerberg (ZH)
Zuckerberg’s Refusal To Testify Before UK MPs ‘Absolutely Astonishing’ (G.)
Jimmy Carter: Trump Hiring Bolton ‘A Disaster For Our Country’ (USAT)
Brexit Referendum Won Through Fraud – Whistleblower (G.)
Austria Draws Scorn for Sitting Out Russian Diplomat Expulsions (BBG)
160 Countries Want To See Proof In Skripal Case – Russia’s UK Embassy (RT)
Tesla Just Months From A Total Collapse – Hedge Fund (MW)
The Missing Economic Measure: Wealth, not GDP (OWiD)

 

 

Goldilocks and Frankenstein.

Steen Jakobsen Fears 30% Market Correction With Consumer ‘Maxed Out’ (CNBC)

Stock markets could see a hefty fall in the coming months due to a slew of trends that point to a downturn in the global economy, one economist told CNBC. Steen Jakobsen, the often-bearish chief economist at Danish investment house Saxo Bank, cited several factors including growing credit loans, a widening fiscal deficit in the U.S., doubts over infrastructure spending plans and a potential trade war. “All the data we’ve seen over the last few weeks has basically been that the consumer is maxed out, we’ve seen that in credit card loans as well, so I think the consumer is done spending the money,” he told CNBC Tuesday. New data Tuesday showed that U.S. consumer confidence declined in March, falling below expectations and breaking a two month streak of gains.

“I think overall we have been pricing in for Goldilocks and we are closer to Frankenstein to be honest,” he said. He added that in a scenario of a potential sudden economic recession, he sees a possible market correction of between 25 and 30%. Jakobsen highlighted a “Goldilocks” scenario that he feels traders are mistakenly pricing in to markets, where fresh economic data are either not too hot or not too cold. Overall, the global economy is currently experiencing lower levels of unemployment and higher growth. Looking at 2018 in particular, many analysts hoped for strong global growth on the back of higher inflation and higher investment, but according to Jakobsen, these drivers “aren’t actually materializing.”

Instead, Jakobsen made a reference to the novel “Frankenstein,” arguing that the economy had been skewed by central bankers, who have injected trillions of dollars into the global economy to boost growth and investment. The first quarter of 2018 “started at more than 5% expected GDP; we are now significantly less than 2% for the (first quarter) expected, so I don’t really see things happening in the growth area,” Jacobsen added. “We’ve been at 2% exactly since the financial crisis, I don’t think we’re going to deviate from that,” he said.

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Again, he says it’s what his father and grandfather wanted. Perfect way to save face.

China Says Kim Jong Un Agrees To Denuclearize Korean Peninsula (R.)

China said on Wednesday it won a pledge from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean peninsula during a meeting with President Xi Jinping, who pledged in return that China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor. After two days of speculation, China announced on Wednesday that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what the official Xinhua news agency called an unofficial visit from Sunday to Wednesday. The trip was Kim’s first known journey abroad since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.

Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and China’s backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response. Xinhua cited Kim as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean peninsula is starting to improve because North Korea has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks. “It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearisation on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to Xinhua. North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said.

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Zero Hedge with the entire Twitter thread by Dylan Curran. Does that wake you up?

All The Personal Data That Facebook/Google Collect (Curran)

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was never really about Cambridge Analytica. As we’ve pointed out, neither Facebook nor Cambridge Analytica have been accused of doing anything explicitly illegal (though one could be forgiven for believing they had, based on the number of lawsuits and official investigations that have been announced). Instead, the backlash to these revelations – which has been justifiably focused on Facebook – is so severe because the public has been forced to confront for the first time something that many had previously written off as an immutable certainty: That Facebook, Google and the rest of the tech behemoths store reams of personal data, essentially logging everything we do.

In response to demands for more transparency surrounding user data, Facebook and Google are offering users the option to view all of the metadata that Google and Facebook collect. And as Twitter user Dylan Curran pointed out in a comprehensive twitter thread examining his own data cache, the extent and bulk of the data collected and sorted by both companies is staggering. Google, Curran said, collected 5.5 gigabytes of data on him – equivalent to some 3 million Microsoft Word documents. Facebook, meanwhile, collected only 600 megabytes – equivalent to roughly 400,000 documents.

Another shocking revelation made by Curran: Even after deleting data like search history and revoking permissions for Google and Facebook applications, Curran still found a comprehensive log of his documents and other files stored on Google drive, his search history, chat logs and other sensitive data about his movements that he had expressly deleted. What’s worse, everything shown is the data cache of one individual. Just imagine how much data these companies hold in total.

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By now, shareholders may be his prime concern. Congress won’t hurt the CIA’s interests.

Mark Zuckerberg Agrees To Testify Before Congress Over Data Scandal (G.)

Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has agreed to testify before the United States Congress in the wake of a that has sent the company’s share price tumbling and prompted numerous investigations and lawsuits. Zuckerberg has accepted an invitation to testify before the House energy and commerce committee, according to an aide familiar with the discussions. A date has not yet been set, and the spokesperson for the House committee declined to confirm reports that the hearing was scheduled for 12 April. The Senate judiciary and commerce committees have also invited Zuckerberg to appear at hearings.

His decision to testify before the US Congress was first reported by CNN, and contrasts with his refusal to appear before members of parliament in the UK. The chair of a British committee of MPs on Tuesday said Zuckerberg’s decision to send other executives to the UK to answer questions on his behalf was “absolutely astonishing”. However, news of US congressional evidence paves the way for a major showdown for Zuckerberg, 33, who has come under increasing pressure from lawmakers and the general public to account for Facebook’s business practices since the company acknowledged last September that it had sold advertisements to Russian agents seeking to influence the US presidential election.

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Facebook took 30% of the loot. They sold their data perhaps thousands of times.

37 State Attorneys General Demand Answers From Zuckerberg (ZH)

37 “profoundly concerned” U.S. state and territory attorneys general fired off a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, demanding answers over reports that personal user information from Facebook profiles was provided to third parties without the users’ knowledge or consent. “Most recently, we have learned from news reports that the business practices within the social media world have evolved to give multiple software developers access to personal information of Facebook users. These reports raise serious questions regarding consumer privacy”

The letter notes the 50 million Facebook profiles which may have been “misused and misappropriated by third-party software developers,” noting that Facebook “took as much as 30%” of payments made through applications used by Facebook users. “According to these reports, Facebook’s previous policies allowed developers to access the personal data of “friends” of people who used applications on the platform, without the knowledge or express consent of those “friends.” It has also been reported that while providing other developers access to personal Facebook user data, Facebook took as much as 30% of payments made through the developers’ applications by Facebook users.”

In other words – while a Facebook user may have agreed in the fine print to allowing the social media giant to hoover up their information – their “friends” did not. “These revelations raise many serious questions concerning Facebook’s policies and practices” reads the letter, which asks “were those terms of service clear and understandable, or buried in boilerplate where few users would even read them?”

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He’s just not that into you. Why talk to “the UK parliamentary committee investigating fake news” when he’s already agreed to speak to Congress?

Zuckerberg’s Refusal To Testify Before UK MPs ‘Absolutely Astonishing’ (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg has come under intense criticism from the UK parliamentary committee investigating fake news after the head of Facebook refused an invitation to testify in front of MPs for a third time. The chair, Damian Collins, said it had become more urgent the Facebook founder give evidence in person after oral evidence provided by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie. The MP said: “I think, given the extraordinary evidence we’ve heard so far today, it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself to questioning in front of a parliamentary or congressional hearing, given these are questions of fundamental importance and concern to his users, as well as to this inquiry.

“I would certainly urge him to think again if he has any care for people that use his company’s services.” Zuckerberg has been invited three times to speak to the committee, which is investigating the effects of fake news on UK democracy, but has always sent deputies to testify in his stead. MPs are likely to take a still dimmer view of his decision after he ultimately agreed to testify before Congress in the US. It was reported on Tuesday that the company is now considering strategy for his testimony. When the Commons committee travelled to Washington DC in February to obtain oral evidence from US companies, Facebook flew over its UK policy director rather than send a high-level executive to speak to the committee.

In response to the latest request, Facebook has suggested one of two executives could speak to parliament: Chris Cox, the company’ chief product officer, who is in charge of the Facebook news feed, or Mike Schroepfer, the chief technology officer, who heads up the developer platform. However, Theresa May declined to back Collins. Pressed by the committee chairman at the Commons liaison committee later in the day, the prime minister said “Mr Zuckerberg will decide for himself” whether to give evidence to parliament.

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The US has one sane person left. And he’s 93. Not that he’s the only one denouncing Bolton. But none of the rest do that nearly loud enough.

Jimmy Carter: Trump Hiring Bolton ‘A Disaster For Our Country’ (USAT)

Former president Jimmy Carter, one of the few U.S. officials who has traveled to North Korea and met with its leaders, expresses hope for the planned White House summit with Pyongyang but warns that President Trump may have made “one of the worst mistakes” of his tenure by naming John Bolton to the sensitive post of national security adviser. In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, pegged to the publication of his new book titled Faith, Carter calls Bolton “a warlike figure” who backs policies the former president calls catastrophic. “Maybe one of the worst mistakes that President Trump has made since he’s been in office is his employment of John Bolton, who has been advocating a war with North Korea for a long time and even an attack on Iran, and who has been one of the leading figures on orchestrating the decision to invade Iraq,” Carter said. He called the appointment, announced last week, “a disaster for our country.”

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Perfect for Tony Blair et al. Maybe too perfect. Who cares about this guy’s views? Stick to the facts, please.

Brexit Referendum Won Through Fraud – Whistleblower (G.)

The EU referendum was won through fraud, the whistleblower Christopher Wylie has told MPs, accusing Vote Leave of improperly channelling money through a tech firm with links to Cambridge Analytica. Wylie told a select committee that the pro-Brexit campaign had a “common plan” to use the network of companies to get around election spending laws and said he thought there “could have been a different outcome had there not been, in my view, cheating”. “It makes me so angry, because a lot of people supported leave because they believe in the application of British law and British sovereignty. And to irrevocably alter the constitutional settlement of this country on fraud is a mutilation of the constitutional settlement of this country.”

Vote Leave has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion or deliberate overspending. When they , Boris Johnson, who fronted the campaign, said: “Vote Leave won fair and square – and legally. We are leaving the EU in a year and going global.” Wylie, who used to work for Cambridge Analytica, gave evidence in a nearly four-hour session before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. He made a string of remarkable claims about Brexit and Cambridge Analytica, including that his predecessor, Dan Mursean, died mysteriously in a Kenyan hotel room in 2012 after a contract in the company turned sour. Wylie said it was striking that Vote Leave and three other pro-Brexit groups – ; Veterans for Britain, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – all used the services of the little-known firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to help target voters online.

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And Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Luxembourg. Belgium?!

Austria Draws Scorn for Sitting Out Russian Diplomat Expulsions (BBG)

Austria is drawing criticism from parts of the European Union for saying it couldn’t expel Russian diplomats on account of its neutrality. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government, which includes nationalists that cooperate with Vladimir Putin’s party, declined to join the tough international response to a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in England. Austria is a “builder of bridges between East and West” and wants to “keep channels open” to Moscow, it said. That position is “hardly compatible with EU membership” and there’s “a big difference between being part of the West and being a bridge between the West and the East,” former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Tuesday on Twitter.

Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian foreign minister who’s a member of the European Parliament, called Austria’s decision a “bad joke.” He asked: “Which other EU policies/decisions Kurz does not apply to Austria?” Kurz, whose People’s Party is part of the same political family as the parties of Bildt and Pabriks, said Monday that Austria backs the EU’s decision to pull its ambassador to Russia. In declining to take further measures, his government cited Austria’s neutrality, which the country adopted as a condition for ending its post-World War II occupation by the U.S., the Soviet Union, the U.K. and France in 1955.

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7 billion people do, too.

160 Countries Want To See Proof In Skripal Case – Russia’s UK Embassy (RT)

Scores of non-Western countries refuse to take the UK’s assertion that Russia was behind the incident in Salisbury at face value, demanding it present the evidence, Moscow’s embassy in London said. Some 160 states share that view. While many in the Western world, save several notable exceptions, united behind the UK as it accused Russia of poisoning the former spy with a military-grade toxic agent, many more countries have not been persuaded by the fiery rhetoric of British PM Theresa May, the spokesperson for Russia’s British embassy told Sputnik.

“Even if Mrs. May said that she was absolutely sure that Russia was responsible for the incident in Salisbury, she would have to present all evidence to Russia, the international community and the British public. This is the opinion of almost 160 countries which are not members of the Western bloc,” he said. “It is obvious that no one in the wider world would take British words for granted.” On Monday, following the lead of the UK, the US, 18 EU states and other European countries, Canada and Australia announced they would expel a number of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK. Washington alone ordered the expulsion of 60 diplomats, including 12 at the Russian mission to the UN, alleging they were covert intelligence operatives.

What became the largest collective expulsion of Russian diplomats in history was denounced by Moscow as an extremely unfriendly and unwarranted step. Still, there were voices in the West that refused to side with London until the evidence is laid out. Austria as well as Switzerland, both stressing their neutral country status, refused to follow suit. Cyprus, Portugal, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Luxembourg did not jump on the expulsion bandwagon either.

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Magic Muskroom.

Tesla Just Months From A Total Collapse – Hedge Fund (MW)

Unless Elon Musk “pulls a rabbit out of his hat,” Tesla will be bankrupt within four months, says John Thompson of Vilas Capital Management. “Companies eventually have to make a profit, and I don’t ever see that happening here,” he told MarketWatch. “This is one of the worst income statements I’ve ever seen and between the story and the financials, the financials will win out in this case.” Thompson manages $25 million and his Tesla short is the fund’s biggest position. To be fair, he’s been betting big against Tesla for years, which, of course, means he’s endured some brutal stretches. Last April, for instance, the stock hit a record high around the $300 mark, and Musk was right there to troll the Tesla bears.

From that point, the stock continued to break new ground, eventually topping out at $389.61. But despite Tesla’s strong performance in 2017, Thompson’s fund still managed to churn out a 65% gain for the year. Now, Tesla’s back to where it was when Musk fired off his “Shortville” tweet, and Thompson is confident his bet is about to pay off nicely. In fact, Thompson says if his prediction comes true, his fund could surge by another 50%. With that in mind, he says he’s investing $500,000 of his own money. “Tesla, without any doubt, is on the verge of bankruptcy,” he told clients in an email over the weekend.

He explained that funding will be hard to come by in the face of problems in delivering the Model 3, declining demand for the Model S and X, extreme valuation and a likely downgrade of its credit rating by Moody’s from B- to CCC. “As a reality check, Tesla is worth twice as much as Ford [estimate of the enterprise value of both companies], yet Ford made 6 million cars last year at a $7.6 billion profit while Tesla made 100,000 cars at a $2 billion loss,” Thompson said. “Further, Ford has $12 billion in cash held for ‘a rainy day’ while Tesla will likely run out of money in the next 3 months. I’ve never seen anything so absurd in my career.”

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Flows vs stocks. GDP is attractive if you want to make money with destruction.

The Missing Economic Measure: Wealth, not GDP (OWiD)

So, what is GDP? GDP is a measure of economic activity – in terms of market-based gross output – in a given period (often a year). This is of course useful in many ways. GDP growth, when captured accurately, has the potential to tell us about the pace of change and rising levels of consumption. Equally, a cessation of GDP growth can serve as an important red flag: stalling enterprises and increases in unemployed workers tend to imply hardship and losses in welfare. However, there are important changes that GDP does not shed light on, and indeed might give us incorrect signals about. Think about climate change, a critical issue that has been increasingly under the international spotlight. An economy can increase its CO2 emissions and drive up local pollutants – both clearly harmful to the long-term wellbeing of the population – while being rewarded with rising GDP figures.

Similarly, a natural disaster might harm people, destroy infrastructure, and require expensive emergency measures – yet thanks to a rise in spending, this too would temporarily register as an increase in GDP. On the flip side, beneficial endeavors such as attempting to stall the alarming rate of biodiversity loss or deforestation not only fail to register in our headline statistic; they might slow its growth. This is where wealth accounting comes in. Rather than measuring flows, as GDP does, wealth is an indicator of an economy’s underlying capital stocks. Wealth, if measured in detail, accounts for the assets such as natural capital, produced capital, and human capital that underpin growth and consumption possibilities, and in this way shows us viable development pathways.

In the event of a natural disaster or rising pollution, for example, while GDP might grow, wealth measures would alert us to the depletion of underlying physical and natural capital stocks and the need for targeted investment. A detailed enough balance sheet would thus theoretically allow for the sustainable management of an economy’s productive capital. Therefore, while GDP has little to say about whether a nation’s assets can sustain current consumption levels into the future, wealth measures can tell us exactly this. The relationship between wealth and GDP is analogous to company accounts: the balance sheet of a company describes the stock of useful assets owned by a company (akin to wealth), while the profit and loss statement describes the flows of revenue, costs, and net income that the company has been able to generate using those assets (akin to GDP).

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Mar 262018
 
 March 26, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Opening night of the movie ‘Grand Hotel’ on Times Square at Astor Theater, New York 1932

 

Dear America: Please Stop This Shit. Signed, The Rest Of The World. (CJ)
Asian Shares Battered As Trade War Fears Sap Sentiment (R.)
US-China Trade Deficit Is Set To Keep On Rising – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
US Seeks Deal With China in Bid to Avert Trade War (BBG)
US and South Korea Reach Agreement on Trade, Tariffs (BBG)
EU Defends Controversial Juncker Aide Promotion (AFP)
EU Antitrust Chief Keeps Open Threat To Break Up Google (R.)
EU Leaders Host Turkish President Erdogan For Uneasy Summit (R.)
Labour Moves to Prevent ‘No-Deal’ Brexit as Blair Seeks EU Vote (BBG)
Facebook Approached Australian Political Parties To Microtarget Voters (ZH)
Glory Days (Eric Peters)
Nearly Half Of Japanese Think Abe Should Quit Over Land Sale Scandal (R.)
Malaysia: Up To 10 Years’ Jail, Hefty Fines For Publishers Of ‘Fake News’ (R.)
China Regulator Bans TV Parodies Amid Content Crackdown (R.)
Kim Dotcom Wins Human Rights Tribunal Case, Says Extradition Bid ‘Over’ (NH)
Global Warming Puts Nearly Half Of Species In Key Places At Risk (CNN)

 

 

Caitlin Johnstone. Is right.

Dear America: Please Stop This Shit. Signed, The Rest Of The World. (CJ)

They want you arguing over who should and shouldn’t be called a terrorist based on what ideology you subscribe to and what color the latest killer’s skin was. They do not want you talking about the way the label “terrorist” itself is being used to justify unconstitutional detentions, torture, mass surveillance, and wars. They want you arguing over whether to support the Democrats because the Republicans will take civil rights away from disempowered groups or Republicans because the Democrats will take away your guns and force you to bake gay wedding cakes. They don’t want you talking about the fact that both parties advance Orwellian surveillance, neoliberal exploitation and neoconservative bloodshed in a good cop/bad cop extortion scheme to keep Americans cheerleading for their own enslavement.

They want you arguing about whether Trump did or did not collude with Russia. They do not want you looking at what preexisting agendas the CNN/CIA Russia narratives are advancing and who stands to benefit from them. They want everyone fighting over table scraps while they pour unfathomable riches into expanding and bolstering their empire. They psychologically brutalize you with propaganda day in and day out, and then expect you to look to them for protection from the phantoms they invented. They don’t want you paying attention to the growing number of signs that the current administration is gearing up for a major military bloodbath which may lead our species into a third and final world war. They want you talking about Stormy Daniels instead.

[..] Please stop this shit, America. If the US war machine goes after Iran or Russia it will likely mean a world war against multiple nuclear-armed countries, which could very easily send our species the way of the dinosaurs should a nuke get deployed in the fog of war. We don’t have time to focus on Stormy fucking Daniels.

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Cool down.

Asian Shares Battered As Trade War Fears Sap Sentiment (R.)

Global markets were shaken when U.S. President Donald Trump moved to slap tariffs on Chinese goods, on top of import duties on steel and aluminum, prompting a defiant response from Beijing. But E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 brushed off the gloom on Monday to leap 0.6% on reports the United States and China have quietly started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets. The United States also agreed to exempt South Korea from steel tariffs, imposing instead a quota on steel imports as the two countries renegotiate their trade deal. “If we do start to hear more favorable news from the U.S. administration and indeed from the Chinese side over the next few trading sessions, then we may see a sharp reversal of the recent moves in the market,” said Nick Twidale at Rakuten Securities Australia.

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The curse of the reserve currency.

US-China Trade Deficit Is Set To Keep On Rising – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

Washington’s trade imbalance with Beijing – the stated motivation behind President Donald Trump’s punitive tariffs — will continue expanding in the years ahead, according to Yale University’s Stephen Roach. America’s trade deficits with China and other countries fundamentally reflect “the fact that we don’t save enough,” said Roach, a former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman. “When you don’t save and you want to spend and grow, you import surplus savings from abroad and you run these massive balance of payments and trade deficits to attract the foreign capital,” he told CNBC Monday at the annual China Development Forum. “That’s the way it’s always worked.”

The Trump administration budget deficits are “going to push our savings rate lower and if anything, our trade deficits are going to get bigger in the years ahead, including the one probably with China.” Reducing the U.S. trade deficit is one of Trump’s top policy goals – he’s argued that it hurts American job creation and weighs on overall growth. But many economists, including Roach, say trade imbalances are not a good metric for economic health since they are influenced by a variety of macroeconomic factors. “The bilateral trade deficit in the U.S. is really pretty meaningless,” Roach said.

And Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which was signed into law in December, is unlikely to change the status-quo. The fiscal stimulus package “is going to take debt-to-GDP ratios up by 1 to 2 %age points a year, relative to what they otherwise would have been,” Roach said. “For an economy like the United States, where the savings rate is already low, that’s going to push our savings rate even lower. So, we’re going to have to keep importing the surplus savings and running these balance of payments deficits to square the circle.”

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“..stop forced technology transfer..”

US Seeks Deal With China in Bid to Avert Trade War (BBG)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s optimistic the U.S. can reach an agreement with China that will avert the need for President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on at least $50 billion of goods from the country. “We’re having very productive conversations with them,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” when discussing talks with China. “I’m cautiously hopeful we reach an agreement.” Trump on Thursday also directed Mnuchin to propose new investment restrictions on Chinese companies within 60 days to safeguard technologies the U.S. views as strategic. He has said he also wants a $100 billion decrease in the U.S. trade deficit with China.

A day after Trump’s announcement, which led to a selloff in global markets, China unveiled tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum duties ordered by Trump earlier this month. The White House then declared a temporary exemption for the European Union and other nations on those levies, making the focus on China clear. Though Beijing’s actions so far are seen by analysts as measured, there may be more to come.

China is conducting research on further lists of U.S. imports subject to tariffs, which are likely to cover airplanes, computer chips and the tourism industry, China Daily reported on Saturday, citing Wei Jianguo, a former vice commerce minister. Mnuchin said the two countries agree on reducing the deficit to some degree and are trying to “to see if we can reach an agreement as to what fair trade is for them to open up their markets, reduce their tariffs, stop forced technology transfer.” The U.S. will proceed with tariffs “unless we have an acceptable agreement that the president signs off on,” Mnuchin said Sunday. “We’re not afraid of a trade war, but that’s not our objective,” he said. “In a negotiation you have to be prepared to take action.”

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First hurdle out of the way.

US and South Korea Reach Agreement on Trade, Tariffs (BBG)

The U.S. and South Korea reached an agreement on revising their six-year-old bilateral trade deal, and the U.S. said it wouldn’t impose President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel imports from its ally in Asia. The two countries reached agreement “in principle” on the trade deal known as Korus, South Korea’s trade ministry said in a statement on Monday. While Korea avoids the steel tariff, shipments of the metal to the U.S. will be limited to a quota of about 2.7 million tons a year, according to the statement. Trump repeatedly criticized the trade deal with South Korea, calling it a “job-killer” that had increased the bilateral trade deficit. While he had pushed for it to be revised and threatened tariffs, there were also concerns that trade tensions would create a wedge between the allies just as the presidents of both nations look to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The announcement came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reached “a very productive understanding.” “We expect to sign that agreement soon,” Mnuchin said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, calling it “an absolute win-win.” The quota is unlikely to hurt South Korea’s steel exports as sales to the U.S. account for 11% of total steel shipments overseas, the South Korean ministry said. The quota is set at 70% of the average of steel sales to the U.S. during 2015-2017.

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Europe makes its decisions behind close backroom doors.

EU Defends Controversial Juncker Aide Promotion (AFP)

The European Commission on Sunday insisted the controversial promotion of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s top aide and enforcer was “in full compliance” with rules despite a growing cronyism row. The commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm, said there was nothing untoward about the elevation of Juncker’s former chief of staff Martin Selmayr to the post of secretary general, at the head of the EU’s 30,000-strong civil service. The scandal has gained momentum in recent weeks with the European Parliament launching an investigation and warning the affair risks fuelling eurosceptics around the continent. But the commission insisted Selmayr’s appointment was above board and made with the full backing of all EU commissioners.

“The decision was taken by the college of commissioners unanimously, in full compliance with the staff regulations and the rules of procedure of the commission,” the commission said in a written response to a list of 134 questions posed by MEPs. The row centres on what critics say was effectively an instantaneous double promotion for the 47-year-old Selmayr, Juncker’s former chief of staff, on February 21. During a single meeting of commissioners, Selmayr was made first deputy secretary general and then just minutes later secretary general when the incumbent, Alexander Italianer, suddenly announced his retirement. The commission confirmed that Juncker had known of Italianer’s plan to retire as early as 2015 and had told Selmayr about it.

But it rejected claims that Juncker and Selmayr had cooked up a plan in November last year to bounce the German into the secretary general role. It said that technically Selmayr had not been promoted, as he remains on the same civil service grade as before, and that he had taken a pay cut in switching jobs. As well as the parliamentary probe, the EU ombudsman, which investigates allegations of malpractice in European institutions, has also confirmed it has received two complaints about the matter and is analysing them. Sophie in ‘t Veld, a leading liberal member of the European Parliament, said earlier this month the affair “destroys all the credibility of the EU as a champion of integrity and transparency”.

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Expand it to Facebook?

EU Antitrust Chief Keeps Open Threat To Break Up Google (R.)

The European Union holds “grave suspicions” about the dominance of internet giant Google and has not ruled out breaking it up, according to a warning by the EU’s antitrust chief, Britain’s Telegraph reported on Sunday. European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager reckons the threat to split Google into smaller companies must be kept open, the newspaper said. Google currently faces new EU rules on its commercial practices with smaller businesses that use its services.

Late last year, Vestager said more cases against Google were likely in the future, after the European Commission slapped a record €2.4 billion ($2.97 billion) fine on the world’s most popular internet search engine and told the firm to stop favoring its shopping service. The European Commission is in the process of drafting a new regulation aimed at regulating e-commerce sites, app stores and search engines to be more transparent in how they rank search results and why they delist some services.

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They should stop his forays into Syria, Iraq. They won’t. He’s got them by the balls.

EU Leaders Host Turkish President Erdogan For Uneasy Summit (R.)

The European Union holds an uneasy summit with Turkey on Monday, when it is likely to provide Ankara with fresh cash to extend a deal on Syrian refugees but deflect Turkish demands for deeper trade ties and visa-free travel to Europe. With the bloc critical of what it considers to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism at home and his intervention in Syria’s war, Brussels had hesitated to agree to the summit. But host Bulgaria viewed the meeting at the Black Sea port of Varna as a rare chance for dialogue with the country that remains a candidate for EU membership despite years of stalled talks.

EU leaders also cited Turkey’s importance as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank and in curbing immigration to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. “I am looking with mixed feelings towards the Varna summit because the differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will represent the bloc along with European Council President Donald Tusk. “It will be a frank and open debate, where we will not hide our differences but will seek to improve our cooperation,” Juncker told reporters on Friday after a two-day EU summit that discussed Turkey.

At that meeting in Brussels, leaders condemned what they said were Turkey’s illegal actions in a standoff over eastern Mediterranean gas reserves with bloc members Greece and Cyprus. But in a familiar pattern of public recrimination, Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, said Ankara viewed the summit as “an important opportunity to move our relations forward” and that he expected “the same positive and constructive approach from the EU.” Erdogan will seek more money for Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union and progress in talks on letting Turks visit Europe without visas, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said.

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Why there’s a new wave of “Corbyn is an antisemite” going around.

Labour Moves to Prevent ‘No-Deal’ Brexit as Blair Seeks EU Vote (BBG)

The U.K. Labour Party said it is seeking an amendment to key Brexit legislation to prevent Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, as former premier Tony Blair renewed his own call for a second referendum. “If Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s deal, that cannot give licence to her, or the extreme Brexiteers in her party, to allow the U.K. to crash out without an agreement,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, will say in a speech on Monday, according to extracts emailed by his party. “That would be the worst of all possible worlds.”

As Starmer plots to bind Theresa May’s Conservative government to negotiating a smooth exit from the European Union, former Labour leader Blair will say that Parliament should get to vote on the planned future relationship with the EU and then the electorate should “make the final judgment” ahead Britain’s scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29 next year. Starmer’s bid to rewrite the EU Withdrawal Bill throws up a new hurdle to the premier’s plans. While she’s repeatedly said she wants to reach an agreement with the bloc, May maintains that exiting without one is better than accepting a bad deal. A majority of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament oppose a hard Brexit.

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Talk your way out of this one, Mark.

Facebook Approached Australian Political Parties To Microtarget Voters (ZH)

In the wake of a massive data harvesting scandal, it has emerged that Facebook approached at least two major Australian political parties during the final weeks of their 2016 election in order to help them “microtarget” voters using a powerful data matching tool, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Facebook offered “advanced matching” as part of their so-called Custom Audience feature to both the conservative (if not confusingly named) Liberal Party, as well as the “democratic socialist” Labor Party. The tool promised to allow the parties to compare data they had collected about voters – such as names, birth dates, phone numbers, postcodes and email addresses – and match that information to Facebook profiles.

The combination of data sets would then allow political parties to target Australian swing voters with custom tailored ads over Facebook, which advertised a 17% increase in matching rates using a beta version of the service provided to the Liberal Party. Fairfax Media reports that while the conservative Liberal Party turned Facebook down over concerns that sending voter data overseas to Facebook servers would violate the Privacy Act and the Electoral Act, the Labor Party took Facebook up on their offer.

Asked specifically whether Labor used the tool, a Labor spokesman said in a statement: “A range of different campaign techniques and tools are used for campaigning, from doorknocking to phone banking to online. Labor works with different groups to get our message out, including social media platforms like Facebook.” “All of our work is in complete compliance with relevant laws, including the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which makes it a criminal offence to misuse information on the electoral roll.”

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“Today’s internet companies suck in free customer data through the front door, and sell it out the back door. The greater the flow, the higher the profits. They’re dominant. They’ll soon be regulated.”

Glory Days (Eric Peters)

“May Day 1975 marked the start of Wall Street deregulation,” said the historian. “Banks and brokerages flourished thereafter, expanding their power and political influence.” 1998 marked peak deregulation with Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall. “Pump and dump schemes of all sorts propagated; Wolf of Wall Street excesses. Then came the dot com IPO madness which led to Sarbanes Oxley.” The final debauchery was exposed in 2008, and led to sweeping Dodd-Frank financial regulation. “Wall Street’s been in lock-down ever since.” “The 1996 Telecom Act protected America’s nascent internet companies,” continued the historian. AOL started in 1985. Netscape launched in 1993, went public in 1995. Amazon launched in 1994. Yahoo 1995. Facebook 2004. YouTube 2005.

“The Act protected them from liability for anything republished on their sites.” They were too weak to withstand such liability and needed nurturing to foster innovation. “But Facebook has a $460bln market cap. It’s not responsible for what it publishes but the NY Times is. That’s now preposterous.” “When Wall Street lacked regulation, any product, no matter how absurd, was welcomed through the front door and pumped out to clients through the back door,” explained the historian. “The greater the flow, the higher the profits. Those were the glory days.” Then regulations raised costs, stymied product development, crushed the profit model. “Today’s internet companies suck in free customer data through the front door, and sell it out the back door. The greater the flow, the higher the profits. They’re dominant. They’ll soon be regulated.”

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Shinzo is addicted to power. But he said he would leave.

Nearly Half Of Japanese Think Abe Should Quit Over Land Sale Scandal (R.)

Nearly half of Japanese voters believe Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should quit to take responsibility over a cronyism scandal and cover-up that have sent his support sliding, according to an opinion poll released on Monday. Suspicions have arisen about a sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a nationalist school operator with ties to Abe’s wife, Akie, setting off the biggest political crisis Abe has faced since returning to power in 2012 and prompting protestors to call almost nightly for him to quit.

Abe has denied that either he or his wife intervened in the sale or were involved in altering documents related to the deal, in which mention of his and Akie’s names were removed. According to a public opinion survey covered by the liberal Asahi newspaper at the weekend, 48% of those polled said Abe and his government should quit, compared to 39% who said that wasn’t necessary.

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They’re all seeking to ban anything they don’t like.

Wonder who’s going to decide which news is fake. How about the Skripal case? Stormy Daniels? Corbyn is an anti-semite?

Malaysia: Up To 10 Years’ Jail, Hefty Fines For Publishers Of ‘Fake News’ (R.)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government tabled a bill in parliament on Monday outlawing “fake news”, with hefty fines and up to 10 years in jail, raising more concerns about media freedom in the wake of a multi-billion dollar graft scandal. The bill was tabled ahead of a national election that is expected to be called within weeks and as Najib faces widespread criticism over the scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, anyone who published so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both.

“The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected,” it said. It defines fake news as “news, information, data or reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and includes features, visuals and audio recordings. The law, which covers digital publications and social media, also applies to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, as long as Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.

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“.. in violation of socialist core values..”

China Regulator Bans TV Parodies Amid Content Crackdown (R.)

China’s media regulator is cracking down on video spoofs, the official Xinhua new agency reported, amid an intensified crackdown on any content that is deemed to be in violation of socialist core values under President Xi Jinping. The decision comes after Xi cemented his power at a recent meeting of parliament by having presidential term limits scrapped, and the ruling Communist Party tightened its grip on the media by handing control over film, news and publishing to its powerful publicity department. Xinhua said video sites must ban videos that “distort, mock or defame classical literary and art works”, citing a directive from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on Thursday.

Reuters separately reviewed a copy of the directive, which was unusually labeled “extra urgent”. Industry insiders say the sweeping crackdown on media content, which has been gaining force since last year, is having a chilling effect on content makers and distributors. “It means a lot of content makers will have to transition and make their content more serious. For ‘extra urgent’ notice like this, you have to act immediately,” said Wu Jian, a Beijing-based analyst. “Those who don’t comply in time will immediately be closed down,” Wu said.

Read more …

On Twitter: “Let’s see how ‘speculative’ and ‘premature’ my recent Obama affidavit is after we get access to all the puzzle pieces.”

Kim Dotcom Wins Human Rights Tribunal Case, Says Extradition Bid ‘Over’ (NH)

The Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that the Attorney-General broke the law by withholding information from Kim Dotcom, which he says means his extradition case is “over”. In July 2015, Mr Dotcom sent an urgent information privacy request to all 28 Ministers of the Crown as well as almost all Government departments, asking for personal information they had on him, including under his previous names. Nearly all the requests were transferred to the Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who declined the Megaupload founder’s requests on the grounds that they were “vexatious” and trivial. The Solicitor-General also said Mr Dotcom had not provided sufficient reasons for urgency.

On Monday, the Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Attorney-General unlawfully withheld information from Mr Dotcom, meaning he perverted the course of justice. The Government and Ministers have been ordered to comply with the original requests and supply all relevant documents to Mr Dotcom. Mr Dotcom was awarded damages for loss of benefit and loss of dignity. In a series of celebratory tweets, Mr Dotcom claimed this decision meant his extradition case is “over”. He has threatened former Prime Minister Sir John Key with legal action, and said he will see everyone involved in the so-called “Mega Conspiracy” in court. He has also called for the immediate resignation of the Privacy Commissioner.

Read more …

If temperature rise is kept below 2ºC “only” 25% of species will be lost.

Global Warming Puts Nearly Half Of Species In Key Places At Risk (CNN)

About half of all plants and animals in 35 of the world’s most biodiverse places are at risk of extinction due to climate change, a new report claims. “Hotter days, longer periods of drought, and more intense storms are becoming the new normal, and species around the world are already feeling the effects,” said Nikhil Advani, lead specialist for climate, communities and wildlife at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The report, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and the WWF, found that nearly 80,000 plants and animals in 35 diverse and wildlife-rich areas – including the Amazon rainforest, the Galapagos islands, southwest Australia and Madagascar – could become extinct if global temperatures rise. The 35 places were chosen based on their “uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there,” the WWF said.

“The collected results reveal some striking trends. They add powerful evidence that we urgently need global action to mitigate climate change,” the report said. A corresponding study was also published by the scientific journal Climate Change. If temperatures were to rise by 4.5 degrees Celsius, animals like African elephants would likely lack sufficient water supplies and 96% of all breeding ground for tigers in India’s Sundarbans region could be submerged in water. However, if temperature rise was kept to below 2 degrees Celsius – the global target set by the landmark Paris Climate Accord in 2015 – the number of species lost could be limited to 25%. “This is not simply about the disappearance of certain species from particular places, but about profound changes to ecosystems that provide vital services to hundreds of millions of people,” the WWF said in its report.

Read more …

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.

 

 

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.